Sundown tonight begins what is called holiest day on the Hebrew Calendar—Yom Kippur or The Day of Atonement. It is the final day of what the Jews call "The Ten Days of Awe." These ten days are meant for a time of reflection and returning to the Lord. The Day of Atonement is set aside as one to fast and confess sins to God. Psalm 139:23-24, written by King David, seems like the perfect prayer for this season. "Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way of everlasting."
In David's time and under the Old Covenant, the high priest would have confessed the sins of Israel as he placed his hands on the head of two goats. This act was meant to transfer the burden of sin to the animals. Next, the priest would sacrifice one of the goats and a bull as an offering to the Lord. God explains what needed to happen in Leviticus 17:11. "For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life." The blood of the sacrificial goat and bull would be brought into the Most Holy Place in the Temple. The blood placed on the altar was the atonement that cleansed the high priest, the people, and the sanctuary. It brought forgiveness and "covered" the sins of the people for a year, until Yom Kippur the following year. The Hebrew word "Kippur" means covering.
The second goat is referred to as the "scapegoat." After the priest confessed the sins of the nation, transferring them to the goat, a trusted man would lead the scapegoat into a rocky place deep in the wilderness to ensure the death of the goat so that he would not make his way back into the Israelite camp. I think of Psalm 103:12 in reference to this act. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.”
You may ask about what happens today. God took care of this very issue. Since the shedding of blood is required for the atonement of sin, a new covenant was established. Believers in Yeshua, Jesus, have a better covenant through the blood of God's own Son. "God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:21) The prophet Isaiah described Jesus as "The Suffering Servant" in Isaiah 52 and 53. Verse 12 of Isaiah 53 says that He will be given "a portion among the great...because He poured out His life unto death and was numbered with the transgressors. For He bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors." Our high priest, Jesus, permanently took away our sins.
The Jews who do not know their Messiah are left with a dilemma. How do they find redemption without a blood sacrifice? It is my understanding that the rabbis have temporarily "suspended" the command for a blood sacrifice after the Temple was destroyed. Repentance is emphasized instead of sacrifice. Acts of charity are done in place of the commandment. We must pray that our Jewish brothers and sisters will have their blinders removed and that they will see that God has already sent a perfect sacrifice for the sins of all humanity. May they see the truth prophesied in Isaiah 53 as God's forever sacrifice for their redemption.
Joan E. Mathias