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Yom Kippur and the Days of Awe

In our previous post, we discussed Rosh Hoshanah, the first great day in the season of the Jewish High Holy Days. Rosh Hashanah occurs on the first day of the seventh month in the Jewish calendar which corresponds to September 5th, 2013 on our calendar (last week). It is called the Feast of Trumpets because trumpets are sounded on that day to herald or announce the events of the next feast to come. That next feast to come is Yom Kippur and it occurs on the tenth day of the same month, which is our Sept 14. This holiday was instituted by God in the book of Leviticus:

The Lord said to Moses, “The tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. Hold a sacred assembly and deny yourselves, and present a food offering to the Lord. Do not do any work on that day, because it is the Day of Atonement, when atonement is made for you before the Lord your God. Those who do not deny themselves on that day must be cut off from their people. I will destroy from among their people anyone who does any work on that day. You shall do no work at all. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live. It is a day of Sabbath rest for you, and you must deny yourselves. From the evening of the ninth day of the month until the following evening you are to observe your Sabbath.”
– Leviticus 23:26-32

Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the Lord at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 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…because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the Lord, you will be clean from all your sins. It is a day of Sabbath rest, and you must deny yourselves; it is a lasting ordinance. The priest who is anointed and ordained to succeed his father as high priest is to make atonement. He is to put on the sacred linen garments and make atonement for the Most Holy Place, for the tent of meeting and the altar, and for the priests and all the members of the community.

“This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.”
– Leviticus 16:7-10, 30-34

Yom Kippur, azazel goatsYom Kippur, also called the Day of Atonement, is the most important of all the holidays in the Jewish year. Many secular Jews who do not normally observe other Jewish customs will refrain from work, fast, and attend synagogue services on this day. It is a day set aside for the modern Jew to try to amend past behaviors and ask for forgiveness for wrongs that have been done against God and against other human beings. The entire twenty four hour period is spent fasting and much time is spent in the synagogue petitioning God and confessing sins. At the end of Yom Kippur, one hopes that the soul has been humbled and that they have been forgiven by God. The purpose of this special day is for the Jewish believer to prepare for judgment, pray for forgiveness, reconcile themselves with their family, neighbors, and with God, and to purify themselves from sin and error. For the modern Jewish person, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur are the time for a new beginning.

In contrast, the observance of Yom Kippur in Bible times was not as much of an individual focus as it was a priestly institution. As seen in the Leviticus passages, Yom Kippur rites were performed only in the sanctuary by the High Priest on this one day of the year. Individuals only observed the priestly ordinances and did not participate in any way in the process of the Feast liturgy. The evening of the Day of Atonement begins with the blast of the (shofar) trumpet. This will be the last time the shofar is heard until next year. When the actual day of the feast begins, the high priest will put on special linen garments and enter the holy sanctuary. The priest will begin by making offerings to cleanse the temple and the altar. Then he will make atonement for himself and the rest of the priests. Lastly, the priest will make atonement for the rest of the people.

Before the destruction of the Temple, the atonement that was made for the people involved two goats. By casting lots, the priest chose between the two goats. One was chosen for the Lord and the other, called “azazel”, was the scapegoat. The first animal was sacrificed to God and the blood sprinkled on the altar to pay the penalty for the people’s sins. Then the priest, in the second part of the ceremony, transferred the sins of the people onto the second goat and then it was driven outside the camp and into the wilderness to take the sins away from the camp. To the Jews, these two animals were each considered half of a single sacrifice. For this reason they selected two goats that looked as much alike as possible. The picture was for Israel’s sins to first be forgiven and then taken away and cast into the abyss to await the final judgment.

To the Christian who believes in the sacrificial death of God’s son Jesus, the symbolism is huge. Jesus was the lamb of God that paid once for all our sins (Hebrew 10 – especially Hebrews 10:14 and Hebrews 10:19). Jesus is also the scapegoat because the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6-7) and He was led outside of the camp to die in disgrace for us (Hebrews 13:12-13). Christ is the way that God chose to atone (let us be at-one-with God) for our transgressions. Also, Jesus was our High Priest, the one that made the atonement of our sin once and for all (Hebrew 7:24, Hebrew 7:27).

Even though we are not Jewish, we can certainly proclaim that Yom Kippur is a great day to celebrate – that day when God atoned for our sins by sending His only son Jesus to be sacrificed in our place. Because of this great sacrifice our sins will be remembered no more!

Rosh Hashannah

Sound the ram’s horn at the New Moon,
    and when the moon is full, on the day of our festival;
this is a decree for Israel,
    an ordinance of the God of Jacob.
–Psalm 81:3-4

This week, for Jewish people all over the world, marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year and the Fall Holy Days festivals that were commanded by God in the book of Leviticus. God set up seven High Holy Days and grouped them together as follows:

  1. Passover, Unleavened Bread, and First Fruits all occur together in the spring and are celebrated concurrently in the March/April time period on our calendar
  2. Pentecost is the fourth festival and occurs by itself in June
  3. Rosh Hashannah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot all occur in the fall and are also celebrated consecutively during the September/October time period

The fall festivals begin with Rosh Hashannah, or the Feast of Trumpets, and occurs on the first day of the seventh month of the Jewish calendar, which corresponds on our calendar to today, September 5th, 2013.

Leviticus 23:23-25 says:

“The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a day of sabbath rest, a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blasts. Do no regular work, but present a food offering to the Lord.’”

Rabbi blowing shofarThis verse begins with, “The Lord said to Moses” and therefore indicates a start of a new section in the Feasts which in this case is the Fall Feasts. The phrase, “commemorated with trumpet blasts” translates the Hebrew word, “tĕruw`ah”. This word is similar to the English word “fanfare” and refers to the things for which a trumpet would be sounded, such as the arrival of a King, or a call to battle. The Day of Rosh Hashannah therefore announces the coming of the Holidays to follow and says by the blowing of the trumpet that these days to follow are incredibly important. You need to be prepared; you better get ready because the day has arrived.

The Jewish people actually begin blowing the ram’s horn (shofar) in the synagogue in the previous month to remind the people that the Fall Holy Days are approaching and to get everyone ready to observe them. Then, on the first day of the seventh month, there is a special service that features an elaborate ceremony of trumpet blowing. The trumpets remind the Jewish people to prepare for the coming Day of Atonement by examining their lives for the past year. This is much different than our American tradition of celebrating our New Year. We make it a happy and raucous celebration and give no thought to the year just finished, but focus on the new beginnings to come. In contrast, Rosh Hashannah and the succeeding Yom Kippur have a much different atmosphere. They are known as the ”Days of Awe” and are serious days as they call you to reflect on your life from the past year and the moral responsibilities that you carry. These two holidays are not greeted with noise and joy, but with a serious and contrite heart.

Besides being reminded to prepare and examine your heart, Rosh Hashannah also reminds the Jewish people of some other important events. It reminds them to celebrate God’s creation because they believe God began His creation of the universe on the first day of the seventh month, which is the same day Rosh Hashannah is celebrated. Also, it reminded them that the Lord descended on Mt. Sinai with the blast of a shofar (Exodus 19:16-19) and that the coming of the Messiah’s Kingdom will be announced by the blast of the shofar.

To Christians, the spring holidays speak of the first coming of the Messiah (Passover, Pentecost) and the fall holidays speak of his imminent return. Look at the following verses:

And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.
– Matthew 24:31

in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
– 1 Corinthians 15:52

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
– 1 Thessalonians 4:16

Then the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them.
– Revelation 8:6

As the trumpets sound before the Day of Atonement to call all Jews to repentance, they also sound for all mankind to repent before that day when the Lord will return and pour out his wrath on the earth because it has not repented. For Christians, the trumpets announce the return of the King. These trumpets call us to repent and prepare our hearts for His coming. For the lost, the trumpets are a call to repentance, because they announce the coming judgment of God. Yom Kippur, the holiday that follows Rosh Hashannah, will be for each person either a Day of Atonement or a Day of Judgment.

Additional information on the feasts can be found here: