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BibleProject Podcast
BibleProject Podcast
Leviticus Scroll • Episode 2
What Is Atonement?
74m • June 6, 2022
A God who wants nothing more than to dwell with humanity, a way forward to a repaired relationship between Heaven and Earth, atoning sacrifices meant to communicate grace (not punishment)—you’ll find all of this in Leviticus. While the laws governing Israel’s sacrificial system can be some of the most challenging parts of the Bible to read, they’re an integral part of the unfolding story of the Bible. In this episode, Tim and Jon discuss the surprising beauty of sacrifice and atonement in the opening movement of Leviticus.
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QUOTE

In this story, death is a result of the human failure to trust God, to live by his wisdom and by his word. In this narrative, death is the result of our choices, and it’s about God giving us over and then enforcing the consequences of our choices. The wages, the outcome, of sin is death … God will accept the death of a blameless representative on behalf of sinful people, and that’s not fair. But that is God’s gift in the form of these offerings.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Leviticus describes five offerings God commanded Israel to make regularly: the ascension offering, the gift offering, the peace offering, the purification offering, and the guilt offering. Each of these offerings is about correcting a wrong that’s been committed by Israel and re-entering the relationship with Yahweh in a posture of humility and surrender.
  • The animals chosen to enter God’s presence as sacrifices were not the animals upon which Israel’s sin was ceremonially bestowed. In fact, the sin-bearing animals were sent away from Israel and Yahweh, while the animals who would enter into God’s presence acted as blameless representatives on Israel’s behalf.
  • The Hebrew word for atonement, kippur, means two things: to repay a debt and to purify. Whether we’re talking about levitical sacrifices or Jesus’ death on the cross, atonement is not simply an event that happens when a blameless one dies—the life of a blameless representative is atoning too.

The Crisis of Communion

In part one (00:00-8:01), Tim and Jon remind us of the issue the Leviticus scroll addresses: God has drawn near to dwell with humanity, and his holiness is both good and dangerous. So what should the people God is dwelling with do? How should they respond? Leviticus addresses these questions and the obstacles that keep humans from dwelling with God.

A Solution to a Problem

In part two (8:01-17:00), Tim and Jon begin exploring Leviticus 1-7, which is presented as the solution to the danger of a holy God dwelling amidst an unholy people. These chapters tell us what humanity must do to enter God’s presence: come to him with a posture of total humility and self-surrender.

Leviticus 1-7 describes the five offerings God commanded Israel to make regularly: the ascension offering, the gift offering, the peace offering, the purification offering, and the guilt offering. Each of these offerings is about correcting a wrong that’s been committed by Israel and re-entering the relationship with Yahweh in a posture of humility and surrender.

Sacrifices in Israel and the Ancient Near East

In part three (17:00-46:24), the guys discuss the nature of animal sacrifice in the ancient Near East.

Animal sacrifices were a common worship practice among ancient Near Eastern peoples. However, for all other people groups, sacrifices were necessary because the gods were seen as fickle, aloof beings in need of appeasing if you had any hope of catching their attention and favor. This inspired the common practice of self-mutilation in pagan worship rites too—if an animal sacrifice didn’t catch the gods’ attention, then harm to oneself was the next step.

But the sacrifices detailed in Leviticus derive from and achieve a different goal. And they’re an integral part of the unfolding story of the Bible. In the opening movement of Leviticus, the Hebrew word for sacrifice (tzava) actually is only used sparingly. The Hebrew word corban is what’s used most frequently, and it means “to bring near” or “that which is brought near.” As God instructs Israel to come near, they must bring a corban, a “coming near thing.”

Every animal used for sacrifices had to be unblemished, tammim. This word is often applied to people in the Bible, but it’s usually translated as “blameless” in those instances and refers to someone able to reenter Eden (Ps. 15). Notably, the animals chosen to enter God’s presence as sacrifices were not the animals upon which Israel’s sin was ceremonially bestowed. In fact, the sin-bearing animals were sent away from Israel and Yahweh, while the animals who would enter into God’s presence acted as blameless representatives on Israel’s behalf.

So why would these blameless animals die in Yahweh’s presence, if not for sin? This death communicates a powerful reality to us: Humanity’s choice to do what’s right in our own eyes has so estranged us from Yahweh that the only way to re-enter his presence is to lay down what we call life and receive the life that is truly life.

What Is Atonement?

In part four (46:24-1:13:16), Tim and Jon discuss atonement, the goal of several of the levitical offerings. Within the English word atonement is the result of atoning sacrifices, “at-one-ment.” Through these offerings, humans and Yahweh were unified, joined together as one again.

The Hebrew word for atonement, kippur, means two things: to repay a debt and to purify. Whether we’re talking about levitical sacrifices or Jesus’ death on the cross, atonement is not simply an event that happens when a blameless one dies—the life of a blameless representative is atoning too.

Leviticus 17:11 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.

Rather than being a way to gain favor with God, atonement is actually a gift from God to humanity. The sacrificial system is evidence of God’s grace.

Referenced Resources

  • The Temple: Its Symbolism and Meaning Then and Now, Joshua Berman
  • Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? A Biblical Theology of the Book of Leviticus, L. Michael Morales
  • Atonement and the Logic of Resurrection in the Epistle to the Hebrews, David M. Moffitt
  • Interested in more? Check out Tim’s library here.
  • You can experience the literary themes and movements we’re tracing on the podcast in the BibleProject app, available for Android and iOS.

Show Music

  • “Defender (Instrumental)” by TENTS
  • “Pieces (Instrumental)” by I AM FRESH MUSIC
  • “You Can Save Me” by Beautiful Eulogy
  • “The First Day (Instrumental)” by Hear the Story

Show produced by Cooper Peltz. Edited by Dan Gummel and Tyler Bailey. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder. Podcast annotations for the BibleProject app by MacKenzie Buxman and Ashlyn Heise.

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Leviticus E1  –  1hr 5m
How God Reveals Himself in Leviticus
1hr 5m
Leviticus E2  –  1hr 14m
What Is Atonement?
1hr 14m
53m
Leviticus E4  –  1hr 4m
The Dangerous Gift of God’s Presence
1hr 4m
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