THE EMMAUS WALK PRESENTS:
"Leviticus: Atonement4us," by Ronald Ginther
Preceded by Genesis and Exodus, originally named "Wayyiqra," "And Called," this is preeminently Jehovah's book. Jehovah spoke and commanded all the holy laws in it to Moses, and it was written down faithfully by Moses. Moses added the incident of the sin of Nahab and Abihu, Aaron's sons' offering of unholy fire, as it took place during the time Jehovah was giving Moses and Israel His laws concerning Atonement, the holy Feast Days or Convocations, and other observances and sundry laws regarding the priests and their qualifications and privileges and preparation for their duties, as well as laws regarding uncleanness, sins against the moral law, the holy oil, the bread of the Presence, and the sin of blasphemy. In it the Lord God, Jehovah, set up all the laws and procedures necessary to make an acceptably holy sacrifice for Israel's sins. Without this book, the entire system of redemption would lack a foundation, for the substitute given by God here in this book provided the type and promise that looked to complete fulfillment in Jesus's atoning death on the Cross about fourteen hundred years later.
And who is Jehovah? Elohim is the majestic name for God in Genesis, but here in Leviticus, in the wilderness with Israel following Moses their God-chosen leader, we encounter the Lord God as Jehovah. Elohim is the transcendent Creator and Preserver of the world, whereas Jehovah is the self-revealing Holy One of Israel whose chief attributes are righteousness, holiness, and love that passes all human love. He is the same God as Elohim, it is true, but in His Jehovahite attributes, He reaches out to restore fallen man to Himself by providing a sacrificial substitute of holy laws that, properly followed, will redeem Israel until Christ comes and provides the supreme, everlasting atonement that takes the place forever after of the temporary substitute we find spelled out in Leviticus.
No one today knows the true pronunciation of the name "Jehovah," Nathan J. Stone points out in his excellent book, "Names of God," but that is of no consequence. God will hearken to His holy Name, however it is pronounced, as long as it is named in sincerity and reverence. It is a most wonderful Name, and only the name of Jesus is more exalted by the Father in heaven! By it the sinful and oft rebellious Israelites gained entrance into forgiveness and reconciliation with the Lord.
"Leviticus", we learn from Eerdman's "The New Bible Commentary Revised," is a Greek name pertaining to the Levitical priests and their duties, but it is pointed out that the whole people were expected to know what this book teaches since it so deeply concerns what Israel was created for. This author would suggest that the name might be changed to "Jehovah's Atonement," for the holy substitute of right sacrifice for atonement is what the book is about.
In this post-christian modern world, few people see any relevance in the idea of sacrifice for sins put forth in Leviticus because sin itself is not recognized as a real thing in human behavior. Christians should know better, but even Christians, for the most part, think that Leviticus has been made obsolete by Christ's work of atonement on the Cross of Calvary. The author of this article was on an opinion that it was not worth his attention until he read in Eerdmans and elsewhere how vital the book really is, regarding Atonement in its first formal establishment upon fallen earth.
Until Jehovah spoke and commanded these holy laws, Israel was in no way, shape, or form prepared to receive full forgiveness and be reconciled. The Israelite
could be ultimately saved if he believed God (as Abraham and Isaac and Jacob believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness), but a holy nation was not possible if the people forever clung to the shirttails of the Patriarchs' faith. No, for a holy Israel to exist, the Israelites had to enter into the only way God ordained for them to be restored and redeemed as His sons--and in that time it meant a sacrificial system stipulated by God Himself. Otherwise, there would possibly exist only a holy and godly elite of anointed priests and leaders, with a mass of unwashed, unregenerate, unholy people beneath them! How could Jehovah, the Holy One of Israel, deal with such a monstrosity? He wouldn't! Perhaps, the mass wouldn't have minded such a low life (as their actions in the first generation amply testify), but God chose a far better life and destiny for His people.
Why didn't God provide His perfect sacrificial Lamb, Jesus Christ, then, rather than 1400 years later? God did not choose to do so, we do know, and so His very act of giving His laws first in the wilderness tells us that His later time was best, when Christ would appear in the "fullness of time."
We should bear in mind that behind this book is not a harsh, distant kind of God who is condemning in His attitude and exceptionally nit-picking about ritual observances that we care nothing about today, whether Jewish or Gentile. On the contrary, the Divine Lawgiver of this book is so loving He grieves and suffers for His sinful, wayward people, the Israelites. He makes provision for them, with these holy laws, not to drive them away but to bring them close to His loving bosom!
Nathan Stone in his book, "Names of God," points out that Jehovah was the One who rained fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah, yet his righteousness and holiness are not unmitigated--they are just as much balanced by overflowing love. As Jehovah God teaches the Israelites how to approach Him and achieve expiation of their sins. What grace! What love! He might have left them in their sins, and condemned and punished them to the full extent for them, but He loved them too much--He provided a way out of the judgment and condemnation they deserved.
The whole system of consecration, purification, anointing, and duties of the Aaronic priesthood, the stipulated sacrifices and how they are to be conducted, the meaning of the blood and how blood and animals are to be treated for sacrifice or for ordinary consumption, this system is essentially Messianic. Jesus Christ the Lamb of God, of Whom this system is a Messianic type, was pure, without blemish and sinless, and, moreover, the Father's Only Begotten Son. Everything God commanded Moses to speak and write described the coming Christ and how He would atone for the sins of the people.
It is informative to gain some idea of the context for the study of Atonement in Chapter 16 from this book to look at the chapter headings given in, for example, "The New American Standard Study Bible." Other versions may offer chapter headings that will give the same effect. To wit: The Law of Burnt Offerings, The Law of Grain Offerings, The Law of Peace Offerings, The Law of Sin Offerings, The Law of Guilt Offerings, Guilt Offerings, The Priest's Part in the Offerings, The Consecration of Aaron and His Sons, Arron Offers Sacrifices, The Sin of Nadab and Abihu, Laws About Animals for Food, Laws of Motherhood, The Test for Leprosy, The Law of Cleansing a Leper, Cleansing Unhealthiness. With these laws, if the people had been ignorant of what God considered sin and what they needed to do to purify their ways, they no longer could claim ignorance as an excuse.
Might it not be objected at this point, or even before, that the whole sacrificial system in Leviticus, though God-given, is no longer worth studying in detail? Granted that Jesus Christ became the perfect Sacrifice and His sacrifice provided the perfect and complete Atonement for man's sin, but is Leviticus so "out of date" it no longer has anything to say to us blood-of-Christ-redeemed Christians of today? We touched on this question before, but now we will go to the reason why this book is still worth our attention. There is no single reason, but several reasons, in fact.
But first let us read Chapter 16 regarding the Law of Atonement (taking the King James Version, for we are quoting):
"And the Lord [Jehovah] spake unto Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they offered [unholy fire] before the Lord, and died; and the Lord said unto Moses, Speak unto Aaron thy brother, that he come not at all times into the holy place within the vail before the mercy sat, which is upon the ark that he die not; for I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy seat. Thus shall Aaron come into the holy place with a young bullock for a sin offering, and a ram for a burnt offering. He shall put on the holy linen coat, and he shall have the linen breeches upon his flesh, and shall be girded with a linen girdle, and with the linen mitre shall he be attired; these are holy garments; therefore shall he wash his flesh in water, and so put them on. And he shall take of the congregation of the children of Israel two kids of the goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering. And Aaron shall offer his bullock of the sin offering, which is for himself, and make an atonement for himself, and for his house. And he shall take the two goats, and present them before the Lord at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the Lord, and the other lot for the scapegoat. And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the Lord's lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering. But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the Lord, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness."
"And Aaron shall bring the bullock of the sin offering, which is for himself, and shall make an atonement for himself, and for his house, and shall kill the bullock of the sin offering which is for himself; and he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from off the altar before the Lord, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring it within the vail; and he shall put the incense upon the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is upon the testimony, that he die not; and he shall take of the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it with his finger upon the mercy seat eastward, and before the mercy seat shall he sprinkle of the blood with his finger seven times. Then shall he kill the goat of the sin offering, that is for the people, and bring his blood within the vail, and do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it upon the mercy seat, and before the mercy seat; and he shall make an atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins; and so shall he do for the tabernacle of the congregation, that remaineth among them in the midst of their uncleanness. And there shall be no man in the tabernacle of the congregation when he goeth in to make an atonement in the holy place, until he come out, and have made an atonement for himself, and for his household, and for all the congregation of Israel.
And he shall go out unto the altar that is before the Lord, and make an atonement for it; and shall take of the blood of the bullock, and of the blood of the goat, and put it upon the horns of the altar round about. And he shall sprinkle of the blood upon it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it, and hallow it from the uncleanness of the children of Israel. And when he hath made an end of reconciling the holy place, and the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat; and Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness; and the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited; and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness."
Students of the scriptures may want to read the remainder of Chapter 16, which need not be quoted here. Chapter 17, however, is very important, in that it explains the significance of blood in God's sight, telling the Israelites that the essential life of an animal is in the blood and that they must not eat the blood of the animal but must drain it away first. "For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul." Because of what the supreme importance of what blood means in the sacrificial system, therefore, the Israelites must not profane the type which this blood is (as a type, it stands for Christ's blood) or defile themselves by eating blood.
What, consequently, can we learn from this chapter, regarding the reasons for seeing it as still vital and pertinent to a Christian today? After the death of his two transgressing sons who presented unholy fire before the Lord, Aaron was commanded by God to come into the holy place and offer a young bullock for a sin offering, and a ram for a burnt offering. He was commanded to be attired in his holy garments and be washed head to foot. He was then commanded to take two of the kids of the goats from the people's herds for a sin offering. He was commanded to offer his bullock for the sin offering of himself, and make atonement for himself, and for his household. Next he was to take the two goats and present them before the Lord at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. He was to cast lots on them, and whatever goat the Lord's lot fell upon, that goat was to be offered for a sin offering for the people. The blood of both the bullock and the goat upon which the lot of God fell was to be sprinkled upon the mercy seat and before the mercy seat to make atonement for the holy place, "because of the uncleaness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins." He must also go out to the altar and make atonement for it, putting the blood of the bullock and goat upon the horns of the altar, and also sprinkle it seven times with his finger dipped in the blood; doing that he cleanses the tabernacle and the altar, and the holy place. Having done that, he takes the live goat, puts his hand upon its head, and confesses over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and, thus, bearing all the transgressions of Israel the goat is sent away in the hand of a "fit man" or godly man into the wilderness. The goat bears all the iniquities of the people and is let go in the wilderness.
We see four animals in the Atonement "passion": a bullock, a ram, two goats. The ram is a burnt offering, so its blood is not utilized. The blood of the bullock and one goat are used for the atonement of Israel and also Aaron and his family. The second goat, the scapegoat, is also used, as it bears the sin away from the camp and is not killed or sacrificed (it is a sin-bearer). The bullock is offered for a sin offering. The "God-lotted" goat is also offered for a sin offering. The bullock's blood suffices for atonement for Aaron and his family. The bullock's blood AND the goat's blood suffice for the atonement for whole congregation of the people of Israel. It is interesting that Aaron must take a censer full of burning coals of fire from off the altar before the Lord, and "his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring it within the vail." This incense must cover the mercy seat, or Aaron will die, the Lord says! What is this incense a type of? Intercessory prayer? The blood of the bullock and the goat also suffice to cleanse the tabernacle and altar and holy place. The blood of the bullock is sprinkled upon the mercy seat "eastward," and before it he must sprinkle it seven times. He must do the same with the goat's blood.
(1) Aaron (though a priest, a type of believer in Christ who still must be forgiven his sin) can only approach God through the sacrifice of a ram, bullock, and goat, which are a type of Christ, who died for Aaron and every other man. He is restricted in coming into the holy place within the vail (the holy of holies, where Jehovah dwelt in His glory); the only way he can come is washed and attired in his holy garments, and with these offerings (that is, sincerely and repentant in attitude): the ram for the burnt offering, and the bullock for the sin offering, as well as the two kids from the goat herds of the people. (2) Aaron the type of believer in his sin must then make an offering of the bullock for his own sin and his family's. (3) Aaron next as a priest proceeds to deal with the people's sin; for after that he must take the goats, find the one God's lot falls upon, and take that one and offer it for a sin offering too. (4) Now, most vitally, Aaron must face Jehovah Himself with only the intervening cloud of holy incense shielding Aaron from being killed by Jehovah's righteousness and holiness, so that Jehovah will see the people's sin THROUGH THE "LENS" OF THE SACRIFICED BLOOD of both bullock and goat that Aaron sprinkles on the mercy seat and before it! The blood of both animals are used in the ways God has specified to be sprinkled on the mercy seat and before it, and the blood of both are also put on the horns of the altar. (5) Aaron the type of believer seeking God's forgiveness puts the sin of the people on the type of Christ which is the scapegoat. He must confess the iniquities of Israel over the scapegoat and send it away bearing the people's sin. The goat is led away by a godly man and let go in the wilderness. Once this is done atonement for the people of Israel for that year is complete and God views His people as forgiven, because He sees them through the sacrificed animal's blood, which is life of an innocent animal spilled out unto death. Certainly, as the Book of Hebrews states, a holy God cannot find the blood of bullocks and goats sufficient to purge sins in and of itself, but it is a holy type for the Blood of Christ which can and will do that very thing on the Cross of Calvary. Not only for a year will Christ's blood suffice, but for always and eternity. Not only for Aaron, Moses, and the people of Israel, but for all men of all ages, past, present, and future!
Was Leviticus a boring, meaningless system of arcane and tedious rituals to the one performing the Atonement sacrifices and blood-sprinklings? Not in the least way! After going through this awesome, life-and-death procedure, can there be any doubt that Aaron was trembling at the end of it and extremely grateful he was still alive, and not only alive but forgiven and restored to full standing before God as his son? How much more we today as partakers in Christ's full redemptive revelation should tremble and rejoice in our great salvation through the shedding of His blood and His atonement for our sins on the Cross!
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