Propitiation for Sin: The Doctrine of Atonement in the Book of Ezekiel

Ezekiel 16

The Book of Ezekiel is the next stop in our study of the Doctrine of Atonement from the Scriptures. The first context of atonement concerns the New Covenant, the covenant that brings salvation:

60 “Nevertheless I will remember My covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you. 61 Then you will remember your ways and be ashamed, when you receive your older and your younger sisters; for I will give them to you for daughters, but not because of My covenant with you. 62 And I will establish My covenant with you. Then you shall know that I am the Lord, 63 that you may remember and be ashamed, and never open your mouth anymore because of your shame, when I provide you an atonement for all you have done,” says the Lord God.’” (Ezekiel 16:60-63)

The Lord says twice that He would “establish an everlasting covenant” or “My covenant,” with His people. Then, in Ezekiel 16:63, the Lord says, “I will provide an atonement for all you have done.” The word atonement in Ezekiel 16:63 is exilaskesthai, the same word used in the contexts of animal sacrifices. The word here is a future tense (“I will atone”), with the Lord promising this for a future act. The covenant is future and the atonement is future. This language is used in Jeremiah to refer to the New Covenant:

31 “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah32 not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

35 Thus says the Lord,

Who gives the sun for a light by day,

The ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night,

Who disturbs the sea,

And its waves roar

(The Lord of hosts is His name):

36 “If those ordinances depart

From before Me, says the Lord,

Then the seed of Israel shall also cease

From being a nation before Me forever.”

37 Thus says the Lord:

“If heaven above can be measured,

And the foundations of the earth searched out beneath,

I will also cast off all the seed of Israel

For all that they have done, says the Lord. (Jeremiah 31:31-37)

The New Covenant is discussed in Ezekiel 16 and Jeremiah 31. This same New Covenant is picked up by the apostle Paul in Hebrews 8:

7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. 8 Because finding fault with them, He says: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah9 not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the Lord. 10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 11 None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. 12 For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”

13 In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. (Hebrews 8:7-13)

The New Covenant is contrasted here with the Old Covenant.

Ezekiel 43

The next place in Ezekiel where we encounter atonement is Ezekiel 43:

18 And He said to me, “Son of man, thus says the Lord God: ‘These are the ordinances for the altar on the day when it is made, for sacrificing burnt offerings on it, and for sprinkling blood on it. 19 You shall give a young bull for a sin offering to the priests, the Levites, who are of the seed of Zadok, who approach Me to minister to Me,’ says the Lord God. 20 ‘You shall take some of its blood and put it on the four horns of the altar, on the four corners of the ledge, and on the rim around it; thus you shall cleanse it and make atonement for it. 21 Then you shall also take the bull of the sin offering, and burn it in the appointed place of the temple, outside the sanctuary. 22 On the second day you shall offer a kid of the goats without blemish for a sin offering; and they shall cleanse the altar, as they cleansed it with the bull. 23 When you have finished cleansing it, you shall offer a young bull without blemish, and a ram from the flock without blemish. 24 When you offer them before the Lord, the priests shall throw salt on them, and they will offer them up as a burnt offering to the Lord. 25 Every day for seven days you shall prepare a goat for a sin offering; they shall also prepare a young bull and a ram from the flock, both without blemish. 26 Seven days they shall make atonement for the altar and purify it, and so consecrate it. 27 When these days are over it shall be, on the eighth day and thereafter, that the priests shall offer your burnt offerings and your peace offerings on the altar; and I will accept you,’ says the Lord God.” (Ezekiel 43:18-27)

In Ezekiel 43:20 and 43:26, we see the words “make atonement,” the Greek word ἐξιλάσονται, a word that is similar to the words we’ve seen throughout this study regarding atonement. The “atonement” being made refers to the altar in Ezekiel 43:20: “You shall take some of its blood and put it on the four horns of the altar, on the four corners of the ledge, and on the rim around it; thus you shall cleanse it and make atonement for it.” Ezekiel says that one needs to place blood on the altar “to cleanse it,” which, though seeming counterintuitive to the human mind, is necessary. One can only cleanse the altar and cleanse and sanctify the priests and the people by the slaughtered blood of an innocent animal.

Seven days the priests are to “make atonement for the altar and purify it, and so consecrate it” (Ezekiel 43:26). Not only the sins of humans, but also the altar (the altar needed cleansing and purification) needed to be sanctified or made holy. The altar had to be cleansed for 7 days before it could be used to offer sacrifices once more. The Lord says after the cleansing that “I will accept you” in Ezekiel 43:27, referring to the Lord’s decision to approve of the sacrifices (burnt offerings and peace offerings).

Table of Contents:
Propitiation for Sin: The Doctrine of Atonement
1. Atonement in the Book of Exodus
2. Atonement in the Book of Numbers
3. Atonement in the Book of Deuteronomy
4. Atonement in The Books of 2 Samuel and 2 Chronicles
5. Atonement in the Book of Ezekiel <-- You are here
6. Atonement in the Book of Leviticus and a Conclusion

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