Monday, May 25, 2009

The Festivals of God - Pt. 7 Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur - The Day of Atonement

Lev. 16; 23:26-32. Once a year on Yom Kippur, the High Priest would enter into the Holy of Holies to offer a blood sacrifice upon the mercy seat. After the Babylonian captivity, the ark and mercy seat were no longer in the Holy of Holies, and God had departed from the temple. There was nothing there but a rock protruding a few inches above the ground. In spite of this, they continued to go through the ritual of sprinkling the blood in the room. The story goes that priests wore bells on their robes and they would tie a rope around a foot of the priest, so that they could hear if he was still alive and if not, they could pull him out in case they died in there. Normally nobody could look upon God and live, but on this one day (when the ark was there before God left the sanctuary) an exception was made when the priest would enter into the Holy of Holies and be in the presence of the Shekinah glory of God. The priest didn’t wear the usual colorful garments, but wore special linen garments that were just for the occasion. Two goats had been chosen beforehand. Lots would be cast over them, one for the Lord and one for the scapegoat. The one for the Lord would be offered as a sin offering. They would take the blood of the goat and other animals that had been sacrificed and sprinkle them on the mercy seat. The other goat would be presented alive before the Lord to make an atonement. The priest would lay his hands upon the head of the goat, confess the iniquities of the children of Israel, putting all their sins on it, and then send it away into the wilderness for Azazel. The scapegoat as it was known would be taken out and pushed over a cliff. The two goats were considered one offering. One shed the blood as the penalty for sin, and the other took away the sins to be forgotten. Christ was able to do both things. Tradition has an interesting story about the scapegoat. When choosing which goat would be sacrificed and which would become the scapegoat, the priest would choose lots from a golden urn, one with the right hand, one with the left. If the lot for the Lord came up in his right hand, it was considered a good omen. If it came up in the left, it was a bad omen of impending doom. For about forty years before the destruction of the temple, (from the time of Christ’s crucifixion) it had come up in the left hand. After choosing the goats, a red sash was tied around the horns of the scapegoat. When the goat was led out into the wilderness, a portion of the sash was taken and tied to the temple door. Before the goat was pushed over the precipice, the sash was again divided with part being tied back onto the goat’s horns and part being tied to a protrusion from the precipice. According to tradition when the goat met its end, the red sashes would turn white, letting the people know that their sins were forgiven. From the time of Christ’s death until the destruction of the temple it is said that the sashes quit turning white.

In referencing back to Azazel, Scripture is a little vague as to what this is, and it seems that in Judaism, they have no idea what it means also; however, the Book of Enoch says that Azazel is a demon who was the leader of the fallen angels that corrupted man in Noah’s day and caused the world to be destroyed by the flood. They educated mankind in heavenly secrets that led mankind to sin. The angels charged Azazel before the Lord with his crimes. He was then punished by being bound hand and foot and thrown into darkness among the sharp and jagged rocks of the wilderness, where he remains until the day of judgment when he will be thrown in the fire. Tribal groups of Biblical times worshipped goat-devils of the desert or wilderness. Leviticus 17:7 and 2 Chronicles 11:15 speak of devils, but when one looks up the Hebrew word, it turns out that the Hebrew definition for devils in these two verses actually means a he-goat, faun, or satyr. So indeed the mythological faun (as I have always suspected) is not a myth at all, but indeed the appearance of a particular species of devils. As we will see when we come to Revelation, they are not the only “mythological” creatures that are actually devils. While it is speculation, it would appear from all this information (the Scriptural part is obviously reliable) that 1) there exist devils who are half-goat/half-man, 2) that ancient tribal people worshiped goat-devils who lived in the wilderness, 3) that one of these goat-devils is named Azazel as he was chained there as punishment, 4) and that he was given a scapegoat as a sacrifice for the sins of Israel.

According to Jewish writings from that time, when the destruction of Jerusalem came, it was not a surprise to the people. They felt that God had been warning them that it was going to happen and that they were being given time to restructure their worship around the synagogue instead. They felt that these following signs were the warning of the impending doom: 1) the lot for the scapegoat did not come up in the right hand of the priest, 2) the sash no longer turned white, 3) the westernmost light on the temple candelabra would not burn. This light was used to light the other candles in the candelabra and 4) the temple doors would open by themselves (kind of creepy). They felt this was a fulfillment of Zech. 11:1 “Open thy doors O Lebanon that fire may devour thy cedars.” I’m sure they were also a little scared of the fact that the veil of the temple was rent in two at Christ’s death.

After the destruction of the temple there were no priests or sacrifices, so the rabbis decided to replace them with repentance, prayer, fasting, charity, personal suffering, study of the Law, and of course one’s own death. As charity is one of the substitutions for sacrifice, long tables with alms plates for every charity going are put out in the synagogue. While only practiced in orthodox circles today, in times past a pious man would take a white chicken (rooster for a male, and a hen for a female) and wave it over his head three times while reciting “This is a substitute for me; this is in exchange for me; this is my atonement. This cock (or hen) shall be consigned to death, while I shall have a long and pleasant life and peace.” They then slaughtered the bird and either ate it for the evening meal and gave its financial worth to the poor, or gave the chicken itself to the poor, even though this kind of sacrifice is not specified in Scripture. Nowadays people tie some money in a handkerchief and swing it around their head three times while reciting a similar phrase.

The day before Yom Kippur, people eat a large meal in preparation for the complete fast (not even water is allowed during the fast) that is incumbent on all who are thirteen years and older, except for the seriously ill. Then they take the mikvah, a ritual bath, to cleanse themselves before going to public confession in the synagogue later that evening. This is not a confession of one’s personal sins, but a corporate ritual confession. Women wear white and men wear kittels (a white robe worn over the clothing). Besides fasting, there are some other restrictions to be observed: no bathing (I’m glad some take the ritual mikvah beforehand), no anointing the body with oil, no wearing of leather shoes, no sexual relations, no cooking, no using fire, and no carrying of heavy objects. These would appear to be more the rabbis’ ideas rather than God’s. Yom Kippur ends with the blowing of the shofar, (the last trump) which is supposed to herald the coming of the Messiah. It also symbolizes the closing of the gates of heaven. (Amazing how they have no idea what the meaning of the “last trump” symbolizes for us, yet it is there in their observance.) Then everyone goes home to hammer the first nail of the Sukkah, the booth for the Feast of Tabernacles which begins in a few days. Then they can sit down to a big festive meal.

The shofar sounding on Yom Kippur also announces the Jubilee year when land and estates are returned to their rightful owner and slaves are given their freedom.

Another interesting piece of information was found in a book about Jewish Feasts and Festivals (written by a Jew, not a Christian). It seems that one of the readings (which they find a total puzzle) is Lev. 18. This author says that it “talks about forbidden sexual relations.” He suggests a couple of reasons it might be read, 1) that on Yom Kippur of all days, they need to be especially careful in this area, and that 2) it reflects a strange tradition which says the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur were the merriest days of the year, for young women would dress in white and go out in the fields to dance, and young men would come and choose brides. Here is another obvious tradition that God had a hand in, that they have no idea what it is about, but it is so obvious to us. Yom Kippur to them is a solemn day, a day of atonement and judgment. To us, it is the Lord’s returning for his bride, so of course we joyously dance (in white for righteousness) and wait for our bridegroom to come for us. As to the reading, Lev. 18 is all about illicit and perverted sex. Incest, homosexuality, fornication, and God’s warning that they were not to defile themselves with these things, as this is why he punished the nations before them as they defiled the land with these sins. He talks of how he will cut off the land and the people for these sexual sins. It can be seen that this is talking about the Day of the Lord and His wrath upon the world for its perversions, among chief is the sexual sins of our world. Pornography, homosexuality, bestiality, incest, pedophilia, etc. This always has been an abomination to God and caused nations to fall, and will again bring God’s wrath down on our nation as well as other nations. Again, the Jews don’t understand, but we certainly do. Another reading which they don’t understand is the book of Jonah. They don’t understand the symbolism of the three days and nights in the belly of the whale, but the connection to Jesus’ three days and nights in the grave can’t be missed. They also have some suggestions as to why this is read, some of which I think are probably a good reason it is read. 1) It is an example of a whole city with no relationship to God who repent their evil ways and are forgiven. For them this speaks to the whole idea of repentance at Yom Kippur. For us this relates to the N.T. story (Matt. 20) where the workers agree to work all day for a particular wage. During the day more workers are hired, but given the same wage at the end of the day. The first workers complain that those hired at the end of the day didn’t work the same length of time. They are told that they agreed to the wage, so they have no reason to complain, that the employer has the right to give what wage he wants. We should not rejoice at the end of days to see people who have rejected the Lord and persecuted us punished. We should still show mercy and want them to accept the Lord, right up to the end. God has said that as much mercy as we show others, He will show us (James 2:13). It also reminds us that the Scriptures say that when the fullness of the Gentiles comes in, all Israel will be saved (Rom.11:25-26). The story of Ninevah will be their story at the return of Christ. They will repent. We should not begrudge them that, even though they have rejected their Messiah for 2000 years. 2) The message that God cares compassionately for all living things and prefers repentance to destruction. (Well, that’s a given as to how He feels, but unfortunately it isn’t how the world reacts). 3) Jonah shows us we cannot escape God’s will for us. We cannot flee His service if He intends for us to do something. (A message to all of us). The author of the book on Jewish festivals makes an interesting observation. Jonah was the only successful prophet in the whole Bible. The only one to whom people listened and actually repented. Yet it was this very knowledge that he would succeed, (not doubts about his failure) that made him flee. He knew they would repent. Jonah 4:1-2 “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry. And he prayed unto the Lord and said, I pray thee O lord, was not this my saying, (I said that they would repent) when I was yet in my own country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.” This is an interesting observation, one that I had never considered. This would make a good discussion topic if anyone wants to comment here.

Just as traditions says that the messiah is crowned King on Rosh haShanah, it also says that Yom Kippur is the day when God closes the books and He decides people's fates. It also says it is the Day that the Day of the Lord will begin, and the resurrection will occur.  This makes perfect sense that Christ would be crowned King in heaven before He comes to earth, that He gives the world ten more days to decide their fates (book of life or God's wrath) and then He comes on Yom Kippur to resurrect/rapture His people and pour out His wrath on the world.  By the time this day comes, the world will have lost all sense of the calendar and it is most probable that nobody will know  when the day will occur.

Lastly, as Yom Kippur draws to a close, the ritual of blessing the moon is performed. In tradition circles, Jews go outside near the beginning of every month and bless the moon. Interestingly according to one of their writings (this particular writing is not from the Bible, but this information is found in the Bible, they just don’t know it.) at the end of days, the moon will be restored to a splendor equal to the sun. In a way that will happen, as will be seen when we get to Revelation, but now is not the time to go over that Scripture.

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