Atonement 30/120

Dear Friends,

Today is the holiest and most solemn day of the Sacred Calendar. Atonement this year coincides with the 8th day of Ramadan in Ishmael, and falls two days before the Yom Kippur of the Jewish Hillel calendar.

As we see in Leviticus 16:29-31 and 23:26-32, on this 10th day of the 7th month, Tishri, we are commanded to afflict our souls. It is also a non-working day, a Sabbath of rest.

Leviticus 23:26-32 And the LORD said to Moses, 27 "On the tenth day of this seventh month is the day of atonement; it shall be for you a time of holy convocation, and you shall afflict yourselves and present an offering by fire to the LORD. 28 And you shall do no work on this same day; for it is a day of atonement, to make atonement for you before the LORD your God. 29 For whoever is not afflicted on this same day shall be cut off from his people. 30 And whoever does any work on this same day, that person I will destroy from among his people. 31 You shall do no work: it is a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. 32 It shall be to you a Sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict yourselves; on the ninth day of the month beginning at evening, from evening to evening shall you keep your Sabbath."

What does it mean to ‘afflict’ ourselves? The word is mentioned three times in just a few verses of the above text, whereas neither of the normal Hebrew words for fasting (tsum, SHD 6684 and tsom, 6685) is used here or in any of the Atonement legislation. Scholars have concluded, therefore, that the phrase you shall afflict yourselves in itself means fasting. See the paper Atonement (No. 138).

One source defines afflict variously as: “to humble, be bowed down, to be put down, become low, to be depressed, be downcast” (BDB), from a root meaning “properly to eye or (generally) to heed, that is, pay attention; by implication to respond” (Strong). It therefore seems to suggest deep introspection – to turn our eyes inward and view ourselves objectively in a spirit of humility, as King David often did.

In the Churches of God (and Judaism), the Day of Atonement is a complete fast – refraining from food or drink for a minimum of 24 hours from dark to dark (EENT). We are thereby required to afflict ourselves physically, but as a type with a more important meaning: that of ‘paying attention to’ our sins and both ‘heeding’ and ‘responding to’ the instruction and admonition of the Holy Spirit working within us.

David’s Psalm 51 is a particularly appropriate one to read on Atonement. One of our biggest fears should be that God loses patience with us because of our sins, then removes His Holy Spirit from us (v. 11) and returns us to the world after erasing all knowledge of the Truth from our minds. Failure to keep Atonement is a particularly serious matter and may result in us being cut off from our people, i.e. the Body of Christ or the Church, exactly as the Israelites would have been cut off from the congregation of Israel (Lev. 23:29-30).

Atonement is necessary to consecrate the Temple annually. Today, the only Temple in existence is the spiritual one comprised of true believers. The elect are also the present-day priesthood, who offer spiritual incense in the form of their fasting and prayers (Rev. 5:8) as a sweet savour to God. Messiah simultaneously represents the High Priest, the altar of burnt sacrifice and the sacrifice offering itself, so there is no contradiction in the elect being seen as both the stones that make up the Temple and its ministering priesthood.

On the 7th of Abib we fasted for the simple and erroneous among our people. Atonement on the 10th of Tishri in a sense mirrors that fast day of the first month, but with greater impact and solemnity. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t repeat the exercise, by offering prayers for all those in our families, our local communities and our nation. The fact is that, very often, they simply don’t know they are in error. Most mistakenly believe that God’s Law has been done away and that grace alone covers a multitude of sins.

And, as the foot-washing ceremony during Passover is a simple, annual renewal of our baptism, so the Day of Atonement is a chance to renew our vows to God in humility by means of earnest prayer and fasting. Two other papers with relevance here are Fasting (No. 55) and Teach Us to Pray (No. 111).

The theme of contrition is developed in Isaiah 57, with particular application to the Day of Atonement. It speaks of those with a contrite heart and a humble spirit – attributes which are rather difficult to feign when undertaking a 24-hour fast, but which may even be a direct and positive result of such a fast.

Isaiah 57:
14 And one shall say,
“ Heap it up! Heap it up!
Prepare the way,
Take the stumbling block out of the way of My people.”
15 For thus says the High and Lofty One
Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
“ I dwell in the high and holy place,
With him who has a contrite and humble spirit,
To revive the spirit of the humble,
And to revive the heart of the contrite ones.
16 For I will not contend forever,
Nor will I always be angry;
For the spirit would fail before Me,
And the souls which I have made.
17 For the iniquity of his covetousness
I was angry and struck him;
I hid and was angry,
And he went on backsliding in the way of his heart.
18 I have seen his ways, and will heal him;
I will also lead him,
And restore comforts to him
And to his mourners.
19 “I create the fruit of the lips:
Peace, peace to him who is far off and to him who is near,”
Says the LORD,
“And I will heal him.”

God speaks of His people’s backsliding ways and covetousness; yet He also says, in spite of all this, that He will lead them, comfort them and heal them – with the ultimate aim of delivering peace to all mankind through reconciliation to Himself. Appropriately enough, Atonement foreshadows the putting away of Satan and the satanic influences upon mankind, hence making it somewhat easier to usher in the peaceful system under Messiah. See also the paper Azazel and Atonement (No. 214).

We then go on to Isaiah 58, which is the standard text to be read on the Day of Atonement.

Isaiah 58: Fasting that pleases God
6Is this not the fast that I have chosen:
To loose the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the heavy burdens,
To let the oppressed go free,
And that you break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out;
When you see the naked, that you cover him,
And not hide yourself from your own flesh?
8 Then your light shall break forth like the morning,
Your healing shall spring forth speedily,
And your righteousness shall go before you;
The glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
9 Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
You shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’
“ If you take away the yoke from your midst,
The pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
10 If you extend your soul to the hungry
And satisfy the afflicted soul,
Then your light shall dawn in the darkness,
And your darkness shall be as the noonday.
11 The LORD will guide you continually,
And satisfy your soul in drought,
And strengthen your bones;
You shall be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.
12 Those from among you
Shall build the old waste places;
You shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
And you shall be called the Repairer of the Breach,
The Restorer of Streets to Dwell In. (NKJV)

In Ezekiel 22:30, God says through the prophet that He was looking for someone to stand in the breach for the land and its people, but found none. But here we see that it is possible to be the person who stands in and/or repairs the breach – a breach in understanding of God’s true word followed by the rebuilding process, which involves reconciliation of humanity to the One True God.

This deep concern for one’s fellow man echoes the utter selflessness of Messiah who, while experiencing excruciating pain and being close to death, was still able to say to God the Father of his tormentors: “Forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34). Similarly, after witnessing powerfully to the Jews in Jerusalem, Stephen spoke in defence of his adversaries immediately before being stoned to death (Acts 7:60).

Both Christ and Stephen could undoubtedly see the bigger picture, whereby all people would one day come to a knowledge of God and His great Plan for humanity – all of it, and whether they know of it or not; and in spite of the gravity of their sins ... for we are all in the same boat, as “there is no man that does not sin” (1Kgs. 8:46). Even our enemies or the enemies of our nation are certainly known and loved by God in spite of their evil and destructive deeds.

On being known by God, Rudyard Kipling, author of The Jungle Book, proposed that a simple epitaph be written on the gravestones of those who had been killed in WWI but who were unidentifiable for whatever reason. He suggested the poignant biblical phrase: KNOWN UNTO GOD. In many war cemeteries around the world there are literally thousands of grave-markers with these three words of comfort and hope. For we are assured by Scripture that the individuals they commemorate are all merely ‘asleep’ and are awaiting a resurrection, exactly as are all those whose names are recorded. Christ prefigured the resurrections to life with his dead friend Lazarus, as seen in John 11.

We can see the excellent attitude and concern for others ahead of self shown by David in 1Chronicles 21:17. He had unwisely numbered the warriors of Israel to determine the military strength available to him.

1Chronicles 21:17 And David said to God, “Was it not I who commanded the people to be numbered? I am the one who has sinned and done evil indeed; but these sheep, what have they done? Let Your hand, I pray, O LORD my God, be against me and my father’s house, but not against Your people that they should be plagued.”

David owned up to his personal mistake and nobly asked God not to punish the people as a result, but rather to deal directly with him and his family. Unfortunately for his sons Adonijah and Solomon and all the subsequent kings of Israel, God listened to David’s suggestion and answered it quite literally – for His hand was against the whole House of Jesse from David onwards. This is a salutary lesson in being careful what we vow or even suggest to God; He may hold us to it. However, the fact that David implored God not to punish the innocent sheep of Israel must have stood him in good stead and was undoubtedly a godly attribute of his – and presumably part of the reason he was known as a man after God’s own heart.

As Christ and others demonstrated, it is appropriate and indeed necessary to intercede on behalf of all people. This is in addition to attending to personal issues and failings on this day of affliction. The following are a sample of requests we can make to God on fast days generally and that are appropriate to the Day of Atonement. (This prayer list has been extracted from various Sabbath Messages.)

The World
• The redemption of the whole world and the fallen Host;
• We are given the ability to explain to mankind how they might prevent war and destruction of the planet;
• The publishing of the Gospel message in all nations and among all ethnic groups;
• Conversion of Judah and Ishmael, as both have to be called into the priesthood of Melchisedek in the Last Days;
• Enduring peace and freedom among all mankind.

Our Nation
• God places His angels around our country for protection;
• Give thanks for those in authority over us, and that they be given wisdom and vision;
• God establishes His Law in our country as an example to the rest of the world;
• Repentance of the fallen Host so that God’s ministers and saints can enter our cities in order to preach the Gospel and form churches;
• The nation is purged of corruption and unrighteousness, whether political, ecclesiastical or judicial;
• The people are given leniency and blessing because of God’s elect among them;
• God brings the people of our nation to repentance;
• Peace and preservation of our people (if ten of us are doing God’s Work in any city or nation, then we may be instrumental in saving it);
• The poor among us are blessed, educated and made well;
• God turns many to righteousness and intervenes in the affairs of men.

The Work and Church
• God adds the personnel and funds for the end-time Work to be done;
• Increased exposure of the CCG websites and Internet Radio programs;
• Research, writing and proofreading of papers;
• Translations into as many languages as possible in order to reach the majority of mankind;
• Success and survival of the Philadelphia era of the Church when persecution arises;
• Praise to God for giving us the keys to restore His system in the Last Days;
• The work of Restoration is not frustrated by competing false prophecy and doctrines;
• The Church is kept free from accusers of the brethren;
• Those who are baptised members of the Churches of God will join us;
• When people come to an understanding of the Truth they will take positive action without delay;
• Those who are able will support the Work with tithes, regular offerings and donations;
• We are able to repair the breach of understanding and restore the path of righteousness for the benefit of all.

• We discharge our duties in the Work as efficiently as possible by using our God-given talents;
• Protection from the Adversary and the fallen Host, and that we don’t allow them to interfere with our relationship with God;
• We are strengthened in the Holy Spirit, and God never takes His Spirit from us so that we lose all knowledge of the Truth;
• Our ‘bread and water’ or basic physical needs will be assured;
• We are able to encourage members and leaders of all the Churches of God;
• Our relatives and friends are made aware of the Truth and come to repentance;
• God never leaves us nor forsakes us or our families.

Christ spoke words before his crucifixion that we could perhaps use when interceding for the world in general.

Matthew 26:38-39 Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with me.” 39 He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O my Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”

We can likewise ask God that, if at all possible, the horrific woes and the seemingly predetermined destruction on the planet is not inevitable and that this cup of affliction -- the vials of His wrath -- will somehow pass from us.

But, no matter what happens in the coming years, we can also be encouraged by God’s promise in Micah 7.

Micah 7
18 Who is a God like You,
Pardoning iniquity
And passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage?
He does not retain His anger forever,
Because He delights in mercy.
19 He will again have compassion on us,
And will subdue our iniquities.
You will cast all our sins
Into the depths of the sea.
20 You will give truth to Jacob
And mercy to Abraham,
Which You have sworn to our fathers
From days of old.

It is an enduring message of hope in a time of uncertainty and great stress. Let us renew our commitment to God and His Work by fasting and offering up prayers in sincerity and concern for all, to play our part, so that it might be said of us ultimately: “Well done, good and faithful servant”.

Reg Scott
Coordinator UK