On September 28 most Jews and a small but growing number of Christians will be keeping one of the Holy Days mentioned in Leviticus 23 known as the Day of Atonement, or in Hebrew, Yom Kippur. The day is unlike any of the other High Days because, rather than being a feast day, it is instead a fast day, where the people of God are instructed to “afflict” their souls before God.
Christians who keep this day focus on the atonement the Messiah makes for our sins. Those of the Jewish faith also view it as a day of atonement for sins, and in addition they view it as a day of judgement. But sometimes missed is a nuance revealed throughout the Biblical descriptions of this day that lead me to describe this year’s observance as a very special Day of Atonement.
The Day of Atonement is a day of atonement – and affliction – not just for you and me as individuals, but for all of us collectively, as a body, thus the repeated references to “the people” and “the assembly” in the Biblical narrative. Look at these examples.
“… he shall be cut off from his people.” (Leviticus 23:29)
“… I will destroy from among his people.” (v. 30)
“… because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel.” (Lev. 16:16)
“… confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel.” (v. 21)
“ … he shall … offer … the burnt offering of the people and make atonement for himself and for the people.” (v. 24)
“… he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly.” (v 33)
“… make atonement for the children of Israel.” (v. 34)
Even in the New Testament the Day of Atonement reference in Hebrews emphasizes that the High priest went into the Holy of Holies once per year and offered a sacrifice for “himself and the people’s sins committed in ignorance.” (Hebrews 9:7)
The point is this: The Day of Atonement was a day set aside to fast and pray for the nation. Much is made every May about the National Day of Prayer for the nation, and such a day is a good thing. It’s such a good thing that God thought of it thousands of years ago, and I can think of no better time to have a day of atonement dedicated to fasting for the nation than the one about to be had. This Day of Atonement can be a special one if it is kept in the spirit of its original intent, to fast and pray for the sins of our people committed in ignorance.