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The  Day of Atonement is the fifth annual festival, and is  probably one  of  the most complex, mysterious, and misunderstood  of  the festivals  celebrated  in ancient Israel. However, God has preserved the knowledge  and understanding of his plan of salvation in all of the annual Festivals which he revealed to the Israelites after he brought them out of Egypt. In order to fully understand the meaning of the fifth festival, it is important to begin by understanding that  Israel's physical deliverance from Egypt was prophetic of being freed  from the bondage of sin and its death penalty through the atoning blood of Christ's sacrifice.

Delivered for a Purpose

The  Creator God  brought the Israelites out of Egypt because  he had  a job for them to do and a purpose for their existence as  a nation.  In  order to help ensure their success in  what  he  had planned for them, he needed to dwell among them and guide them.  In order to dwell among them, he had to protect  them from the power of his spirit-presence.

God Dwells with Israel

The dwelling of God with his people was one of the major  reasons for  the  celebration of the  Day of Atonement.

In his instructions to Moses, God said that the Israelites  should build  a  sanctuary for him because he was going to  dwell  among them:

"And  let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among  them" (Ex.25:8 KJV). See also Deut.23:10-14.

Because  God was going to dwell among the Israelites,  there  were certain things that he required them to do in order for him to be able to continue to dwell among them.

God Is Holy

God is a spirit-being from the spirit dimension of existence, and there are certain laws that govern his ability to interact  with the  physical  dimension of existence when he is  in  his  spirit-form.

From  what  is said in the scriptures pertaining to the  Day  of Atonement, it is apparent that one of these laws concerns the protection of the physical world from the energy of God's  spirit-presence:

"For  I am the Lord your God: you shall therefore sanctify  yourselves,  and you shall be holy; for I am holy: neither shall  you defile  yourselves with any manner of creeping thing that creeps upon the earth. For I am the Lord that brought you up out of  the land of Egypt, to be your God: you shall therefore be holy, for I am holy" (Lev.11:44-45 KJV).

"And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Speak to all the  congregation  of  the children of Israel, and say to them, You  shall  be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy" (Lev.19:1-2 KJV).

"And  you shall be holy to me: for I the Lord am holy,  and  have severed  you  from other people, that you should be  mine"  (Lev. 20:26 KJV).

God  is  a holy righteous being whose very nature and  being  requires that all things that come into close contact with him  be of  the  same quality of existence.  The death of  Aaron's  sons Nadab and Abihu is an example of what happens when there  is  a violation of the strict laws concerning  the interaction  between the physical and spiritual worlds.

Any  deviation or violation of these laws is defined as sin,  which  is in opposition to the nature and being of  God.  Therefore, any  thing or person that is not in harmony with these  laws  or does not exhibit a holy and righteous nature cannot interact with God  in  his spirit-presence without being destroyed unless God himself protects or shields the physical thing  or person from the power of his spirit-presence.

This process of being protected or shielded from the power of God's spirit-presence  and the ultimate transformation of humans into  spirit-beings are two of the awesome  lessons that  are taught through the Day of Atonement.

Israel to Worship God

God gave Israel  a worship system through which they could remain in  a redeemed (physically justified) condition.  The sin  offerings were a type of grace through which God set aside the penalty for  their  sins and covered or removed  their  physical  defilement, which  allowed them to come into his presence  and  commune with him. See Lev.4:27-31.

Once  a year on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest went  behind the veil to make an atonement for the whole nation of Israel.  It is  through the Day of Atonement rituals that Israel  was  reconciled with  God, and it is through this festivals prophetic  and  symbolic meaning  that those who have an agreement with the  Father  during the gospel  age  of salvation can find  great comfort,  assurance, and hope.

Exactly What is the Meaning of This Day?

The  central theme of the Day of Atonement (past and present)  concerns  the  process  by which sin is removed  from  God's  chosen people  in  order  for God to be able to  dwell  in  his  spirit-presence among and within them. The following are the central concepts contained in this festival:

Without an understanding of these important concepts, the Festival of Atonement makes no sense at all. Therefore, in order to clearly  understand the meaning of the Day of Atonement, we must  first understand  exactly what the word 'atonement' means, why  atonement is  necessary,  and the things for which atonement is  being  applied.

Why Is Atonement Necessary?

"Behold,  the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot  save; neither  his ear heavy, that he cannot hear: But your  iniquities have  separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear" (Isa.59:1-2 KJV).

The  prophet Isaiah was inspired to record that sin  separates  a person from fellowship with God. It is because of this separation that God devised a method by which  this barrier (sin) between him and his  people could be removed. The removal  of  this  barrier makes it possible for there to be communication and fellowship between God and humans.

The scriptures clearly show that, when the spirit-presence of God  comes  into contact with impurity, the impurity  is  destroyed. Therefore, the Israelites were given very strict rules as to  how to perform the necessary rituals to remove physical contamination in  order to be protected from destruction while being  in  close contact with God's spirit-presence.

Through   a sacrificial system and the rituals of purification, God is able to alter,  transform, or shield people and things from the power  of his  spirit-presence in order to dwell or  commune with them in his spirit form.

The Word 'Atonement'

The  English word 'atonement' is not a translation of the  Hebrew word 'kippurim' or 'kippur' nor does it mean 'at-one-with', as some assume.  The  word 'atonement' is only an interpretation of  the Hebrew word 'kippurim' and it is a purely theological concept, which  refers to the process by which physical defilement (impurity) and  spiritual and moral sin is covered or set aside.

The English phrase 'Day of Atonement' is the Hebrew  phrase 'yom kippurim' or 'yom  kippur.' 'Yom' means 'day' and 'kippurim' comes from the  root phrase that basically means 'to cover up'. It may also mean 'expiation', which is defined as the extinguishing of guilt by the  suffering of a penalty. 'Kippurim' encompasses  the means by which a  person who  is estranged from God is placed back into harmony with him and the result of being in harmony with him.

Atonement is Both Method and Result

Therefore, the conceptual meaning of atonement  (kippurim) contains both the method by which something is done and the result of doing it. When an atonement was made through the sacrificial system (the method),  the breach between God and man was  healed  (i.e.,  the result  of  sin was removed). God and man were then  in  harmony (the result). Therefore, the sacrifice of animals as an atonement for sin was required to restore  and maintain the relationship between God and man.

Physical And Moral Sin

It  is important to understand that the word 'kippurim'  and  its cognate  verb forms are applied to the purging away of  ceremonial and physical  defilement as well as setting aside the  penalty  of spiritual and moral offenses.

Often, when reading scriptures concerning sacrifices for  sin, it is  difficult to determine whether it is physical or  spiritual and moral defilement (i.e., sin) that is being addressed. There  is a great distinction made in the sacrificial  system  between  those  things that were done in  order  to  cover or remove ceremonial and physical  defilement and those that were done to  set aside the penalty for spiritual and moral defilement.

However, the   purpose  of  atonement was the same for each  type  of  sin, whether  physical  or spiritual. The goal was to  keep  the tabernacle or temple and the Israelites in a pure and sinless condition  in order for God to dwell among them and  commune  with them:

"You must keep the Israelites separate from things that make them unclean,  so  that  they will not die in  their  uncleanness  for defiling my dwelling place, which is among them" (Lev.15:31 Para.).