The streets are weirdly quiet on Yom Kippur in Israel. Driving is not exactly banned, but it is definitely frowned upon. As a result, children can (and do) safely ride their bikes in the middle of the road – that is, when the country is not in lockdown. This year, the empty roads and the eerie quiet will be even more extreme.
Yom Kippur is a day of contemplation and reflection, fasting and praying. Though very different to the prescribed Day of Atonement in ancient Israel, in both cases Yom Kippur is a day where most people do nothing much. And this is a very important point.
If you’re paying attention while reading the biblical directives, you’ll notice that the high priest is very active on Yom Kippur, but the congregation…? Not so much. There is a great lesson for us in this today.
The all-important actions of the high priest
“And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness.” (Leviticus 16:21).
There are 81 verbs used to describe the high priest’s work of atonement in this chapter. Remarkably, there are only four verbs in this chapter addressed to the reader, i.e., what he is to do (Leviticus 16:29-31).
Each of the four verbs addressed to the reader are responses to the work of atonement, but these actions contribute absolutely nothing to the atonement itself.
There is nothing we can do to atone for our sins.
Atonement is received by faith – faith in the finished work of the high priest. As Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement approaches, let us rejoice in the finished work of our High Priest!
“But when Messiah appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:11-14).
You shall not do any work
“You shall not do any work on this same day, for it is a day of atonement, to make atonement on your behalf before the LORD your God” (Leviticus 23:28).
This exact sentence in Hebrew (“you shall not do any work”) is only found seven times in the entire Hebrew Bible (Exodus 12:16; Leviticus 16:29; 23:3, 28, 31; Numbers 29:7; Jeremiah 17:22), six of which are in the Torah. Of these six occurrences, four of them are commands related specifically to the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:29; 23:28, 31; Num 29:7). Its first occurrence is in Exodus 12:16, instructions concerning the Feast of Passover.
I find it both interesting, and incredibly encouraging that on two of the most redemptively significant days on our calendar, Passover and Yom Kippur, God commanded the people of Israel not to do any work whatsoever.
We have absolutely nothing to contribute to our redemption from the slavery of sin (Passover), and nothing to contribute to our atonement (Day of Atonement) as God’s people.
We are commanded not to work because these are exclusively the works of God, and to him alone belongs all the glory!
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forevermore. Amen” (Galatians 1:3-5).
From devotionals by Dr Seth Postell, Academic Dean at ONE FOR ISRAEL’S Bible College
Photo by Yoav Aziz on Unsplash