Posts tagged atonement
There is a subtle shift taking place as we continue to read this back-and-forth between Job and his friends. It is a shift away from the “black and white” mindset that says that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. Job (maybe no so much his friends) is beginning to realize that life doesn’t work that way. There are a lot of bad people who have good things happening to them and there are a lot of good people that have bad things happening to them.
I get the sense that as this realization creeps into Job’s mind, he understands that there is something greater at work. There is something God-ordained about all of this. I think Job is actually starting to get it! He’s also warming up to the idea that he does have some sin in his life. He has moved from describing himself as “blameless” to realizing that even the most righteous person has sin. He has also stumbled upon a couple of great truths. The first is found in chapter 14:
Surely then you will count my steps
but not keep track of my sin.
My offenses will be sealed up in a bag;
you will cover over my sin. (Job 14:16-17)
You see, in his time of great agony, Job has realized that the God he serves is, in the end, a God of mercy and compassion. Surely, he says, God will cover over his sin. Again, Job’s soul understands what, perhaps, his mind can’t fully grasp. We see it again in chapter 16:
Even now my witness is in heaven;
my advocate is on high.
My intercessor is my friend
as my eyes pour out tears to God;
on behalf of a man he pleads with God
as one pleads for a friend. (Job 16:19-21)
Again, Job is speaking of Jesus – of something now and not yet. As he cries out from the depths of his soul, he somehow taps into God’s grand design. There is sin in the world and the pure and perfect God refuses to allow that sin into his kingdom. And so, there must be a way that God has come up with to “cover over” that sin. And, in order to do so, there must be an advocate – an intercessor – one to go between sinful man and perfect God.
Yeah, Job is figuring it out…even in the midst of his worst days.
At first glance, today’s reading might fall into the “more of the same” category and we have to resist them temptation to simply skim through these chapters. For me, it is important to read every word, because if it’s in the book, it has a purpose for being there. And so, I read through these chapters wondering what was there that we didn’t already cover yesterday. Then it hit me. This was the beginning of God’s crazy plan to save us from ourselves. It doesn’t really look like it from this vantage point, but just wait! Let’s look at the Levitical equation as most people understand it:
Sin Committed + Required Sacrifice = God’s Forgiveness
That makes sense based on the text, but as a New Testament follower of Jesus, I would view the equation more like this:
Sin Committed + Required Sacrifice + God’s Forgiveness = Life + God’s Blessing
What in the world am I talking about? Well, I know that the Bible tells us that the “wages of sin is death.” Presumably, anyone able to offer a sacrifice is not dead and, therefore, have not paid the “wages” for their actions. They took out a spiritual payday loan on their life. And so, the sacrifice required is not actually the pricetag for their sins – that pricetag is much higher. Instead, when we sin, God offers forgiveness. And when that forgiveness is added to the “sin” side of the equation, the result is that we have life and blessing, or as the Scripture says, “life…more abundantly.” In fact, through God’s infinite grace, even the price he asked as a sacrifice for our sins was given to us by him. Just as in the story of Abraham and Isaac, God provided the sacrifice for the people of Israel and he provides it for us today. In addition, he tends to restore to us even more than the price that we paid in the first place.
So, what was God up to here? Did he change his mind about the cost of sin, or is there some other explanation? Well, in the pre-Jesus world of Israel, the understanding of sin, sacrifice and forgiveness (or atonement) would perhaps be more like that first equation, but remember, the Old Testament points to the New Testament – it foreshadows (and sometimes directly predicts) the future. And so, I believe that the second equation represents what God was doing all along. The second equation has always been God’s plan, even if his people didn’t know it.
Think of it this way: Imagine that I agree to sell you a car. I look up the Blue Book value of the car and give you a price of, say, $15,000. That is the price, the value, the worth of the car. And so I tell you that I will sell you that car for $15,000, but that if you’ll give me $150 now, you can take the car and use it and we’ll settle up the rest of the payment later. Your assumption, then, would be that you will have to, at some later date, pay me the rest of the price for the car. Now, let’s say that a few weeks later, you see me and say, “Hey, how do you want to work out the payment for this car? Can we do some kind of payment plan?” And I say, “You know what, don’t worry about it right now. I’ve still got the $150 you gave me earlier. We’ll just work it out later.”
Now, let’s imagine that it’s a few months later and I still haven’t required any real payment for the car. You see me again and, knowing that you owe me $14,850, you try to avoid me. But I make the effort and walk over to you, call out your name and begin a conversation. And as we talk, I say, “Hey, I’ve got a lot of things I want to chat with you about, but first, I wanted to let you know that you don’t owe me anything for the car.” Of course, you would be flabbergasted! What had changed my mind?
Well, the truth is that nothing changed my mind. I actually always intended on giving you the car. The only reason I gave you a price in the first place was so that you would understand that what you were receiving was of value. The only reason I asked for the $150 was because I knew that if I told you I was giving you the car, you would never accept it. In other words, your accepted paradigm was that of a financial transaction, so I created one for you. I didn’t need the $150. As a matter of fact, I had already returned the $150 to you multiple times over in ways that you simply didn’t notice. Are you getting the picture?
In this example, my motives never changed and my plan never changed – only your perception changed. And so I think it is with the people of Israel (and with us). That is why reading the Bible in it’s entirety is so critically important! What we read here in Leviticus about all these sacrifices is just the beginning of the story. God is giving us the Blue Book value of our sins and asking for a little down payment – one that, like the $150 for the $15,000 car, pails in comparison to the actual price. It’s not the whole story. It’s just one chapter.
In that case, I guess we’ll have to keep reading…
As with just about every day, there’s a lot packed into today’s reading. However, there were two parts that really jumped out to me and they both follow a similar theme. First, there is the “atonement money” that God requires every person to pay. Second, there is this conversation between Moses and the Lord where Moses asks God to forgive the Israelites for worshiping the golden calf. Both, I think, demonstrate a fundamental truth about the value of each individual – a truth that God first taught Noah and then, Noah articulated back to God.
Let’s take a look at the atonement money. The purpose of this money was to offer a “ransom” for the life of each individual. Clearly, this has some prophetic undertones as Jesus would pay the ultimate ransom for us and would be the ultimate atonement. However, I think there’s something interesting about this passage. God requires that everyone is to give one half shekel. And he specifically says that the rich are to give no more than a half shekel and the poor are to give no less.
Now, whenever God and money are combined in the Bible, most people immediately believe that the passage must be a commentary on church giving, tithing, etc. In this case, though, I don’t think that’s the point at all. In fact, when you read through the rest of scripture, you see that God typically does require more from those who have more and often lessens the giving requirements for those who are poor. So what’s going on here?
Well, remember that we’re talking about a ransom or atonement. That is, a sum of money paid in exchange for someone’s life. What’s a life worth? Whatever the person who saves your life says it’s worth. In this case, God tells the people that they are to pay one half shekel as a ransom for each life. But what is God going to do with a half shekel? He doesn’t need the money! What he does need is that for the people to understand that their lives have value and that no one person’s life is more valuable than another. The lives of the rich aren’t worth more than the lives of the poor or vice versa. This is a lesson in the value of a life, not a story about tithing or church giving.
This same lesson, then, is obviously learned and articulated by Moses when he says to God in chapter 32, verses 31 & 32:
“Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.”
Moses here is essentially telling God that his life (or more accurately, his soul or his existence) is not any more valuable than anyone else’s. If they aren’t going to be forgiven – if they’re going to be rejected by God – then Moses doesn’t want to be accepted by him either. It’s a reminder that we’re all in this boat together – that God interacts with humanity as a whole as well as individuals. And it’s a reminder that you are worth the same as me and the same as the poorest of the poor and the richest of the rich. And, ultimately, Jesus would pay the same price for all of us.