Okay, here is the “Tale of Two Covenants” Part 2 or Covenant 2. Covenant 2 sounds like a horror movie. Sorry that I put that mental image in your head. I know you probably never thought of that, but again I’m just weird that way. Of course there is nothing horrific about God’s covenants or His promises, but there are some that are horrified by what they read in the Old Testament.
God’s dealings with mankind in the Old Testament seem barbaric in comparison to our culture today. The judgments of God are swift and harsh. People ask questions like, “how could a God of love wipe out the entire planet in a flood only leaving one family to repopulate the earth? How could He allow His chosen people to suffer and be taken into slavery for hundreds of years to foreign nations just because they were disobedient or causing an earthquake to swallow them up by the thousands just because they worshiped a golden calf?”
God isn’t playing around in the OT. His commands weren’t negotiable, and the price for disobedience was hefty. Normally when we think of God’s law, we think of the Ten Commandments, but there were more than just ten. The book of Leviticus in the OT contains 613 commands, and there are others throughout the Bible. Some are positive commands to perform specific acts, while others are negative commands to abstain from certain acts. In Leviticus 16, we find God’s commands and instruction regarding the Day of Atonement.
“This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites. and it was done, as the Lord commanded Moses.” Leviticus 16:34 NIV
One of those acts or rituals that God required was animal sacrifice to atone for or gain forgiveness for sin, which again seems archaic in our culture today. But, to “atone” means to make amends or reparation. “Atonement” means reparation for a wrong or injury. Biblically, atonement is made for sin. In order to make amends, make things right, or be reconciled to God a sacrifice had to be made, a reparation or payment for sin. The payment for sin was to be made in blood. There’s a new covenant connection in all of this, so keep that in mind.
In the OT, the Israelites were required to sacrifice a goat once a year for the forgiveness of their sins. If you read Leviticus 16, there is also another goat that is required as a “scapegoat”. The “scapegoat” is not sacrificed. It gets to live, but the sins of the people are ceremonially placed upon the goat’s head, and then the goat is set free in the wilderness as a symbol of sin being removed. There is more to it, but that is the basic gist. Read Leviticus 16 for all the details.
“In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” Hebrews 9:22 NIV
Not all offerings or sacrifices to the Lord required blood, so why was a blood sacrifice required for forgiveness of sin? Well, we have to go back to the beginning, as in the book of Genesis. God creates human kind, man and woman. He gives them everything they need, but He has one condition.
And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” Genesis 2:16-17 NIV
This command to not eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil also came with a warning or consequence for disobedience. The price, cost, or consequence for rebellion was death. No, they didn’t drop dead on the spot, but death and other consequences would come, eventually. After Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit, they discovered another consequence of disobedience or rebellion against God’s commands. When they discovered they were naked, they were ashamed and hid from God. Nakedness wasn’t a problem before, so why now? According to Genesis 3:7,Adam and Eve’s eyes were “opened” after they ate the fruit of the tree, and then BAM! Shame is introduced into the human psyche for the first time. They were so ashamed that they “hid” from the Lord (Genesis 3:10). Their relationship with the Lord was now broken and forever changed.
In order to cover Adam and Even’s newly discovered nakedness, we are told that the Lord “made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.” Another translation says that these garments were fashioned from or made of leather, so we can surmise that this skin was animal skin or hide, which is interesting because it was used to “hide” their nakedness. So, this is the first recorded sacrifice in the Bible. An animal or animals were sacrificed; blood was shed, so that Adam and Eve could be clothed and their nakedness/shame could be covered. This is symbolic of what was to come in Leviticus.
“For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.” Leviticus 17:11 NIV
In general, we understand that blood represents life, and the shedding of blood can represent death. This verse in Leviticus 17:11 is about the closest answer or explanation that I have found in the Bible for why God requires a blood sacrifices for sin. The Lord tells Moses, “I have given it (the blood) to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar.” God gave us the blood for the purpose of making atonement or making things right with Him.
However uncomfortable it may be to talk about, it is a huge part of our faith. Especially when we know that the New Testaments central character, Jesus, was crucified and His blood was shed with the same purpose as described in Leviticus 17:11. However the sacrifice that Jesus made would only have to be done once and for all time. The old sacrificial system would give way to the new covenant through the blood of Christ. Jesus is literally the living embodiment of the new covenant. When we take communion, we are reminded by Jesus himself, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:28 NIV) Two blood covenants old and new.
The love of God is one of the most important themes or points that we want to make when sharing our faith, but we can’t run away from the reality and role that sin plays in our lives, how it affects our relationship with God, and why atonement is necessary. Without sin there is no need for atonement or reconciliation. Without sin there was no need for blood sacrifice. Without sin our relationship with God wouldn’t be broken. Without sin Jesus didn’t have to die.
Next week, we’ll look at another significant connection between the old and the new.
Love y’all! Have a great weekend!
Weekly Devotional by Robby Morris, Director of Family Ministry & Facility Coordinator @ Andrews UMC.