When you think on the word festival, Fasting probably doesn’t come to mind. Feasting and celebrations don’t usually include depriving yourself of food and water. Yet God commands us to fast when we keep His fifth annual festival and to celebrate it (Leviticus 23:32). This may seem contradictory, but if we understand what this day pictures in God’s master plan, we will see there is plenty to rejoice about on this holy day.
“Also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: it shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord. And ye shall do no work in that same day: for it is a day of atonement, to make an atonement for you before the Lord your God” (verses 27-28).
These commands direct us to keep this holy day in a way that will enhance our understanding of its deep spiritual meaning. If we keep it properly, we can avoid relegating this festival to an uncomfortable speed bump on the way to the Feast of Tabernacles and value it for the blessing it is.
The name of this holy day summarizes its meaning. Atonement means “to make at one with.” This day symbolizes God and man being set at one: literally at-one-ment! God desires to be one with all of mankind.
God revealed the meaning of this holy day to Herbert W. Armstrong. His booklet Pagan Holidays—or God’s Holy Days—Which? explains in detail how a special ceremony recorded in Leviticus 16 teaches us what is necessary for us to do to be united with God. This ceremony and its rituals are no longer performed, but we can still learn from its symbolic meaning. Aspects of this ceremony point to the necessity of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice, His role as our living Savior, and the removal of Satan. Satan’s removal, an important step in God’s plan, will take place after Christ returns (Revelation 20:1-3).
So how does fasting enhance our understanding of the Day of Atonement? How can we gain a deeper understanding of and appreciation for this holy day?
‘Afflict your souls’
God commands us to “afflict your souls” in Leviticus 23:27. Afflict is translated from the Hebrew anah, which can mean to humble oneself or to fast.
Luke refers to the Day of Atonement as “the fast” in Acts 27:9. The margin of the King James Version says Luke is referring to the tenth day of the seventh month, which is the Day of Atonement. This account proves the New Testament Church is still to keep this holy day.
Leviticus 23:31 says Atonement is to be kept “for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.” The ritualistic ceremony in Leviticus 16 is obsolete, but the holy day and the commands in Leviticus 23 remain forever—including the command to fast.
God uses fasting as a tool to humble us (e.g. Psalm 35:13). When we deprive ourselves of food and water, we realize how reliant we are on God for everything, physically and spiritually. When we are physically weak, we realize how fleeting our physical lives are and become more excited about what God is offering us spiritually.
While we fast, we can spend more time in prayer, study and meditation. Mr. Armstrong set an example of repeating a cycle of spending one hour in prayer, one hour in Bible study, and one hour in meditation during a fast. This draws us closer to God and helps build a submissive attitude toward Him. This also reminds us of the attitude of mind necessary for God to give man salvation.
A Spiritual Feast
If we are humbled in our fast, we will better understand that man cannot live by bread or physical food alone—we must live according to every word that proceeds from God (Deuteronomy 8:2-3; Matthew 4:4). Even as we hunger physically, God wants us to feast spiritually on His Word.
This is especially true in our observance of the Day of Atonement. We can focus our prayers, study and meditation on the meaning of this day. We can study the section on Atonement in Pagan Holidays—or God’s Holy Days—Which? and Lesson 33 of the Herbert W. Armstrong College Bible Correspondence Course, as well as Leviticus 16 and 23. We can study references to Christ’s role as our High Priest in Hebrews 7-10 and 1 John 2. We can meditate on Satan’s influence on this world and his culpability in our sins.
Studying and meditating on these types of subjects will help us learn what God wants to teach us on this holy day. It will deepen our understanding of what is required to become one with God and help us to be more thankful to God for making this possible.
It’s so important to God that we keep a spiritual perspective during the Day of Atonement that He commands us to abstain from all work, including the minimal work required for food preparation allowed on other feasts and Sabbaths (Leviticus 23:30-31; Exodus 12:16). Nothing is to get in our way of drawing closer to God and being at one with Him through our fast.
In order to ensure we keep this unique command, we must properly prepare for this holy day. Any work that would otherwise be done on that day should be done the day before.
Diminish Satan’s influence
There is also a connection between Satan’s removal, pictured in this fifth step in God’s master plan, and our fasting.
We live in a world ruled and deceived by Satan the devil (2 Corinthians 4:4; Revelation 12:9). He surcharges this world with his evil broadcasts and influences mankind to sin (Ephesians 2:2). The broadcasting affects all of us.
But if we draw closer to God with a humble, submissive attitude, Satan’s broadcast will lose its strength. If we resist the devil, God promises that he will flee (James 4:6-7). Because fasting is such a powerful tool to humble us and build a submissive attitude, fasting can also help diminish Satan’s influence in our lives in a powerful way.
Fasting on the Day of Atonement pictures, in each of us, Satan’s eventual removal from mankind. It helps us to envision the time when his broadcasts will cease. The peace and rest we experience while fasting on this annual sabbath helps us look forward to the time when the whole world will experience peace and rest from the devil. He and his demons will soon be replaced by Jesus Christ and the firstfruits. Instead of being under the yoke of Satan’s oppressive government, mankind will thrive under God’s government of love.
If our children attend services with us and are old enough to understand God’s command to fast on this day, we can teach them to fast too. We can start them out by having them skip one meal, or if they are older, to fast 12 or 18 hours before attempting the full 24 hours.
God expects parents to diligently teach their children about the meaning of this day and how to properly keep God’s commands (Deuteronomy 6:5-7). Our diligent teaching will help counteract Satan’s efforts to influence our children. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” How we teach and talk about the Day of Atonement can have a lasting impact on our children as they grow up.
A Holy Convocation
Leviticus 23:27 says this holy day “shall be an holy convocation unto you.” This means there is a commanded assembly on the Day of Atonement. To keep the day to its fullest spiritual intent, we should attend services on this day. It is at services that we hear God’s ordained ministers give God-inspired messages to help deepen our understanding of this festival.
The spiritual messages we hear will increase the bountiful spiritual feast God desires us to have on this day. When we combine our personal Bible study in our fasting with the messages we hear at services, we can see how this fifth festival truly is a spiritual feast! We will be thoroughly fed and nourished spiritually if we obey God’s commands.
Attending services also gives us the opportunity to engage in Christian fellowship, a vital way of building holy righteous character. When we use the tool of fellowship, we build the character we will need to rule Earth as co-rulers with Christ after Satan and his demons are dethroned.
The same is true when we obey God’s command to give an offering on this holy day (Deuteronomy 16:16-17). When we give an offering, we practice God’s way of give, which is the way of life we will teach to the entire world after Satan’s removal.
As we prepare for the Day of Atonement, let’s remember that it is one of God’s annual festivals. We don’t eat or drink physically, but God wants us to feast spiritually. The commands He gives in Leviticus 23 will make this possible if we obey them with the right attitude. If we do, then we truly will have an abundant spiritual feast. We will gain a deeper understanding of this day and better appreciate the fifth step in God’s master plan.