Mercy & Forgiveness under Old Testament Law
see Part 1 here, and What Happens When Shepherds Eat the Sheep
Mercy and forgiveness was the context of the Mosaic Law
Why go into this subject at all? Because sometimes our mindset about God is grounded in what we’ve been taught about God in view of the Old Testament. In other words, some of us have a view of an angry God who can’t wait to punish us. So, before I get too far along with this subject of spiritual abuse I want to talk about the mercy of God established in the Old Testament. I’m going off topic is to hopefully set some ground work. I think it’s important for every individual to know what the Scriptures actually says for themselves. When we know the Scriptures for ourselves and someone comes around with another interpretation we aren’t so quick to take their word for it.
We don’t need someone else to interpret Scripture for us. The Father reveals these things to ordinary people like you and me. One doesn’t need a seminary degree to understand the scriptures. What we need is relationship with God. And in the context of relationship with God, God reveals and discloses the meaning. When the scriptures are approached only academically there is much lost in the translation. Outside of relationship with God much can be missed. Also, within distorted relationship things can often be distorted. When our view of God is skewed, our understanding is also. I don’t claim to have a perfect view. I don’t, not by any means. But I do know that well-meaning but damaged people have the potential to misapply the Scriptures through their dysfunctional paradigms. Since all human beings are dysfunctional to a point that means we all have the potential to be misled. That includes me. I had to relearn the scriptures after coming out of a dysfunctional paradigm of performance based Christianity. My hope to is be of some help to others.
This won’t be an exhaustive study on this subject of mercy in the Old Testament. What I want to point out is simply that mercy was established under the what Christians refer to as the Old Covenant. There are earlier instances than the time of Moses of God’s mercy, but I won’t go into all that today. My purpose in today’s blog is to discuss how mercy was the context in which God delivered the Law to Moses at Sinai. Why? Because it is the mercy of God to provide forgiveness and atonement and that is what God provided at Sinai. I don’t know about anyone else’s church experience but I wan’t taught that in church.
Jesus came to be the fulfillment of all that was required by the Law given to Moses. The New Covenant provided a better sacrifice than that which was established under the Old Covenant. (We’ll get into that in a bit) But mercy was provided, under the Old Covenant. Jesus came down from heaven to settle the issue of sin once and for all. His death provided an eternal solution (eternal forgiveness) to the eternal problem (sin results in death and separation from God). The end result of un-atoned for sin is death. (Hebrews 7-10) But thanks be to God, Jesus was the final sacrifice needed to reverse the curse brought about through the sin of Adam which was revealed through the Law. I’ll elaborate:
Two main religious groups are directly effected by God’s interaction with Moses at Sinai, the Hebrews and the Christians. When God descended at Sinai and delivered the Torah/Law (Pentateuch) to Moses it was the first time in human history that God established a system through which mercy could be dispensed and people could be reconciled to God. God chose the Hebrew people to establish this reconciliation. Adam sinned and death came into the world effecting mankind as a result.
12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned— 13 for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.
The Law given to Moses provided insight into what constituted sin; it revealed sin. Sin got uncovered for what it was. The consequence for sin was also revealed; punishment which often was death. (Romans 7) But God didn’t stop with the revelation of what amounted to sin and what the result/punishment of sin was. He also provided the means of making atonement, or satisfying the requirement of the Law concerning sin. He established the means through which one could receive forgiveness which is God’s mercy. That mercy and forgiveness was received through atonement for sin. The means of Atonement was a sacrifice.
Atonement was achieved through a sacrifice [the sacrificial system]. Can I linger here for a moment and say that again. Under Moses, under the Law, mercy and forgiveness was received through the sacrifice made for sin. It was a foreshadow of the final eternal sacrifice for sin which Jesus made, eliminating the need to come often to make a sacrifice. (Hebrews 10) The Old Covenant sacrifice wasn’t insignificant. It wasn’t ineffective. It was effective in providing forgiveness. In fact, it was the only means of receiving forgiveness under the Old Covenant. It just didn’t offer forgiveness once and for all. Every time you sinned you had to bring a sacrifice.
Under this established means of forgiveness the worshipper lived with a conscious reminder that an offering for sin was necessary. The sacrifice brought forgiveness. God’s forgiveness is God’s mercy. So the Law was given but it wasn’t given without the provisional means of receiving mercy and forgiveness. So while the Law revealed sin it also revealed God’s heart of mercy and forgiveness.
Think about this; Jesus didn’t come to eradicate the Law. He came to fulfill it. I especially like how the Amplified Bible expounds on these verses.
17 “Do not think that I came to do away with or undo the Law [of Moses] or the[writings of the] Prophets; I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For I assure you and most solemnly say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke [of the pen] will pass from the Law until all things [which it foreshadows] are accomplished.
The Law reveals sin. (Romans 7) Jesus reveals God (John 14:8-10) and the gospel reveals righteousness by faith. (Romans 1:16-17)
Check out these great messages by Pastor Dwayne Sheriff – Victory Life Church
The Old Covenant is a foreshadow of the New Covenant established through Jesus Christ. Once the eternal sacrifice for sin was provided through Jesus (Rms 3:25, 1 Peter 1:19, 1 Cor. 5:7), no further sacrifice for sin would ever be necessary again. (Heb. 10:18) Along with the forgiveness of sin what was removed was the need to be conscious of the punishment for sin. In Christ’s fulfillment of the Law He provided a sacrifice which never needed to be given over and over again. His sacrifice was once and for all. So the one who accepts by faith that Jesus died for their sins being justified by faith doesn’t need to live with the constant reminder of sin. Sin is taken out of the way.
Being a foreshadow of things to come, the Old Covenant was an example of what Christ would fully accomplish later. Simply put, the Old Covenant was not only a forerunner but also an illustration of what was to come through Christ. Forgiveness was offered under the Old Covenant. Mercy was provided under the Old Covenant. It wasn’t an arbitrary and meaningless set of rules established to appease a merciless god who demanded perfect performance. God knew we were unable to keep the Law. He made provision for that in the sacrificial system for the receiving of forgiveness when we sinned. That provision is atonement.
The Old Covenant pointed to the New. Jesus didn’t say the Law was bad. He came to become an eternal sacrifice so that there was no further need to sacrifice ever again. The offering of the blood applied to the mercy seat in heaven provided eternal atonement, eternal forgiveness. Another sacrifice would no longer be necessary.
My point with all of this is that the blood of bulls and goats was not to be looked down on as being wrong. It was to looked at as a precursor. It was a prophetic picture of what was to come. The offerings weren’t irrelevant. The Old Covenant wasn’t merciless. Actually the truth is quite the opposite. The Law as given to Moses at Sinai reveals God’s heart of mercy. It reveals a merciful God who rends the heavens and comes down in order to establish a way for people to approach Him. God in His infinite love invaded earth, not to bring judgment, but to bring the means of atonement. He came to provide the means through which mankind could be redeemed back to God. It was step one in God’s eternal plan of redemption. Jesus, Son of God, coming to earth was step two.
Understanding the forgiveness and mercy which was provided under the Old Covenant can actually give us a clearer picture of the fullness of our forgiveness under the New Covenant.
The offerings provided atonement. Another word for atonement is reparation. Webster’s defines it this way: the act of making amends, offering expiation, or giving satisfaction for a wrong or injury. Atonement is reparation. It repairs the connection between God and man. Under the Old Covenant the sacrifice needed to achieve this atonement was done once a year on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). [The Holiest Day on the Hebrew Calendar] God did not give the Law without providing a means of Atonement. I’ll go into that topic in more detail when I do a series on the Feasts of the Lord. (later)
God’s Desire is to Bless
The subject of the Law (the commandments given to Moses at Sinai) should not, in my opinion, be discussed out of context. And I believe that context is a context of mercy and forgiveness.
Exodus 19 God descends on Sinai. Exodus 20 God gives the Ten Commandments. Also in Exodus 20 God established the sacrificial system. And God establishes the purpose for the sacrificial system, so that He can bless His people.
Exodus 20:24 You shall make an altar of earth for Me, and you shall sacrifice on it burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen; in every place where I cause My name to be remembered, I will come to you and bless you. NASB
God’s word spoken to Moses through the above verse reveals God’s heart in the matter. His purpose for establishing this sacrificial method was based on God’s desire to bless the people. The method (sacrificial system) was the avenue through which God bestowed His mercy on His people. God’s mercy was dispensed through God’s advocate (the priest). The setting in which the dispensing of mercy took place was the Tabernacle. God appointed a man (His Priest) to dispense God’s mercy. He designated from the onset that a human being would be the Advocate between man and God. He made sure that the one coming before God to obtain forgiveness and atonement was made of the same substance as those in need of atonement. It’s one of the reasons Jesus had to come to in the flesh. In order to fulfill the requirement of the Law a human being had to make the sacrifice and bring it before God. The High Priest carried the offering for sin once every year into the Holy of holies on the Day of Atonement.
Hebrews 4:14-16 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. NASB
God did not give the Law without also giving the means through which forgiveness and atonement was to be obtained. Yes, the Law reveals sin. But the Law, unless it was acted upon by a priest could not bring atonement just because the Law was given. Atonement (forgiveness received through satisfying the Law) was provided through the action of the priest bringing the sacrifice. The priest had to act upon the requirement of the Law. He had to do something. He had to respond to the requirement of the Law. The Law as a written document is meaningless unless the words in it are acted upon. The bible, a book, with printed words on a page cannot save me. Christ is my salvation. He is my atonement. The bible didn’t atone for our sins. Christ did.
Equipped for dealing with Spiritual Issues
So what am I getting at? And what does this have to do with Spiritual Abuse? I am by nature, a teacher. I believe the more we know about God and His ways the better equipped we will be when confronted with spiritual issues. While the bible doesn’t save us, through reading the bible for ourselves we learn much about God. As we study the scriptures we discover more about the nature of God.
In my experience, those who I would say were spiritually abusive, typically used scripture to beat me up. In the early days I didn’t know enough about Scripture. I was ill-equipped to stand against their distorted views. When I began to study the scriptures with a focus on the work of the cross I began to realize that there is no performance on my part that can add to the work of the cross. For me it was great freedom. I came out from under a performance oriented gospel (a false gospel) to the gospel of grace through faith.
When Scripture is used to manipulate, coerce, and intimidate people that is abuse. Broken and damaged people view life through a broken and damaged lens. Broken and damaged people have the potential to view God through the same damaged lens they view the rest of life. When we are consistently exposed to the truth of the gospel which is justification through faith (righteousness by way of the Atonement of Christ) our minds are renewed and we are transformed by God’s grace. And we grow from grace to grace. When we sit under the false doctrine of performance and condemnation we are chained to a false gospel which does not have the power to set us free but only brings us under further condemnation. It’s a vicious cycle. That cycle can be broken through accepting by faith the Atonement of Christ. And we have to constantly stand guard over our minds to not come under condemnation again.
When the scriptures are viewed through the lens of condemnation and applied through manipulation, shame, coercion, and intimidation it is not a reflection of the heart of God. Those tactics are those of the enemy of God (Satan). Satan is the author of condemnation and shame. He is also a master at deception. That means he not only lies he invented lying. We come to God with mindsets in place. Sometimes those mindsets and paradigms get in the way and distort our view of God. If I look at God through a mindset that God is a merciful God who loves me and has provided a way in which I can be in relationship with Him I see God as approachable and loving. However, if I view God as angry at me and always ready to punish me for my shortcomings then I don’t see God as merciful and desiring relationship but more as that of a dictator needing to be appeased.
We are more likely to believe the lies and succumb to the tactics of spiritual abuse when we don’t have a solid foundation of grace and forgiveness in our lives. Even when we do it is easy to be influenced by the words and actions of others. This is especially true of someone whose opinion we value or has a position of authority in our lives.
If we view God and His Word through condemnation with a shame based paradigm that demands performance we will never think we will be enough. Condemnation is a powerful spiritual force. Our enemy isn’t a natural enemy. He is a spiritual enemy who uses spiritual methods to attempt to undermine our faith in Christ.
Through the redemptive work of the Cross of Jesus Christ, eternal Atonement, there is no longer a need for the consciousness of sin. We don’t have to keep track. God isn’t keeping track of every trifle. We don’t need to be constantly conscious of sin.
Jesus coming again, NOT with reference to sin
The sin issue was dealt with at the cross, Jesus’ first coming. The second time He comes will also be for salvation, but NOT in reference to sin.
For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.
Hope this blog has been a blessing. More to come in the days ahead.
Part 1 – spiritual abuse, and What Happens when Shepherds eat the Sheep
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