There will be quiet and empty roads across the land of Israel for the holiest day of the Jewish calendar: Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Most Jewish will people go without food and drink for 24 hours and attend special Yom Kippur services at synagogues, even if they don’t believe in God at all – much the same way that many people who don’t really believe in Jesus still celebrate Christmas. The habit of fasting and quiet contemplation on this day has become a deeply-ingrained part of Jewish culture. And while reflecting in the synagogue on sin, forgiveness, and what it all means, sometimes God meets them there…
The Lost Meaning of the Scapegoat of Yom Kippur
Atonement – At-One-Ment – becoming one with his beloved people, was always God’s desire, and this special day of sacrifice and forgiveness of sins was designed to help achieve that. It’s a key time to pray for Jewish people to be reconciled to their God, through the blood of the Messiah.
About 3500 years ago, God’s instructed Aaron, the High Priest, to take two goats:“He is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the LORD and the other for the scapegoat. Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the LORD and sacrifice it for a sin offering. But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD to be used for making atonement by sending it into the wilderness as a scapegoat.” Leviticus 16:8-10
The “scapegoat” has become a well-known concept in the English language, taken from the Hebrew word עֲזָאזֵל, and it means one who takes the blame. The exact meaning is unclear in the Hebrew, but as strange as the words and indeed the whole ritual can seem, this event provokes Jewish people to think…
- Why do we need blood sacrifice? And does it matter that we don’t do it today?
- Are my sins really forgiven? And which things are sin anyway?
- How can I be sure that my name is written in the Book of Life?
Today, Yom Kippur has developed into an event bearing little resemblance to the Biblical mandate. Blood sacrifices were substituted for prayers shortly after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, and without any certainty of absolute forgiveness, rabbis talked about having deeds “weighed” – the good against the bad. Only those who have been “good enough” will have their names written in the Book of Life. At this time of year, considered the Jewish New Year (Rosh HaShana falls a few days before Yom Kippur) people wish each other luck that their name would be written in the right book.
This is so far from what God intended – the message of Yom Kippur was that all in the community have sinned, and that the substitutionary sacrifice of an innocent other would carry the burden of their sin, so that they wouldn’t have to. The result was supposed to be that a weight would be lifted off their shoulders as they could know for sure that they were completely forgiven by God, because of the acceptable blood of the sacrifice. It was a perfect picture of the coming Messianic sacrifice.
A Jewish friend of mine, Aliza, began her journey to faith in a synagogue on Yom Kippur in 1965. She listened to Leviticus 16 that gives in great and gory detail what had to be done on the day. When this reading was concluded the prayer-book of that time continued: – “accept our prayers instead of sacrifice.” Aliza immediately said to herself, “that can’t be right, it’s too easy.”
Some time later she met believers who were able to tell her something of Yeshua and she began to read the Bible. She found the passage in Leviticus, but indeed it did not give prayer as an alternative to sacrifice. She kept reading and began to understand that as a Jew she needed a High Priest to intercede for her and to bring sacrifice of atonement before God. Eventually she read the letter to the Hebrews; the ultimate commentary on Leviticus. When she reached chapters eight to ten she understood, and by the time she read Hebrews 10, verses 19 to 23, she asked Yeshua to be her High Priest. Aliza always says that she did not “ask Yeshua into her life” – rather she asked if He would have her in His. And so he did, and she testifies that as the verse promised, He has been faithful ever since.
Orit and Marvin’s Story
Orit was from a religious background, and sitting in synagogue in Haifa, Israel, on Yom Kippur 1983, she couldn’t help but feel that the service was full of hypocrisy. She would read the Bible regularly, and had checked the prophecies about the Messiah, and although the words of the prayer book were beautiful, she felt that they were empty. She saw that the words of the Bible itself had been neglected. Her family would go through the motions to try to gain the “kapara” (atonement) for each person, but Orit knew that no amount of money or slaughtered chickens was going to earn them the right to stand sinless before God. It would have to be something much bigger. She heard the people around her crying and repenting, but said in her heart to Yeshua, “If you’re the true Messiah that came and gave your life for us, I believe it”. She felt a little strange, but got up, shook off her clothes and went home and felt no guilt. From then on, she was on her way to her own personal relationship with Yeshua. “I just knew there wasn’t anything that could cleanse us from sin, and bring us closer to God, but we needed something much bigger – I asked God to reveal himself to me, and he did”, says Orit.
Little did she know, the man who would later become her husband, Marvin, was also going through a similar process in America. He was also from a religious Jewish background, and came to faith in Yeshua at this time, in a similar way, on Yom Kippur. They married, and today live in Israel. They have three children who also believe in the saving power of Yeshua the Messiah, but Marvin and Orit intentionally help their children to know and understand what their Jewish brothers and sisters are hearing and doing during Yom Kippur, by taking them to synagogue to see, experience and learn how they can best pray for their people.
Time To Pray
So, in the same way that Aliza found her Messiah on the Day of Atonement many years ago, Orit and Marvin also both came to faith independently at Yom Kippur in the 1980s, as they had the opportunity to think about the meaning of atonement and sacrifice. Please pray in a concentrated way at this time, for many more Jewish people to come face to face with their God and his Messiah this Yom Kippur.
Messianic believers across the whole of Israel will also be fasting and praying for their people and their country throughout Yom Kippur. God tells us: