"They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: 'See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.'" (Heb. 8:5)
The subject of the Atonement has been explored by many writers more learned in Theology than I, and I would never have dreamed of adding my thoughts to this profound topic except that I had occasion recently to get new insight into it, which moved me so deeply, that I felt led to share it with anyone else who has ever pondered what is involved in this great mystery. Our recent trip to Israel opened my understanding to the differences between western thought and eastern thought. The east, including Israel, tends toward expressing ideas in symbols. The west leans toward stating conclusions based on facts. Thus, the east tends to be more intuitive and mystical and the west more cognitive and rational. These are only generalizations, with individual differences apparent in each culture. What that means is that we cannot always take a Bible passage written for understanding by the Hebrew people and get an accurate meaning of it using only our Western way of rational thinking. For clarity, it is essential to know what the cultural implications were when the message was first written, and how the original recipients would have viewed it.
Because they had shed new light on Bible truths for my sister Mary Blattner, she recently sent us a series of Videos published by Zondervan Publishing House entitled, "That the world may know." (See End Note A). Filmed on location in Israel, these tapes are produced in cooperation with "Focus on the Family," and are narrated by Ray Vander Laan, who is a historian and a gifted teacher. He weaves together the Bible's historical, cultural, religious, and geographical contexts into a fascinating study of the culture in which the Bible was written. We visited many of the sites on our trip which he uses as "visual aids" for his faith lessons. That made it meaningful for me, but my thoughts today are on a specific segment on the tape which deals with the archeological ruins discovered at Arad, Israel. What archeologists have unearthed there is a temple ruin resembling Solomon's Temple, although on a smaller scale. Other than size, it is laid out exactly like the house of God in Jerusalem, which is why it is so interesting to Bible scholars.
For a little background on how this ancient site came to be so well preserved, we return to the reign of King Hezekiah, who the Scripture tells us had "removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan.)" The scripture says of this valiant king, "Hezekiah trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him" (II Kgs. 18:4-5). As part of his reformation of Israel's idolatrous practices, he ordered that the people come up to Jerusalem to worship God, commanding them to destroy any other local altar they had built. Apparently, the people of Ahad loved their temple and couldn't bear to destroy it. So, in the manner commonly used in that day, they covered it over with earth and built on top of it. Thus, it was well preserved for archeologists to study later. This is a priceless find for us today, because during King Zedekiah's reign (the last king of Judah), the temple in Jerusalem was completely destroyed by Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar: "He set fire to the temple of the LORD, the royal palace and all the houses of Jerusalem. Every important building he burned down" (II Kings 25:9). There was nothing left of it, which makes the ruin in Ahad a valuable visual aid in understanding the sacrificial rituals performed in the temple daily and yearly according to the commandments of the law.
They found the altar where the priests had slaughtered the sacrificial animals perfectly preserved. This part of the Old Covenant has always turned my stomach. That so many animals had to die repulsed me and made me wonder about why God commanded that so much blood be shed. Many Fundamentalist and Evangelical preachers, writers and teachers tend to portray God as demanding blood to satisfy His wrath, which always made me shudder, as I wondered how they thought that was in any way different from any other blood thirsty deity's requirements. The Hebrew writer tells us that "In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness" (Heb. 9:22). In spite of that word on the subject, I have spent my Christian life being uncomfortable about the sacrifice of animals, and afraid to look at it too closely. In fact, except when I'm researching something for my journals, I rarely read the book of Leviticas at all. What I got out of this video gave me a whole new look at the subject, which I hope will bless you as it did me.
As a student of archeology, history, and the Hebrew culture in particular, Ray Vander Laan was talking about this altar in Ahad, where the priest cut the animals' throats and allowed the blood to pool in the basin below. From there, it was then sprinkled at times on the altar, and on various other places commanded by God through Moses as a part of the sanctification process used to purify the people, the priests, and the entire temple site. The blood was part of what bound the people to God.
To better understand it, let's backtrack now to Genesis, chapter 12, where God had called Abram: "The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you" (Gen. 12:1-3). This is clearly God's unilateral (one party) promise to the Patriarch. It is not based on anything Abram had to do, nor on his moral character or lack of same, but only on what God promised him that He would do. In today's parlance, we would say that God made a covenant with Abram and gave him His word as a guarantee that He would perform it. The Hebrew writer tells us that because He could swear by none greater, He swore by himself (Heb. 6:13). Abraham is a perfect picture of God's sovereign election. Nothing in the record indicates that there was anything at all special about him other than the fact that God sovereignly called him. God chose him, and for no other reason, he became the father of the faithful (Rom. 4:16; Gal. 3:7). The Lord beckons and man obeys. Abram left the home of his fathers (Gen. 12: 1) and went into that far country at the word of the Lord. He remained in the land of Canaan for ten years, and still, the promise was not fulfilled.
Ray Vander Laan then directs our attention to Gen. 15:8, when Abram, who had believed God's promise, asks Him how he will know that the Lord will do what He promised, since Abram and Sarai were still childless at that time. On this occasion, God had appeared to Abram in a vision (Gen. 15:1) and gave him these instructions: "So the LORD said to him, 'Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon'" (Gen. 15:9). Ray points out that Abram did not have to ask what to do with these animals. He knew. The text goes on to say, "Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half" (Gen. 15:10). In that ancient culture, the sacrifice of animals was a common ritual between two parties making an agreement or a covenant with each other. They would take these animals, cut them in two pieces, and place each piece on either side of a trench formed by ground that sloped toward the middle. The blood would drain out of the animal and run down the middle of the ditch. The two making the covenant would then remove their sandals and walk through the blood, as a powerful visual statement that whoever broke the covenant would agree to have his blood spilled in like manner. The more powerful entity would walk first. God appeared to Abram in human form, actually several times, but on the occasion of this vision, Ray Vander Laan points out that Abram must have been terrified when God walked through the blood, because he knew that God would not fail to keep His part of the bargain, but how could he, a mere mortal, hope to keep his part? The text says that "And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him" (Gen. 15:12, KJ). The Hebrew writer echoes this fear with the statement, "It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb. 10:31). I grew up with that thought pounding in my brain and with the worry that I couldn't keep my part of the bargain, for it was drilled into me from the "getgo" that I had to do my part or end up in hell.
If you are like me, and have never heard of this blood covenant ritual before, you may wonder where else in the Bible it is mentioned. There's a reference to it in Jer. 34: 17-20: "Therefore, this is what the LORD says: You have not obeyed me; you have not proclaimed freedom for your fellow countrymen. So I now proclaim 'freedom' for you, declares the LORD, 'freedom' to fall by the sword, plague and famine. I will make you abhorrent to all the kingdoms of the earth. The men who have violated my covenant and have not fulfilled the terms of the covenant they made before me, I will treat like the calf they cut in two and then walked between its pieces. The leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the court officials, the priests and all the people of the land who walked between the pieces of the calf, I will hand over to their enemies who seek their lives. Their dead bodies will become food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth."
For as many, many times as I've read Genesis 15, in my life, I never picked up on any of this, because, of course, I knew nothing about the religious customs of the time Abram lived. When you think about it, all the nations of the world who worshipped pagan gods sacrificed animals and worse, human beings to them. Somewhere, back in the mists of time, man got the idea that there was this angry deity out there who would snuff him out and leave him comfortless if he didn't make a really big sacrifice to appease the wrath of the angry god. I believe this was a natural result of the fall. Adam walked and talked with God, and though not as glorious as the last Adam by far, nevertheless, he was a light being, and he had been given dominion over the creation by God Himself (Gen. 1:26). After the fall, his spiritual light snuffed out, he was left to eke out a living amongst the thorns and thistles by the sweat of his brow (gen. 3:17-19). This would have made anyone very cranky and depressed, to say the least, but I believe it left him very afraid as well. He knew that the punishment for eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was death (Gen. 2:17), and so I think he probably spent a good bit of his time looking over his shoulder, or as we say, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Man was made in the image and likeness of God and was designed to be a reflection of the creator. Therefore, if you had been able to walk and talk with Adam before the fall, you would have seen God in the human mirror which he was. After the fall, when that image grew dim and the divine likeness became blurred by spiritual darkness, man's imagination took over and he created a god in his own likeness instead of the other way round. That god was demanding, impatient, wrathful and capricious. I really think this is how pagan religions came into being. Man was trying to figure out what it was that would placate this god he had created in order to deliver himself out of the lamentable situation in which he found himself. He then projected his own outrageously blasphemous thoughts out there onto the idols he had created with his own hands. This is why idolatry offended God so very much. Man was worshipping the creation of his own hands, but worse, he was impugning the character and integrity of Almighty God with his own fallen nature. His image of god was what he saw in himself. Horrors!
In any event, Abram came along, also a member of an idol worshipping family and culture, and when God told him what glorious things He was going to do for him, he naturally thought there must be something he had to do in return. Probably because of the fall, man has been programmed for the conditional, (God will only act if we respond in kind) and it takes a powerful miracle of the Holy Spirit to reveal the unconditional love of the Father heart of God to us in any way we can comprehend. Even the death of Christ on the cross has been perverted to mean that He'll only save us IF we do this and that, depending on who is delivering this message of conditional love.
Even though the scripture says that Abram believed God when he was told that his descendants would be as numerous as the sands of the seashore and the stars in the heavens (Gen. 22:17; Heb. 11:12), and this is what was credited to him for righteousness (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:3, 5, 9, 11,22; Gal. 3:6; James 2:23), nevertheless, like many of us, his doubts began surfacing and in this 15th chapter of Genesis, he is asking God to give him something tangible to prove that the promises would be kept. This is where the blood covenant ritual comes in, for though Abram believed God, he was very human. Even after God walked through the blood of the animals in the vision, Abram did what we've all done from time to time when the waiting seems too long and the promise begins to grow dim. He took matters into his own hands, and took Sarai's maid Hagar unto himself as a wife (Gen. 16:1-3), and produced a child through her womb. The scripture tells us that Abram was eighty six years old when Hagar bore him a son whom he named Ishmael (Gen. 16:16). Since he was seventy five years old when he set out from Haran at God's command, by the time Ishmael was born, he had been waiting for 11 long years for a son and heir. Time rocked on again, and once more, God appeared to him when he was ninety nine years old and said, "I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers" (Gen. 17:1-2). Abraham's part in this bilateral (two party) covenant was circumcision. "Then God said to Abraham, 'As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised'" (Gen. 17:9-10). It was in this encounter that God changed Sarai's name to Sarah, and told Abraham that she would be the mother of his offspring. They both laughed at this, because after all Abraham was ninety nine and Sarah was ten years younger! In spite of that Abraham took Ishmael, who was thirteen years old by now and all the men of his household and circumcised them (Gen. 17:23-26). The rite of circumcision is another example of how the shedding of blood sealed a covenant between God and Abraham.
In creating Isaac in Sarah's womb, God had given Abraham a tangible and powerful illustration of His faithfulness in keeping His covenant promises. Another graphic lesson awaited him down the road in time as God tested Abraham's faith yet again (Gen. 22:1). The story of how God told him to take Isaac to the region of Mount Moriah and offer him there as a burnt offering clutches my heart every time I read it, and probably every other parent's heart as well. When Isaac asks the plaintive question, "Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" (Gen. 22:7), Abraham says by faith, "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son" (Gen. 27:8). And so He did, both for Abraham and for us as well. The ram caught in the thicket by its horns was there for Abraham to sacrifice as an offering instead of his only son. To me, this is a beautiful picture of God's provision for us, and inescapable proof that when He commands us to do something, He provides the means for us to keep the commandment.
Remember the blood covenant ritual in Gen. 15, where God walked through the blood of the slain animals in Abram's vision? Ray Vander Laan points out that each time a priest cut an animal's throat and the worshippers saw the blood running down the altar, they were reminded that God had promised that we could do this to Him if He didn't keep His promise to us. For me, that put a whole new spin on the animal sacrifice ritual. It was a way to remind the people and the priests that God loved them. He was faithful to do what He promised He would do and the blood was the seal of that agreement.
Well, in fact, God did comply with His part of that covenant, but as we all know, when the law was delivered from Sinai, the descendants of Abraham did not comply with their part. For 2,000 years, God gave them more opportunities to obey, sent along more prophets to encourage, harangue, scold, blame, and nag, each more powerful than the last, until finally, He sent His own son. But instead of listening to Him, these ungrateful descendants of Abraham killed the only son of God. We all know this, but what has blessed me so much is realizing in a fresh way, that even though we were the ones who did not keep the covenant and so deserved to be slaughtered, God provided the sacrificial Lamb for us as He did for Abraham. God's perfect Lamb, who took away the sins of the world, died on that cross for each one of us. God Himself was on that cross, Paul tells us (II Cor. 5:19), allowing us to do to Him what the blood covenant with Abraham said should have been done to us. What this means, is that in fact, God did not need the blood nor the sacrifices, which is borne out by several scriptures. "The multitude of your sacrifices, what are they to me?" says the LORD. I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats" (Isa. 1:11). And Samuel stated, "Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams" (I Sam. 15:22). Clearly, it was the people who needed the blood, rather than God, which was also true of the sacrifice on Calvary. We needed to see, feel, and experience how much God loved us, because after the Fall, we forgot who He was and who we were in relationship to Him. Christ shed His blood for us in order that we might understand that the Holy One of Israel has a covenant relationship with us which He will never abandon nor forsake, and which stands from before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8). How ironic and how sad that so many think of our Father as so angry at us that He had to pour out His wrath on Christ, when in fact, He took upon Himself the wrath that our disobedience had stored up to prove to us that He loves us unconditionally. "God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him" (Jn. 3:16-17).
In Leviticus, Chapter 16, which the Spirit has had me read over and over again the past three months, we have detailed instructions from Moses to Aaron regarding the Day of Atonement, which foreshadows Christ's sacrifice for us. Because it is succinct and clear on the details of this most holy day, I want to quote from the notes in my study Bible (New International Version, published by Zondervan, the same people who published the videos).
"The order of ritual for the Day of Atonement was as follows: 1. The high priest went to the basin in the courtyard, removed his regular garments, washed himself (v. 4) and went into the Holy Place to put on the special garments for the Day of Atonement (v. 4). 2. He went out to sacrifice a bull at the altar of burnt offering as a sin offering for himself and the other priests (v.11). 3. He went into the Most Holy Place with some of the bull's blood, with incense and with coals from the altar of burnt offering (vv. 12-13). The incense was placed on the burning coals, and the smoke of the incense hid the ark from view. [This was so the incense would prevent him from seeing the presence of God which would have killed him, v. 13]. 4. He sprinkled some of the bull's blood on and in front of the cover of the ark (v.14). 5. He went outside the tabernacle and cast lots for two goats to see which was to be sacrificed and which was to be the scapegoat (vv. 7-8). 6. At the altar of burnt offering, the high priest killed the goat for the sin offering for the people, and for a second time he went into the Most Holy Place, this time to sprinkle the goat's blood in front of and on the atonement cover (vv. 5,9,16-16a). 7. He returned to the Holy Place (called "Tent of Meeting" in v. 16) and sprinkled the goat's blood there (v. 16b). 8. He went outside to the altar of burnt offering and sprinkled it (v.18) with the blood of the bull (for himself, v.11) and the goat (for the people, v.15). 9. While in the courtyard, he laid both hands on the second goat, thus symbolizing the transfer of Israel's sin, and sent it out into the desert (vv. 20-22). 10. The man who took the goat away, after he accomplished his task, washed himself and his clothes outside the camp (v.26) before rejoining the people. 11. The high priest entered the Holy Place to remove his special garments (v.23). 12. He went out to the basin to wash and put on his regular priestly clothes (v.24). 13. As a final sacrifice he went out to the great altar and offered a ram (v.3) as a burnt offering for himself, and another ram (v. 5) for the people (v.24). 14. The conclusion of the entire day was the removal of the sacrifices for the sin offerings to a place outside the camp, where they were burned, and there the man who performed this ritual bathed and washed his clothes (vv. 27-28) before rejoining the people."
Thus, the 16th chapter of Leviticus is an in depth study of the most holy day in the Jewish year, the day when the High Priest went into the holy of Holies to make atonement for the sins of the people and for himself. That is a picture in shadow form of what Christ did for us. The Hebrew writer makes it very plain that the Aaronic priesthood served at a sanctuary that is "a copy and shadow of what is in heaven" (Heb. 8:5). Every time an animal's throat was cut by a priest, the blood was a reminder of what God was willing to do, and in fact, did do on Calvary. Heb. 9:1-6 compares the sanctuary under the law with the one in heaven, and concludes that the former was not able to clear the conscience of the worshipper. (Heb. 9:9). In this same chapter, the writer explains the superiority of Christ's sacrifice:
"When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant" (Heb. 9: 11-15).
Throughout the scriptures, God has constantly shown us and the entire world that He is not like the gods of the Moabites, the Canaanites, the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Assyrians and the Romans. He loves His creation and He provides from His own bounty everything we need to live overcoming lives. The period of the law was God's accommodation to the fallen mind of man, and its purpose was to prove beyond any doubt that there is nothing whatsoever that human beings can do to bring themselves into right standing with the One who created us. The Hebrew writer declares, "(for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God" (7:19). And again in Chapter 10, "The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming, not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: 'Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased'" (Heb. 10:1-6). The law, though glorious could not bring men and women into right relationship with God. Therefore, God established the New Covenant, of which Paul calls us "ministers" (II Cor. 3:6), and "By saying 'New,' he has rendered the first one old; now, that which is decaying and growing old is near vanishing away." (Heb. 8:13, Emphatic Diaglott). No matter how hard man tried, he could not keep the law, and so God, who always provides everything we need to satisfy Him, gave us the indwelling Christ, who would live His life through us and be the righteousness of God in us. It is very humbling, but at the same time, gloriously freeing to realize that He needs nothing from us and there is nothing we can or should do to accomplish His purposes that were laid down before the foundation of the world.
Isaac was the immediate fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham, but Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of that promise, and the one which a sin stained and weary world waited a very long time to behold. Paul affirmed, "The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say "and to seeds," meaning many people, but "and to your seed," meaning one person, who is Christ" (Gal. 3:16). When the time was fully come, Christ was born into the world to shed the light of God abroad to the creation. When Simeon beheld the infant Christ child in the temple, he said, "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel." (Luke 29-32). From that time to this, God has been birthing the Christ into the hearts and minds of men and women, and the day is fast approaching when the corporate Son, for whom all creation is longing and groaning (Rom. 8:20-22), shall be manifested. With Christ as the head of this New Creation, the glory of God, which was extinguished among men by Adam's fall, will be restored and God's promise to Abraham will be ultimately fulfilled and "all nations on earth will be blessed through him" (Gen. 18:18; 22:18; Gen. 26:4; Ps. 72:11; Is. 2:2; Jer. 3:17; Gal. 3:8; Rev. 15:4). And Glory to God, Isaiah's prophecy will become reality at last: "And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it." (40:5). As it is written, so let it be done in our lives.
To be continued.
Jan Austin Antonsson
End Note A: For information on the video series entitled, "That the World May Know" you may contact Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs, CO 80995 or call them at (719) 531-5181.
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850
"Written in Blood"
, "From Glory to Glory"
The Glory Road
We'd enjoy hearing from you!
This page was uploaded to the web on May, 2000
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and last edited on 11/05/08.