Two things struck me about today’s reading—well, three. The first was when I was reading Le 15:25 ff, about how a woman with a discharge was pretty limited for as long as the discharge continued—she couldn’t sit just anywhere, she couldn’t touch anybody, she couldn’t receive any physical affection whatsoever—and then I thought about the woman who touched the hem of the Savior’s garment. She had suffered from a discharge for TWELVE years. Can you imagine twelve years of no touching, of being an outcast? No wonder she was timid!
The second thing that struck me were the laws about how any deformity kept a person outside the fellowship of community. Jesus not only healed people, but by doing so he restored them to fellowship.
The third thing that struck me was something I remembered from a book I worked on about the festivals. There’s a pretty cool tidbit from Jewish records that you might find interesting:
This describes the Yom Kippur ceremony at the time of Christ:
The Hebrew word for scapegoat is azazel. When lots were drawn to see which goat would be sacrificed and which would be sent away, two tablets were placed in an urn. The tablets were identical in shape and size, but one was inscribed “For the Lord” and the other “For azazel.” The priest drew out the tablets, one with his left and one with his right, then turned to the goats and placed the corresponding tablets on their heads. One goat was sacrificed for the Lord, the other was designated to carry away the sins of the people. Later, the bodies of the sacrificial bull and goat were taken outside the camp where they were burned. The ancient meaning for the word holocaust is conflagration, or burnt offering.
At sunrise, other priests escorted the High Priest to the bath house, where he bathed and ceremonially washed his hands and feet ten times. Dressed in his golden robes, he offered the morning sacrifice in full view of the people. With his golden diadem on his head, a plethora of spangled gems on his breast, and golden bells hanging on the hem of his rich purple robe, he must have been a breathtaking sight. After offering the regular daily sacrifice, he was conducted to the bathhouse again, where he washed and dressed in elegant garments of spotless white linen, as God had commanded.
Stepping outside, adorned this time in simple white, he approached the young bull destined for sacrifice. He placed his hands on the bull’s head and said: “I beseech Thee, O Lord! I have sinned, I have been iniquitous, I have transgressed against Thee, I and my household . . . ”
During this prayer, the High Priest pronounced the mystic and ineffable name of God three times. Each time he spoke God’s holy name, the assembled priests and the congregation prostrated themselves and called out, “Blessed be the Name, the glory of His Kingdom forever and ever.”
After praying over the bull, the priest moved to the two goats, which were tethered on the eastern side of the altar, nearer the congregation. He reached into the urn and shuffled the two golden tablets, ready to draw lots to determine which animal would be the scapegoat, and which would be sacrificed to the Lord.
The people believed it was a good omen if the tablet marked “For the Lord” was drawn out by the priest’s right hand, but from 30 AD to the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD—and for those forty years only–the High Priest drew the “For Azazel” tablet with his right hand.[i] When the scapegoat’s tablet was discovered in the priest’s right hand, the troubled people fell to their faces in prayer for their Temple and their people.
Once the tablets were drawn, the priest placed them upon the heads of the goats standing before him, sealing their fates. As the sacrificial goat was led away, the High Priest tied a red sash on the horns of the Azazel goat. For a few quiet moments, the doomed scapegoat faced the assembled congregation who stared at him and waited. He could not be driven out—the people’s sin could not be removed–until after the blood was shed.
The priest then returned to the bull, prayed over him again, then killed the animal. The blood was gathered in a basin, and held by another priest while the High Priest poured handfuls of incense into a golden ladle. With the ladle in one hand, he picked up a golden fire-pan loaded with burning coals and stepped into the Holy of Holies. Once inside, he placed the fire-pan upon the foundation stone, then poured the incense over the coals. As the Holy of Holies filled with smoke, he stepped out, prayed again, and took the basin of blood from a priest who had been stirring it to prevent coagulation. Again he entered the Holy of Holies, this time to sprinkle the blood on the altar seven times. He stepped out again, killed the sacrificial goat, collected the blood, and entered the Holy of Holies for a third and final time.
When the priests returned from inside the most holy place, a specially-appointed goat-handler took the crimson sash from the goat’s horns, tore it in two, and retied one half to the goat’s horns. As the people chanted, “Hurry and go,” the handler led the condemned animal through a gate of the Temple. In the same manner that we have seen Olympic runners pass a torch, different individuals escorted the goat-handler from point to point until the scapegoat reached the appointed place, a cliff about ten miles outside the city. The goat-handler pushed the animal off the cliff and into the ravine below, and thus the people’s sins were eradicated. Runners quickly carried the news back to the Temple.
According to Eddie Chumney, the Mishnah mentions an interesting tradition about the scapegoat: “A portion of the crimson sash was attached to the door of the Temple before the goat was sent into the wilderness. The sash would turn from red to white as the goat met its end, signaling to the people that God had accepted their sacrifices and their sins were forgiven. . . . The Mishnah tells us that 40 years before the destruction of the Temple, the sash stopped turning white. This, of course, was when Yeshua [Jesus] was slain on the tree.”[ii]
I don’t know how much of that story is truth and how much is oral tradition, but God does tell us that though our sins be as scarlet, after forgiveness, they shall be as white as snow (Is. 1:18). And isn’t it interesting that the Mishna, a book written by Jewish rabbis, would confirm the time of Jesus’ death on the cross?