Monday, September 09, 2013

TorahBytes: The Key to Forgiveness (Yom Kippur)

The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness (Vayikra / Leviticus 16:22; ESV)

The most solemn day of the Jewish calendar is Yom Kippur (English: The Day of Atonement), which this year occurs from sundown on Friday, September 13 until sunset the following day. One of the unique rituals of this day, when the Temple was still standing, was for the Cohen HaGadol (English: the Chief Priest) to take a live goat and "confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins" (Vayikra / Leviticus 16:21; ESV). Then a person especially appointed to the task took the goat, referred to as the "scapegoat," and set it to wander in the wilderness, thus symbolizing the removal of the nation's sins.

With the destruction of the Temple almost two thousand years ago, this ritual, along with so many other God-ordained rituals of those days, ceased. Over the next while Judaism underwent a complete overhaul as new traditions were introduced to replace the sacrificial system. As a result, powerful symbols of forgiveness such as the scapegoat were lost.

Last year for Yom Kippur, I wrote a TorahBytes message ( where I suggested that forgiveness is one of the greatest gifts God gave to the world through the Jewish people. Since then this topic has challenged me over and over again. I have realized how slow I am to forgive. But you might be thinking that the scapegoat ritual is about receiving forgiveness, not offering it to others. What we may not realize, however, is that the two are intimately connected.

One of the strongest statements the Messiah ever made was "If you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matthew 6:15: ESV). Unforgiveness is a prison. Not so much for those against whom we harbor bitterness, but for ourselves. There may be some people who delude themselves into thinking that they have nothing of which to be forgiven, but for those who know better, who are burdened by the guilt of the innumerable wrongs they have committed, they will never know the wonderful relief of God's forgiveness until they forgive those who have wronged them. Yeshua said so.

This is the same Yeshua who made the Temple rituals, including the scapegoat, redundant, by being the only true scapegoat. As the Hebrew prophet Isaiah foresaw over six hundred years earlier,

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned - every one - to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53 4-6; ESV).

Even though we can't know God's forgiveness unless we forgive others, forgiveness still begins with God. Yeshua's suffering and death accomplished once and for all what the Yom Kippur scapegoat symbolized. He carried away our sins, thus creating the conditions for our forgiveness. But unless we forgive others, we cannot truly receive God's forgiveness.

Last year's message included a link to a song which so effectively captures the Scriptures' understanding of forgiveness. I encourage you to give it a listen, even if you heard it before. This might be a new day of freedom for you.

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