Atonement (Leviticus 23:26-32)

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “On exactly the tenth day of this seventh month is the day of atonement; it shall be a holy convocation for you, and you shall humble your souls and present an offering by fire to the LORDYou shall not do any work on this same day, for it is a day of atonement, to make atonement on your behalf before the LORD your God. If there is any person who will not humble himself on this same day, he shall be cut off from his people. As for any person who does any work on this same day, that person I will destroy from among his people. You shall do no work at all. It is to be a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwelling places. It is to be a sabbath of complete rest to you, and you shall humble your souls; on the ninth of the month at evening, from evening until evening you shall keep your sabbath.”

Leviticus 23:26-32

As I read this, two things jumped out at me, specifically, the conditions for what the people were to do as their part in atonement.

This is rather important, as atonement is precisely what Jesus accomplished on the cross and is precisely what every person needs in order to be at peace with God. But atonement comes with conditions. They’re beautiful conditions, but they’re challenging.

The first condition is that every person must humble themselves. This is challenging, but it makes sense. God is perfect. Atonement is the act of making peace with Him. That a perfect and holy God even wants peace with me should be humbling. He is perfect. He has done nothing wrong. There is not one single reason (aside from His love and His love should humble me still more) that He should seek peace with me. But He does. Humility is the essential component in atonement. Humility is the defining characteristic of Christ during His Earthly ministry. Humility is what allows a proud, proud person to admit that they’re not as great as they or others may think and that they are in dire need of a sacrifice; of atonement. If I don’t think there’s a need for atonement then why would I look for it?

The second condition is that no one does any work. This tells me that God does not reckon the activities of the temple as “work” in the same sense as going out and harvesting grain or herding cattle or what-not. God seems to consider the service in the temple as being exempt from the prohibitions on work. If not, there would be no way to make the required offerings. More, the people are forbidden to do anything to make atonement. This flies in the face of every theology that says we must earn our salvation; our atonement. From the prohibition against work, I glean two principles. The first is that I cannot work to make atonement. Atonement is made by sacrifice alone and any work of mine toward atonement only profanes the offering. The second is that any service I give to God is not considered “work” in the same sense as all the “work” I am inclined to try to do to make atonement.

So, the principles I take from today’s reading are as follows:

  1. Atonement requires humility. I must be humble before I will admit my need for atonement and my need for atonement should humble me.
  2. I can do nothing that will make atonement. Any work of mine will only profane the sacrifice that makes atonement.
  3. Any service I give to God is not “work”, but is an offering of some sort. Perhaps a freewill or a votive, maybe a thank offering. God does not see it as “work” and neither should I.
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