“For on this day, atonement will be made for you to purify you; you will be clean before Adonai from all your sins. It is a Shabbat of complete rest for you, and you are to deny yourselves. “This is a permanent regulation. (Leviticus 16:30-31)
“The tenth day of this seventh month is Yom-Kippur; you are to have a holy convocation, you are to deny yourselves, and you are to bring an offering made by fire to Adonai. You are not to do any kind of work on that day, because it is Yom-Kippur, to make atonement for you before Adonai your God…You are not to do any kind of work; it is a permanent regulation through all your generations, no matter where you live. 32 It will be for you a Shabbat of complete rest, and you are to deny yourselves; you are to rest on your Shabbat from evening the ninth day of the month until the following evening.” (Leviticus 23:27-28, 31-21)
“‘On the tenth day of this seventh month you are to have a holy convocation. You are to deny yourselves, and you are not to do any kind of work;” (Numbers 29:7)
We are now going to move on to a discussion of the second of the Fall Feasts of the Lord, the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur. This particular day was one of the days of awe, a holy convocation just like the other Feasts, but considered to be “Israel’s most awesome holy day.” A day of such religious significance certainly deserves our attention and in this post, we will examine how the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur was observed as commanded by God.
Before we begin our examination of the Day of Atonement, it is worth mentioning this particular event, as is often the case with the Feast days, is known by a few other names throughout Scripture. Being able to recognize these other titles for this day is important, given the necessity to identify when this Feast is being referred to and why. Other than the title Yom Kippur, this Feast is known by at least 5 other titles. I will include Yom Kippur in the list in order to provide at a glance the entire range of names.
1. Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement)
2. Face to Face
3. The Day (or the Great Day
4. The Fast
5. The Great Shofar (Shofar HaGadol)
6. Neilah (the closing of the gates
As we walk through this Feast, we will discuss each of the above names to include noting the importance of each facet in the process, demonstrating why those names were used.
The Day of Atonement as commanded by God in Leviticus was a solemn day of the year. It was on this one day that the high priest was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies, essentially entering the presence of God, thus the use of the term “face to face.” Keep in mind that entering the Holy of Holies was no small matter. It required a great deal of preparation on the part of both the priesthood and most importantly, the high priest. For instance, “the high priest was required to wear holy garments woven from white linen instead of his normal colorful garments overlaid with the golden breastplate. His linen garments were worn only on that day and never again.”
Another interesting element of the pre-Yom Kippur preparations was that “Seven days before Yom Kippur the high priest moved from his home to his chamber in the Temple. During this week he alone conducted the service, offered the daily sacrifices, sprinkled the blood, burned the incense, and tended the lighting of the Menorah. He did this for seven successive days in order to become well versed in the details, so that he would make no mistake on Yom Kippur.” One can quickly see the high priest took this Feast day very seriously. It was a day of meeting God in order to perform a very important yearly event.
This yearly event that formed the crux of the Day of Atonement is noted in Leviticus 16:30, “For on this day, atonement will be made for you to purify you; you will be clean before Adonai from all your sins.” The high priest, as the spiritual representative of the people of Israel before God, made atonement for his own sins and the sins of the people on this particular day. Thus, there was an increase in the amount of sacrifices and cleansing rituals over that of the typical priestly work. Unlike the typical Jewish day, the services at the temple on Yom Kippur commenced the following morning. The high priest, instead of the typical washing of the feet, was required to totally immerse himself in a special golden bath behind a curtain held by the other priests to provide a bit of privacy. It was after this ritual washing, that the high priest donned the special linen garments. Interestingly, this washing and donning of the special linen garments was a ritual that took place five times during this special day, if anything, signifying the great care taken to remain ritually clean as the high priest carried out the duties of this special day.
Since the high priest was the one responsible for providing the atonement sacrifice for himself and the sins of the people, this involved its own ritual methodology. During the period of the second temple, the high priest’s confession before God involved a total of three separate confessions, each leading up to one another in a progression. The process of the giving of the confessions went like this:
“The first confession was on the account of his own sins and those of his household; the second, on the account of the priestly tribe of Levi; the third, on the account of the whole people. On this occasion only, in the entire year, the confession included the priest’s saying aloud the name of God embodied in the Hebrew letters YHVH (called the Tettragrammton)…In each confession, when the high priest reached the recitation of the name, the whole people would prostrate themselves and say aloud, “Baruch shem K’vod malchuto l’olam va’ed,” which means, “Blessed be the Name of the radiance of the Kingship, forever and beyond.” On the third recitation, the one for their own sins, they knew that the high priest had just before on this one occasion in all the year, entered the Holy of Holies, the inmost room of the temple where God’s presence was most fully felt. He entered it three times and only then came out to confess on behalf of all the people and put their sins upon the head of the goat for azazel.
The result of this triple entry into the Holy of Holies, this tripe recitation of God’s most holy name, and this triple prostration by the entire people, was an utterly awesome sense of God’s presence making atonement for His people, cleansing them from their sins, permitting them to begin the year afresh, renewing their lives. So total was this sense of transformation that, after it, the mood of the people shifted from solemn awe to joyful celebration. The young, unmarried men and women went to dance in the fields and to choose spouses for themselves. Yom Kippur and the fifteenth of Av were the only days in the year when this kind of mass public espousal would take place.” We will return to a few elements of this process a bit later.
Another important element of Yom Kippur was the fasting leading up to the actual Day of Atonement. The idea of fasting for Yom Kippur stems from the command given by God in Leviticus 23:27 with the notation to deny themselves. The Hebrew word oni which is often translated as humble, deny, or afflict literally means to fast. Barney Kasdan notes this idea also comes from Isaiah 58:5 where “this word is used specifically for going without food.” Prior to this time of fasting, there was the observance of a holiday meal with white cloths and the best dishes being used as a remembrance of this high holy day and the white symbolizing the cleansing from sin that would take place on the Day of Atonement. Once the fast began, it took place from the point of sundown on the 9th of Tishri until sundown the following day. This fast involved total abstinence from any food or water.
In our previous post on the Feast of Trumpets, we discussed the various reasons the Shofar was blown. One of the reasons was the call to the people to gather and remember. Specifically, we noted the Shofar’s mighty blast is a reminder for humility and the power and awesomeness of God. The necessity for humility has already been noted in relation to the fast that preceded Yom Kippur. The blowing of the Shofar on Yom Kippur was known as the Great Trump or the Great Shofar, signifying that call to humility before the power and awesomeness of God on this most solemn of days.
Yom Kippur was also known as Neilah or “The Closing of the Gates of Heaven.” This title was derived from the final or closing element of the Yom Kippur service. It was believed “the gates of Heaven are open during the days of repentance to receive our prayers for forgiveness and that they close after the neilah service…When the final blast of the Shofar (the Shofar HaGodal, the Great Trumpet) is heard at the end of the neilah service, those who have observed the day with sincerity should feel that they have been inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life.” The neilah and Yom Kippur concluded with the people reciting the Shema, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.”
One final element I would like to discuss is the azazel or the scapegoat. Leviticus 16:21-22 states:
“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.”
The azazel was “The high point and most unusual element of the Yom Kippur sacrificial ritual.” The word azazel is not used in the Old Testament other than in Leviticus 16:21-22 and thus its meaning is somewhat shrouded in a bit of mystery. Some Old Testament scholars, such as Keil and Delitzsch averred the azazel represented “the head of the evil spirits” or “the father of all sin.” In other words, the scapegoat or the azazel literally would take back the sins of the people to Satan as it was let go into the wilderness. Others have noted the root of the world azazel “contains the idea of removal. The name azazel and the action of sending away the goat was designed to teach the Israelites that their sins, once removed, would also be forgotten. The Septuagint, Vulgate, and a number of other ancient translations understood azazel to literally mean “the goat that departs.” The word is viewed as a combination of ‘ez, meaning goat, and azal, to turn off or away.” Regardless of the true meaning of the word azazel, both the sacrificial goat and the goat that was sent into the wilderness formed an important part of the Yom Kippur ceremony. The sacrifice of the one goat signified the shedding of blood for sin. The sending away of the other goat likely meant the removal of sin or the sending away of the sins of the people back to the place where sin derived.
Hayyim Schauss provides some additional background on the azazel and the process of the goat going into the wilderness. He notes:
“The goat is led to a specified spot about ten miles beyond the city, where a precipitous cliff overhangs a ravine. Prior to Yom Kippur, ten booths were erected as stations along the way. Food and drink is available in each booth for the escorter of the scapegoat, for he may break his fast if the journey weakens him. But he never does break his fast. A group of Jews escort him from the Temple to the first booth, and in each booth there is somebody to meet him and escort him to the next booth. He is not escorted, however, all the way to the cliff, his escort stopping and watching from afar.”
When man and goat come to the cliff, the red sash is removed from the goat’s horns and divided in two. One part is attached to the cliff and the other half tied to the horns or the goat, which is then pushed over the cliff, life passing out of him as he falls into the ravine.
The news that the scapegoat is in the wilderness is quickly brought to the High Priest. Meanwhile he has sacrificed the young bull and the second goat on the altar; he now begins the reading of the Torah.”
The observance of the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur was a very solemn occasion, most notably due to the realization this was a time of retrospection and forgiveness of sins by God for His people. In our next post, we will look at the fulfillment of this high holy day.
 Marvin Rosenthal, The Feasts of the Lord (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997), 119.
 “Yom Kippur: The Day of Atonement,” Feasts of the Lord, September 15, 2013, accessed September 15, 2013,http://www.feastsofthelord.com/ss/live/index.php?action=getpage&sid=204&pid=2192.
 Rosenthal, 120.
 Hayyim Schauss, The Jewish Festivals: From Their Beginnings to Our Own Day (Cincinnati: Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1938), 126.
 Rosenthal, 122.
 “Yom Kippur.”
 Barney Kasdan, God’s Appointed Times (Baltimore: Leder Publications, 1993), 79.
 “Yom Kippur.”
 Mitch Glaser, The Fall Feasts of Israel (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1987), 88.
 C. F. Keil and H. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament: Pentateuch (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996), 590.
 Glaser, 89.
 Schauss, 139.
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