Intermediate Edition

II. The Law’s Provision for Israel’s Sin


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Chapter 9  Part II

The Law’s Provision for Israel’s Sin

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In the law on which his covenant with Israel was based, God made provision for atonement to be made for anyone who sinned, and so for the sinner to be forgiven. This allowed the Israelites to remain in their covenant relationship with him, providing that they did not actually give up following God and his laws, as per the terms of the covenant.

The NT contains numerous references to the Mosaic Law’s provision for Israel’s sin. An understanding of what this provision involved enables us to more fully comprehend why Jesus Christ came and the significance of his work. For many of the concepts involved in Jesus Christ’s work have their origin in the law’s stipulations for making offerings for atonement for sin. These aspects of the law actually foreshadowed – and would be superseded by – what Jesus Christ would do and implement.

Offerings for Atonement for Sinners

An animal was offered to make atonement for one who sinned

If any person sins unintentionally, then he must bring a yearling female goat for a purification offering. 28And the priest must make atonement for the person who sins unintentionally — when he sins unintentionally before the Lord — to make atonement for him, and he will be forgiven.   Numbers 15:27-28 NET

Atonement is where God accepts such an offering of a living being as a substitute for the life of a person who has sinned – the person’s life otherwise being required as punishment. As such, God accepts the sacrifice as payment for the person’s sin. The result is that sin is taken away – and so the sinner is forgiven, pronounced righteous and reconciled to God.

Animals brought as offerings were to be without defect

If this person [who had sinned] brings a lamb as his offering for sin, he must bring a female that has nothing wrong with it.   Leviticus 4:32 NCV™

The sinner laid hands on the offering, signifying it as a substitute

He must lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted for him to make atonement on his behalf.   Leviticus 1:4 NET

This practice appears to have signified that the animal was a substitute for the sinner. Moreover, it may also have signified the transfer of the person’s sins to the animal (cf. Leviticus 16:21-22).

The Blood of the Offerings

The blood of the offerings for sin featured in making atonement

Then the high priest must bring some of the blood of the bull to the Meeting Tent, 17and that priest must dip his finger in the blood and sprinkle some of the blood seven times before the Lord toward the front of the veil-canopy. 18He must put some of the blood on the horns of the altar which is before the Lord in the Meeting Tent, and all the rest of the blood he must pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering that is at the entrance of the Meeting Tent. 19“‘Then the priest must take all its fat and offer the fat up in smoke on the altar. 20He must do with the rest of the bull just as he did with the bull of the sin offering; this is what he must do with it. So the priest will make atonement on their behalf and they will be forgiven.   Leviticus 4:16-20 NET

As this passage illustrates, the blood of animals sacrificed as offerings to make atonement for sinners featured prominently in the instructions given for presenting the offerings. The reason was the correlation of blood with life (as discussed in the following subsection). The blood signified the life of the animal, given as a substitute for the life of the sinner (as reflected in the previous subsection).

For the life of a creature is in its blood

[God:] … for the life of every living thing is in the blood. So I myself have assigned it to you on the altar to make atonement for your lives, for the blood makes atonement by means of the life.   Leviticus 17:11 NET

Blood sustains life and so is often correlated with life.

The Role of the Priests

God designated Aaron and his descendants as priests

[God, to Moses:] And you, bring near to you your brother Aaron and his sons with him from among the Israelites, so that they may minister as my priests – Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron’s sons.   Exodus 28:1 NET

[God, to Moses:] And the priesthood shall be theirs by a statute forever. Thus you shall ordain Aaron and his sons.   Exodus 29:9b ESV

When God made his covenant with Israel, he instituted the Aaronic or Levitical priesthood as an integral aspect of the covenant law, in particular in regard to the regulations concerning the people’s relationship with himself.

The priests made the offerings for people when they sinned, to make atonement for them

And the priest shall make atonement for him [a person who had sinned] with the ram of the guilt offering before the Lord for his sin that he has committed, and he shall be forgiven for the sin that he has committed.   Leviticus 19:22 ESV

The high priest made atonement yearly for Israel as a whole

“The priest who is anointed and ordained to act as high priest in place of his father is to make atonement. He is to put on the linen garments, the holy garments, 33and he is to purify the Most Holy Place, he is to purify the Meeting Tent and the altar, and he is to make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly. 34This is to be a perpetual statute for you to make atonement for the Israelites for all their sins once a year.”   Leviticus 16:32-34a NET

The Day of Atonement was to be observed once each year, for the high priest to cleanse the nation as a whole of all sin. It was the most important observance of the OT rituals, the only time the high priest could enter the Most Holy Place.

Note that the Most Holy Place was where the ark of the covenant was kept. The ark contained the stone tablets on which were written the Ten Commandments, the basis of God’s covenant with Israel. The ark signified God’s presence amongst the Israelites.

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