How did the Israelites deny themselves in Leviticus 23:27?
The Israelites were commanded by God to “afflict yourselves” or “deny yourselves” on the Day of Atonement, as described in Leviticus 23:27. This involved various forms of self-denial and ritual purification to humble themselves before God and repent of their sins. Here is an in-depth look at how the Israelites denied themselves on this solemn day:
The Setting of the Day of Atonement
The Day of Atonement was the most sacred day in the Israelite calendar. It took place on the 10th day of the 7th month (Leviticus 23:27). This was a time for the nation to afflict themselves and make atonement for their sins before God. Sacrifices were made to purify the people and the tabernacle from sin and impurity. The high priest conducted special rituals, including entering the Most Holy Place of the tabernacle to sprinkle blood on the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant. This was the only day of the year he could enter God’s presence in this way (Leviticus 16).
Afflicting Themselves Through Fasting
One of the main ways the Israelites denied themselves on the Day of Atonement was by fasting. God commanded, “You shall afflict yourselves” (Leviticus 16:29, 23:27). Afflicting oneself often referred to fasting in the Old Testament (Ezra 8:21, Isaiah 58:3). By humbling themselves through fasting, the Israelites mourned their sins and purified their hearts as they sought God’s mercy and forgiveness. Fasting symbolized their dependence on God and recognition of their weakness and mortality apart from Him.
The fasting lasted for the entirety of the Day of Atonement – from evening until evening (Leviticus 23:32). This would have involved abstaining from food and drink for about 25 hours. The austerity of this fast reflected the solemnity of the day and stirred up repentance in the people. It was a tangible way they denied ordinary pleasures and comforts to prioritize repentance and cleansing from sin.
Ceasing Work and Regular Activities
In addition to fasting, the Israelites were prohibited from doing “any work” during the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:28, 30-31). Work of any kind was forbidden, even minor chores and tasks. They were to cease their regular business and occupations to devote the day entirely to spiritual pursuits.
Abstaining from work displayed their humility, dependence on God, and the unique purpose of the day. Their normal, earthly pursuits were put on hold as they focused solely on reconciliation with the Lord. Just as God rested on the seventh day after Creation, they rested from their labors on this Sabbath of Sabbaths (Leviticus 16:31).
Afflicting Oneself and Repenting in Community
The law specified that every Israelite was to afflict himself and participate in the Day of Atonement rituals – native Israelites, priests, foreigners, and the sojourners in their midst (Leviticus 16:29). This community aspect highlighted that reconciliation with God required the participation and repentance of all His people.
The shared experience of fasting, mourning, and ceasing work reflected a unified desire for God’s mercy. The priests made sacrifices on behalf of the whole nation (Leviticus 16:33). Thus denying oneself on this day was not just an individual act, but a means of affirming their collective identity as God’s covenant people in need of cleansing.
Wearing Sackcloth as an Outward Sign of Mourning
Another way the Israelites afflicted themselves and expressed humility was by wearing sackcloth. Sackcloth was a rough, uncomfortable material usually made of goats’ hair (Isaiah 50:3). Wearing it next to one’s skin displayed mourning, repentance, and heaviness of heart (1 Kings 21:27, Daniel 9:3).
On the Day of Atonement, the High Priest shed his regular priestly garments and wore plain linen clothes along with sackcloth (Leviticus 16:4). This visibly demonstrated his own need for atonement just like the rest of the people. The outward dress of sackcloth reflected an inward attitude of solemn humility before God.
Avoiding Anointing, Bathing, and Wearing Leather
In addition to fasting and wearing sackcloth, the Israelites practiced other forms of self-denial by avoiding bathing, anointing oil, sexual relations, and wearing leather sandals (Leviticus 16:29).
Going without bathing and anointing oil represented putting aside comfort, luxury, and adorning one’s self to mourn over sin. Refraining from sexual relations pointed to the need to purify all areas of life and make the spiritual a priority. Not wearing leather sandals also depicted austerity and “afflicting” one’s body as an outward sign of godly sorrow.
These practices denied physical pleasures and comforts to reflect true humility of heart before the Lord. Outward sacrifices mirrored the inner repentance the Day of Atonement was meant to stir up.
Purification Through the Sacrificial Offerings
Ultimately, reconciliation with God came through the sacrifices made on the Day of Atonement. The people’s mourning over sin was not enough – God required an atoning sacrifice to purify His dwelling place and cleanse His people (Leviticus 16:16, 30).
The sacrifices offered by the High Priest foreshadowed Christ’s perfect and complete sacrifice on the cross. Jesus fulfilled the Day of Atonement rituals by taking God’s wrath upon Himself to make final atonement for sin (Hebrews 9:11-14). His sacrifice brings full forgiveness and purification to all who believe.
The Israelites’ acts of self-denial signified their desire for God’s mercy and pointed ahead to mankind’s need for the redemptive work of Christ. As the book of Hebrews states, “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10).
On the Day of Atonement, the Israelites denied themselves through fasting, ceasing work, wearing sackcloth, abstaining from pleasures, and participation in purification rituals. These practices exhibited their mourning over sin, dependence on God’s mercy, and the centrality of atonement in God’s redemptive plan.
Ultimately, Christ fulfilled this sacred day by offering Himself as the perfect and final sacrifice for sin. As the people of God today, we can still benefit from the principle of self-denial as we humble ourselves and turn from sin. However, our atonement is found in Christ alone. Through His sacrifice we can experience the blessings of forgiveness, cleansing, and reconciliation with God.