posted on Aug, 14 2015 @ 05:03 PM
Old Testament remedies for sin; Cover it up
The use that Horatio, Lord Nelson, made of his blind eye is a well-known story.
The injury was one of the ways that his body had been knocked about in his various battles.
In fact, in the superstitions of cricket, the “unlucky” score of 111 is named after Nelson, in the mistaken belief that he was reduced to one eye,
one arm, and one leg (or a different part of his anatomy).
The story relates to the Battle of Copenhagen.
His immediate superior, stationed on the horizon, sent him an unwelcome flag-signal telling him to “break off the action”.
Claiming that a man with only one eye had “a right to be blind sometimes”, Nelson deliberately placed his telescope to his blind eye, and
exclaimed that he really could not see the signal.
Therefore he ignored it, and carried on with his own plans.
Hence the expression “turning a blind eye”.
Though this is more commonly used now about people in authority, pretending not to notice the misdemeanours they should be punishing.
There is a reason for remembering this story in the context of thinking about Atonement.
On previous occasions, I’ve described Original Sin as humanity taking itself out of alignment with God’s will, a misalignment which obstructs
their relationship with the God who made them.
Certainly God’s rejection of sin is one of the most basic premises found in the Bible, and it results in his ultimate rejection of sinful people.
One of the first lessons taught in Genesis is the impossibility of concealing sin from God.
Adam and Eve tried to hide behind trees. Cain tried to hide behind words. But their sin remained as visible as ever.
If we cannot conceal our involvement with sin, and we cannot escape our involvement with sin, how can we escape rejection?
One possible solution is that God should allow himself “not to see” the sin.
In other words, he turns a blind eye.
This is where Atonement comes in.
What does “atonement” really mean?
The English word “Atonement” was originally “one-ment”; that is, “a bringing together”, from the old verb “one”, or “unite”.
Then it got expanded to “At-one-ment”, with much the same meaning, but treating “one” as the number.
It seems that the verb “atone” is a back-formation from “atonement”, rather than the other way round, so it doesn’t have anything more to
When Paul says that in Christ “we have received the atonement” (Romans ch5 v11), the Greek word used means “reconciliation”. Strictly speaking
it means “change”, in the sense of changing a state of enmity into a state of friendship.
So the English and Greek words are both about the effect of atonement.
The breach in the relationship is healed, and the two parties are reconciled.
If we want a clue to the way the effect has been achieved, we must look to the Hebrew word, as found in Leviticus.
The word is KAPHORETH, which means “covering”.
The concept of “covering” sin can be found in the New Testament as well, reflecting the upbringing of the writers.
We are told that love, and more specifically bringing a wandering sinner back to the faith, will “cover a multitude of sins”(1 Peter ch4 v8 and
James ch5 v20).
It seems to me that atonement must be “covering” sin in the sense of “concealing it from God’s eyes”.
Of course we know already that sin cannot be genuinely concealed from God’s eyes.
So what the atonement must be offering is a reason for God to choose “not to see” the sin, and to postpone his natural reaction against it.
In other words, we come back to the image of “turning a blind eye”.
This is exactly what the Psalmist is asking for when he appeals to God to “Hide thy face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities” (Psalm51
Our only hope is to persuade God to avert his eyes from our faults.
Ways of sacrifice; the Atonement offerings
This is where there is a brief merger between two streams of my threads.
Because, of course, the method of atonement provided in the Old Testament is by sacrificial offering.
The key text is in the Leviticus laws explaining why blood should not be consumed.
“For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it for you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that
makes atonement, by reason of the life”. Leviticus ch17 v11
Israel would surely have been offering sacrifice in any case, because this was the normal custom of peoples across the region at the time.
The effect of the statement in Leviticus is to attach a specific meaning to the practice.
If I’m right in my understanding of “atonement”, then the blood-offering has the effect of “covering” the sins of the people, in the sense
of “concealing” them.
Why should this work through the offering of blood?
The text itself gives the explanation- “by reason of the life”.
Offering the blood of the animal means offering its life.
Clearly this leads on to another question.
Why should atonement work through the offering of life?
I’ve been coming to the conclusion that what this God really wants from his people is that they should be offering their own lives.
The essence of sin is that they have not been offering themselves. They have been holding something back, acting in disobedience.
So the purpose of the blood-sacrifice is to remedy that omission by presenting a symbol of the self-offering.
“We understand that we owe you our lives. Here are some lives, as a token of our debt.”
A visible offering of some kind is necessary, because this is a culture in which everything has to be acted out.
The action is expressing a recognition of their previous failure, and an implied promise to do better.
Their sin is then “covered” by the offered blood because God is willing to accept that as a reason for disregarding the sins of the past and
allowing them time to mend their ways.
But since the atonement sacrifices are only a symbol of the self-offering, they cannot be the final answer.
If the sacrifices had been a full solution to the problem, as the writer of Hebrews points out, it would not have been necessary to repeat them.
We all know the kind of person who thinks that saying “Sorry” every time he does something wrong gives him permission to continue doing it.
The complaint about Israel, which runs through the Old Testament, is that they are falling into the same way of thinking.
They are starting to treat regular sacrifice as a substitute for obedience and repentance.
In the long-term, as their history shows, these regular “apologies” wear out their God’s patience, and he begins to take more notice of their
In short, there comes a time when the “covering” effect of atonement sacrifice breaks down, and the offerings do not succeed in warding off the
judgements of God.
The only final answer would have to be a more genuine, more complete, self-offering.