Good News of Leviticus 23 – Feast of Atonement

Lev 23:26-32 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Now on the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be for you a time of holy convocation, and you shall afflict yourselves and present a food offering to the Lord. And you shall not do any work on that very day, for it is a Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the Lord your God. For whoever is not afflicted on that very day shall be cut off from his people. And whoever does any work on that very day, that person I will destroy from among his people. You shall not do any work. It is a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwelling places. It shall be to you a Sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict yourselves. On the ninth day of the month beginning at evening, from evening to evening shall you keep your Sabbath.”

The Hebrew name of this holy day is Yom Kippur, literally translated day of cover. The cover refers to covering of sin, hence “atonement.” This one day feast takes place on 10 Tishri, just 9 days after the call to repentance at the blowing of the shofar (trumpet made of ram’s horn) at Yom T’ruah (Rosh HaShanah or Feast of Trumpets). Yom Kippur is the second of three fall feasts, the last being the week-long Feast of Tabernacles. The whole of Leviticus 16 is devoted to the Day of Atonement.

The Hebrew word translated as “selves” in “yourselves” (v27 and v32) is nephesh. It actually means soul, which is to say that which lives, living being, self, appetite, emotional identity, and so forth. Even though Lev 23:27 includes an instruction to present a food offering, the instruction to “afflict the soul” is interpreted by Jews to also mean a fast is required. Regardless, this is a time of dealing with (thus covering) sin. Fasting is considered an important aspect of Yom Kippur. Fasting humbles the body, elevates spirituality, and is considered a key component in true repentance before God.

Shofar, a trumpet made of a ram’s horn, is blown at the start and end of the traditional Jewish observance of Yom Kippur. Tradition holds that at the sound of the long blast (tekiah gedolah) at the close of Yom Kippur the book of life is sealed until next year. The opportunity to atone for sin is then past. Under the Feast of Trumpets we looked at the impact shofar had on the walls of Jericho. It is worth mentioning that the shofar was blown each day of the siege, but only on the last day was the great blast given when the walls came down and the sinful people inside were exposed and slain. The only ones saved were the prostitute and those with her who trusted the word of YHWH.

Lev 16:7-10 Then he shall take the two goats and set them before the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel. And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord and use it as a sin offering, but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel. [Azazel is a transliteration of the Hebrew word for scapegoat, translated as such in ESV because it is treated as a proper name.] Part of the preparation for entering the Holy of Holies included the High Priest selecting two goats. Lots determined which was sacrificed and which was released (note that in all cases in scripture where God directed lots to be cast, God determined the outcome). First this symbolized the ram sacrificed on Isaac’s behalf. Second it symbolized Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice on our behalf. We escaped judgment because he bore the penalty in our place. Finally, this is the only time where a live offering is accepted by God and it says YHWH Himself makes atonement over it.

The High Priest of the Feast
In Lev 16 the high priest is allowed to enter behind the vale into the Holy of Holies only on Yom Kippur and only after following specific procedures for the atoning sacrifice (v2, 12). God Himself would appear on the Mercy Seat (v2). Only when atonement requirements are fully met may anyone enter the presence of God, and then only one man on behalf of the people (including all the other priests).

The Great High Priest
Mt 27:50-51 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. At the moment Jesus life left his body the curtain shielding the Holy of Holies broke apart. At that very moment God broke the barrier between himself and man. Jesus’ blood was perfect and acceptable as a sacrifice to atone for sin (for all who would accept it). Jesus, the one man who was the greatest and perfect high priest above all priests, made it possible for anyone to approach the mercy seat and step into the presence of God.

The Blood
Lev 17:11 For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life. Only blood atones for sin.

Jubilee – The Good News of Atonement
Lev 25:8-12 You shall count seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall give you forty-nine years. Then you shall sound the loud trumpet on the tenth day of the seventh month. On the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout all your land. And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan. That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; in it you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of itself nor gather the grapes from the undressed vines. For it is a jubilee. It shall be holy to you. You may eat the produce of the field. As if everything else we’ve seen about the Day of Atonement isn’t amazing enough, the crowning jewel outweighing every gem we’ve seen so far is the Year of Jubilee. It was an event most people would only experience once in their adult lifetimes since it only occurs once every 50 years. At the sound of the trumpet throughout the land on the Day of Atonement, there is liberty in all the land. Everything that once belonged to a man is redeemed and returned to him. All the property goes back to who it originally belonged to. It is a year when no one needs to toil in the fields to sow or reap. Everything grows as God directs and all may eat freely. In this earth that is as close to life in Eden as a human could hope to experience. It is to me the most optimistic and beautiful tapestry of life in the Kingdom after the perfect completion of God’s timing (7 x 7 years) with the substitutionary atoning blood from the perfect lamb of God. It is the place we, the scapegoats, escape.

Rev 22:3 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. My hope hinges on this being real. I believe the ultimate “Year of Jubilee” is yet to come, but when it does we will eternally cease toiling and be where all our needs are met, where there will be no tears and no death and we will be forever in the presence of our Lord.

Jn 14:1-3 Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. This is why we have the “Great Commission. Jesus has many rooms. Let’s invite everyone to Jubilee!

About Lance Ponder

Christian author of "Ask James one"; public speaker; husband and father. Available to speak on Creation and the Gospel.
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