Sometimes when we sing old hymns the words are hard to understand. For instance, do you remember the hymn that includes “Here I raise my Ebenezer”? This would seem quite odd if you knew someone by that name. The writer of that hymn, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, was referring to 1 Samuel 7:12 where Samuel erected a monument and called it Ebenezer to show that the Lord had enabled Israel to defeat the Philistines. So, the hymn writer was trying to make a symbolic statement that God had done something for him.
Another old hymn that may not be understood is “Nothing but the Blood of Jesus” by Robert Lowry. The third verses says, “Nothing can for sin atone: nothing but the blood of Jesus. Naught of good that I have done: nothing but the blood of Jesus.” We understand the general meaning but if you were asked to give a definition of atone or atonement, what would you say? In the song it has something to do with sin and the blood of Jesus, but what does it mean?
- Definition of Atonement
Do a search of the word “atonement” in the Bible and you will find that it is mentioned 89 times in the Old Testament (NKJV). In the New Testament, it is mentioned only once in Romans 5:11 (KJV) and is translated “reconciliation” by the NKJV. Being that it is mentioned so many times, it must be an important concept for us to understand. What is atonement?
Atonement is a blood payment made to God to restore the relationship between Him and us. Atonement was necessary because we humans are sinful. That sin gets in the way of a good relationship with God. In our chapter today, we will see that sins were atoned by the blood and death of an animal sacrifice. However, in the New Testament, our sins are atoned by the blood and death of Jesus.
As we look at Exodus 29, keep in mind that these blood sacrifices were a means to make our relationship right with God because of our continued sinfulness. But don’t forget that Jesus is our once-for-all sacrifice for sins. First, we will study the atonement in the Old Testament. Second, we will see our atonement by Jesus in the New Testament.
- Old Testament Atonement
The more I read in Exodus, the more I see the importance of what God was saying. He was readying the people to having Him live among them. Being that they were sinful people who complained and disobeyed again and again, they needed to see the importance of being holy because God is holy. With that in mind, the preparations prescribed to Moses by God were very important. Without them. the people would not be allowed to be in God’s presence.
Notice verses 1 and 45-46. The priests were to be made holy for serving the Lord. And the people were to be holy to receive God into their dwelling place. In order for this to take place, they needed an atonement.
a. It was a holy occasion (Ex. 29:4-9).
The ministry of the priests was not something to be taken lightly. Though Aaron and his sons had been chosen to serve as priests, they were still unholy people who needed atonement. So God said that they should be washed and clothed with the priestly outfits from Exodus 28.
b. It was a transfer of guilt (Ex. 29:10,15,19; Lev. 1:4).
Notice that three times during these ceremonies, Aaron and his sons were to place their hands on the head of the sacrificial animal. Why did they do this?
“By the ceremony of putting their hands upon the head of the victim was signified, (1.) that the offerer had need of a sacrifice to atone for his sins; (2.) that he symbolically transferred his sins to the victim; (3.) that he confided in faith and hope that although he deserved himself to die, yet the death of the animal, which he thus devoted to God, would be accepted as an expiation for his sins, so as to avert from him the punishment which they had righteously incurred” (Bush 179).
In other words, “when a sinner came up to the altar and put his hands on the head of the animal he had brought, it meant that the animal was taking his place” (McGee 293).
This idea is explained further by Leviticus 1:4. There the person offering a burnt sacrifice was to put his hand on the head of the animal “and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him.” The animal would die instead of the sinful person who offered it to God.
c. It was a payment for sin (Ex. 29:12,16,36).
In each of these verses, we see that the blood of the animal was offered, poured, sprinkled, or something similar. The blood was what God prescribed and accepted as an atonement for sin (Ex. 29:36). Without the blood, they could not approach God or have a relationship with him.
Do you remember when Cain and Abel brought different offerings to the Lord. We aren’t given many details except that Cain didn’t bring a blood sacrifice. You would be right to say that the law had not been given yet. But many OT saints offered sacrifices to God before the law including Abel, Noah, and Job. So, the Lord must have given them instructions at some point. With that in mind, I wonder if Cain was not accepted for bringing produce instead of a blood sacrifice.
d. It was a means to fellowship with the Lord (Ex. 29:45-46).
The Lord stated his purpose for all these instructions in the last two verses in Exodus 29. He was going to live among the Israelite nation. He wanted them to know that He was the Lord their God and what He had done for them.
Isn’t that a wonderful thought? The Lord wanted to live among the people and for them to know Him. The Lord is not some distant being that wants to be left alone and is disinterested in people. He wanted the people to know Him but He also wanted them to approach Him in holiness. This is why he prescribed the means of atonement to cover their sins and bring them together.
- New Testament Atonement
Now that we have seen atonement in the Old Testament, how does this affect our understanding of what took place in the New Testament? God is still holy and man is still sinful. What atonement could be made to cause sinful man to be good enough to be reconciled with God?
a. Romans 5:8-10
In these verses, we are reminded that God showed his love to sinful us. He demonstrated this love by sending Jesus to die for us. Jesus is our substitute who died instead of us. Because Jesus died for us, we are justified (considered without sin), we have escaped God’s wrath (no future judgment in the lake of fire), and we are reconciled to God (our relationship with him is no longer affected by our sin).
b. 2 Corinthians 5:21
What do we see here?
• He (God) was involved in the process of making us right with Him.
• Jesus was the One who didn’t know sin (meaning He never sinned).
• Jesus became sin for us (meaning He took the responsibility for our sin when He died on the cross). This reminds me of the person putting his hand on the head of the sacrificial animal to transfer his guilt to the sacrifice.
• In Him, we can become righteous (meaning we sinful people can become right with God through what Jesus did).
• It doesn’t say anything about what we do (meaning that we don’t need to try to be good enough because we are simply trusting in what Jesus did for us). We must simply believe.
The more we look at the Old Testament law, the more clear it is that the Lord has not changed. In the Old Testament, the Lord was holy and the people were sinful. But He wanted to have a relationship with them. So, He provided a means to atone for their sins. Once the guilt of their sin was transferred to the animal, it took their place and died so that their sins could be forgiven and the relationship made right with God.
In the New Testament, the Lord is still holy and we are still sinful. But God still wants to have a relationship with us. So, He provided a means to atone for our sins. He transferred the guilt for our sins to His Son, Jesus, who took our place and died so that our sins could be forgiven and the relationship made right with God.
I have a question for each of us to ponder. Have you been made right with God? The atonement for your sins has already been paid. God did this for you because you could do nothing. Have you transferred the guilt of your sin to Jesus and put your faith in His blood which was shed for you? If not, will you trust Him today?
Bush, George, Notes on Exodus, Minneapolis: James & Klock, reprint 1976, orig. 1852, pp. 173-89.
Hannah, John D., “Exodus”, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Old Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1989, pp. 152-53.
Mackintosh, C. H., Notes on the Pentateuch Genesis to Deuteronomy, Neptune: Loizeaux, 1972, pp. 256-57. (This one was not very helpful.)
McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee Vol 1. Genesis through Deuteronomy, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1981, pp. 292-93.
“What does Here I Raise my Ebenezer mean in the familiar hymn?” as viewed at https://housetohouse.com/what-does-here-i-raise-my-ebenezer-mean-in-the-familiar-hymn on 8/27/2022.