substitutionary-atonement

Leviticus 17, Proverbs 31, Psalm 103

Today’s scheduled Bible readings are Leviticus 17, Proverbs 31, and Psalm 103.

This devotional is about Leviticus 17:11: “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.”

Before the tabernacle existed, people offered animal sacrifices wherever and however they wanted. God’s laws described how the sacrifices should be offered and where they should be offered, namely the tabernacle. But people are creatures of habit and stubborn. If Israel was ever going to worship as God had commanded, the people had to stop doing their own thing and start bringing sacrifices to the tabernacle. That’s what Leviticus 17 is about. It commands the people not to offer sacrifices anywhere else but the tabernacle (v. 5) and it prescribes a severe penalty for those who don’t bring their sacrifices to the tabernacle (v. 4).

A key reason for these commands was to stop idolatry in Israel (v. 7). If anyone can sacrifice whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever they want, they also can sacrifice to whomever they want--God or some idol. Creating a central place of worship had many benefits but guarding against idolatry was one of the biggest.

A key theme within this chapter has to do instructions about handling the blood of an animal sacrifice. The word “blood” appears 12 times in this chapter in verses 4, 6, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, so it is an important detail. The reason for this attention to blood is stated in verse 11: “For the life of a creature is in the blood....” Blood is necessary for life. When it stops flowing through the veins of a man or an animal, the organs and tissues in the body stop working and the animal or person dies. Because it is essential to life, blood is a perfect way to represent life and death. The later part of verse 11 goes on to explain the significance of blood in animal sacrifices: “and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.” The Hebrew word translated “atonement” here means “to cover or conceal.” God is saying that the blood conceals one’s sins; it is God’s appointed method for receiving forgiveness. When a person brought an animal as a sacrifice for his sins, that animal became the person’s substitute. God accepted the life of that animal, symbolized by its blood, instead of the life of the person who committed the sin.

Ultimately, of course, all of this anticipated the death of Christ on the cross for us. The statement, “For the life of a creature is in the blood... it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life” (v. 11) explains why Christ had to die on the cross for our sins. Because he was the perfect man, sinless in every way and righteous by merit for obeying God’s law perfectly, he was the only man who could die as a substitute for sinners. Because you have believed in him, you can be certain that God has forgiven you based on Christ’s death and has accepted you. The death of Christ is central to our faith because only his death could atone for our sins.

Leviticus 3-4, Proverbs 19, Psalm 91

Happy Easter Sunday! Today’s readings are Leviticus 3-4, Proverbs 19, and Psalm 91.

Note: according to the schedule we were supposed to read Leviticus 2-3 yesterday but I only linked Leviticus 2. Today, we’re caught up.

This devotional is about Leviticus 4.

This chapter of scripture prescribes how the people of Israel were to atone for their sins. This isn’t the first time we’ve read The commands in this chapter are tailored to the type of person who sins:

  • an anointed priest who sinned was required to bring a young bull for his sin offering (vv. 1-12). His sacrifice was more costly than that of the other individuals in this chapter because he was guilty of “bringing guilt on the people” as their representative before the Lord.
  • if the whole nation sinned, they too were required to sacrifice a young bull as a sin offering for the whole community (vv. 13-21).
  • if a leader sinned, he was required to sacrifice a male goat (vv. 22-26).
  • if a everyday Israelite sinned, that person was to bring a female goat (vv. 27-31).

There are several things that are worth noting in this chapter, but let’s focus on this one: for all four types of people described in this chapter, the sinner (or his/her representative) was required “to lay his hand on its head” (vv. 4, 15, 24, 29, 33) just before it was slaughtered. Why? Because the animal was about to serve as the sinner’s substitute. When a sinner placed his hand on the animal’s head, he was symbolically transferring his guilt to the animal who would then die in the sinner’s place.

This gesture would remind the person offering the sacrifice how serious sin is. Because of his or her sin, an animal would die. Although the expense of animal life was bloody and costly, it was a merciful concession by God to allow the sinner to live by accepting another’s death as a substitute.

All of this pointed toward Jesus who died as our substitute on Good Friday. Animals couldn’t really be substitutes for sinful people; only another human could die in our place. But just as each animal had to be perfect (“without defect” -- vv. 3, 23, 28, 32), so only a perfect man could truly substitute for sinners. This is what Jesus did for us! As we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus today, we can do so knowing that our sins are truly and eternally forgiven. Jesus, the perfect sacrifice, stood in our place, accepted the guilt of our sins, and was punished by God as our substitute. This is why we are accepted by God and can worship him today.

Exodus 32, Proverbs 8, Psalm 80

Today we’re scheduled to read Exodus 32, Proverbs 8, and Psalm 80.

This devotional is about Exodus 32.

The people of Israel had been slaves for 400 years. They knew how to follow orders, make bricks out of straw, and that’s about it. In the recent past, they rode a roller coaster of emotions as God liberated his people from Egypt but then allowed them to be chased by the Egyptians as well as struggle with hunger and thirst. These were all traumatic events. Without God, they were helpless against armies. Without Moses, they had no direction, no leadership.

This is why they freaked out when Moses stayed with God on Mount Sinai for so long (v. 1). They were fearful that the powerful, awe-inspiring God that liberated them from Egypt had killed Moses for insufficient holiness, leaving them on their own. Without any ability to provide for themselves or defend themselves, they were fearful, vulnerable, and directionless. This is why they insisted that Aaron create a god for them (v. 1); it was an attempt to tranquilize their fear and give them a new hope for the future.

It was also an opportunity to forget God’s law that they’d received in the preceding chapters of Exodus. God’s law prescribed duties and penalties, but also promised blessings, including built-in blessings such as Sabbath and feast days. By contrast, the new golden calf god gave them no laws to follow and threatened no penalties for disobedience. This god, made by men, conformed to and appealed to human desires. It let them have a festival without any moral constraints; the word translated “revelry” has sexual overtones. It sure seems like they broke the first, second, sixth, and tenth commandments as they worshipped their false god.

This is how idolatry works. It promises power by taking credit what the true God did in the past, v. 4b. It liberates the sinful nature within with lawlessness. Israel may have felt better for a while during their festival, but they paid dearly because of God’s justice. The same thing happens to us when we worship an idol. It offers us relief from fear and momentary pleasure but it cannot protect us from the consequences of our sin.

Although Moses was angry with his Hebrew brothers and sisters for their sins, verses 30-34 show us his tender love and compassion for these difficult, sinful people. Moses pleaded with God for his forgiveness for them (vv. 31-32a). He went so far as to insist that God remove him from his elect (v. 32b). This is a powerful statement, asking for God to send him to hell if He would not forgive the Israelites. In this way Moses foreshadowed our advocate, the Lord Jesus Christ. Although Jesus could not be blotted out of the book of life because he IS life, he identified with us sinners by taking God’s wrath on himself. When God poured out his justice on Jesus for our sins, Jesus took the punishment due to those who are not in God’s book of life. Then he rose from the dead to restore us sinners to eternal life.

A sinner like Moses could never substitute for anyone else’s sin, much less the idolatry of a whole nation. Yet Moses’s statement in verse 32b shows the depth of his love for the people of Israel. Christ DID die for our sins. By doing that, Jesus demonstrated how great his love for us is.