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The Feast of Atonement
“And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: it shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD. And ye shall do no work in that same day: for it is a day of atonement, to make an atonement for you before the LORD your God. For whatsoever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be cut off from among his people. And whatsoever soul it be that doeth any work in that same day, the same soul will I destroy from among his people. Ye shall do no manner of work: it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. It shall be unto you a sabbath of rest, and ye shall afflict your souls: in the ninth day of the month at even, from even unto even, shall ye celebrate your sabbath.” (Leviticus 23:26-32)
Leviticus 16 describes the day of atonement God required Israel to observe in Old Testament worship. Everything relating to that great day was typical, portraying the sin-atoning work of our Lord Jesus Christ at Calvary. The picture of atonement given in that chapter involved many, many things. Here are six things that stand out in that chapter about the day of atonement.
1. Aaron, God’s high priest, was the only one who could make atonement for the sins of the people. And none but Christ, our great High Priest, of whom Aaron was but a type, could make atonement for us.
2. Atonement was made for Israel (God’s chosen people) alone, because Christ died for and redeemed God’s elect alone. The Book of God universally teaches the sweet and blessed gospel doctrine of limited atonement, or particular and effectual redemption.
3. The sins of the people were ceremonially imputed to two goats: the Lord’s goat and the scapegoat, because the sins of God’s elect were made our Savior’s sins and carried away by him (2 Corinthians 5:21).
4. The Lord’s goat was slain, and his blood was sprinkled upon the mercy-seat in the holy of holies. And we read of our ever-blessed Christ, “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.” (Hebrews 9:12)
5. The scapegoat was carried away by a fit man and forever lost. And our sins were forever put away by the Lord Jesus Christ.
6. All for whom atonement was made were blessed of God, even as all for whom Christ died and made atonement are blessed of God with all the blessings of grace and salvation.
It is a very great mistake to think that when we have instructions given about a matter in one portion of Holy Scripture given again in another that one is merely a repetition of the other. That is not the case at all. When instructions are given about something more than once, there is a reason. The passage before us here in Leviticus 23:26-32 is a very clear example of what I am saying.
Leviticus 16 describes the day of atonement for the purpose of showing in type how the Lord Jesus Christ accomplished our redemption by the sacrifice of himself at Calvary. Leviticus 23 sets before us the feast of atonement (the feast of expiation) as one of Israel’s annual holy convocations.
Notice that this feast, the feast of atonement, follows the feasts of passover, unleavened bread, firstfruits, Pentecost, and trumpets. Those are all feasts that portray our experience of grace and salvation by Christ.
The redemption of our souls was accomplished for us altogether outside our experience, long before we were born, when the Son of God died in our room and stead upon the cursed tree. That accomplished redemption is what Leviticus 16 portrays.
Leviticus 23:26-32 portrays the believer’s experience of grace in receiving the atonement by faith in Christ. The ceremony, the holy assembly for worship, described in Leviticus 23:26-32 is not talking about what Christ did at Calvary, but about what goes on in our souls when God the Holy Ghost reveals Christ in us and gives us a saving interest in what he did for us at Calvary (Romans 5:6-11; 2 Timothy 1:9-10).
When God the Holy Spirit comes to chosen, redeemed sinners in the saving operations of his grace, when he sprinkles the conscience with the blood of Christ, when he gives us faith in Christ, he convinces us of Christ’s glorious, effectual redemption accomplished for us (Hebrews 9:11-14; John 16:7-11). The feast of atonement was Israel’s annual day of repentance, portraying God’s gift of repentance wrought in our souls by his almighty grace.
I have read countless sermons and articles on repentance. I have read a good many books on the subject. But I have never read anything that explains what repentance is like Leviticus 23:26-32. If one picture is worth a thousand words, here is a picture that is worth ten thousand words!
The feast of atonement was intended to show us the character of true repentance. It was, in fact, a call to the whole congregation to repent and be reconciled to God. There are several different words translated “repent” and “repentance” in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament and in the Greek text of the New Testament. There are two words translated “repent” in the Old Testament and two in the New. The one means to “sigh,” “be sorry,” or “regret bitterly.” The other means “retreat,” “turn back,” or “return.” There are also two different words in the New Testament which are translated “repent.” The one means “think differently,” “reconsider,” or “change your mind.” The other means “regret.”
The one time the word “repentance” is found in the Old Testament (Hosea 13:14), the word used means “to deeply regret.” In the New Testament, the word translated “repentance” also means “to deeply regret.” Repentance is sorrow and contrition before God because of sin (Zechariah 12:10). Repentance is returning to God, being reconciled to God by faith in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17-21). And repentance is a change of mind about yourself and God, about sin and righteousness, about redemption and grace. — Repentance is having the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:12-16).
The feast of atonement was Israel’s annual day of repentance, portraying God’s gift of repentance wrought in our souls by his almighty grace.
Though I think it unwise to overemphasize the importance upon numbers used in the Bible, because the Scriptures do not give us explicit, clear reason for doing so, I am certain that the numbers (numerals) used in the Word of God have significance far beyond what I have yet seen.
This feast of atonement began on the 10th day of the 7th month and was consummated with a sabbath observance on the 9th day of the month. The number seven represents completion and perfection, the believer’s completion and perfection in Christ. The number nine represents fruitfulness, the fruit and gifts of the Holy Spirit. And the number ten represents all the bounty, wealth and riches of grace that are ours in Christ.
I do not know just how much weight should, or should not be placed upon these numbers. But I do know that when God gives sinners faith in Christ, he gives us all the fulness, completion and perfection of his grace, all the fulness of his Spirit, and all the treasure of heaven. It is written, “All things are yours, for ye are Christ’s!”
Here are six things involved in repentance, six characteristics of true faith, as they are portrayed in the feast of atonement.
The feast of atonement was a holy convocation, an assembly of divine worship. — “It shall be an holy convocation unto you” (v. 27). And the very first characteristic of repentance toward God and faith in Christ is worship. Saved sinners worship God. We call upon the name of the Lord. We worship toward his holy hill of Zion, gathering on Zion’s hill with the general assembly and church of the firstborn (Philippians 3:3). To call upon the name of the Lord is to worship God as he is, as he makes himself known in the person and work of his dear Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (Genesis 4:26; Romans 10:8-13).
This feast of atonement was a time of soul affliction. — “Ye shall afflict your souls.” (v. 27). — As soon as a sinner has Christ revealed in him, he is broken, contrite, and afflicted in his soul (Job 42:5-6; Isaiah 6:5; 66:1-2; Zechariah 12:10-12; 13:1; Matthew 5:3-4).
The feast of atonement involved burnt offerings of consecration to God. — “Ye shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord” (v. 27). And true repentance and faith, arising from the revelation and knowledge of Christ, compels every saved sinner to consecrate himself to God (Romans 11:33-12:3; Colossians 3:1-3).
When the Lord God gives you faith in Christ, it shall be for you the day of atonements, expiations, full, free, everlasting forgiveness of all sin. — “It is a day of atonement (atonements, expiations), to make and atonement for you before the Lord your God” (v. 28). The word “atonement” means expiate, cover, cancel, placate, appease, pacify, purge, put away, forgive, reconcile (Isaiah 43:25; 1 John 1:9).
During the feast of atonements the children of Israel were to cease from all work of any kind and keep a sabbath of rest unto the Lord (vv. 28-32). And true repentance and faith involves a total cessation of works of any kind for acceptance with God, a keeping of sabbath rest before him, a continual affliction of our souls.
It is an affliction to our proud flesh to cease from our works, to cease trusting in ourselves and trust Christ alone for all forgiveness, righteousness, holiness, and sanctification. That is the very “foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God” (Hebrews 6:1). Faith in Christ is the true keeping of the sabbath. Any manner of work performed to win God’s favor, improve God’s favor toward us, or keep God’s favor will bring God’s everlasting destruction (v. 31; Galatians 5:1-4).
This affliction of soul during the feast of atonement was a time of celebration. — Ye shall “celebrate your sabbath” (v. 32). True repentance and faith in Christ brings us into the blessed celebration of grace. The life God gives us in Christ is a life of celebration. Faith celebrates the character of God set forth in all his glorious attributes. We celebrate God’s salvation in Christ, the peace he gives, the pardon we receive, the freedom of grace, and the hope of eternity.
The Lord our God has sent his church into the world as his voice to preach to needy sinners “repentance and remission of sins” by the blood of Christ, calling upon sinners everywhere to be reconciled to God by faith in his dear Son (Luke 24:47; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21).
Oh, may God the Holy Spirit be pleased to bring you into this blessed celebration of grace by faith in Christ! — “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish!” Worship him. Afflict your soul. Consecrate yourself to God. May this be for you a day of expiations, atonements, forgiveness. Come to Christ and rest. Celebrate the grace of God. Oh, may the God of all grace cause you to join the celebration!