Keith Hunt - Atonement in/after Temple Days - Page Three   Restitution of All Things

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History of Feast of Atonement

Outward form can be in vain!

                       HISTORY OF FEAST OF ATONEMENT

Continued from previous page:

of the altar escorted by two priests. The priest who acts as his
understudy walks to his right and on his left is the
representative of the subdivision of priests appointed for the
service on this day. The High Priest shuffles the tablets in the
urn, withdraws them, and places one on the head of each goat. He
calls out, "A sin offering for Yhwh," and the congregation
answers, "Blessed be the Name, the glory of His kingdom forever
and ever."
     It is a good omen if the tablet marked "For God" comes up in
the High Priest's right hand. But in this period, year after
year, the tablet marked "For Azazel," has come up in the right
hand. Fear grips the heart of the people. And when the Jews learn
of it they pray to the Almighty to help the Temple and the holy
     When the lot is decided the High Priest ties a red sash on
the horns of the Azazel goat, the scapegoat for the people. The
other goat will be sacrificed to God. The scapegoat faces the
assembled congregation who stare at him and await the ritual by
which the sins of the people will be loaded upon him and he will
be driven out, deep into the wilderness.

     This ends the second part of the Yom Kippur service and now
begins the third and most awesome service of the day, when the
High Priest enters the Holy of Holies.

In the Holy of Holies

     The High Priest goes back to the area between the porch and
the altar, where the young bull is tethered, places his hands on
the animal and once more confesses, reciting the same prayer as
before. But now he also confesses the sins of the priests, and
when he says, "I and my household," he adds "and the sons of
Aaron, thy holy tribe."
     Again the assembly prostrates itself and calls out, "Blessed
be the Name, the glory of His kingdom forever and ever."

     After this second confessional the High Priest slaughters
the bull, gathering the blood in a basin which he hands to a
waiting priest. It is the duty of this priest to keep stirring
the blood, so that it does not coagulate.
     The High Priest walks up the ramp leading to the altar and
fills a golden fire-pan with burning coals; he then pours
handfuls of incense into a golden ladle and, in this way, with
the fire-pan in his right hand and the ladle in the left, he
proceeds slowly into the Holy of Holies. He enters between the
two drapes and, apart from everybody, he stands in the somber
dimness of the Holy of Holies, barely illuminated by the burning
coals in the fire-pan.
     Filled with pious awe and fear, the High Priest places the
fire-pan on the "Foundation-stone" and pours the incense upon it.
The Holy of Holies is filled with smoke. The High Priest retires
into the anteroom and there offers prayers for the coming year.
The people in the court pray at the same time, quietly, but with
great fervor.

     Finally, the High Priest emerges from the House of God and
enters the court. Great relief is felt by all present, for it is
a fearful thing, all believe, to be so near to God, in His holy
     There is no rest for the High Priest. He takes the basin of
blood from the priest who is still stirring it, goes back into
the Holy of Holies, and sprinkles the blood upon the drape, once
above and seven times below, counting as he sprinkles: "One, one
and one, one and two, one and three, one and four, one and five,
one and six, one and seven." He counts the sprinkling he made
above with every one he makes below. He then returns to the
anteroom and places the basin on a golden stand.
     The goat destined as a sacrifice for God is now brought to
him. He slaughters it, gathers the blood in a basin, enters the
Holy of Holies for the third time, sprinkles the blood and goes
back into the anteroom, where he places the basin on another
golden stand. He then sprinkles the drape from the outside, first
with the blood of the bull, and then with the blood of the goat.
He then mixes the blood of the two animals and sprinkles it on
the golden incense-altar in the anteroom; what is left he pours
on the cornerstone of the great altar outside.

The Scapegoat

     The ceremonial for forgiveness of sins committed against the
sanctuary is thus completed, and the symbolic ceremony of
transferring the sins of the entire people to the Azazel is now
begun. This ceremony is not as awesome as the preceding ritual.
There is, in fact, an undercurrent of joy, and the congregation
is alive with interest.
     The scapegoat has been standing all this time in the same
place, and one would think he himself was waiting for the burden
of sin to be placed upon him. The High Priest now approaches the
goat and lays his hands upon him. As the representative of the
Jewish people he now makes the third confessional, similar to the
other two. But this time, instead of pronouncing, "I and my
household and the sons of Aaron, Thy holy tribe," he says, "Thy
people, the House of Israel." The High Priest faces the sanctuary
throughout the three confessionals. But, as he pronounces the
concluding words, "before the Lord ye shall be clean," he turns
and faces the people as he recites, "Ye shall be clean."
Again the worshipers prostrate themselves and call out, "Blessed
be the Name, the glory of His kingdom forever and ever."

     Now comes a lively and interesting scene. Priests lead the
scapegoat through a gate of the Temple and hand him over to a
priest or Levite who had previously been selected. A great crowd
forms about them shouting, "Hurry and go, hurry and go."
     The goat is led to a specified spot about ten miles beyond
the city, where a precipitious cliff overhangs a ravine. Prior to
Yom Kippur ten booths were erected as stations along the way.
     Food and drink is available in each booth for the escorter
of the scapegoat, for he may break his fast if the journey
weakens him. But he never does break his fast. A group of Jews
escort him from the Temple to the first booth, and in each booth
there is somebody to meet him and escort him to the next booth.
He is not escorted, however, all the way to the cliff, his escort
stopping and watching from afar.
     When man and goat come to the cliff the red sash is removed
from the goat's horns and divided in two. One part is attached to
the cliff and the other half tied to the horns of the goat, which
is then pushed over the cliff, life passing out of him as he
falls into the ravine.
     The news that the scapegoat is in the wilderness is quickly
brought to the High Priest. Meanwhile he has sacrificed the young
bull and the second goat on the altar; he now begins the reading
of the Torah.

The Torah Reading

     The Yom Kippur service is almost, but not quite, completed.
There are various items the High Priest must still attend to.
     First he chants with great pomp those portions of the
Pentateuch that deal with Yom Kippur. This takes place in the
synagogue which is in the Temple.
     The sexton" of the synagogue presents the Torah-scroll to
the head of the synagogue; he presents it to the High Priest's
understudy who, in turn, presents it to the High Priest. The High
Priest reads two portions of Leviticus from the scroll. He reads
and the congregation listens attentively reflecting on how fine
the words sound as they are chanted by the High Priest.
     He rolls the scroll together and, holding it to his heart,
he says to the congregation, "Much more than this, that I have
read to you, is inscribed here." He then recites the portion of
the Book of Numbers that he learned by heart, says eight
benedictions, and the ceremony of the reading of the Torah is

The Service Ends

     The High Priest then washes his hands and feet, doffs the
white linen garments, bathes himself, dons the golden robes,
again washes his hands and feet, and offers the Musaf (the
additional) sacrifice for Yom Kippur. Again he washes his hands
and feet, removes his golden robes, bathes himself, puts on the
white robes, washes his hands and feet again, and enters the Holy
of Holies for the last time to remove the fire-pan and the ladle.

     This concludes the special Yom Kippur service. But the High
Priest has further duties. He now performs the regular service
which is performed daily in the Temple, toward sunset. For this
he again goes through the washing and bathing process, changing
back to the gold robes, washes his hands and feet again and
enters the anteroom, where he burns the incense on the golden
altar and lights the lamps of the Menorah.
     Now the High Priest's work is really ended for the day. For
the last time he washes, changes his golden robes for his
everyday clothing, and sets out for his home. But not alone. A
crowd of people escort him, pushing and shoving for the honor of
walking close to him.

Towards Evening

     All is lively and joyous on the streets of Jerusalem. People
go about, light of heart after the fast, and prepare themselves
for the joyous holiday of Sukkos. Every household is festive. But
the greatest festivity takes place at the home of the High
Priest. A group of priests of the higher caste and the
aristocrats of the city have come to greet him. The house is
full, and all partake of a luxurious feast, and frolic till late
in the night.

After the Destruction

     The destruction of the second Temple brought an end to the
Yom Kippur service as practiced in the Temple, with its symbolic
rituals of forgiveness. But Yom Kippur did not lose its
importance in Jewish life. Even before the Temple was destroyed
Yom Kippur no longer depended entirely on the High Priest and the
special service that he conducted in the sanctuary.
     Had Yom Kippur remained a holiday on which the High Priest
alone begged forgiveness for the sins of the people, it would
never have survived the destruction of the Temple. But Yom Kippur
had already gone through a long period of evolution; the people
continually took an ever greater part in the observance of the
day. Thus its importance grew outside of the Temple.
     It has already been stated that while the Temple still
stood, in the last period before its destruction, Yom Kippur had
become the Great Day for Jews of the entire world, a day of
fasting and prayer in the synagogues. The day continued this
character after the destruction of the Temple. There was no
longer the special Temple service nor a High Priest to act as
intermediary between man and God. But Jews continued to observe
the day, without any intermediary, addressing themselves directly
to God through prayers and confessions.

     Characteristic of the attitude of the Jews in Palestine to
Yom Kippur after the destruction of the Temple is the following
tale from the Talmud:

Rabban Jochanan ben Zakkai, together with his pupil, Rabbi
Joshua, once stood gazing at the ruins of the Temple. And Rabbi
Joshua said, "Woe to us, that the place where Jews were forgiven
for their sins is destroyed." To which Rabban Jochanan answered,
"My son, regret it not. We have another medium, just as good, for
the forgiveness of sin. It is: Do good to mankind. For it is
written: 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice.'" 

     In this way Jews at the time of the second destruction of
Jerusalem were prepared, through their religious ideals, and with
the religious ceremonies they had evolved for their homes and the
synagogue, to carry on without the Temple service.

     But Jews did not forget the Yom Kippur ritual of the Temple
and the remembrance of it forms the most interesting part of the
Yom Kippur services. The order of the Temple ceremonial is
recited, and made dramatic and vivid in its rendition by the
cantor and the congregation. The three confessionals of the High
Priest are recited, the sprinkling of the blood is counted, the
congregation prostrates itself and, in its thoughts, relives the
ceremonial of Yom Kippur in the Temple.

     The religious content of the day became so profound, and the
synagogue ritual became so rich, that Yom Kippur has remained
till this very day the greatest day in the Jewish year.


And with all its ritual, pomp, fasting, prayers, and ceromony, it
is useless to the Jews today without Christ, the atonement
sacrifice. It is just another lesson that without worshipping God
in "spirit and in truth" all pious and outwardly righteous
looking religion is hollow and vain. Yes, it's shocking to some to
learn that you can have an outward form of religion, ceremony,
words, hymns, and what may seem like worship towards God, yet do
it all in vain. Jesus the Christ, in the Gospels, said it could
well be worship in vain. YOU need to fear the Word of the Lord,
not the religions of men. YOU need to be a serious student of the
Bible, searching for its truths, growing in grace and knowledge,
proving all things, and holding fast to that which is good. YOU
need to be earnestly contending for the faith once delivered to
the saints. YOU need to be doing what Jesus said we should do -
living by every word of God (Mat.4:4).

Certainly this solom fast day of the Feast of Atonement is a time
to meditate on what I have just said. The world one day, in the
plan of God, will be at one with Him, and then the people of the
earth will come to worship Him in spirit and in truth.

Keith Hunt

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