Fasting is one of the traditional ways of observing The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). In Hebrew Fasting is a sign of affliction and humility, but God has an interesting commentary on afflicting ourselves in piety and the type of observance he truly desires on Yom Kippur. Our lives should be a living fast as we follow the Messiah in binding up the broken hearted, setting the captives free, lifting the burdens of the oppressed, and protecting the innocent from the predators of this World. In the true spirit of fasting we sacrifice of ourselves in order than others may be blessed. In Hebrew the word kapporeth means to cover. With the Messiah's sacrifice we receive his covering. Let us remember him at this Highest of Holy Days and truly remember him by representing him to those in our homes and with whom we come into contact with during the week.
“Shout with the voice of a trumpet blast.
Shout aloud! Don’t be timid.
Tell my people Israel of their sins!
Yet they act so pious!
They come to the Temple every day
and seem delighted to learn all about me.
They act like a righteous nation
that would never abandon the laws of its God.
They ask me to take action on their behalf,
pretending they want to be near me.
‘We have fasted before you!’ they say.
‘Why aren’t you impressed?
We have been very hard on ourselves,
and you don’t even notice it!’
“I will tell you why!” I respond.
“It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves.
Even while you fast,
you keep oppressing your workers.
What good is fasting
when you keep on fighting and quarreling?
This kind of fasting
will never get you anywhere with me.
You humble yourselves
by going through the motions of penance,
bowing your heads
like reeds bending in the wind.
You dress in burlap
and cover yourselves with ashes.
Is this what you call fasting?
Do you really think this will please the LORD?
“No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
and remove the chains that bind people.
Share your food with the hungry,
and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
and do not hide from relatives who need your help.
“Then your salvation will come like the dawn,
and your wounds will quickly heal.
Your godliness will lead you forward,
and the glory of the LORD will protect you from behind.
Then when you call, the LORD will answer.
‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply.
“Remove the heavy yoke of oppression.
Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!
(THEN COMES THE REALLY COOL PART AND THE BLESSING OF THE DAY OF ATONEMENT)
Feed the hungry,
and help those in trouble.
Then your light will shine out from the darkness,
and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.
The LORD will guide you continually,
giving you water when you are dry
and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like an ever-flowing spring.
Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities.
Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls
and a restorer of homes.
“Keep the Sabbath day holy.
Don’t pursue your own interests on that day,
but enjoy the Sabbath
and speak of it with delight as the LORD’s holy day.
Honor the Sabbath in everything you do on that day,
and don’t follow your own desires or talk idly.
Then the LORD will be your delight.
I will give you great honor
and satisfy you with the inheritance I promised to your ancestor Jacob.
I, the LORD, have spoken!” (Isaih 58)
JONAH AND THE DAY OF ATONEMENT
Every Year on Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement), Israelite congregations all over the world read the Book of Jonah. Most people believe that this book is read because it models complete repentance. Jonah is the only prophet of record in the Old Testament to be chosen to warn a people outside of Israel of their impending destruction. At first, Jonah decides not to accept the Lord's commission, but eventually realizes that it is futile to run from God (wherein he ended up spending 3 days in the belly of a large fish). Rebellion against God is as the grave of death in the belly of a whale, but in repentance, rather than the end of his life, he was reborn with a new start.
Jonah then goes to declare repentance and to warn the people of Nineveh of their impending destruction. As a result of his declaration of repentance to the people of Nineveh the king to each individual fasted and turned from their evil ways. God accepts the repentance of the city of Nineveh and the pending destruction does not comes upon them.
This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry. So he complained to the LORD about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, LORD? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Just kill me now, LORD! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.” (Jonah 4:1-3)
There are times in our human anger, pain, and feelings of inequity that we seek the Arm of Justice to balance what we see as an inequity. While God is a God of Justice he is also a God of Mercy.
The LORD replied, “Is it right for you to be angry about this?”
Then Jonah went out to the east side of the city and made a shelter to sit under as he waited to see what would happen to the city. And the LORD God arranged for a leafy plant to grow there, and soon it spread its broad leaves over Jonah’s head, shading him from the sun. This eased his discomfort, and Jonah was very grateful for the plant.
But God also arranged for a worm! The next morning at dawn the worm ate through the stem of the plant so that it withered away. And as the sun grew hot, God arranged for a scorching east wind to blow on Jonah. The sun beat down on his head until he grew faint and wished to die. “Death is certainly better than living like this!” he exclaimed.
Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?” “Yes,” Jonah retorted, “even angry enough to die!”
Then the LORD said, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly.
But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?” (Jonah 4: 5-11)
The prophet Jonah represents you and me. He represents church leaders, the man standing on the street, parents, children, political leaders, and business people. Just as each of us is given a life mission so too was Jonah given a life mission by God. Like him, we are given a gift of purpose for our lives of which God expects specific performance and for us to return and report the labors of our day. Each person is given a unique set of gifts and talents for a life mission that only they can achieve. For three days he faced the reality of death that is rebellion against God, but in repentance he turned and fulfilled the mission for which he was called.
What is interesting is that after declaring repentance to Nineveh and their positive response, Jonah was still angry that they were not destroyed. He goes outside the city and makes a shelter (booth- which is indicative of the Feast of Booths -Sukkot- that follows the Day of Atonement) where his sits and waits to see what happens and where God teaches him a different perspective on repentance and judgment. Nineveh was ripe for destruction, but they were a people in spiritual darkness who spiritually didn't know their right hand from their left hand. Their deeds of evil did warrant the judgment of death and destruction, but through repentance God stayed their execution because of their remorse, reform, and potential for salvation. In repentance the mercy, compassion, and unfailing love of God are revealed.