Friday, April 16, 2010

Leviticus: A Portrait of Atonement

Leviticus has 27 chapters.
There are 52 references to "atonement."

FIRST REFERENCE
"He is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him." (1.4)

LAST REFERENCE
"Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land." (25.9)

Chapter 16 details the Day of Atonement. Once a year, the priest is "to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites--all their sins--and put them on the goat's head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert. . . . on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you." (16.21-22, 30)

In addition, throughout the year many different practices were observed by the Israelites, all relating to atonement, cleansing and purification. Three different words about the atonement process came to mind as I read through Leviticus:

Complicated
So many sacrifices and a special process for each sacrifice: Burnt offerings. Wave offerings. Fellowship offerings. Grain offerings. Sin offerings. Guilt offerings. There were specific directions for how to handle the animal insides, blood, meat, and carcass. I don't know how the priests remembered it all. Not to mention the wide variety of directions for other areas of life: clean & unclean food, purification, infectious skin diseases, mildew, various punishments for sin, etc.
Praise Jesus for His perfect atonement for my sins that fulfilled the law!

Bloody
Sacrifices were not a pretty or clean process. Just imagine the blood splattering . . . and sometimes hundreds of animals were killed at one time and their blood sprinkled on the altar. One example from the sin offering: "[The priest] shall dip his finger into the blood and sprinkle it before the Lord seven times in front of the curtain. He is to put some of the blood on the horns of the altar that is before the Lord in the Tent of Meeting. The rest of the blood he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering . . ." (4.17-18) Blood is certainly significant: "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." (17.11)
Praise Jesus for shedding His blood for my sins . . . bloody sacrifices are no longer necessary!

Dangerous
". . . [the sons of Aaron] offered unauthorized fire before the Lord . . . so fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them . . ." (10.1-2) The priest & the Levites' job was a very serious one. How heavy to carry the responsibility of a nation's atonement. A wrong move on their part (in this circumstance, perhaps disrespectful? certainly unofficial & wrong) and God responds immediately with punishment. It must have looked like the scene from a horror film or one of those CSI shows . . . charred remains in front of the altar of Lord. God doesn't mess around when it comes to protecting His honor and holiness.
Praise Jesus for satisfying God's commitment to justice and perfectly honoring His holiness on our behalf!

The phrase "I am the LORD" is written almost as many times as "atonement" in Leviticus - 49 times, to be exact. Yes, indeed, He is the Lord. And since He is the Lord, our sins must be atoned for. In Leviticus this was accomplished via sacrifices and attention to the law. In Jesus, we are perfectly consecrated. And it is free (on our part . . . it cost Jesus everything).

"Keep my commands and follow them. I am the LORD. Do not profane my holy name. I must be acknowledged as holy by the Israelites. I am the LORD, who makes you holy and who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am the LORD." (22.31-33)

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