Forgiveness and Atonement – are sacrifices a must?

In the previous post we mentioned that in a foreign land there was no need for sacrifices. One could simply repent and pray towards Jerusalem and the Temple. But what if the Temple no longer existed? Was repentance and prayer still accepted by God?

This is the passage in question, Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the Temple:

2 Chronicles 6:
34 “When Your people go out to battle against their enemies, by whatever way You shall send them, and they pray to You toward this city which You have chosen and the house which I have built for Your name,
35 then hear from heaven their prayer and their supplication, and maintain their cause.
36 “When they sin against You (for there is no man who does not sin) and You are angry with them and deliver them to an enemy, so that they take them away captive to a land far off or near,
37 if they take thought in the land where they are taken captive, and repent and make supplication to You in the land of their captivity, saying, ‘We have sinned, we have committed iniquity and have acted wickedly’;
38 if they return to You with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their captivity, where they have been taken captive, and pray toward their land which You have given to their fathers and the city which You have chosen, and toward the house which I have built for Your name,
39 then hear from heaven, from Your dwelling place, their prayer and supplications, and maintain their cause and forgive Your people who have sinned against You.

This is all good, but what could be done if there was no Temple and no sacrifices, like during the Babylonian captivity?

Hosea 14:
1 O Israel, return to the LORD your God; for you have fallen by your iniquity.
2 Take with you words, and return to the LORD: say to him, Take away all iniquity, and accept that which is good: so will we render as bullocks the offering of our lips.

That is, repentance and prayer are accepted in place of sacrifices. It means there was no need for a human sacrifice to replace animal sacrifices.

So how did Jesus make atonement? What is the meaning of one making an atonement for another? Can one die for another’s sin? Let’s have a look at the story of Israel making the golden calf.

God is furious and wants to destroy Israel and raise up a people from Moses.

Exodus 32:
30 On the next day Moses said to the people, “You yourselves have committed a great sin; and now I am going up to the LORD, perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.”
31 Then Moses returned to the LORD, and said, “Alas, this people has committed a great sin, and they have made a god of gold for themselves.
32 “But now, if You will, forgive their sin–and if not, please blot me out from Your book which You have written!”
33 The LORD said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book.

God refuses to blot Moses out. Whoever sins, he himself will be blotted out. Moses didn’t offer himself as a sacrifice in place of the people, he simply wanted to die rather than see his people destroyed.

The atonement Moses was making was but pleading with God for the forgiveness of the sinners. His asking to be blotted out was not atonement.

Now consider the following passage:

Ezekiel 18:21
“But if the wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed and observes all My statutes and practices justice and righteousness, he shall surely live; he shall not die.

Now the interesting question is what Jesus’ death and resurrection has to do with all this. I let the reader to think about it.

Also consider, that human sacrifices, as they were generally practiced by Pagan religions, were forbidden:

Leviticus 20:1 The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Say to the Israelites: ‘Any Israelite or any alien living in Israel who givesa any of his children to Molech must be put to death. The people of the community are to stone him. 3 I will set my face against that man and I will cut him off from his people; for by giving his children to Molech, he has defiled my sanctuary and profaned my holy name. 4 If the people of the community close their eyes when that man gives one of his children to Molech and they fail to put him to death, 5 I will set my face against that man and his family and will cut off from their people both him and all who follow him in prostituting themselves to Molech.

Jeremiah 7:
31 They have built the high places of Topheth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to burn their sons and daughters in the fire—something I did not command, nor did it enter my mind.

Jeremiah 19:
5 They have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as offerings to Baal—something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind.

Jeremiah 32:
35 They built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to sacrifice their sons and daughtersc to Molech, though I never commanded, nor did it enter my mind, that they should do such a detestable thing and so make Judah sin.

Numbers 15:
24 then it shall be, if it is done unintentionally, without the knowledge of the congregation, that all the congregation shall offer one bull for a burnt offering, as a soothing aroma to the LORD, with its grain offering and its drink offering, according to the ordinance, and one male goat for a sin offering.

Recall Abraham offering up Isaac, but it wasn’t for sin and God stopped his hand. Now we have a puzzle to work out…

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