The moed of Yom Kippur is known in English as the Day of Atonement. It occurs nine days after Yom Teruah/ The Feast of Trumpets on the tenth day of the seventh month in the Hebrew calendar.
As we examine this moed and discover what Scripture says about it, we should consider that the same very same G-d Who granted grace and mercy by sending the Messiah to die for our sins will also send that same Messiah again to defeat His enemies, separate "the wheat from the tares", "the sheep from the goats", and provide the ultimate atonement for those who are His.
What does Scripture tell us about this holy day and its related commandments? What are we supposed to do and see and hear? As we study Scripture regarding this special appointment, we pray once more in the words of King David: oh, Lord, please "open our eyes that we might behold wonderful things from your Torah" and discover our returning Messiah in this moed. Scripture was given to mankind to speak of Him and we should seek to hear its voice... His voice... especially during His appointed times.
What Scripture Says About Yom Kippur
Yom Kippur (יום כּףּר, Strong's #3117 + Strong's #3725) means "day [of] atonement".
Atonement should not be equated with the payment for the penalty of sin but it, instead, relates to the cleansing of the spiritual uncleanness that is the consequence of sin and death. Consider these verses:
"For seven days you shall make atonement for the altar and consecrate it; then the altar shall be most holy, and whatever touches the altar shall be holy." (Exodus 29:37)
He shall make atonement for the holy place, because of the impurities of the sons of Israel and because of their transgressions in regard to all their sins; and thus he shall do for the tent of meeting which abides with them in the midst of their impurities. (Leviticus 16:16)
In these passages the altar and the tabernacle are receiving atonement.
Did the altar sin? No.
Did the tabernacle sin? No.
They are, however, unclean as a result of the spiritual impurity associated with sin and death.
The blood of atonement was used to cover and cleanse the spiritual uncleanness of Israel.
Please note that uncleanness does not equal sin. A woman who gives birth is considered unclean and requires atonement (Leviticus 12:7).
Did she sin by giving birth? No.
There is, however, uncleanness associated with both birth and death (e.g. Leviticus 11:31, 12:7).
The Hebrew word kippur comes from the word kaphar which means "to cover" 1. Consider a pair of pants that has become especially dirty. You would immerse them (cover them) in soap and water in order to remove the stains and the dirt. In a similar way, the blood of atonement was used to cover and cleanse the spiritual uncleanness of Israel.
Hebrews 10:4 tells us that the blood of bulls and goats will not take away sins. Numerous passages in the Torah, however, tell us that the blood of bulls and goats will make atonement. Hebrews 9:22 confirms that almost all things are cleansed with blood (other things are cleansed by immersing them in water or fire). We should not fall into the trap of equating the removal of the penalty of sin with the removal of the uncleanness that results from sin.
Particulars of the moed
Who: The sons of Israel. (Leviticus 23:24)
- It is a day for a holy convocation (Leviticus 23:27)
- It is a day to "humble your souls" [Heb:ועניתם את נפשׁתיכם (v'initem et napheshoteykhem)] (Leviticus 23:27)
- You shall do "no work" [Heb: וכל-מלאכה לא תעשו (v'kal melakhah lo taasu) literally: "and all 'work' not shall you do"] (Leviticus 23:25)
- You shall present an "offering by fire" [Heb: אשּׁה (isheh)] to the LORD (Leviticus 23:27)
- It is a day of "complete rest" [shabbat shabbaton] (Leviticus 23:32)
- The commandments regarding the casting of lots for the "scapegoat" (Leviticus 16)
As with the other moedim, the book of Numbers provides us with the list of required offerings:
Then on the tenth day of this seventh month you shall have a holy convocation, and you shall humble yourselves; you shall not do any work. You shall present a burnt offering to the LORD as a soothing aroma: one bull, one ram, seven male lambs one year old, having them without defect; and their grain offering, fine flour mixed with oil: three-tenths of an ephah for the bull, two-tenths for the one ram, a tenth for each of the seven lambs; one male goat for a sin offering, besides the sin offering of atonement and the continual burnt offering and its grain offering, and their drink offerings. (Numbers 29:7-11)
- The olah [burnt offering] for Yom Kippur:
- One bull (+ 3/10 ephah fine flour mixed with oil + 1/2 hin of wine)
- One ram (+ 2/10 ephah fine flour mixed with oil + 1/3 hin of wine)
- Seven male lambs one year old without defect (+ 1/10 fine flour mixed with oil + 1/4 hin of wine for each lamb)
- One male goat for a sin offering
- The continual olah (Numbers 28:3-8):
- Two male lambs one year old without defect, one in the morning and one in the afternoon (+1/10 ephah fine flour mixed with 1/4 hin of oil + 1/4 hin of "strong drink" for each lamb)
In the seventh month on the tenth day of the month (Leviticus 23:27) beginning on the ninth of the month at evening (i.e. just before sundown), from evening until evening (Leviticus 23:32).
It is a permanent statute (Leviticus 16:29).
Leviticus 23:31 indicates it shall be a perpetual statute throughout all generations "in all your dwelling places". This applies both inside and outside the Land of Israel.
As for any person who does any work on this same day, that person I will destroy from among his people. (Lev 23:30)
- The thanksgiving offerings described in Leviticus 7:15 cannot be brought on the day of Yom Kippur because they must be eaten on the day they are offered (Leviticus 7:15) and Yom Kippur is a day of fasting.
- This is one of two places where G-d says He personally will kill or destroy someone if they violate His commandment (Leviticus 23:30). [The other is in Exodus 22:24 where G-d says He will kill those who afflict the widow or the orphan.]
- Contrary to a commonly held belief, the high priest did not wear bells on the corners of his garment or have a rope tied around his leg on Yom Kippur. The robe of the ephod (where the bells are) is not worn into the holy of holies. Only plain linen garments are worn by the high priest on Yom Kippur (see Yom Kippur traditions).
Humble Your Souls
One of the unique commandments of this moed is that we should "humble our souls" ועניתם את נפשׁתיכם (Leviticus 16:29-31, Leviticus 23:27). Some translations treat this as "afflict your souls [nephesh]". If anyone does not humble himself on this day that person shall be cut off from among his people (Leviticus 23:29). It is an incredibly serious penalty to be cut off from Israel so we should strive to understand what is meant by "humbling our souls".
There are two passages in the Tanakh that use the same phrasing. The first comes from King David in the Psalms:
Malicious witnesses rise up; They ask me of things that I do not know. They repay me evil for good, To the bereavement of my soul. But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth; I humbled my soul with fasting, And my prayer kept returning to my bosom. I went about as though it were my friend or brother; I bowed down mourning, as one who sorrows for a mother. (Psalm 35:11-14)
The second comes from the prophet Isaiah:
'Why have we fasted and You do not see? Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not notice?' Behold, on the day of your fast you find your desire, And drive hard all your workers. Behold, you fast for contention and strife and to strike with a wicked fist. You do not fast like you do today to make your voice heard on high. Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for a man to humble himself? Is it for bowing one's head like a reed And for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed? Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the LORD? (Isaiah 58:3-5)
In both instances we see that the humbling of our souls is associating with fasting. In Isaiah's rebuke, it is not the fasting that G-d is condemning. It is the hypocrisy in midst of their fasting that raises G-d's ire.
These passages equate "humbling our souls" with fasting and that is one of the historical elements of the day: a complete fast without food or water for about 25 hours (beginning just before sunset on the ninth until sunset of the tenth, see Leviticus 23:32).
The Holiest Day
Yom Kippur is considered to be the holiest of G-d's appointed times. On the holiest day of the Biblical calendar, the holiest man (the high priest) enters the holiest place (the holy of holies of the tabernacle/temple) on the holiest mountain (Mt. Zion) in the holiest city (Jerusalem) in the holiest nation (Israel) and performs the unique rite of atonement:
The LORD said to Moses: "Tell your brother Aaron that he shall not enter at any time into the holy place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, or he will die; for I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat. Aaron shall enter the holy place with this: with a bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He shall put on the holy linen tunic, and the linen undergarments shall be next to his body, and he shall be girded with the linen sash and attired with the linen turban (these are holy garments). Then he shall bathe his body in water and put them on. He shall take from the congregation of the sons of Israel two male goats for a sin offering and one ram for a burnt offering. Then Aaron shall offer the bull for the sin offering which is for himself, that he may make atonement for himself and for his household."
"Then Aaron shall offer the bull of the sin offering which is for himself and make atonement for himself and for his household, and he shall slaughter the bull of the sin offering which is for himself. He shall take a firepan full of coals of fire from upon the altar before the LORD and two handfuls of finely ground sweet incense, and bring it inside the veil. He shall put the incense on the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of incense may cover the mercy seat that is on the ark of the testimony, otherwise he will die.
Moreover, he shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the mercy seat on the east side; also in front of the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times. Then he shall slaughter the goat of the sin offering which is for the people, and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it on the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. He shall make atonement for the holy place, because of the impurities of the sons of Israel and because of their transgressions in regard to all their sins; and thus he shall do for the tent of meeting which abides with them in the midst of their impurities.
When he goes in to make atonement in the holy place, no one shall be in the tent of meeting until he comes out, that he may make atonement for himself and for his household and for all the assembly of Israel. Then he shall go out to the altar that is before the LORD and make atonement for it, and shall take some of the blood of the bull and of the blood of the goat and put it on the horns of the altar on all sides. With his finger he shall sprinkle some of the blood on it seven times and cleanse it, and from the impurities of the sons of Israel consecrate it."
"Then Aaron shall come into the tent of meeting and take off the linen garments which he put on when he went into the holy place, and shall leave them there. He shall bathe his body with water in a holy place and put on his clothes, and come forth and offer his burnt offering and the burnt offering of the people and make atonement for himself and for the people. Then he shall offer up in smoke the fat of the sin offering on the altar."
"But the bull of the sin offering and the goat of the sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the holy place, shall be taken outside the camp, and they shall burn their hides, their flesh, and their refuse in the fire. Then the one who burns them shall wash his clothes and bathe his body with water, then afterward he shall come into the camp." (Leviticus 16:2-6, 11-19, 23-25, 27-28)
One of the other unique commandments of this moed is the "scapegoat". Leviticus 16 also provides the details which are interspersed with the sacrifice of the bull offering and the goat offering:
He [Aaron, the high priest] shall take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the doorway of the tent of meeting. Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats, one lot for the LORD and the other lot for the scapegoat. Then Aaron shall offer the goat on which the lot for the LORD fell, and make it a sin offering. But the goat on which the lot for the scapegoat fell shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make atonement upon it, to send it into the wilderness as the scapegoat.
When he finishes atoning for the holy place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall offer the live goat. Then Aaron shall lay both of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the sons of Israel and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins; and he shall lay them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who stands in readiness. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a solitary land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness.
The one who released the goat as the scapegoat shall wash his clothes and bathe his body with water; then afterward he shall come into the camp. (Leviticus 16:7-10, 20-22, 26)
The word translated as "scapegoat" is the Hebrew word עזאזל (azazel, Strong's #5799). This word is only used to describe the "scapegoat" in Leviticus 16. There is some debate among scholars about the literal meaning of the word.
- The Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon translates it as "for absolute removal".
- Strong's translates it as "goat of departure".
- The NAS Concordance translating it as "entire removal".
The Septuagint, an early Greek translation of the Old Testament, took the Hebrew as ez ozel ["the goat that departs"] and translated it as tragos apopompaios ["goat sent out"]. This translation was used by the Latin Vulgate, which rendered the word as caper emissarius, or "emissary goat". William Tyndale rendered the Latin as "(e)scape goat" in his 1530 Bible and his translation was later used by the authors of the King James Version in 1611.
Since we know that bulls and goats cannot remove sin (Hebrews 10:4) we should understand the purpose of the "scapegoat" was to somehow take the uncleanness associated with sin away from the camp. Please take note of the person who releases the goat has to bathe to remove the "stain" of being in contact with the goat.
Let's move on to search for Messiah in the moed.