Saturday, February 17, 2007

Which book of the Bible says "shall be forgiven" more than any other?

I don't remember when I first looked this up, but it's the book of Leviticus. Ten times in Leviticus, "it shall be forgiven" appears -- more than any of the Bible's 65 other books. Ten times, because it talks about the different sacrifices.

Today's Old Testament reading includes the first eight of those places, starting in Leviticus 4.20-21:
In this way the priest will make atonement for them, and they will be forgiven. Then he shall take the bull outside the camp and burn it....
Now here is an interesting point. Some other sin offerings are eaten (Leviticus chapter 6), but not all of them.

These offerings, the ones which are not eaten, are instead taken outside the camp. Which ones are taken outside the camp? The offerings which are offered on behalf of "the people" rather than on just one person. In particular:
If the anointed priest sins, bringing guilt on the people, he must bring to the Lord a young bull without defect as a sin offering for the sin he has committed... But the hide of the bull and all its flesh ... all the rest of the bull--he must take outside the camp to a place ceremonially clean, where the ashes are thrown, and burn it in a wood fire on the ash heap.

If the whole Israelite community sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord's commands,... the assembly must bring a young bull as a sin offering and present it before the Tent of Meeting. ... Then he [the priest] shall take the bull outside the camp and burn it as he burned the first bull. This is the sin offering for the community.
from Leviticus 4.3,11-14,21
This is all very interesting (or not), but so what? I'm not quite sure what's going on there, but it definitely means something (it doesn't mean nothing). One thing's for sure, it draws a bright white line between the normal sin offering and a sin offering that is for the whole community.

And over a thousand years later, the author of Hebrews noticed this distinction and applied it to the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus:
The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.
Hebrews 13.11-12
So whatever else all that meant, it provided a picture by which future generations would understand the meaning of Jesus's sacrifice.

And that sacrifice is good news for you and me: "it shall be forgiven" is now available for everyone.

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