By Joshua Spurlock
There is an intersection between atonement, coverings, and a close relationship with HaShem (the LORD). When HaShem told Moshe (Moses) to build the Aron (Ark), he was to make it with a Keporet Zahav (gold cover, Cf. Shemot / Exodus 25:17). Above the Aron, HaShem would meet with Moshe, the representative of Yisrael (Israel, Cf. Shemot 25:22).
The Hebrew word for cover—kaphar—is used for more than just the top of the Aron. It is the same word used for the name of what is traditionally considered to be the holiest day in all of Scripture: Yom HaKippurim (also known as Yom Kippur, The Day of Coverings or Atonements).
But what is the connection between this day and the Keporet Zahav, and why is the Day of Coverings more commonly known as the Day of Atonement? And what does all this have to do with the servants of the Lord Yeshua?
It’s About Relationship
The word in Hebrew for “cover” can also be used for “atonement.” The interplay of these two words is seen beautifully in the Aron, and helps us to understand what is really happening on Yom HaKippurim.
The cover for the Aron was more than just decorative. It was the place, the location, where HaShem met with Moshe, and it was also the location where the blood of the sacrifices on Yom Kippur was sprinkled.
“Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat [Keporet Zahav] and in front of the mercy seat [Keporet Zahav].”
– Vayikra (Leviticus) 16:15, ESV
This is not a common practice, bringing the blood of offerings to the Keporet Zahav, within the Kadosh HaKodashim (Holy of Holies). Only special offerings receive such placement.
Furthermore, even Aharon (Aaron), the Kohen Gadol (High Priest), could not come to the Keporet Zahav within the Kadosh HaKodashim except on Yom HaKippurim.
As it is written,
“The LORD spoke to Moses [Moshe] after the death of the two sons of Aaron [Aharon], when they drew near before the LORD and died, and the LORD said to Moses [Moshe], ‘Tell Aaron [Aharon] your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place [HaKodesh] inside the veil, before the mercy seat [HaKeporet] that is on the ark [HaAron], so that he may not die. For I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat [HaKeporet]. But in this way Aaron [Aharon] shall come into the Holy Place [HaKodesh]: with a bull from the herd for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.’”
– Vayikra 16:1-3, ESV
It’s true that Moshe was able to enter the Kadosh HaKodashim at almost any time (B’midbar / Numbers 7:89), but he is also representative of Yeshua HaMashiakh (Jesus the Christ), who is ever able to make intercession for us (Cf. Ivrim / Hebrews 3:1-2, 7:25, Yeshayahu / Isaiah 53:12).
Aharon, however, is a representative of the people (Shemot / Exodus 28:29). As one of us, he could not approach the holy physical presence of HaShem without an offering, without atonement. So what better place to make such atonement—Kaphar—than the Keporet Zahav?
Furthermore, where does the deepest, most transcendent experience with HaShem that a normal man can have on this earth occur? At the Keporet Zahav. HaShem meets the Kohen HaGadol at the place where the greatest atonement takes place and that is actually named from the same root word as the word for atonement.
In short, atonement is critical to intimacy with HaShem. This is seen over and over again in the offerings to HaShem.
“If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting [Ohel Moed], that he may be accepted before the Lord. He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement [kaphar] for him. Then he shall kill the bull before the LORD, and Aaron’s [Aharon’s] sons the priests shall bring the blood and throw the blood against the sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting [Ohel Moed].”
– Vayikra (Leviticus) 1:3-5, ESV
It’s Not A Sin Offering
If you haven’t read Vayikra (Leviticus) lately, you might not realize that the offering described above is not about sin. It’s actually a totally different offering known as an olah (burnt offering), which is more about communing and connecting with HaShem.
But because of the fallen nature of ourselves and this world, atonement is necessary—even when sin is not directly involved. For example, the woman who bears a child brings an offering to make atonement for her (Cf. Vayikra / Leviticus 12:8), even though she did not sin by having children.
Similarly, the man afflicted with the disease of tzara’at (commonly misinterpreted as leprosy) also must receive atonement. In fact, part of his atonement doesn’t even involve an offering—an anointing of oil by the Kohen (Priest) is a primary element of that atonement (Vayikra / Leviticus 14:29).
Furthermore, even inanimate objects need atonement—including the Ohel Moed (Tent of Meeting) and the altar on Yom HaKippurim. It is the passage discussing the atonement of these stones and fabric that help us better understand what atonement is about.
“Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place [HaKodesh], because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel [Yisrael] and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting [Ohel Moed], which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses.”
– Vayikra (Leviticus) 16:16
So in other words, atonement is not just an immediate response to sin. It is an acknowledgement that there is a state of separation and sin that people carry with them in this fallen world. Giving birth and getting sick are certainly not sins, but the pain that exists in them is caused by the sin of mankind (Cf. Bereshit / Genesis 3:16).
Atonement is what we need to transcend that contaminated state, the sins we have committed and the sinful environment and consequences among which we dwell. Atonement is about achieving the deep communion with HaShem that we long to have until the New Heaven and the New Earth, in which righteousness dwells (Cf. Kefa Beit / 2 Peter 3:13, Ivrim 2:5).
Where did HaShem meet with His people? At Ohel Moed. Where did He most visibly commune with His people? At the mizbeakh (altar). And where was HaShem’s physical presence on earth during the days of Moshe? Above the Keporet Zahav.
So is it any surprise that the Ohel Moed and altar require their own atonement, or that the atonement for the priest and the people takes place at the Keporet Zahav?
Atonement is not the same thing as forgiveness. It is a covering, a covering of our sins and reduced existence that opens wide the door to experiencing the presence of the Holy King of the Universe.
Yeshua and Yom HaKippurim
Because atonement is not about ultimate forgiveness, the atonement offered via the sacrifices or anointing by the Kohen were about achieving communion with HaShem in Olam HaZeh (This World). The atonement achieved by Yeshua, however, is something else—although it is related.
The Book of Ivrim (Hebrews) repeatedly makes connections between Yeshua and Yom HaKippurim, but it would be a mistake to assume they were about the exact same atonement. In fact, the author of Ivrim says that very thing.
“Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ [Mashiakh] has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven [HaShamayim] itself, now to appear in the presence of God [Elohim] on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest [Kohen Gadol] enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.”
– Ivrim 9:23-26, ESV
The Book of Ivrim makes it clear that Yeshua’s priesthood is different from the Kohanim on Earth—and as my father, Rick Spurlock, likes to point out, Yeshua would not even be a priest here on Earth (Cf. Ivrim / Hebrews 8:4). Certainly then, the atonement achieved by His death and resurrection is something different as well.
“But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins… And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ [Mashiakh] had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God [Elohim].”
– Ivrim (Hebrews) 10:3-4 11-12, ESV
And yet Yeshua’s offering did not replace the physical offerings. For yet, we have read in Vayikra 16 and elsewhere that the offerings did achieve atonement and even forgiveness. Indeed, my father—who has written an entire study on the Book of Ivrim—notes that in Ivrim the author acknowledges the efficacy of the earthly offerings.
“For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ [Mashiakh], who through the eternal Spirit [Ruakh] offered himself without blemish to God [Elohim], purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God [El Chayim].
– Ivrim 9:13-14, ESV
But like the atonement on Yom HaKippurim, Yeshua’s death and resurrection are closely connected to relationship with HaShem. If Yom HaKippurim was part of the process of enabling HaShem to dwell physically amidst a fallen and sinful people, how much more will the offering of His Son enable us to dwell with Him forever?
As the author of Ivrim says,
“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus [Yeshua], by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest [Kohen] over the house of God [Beit El], let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”
– Ivrim (Hebrews) 10:19-22, ESV
HaShem has made provision for the covering of sins in Olam HaZeh (This World), but the removal of sins through a perfect sacrifice—the Lamb of G-d who takes away the sins of the world (Cf. Yokhannan / John 1:29, Yeshayahu / Isaiah 53, Tehillim / Psalms 103:12)—is required for Chayei Olam (the Life of the World to Come). HaShem will dwell with His people there. They will be without sin and therefore death, too, will be no more (Cf. Revelation 21:3-4,7, Romans 5:12).
Yom HaKippurim and You
So where do you stand? Do you have the intimacy with HaShem that you are craving? Or does He seem distant? Have you trusted in the Lord Yeshua and the atonement He achieved in His death and resurrection as the means to the ultimate relationship with HaShem?
And if you have, have you maintained that relationship through teshuvah (repentance) and kedushah (holiness)? If not, then that is one way Yom HaKippurim can impact you now—even without a place to make the offerings associated with the day. If there were a Temple, and when there is in the future, we will bring offerings (Cf. Zekharyah / Zechariah 14:16-21, Yekhezkel / Ezekiel 45:18-20).
Yet even without those offerings, observing Yom HaKippurim still meaningful today as a mitzvah (commandment/good deed) of HaShem.
“Now on the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement [Yom HaKippurim]. It shall be for you a time of holy convocation, and you shall afflict yourselves and present a food offering to the LORD. And you shall not do any work on that very day, for it is a Day of Atonement [Yom Kippurim], to make atonement for you before the LORD your God [Elohekem].”
– Vayikra 23:27-28, ESV
HaShem didn’t put a caveat or a time limit on that promise: It remains a day of atonement for us. So observe the day—pray, fast, and rest from work—and use it as a springboard for your relationship with HaShem. Take the opportunity to truly repent and start anew. For what is atonement really about? It’s about relationship with HaShem.
May your relationship with HaShem grow ever deeper through the final atonement of our Lord, Yeshua HaMashiakh, even as you experience the atonement and intimacy He offers in This World.