A Holy Month
All three of the Lord’s fall feasts occur this year in the month of September. These High Holy Days include Yom Teruah (Rosh HaShanah), beginning on the night of September 9, 2018; Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), beginning on the night of September 18, 2018; and Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles), beginning on the night of September 23, 2018. The feasts are holy convocations established by God as special times to meet with His People. Appointed times. Moadim (mow-ah-DEEM).
While we often refer to God’s moadim as parties that He invites everyone to, focusing on the festive aspect of the feasts, this year we feel led to focus on the sacred or middle of the holy convocations, Yom Kippur. We believe the Lord has a serious, but life-changing and ultimately joyful, message for all of us hidden within the Day of Atonement. This message was revealed to us through a book written by Messianic Rabbi Jim Appel. Yom Kippur, The Day of Atonement has transformed the way we view (and probably observe) this feast of the Lord. Rabbi Appel’s insights go beyond our traditional ways of observing this holiest of the Holy Days, giving fresh Messianic Jewish interpretations and practices.
After prayerfully considering Rabbi Appel’s revelations from the Ruach, we asked the Lord to sum up what He wanted to say to our Jewish Jewels partners this month. We believe that we heard Him say, “I am setting my bride free! This is the year of your release and freedom from bondage.” Expect something special from Abba this Day of Atonement. Just as Yom Kippur is a time set apart to meet with God, God is a unique, morally perfect, holy God, set apart from all other gods, and we as believers are people set apart to love and serve Him. He desires that we be FREE to do that. “But know that the LORD has set apart for Himself him who is godly; the LORD will hear when I call to Him” (Ps. 4:3). Get ready to be set free!
From Repentance to Redemption
Yom Kippur is preceded by Yom Teruah, the Feast of Trumpets (Sept. 9-10, 2018). The main focus of this holy convocation is repentance, in Hebrew t’shuvah (t’shoe-VAH). (See Leviticus 23:24-25.) This holy day ushers in ten days of intense introspection and reconciliation called the Days of Awe (Yamim Noraim, Yah-MEEM No-rah-EEM), during which traditional Jewish people make amends with their fellow man for any wrongs committed during the year. Turning from sin and to God is also part of true, biblical repentance. The focus is on having a contrite heart (Isa. 57:15; Ps. 51). The ultimate goal is forgiveness of sin on the Day of Atonement (Isa. 66:2; Lev. 23:27-29).
The three current practices in traditional Judaism that precede Yom Kippur are T’shuvah (repentance), t’fillah (prayer), and tzedakah (charity), due to the absence of a temple, a priesthood, and blood sacrifices. As Messianic Jews, we know that while t’shuvah, t’fillah, and t’zedakah are good and godly, we also know that none of them alone or together result in redemption. The Torah makes it clear: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul” (Lev. 17:11).
Rabbi Appel gives a Messianic perspective on the Days of Awe, reminding us that they are also called the Ten Days of Repentance, or Aseret Yemei T’shuvah. Even though we already have atonement through the blood of Yeshua the Messiah, we still sin. We are in the process of being conformed to the image of God’s Son. We are not there yet! There are things in our lives that need to be corrected, areas in which we need to change. We serve an Awesome God who stands ready to help us become all that He has destined for us as we humble ourselves and say, “Lord, change me.” We have a continuing need for CONTRITENESS (Ps. 34:18).
Part of experiencing the awesomeness of the Ten Days is forgiving those who have offended us, as commanded by our Messiah (Matt. 6:14-15). This leads to forgiveness for yourself and freedom from the tyranny of self-inflicted poisoning! Another part of the Awesome Days should be introspection. This is praying along with King David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; And see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23- 24). If we sincerely pray this prayer, the Holy Spirit, who indwells us, will reveal any attitudes, habits, or perpetual ways of thinking that are offensive to God. We can be set free from any of these in the name of Yeshua. “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (Jn. 8:32).
Sometimes remorse or godly sorrow is a necessary component of true freedom. Rabbi Saul (Paul) said that it “leaves no regrets” (2 Cor. 7:10). If we have hurt someone by doing or saying something, or hurt God by transgressing His laws and disobeying or dishonoring Him, tears and mourning are appropriate. So is a confession—to God, then to the offended person. How many of us actually obey the admonition of James 5:16, “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed”? Let this Yom Kippur be the year of healing for you—through godly sorrow, repentance, and confession.
The Kohen Gadol
In Bible times, the main figure on the Day of Atonement was the High Priest, the Kohen Gadol (Ko-HEN Ga-DOLE), who entered the Holy of Holies (KO-desh Ko-dah-SHEEM) once a year, on the tenth day of the seventh month, to make atonement for the children of Israel. Yom Kippur was, and still is, the holiest day of the Jewish year. Yom means “day,” and Kippur means “atonement,” with the specific meaning to cover, to cleanse, to forgive, and to pardon.
The many atonements (kippurim: kee-poor-EEM) made by the Kohen Gadol on The Day (as it is sometimes called) enabled the presence of God to dwell in the midst of His people. This is a crucial truth. A Holy God, the Holy One, Blessed be He (HaKa-DOSH ba-rookh HOO), cannot dwell where there is sin. Therefore, sin had to be covered to make God’s Presence welcome. In Leviticus chapter 16 we see very detailed instructions for the High Priest to carry out on Yom Kippur. First, he had to make atonement for himself and his household. Aaron, the High Priest, entered the Most Holy Place with a young bull as a sin offering and a ram as a burnt offering (Lev. 16:3, 6). Then he made atonement for the whole nation of Israel. This involved two goats, one for the Lord and one as the scapegoat. The goat chosen for the sin offering was slain and its blood was brought into the Kodesh Kodashim (Holy of Holies) and sprinkled on the Mercy Seat to make atonement for all the people’s sins. As for the scapegoat (azazel in Hebrew): “Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel and all their transgressions concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send it away into the wilderness…” (Lev. 16:21). Both goats died, although in different ways, and blood atoned for iniquity. Sin was covered for another year.
The entire chapter of Leviticus 16 is still read during the Avodah (Ah-vo-DAH) service in traditional synagogues, mentioning the three times that the Kohen Gadol entered the Kodesh Kodashim, making atonement for the Holy Place, the courtyard, the altar of incense etc., so that the Presence of God could dwell amongst them. What most Jewish people don’t realize is that atonement has finally been made so that God’s Spirit can dwell not only among His People, but in His People. This was accomplished by a Greater Kohen Gadol, Yeshua the Messiah. The Book of Hebrews in the New Covenant expounds extensively on this glorious reality: “But Messiah (Christ) came as High Priest (Kohen Gadol) of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:11-12).
Let’s focus on Yeshua, as our New Covenant High Priest, this Yom Kippur. Let us thank Him for becoming our atonement, for shedding His blood and taking it into the heavenly Tabernacle so that we might be indwelt by His Holy Spirit. He is the Perfect Priest and the Perfect Sacrifice. “…but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Heb. 9:26b). Yeshua is an Eternal High Priest of a special order, “And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, called by God as High Priest according to the order of Malchi-Tzedek” (Heb. 5:9-10). Our Mediator. Our Intercessor. Our Champion in Heaven. “For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself” (Heb. 7:27). Yeshua our Kohen Gadol is interceding for you in heaven—to be set gloriously free!
Sin and Iniquity
Rabbi Appel makes an important distinction between sin and iniquity that comes to the forefront as we examine atonement. Sin, in the Hebrew mind, is missing the mark, falling short of God’s standards, the violation of a commandment, an action (khata in Hebrew). Iniquity, on the other hand, is our natural inclination to sin, a state of being, avone (ah-VOWN) in Hebrew. Avone is passed down from generation to generation. Orthodox Judaism calls avone Yetzer HaRa, the evil inclination. While the Torah speaks of a sin offering, it never mentions an offering to remove iniquity. Yet, the consequence of iniquity is serious, as declared by the prophet Isaiah, “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He does not hear” (Isa. 59:2).
Seven hundred years before Yeshua came to earth to fulfill prophecy, God had a solution for our iniquity: “…He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities [our evil inclination]…All we, like sheep, have gone astray [missed the mark], every one, to his own way. And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:5-6).
Rabbi Appel says something about iniquity that we have always felt, but never had a word for. In his words: “So, the longer we walk with the Lord, and the more of the Word that gets into us (and remember the Word, the Living Word, is who? Yeshua!), the more He is in us, the more we can see the difference between what is of our spirit and what is of our soul. And that which is of our soul is ‘iniquitous.’ That’s the flesh. That’s iniquity. Now, hopefully, I’m also learning how to stand against it, crucify it, and keep it in control and in check, and not walk in the flesh, but walk in the spirit.”
Our iniquity was laid on Yeshua, and He has borne it away, but we still struggle with the flesh, and will struggle until we go to be with the Lord. The victory is ours as we choose to crucify the flesh daily (Rom. 7:24-25). We have the power to overcome through the Ruach HaKodesh. That is freedom!
The eve of Yom Kippur, September 18 this year, has a special name in both traditional and Messianic Judaism: Kol Nidrei (Koal KNEE-dray), which literally means “All Vows.” Kol Nidrei is actually the name of a prayer that is chanted during the service, asking God for forgiveness for vows made to Him under duress or force. Written in Aramaic, not Hebrew, this declaration annuls any personal or religious oaths made during the year. Kol Nidrei originated sometime after the sixth century A.D. during a period of extreme persecution of the Jewish people when they were forced at sword’s point to convert to Christianity. The Kol Nidrei service at our local Messianic synagogue is emotionally moving and poignant due to the haunting melody of the Kol Nidrei, but it has been hard to relate to on a personal level. Somewhat confusing as well. Aren’t we supposed to keep our vows to God? (See Deuteronomy 23:22- 24.) Should we annul them? Should we even vow at all? Didn’t the Messiah tell us not to make any oaths? (See Matthew 5:33-37.)
Rabbi Appel has an insight concerning vows that we believe can transform our Kol Nidrei services. It also has the potential of setting all of us free. It has to do with our tongues and the vows they make today. Sometimes in a moment of frustration or anger we make rash, ungodly vows—inner vows—that deeply affect our lives. We are usually not aware of this. For example, I (Jamie) was so devastated when a boy I was dating in college ended our relationship that I vowed to myself: “No man is ever going to hurt me again.” That inner vow, made in a moment of hurt and rejection, affected my relationship with men for years. I purposely dated them and then dropped them—until Neil. Thank you, Lord! His love won me over.
Do we have an oppressor who forces us to make unwise, rash vows? We do not have evil men like Torquemada of the Spanish Inquisition. But we do have hasatan, the devil, our adversary. Rabbi Appel explains the devil’s strategy: “One of our oppressor ha-satan’s primary strategies is that through temptation and deception and inciting others against us, he attempts to cause us to make ungodly vows in times of duress. Or, he incites others to speak words against us, maybe in our presence, that we receive and they affect our lives—sometimes in very, very negative ways.” He likens these vows to curses and contends that they can be the cause of depression, rejection, self-hatred, lack of self-esteem, anxieties, fears, bitterness, unforgiveness, resentment, anger, addictions, and the inability to love.
Kol Nidrei this year can be the time that we truly “afflict our souls” by wrestling control away from our souls and giving it to our spirits since the soul (our minds, emotions, and wills) tends to join forces with hasatan in causing ungodly vows. Here is what happens: When we make an ungodly vow, it gives hasatan a legal right or power to cause us to behave in a way that fulfills that vow. We bind ourselves by the words of our own mouths.
We need to see the truth about ourselves so that we can be set free (Jn. 8:32). Have you ever made vows like one of these? “Nobody will ever hurt me again.” “I’ll never be any good at that.” “I’ll never get over this sickness.” “I’ll get even with her.” “You should have children like you were.” What are these statements? According to Rabbi Appel: “They are hooks—places where the enemy can get a hook into us and manipulate us and either torment or deceive us. So the Kol Nidrei prayer is a yearly reminder to deal with these very serious areas of spiritual warfare in our lives.” Let’s humble ourselves and ask the Ruach HaKodesh to reveal any ungodly vows that we have made, and then renounce them.
We have the authority in the Spirit to annul, cancel, and make void all ungodly vows in the name of Yeshua, who took all our curses upon Himself: “Messiah has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13). As we walk in the Spirit and are led by the Spirit, we will refrain from making any more rash vows. “If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (Jn. 8:36).