On the eve of Yom Kippur each year, all over Israel stores will close, all traffic will cease and Israelis will eat a final meal around 5:00 p.m., commencing the Day of Atonement fast.
Even though Yom Kippur deals only with sins of ignorance, as a young boy, I was taught that we fasted on Yom Kippur in order to receive forgiveness for all sins we committed that year.
Somehow, 25 hours without food would cause God to forgive us.
However, after becoming a believer in Yeshua, I wanted to know exactly what the Bible said about fasting on the Day of Atonement.
The entire chapter of Leviticus 16 is devoted to this day, and in verse 29, indeed it says that ‘on the tenth day of the seventh month you must fast and not do any work.’ Actually the Hebrew word used is not to fast – l’tsum, but l’anot, which means to deny or afflict one’s soul. Fasting is indeed one way to afflict your soul.
Now, there are a couple things I noticed here. First, while we didn’t work on Yom Kippur, no one ever told me when I was growing up that the act of not working on Yom Kippur would take away my sin… and yet, it is given just as much significance in this passage as fasting.
And, more importantly, I noticed that fasting or afflicting your soul is only mentioned twice in the 34 verses of this chapter, while another subject – which is the focus of the chapter – is almost completely ignored in modern Judaism. That subject is the sacrifices of Yom Kippur – specifically the scapegoat.
Leviticus 16:21-22 says, “[the high priest] is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the wilderness in the care of someone appointed for the task. The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a remote place; and the man shall release it in the wilderness.”
But as young Jewish boy no one ever told me about this goat, only fasting. Why? Because after the destruction of the Temple, which took place in 70CE, forty years after Yeshua’s resurrection, sacrifices ceased—no Temple, no sacrifices—and the emphasis of Yom Kippur was taken off the scapegoat and put on fasting.
You might even say fasting became the scapegoat for the scapegoat!
The truth is that fasting cannot take away sin. The Bible is clear that only blood can make atonement:
For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life. (Lev. 17:11)
So why then does God command us to fast on Yom Kippur? Because fasting was the posture of humility in which we confessed our sins, sought mercy and presented the sacrifice.
Here’s an example. I was arrested for driving while under the influence of marijuana in 1982. It was very stupid and before I had come to faith. I had to go to court, stand before a judge and explain myself. How do you think I was dressed? Do you think I walked in with ripped jeans, a dirty Led Zeppelin t-shirt and cigarette behind my ear? If I did just that, what would I be communicating to the judge?
‘I don’t respect you, I am not sorry and I don’t respect this court.’ In other words, ‘I am not taking my crime seriously.’
But I didn’t do that. I bought a suit, shaved, made sure my hair was nice and every time I was asked a question, I answered with the ‘yes sir’ or ‘no sir.’ I was respectful, and as a result the judge had mercy.
Now, my suit and tie didn’t earn me mercy. My appearance merely said to the judge, ‘I am humbling myself before this court. I understand what I did was wrong.’
In the same way, fasting was saying to God, ‘we understand our position, we have sinned, we honor and respect You. Please receive the sacrifice.’
It was the blood of the animal that brought atonement! Fasting was merely the posture of humility in which the sacrifice was presented. And the Temple was destroyed only one generation after the sacrificial death of Yeshua, signifying that Yeshua’s sacrifice was the once and for all sacrifice.
But when this priest [Yeshua] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God… For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. (Heb. 10:12, 14)
I still fast on Yom Kippur for several reasons.
1. It was an everlasting ordinance.
2. I take the time to intercede for my people to know their Messiah.
3. I am part of the people of Israel, and it is important for me to identify with my brothers and sisters after the flesh.
4. I fast as a reminder and expression of gratefulness to God for the sacrifice of His Son.
Join with us this year in fasting for revival in Israel!