The Day of Atonement:
Divinely Appointed for an Annual Time of Prayer, Fasting, and National and Personal Repentance
By Pastor Dan Gayman
What is the Day of Atonement? Does this most significant holy day have any role in your life? What is a Christian’s obligation toward this day? Does it make sense that a sovereign God would designate one day in the year for a time of national repentance, fasting, and atoning for our personal and national sins? Do we as a nation suffer for our failure to observe this divinely designated day? Do your children understand this day’s significance? What are the spiritual, physical, and psychological benefits from observing this sacred day? Can you defend this holy day from the Word of God? Will you plead ignorance about this day when you stand before the judgment of God, or do you choose now to learn about and observe this sacred day? Finally, do you have the courage to read on?
Pastor Dan Gayman
The Living God Who created the universe and all things therein ordained a specific planet—we call it earth—to be the habitation of His children: “The heaven, even the heavens, are the LORD’s: but the earth hath he give to the children of men (Adam)” (Psalms 115:16). Our holy, omnipotent God placed Adam man in charge of the earth and all things therein, giving him specific instructions to “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish (fill up) the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth” (Genesis 1:28). Jehovah chose one man and woman from the Adamite creation, Abraham and Sarah, both sharing a common DNA, to become the seed stock for the people who were chosen before the foundation of the world to be a special, peculiar people above all those on the earth. When Jehovah called Israel out of Egypt, He entered a conditional covenant with them and commanded that they be “…a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation …” (Exodus 19:5-6). This divine calling was affirmed in Deuteronomy 7:6 when Jehovah, speaking to the children of Israel, declared, “For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God: the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth.” This special call was again affirmed in Deuteronomy 14:2: “For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God, and the LORD hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth.” Neither should we forget the words delivered to ancient Israel as found in Deuteronomy 26:18-19: “And the LORD hath avouched thee this day to be his peculiar people, as he hath promised thee, and that thou shouldest keep all his commandments; And to make thee high above all nations which he hath made, in praise, and in name, and in honour; and that thou mayest be an holy people unto the LORD thy God, as he hath spoken.”
The Psalmist David identified Israel as Jehovah’s treasure upon this earth: “The LORD hath chosen Jacob unto himself, and Israel for his peculiar treasure” (Psalm 135:4).
During His earthly ministry, Jesus established the seven mystery parables of the Kingdom. One of those parables identified His mission in coming from heaven down to earth. In Matthew 13:44, Jesus told the Parable of the Hidden Treasure: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.” The treasure hidden away in the field or the world is Israel. Jesus is the buyer of this field identified as the world (Matthew 13:38), and He bought the field for the express purpose of finding Israel, the treasure that was hidden in this field. The very blood of Jesus Christ was the purchase price for this treasure hidden in the world.
The Bible is written to, for, and about Israel, the treasure hidden away in the world. Jesus came to find this treasure and make them fit vessels through shedding His precious blood. One of the unique characteristics which marked Israelites is their practice of Jehovah’s holy days. The God of Israel marked particular days for worship and sacrifice on His calendar for specific reasons. He commanded Israelites to gather together to worship and serve Him, take their rest, as Jehovah did, and celebrate His creation and their redemption from slavery on one day out of every seven, the seventh day known as Saturday. In addition to the weekly Sabbath falling on the seventh day of each week, Jehovah marked seven other special holy days meant for holy convocation. These seven days include the first and last days of the seven days of Unleavened Bread at the season of Passover, the Day of Pentecost, the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the first and last great day of the Feast of Tabernacles. Each of these seven special days has tremendous prophetic significance and is holy unto our triune God. These days represent various portion of our faith, from the birth of Christ, His circumcision, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension, and His future Second Coming, as well as the Advent of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.
How sad indeed that a majority of professing Christians do not celebrate these days and do not even understand them. What little they do know is usually not accurate, such as the idea that these days are Jewish days that have no relevance to Christians. These biblical holy days are not Jewish. God gave them to the Israelites of the Bible, who never have been and never will be synonymous with the people identified as modern Jews. While a remnant of true Judeans does observe these days, the vast majority of people identified as Jews in the world today are not and never were connected to the Israelites of the Bible. The majority of “Jews” today descended from the Eastern European Ashkenaz Jews, whose origins can be traced back to the Khazars that ruled an extensive land mass from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea and from the Caucasus Mountains to the Volga River, from the seventh to the tenth centuries. Yes, they have endeavored to assume a biblical identity with Old Testament Israel. But rest assured that Jesus was well aware of their true origin and declared the same in Revelation 2:9; 3:9; John 8:44; Mt. 12:34; 23:33 and elsewhere in Scripture.
Of these seven holy days, one in particular has significant credence in the New Testament: the Day of Atonement. It is the highest, holiest day of the year and falls on the tenth day of the seventh month (Tishri). This month in the biblical calendar occurs during September or early October. The first day of the seventh month Tishri is Rosh Hashanah. We know it as the Day of Trumpets. Ten days after this is the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. This high, holy day should be celebrated on the tenth day of the seventh month, from even unto even, or from sunset to sunset.
The express purpose of this holy day is to call the covenant people of Jehovah to a day of national and personal prayer, fasting, repentance, and making atonement for sin. The Day of Atonement is carefully chronicled in Leviticus 16, 23, and Numbers 29. The following citations from the Old and New Testaments alert any good Bible student and cause them to know that there is a direct correlation between the Old Testament Day of Atonement and the New Testament role that Jesus Christ played in bringing this day to perfection: “And this shall be a statute for ever unto you: that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, ye shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether it be one of your own country, or a stranger that sojourneth among you…And this shall be an everlasting statute unto you, to make an atonement for the children of Israel for all their sins once a year” (Leviticus 16:29, 34). “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement” (Romans 5:8-11).
From these two passages, the reader can glean the connection between the Day of Atonement in the Old Covenant and the same holy day in the New Covenant. In the Old Testament, Israel was specifically commanded to atone for all their sins once a year. In the New Testament, we understand that it is through the blood of Jesus Christ that we receive atonement.
Definition of Atonement
The word atonement is from two Hebrew root words from Stong’s Exhaustive Concordance, word #3722, Kaphar, kaw-far’ a primary root meaning to cover, expiate or condone, placate or cancel, appease, cleanse, disannul, forgive, be merciful, pardon, purge away, put off, (make) reconciliation, make an atonement, and the root word #3725, kippur, kip-poor’means expiation, atonement. The English word day is from the Hebrew root word yom. The tenth day of the seventh month (Tishri) is Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. The word atonement in Romans 5:11 is the Greek root katallege, kat-al-lag-ay’, meaning exchange, restoration (to the divine) favor; atonement; reconciliation. The word reconciliation is the more common word in the New Testament for atonement.
The sacred Day of Atonement is covered extensively in Scripture. In this brief analysis, consider the instruction Jehovah gave His covenant people in Leviticus 23:26-32:
Verse 26: “And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying.” Weigh carefully the words of Jesus Christ as found in John 5:45-47: “Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?”
Verse 27: “Also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: it shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD.” The Day of Atonement calls for a holy convocation and the affliction of all souls. This is a day for fasting, self-abasement, affliction, self-chastening, and humiliation. Isaiah 58 provides an excellent survey of this national day of fasting, supplying specific instruction regarding the personal and collective goals of this national day of prayer, fasting, repentance, and atoning for sin.
Verse 28: “And ye shall do no work in that same day: for it is a day of atonement, to make an atonement for you before the LORD your God.” This is an annual Sabbath day—with no work of any kind authorized on this sacred fast day.
Verse 29: “For whatsoever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be cut off from among his people.” This affirms the necessity of fasting and affliction of one’s soul.
Verses 30-31: “And whatsoever soul it be that doeth any work in that same day, the same soul will I destroy from among his people. Ye shall do no manner of work: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.” The solemnity and sacred nature of this holy day is strongly affirmed in this instruction from Jehovah.
Verse 32: “It shall be unto you a Sabbath of rest, and ye shall afflict your souls: in the ninth day of the month at even, from even unto even, shall ye celebrate your Sabbath.” This high, holy annual Sabbath is not the same as the weekly Sabbath, but is a day reserved for afflicting one’s soul. We should commemorate it from sunset to sunset, or from the evening of the ninth day of Tishri until the evening of the tenth day of Tishri.
The Day of Atonement in History
The Day of Atonement has a colorful history in ancient Israel. On this particular day, the high priest would set aside his usual colorful and brilliant vestments and instead approach the holy of holies just once each year arrayed in a simple linen coat, girdle, and mitre. He would then undertake an elaborate ceremonial service.
Each step or phase of this holy celebration was a type that prefigured the Lord Jesus Christ in His role as the High Priest over the family of God. First, the high priest would carefully bathe and wash his flesh in water and then don the simple linen garments. He would then offer a bullock to atone for his own sin and that of his house. Secondly, he would carefully select two goats from the flock and present them before Jehovah at the door of the tabernacle. The high priest would then “…cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the LORD, and other lot for the scapegoat,” as recorded in Leviticus 16:8. Then the high priest would “…bring the goat upon which the LORD’s lot fell, and offer him for a sin-offering. But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness” (Lev. 16:9-10).
Leviticus 16:15-16 establishes the proceedings of the high priest regarding the disposition of the goat for the sin offering: “Then shall he kill the goat of the sin-offering, that is for the people, and bring his blood within the vail, and do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it upon the mercy seat, and before the mercy seat: And he shall make an atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins. . .” The High Priest would then take the blood of the bullock and the blood of the goat for the sin-offering and sprinkle it seven times upon the horns of the altar round about—all to atone for the sins of the people. Just as the high priest would sprinkle the blood seven times upon the altar to atone for their sins, we are reminded that the blood of Jesus Christ, our High Priest after the Order of Melchizedek, was sprinkled seven different times at the time of the Crucifixion.
After the High Priest had sprinkled the blood of the bullock and goat of the sin offering upon the mercy seat and made an end of reconciling the holy place and making atonement for the sins of the people he would proceed to bring in the live goat. Leviticus 16:21-22 establishes the method by which the high priest would lay his hands “upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness. And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness.”
The scapegoat (azazel, az-aw-zale’) scapegoat, the goat of departure is significant. While the goat of the sin offering was killed and his blood offered in atonement for the sins of the people, the scapegoat was left alive. The high priest would lay both his hands upon the head of this live goat and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel and then send the goat away by a fit man into the wilderness, several miles out of the camp. Some scholars believe the goat was taken as many as twelve miles out into the wilderness. The scapegoat carried the sins of the people far out of sight. These iniquities were to be remembered no more at all. In the same manner, Jesus was crucified outside the camp at Golgotha, the place of the skull that we know as Mt. Calvary. There the blood of Jesus Christ was shed for His people. Consider the words found in Hebrews 13:12-13: “Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach.”
In the same manner that the sins of the people were laid upon the scapegoat and sent far away into the wilderness to be remembered no more, our sins were laid upon Jesus Christ, Who took our place and bore our sins upon Himself. Our sins are remembered no more! Recall the words found in Hebrews 10:16-18: “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.” Psalm 103:12 reminds us that, “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.” The Prophet Micah declared that God, in the case of His covenant people, would “…subdue our iniquities, and thou will cast all their sins into the depths of sea” (Micah 7:19).
As Christians, we must remember that Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son of God, fulfilled every requirement of the Day of Atonement at His sacrificial death at Mount Calvary in A.D. 33. Hebrews 9:11-12 makes this clear: “But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.” As believers, we must praise God that “Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us” (Hebrews 9:24). Try to capture this thought: Jesus Christ our Kinsman Redeemer, our Savior and coming King, carried drops of His precious blood into heaven itself. Sprinkling that blood upon the heavenly altar, He forever removed our sins and iniquities. Jesus now makes daily intercession as our High Priest as He stands as our advocate against Satan, the accuser of the brethren, who accuses us of sin and seeks to impose the penalty of judgment upon our sin.
While Jesus and His disciples were eating the Passover supper in 33 A.D, Jesus took the bread and blessed it. Likewise, according to Scripture, He took the cup and gave thanks before He served it to His disciples, saying: “This is the blood of the new testament (covenant), which is shed for many for the remission (forgiveness) of sins” (Matthew 26:28). The initiation of this New Covenant was in fulfillment of the promise Jeremiah made to the houses of Israel and Judah (Jeremiah 31:31-34). As Christians, we can rejoice and should reflect upon Hebrews 9:14-15: “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament (covenant), that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.”
Can we now move forward to the big question? Having laid this foundation, how do we make atonement for sin on the Day of Atonement? We know that this day is sacred and holy, an annual Sabbath day and time for prayer, fasting, and repentance. But none of these important features of the Day of Atonement atone for our sin. The answer is found in the command that the Day of Atonement should be a day for holy convocation, a public gathering of the covenant people in the sanctuary. In this holy convocation, each participant must atone for his own sin by humbly and gratefully partaking of the body and blood of Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. This is how we actually apply the blood of Christ to our lives.
At Passover, we commemorate Christ’s sacrificial death as our Paschal Lamb with the Sacrament of Holy Communion (Exodus 12:14). On the Day, we apply Christ’s blood to our personal and collective sins. Consider this instruction from Leviticus about the priests’ preparation for keeping the Day of Atonement: “And he shall make an atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make an atonement for the tabernacle of the congregation, and for the altar, and he shall make an atonement for the priests, and for all the people of the congregation. And this shall be an everlasting statute unto you, to make an atonement for the children of Israel for all their sins once a year” (Leviticus 16:33-34).
The Testimony of Isaiah
The Prophet Isaiah guides us to properly keep the high, holy Day of Atonement and outlines the goals of prayer, fasting, and repentance on this sacred day: “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? To loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? When thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?” (Isa. 58:6-7). Isaiah further instructs on the importance of the state of our hearts on the Day of Atonement. We should do all the following:
3) Let the oppressed go free.
The promise is that when we properly observe this day of prayer, fasting, and repentance, the following blessings will be forthcoming. Heed these words from Isaiah 58:8:
Further, we read this from Isaiah: “If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity; And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday” (Isaiah 58:8-10). In return, God makes this promise in verses 11-12:
Finally, Isaiah makes this appeal to the covenant people keeping the Sabbath Day of Atonement in verse 13: “If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words:” (Isaiah 58:13). Then Jehovah promises this to celebrants of the Day of Atonement: “Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD. And I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD (JEHOVAH) hath spoken it.”
Outside the promise of eternal life, can there be any greater blessing found? Imagine what might happen if all the covenant people would in sackcloth and ashes enter the Day of Atonement amid prayers, fasting, and repentance and atone for their sin before the altar of God! Consider what might occur if covenant people across America and throughout the Anglo-Saxon and Germanic nations of the world humbled themselves and humbly observed this time of prayer, fasting, and repentance.
Is II Chronicles 7:14 a biblical invitation for covenant people to observe the biblical Day of Atonement? “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” Perhaps such is the case.