A Prayer for Israel on Yom Kippur

Sunday evening (September 27) marked the beginning of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year which concludes at sundown this evening. Yom Kippur is a transliteration of the Hebrew words yom (day) and kippur (atonement), and so this holiday is often referred to in English as “Day of Atonement.” The word atonement comes from an early Latin phrase meaning unity (literally, at-one-ment!).

Yom Kippur for the people of Israel was (and is) a day of nationwide affliction, repentance, rest, fasting, and prayer. It is known as shabbat shabbatot – the sabbath of sabbaths – where Jews abstain from food, drink, sex, and bathing/perfuming for one day in order to observe and experience their broken, sinful, desperate state before Yahweh, and ask for forgiveness for their sins.

Kippur can also mean to cleanse or clear out. Since the days of Moses, Yom Kippur has been observed as a day of national cleansing. The blood sacrifices performed in the tabernacle (see Leviticus 16) and later in the Temple served as both a brutal reminder of the consequence of human sin before a holy God, and a beautiful illustration of God’s unfathomable love, grace, and kindness toward his people, as he provided an animal substitute to be slaughtered for Israel’s sins.

[Yom Kippur] was a brutal reminder of the penalty for man’s rebellion against their holy and righteous Creator, and at the same time a striking revelation of a gracious and loving God who withholds his wrath from sinful mankind, and bends hear their repentance . . . The laying of hands on the animal (v. 4:4 ff.) represented a ceremonial imparting of the sinner’s transgressions upon a sinless creature, which was then slaughtered as a substitute for the repentant worshipper. Leviticus 16, which is in many ways a focal point of Leviticus, details the Yom Kippur sin offering ceremony. This once a-year offering is sufficient for the removal of the sins of every Israelite – priest and commoner – illustrating the reality that all men are guilty of sinning against YHWH, and only through confession and sinless blood will those sins be cleansed.


Christians have long held that the Day of Atonement was in fact a mere placeholder for what God would do through the sacrifice of his Son, Jesus. Jesus Christ lived a perfect, sinless life, thereby becoming the only substitute worthy of bearing the punishment for the sins of the human race. Jesus stood in place of sinful mankind, willingly became sin for us, died the death that we all deserve, and made a way through his grace for man and God to be atoned (unified) forever.

Today, I pray for Israel; that thousands of years of love and devotion to God would be made complete in the knowledge that their sins have already been atoned for, and that grace and forgiveness are freely available through faith in Jesus Christ. May they acknowledge sufficiency of Jesus the Son of God:

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile,  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.

Romans 3:20-25a

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: