According to the Bible Calendar, the tenth day of the seventh month (Tishri) is the Day of Atonement. The Jews call it Yom Kippur.
In the year 2003, it was celebrated on Monday 6th October (started at sunset on Sunday 5th October and ended at sunset on Monday 6th October) by Jews, some Christians and anyone else who believes in keeping this Holy Day.
In Hebrew Yom means day, (marked from sunset to sunset, as instructed by God), and Kippur means to pardon, or condone. The word atonement carries the meaning to English-speaking people. It means to make amends or to reconcile — to become "at one".
The observance of the Day of Atonement originates all the way to the time of Moses:
"And The Lord said to Moses, "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 [i.e. fast] and present an offering by fire to The Lord. And you shall do no work on this same day; for it is a day of atonement, to make atonement for you before The Lord your God." (Leviticus 23:26–28, RSV)
The Lord commanded the Day of Atonement as a solemn annual observance of the Israelites. It’s unique in that it’s the only of the annual God-commanded Biblical Holy Days in which fasting was required. The fast was such a strict requirement that anyone who failed to do so would be cut off from the community.
All of the ancient Biblical Holy Days are significant to Christians because they individually symbolise the steps in God’s Plan of Salvation (the very purpose of Christianity) for all humanity. There is only one Way to eternal life.
Just as, for example, the Passover’s slain lamb symbolises the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (the "Lamb of God"), and the Feast Of Trumpets pictures the Return Of Jesus Christ, the Day of Atonement also has its significance to the Christian world — so much so that a number of Christian churches and groups observe the Day of Atonement as a Holy Day, including the fast.
Let us turn now to the original ritual that was carried out in ancient Israel by the high priest, in Leviticus 16:
"Now the Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they offered profane fire before the Lord, and died; and the Lord said to Moses: ‘Tell Aaron your brother not to come at just any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, lest he die; for I will appear in the cloud above the mercy seat. Thus Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with the blood of a young bull as a sin offering, and of a ram as a burnt offering. He shall put the holy linen tunic and the linen trousers on his body; he shall be girded with a linen sash, and with the linen turban he shall be attired. These are holy garments. Therefore he shall wash his body in water, and put them on. And he shall take from the congregation of the children of Israel two kids of the goats as a sin offering, and one ram as a burnt offering.
Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering, which is for himself, and make atonement for himself and for his house. He shall take the two goats and present them before the Lord at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. Then Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats: one lot for the Lord and the other lot for the scapegoat. And Aaron shall bring the goat on which the Lord’s lot fell, and offer it as a sin offering. But the goat on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord, to make atonement upon it, and to let it go as the scapegoat into the wilderness.
And Aaron shall bring the bull of the sin offering, which is for himself, and make atonement for himself and for his house, and shall kill the bull as the sin offering which is for himself. Then he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from the altar before the Lord, with his hands full of sweet incense beaten fine, and bring it inside the veil. And 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 Testimony, lest he die. He shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the mercy seat on the east side; and before the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times.
Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering, which is for the people, bring its blood inside the veil, do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it on the mercy seat and before the mercy seat. So he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, for all their sins; and so he shall do for the tabernacle of meeting which remains among them in the midst of their uncleanness. There shall be no man in the tabernacle of meeting when he goes in to make atonement in the Holy Place, until he comes out, that he may make atonement for himself, for his household, and for all the assembly of Israel. And 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 some of the blood of the goat, and put it on the horns of the altar all around. Then he shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times, cleanse it, and consecrate it from the uncleanness of the children of Israel.
And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place, the tabernacle of meeting, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat. Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a suitable man. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to an uninhabited land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness.
Then Aaron shall come into the tabernacle of meeting, shall take off the linen garments which he put on when he went into the Holy Place, and shall leave them there. And he shall wash his body with water in a holy place, put on his garments, come out and offer his burnt offering and the burnt offering of the people, and make atonement for himself and for the people. The fat of the sin offering he shall burn on the altar. And he who released the goat as the scapegoat shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp. The bull for the sin offering and the goat for the sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the Holy Place, shall be carried outside the camp. And they shall burn in the fire their skins, their flesh, and their offal. Then he who burns them shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp.
This shall be a statute forever for you: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether a native of your own country or a stranger who dwells among you. For on that day the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the Lord. It is a Sabbath of solemn rest for you, and you shall afflict your souls. It is a statute forever. And the priest, who is anointed and consecrated to minister as priest in his father’s place, shall make atonement, and put on the linen clothes, the holy garments; then he shall make atonement for the Holy Sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tabernacle of meeting and for the altar, and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly. This shall be an everlasting statute for you, to make atonement for the children of Israel, for all their sins, once a year.’ And he did as the Lord commanded Moses."
Aaron was clothed for the service of the Day of Atonement, not in his usual garments of glory and beauty, but in garments of sacrifice, the "holy garments", made from linen, emblems of purity, described as the righteousness of the saints in Revelation 19:8.
The high priest sacrificed the young bull, burnt its fat which produced a cloud of smoke as it burned on the altar, and then took its blood into the Holy of Holies and sprinkle the blood over the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant. This sacrifice was for himself, as he was only human and like all humans would have sinned at some time in his life, probably several times since the previous Day of Atonement.
Then he would come out of the Most Holy Place and kill the goat that had been chosen by drawing lots as the Lord’s goat. And again he would go into the Most Holy Place and sprinkle the blood on the mercy seat. This depicts the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ, our "High Priest" (Hebrews 8:1) entering the Throne Room of God to make atonement for humanity once for all time (Hebrews 9:23–28).
So we have two sacrifices the priest made, both of which required taking the blood into the Most Holy Place, to sprinkle the blood before the Lord. The first was for himself and his household, the second for the people of Israel. In both cases the blood represents the sacrifice of Christ and His shed blood, but it would appear that the first time the priest went in was symbolic of forgiving the sins of the household of the high priest. As Christ is our High Priest, and we are of His household, the first people to be forgiven are God’s people, those in His Church and who have His Holy Spirit, including all those throughout history who were given the Spirit of God. The second sacrifice was for the rest of the people of Israel; which symbolises forgiveness of the rest of mankind.
Although there was only one sacrifice of Christ, it is first and foremost for those who will be the firstfruits at Christ’s return, and secondly for the rest of mankind. Because at present, only those who have been called and chosen by God, repented and been given the Holy Spirit, who are forgiven of their sins. The rest of mankind are still in their sins. The sacrificing of the young bull and presenting its blood before the Lord represents the cleansing of the Church now at this time; as the sacrifice was made for the high priest and his household; today Christ is the High Priest, and the Church is His household. The Church must be cleansed first, in order to prepare it for the great task in the future, as the bride of Christ, in cleansing the rest of the world.
There are 3 elements of the Day of Atonement that apply directly to Christians:
The Day of Atonement signifies the 3 most vital aspects of Christianity:
The Scapegoat — A Symbol of Satan
The Azazel goat, translated as scapegoat in some Bibles, was one of two goats chosen for a ceremony on the Day Of Atonement. The first goat was sacrificed, while the scapegoat was taken out into the wilderness and released.
"Then he shall take the two goats, and set them before the Lord at the door of the tent of meeting; and Aaron shall cast lots upon 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 offer 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" (Leviticus 16:7–10, RSV).
"And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat; and Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins; and he shall put them upon the head of the goat, and send him away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities upon him to a solitary land; and he shall let the goat go in the wilderness" (Leviticus 16:20–22, RSV).
The scapegoat was not killed, just as the spirit Satan cannot be killed. Instead, all of the guilt of the people was symbolically placed on the head of the scapegoat, who was then taken out into the wilderness and released (Leviticus 16:21–22).
This goat represents the condemnation of Satan for the Satan-inspired sins of all humanity, and his being put away in a spiritual wilderness (Revelation 20:3, 10). The sending of the azazel goat out into the wilderness was done by a man who was qualified, after the high priest had returned from inside the Most Holy Place of the Tabernacle; and is a ceremonial "preview" of an angel sending Satan into the abyss which will be done after Christ’s Return from the Throne Room of God the Father, as shown in Revelation 20:1–2,
"Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years."
The original meaning of scapegoat was escape goat, the goat that was allowed to "escape" with its life. The accepted modern meaning of scapegoat, someone who is punished for the wrongs of others, is not at all accurate for Satan. He is as guilty as guilty can be, and he deserves everything that’s coming to him.
A quick search on the Internet, using the Google image search facility (http://images.google.com) and the term "azazel", will return a variety of images, mostly pictures of the Devil, such as this one:
There are some people who wrongly believe that the azazel goat represents Christ. But how can both goats represent Christ? One is sacrificed, and one is sent into the wilderness. Although it is true that Christ spent time in the wilderness at the start of His ministry, He returned from that. The azazel goat was sent into the wilderness, never to return to the congregation of Israel. And Revelation 20:1–2 pictures the fulfilment of that when an angel puts Satan into a bottomless pit, and later Satan is cast into the lake of fire to be cut off from God forevermore. The sins of the people were placed onto the head of the azazel goat because it pictured Satan, and his being the origin of sin, with all sins going back on him so that he bears the ultimate punishment for all of the sins that he has committed and caused to be committed by mankind. Christ never sinned, but He died for our sins. He did not live with our sins, but died for our sins.
But, we should notice that when the two goats were brought forward to the high priest, that no one knew which goat was which, and they had to draw lots to determine which goat was for the Lord and which was azazel. This is because Satan today makes himself appear righteous, as a false Christ, and it is impossible for the world to tell Satan and Christ apart, when Satan is masquerading as an angel of light (see 2 Corinthians 11:14; Matthew 24:5). So by drawing lots, God made it clear which goat was His and which one was Satan’s; just as today we need God to show us which "Christ" is the true Christ, and who is really Satan in disguise.
In the diagram, it shows the events of the Day of Atonement. 1. two goats are brought forward, one is for the Lord, one is the scapegoat (azazel); 2. the high priest goes into the Most Holy Place with a censer of burning coals; 3. the high priest sacrifices the Lord's goat; 4. the high priest enters the Most Holy Place with the blood of the goat and sprinkles it on the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant; 5. the high priest confesses the sins of Israel on the azazel goat; 6. the azazel goat is left in the wilderness cut off from Israel.
Noah and the Flood
Let us also look at Noah and the Flood. His name means comfort, consolation, rest or regeneration (Genesis 5:29). As in Christ’s day, the world was wicked (Genesis 6:5–9). Like Christ, he was spiritually just and walked with God (Genesis 6:9); both he and Christ were preachers of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5) and had great faith (Heb 11:7); this faith was demonstrated by obedience to God (Genesis 6:22), which included Sabbath observance (Genesis 7:4, 10; 8:4, 10, 12).
Covering Noah’s ark was the pitch (probably resin) which pictures atonement (Heb "kaphar" = atonement), the period prior to the flood is typical of the events leading up to the Great Tribulation; with the flood itself being the height of the tribulation (cf. Luke 17:26–27; Revelation 12:15–17). On 1st Tishri Noah looked out on the new world. We know that Christ will probably return on 1st Tishri too, to commence His millennial reign. Noah, at that time, commenced his 7th century at which time he saw and received the ‘promised land’. Similarly, Christ will commence the seventh millennium of God’s Plan at His return. We also know that God made a covenant with Noah – possibly a type of the New Covenant which Christ will finalise at His return (Isaiah 54:8–10; Genesis 9:9).
Christ preached to the demon spirits, in Noah’s day. It would appear that He may have given them warning about their ultimate punishment which will be fulfilled at the end time. Noah’s Flood was a type of the Day of the Lord at which time their punishments will enforced (1 Peter 3:19–20). Interestingly, in the following verse the Flood is compared to baptism.
The covering of Noah’s ark was what saved the ark from water leaking in and sinking it. That covering is from the same Hebrew word that means atonement. As we keep this Day of Atonement we should remember that in doing so it is bringing us closer to God and separating us from the flood of sin in this world.
“And whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance in order to be seen fasting by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that you may not be seen fasting by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you” (Matthew 6:16–18).
This is a passage of Scripture that cannot be ignored. Many of us live our Christian lives as if these verses had been torn out of our bibles.
Jesus expected His disciples to fast. For He did not begin, “If you fast, then this is how you should do it”, but “When” you do so. He took it for granted that they would.
New Testament Examples Of Fasting
Jesus Christ Himself fasted forty days and nights in the wilderness. In reply to the question people asked Him that His disciples did not fast, He said; “When the bridegroom is taken away… then they [My disciples] will fast” (Matthew 9:15). In the Sermon on the Mount He told us how to fast, on the assumption that we would. In Acts and the New Testament letters there are several references to the apostles fasting.
The Early Church: Jesus fasted immediately before His public ministry began; and the early church followed His example — the church at Antioch before Paul and Barnabas were sent out on the first missionary journey, and Paul and Barnabas themselves before appointing elders in every new church, which they planted (Acts 13:1–3; 14:23). The evidence is plain that special enterprises need special prayer, and that special prayer may well involve fasting.
Purposes Of Fasting
In Scripture, fasting and to “humble ourselves before God” are virtually equivalent terms (Psalms 35:13; Isaiah 58:3, 5). Sometimes this was an expression of penitence for past sin.
When people were deeply distressed over their sin and guilt, they would both weep and fast. Paul, after his conversion, moved to penitence for his persecution of Christ, for three days neither ate nor drank (Acts 9:9).
Sometimes still today, when the people of God are convicted of sin and moved to repentance, it is not inappropriate as a token of penitence to mourn, to weep, and to fast.
We are not to humble ourselves before God only in past sin, however, but also in dependence on Him for future mercy. For if “penitence and fasting” go together in scripture, “prayer and fasting” are even more coupled. This is not so much a regular practice, so that whenever we pray we fast, as an occasional and special arrangement, so that when we need to seek God for some particular direction or blessing, we turn aside from food and other distractions in order to do so.
There is another biblical reason for fasting. Hunger is one of our basic human appetites, and greed one of our basic human sins. We have no cause to “punish” the body (which is God’s creation), but we must humble it to make it obedient. Fasting (a voluntary abstinence from food) is one way of being humble and refraining from greed, selfishness and gluttony. A humble man is not greedy.
One further reason for fasting should be mentioned. Namely, a deliberate doing without in order to share what we might have eaten (or its cost) with the undernourished. There is a biblical warrant for this practice (Job 31:17; Isaiah 58:7). Jesus implied something similar when He told of the rich man feasting sumptuously every day while the beggar lay at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from his table (Luke 16:19–31).
There are good biblical reasons for fasting. Whatever our reasons, Jesus took it for granted that fasting would have a place in our Christian life. His concern was that, as with our giving and our praying, so with our fasting, we should not, like the hypocrites, draw attention to ourselves. Calvin commented, “Christ does not withdraw us from one kind of hypocrisy to lead us into another.” For the purpose of fasting is not to advertise ourselves, but to discipline ourselves, not to gain a reputation for ourselves but to express our humility before God and our concern for others in need. If these purposes are fulfilled, it will be reward enough!
Proper Focus When Fasting
Matthew 6:16–18 tells us what Christ had to say about fasting,
“Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”
It is evident that throughout, Jesus is contrasting two alternative kinds of piety, or devotion to religious duties, Pharisaic and Christian. Pharisaic piety is ostentatious, motivated by vanity and rewarded by man. Christian piety is secret, motivated by humility and rewarded by God.
To pray is to seek God; to give is to serve others. To fast is to humble oneself. But the effect of hypocrisy is to destroy the integrity of these practices by turning each of them into an occasion for self-display.
Although the Pharisees fasted in order to be seen and praised by men, it is not other people with whom the hypocrite is obsessed, but himself. Ultimately, our only reason for pleasing men around us is that we may please ourselves. The remedy for this is we have to become so conscious of God that we cease to be self-conscious.
So the question is: Which spectators matters to us more, earthly or heavenly, man or God? The hypocrite performs his ritual “in order to be seen by men”. The Greek verb is theathenai. That is, they are in a theatre giving a performance. The Christian is also aware that he is being watched, but for him the audience is God.
But why is it, someone may ask, that a different audience causes a different performance? We can bluff a human audience; they can be taken in by our performance. If we prefer human spectators, we shall lose our Christian integrity. The same will happen if we become our own audience. But God is not mocked; we cannot deceive Him, for God looks on the heart.
So We Must Choose Our Audience Carefully!
Prayer and Fasting
This is where the power is at, because fasting puts us in harmony with an All Powerful God who demands humility from those who wish to be close to Him. Fasting humbles the flesh. When it is done for that purpose, it pleases the Spirit of God.
You can go a certain distance in God, and experience many things, without fasting much, but the highest, richest and most powerful blessings always go to those who together with other disciplines, fast much unto God. The most significant Biblical characters, with the possible exception of Abraham, were all men of fasting and prayer. Jesus, the Son of God, was a man of fasting and prayer (Matthew 4:2). So was the apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 11:27). Moses fasted 80 days. Elijah fasted 40 days. The early church fasted before starting any major work. If done right, fasting counts a lot with God.
Fasting is not magic, nor does it twist the arm of God. God wants to do many amazing things, but He looks for those willing to urgently make the corrections needed to come into line with him. God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Successful fasting is also the fastest way to learn patience. It takes patience and endurance to fast for more than a day. Many of God’s tests come quicker to us when we fast, and we have a better opportunity to pass them. If we want to go far with God we would have to face these tests anyway, but much later, and in a more time consuming and difficult way. We need to "bite the bullet" and embrace the correction God wants to apply to our souls.
Fasting gives you God’s focus for your life. It is a major key to hearing God’s voice (the other is true worship — the two are related). We need focus from God more than anything. The world we live in is working overtime to distract us, to entice us, to win our hearts and minds, our focus, and to determine our vision. Fasting cuts out the world so we can tune into God. If we are obedient to God fasting will make us catalysts for revival and awakening.
The Pain of Fasting
Fasting is not easy. There are degrees of fasting, of course. The pain of fasting is twofold. The physical pain is due to the detoxification of our bodies. All the accumulate poison and garbage starts to come into our blood and we feel dreadful.
The soulish pain is due to the conflict in the spiritual realm between your flesh and the Spirit of God. This goes behind the natural desire to eat. There is soulish pain because:
© David King 2003