February 13 | Daily Devotion

February 13 | Daily Devotion

Lectio Continua: a continuous reading of every verse

Lectio Semi-continua: shorter reading selections from the passages

Lectio Divina

“This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.” ~Leviticus 16:34

The annual Day of Atonement in chapter 16 is the climax of the difficult clean-and-unclean section.[1] God’s people stopped everything they were doing to confess their sin and to renew their commitment to the Lord. Yom Kippur (pronounced kip-or) is still observed among Jewish people today with some variations. The Hebrew expression means “the day when everything is made right.” While sacrifices were made throughout the year, this annual event was marked by a sacrifice on behalf of the entire worshipping community. No matter how hard the people tried to keep all the clean and unclean laws, they never quite got it perfectly right. (Sound familiar?) But any sin or uncleanness inadvertently overlooked was covered by the community sacrifice.

As part of the ceremony, the priest placed his hands on the head of a live goat and confessed Israel’s sins, and thus the community’s wrongs were symbolically placed on the goat (and our expression “scapegoat” was born). Then the animal was driven into the wilderness. If necessary, the goat was violently chased from behind by priests. Imagine how the community would have stood transfixed at this vivid expression of sin and atonement. That would make for quite a worship service! God removed sin, and it was GONE! The people were totally clean in God’s sight! (Chapter 17 provides some final instructions designed to safeguard Israel’s sacrifice system from the pagan practices of the Egyptians and other cultures.)

For all the difficulty of this intense and foreign passage of Scripture, it is fitting that we read it alongside today’s New Testament passage. In Matthew 27:1-31, Christ is taken away for crucifixion. He is the atonement. The one who makes amends. The scapegoat for our sins. But His sacrifice need never be repeated. Christ satisfies in our place God’s demand for justice and for holiness. He is blamed; that is, our sins are placed on Him. And then He is taken away and slaughtered. (See Hebrews 9:1-10:22 for the Bible’s internal commentary on Christ and the Day of Atonement.)

[1] As we finish up this section, there is one final clarification worth making. Clean and unclean are not the equivalent of righteous and unrighteous. The sin was not in being unclean, but rather in going to worship unclean (literally unwashed). The worship of holy God was to be taken seriously.

Lectio Divina  is written by F. Lionel Young III, who serves as the senior pastor of  Calvary Church  in Valparaiso, Indiana. He is the author of  A New Kind of Missionary, a popular introduction to global Christianity.