Some things are hard to forget. The impact they have on our life, whether good or bad, can impact our life and decisions for decades. Sometimes, we find ourselves living the story that other people have scripted for us rather than our own as a result. We become actors playing the part written for us by someone other than God instead of letting the one who designed us and made us for a purpose lead us through the story he has fashioned.
If we live someone else’s story, it can be a weighty life. The sin and brokenness of others can weigh us down. To be free we have to strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. When we do that, we can run with endurance the race God has set before us.
The weight of Israel’s sin encumbered them. Thus God provided rituals, shadows of actions he would take in the future, to help the community leave their sin behind and be free to live the life God planned. We find them foreign, but if we look at the heart of those rituals we find a very rich and deep understanding of how God would provide forgiveness, cleansing, and purity. One of those was The Day of Purgation, also known as the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur.
I mentioned in a previous post that there was one type of sin the rituals in Leviticus did not provide forgiveness for: sin that was defiant and deliberate. God could forgive that sin, but that was his decision, not one that was found in any ritual found in Scripture. But what was kinds of sin were purged on this day?
Leviticus 16:16, 21 provide four terms for evil: impurity (tumeyah), transgression (pesa), sin (hatta’t), and iniquity/culpability (yawon). The last three of these can be used synonymously or have overlapping meaning elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible. But if we look at these terms in the book of Leviticus only, we can see they refer to distinct categories of evil.
1. Impurity (tumeyah) – This is removed from those who offer sacrifices by the purification offerings throughout the year and then is purged from the sanctuary of the Tabernacle on the Day of Purgation.
2. Transgression (pesa) – This is purged from the sanctuary and camp on the Day of Purgation.
3. Sin (hatta’t) – This is removed from those offering sacrifices by purification offerings throughout the year and then purged from the sanctuary AND the camp on the Day of Purgation. With this, it is also purged from the people as well.
4. Iniquity (yawaon) – This is removed from those offering sacrifices by purification offerings throughout the year, but it is borne by the priests, and then purged from the camp on the Day of Purgation.
Each one of these is unique, and each one has its own trajectory. So let’s look at these a little closer.
While impurity (tumeyah) is removed from the sanctuary by purification offerings and therefore must be purged from the sanctuary alone on the Day of Purgation, it does not need to be borne by the priests or purged from the camp and people on the Day of Purgation. Why? It is not a moral fault. In the Torah, it is only physical ritual impurity.
Transgression (pesa) is moral fault that somehow gets into the sanctuary so it must be purged from the sanctuary AND the camp on the Day of Purgation. However, it does not get to the sanctuary by purification offerings throughout the year. In fact, the term is only used in Leviticus 16:16, 21 in all of the Pentateuch ritual laws. This is important. Since this evil was not removed from the sinner through a purification offering, it cannot be purged from the sinner on the Day of Purgation. It is purged from the sanctuary AND the Camp, but not the sinner. As a result, it remains on the sinner who must endure the consequences of the evil committed.
Obviously, this is serious. What could pesa refer to? It matches the grave offenses of the worship of Molech (Lev 20:3) and the defiant neglect to have oneself purified from contamination from corpses (Numbers 19:13,20). These automatically defile the sanctuary when committed, and those who commit these offenses are cut off from the community but a ritual for forgiveness that allows them re-entry is not provided. The root word for Pesa is the verb ps’, which means “rebel.” The sin, therefore was defiant, deliberate rebellion against God. God could save his people from this when they repented, but there was nothing in the sacrificial system to account for this.
Sin (hatta’t) can be described in other places in the Old Testament similarly to pesa. but in the Pentateuch ritual law the term is limited to moral faults which can be forgiven sinners through the purification sacrifices. These would include inadvertent sins, forgetting to perform a duly to the Lord, and some deliberate sins, but would not include sins that were defiant in nature. It was removed from the person offering the purification sacrifice and then purged from the sanctuary, the camp, and the sinner. But the priests bore no culpability for it.
Iniquity (yawon) is limited in Leviticus to “blame in the sense of ‘culpability,’ that is, liability to punishment that the sinner must bear unless/until it is transferred to an officiating priest through a purification offering, who bears it, until it is borne out of the camp by the live goat on the Day of Purgation.” This iniquity (yawon) arises from an act of sin (hatta’t), not a separate act in Leviticus.
Ok, what does all this mean? Well there are some pretty profound implications.
1. God is concerned about the redemption of humanity not only from morally faulty acts, but also from the impact of physical impurities on the life and lifespan of humanity. In Christ, salvation affects the spiritual and physical, not the spiritual only.
2. The removal of guilt, or expiation, that leads to reconciliation, is a privilege, not a right. The line that is draw is drawn between wrongs where the person casts off allegiance to God and those where the person does not. The bottom line is the issue of loyalty to God. For the Christian, our sins will be forgiven completely and we will have reconciliation through Christ, but it is a process. In one sense it is complete as Paul wrote that God had already reconciled humanity to himself (Rom. 5:10; 2 Cor 5:18-19; Col. 1:22). But in 2 Cor. 5:20 we are told to be reconciled to God. Also, Philippians 2 tells us to work out our salvation. Why the do we need to be reconciled to God if God has already reconciled us to God through Christ? Why do we need to work out our salvation when we are already “saved”? The answer may be that there are stages of reconciliation, just like Leviticus. Christ’s one and only sacrificial death had made complete provision for the salvation of anyone who accepts him. But the work continues in us as Christ and the Spirit bring reconciliation and moral restoration to each of us. It is a process, and those who continue in the process demonstrate they were reconciled.
3. One person can bear the blame for an offense committed by another. Someone can “take the rap” for another. The priests bear the culpability rather than the sanctuary because priests are persons who can be liable to punishment. The obvious connection here is that Christ bore the blame and consequence for not only all of us, but for all of creation.
In the next post, I will speak to the directionality of the ritual. It’s quite intriguing and important to understanding forgiveness.