A man walks into the temple. At his side, a spotless lamb. He has sinned…again. And, the lamb is his sacrifice. Blood shed. The man leaves. But, he knows he’ll be back. Sacrifices don’t last forever.
The priest turns to the woman next in line. Two doves. Another sacrifice. More blood. Later he knows he’ll need to bring his own sacrifice to the temple. Priests aren’t perfect either.
The high priest watches it all. Things are going smoothly. Everywhere he sees God’s people and their sacrifices. The chaotic sensory jumble produced by so many people and animals provides an interesting contrast to the underlying order of cultic ritual. All is well. Next month is Tishrei, and the high priest knows that once again it will be time for God’s people to celebrate the Day of Atonement, Israel’s holiest festival. The sacrificial goat and the scapegoat will go before the Lord as an offering to purify Israel from the sins it has committed that year. It will be a time of solemn repentance as Israel remembers both its own sinfulness and God’s gracious mercy. As high priest for the last fifteen years, this will be the fifteenth time he has performed this ritual. It must be done every year. Because even this sacrifice offered by Israel’s highest priest doesn’t last forever.
As we discussed in the last chapter, God in his grace and mercy provided to his people a way of expressing their faith in him—the sacrifices of the Old Testament. But, these sacrifices were necessarily limited and imperfect, offered by limited and imperfect people.
God promised more.
The coming king will not be just another ruler, broken and corrupted by sin. No, when this king comes he will also be the new priest for God’s people, a true priest, one who will represent his people forever: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: ‘You are a priest forever'” (Ps. 110:4). And, he will build the true temple of the Lord (Zech 6:12) so that God’s glory will return and God will again dwell with his people.
A new priest is coming.
And God promised that this priest will be very different from the priests who came before. Unlike them, he will not just offer sacrifices on behalf of the people, he will be that sacrifice. That is the picture Isaiah gave of the servant who is to come. Just like a priest, he will offer a lamb “to the slaughter” (v. 7) as “a guilt offering” (v. 10). But, here the priest is the lamb, he is the offering. He will be “pierced for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities” (v. 5). This, then, is a new sacrifice—a sacrifice in which the righteous priest will offer himself on behalf of the people.
And the result of this sacrifice will be a true holiness. Because of their sin, Isaiah compares God’s people to a body riddled with disease (Isa. 1:5-6). We have been polluted by sin and we are dying. But, by the sacrifice of this righteous priest, “we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). God will lay on him “the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6) so that God’s people may again be “accounted righteous “(Isa. 53:11). With this sacrifice, God will cleanse his people from “sin and uncleanness” (Zech 13:1; cf. Ezek. 36:25, 29). So, instead of being black with the ink of our sin, God promises that one day he will again make us “white as snow” (Isa. 1:18).
When he comes…God’s people will be pure again.
Technically Yom Kippur doesn’t begin until sundown, but we’re getting pretty close to sundown here on the west coast and I figure that many of you are already well past that. So, happy Yom Kippur! (Or, is it “merry” Yom Kippur? Blessed Yom Kippur? Yom Kippur greetings?) Anyway, Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) begins at sundown tonight (Sep 17) and ends at sundown on Saturday (Sep 18). So, it’s time to get your Yom Kippur on.
To be honest, I don’t normally notice when it’s Yom Kippur. But, the following article was sent to me by Dr. Carl Laney, one of our Bible professors. I thought the article was quite interesting in that it doesn’t focus on the theology of Yom Kippur, with which I’m already familiar (see esp. Lev. 16:1-34; 23:27-32), but it describes the traditional practices associated with its celebration. I found that quite fascinating. So, I’m passing it along to everyone else for your personal edification. The article was originally written by Professor Yagal Levin.
Yom Kippur is a complete Sabbath: no work can be performed on that day. It is a complete, 25-hour fast from eating and drinking (even water) beginning before sunset on the evening before Yom Kippur and ending after nightfall on the day of Yom Kippur. The Talmud also specifies additional restrictions: washing and bathing, anointing one’s body (with cosmetics, deodorants, etc.), wearing leather shoes (Orthodox Jews routinely wear canvas sneakers under their dress clothes on Yom Kippur), and engaging in sexual relations are all prohibited on Yom Kippur.
Most of the holiday is spent in the synagogue, in prayer. It is customary to wear white on the holiday which symbolizes purity and calls to mind the promise that Israel’s sins shall be made as white as snow (Is. 1:18).
The liturgy for Yom Kippur is much more extensive than for any other day of the year. The evening service that begins Yom Kippur is commonly known as Kol Nidre, named for the prayer that begins the service. Perhaps the most important addition to the regular liturgy is the confession of the sins of the community. All sins are confessed in the plural (we have done this, we have done that), emphasizing communal responsibility for sins.
It is interesting to note that these confessions do not specifically address ritual sins. There is no “For the sin we have sinned before you by eating pork, and for the sin we have sinned against you by driving on Shabbat”. The vast majority of the sins enumerated involve mistreatment of other people, most of them by speech (offensive speech, scoffing, slander, tale-bearing and swearing falsely, to name a few).
The concluding service of Yom Kippur, known as Ne’ilah, is one unique to the day. The ark (a cabinet where the scrolls of the Torah are kept) is kept open and most people stand throughout this service. There is a tone of desperation in the prayers of this service. The service is sometimes referred to as “the closing of the gates”; think of it as the “last chance” to get in a good word before the holiday ends. The service ends with a very long blast of the shofar. After a festive (as we are sure that God has indeed forgiven our sins) “break-fast” meal, it is common to go out and immediately start constructing the sukkah, to show that we are serious about obeying all of God’s commandments.