5.4 Jewish Objections To The Christian Doctrine Of Atonement
Reconciliation with God:
The Christian argument that a truly acceptable sacrifice for sin requires the shedding of blood is invalid because there are examples of God providing forgiveness without the shedding of blood, provided there was genuine repentance. From here the Jews go on to justify their idea that they can now be acceptable to God, despite having no sacrifices and no temple. They quote a number of passages which seem to suggest that forgiveness has been granted without shedding of blood.
If the Jewish arguments are true and there is no need for sacrifices to gain forgiveness, then the obvious question arises " Why were they instituted?" . It is a fundamental principle of sacrifice, misunderstood by both Jews and apostate Christendom, that the animals offered were representative of the offerer and God's requirements for sacrifice, rather than substitutionary. The mere offering of the blood of bulls and goats could not of themselves remove the individual's sin; yet seven times in the Pentateuch the Jews were forbidden to eat blood because " the life of the flesh is in the blood...for it is the blood that maketh atonement" (Lev.17:11). If the sacrifices were substitutionary, then any animal would have done- and it should have died instead of the offerer. The fact that the offerers still died indicates that they were not substitutionary. Also worthy of consideration is the fact that the laws concerning animal sacrifices were designed to highlight certain characteristics of that sacrifice; it could not be an animal that had died naturally or had been hunted to death (Lev.17:15), but one willingly led to sacrifice. All sacrifices had to have no blemish, thus excluding many animals. They therefore pointed forward to an ideal sacrifice which was to be willingly made, representative of the offerers. " It is the blood that maketh an atonement" -to argue that sacrifice is not necessary for forgiveness is to contradict this basic principle.
However, some of the verses quoted by Jewish objectors which show that forgiveness was possible without actually killing an animal, indicate that this statement about blood making atonement is a general principle; it does not mean that the blood of the slaughtered animal itself made atonement. In any case, it should be obvious that the blood of a senseless, amoral animal is hardly a meaningful atonement for human sin consciously committed. Sin is the transgression of the law of God, and therefore any representative sacrifice had to be someone subject to God's law. Animals do not fit this. Seeing that " the life is in the blood" , life must atone for life, and blood must be shed to atone for blood that ought to be shed. Sin brings death. Therefore salvation of a man from sin requires the death of a man; the death of an animal is really an unacceptable sacrifice if that animal points forward to nothing else. Once it is appreciated that those slaughtered animals pointed forward to a perfect human sacrifice, then it is understandable that they provided a temporary covering of sin.
Gen.3:15 says that sin must be overcome (hit on the head, in the terms of that verse) through the seed of the woman -not through an animal sacrifice. Isa.53 also speaks of Messiah, a human being, bearing sins. The fact that there was a Day of Atonement also needs to be considered. Whatever the circumstances of individual cases, the nation as a whole was utterly dependent on the sacrificial ritual of the day of Atonement for God's forgiveness; thus it was a continual statute for them every year (Lev.16:34), and not keeping it properly was punishable with death or excommunication (Lev.23:29), so important was it. Whenever the ark was separated from the tabernacle, as in Eli's time, or when the temple was destroyed, this law could not operate. Strictly speaking, Israel were, and still remain, an unforgiven nation whilst they seek their forgiveness through the Old Covenant system. The only way out of this predicament is to accept a new covenant which does not rely on a day of Atonement ritual to gain forgiveness; one which is " established upon better promises" . The very fact that a New Covenant is mentioned implies that there were problems with the previous one.
It must also be remembered that sin offerings were obligatory under the Mosaic Law; if only repentance was required, this would not have been the case. It must also be recognized that God has the prerogative to forgive without requiring a blood sacrifice to be immediately made; He is not subject to strictures which men may try to place upon His love. However, seeing how much the importance of blood offerings is emphasized, it is surely presumptuous to conclude that if we are still under the Old Covenant we can claim that such offerings are no longer necessary for us to perform. The Jewish conscience is not totally clear on this point, seeing that in some Jewish traditions a rooster is killed on the day of Atonement and swung round the head to associate it with themselves. And every Jew who ponders the deliverance from Egypt at Passover, must reflect on the fact that it was only due to the Angel seeing the blood associated with the household that they were saved from death: " When he seeth the blood...the Lord will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you" (Ex.12:23). Because of this they were to remind their children each year of " the sacrifice of the Lord's Passover" (Ex.12:27) which saved them from death.
Putting all this together a more accurate picture of God's way of reconciliation emerges. The animal sacrifices themselves could not take away sin; this is confirmed by the examples quoted of forgiveness being possible without slaughtering an animal. But without the principle of blood there can be no atonement. As sacrifices are representative, those slain animals represented an ideal sacrifice yet to come. In this we see the purpose of the sacrifices -to point forward to a perfect sacrifice, which passages like Isa.53 and Gen.3:15 make clear was to be a human being, a " seed of the woman" . Thus when we read " It is the blood that maketh atonement" (Lev.17:11), there is reference here to the blood of the future sacrifice which the animal offerings typified, rather than to the blood of the slaughtered animals itself. Most of the examples of forgiveness quoted relate to those in God's covenant, which was confirmed and validated by the shedding and sprinkling of animal blood. We have shown that this blood was not effective in itself, it relied for its efficacy on " the blood" of the covenant to which it pointed forward. Therefore that future blood of sacrifice would have enabled the forgiveness of those who had lived within the covenant previously, seeing that " the blood" was ultimately what that covenant depended on for its efficacy. The New Testament expounds this at length (see Heb.9:15 R.V.; Rom.3:25; 5:17).
The fact that atonement was possible without sacrifice of animals but still needing " the blood that maketh atonement" clearly shows that the sacrifices made were pointing forward to a one off, specific offering of " the blood" . Other passages indicate that this sin bearing offering was to be of a human being, who to fulfil the type of the animal sacrifices would be without moral blemish, and would not die naturally. The true Christian understanding of the atonement fits in precisely with this.
All the specific verses quoted in the following list can be understood against this background; but further attention will now be given to each one.
a) Solomon's prayer told the Jews that if they were scattered and then repented, they only needed to pray towards the temple and they would be forgiven.
The temple made prayers acceptable (1 Kings 8)
There is now no temple, so Israel in their present dispersion cannot take comfort from this passage that the Old Covenant does not require animal sacrifices. Careful examination of the record of Solomon's prayer at the dedication of the temple reveals that it is highly likely that the dedication was on the day of Atonement. The following points are not conclusive in themselves but added together make a fair case:
- The day of Atonement was in the seventh month (Lev.16:29); Solomon's dedication was held " at the feast in the month Ethanim, which is the seventh month" (1 Kings 8:2).
- Apart from keeping this feast, the people stayed behind afterwards to keep another feast which lasted seven days (1 Kings 8:65). This corresponds beautifully with the fact that the day of Atonement was on the tenth day of the seventh month, followed five days afterwards by the Feast of Tabernacles, which lasted for seven days (Lev.23:27,34,41). This certainly suggests that the dedication of the temple was at the day of Atonement; and what more fitting than for the people to remain behind to keep Tabernacles centred around their new temple?
- Solomon's prayer of dedication is evidently shot through with allusions to the curses that would come upon Israel if they disobeyed, as recorded in Lev.26 and Deut.28. Solomon speaks as if these curses will definitely come upon Israel, and he is praying that God will shorten the punishments when they come for the sake of prayers made " toward" (or 'in') the temple. An example: " When Thy people Israel be smitten down before the enemy...when Heaven is shut up, and there is no rain" ( 1 Kings 8:33,35; clearly referring back to Lev.26:17 and Lev.26:19 respectively). Repentance and forgiveness is a major theme in his prayer; indeed, the density of reference to these ideas in this passage is the highest in the Old Testament. This all fits into place if this prayer is being offered on or around the day of Atonement, when Israel were to confess their sins.
- The first day of Atonement seems to have been held when the tabernacle was re-dedicated after its desecration by Nadab and Abihu; the feast was a memorial of this (Lev.16:2,8,17,18,21,29 and context). It was therefore fitting that the dedication of the temple should also be on the day of Atonement.
- " All the men of Israel...all the children of Israel...all Israel with him (Solomon), a great congregation" (1 Kings 8:2,63,64) emphasizes what a major gathering this was. The gathering of Israel to the feasts such as the day of Atonement could be described in similar words.
- The Hebrew word Solomon uses for " forgiveness" in the prayer means literally 'to send away, to let go' (Dr. Young, Analytical Concordance). This immediately suggests the scapegoat that was 'let go' into the wilderness on the day of Atonement, bearing Israel's sins.
If Solomon's prayer and dedication of the temple was indeed on the day of Atonement, we can understand why " Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord" (1 Kings 8:22) to make his prayer. Numerous animal sacrifices had just been made on that altar (v.5), which were followed by this prayer for forgiveness, and then followed by peace offerings (v.63), representing the fuller fellowship with God now possible due to the atonement that had been made. It is against this background that we can consider Solomon's prayers for Jews who might be scattered abroad, unable to present themselves before the Lord at the day of Atonement in the Jerusalem temple. He is asking God to extend the blessing of forgiveness which was made available to the congregation present on that day to those who were far away, by reason of their prayers for forgiveness still being acceptable on account of God's eyes and presence being upon that altar within the temple. Remember that Solomon was standing in front of it as he offered that prayer, showing that the blood of the sacrifice that was accepted for atonement was central to the temple and Solomon's requests. Thus their forgiveness was on account of the sacrifice made on that altar, so that their sins would be 'let go', or " forgiven" , as the scapegoat was 'let go', even though they were not physically present at the ceremony. Thus closer examination of this case confirms that forgiveness was still not possible without association with the shedding of " the blood of the atonement" , which we have shown elsewhere pointed forward to a perfect human sacrifice, on whose account God was willing to pass over sin.
b) God ultimately prefers obedience rather than sacrifice (1 Sam. 15:22).
" To obey is better than sacrifice"
The context of this verse needs to be considered: " Saul said unto Samuel, Yea, I have obeyed the word of the Lord...but the people took of the spoil...which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice unto the Lord...and Samuel said, Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams" (1 Sam.15:20-22).
There is nothing here to indicate that animal sacrifices were not required under the Old Covenant to gain forgiveness. The sacrifices the people were making were probably not sin offerings, but some form of dedication or peace offering. Saul and the people were clearly disobeying the specific command of God to destroy the spoil from Amalek; but instead they were keeping it for themselves, justifying this by offering some of it in sacrifice to God. Samuel was saying that careful obedience to God's word must precede acceptable sacrifice; the 'work' of sacrifice in itself was meaningless without an obedient heart first of all. Some years later, David perhaps alluded back to this incident in his own reflections on his sin with Bathsheba, which he suggests was as bad as Saul's sin of rebelling against the word of God concerning Amalek: " Thou desirest not sacrifice...the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit...then shalt Thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering, and whole burnt offering" (Ps.51:16,17,19). Thus God does not desire the sacrifices of an unrepentant sinner; but once there is a broken, repentant spirit, then their sacrifices are a pleasure to God.
Most powerful of all is the fact that these words of Samuel are quoted by Messiah in Psalm 40, a passage which describes Messiah as superseding the animal sacrifice system. It describes how many tried to kill Messiah (v.12,14), and how he was resurrected by God: " He (God) brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay" (v.2). The spirit of Messiah is clearly in this passage. Having reflected on his deliverance like this, Messiah states: " Sacrifice and offering Thou didst not desire; mine ears hast Thou opened (Heb. 'digged', referring to the practice of 'digging' a servants ear, Ex.21:2-6, showing that Messiah was to be a slave to God's word): burnt offering and sin offering hast Thou not required. Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book (i.e. all through the Old Covenant) it is written of me, I delight to do Thy will, O my God: yea, Thy law is within my heart" (Ps.40:6-8). Thus through His perfect obedience to the word of God, Messiah was the perfect sacrifice for the sins of mankind. We have explained earlier the reasons why God had no " desire" for animal sacrifices in themselves to atone for sin, and how these were only effective by reason of the perfect sacrifice to whom they pointed forward. The emphasis here on Messiah's total obedience to the word of God explains the allusion to the example of Saul, who was a classic example of disobedience to the word. We may be meant to infer that the example of the first king of Israel stands in total contrast to that of Messiah, the last and greatest of Israel's kings. The Hebrew word for " delight" in " Hath the lord as great delight in ...sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?" is the very same word translated " desire" in Ps.40: " Sacrifice and offering Thou didst not desire" . Messiah saying that he " delights" to do God's will (Ps.40:8) is also the same word.
God did not " require" , or 'request' (Hebrew) animal sacrifices but rather the offering of a perfectly obedient man. The question naturally arises 'For what did God not request animal sacrifices?'. The answer must be 'To be a totally acceptable covering for sins'; otherwise there would have been no need for this person described here to say that he came to provide the sacrifice which God required. If this person was perfect, as Ps.40 requires, then it follows that although by reason of having human nature he would have to die, his death would not be because he had sinned, which is the fundamental reason for death. Seeing there was no reason apart from the physical constitution of his body why he should have to die, it would follow that God would raise him from the dead, which is what v.2 of the Psalm describes. It should be noted that " in the volume of the book" of the covenant this person was hinted at. Therefore any system of interpretation of the Old Covenant that denies that all its laws and sacrifices point forward to this perfect sacrifice must be faulty. The intricacy with which the offering of Jesus and the exposition of it by the Christian writers of the first century fulfils these types is surely proof enough that Jesus was that perfect sacrifice.
c) The scapegoat on the Day of Atonement was the sin-bearer for Israel, and it was sent away alive, therefore a sin-bearer does not have to be sacrificed.
To infer from the fact that one animal was sent away into the wilderness alive at this ceremony that animal sacrifices were not needed to gain atonement disregards the whole theme of this feast, which is the great emphasis that is placed on " the blood" in the record of the feast in Lev.16. The High Priest had to kill a bullock to atone for the sins of himself and his family, and then present two goats before the Lord. Through a system of lots (i.e. the Urim and Thummim?) one goat was chosen to be sacrificed, whilst the other was let go into the wilderness. Notice that they are described as " two kids of the goat for a (singular) sin offering" (Lev.16:5). The fact one of them was sacrificed shows that atonement was not possible without the shedding of blood. As Israel watched the terrified scapegoat running off into the wilderness they would have beheld a powerful cameo of how far God was willing to put away sin from man. We have shown in our comments on Ps.40 above that it was necessary for a perfect Messiah to be resurrected for his offering to be complete. The sin offering being comprised of a dead and living goat suggests that the true atoning sacrifice would be so on account of both its death and subsequent (resurrected) life. Paul seems to be alluding to the day of atonement when he writes: " We were reconciled (Greek: 'atoned') to God by the death of His Son (and) being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life... by (which) we have now received the atonement" (Rom.5:10,11). The Christian understanding of Jesus thus clearly fulfils these types of the day of Atonement.
There seems to be good reason to interpret the Most Holy place as representative of Heaven. " The Lord is in His Holy Temple (in the Shekinah of the Most Holy), the Lord's throne is in Heaven" (Ps.11:4). David's plea " Send Thee help from the sanctuary" was answered: God " will hear him from His holy heaven" (Ps.20:2,6). He describes the place where the ark dwelt, i.e. the Most Holy, as God's habitation (2 Sam.15:25), which is language elsewhere used about Heaven (1 Kings 8:30). The High Priest had to lay aside his High Priestly robes when he entered the Most Holy, showing that there was something lacking in the system of Levitical priests. It was there that he obtained atonement for Israel's sins, and then went outside to the masses of expectant worshippers to pronounce them a forgiven people. We have seen that Messiah is the one who obtains true atonement, and is therefore able to enter Heaven itself as a result of his sacrifice, to obtain forgiveness for his people. As the High Priest came out of the most holy and then blessed the people, so Messiah must return from Heaven (having ascended there first) to pronounce His people's forgiveness. When God's people are eagerly awaiting His appearance and have made suitable confession of sins, then Jesus will return from Heaven, having obtained eternal redemption.
d) Nathan could immediately assure David that his sin was forgiven - without any sacrifice. David said in Psalm 51 that after he was forgiven, then he would sacrifice.
David as an adulterer and murderer should have been stoned to death, according to the law. When he departed from Jerusalem after Absalom's rebellion, Shimei " cast stones at David" and taunted him by shouting " Thou man of blood, and thou man of Belial" (2 Sam.16:6,7). It appears that Shimei was reminding David of the Mosaic command to stone adulterers to death (Deut.22:24); doubtless for this reason David replied " So let him curse, because the Lord hath said unto him, Curse David. Who shall then say, Wherefore hast thou done so?" (2 Sam.16:10). The fact is that this commandment was not enforced by God, on His prerogative. This does not mean that the command about stoning was invalid, or that it had been superseded by another command. Similarly, God went outside of the Old Covenant to grant forgiveness to David, yet His doing so does not mean that animal sacrifice was unnecessary under that system. Jews at present claim they are still under the Old Covenant, and therefore there can be no forgiveness without sacrifice until they accept a New Covenant, with better promises of reconciliation with God. David's clear faith in Messiah as his promised descendant must have been one of the reasons for God overlooking his sin. Many of the Psalms which foretell Messiah's sufferings (e.g. Ps.22,69,32) have links with Isa.53 and other Messianic passages. Yet these Psalms were primarily written by David during his time of suffering after his sin with Bathsheba; thus David may have been well aware that he was now experiencing some of the sufferings of his great Messiah-descendant, on account of whom forgiveness was possible. There are copious indications that these Psalms had a major fulfilment in the crucifixion and sufferings of Jesus.
It is also objected that David says that once he is forgiven, then he will offer sacrifice. However, by contrast what David appears to be saying is that God does not want to receive sacrifice from someone who is living in guilty conscience of sin through refusing to repent, but that rather there must be a humble spirit of repentance, after which sin offerings can be meaningfully offered: " Thou desirest not sacrifice...the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit...then shalt Thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness" (Ps.51:16-19). To interpret this as meaning God does not require sacrifices at all under the Sinai covenant, is to fly in the face of the multitude of commands which show God did require animal sacrifice under that covenant.
Repentance alone is not a sufficient basis for forgiveness; God's pronouncements in the Garden of Eden (Gen.3) require death as a result of sin; death is the only way through which God will forgive sin. If the sinner dies to make amends for his own sins, then he is dead and has no way of reconciliation or salvation. Therefore a representative sacrifice was needed through which the sinner could be saved by associating himself with it. These principles applied to David too. Animal sacrifices are not suitable representatives of sinful man, and therefore it is vital to associate ourselves with the atoning sacrifice of the one perfect man, Jesus, through baptism into his death and resurrection, and partaking of the symbols of that sacrifice in bread and wine as he appointed.
e) Hosea says that prayer, not sacrifice, would atone for Israel's sin (e.g. 6:6 & 14:2).
Prayer gaining forgiveness
" I have desired mercy and not sacrifice" (Hos.6:6) is another expression of the issue considered in b). It is possible that Hosea is referring back to Samuel's very similar words in 1 Sam.15:22, although as we have seen in our consideration of that passage above, this does not provide support for the thesis that forgiveness is possible for those under the Old Covenant without sacrifice.
The repentant sinner was to " confess that he hath sinned in that thing: and he shall bring his trespass offering unto the Lord for his sin which he hath sinned" (Lev.5:5,6). Such confession of sin would have involved prayer to God; but it was followed by sacrifice. The rising up of fragrant incense towards Heaven was symbolic of the prayers of the people, offered through the mediatorship of the priests. Seeing Israel have no priesthood now, they are without any means of entering the presence of God; hence the importance of accepting Jesus as the true intercessor and High Priest in Heaven itself, clothed with the white linen of a perfect character. The incense altar on which the incense was offered had to be sprinkled with blood, both at its dedication and on the day of atonement (Lev.16:18 cp.v.12). We have shown previously that " the blood" of the animals on the day of atonement was not efficacious of itself, but represented the blood of the future perfect sacrifice. Thus Israel's prayers were acceptable to God by reason of that blood. It should be noted that it was the altar of incense rather than the altar of burnt offering which was sprinkled with blood on the day of atonement. That day was a day of remembering of Israel's sins of the past year, and its very existence indicated that the animal sacrifices were not totally efficacious. Similarly, the prayers of Israel for forgiveness were only given some form of acceptability by reason of the shed blood that was sprinkled on the incense altar on that day.
Hos.14:2 is mentioned in this objection as proof that prayer alone could bring forgiveness without reference to sacrifices: " Take with you words, and turn to the Lord: say unto Him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips" . The Hebrew word for " calves" means a young bullock or ox, and this is how the word 'par' is elsewhere translated. Thus there is definitely a connection here between the idea of animal sacrifice and their words. This suggests reference back to Hos.6:6 " I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings" . We have explained previously that verses like this do not mean that the animal sacrifices were unnecessary. It would appear from the context of Hosea 14 that it is speaking of the final repentance of Israel, when they finally reject the worship of " idols" of all kinds for good (14:8). Earlier in the prophecy God has announced that His married relationship with Israel as His wife has ended (2:1-5); to this day many Rabbis teach that God and Israel are still separated, although the marriage contract between them still stands. However, on a wholehearted repentance of Israel in the last days (as a result of Elijah's second ministry, Mal. 4:5,6), God promised in Hosea to take Israel back as His wife. Hos. 14 refers to this: " I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away" (v.4). Therefore it is not possible to take these words of Hos.14 and say that they can apply to Israel at any time before this final repentance. Their final repentance as outlined in passages like Zech.12:10 will involve remorse for having persecuted their Messiah. For this Messiah to be Jesus perfectly fits the bill in this respect. In that day they will no longer trust in the Old Covenant and its animal sacrifices, but rather pray for forgiveness trusting in Jesus' atoning blood; which is why they will be heard.
f) Prov. 16:6
" By mercy and truth iniquity is purged" (Prov.16:6)
This does not necessarily disprove the necessity of animal sacrifices under the Old Covenant; as we have shown previously, there had to be an acceptable attitude both to God and to others before God was prepared to accept their sacrifices. Proverbs is often a practical commentary on the Mosaic Law, and this would be an important point to make with regard to the attitude they had towards animal sacrifices. It must be remembered that sacrifice does not force God into forgiving sin; it makes the forgiveness of sin possible, and this is granted as a result of God's mercy, not just the sacrifice alone. " Mercy and truth" is used earlier in Proverbs with reference to the correct way of keeping the spirit of the Law: " Forget not My law...let not mercy and truth forsake thee...write them upon the table of thine heart" (3:1-3). This last phrase refers back to the ten commandments written on the tables of stone, suggesting that " mercy and truth" refers to an acceptable keeping of the spirit of the law. This was necessary in the offerer before making sacrifices for forgiveness.
However, letting Scripture interpret Scripture suggests a further meaning of " mercy and truth" . The phrase often refers to the promises made to Abraham and the patriarchs concerning their seed having eternal life on earth, one of his seed being Messiah, and through him the seed being delivered from their enemies. Mic.7:20 makes the link obvious: " Thou wilt perform the truth to Jacob, and the mercy to Abraham, which thou hast sworn to our fathers from the days of old" . Other examples of this are Gen.24:27; 32:9,10; 2 Sam.7:15; 15:20; Ps.115:1. The passage in Proverbs would therefore be saying that on account of the promises to Abraham, sin would be forgiven. The offer of salvation from mankind's enemies (Gen.22:17,18) must surely refer to salvation from sin -what greater enemies do we have? This was to be through Abraham's seed, Messiah, indicating that he was to provide salvation from sin. We have shown previously that this was only possible through a perfect human sacrifice. It is understandable, therefore, that the New Testament interprets the Abrahamic promise of blessing to come upon all families of the earth (Gen.22:17,18) as meaning the forgiveness of sins made possible through the perfect sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus (Acts 3:25,26), the benefits of which have been offered to all the world. Thus " mercy" is a relevant word to associate with the promises once it is realised that they speak of forgiveness; and " truth" is also pertinent seeing that the promises were confirmed by God's remarkable guarantee: " By Myself have I spoken" .
Many other passages use the word " blessing" in a context of forgiveness, and by so doing connect the Abrahamic promise of forgiveness through the seed of Abraham with forgiveness. Ps.32:1 is a clear example: " Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered" . David is speaking here about the forgiveness he had experienced after the Bathsheba incident, which we have shown in d) above was forgiveness made possible outside of the Old Mosaic covenant. Therefore the promises to Abraham were part of a different covenant to that made at Sinai. The new covenant of Jer.31 was for the forgiveness of sins (" I will make a new covenant...for I will forgive their iniquity" ,v.31,33), and as such it was based on the Abrahamic promises. Thus the Old Covenant made with Israel at Sinai was a temporary arrangement, made until the confirmation of the promises made to Abraham concerning forgiveness. True forgiveness can only come through a perfect offering, and therefore when that offering was made the Abrahamic promises were confirmed, and the Old Covenant ended. This is what happened on the death of Jesus, the perfect sacrifice who took away the sin of the world. Because the Abrahamic promises offered true forgiveness, they also offered eternal life: " The land of Canaan for an everlasting possession" (Gen.17:8). This was in no way offered by the covenant made at Sinai. In no way can the Jewish concepts of Messiah cope with all the requirements of the Abrahamic promises.
It is noteworthy that the next verse in the Proverbs passage also has an allusion to the Abrahamic promises: " When a man's ways please the Lord, He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him" (Prov.16:7, cp. " Thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies" , and the patriarchs finding peace with the hostile tribes which surrounded them). The references in other scriptures to God saving Israel from their sins by His mercy no doubt refer to His keeping these same Abrahamic promises.
g) Isa. 27 (destroying the idols led to forgiveness).
Forgiveness due to repentance alone? (Isa.27:9)
Isa.27:9 is interpreted as suggesting that forgiveness is available just on repentance, rather than requiring blood sacrifice. If this is true, then all the emphasis on blood in the Mosaic rituals is pointless. The translation in the A.V. is obscure, so we quote from the Septuagint (translated by Orthodox Jews before Christ): " Therefore shall the iniquity of Jacob be taken away; and this is his blessing, when I shall have taken away his sin; when they shall have broken to pieces all the stones of the altars as fine dust" .
This seems to be saying that the blessing of forgiveness will come upon Israel when they destroy their idols. We could justifiably argue that the mention of " blessing" takes us back to the promises to Abraham and the new covenant (see f) above), and that therefore this promise of forgiveness on realistic repentance is only true for those Jews who chose to be under the new covenant, and thereby reject the system of reconciliation with God offered by the Old covenant made at Sinai.
The reference here to breaking in pieces the altars and groves refers in the context of Isaiah to the " high places" which had been set up to replace the Divinely appointed altar at Jerusalem. Hezekiah, in whose time Isaiah prophesied (Isa.1:1), was notorious for his systematic destruction of these altars (2 Chron.29:16; 31:1; 2 Kings 18:4), so much so that even the invading Babylonians had heard about it (2 Kings 18:22; Is.36:7). It is therefore fair to assume that this is the fulfilment of this prophecy of Isaiah. However, Hezekiah prefaced his purges with a public ceremony of sin offering at the beginning of his reign (2 Chron.29:21); he then went ahead and made his purges of the illegal altars etc. Thus the taking away of Jacob's iniquity referred to in Isa.27:9 was due to blood sacrifice followed by their actual destruction of the altars. Obviously the sacrifice alone would not have made atonement without there being some sign of repentance in practice.
h) Miriam was smitten with leprosy and was healed without sacrifice.
The healing of Miriam (Num.12:9-15)
Miriam was smitten with leprosy for her part in the rebellion against Moses' authority. The living death of leprosy is an obvious type of sin. Moses prayed " Heal her now, O God, I beseech Thee" . However, it can be inferred that God was not happy to grant immediate reconciliation: " If her father had but spit in her face (cp. Deut.25:9 -suggesting she was unwilling to build up her brother's house?), should she not be ashamed seven days? let her be shut out from the camp seven days, and after that let her be received in again. And Miriam was shut out from the camp: and the people journeyed not, till Miriam was brought in again" .
It is fair to assume that Miriam had to go through the ceremony of cleansing for leprosy as outlined in Lev.14:1-8. This was a ritual based very much on that of the day of Atonement; two birds (cp. two goats on the day of atonement) were taken, one was killed and the blood sprinkled on the ex-leper, and the other let " loose into the open field" , as the scapegoat was. It was not until this was done that Miriam could return to the congregation, and therefore to fellowship with God. Thus blood still needed to be shed to make atonement for her. The camp of Israel only moved on when they were led on by the guiding Angel. The fact that the point is emphasized that they remained stationary for 7 days may possibly suggest that the Angel would not lead them onwards towards the promised land whilst Miriam was still in her state of separation from God, which was only resolved by the sacrifices outlined above.
i) Abimelech was forgiven by Abraham's prayer, without shedding blood.
Abraham's prayer for Abimelech (Gen.20:7,17)
Abimelech and his household were cursed by God with the inability to produce children as a result of Abimelech's relationship with Sarah. He was advised to ask Abraham to pray for him so that this curse would be taken away now that he was no longer intending to take Sarah as his wife. However, that prayer was not for forgiveness, because Abimelech did not know that Sarah was married; he was not knowingly breaking God's laws. That he did not sin is made quite clear by God: " God said unto him in a dream, Yea, I know that thou didst this in the integrity of thy heart; for I also withheld thee from sinning against Me: therefore suffered I thee not to touch her" (Gen.20:6). Therefore Abraham's prayer was for God's curse on Abimelech of infertility and eventual death to be lifted, not for his forgiveness (20:7).
j) In Ezra's time the Jews separated from their foreign wives, thereby gaining forgiveness without shedding blood.
Separation from sin brings forgiveness
The contention that in Ezra's time the Jews only had to separate from their foreign wives to receive forgiveness fails to appreciate that blood sacrifices were only acceptable once the sin had been repented of and rectified where necessary. And Ezra 10:19 is conclusive: " They gave their hands that they would put away their wives; and being guilty, they offered a ram of the flock for a trespass offering" .