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

The book of Leviticus is named after the tribe of Levi, the Levites, the priests of the Israelite nation who were to offer sacrifices on behalf of themselves and the people. It is here in Leviticus that we see more of the word of the Lord about atonement.

Leviticus 16

Now the Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they offered profane fire before the Lord, and died; 2 and the Lord said to Moses: “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at just any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, lest he die; for I will appear in the cloud above the mercy seat.

3 “Thus Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with the blood of a young bull as a sin offering, and of a ram as a burnt offering. 4 He shall put the holy linen tunic and the linen trousers on his body; he shall be girded with a linen sash, and with the linen turban he shall be attired. These are holy garments. Therefore he shall wash his body in water, and put them on. 5 And he shall take from the congregation of the children of Israel two kids of the goats as a sin offering, and one ram as a burnt offering.

6 “Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering, which is for himself, and make atonement for himself and for his house. 7 He shall take the two goats and present them before the Lord at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. 8 Then Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats: one lot for the Lord and the other lot for the scapegoat. 9 And Aaron shall bring the goat on which the Lord’s lot fell, and offer it as a sin offering. 10 But the goat on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord, to make atonement upon it, and to let it go as the scapegoat into the wilderness. (Leviticus 16:1-10)

Leviticus 16 focuses on the Day of Atonement and the activities of the priest (it is Leviticus, after all). Aaron’s sons have died in the context of the passage, and the Lord now instructs Aaron to enter into the Holy of Holies and offer the sin offering (bull) and burnt offering (ram). In verse 4, Aaron is to bathe himself clean, then dress in certain attire.

As the Greek says, καὶ χιτῶνα λινοῦν ἡγιασμένον ἐνδύσεται, καὶ περισκελὲς λινοῦν ἔσται ἐπὶ τοῦ χρωτὸς αὐτοῦ. This first part of the phrase translated means “a tunic (xitona) of linen or flax (a linen tunic) to make holy to put on” : in short, consecrate himself by putting on a linen tunic. καὶ περισκελὲς λινοῦν ἔσται ἐπὶ τοῦ χρωτὸς αὐτοῦ means “and the linen will be put upon his skin.” Aaron is to clothe himself in the special linens after bathing, in order to consecrate himself for the atonement offering on the Day of Atonement.

Leviticus 17

In Leviticus 17, the Lord says that the blood is how atonement is made for the souls of the people:

10 ‘And whatever man of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell among you, who eats any blood, I will set My face against that person who eats blood, and will cut him off from among his people. 11 For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.’ 12 Therefore I said to the children of Israel, ‘No one among you shall eat blood, nor shall any stranger who dwells among you eat blood.’

13 “Whatever man of the children of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell among you, who hunts and catches any animal or bird that may be eaten, he shall pour out its blood and cover it with dust; 14 for it is the life of all flesh. Its blood sustains its life. Therefore I said to the children of Israel, ‘You shall not eat the blood of any flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off. (Leviticus 17:10-14)

In Leviticus 17:10, the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) says ἄνθρωπος ἄνθρωπος τῶν υἱῶν Ισραηλ, though the exact translation of this phrase in the New King James Version (NKJV) reads “whatever man.” The word anthropos is placed in Leviticus 17:10 for emphasis. Whenever you see a word used twice (one right after the other), remember that emphasis is in mind.

The Lord tells the Israelites not to eat the blood of animals, and He warns the strangers among them as well: “And whatever man of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell among you, who eats any blood, I will set My face against that person who eats blood, and will cut him off from among his people.” Israelites and Gentile converts are not to eat the blood of animals, for if they do, the Lord will strike them down and kill them. In verse 11, He tells them why He forbids eating or drinking animal blood: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.” The blood of animals is what maintains the lives of humans and is the life of the animal, (“the life of the flesh”); the Lord has also given the blood “to make atonement for your souls,” with the word for “make atonement” being ἐξιλάσκεσθαι. This word is a stem word of the parent word hilaskomai referring to making atonement on the altar. The word also refers to propitiation, and the Lord says that the blood of animals was designed to propitiate the Lord in that He would smell the sacrifice and see the blood and keep the wrath away from His people.

The blood is to “make atonement for your souls,” meaning that the blood had a spiritual significance: to atone for their very lives before God. “The blood [that] makes atonement for the soul” is a clear statement about the lives of His people: that is, salvation comes by way of the blood, which saves their souls from death. The death here is literal (mortal death), but the spiritual significance isn’t just physical, but spiritual, not merely finite but also eternal. The Israelites would not be killed on the spot and would avoid eternal death by preserving the blood from animal sacrifices and offering it to the Lord rather than eating and drinking the blood themselves. The Israelite and “the stranger who dwells among you” was to avoid eating the blood of animals, the Lord said in Leviticus 17:12.

In verse 13, the Lord tells the people to “pour out its blood and cover it with dust” when they hunt or catch birds for food. The reason? The blood is the life, and humans were not to eat the blood or else they’d be killed, they’d be forced to give a life for the life of the animal. “Whoever eats it shall be cut off,” the Lord says, with the words “cut off” referring to death. The people would lose their lives if they drank or ate the life of any animal. The Lord mandated the sacrificing of the blood on His altars, with the blood being offered to appease the Lord’s wrath; the blood was to be offered to God, while humans could eat birds and other animals.

Conclusion

Atonement is a doctrine that has its origins in the Old Testament. From the Fall of mankind in Genesis 3 to the end of the Old Testament discuss atonement and the various contexts in which it is related. From Genesis 3, the Lord slaughters animals and clothes Adam and Eve in skins when they realize their nakedness. After the Flood in Genesis 8, Noah offers two of every creature that emerges from the Ark to the Lord as a sweet-smelling aroma.

The sacrificial system continues throughout the Old Testament as the Lord requires His people in the land of Egypt to take a lamb, slaughter it, and place some of its blood on their doorposts so that the death Angel would “pass over” them (hence, the Passover) and spare the lives of their children. The Lord said the death Angel would only “pass over” them if he “saw the blood.” In other words, the blood, even in Egypt, would atone for their souls and prevent the loss of life within the Israelite camp. In contrast, the Egyptians saw their children killed over the lack of application of the blood on their doorposts. Without the blood applied, without the shedding of blood, there is no remission for sin, Paul writes in Hebrews 9:22.

Atonement is often believed to be a New Testament concept, but the New Testament writers themselves point back to the Old Testament because there’s much to find in the first 39 books of the Bible regarding atonement and the sacrificial system. No Doctrine of the Atonement, no teaching on the subject, can be complete without an examination of the Old Testament. It is our hope that this study of the Doctrine of the Atonement in the Old Testament will edify you in the Lord and bless you in your study of the knowledge of God.

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
6. Atonement in the Book of Leviticus and a Conclusion <-- You are here

Leave A Comment...

*