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August 4, 2021

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Theology of Atonement – Part II, the History

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History, Continued from Part I:

Fifty days later, at Mount Sinai, God gave His law as the foundation of His covenant. (Exodus chapters 19-24). The early animal sacrifices were always symbolic, and blood was always known to be sacred and necessary for atonement and forgiveness. This was true of all bloody sacrifices from the beginning, but now, with Mosaic Law, it was especially true. Burnt offerings, originally from the primeval and patriarchal age, were now joined by other forms of sacrifice. With the previous burnt offerings, the worshipper had not yet broken the Covenant God was to have with Israel, and the offering was meant to cover the general sin attached to every man. The new “sin offering” expressed that covenant WAS broken through the offense, and the offering was meant to restore relationship with God.

There are several Old Testament words for sin. The primary ones being looked at here are Chataah, Chattath, Chata, and Chet. They all refer to an offense, a sacrifice for sin, or a sin offering. Chata is a deeper word, and can also refer to the offender himself, to a habitual sin, to forfeit, repent, lead astray, condemn, bear the blame, or purify. Also used in Lev. 4:3b is the word “Ashmah,” which means guiltiness, a fault, or the presentation of a sin offering. It is translated as “offend,” “cause of sin,” and “trespass.” “Shagah,” used in Lev. 4:13, means to stray, transgress, be encaptured, and is translated as to “err,” “be ravished,” “sin through ignorance,” and “wander.” “Peri Amartia” from Lev. 4:35, 5:6, and 6:17 of the Septuagint, meant “sin-offering.”

These offerings were not for the sake of man or the state, but for God. (Lev. 4:1-32, 5:1-8). In addition, the law now divided sacrifices into different classes for different purposes and kept them before the eyes of Israel. God demonstrated the importance of the blood at the consecration of the priests, birth of a child, and even high festivals. (Ex. 23:14-18, 29; Lev. 1-4:1-32, 5:1-19, 6:1-37, and 16:33).

After the covenant was read and accepted by the people of Israel, it needed to be established with blood. Several bulls were killed, and their blood was sprinkled on the altar, the book of the covenant, and the people. This event was the first recorded time of blood being sprinkled directly on people, and therefore, intimates greater accountability.

Immediately after this sacrificial rite, the Lord announced that he wanted a sanctuary built and He would dwell among them. (Exodus chapters 25-30.) He gave strict directions for the building of the tabernacle and it was functionally designed for blood sacrifice. God’s blueprint included the necessary furniture designed for the purification of worshippers and the killing of animals, as well as the Most Holy Place, where only the high priest could enter – carrying blood.

Later, the fact that the sanctuary furniture was sprinkled with blood during certain sacrifices reminds the Israelites that the sanctuary was an symbol for the way God inhabits His church and dwells among His people. (Lev. 16:16) It wasn’t the building itself that was unworthy; the sins of the people made the sanctuary unworthy as a dwelling place for God. However, God could continue to dwell there if He beheld the blood of atonement. That the people needed the reconciliation and not the place is evidenced in the fact the ceremonies were for the transgressions of Israel (Lev. 16:16) and made atonement for the people and the priests (Lev. 16:33)

The importance of the Blood is further illustrated through the description of the Day of Atonement. On the Day of Atonement, the high priest brought the Blood of the sin offering, which had been collected in front of the people, into the Most Holy Place, where no one but himself was allowed. This illustrates that the Blood offering was for God alone, and the transaction was to take place between only God and His representative. Lev. 17:11.

ALL Bloody sacrifices were atoning. Number one, blood sacrifice was shocking in its character; satisfaction came only through a victim’s death. But they also pointed out to the worshipper that he had offended God and God was forced to separate from him. God could not sacrifice His holiness for the sake of His love for the worshipper. So while estranged from God for having broken the covenant, the Israelite was very aware that not only did he have ceremonial guilt and was separated from God’s presence, but that death must ensue because the wages of sin is death. The main thought under Mosaic Law was that transgressions violated the order of the universe and had to be punished. No regrets could remove the guilt, so death is the only recourse.

Interestingly, the sins that the Mosaic sacrifices atoned for were not moral sins, such as murder, adultery or idolatry, but offenses against ceremonial law and theocratic purity, including involuntary oversights and sins of ignorance. (Lev. 12:7-8, Num. 6:11). The Law was an external, arbitrary law, and external, arbitrary atonements could cover the resulting offenses to the Law. The Law and its atonement had come into being at the same time, in order to relieve the worshipper, to develop the idea of sin, and awaken consciences to the fact of sin. The same authority that instituted the ceremonial rites could cancel the offenses.

This was not mere penitence. The mediating priest and the laying of his hands on the worshipper’s head indicates that the guilt was transferred vividly. The effect of the sacrifices was remission of the penalty, independent of contrition and remorse. Nor was it renewal of homage. It had nothing to do with a friendly feast, but was intended to transfer the sinner’s guilt on to a victim. It was meant to prevent penalty that had been earned, and to secure remission of sin (Lev. 4:20)

Continued Part III – The Ritual – March 26, 2016