The Jews today call the Day of Atonement “Yom Kippur.” Religious Jews will fast and pray for 25 hours starting the evening of October 8th and finishing the evening of October 9th. It’s their holiest day of the year. They often spend most of this time in their synagogues.
Their roots are our roots. And considering more deeply their ancient sacrifices and ritual cleansings can give our rituals more significance.
Thankfully today we don’t regularly see the panic of animals being restrained as they did at the temple and tabernacle. In fact, we don’t have to restrain those animals ourselves, or slit their throats. We don’t have to hold them as their blood drained, and feel their wild panic relax into lifelessness. And we don’t have to do this with the guilt of our own sin weighing on our hearts. Not while we put our guilt onto these helpless animals.
Jewish men had to hold and kill their own animals during Passover every year. Or at least, one Jewish man had to do it for every 10 people or so (however many that could reasonably consume at least small amounts of one small lamb). Leviticus 1:5-6 even commands that the worshippers themselves must kill all their own burnt offerings. But I’m not confident, having read Edersheim’s works a long time ago (memory?), that there were other occasions priests would let the Israelite laymen do this during the first century. Regardless, priests and laymen alike were keenly aware God was so holy, he might smite them all dead if they didn’t greatly revere God’s worship.
THE HIGH PRIEST ON DAY OF ATONEMENT
In Leviticus 16:3, 5 and 24, the high priest
is first to collect a young bull and a ram…to atone for himself and his household, since later he makes other offerings on behalf of the community…. Next, he bathes and clothes himself…. The clothes…are different from the ones he normally has on…. Usually he dons finely ornamented garments…. But now on the Day of Atonement he puts on the simpler vestments of white linen with no gold, jewels, or ornamentation…. is to symbolize the humble and contrite heart of the high priest to enter into the Most Holy Place.
THE SCAPEGOAT IN THE BIBLE
he is to take 2 goats and “…present them” before Yahweh; that verb is literally, “he shall cause them to stand” ….Aaron then casts lots over the 2 goats…. One lot falls on a goat, which thus belongs to Yahweh. Aaron is to sacrifice it on the altar. The 2nd goat is “for the scapegoat” ….refers to an area in the wilderness…that has been “cut off” …where the sins of Israel will be taken…. Once the high priest’s work is done, he then hands the goat to a man…. Rabbinic writings portray this person as one who is familiar with the route into the desert…normally a non-Israelite…. Once the scapegoat has been driven into the wilderness, the one who led the animal must carry out 2 washings, one of his body and one of his clothing…. he has become unclean because of contact with the scapegoat
THE SCAPEGOAT IN TRADITION
Since the Jews were concerned the scapegoat may eventually return to Jerusalem if left alive, the rabbis felt it was necessary to kill the scapegoat at the edge of the wilderness. In Edersheim’s The Temple,
Scripture tells us no more of the destiny of the goat that bore…iniquities…into the wilderness… But tradition supplements… The distance between Jerusalem and the beginning of “the wilderness” is computed at 90 stadia, making precisely ten intervals, each half a Sabbath-day’s journey from the other. At the end of each of these intervals…was a station, occupied by one or more persons…who offered refreshment to the man leading the goat, and…accompanied him to the next station. By this arrangement…trusted persons accompanied the goat all along his journey…. At…the edge of the wilderness…the man led forth the goat…pushed it over the projecting ledge of rock. There was a moment’s pause, and the man, now defiled by contact with the sin-bearer, retraced his steps…. But the arrival of the goat in the wilderness was immediately telegraphed, by the waving of flags, from station to station, till, a few minutes after its occurrence, it was known in the Temple…that “the goat had borne…all their iniquities into a land not inhabited.”
Hebrews 13:11-15 says to draw near to Jesus who suffered outside the city for us, in shame and disgrace. And Psalm 103:12 says, “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”
WHAT GIVES MEANING TO OUR RITUALS
John the Baptist said to his inquirers,
I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
At Bibleplus.org many references about ritualistic cleansing explain why John said this. These details explain a lot. But summarizing, for while we’re being baptized and taking communion, Hebrews 11:6 says:
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.