The Day of Atonement was highly valued and it was regarded as a great day. “It was a day on the Jewish calendar where Jews were fasting and soul searching.” After the death of the two sons of Aaron, God spoke to Moses and told him to inform his brother Aaron not to attend any Holy place inside the veil failure to which he would die for the Lord said He will be in the cloud above the mercy seat. This was the time when people were preparing for the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement. “Nadab and Abihu attended the holy place without invitation from the Lord and they were struck down.” This is a teaching that we should go to God’s holy place only when we are invited and not anytime we feel like it. This portrays that God is holy and separation only exists because of our sins. However, Jesus died on the cross because of our sins and this enabled us to have standing access to God. One of the cultural rituals that Aaron was supposed to do was to attend the Holy Place with the blood of a young bull for his sin to be cleansed. He was also supposed to take with him the blood of a ram as a burnt offering. There were holy garments that he was supposed to wear and this included; the holy linen tunic, linen trousers, linen sash, and linen turban. After washing his body, he was supposed to take two kids of goats and a ram for the offering. The Jews believed that the sacrifice of a goat could restore the relationship between God and humanity. The offering was arranged in a way that the two goats were as alike as possible. The size, value, and color were to be the same and this reveals that Yahweh is the same today tomorrow, and forever. Aaron was to take the censer full of burning coals of fire before the Lord such that the cloud of incense may cover the mercy seat failure to which it would lead to his death. After sprinkling some blood on the mercy seat seven times with his fingers then Lord would make perfect atonement for his sin. This revealed that Yahweh is holy, undefiled, and harmless and lives separately from the sinners. The sprinkling of blood on the mercy seat, alter and tabernacle symbolizes the restoration of the community. During the time of sacrifice, it was the only time that the name of Yahweh was to be pronounced, and this was only done by the high priest. The issue of atonement shows that Yahweh is very near or close to us and this means there is no obstacle between Yahweh and human beings. The nature of Yahweh is that He is Pure and Clean and this can well be revealed by the act when Aaron was told to offer a sacrifice because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel as well as their transgressions. He was also supposed to make the sacrifice in the Holy place when there was no one in the tabernacle so that his conversation with Yahweh could be as private as possible. The separation existing between man and the Almighty can be brought closer or the gap can be bridged by making atonement. The purpose of the blood was to cleanse the house of Yahweh for it was said to have been made unclean by the bad acts of man. Yahweh is clean and He needs man also to be clean. Another ritual that was carried out was where a live goat had to be brought to the tabernacle. “Aaron was to lay his hands on the head of the goat and confess on behalf of the children of Israelites that all their sins and transgressions, iniquities should be cleansed.” The goat was then sent away into the wilderness by a suitable man where it was to head to an uninhabited land. This meant that the sins of the Israel people were cleansed and transferred to the scapegoat and therefore they were made pure. This is symbolic that Yahweh does not want to separate Himself from His people though they are sinners He finds a way to bring them closer to Him. The ritual was meant to punish the defilement of the people God’s “separateness.” Though in the Old Covenant, it is argued that sin can never be eliminated but be put away somewhere. The argument by one ancient Rabbi was that the sins of Israel that were carried by the scapegoat are still somewhere and they are not purely cleansed. Others believed that the Day of Atonement was successful if the goat wanders off and never returns. They concluded that a piece of scarlet cloth should be tied on the head of the scapegoat and that if it turns white then it means that Yahweh has accepted the sacrifice. Alternatively, if not accepted then the scarlet redness would remain and this was regarded to be a bad year for the Israelites. This means that Jewish people interfered with the ceremony and therefore the goat had to be killed so that it will not come into contact with the Israelites. The Bible records that “forty years before the destruction of the temple, during the time of Christ’s death, this red string turned no more whiter. When Jesus’ blood red body rose from the dead, clothed with garments, it was proof forever that the red had changed to white and atonement at the cross was perfect and complete.”
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The holiness and cleanliness of Yahweh have continued to be revealed in that the high priest was supposed to wash, take off the linen garments and wear his garments for glory and beauty. On the Day of Atonement, the nature of Yahweh revealed itself as Humble, Spotless, Righteous, Victorious, and Trustworthy. The Day of Atonement was meant to be a sacrificial one and the Lord wanted the Israelites to confess their sins before Him and identify with the sacrifice for sin. Today, we rely on the finished work of Jesus for He died on the cross for our sins. The issue of sacrifices is not well embraced worldwide and the believers normally do what they are justified in though this cannot atone for sin. The priest who was anointed was responsible to make atonement for other priests and the people of the assembly. Moses was one of the priests and Yahweh commanded him “This shall be an everlasting statue for you, to make atonement for the children of Israel, for their sins, once a year.” The priests and only the priests were the only people allowed to enter the Holy place. This is symbolic and it shows that Yahweh is a Supreme Being and also Pure and He wanted to compel the other people to confess their sins. The atonement was supposed to be carried once per year for the Israelites to cleanse their sins. The sacrifice could aid in the restoration of the Israelite community. But the death of Jesus brought atonement to a halt. He sacrificed himself to die so that people will be forgiven their sins. “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many.
To those who eagerly wait for Him, He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.” The entire ceremony as was carried by the Israelites had significance to the Jewish in general. The events of the Day of Atonement can help us to reveal the nature of Yahweh and what He expects us to do. The cultic rituals were meant to bring closeness of Jews to the Yahweh and therefore it was highly valued during that period before the birth of Jesus Christ as reported in the New Testament. To summarize, as reported by Kerry, (2004) “the main purpose of the Day of Atonement was not to cleanse the people, but to cleanse the holy place.” By so doing, then Yahweh could avail Himself to the people for the sanctuary was clean and He is also clean and holy. His nature determined whether there was the need for people to offer sacrifice. I would argue that the death of Christ brought about so many changes in religion today and that is why the Day of Atonement is not celebrated in most of the countries in the world. After His death, sinners have cleansed their sins and therefore the need for the sacrifices is a thing of the past. The rituals among the Jews had a lot of significance for they restored the relationship between God and humanity.
Kerry M. 2004, The Complete how to Handbook for Jewish Living. (New York: KTAV publishing House).
Marc Zri Brettler 2005, How to Read the Bible. (New York: Jewish Publication Society).
New American Bible Copyright (1991) Washington D.C: Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.
Roy Gane 2005, Cult and Character: Purification Offerings, Day of Atonement, and Theodicy. (New York: Harvard University Press).
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Samuel E Balentine 2002, Leviticus. (New York: Westmister Press).