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Yom Kippur and Divine Chesed

Yom Kippur and Chesed

Attributes of God's Name Revealed in Yeshua

John J. Parsons
Hebrew for Christians

THE TEN DAYS FROM ROSH HASHANAH through Yom Kippur are known as Aseret Yemei Teshuvah (עֲשֶׂרֶת יְמֵי תְּשׁוּבָה), "the Ten Days of repentance," otherwise called the "Days of Awe" (yamim nora'im) in Jewish tradition. Since man was created for the sake of teshuvah, Yom Kippur, or the Day of "at-one-ment," is considered the holiest day of the year, called "Yom ha-kadosh" (יוֹם הַקָּדוֹשׁ). It is the climax of the 40 day "Season of Teshuvah."

The "Day of Atonement," or Yom Kippur, is actually described in the plural: Yom Ha-Kippurim (יוֹם הַכִּפֻּרִים), perhaps because the purification process cleansed from a multitude of transgressions, iniquities, and sins. However, the name also alludes to the two great atonements given by the LORD God of Israel - the first for those among all of the nations who turn to Yeshua for cleansing and forgiveness, and the second for the purification of ethnic Israel during Yom Adonai, the great Day of the LORD (יוֹם־יְהוָה הַגָּדוֹל) at the end of days. There is a connection with the holiday of Purim, too, since Kippurim can be read as Yom Ke-Purim, a "day like Purim." Thus the day on which Yeshua sacrificed Himself on the cross is the greatest Purim of all, since through His loving intervention we are eternally delivered from the hands of our enemies...

The Torah refers to Yom Kippur as "shabbat shabbaton" (שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן), a time when all profane work is set aside so the soul could focus on the holiness of the LORD. The first occurrence of this phrase is found in Exodus 16:23, regarding the restriction of collecting manna in the desert during the seventh day. This restriction was later incorporated into the law code for the Sabbath day (Exod. 31:15; 35:2). The phrase also occurs regarding Rosh Hashanah (Lev. 23:24), Yom Kippur (Lev. 16:31; 23:32), two days of Sukkot (Lev. 23:39; Num. 25:35), two days of Passover (Lev. 23:7-8), and the day of Shavuot (Num. 28:26).

If you add up these days, you will find there are seven prescribed days of "complete rest" before the LORD, and the sages identified Yom Kippur as the Sabbath of these other special Sabbath days, that is, "Yom ha-kadosh" (יוֹם הַקָּדוֹשׁ). Indeed, the Talmud notes that "seven days before Yom Kippur, we separate the High Priest," corresponding to the seven-day seclusion of Aaron and his sons before the inauguration of the Tabernacle (Lev. 8:33).

The sages say that Yom Kippur is the only day that Satan is unable to lodge accusation against Israel, since the gematria of "satan" (שָׂטָן) is 364, suggesting that the accuser denounces Israel 364 days of the year, but on the 365th day - Yom Kippur - he is rendered powerless, just as he will be in the world to come (Maharsha on Yoma 2a).

All of the Jewish holidays find their origin in the events of the Exodus, which were later commemorated as rituals at the Tabernacle. On the first of Nisan, two weeks before the Exodus, the LORD showed Moses the new moon and commenced the divine lunar calendar. This is called Rosh Chodashim. Two weeks later, God was ready to deliver the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt. Earlier that evening the Israelites kept the Passover Seder and sprinkled the blood of the lamb on their doorposts. At the stroke of midnight of Nisan 15 the LORD sent the last of the ten plagues on the Egyptians, killing all their firstborn. On the 6th of Sivan, exactly seven weeks after the Exodus (49 days), Moses first ascended Sinai to receive the Torah (Shavuot). Just forty days later, on the 17th of Tammuz, the tablets were broken. Moses then interceded for Israel for another forty days until he was called back up to Sinai on Elul 1 and received the revelation of Name YHVH (Exod. 34:4-8). After this, he was given the Second Tablets and returned to the camp on Tishri 10, which later was called Yom Kippur. Moses' face was shining with radiance in wonder of the coming New Covenant which was prefigured in the rituals of the Day of Atonement (Exod. 34:10).


 

Note there were two revelations of the Name YHVH, first as "I AM WHO I AM" (a play on the Hebrew verb hayah [הָיָה] given to Moses in Exodus 3:14-15 which was later "incarnated" during the intervention of the Exodus (Exod. 6:1-8)) and the later revelation of YHVH's mercy disclosed after the sin of the Golden Calf. It is the later revelation that foretold God's Name of the new covenant, just as the second tablets took the place of the former tablets that were shattered. Ultimately Yeshua is the "wonder" of the covenant of the LORD (Exod. 34:10), the manifestation of the attributes of God's mercy (middot rachamim). For more on this, see the article, "The Surpassing Glory: Paul's Midrash of the Veil."

In the account of the revelation of God's mercy given to Moses after his brokenness and teshuvah, we read that the LORD (Himself) descended, stood, and proclaimed the name of the LORD (Exod. 34:5), calling out:
 

יְהוָה יְהוָה אֵל רַחוּם וְחַנּוּן
 אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם וְרַב־חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת
 נצֵר חֶסֶד לָאֲלָפִים
 נשֵׂא עָוֹן וָפֶשַׁע וְחַטָּאָה וְנַקֵּה לא יְנַקֶּה
 פּקֵד עֲוֹן אָבוֹת עַל־בָּנִים
 וְעַל־בְּנֵי בָנִים עַל־שִׁלֵּשִׁים וְעַל־רִבֵּעִים

Adonai  Adonai  El  Ra·chum  ve·chan·nun
e·rekh  ap·pa·yim  ve·rav  che·sed  ve·e·met
no·tzeir  che·sed  la·a·la·fim
no·sei  a·von  va·fesh·a  ve·cha·ta·ah  ve·nak·keh  lo  ye·nak·keh
po·keid  a·von  a·vot  al  ba·nim
ve·al  be·nei  va·nim  al  shil·le·shim  ve·al  rib·bei·im
 

"The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,
 keeping steadfast love for thousands,
forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children
and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation"
(Exod. 34:6-7)


 

According to various traditional interpretations, these thirteen attributes of God's Name may be understood as follows:
 

  1. Adonai (יהוה) - I, the LORD, am the Compassionate Source of all of life and Ground of all being; I am the breath of life for all of creation. I am the God of all possible worlds and Master of the universe. Everything that exists is an expression of my loving will and kindness:  עוֹלָם חֶסֶד יִבָּנֶה / olam chesed yibaneh: "The world is built with chesed" (Psalm 89:3[h]). Since the relative difference between existence and non-existence is infinite, God's creation represents infinite kindness, and since you exist, you likewise are expression of God's kindness and love. You do not exist because God needs you but soley because your life is willed by God as an expression of His love.
  2. Adonai (יהוה) -  Though the LORD created the universe "very good" (טוֹב מְאד), He remained the Compassionate Source of life even after mankind sinned, and therefore the Name is repeated to refer to His loving relationship with alienated, fallen creation. I, the LORD, am also compassionate to one who has sinned and repented (i.e., the Creator gives us free will and the good gift of teshuvah). God created mankind for the sake of teshuvah - that is, our return to Him. God desires atonement with mankind even after sin and therefore continues to give existence to the world. "He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matt. 5:45). Moreover, as the Savior and Redeemer of the world through Yeshua, the LORD reveals kindness even to the evil, and even partakes of its presence by means of His sacrificial love on the cross. Since teshuvah can only exist after the advent of sin, Yeshua is called the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8; Eph. 1:4; 1 Pet. 1:20).

    In this connection, it should be noted that while God "wills" evil (in the sense of allowing the actions of the wicked to occur), he does not desire it. The sages note that while the Creator supports the existence of both the wicked and the righteous, he loves the righteous, and only their actions are desired by Him (Psalm 1:6). God wills the brokenness of the sinner so that the soul can return to Him by experiencing His salvation, love, and blessing.
  3. El (אֵל) - I, the LORD, am God the Almighty and Omnipotent; my strength to show compassion recreates the fabric of the universe itself;
  4. Rachum (רַחוּם) - I, the LORD, am merciful (rachamim (רַחֲמִים) means "mercy" and rechem (רֶחֶם) means "womb");
  5. Chanun (חַנּוּן) - I, the LORD, am gracious; I pour out my favor freely to all of creation. (Chen (חֵן) is the word for "grace");
  6. Erekh Apayim (אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם) - I, the LORD, am slow to anger and patient (the word erekh means "long" and af (אַף) means "nose." The idiom erekh apayim means "long suffering, patient");
  7. Rav Chesed (רַב־חֶסֶד) - I, the LORD, am abundant in love (חֶסֶד) to both the righteous and the wicked;
  8. Rav Emet (רַב־אֱמֶת) - I, the LORD, am truthful and faithful in carrying out promises;
  9. Notzer Chesed La'alafim (נצֵר חֶסֶד לָאֲלָפִים) - I, the LORD, retain chesed (love) for thousands of generations, taking into account the merit of our worthy ancestors (called zechut avot);
  10. Nosei Avon (נשֵׂא עָוֹן) - I, the LORD, forgive iniquity (avon), defined in the tradition as wrongful deeds committed with premeditation; I "carry iniquity away" (nasa) for the penitent;
  11. Nosei Pesha (נשֵׂא פֶשַׁע) - I, the LORD, forgive transgression (pesha), defined as wrongful deeds committed in a rebellious spirit;
  12. Nosei Chata'ah (נשֵׂא חַטָּאָה) - I, the LORD, forgive sin (chet), defined as those wrongful deeds that were inadvertently committed;
  13. Nakkeh (נַקֶּה) - I, the LORD, will not cancel punishment, but I will clear the guilt for those who genuinely return to Me in teshuvah. 
     

It is fascinating to see that this revelation prefigures the New Covenant that was given to Israel.  Just as the first set of tablets, based as they were on the justice and holiness of God, were broken, so a second set was given based on the middot (attributes) of the LORD's mercy and grace.  Indeed, Yeshua was broken on behalf of the law but was raised again so that all who trust in Him can truly understand that God is "merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in stedfast love and truth" (Exod. 34:6, Psalm 86:15, 103:8).

It can be argued that the second revelation of the Name YHVH (יהוה) was a "gospel" moment for Israel. The episode of the Golden Calf revealed that the Jews were unable to keep the law, even though they personally experienced the power of God's deliverance from Egypt and His ongoing care on the way to Sinai. Despite the judgments brought upon Egypt, despite the overthrow of Pharaoh and his armies in the sea, despite the bitter waters made sweet, despite the manna from heaven, despite the miraculous well of Miriam, despite the awesome revelation at Sinai, and despite the pledge of the Israelites: kol asher diber Adonai na'aseh v'nishma, "All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient" (Exod. 19:8; 24:7), the Sin of the Golden Calf revealed that something more was needed, and that the law itself was insufficient to change the inner heart of man. The poignant intercession of Moses - his "passion experience" - was a picture of Yeshua that ultimately revealed the heart of the New Covenant (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה), the revelation of the LORD's attributes of mercy and grace... The life of Yeshua is the Name of the LORD.


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