Yeshua, Our Great Atonement

Whenever you see the numbers 4 or 40 in scripture, I suspect that you will find some lesson about the Messiah nearby.

  • The fourth day of creation brought lights to rule the heavens.
  • Esau, a type of antichrist, married two Hittite women when he was forty years old, a pre-figuring counterfeit of Jacob.
  • Jacob was mourned for forty days.
  • Israel ate manna, bread from Heaven, in the wilderness for forty years.

There are probably dozens of other examples, but Noah and the flood is one of the best known. The rains fell for forty days and nights. One clear connection between the Flood and the Messiah is in the salvation of Noah and his family, as well as the means of that salvation.

There are three words in Genesis 6:14 that are directly connected with the atonement of Yeshua.

  • Gopher – גּפר (gofer)
  • Cover – כּפר (kafar)
  • Pitch – כּפר (kofer)

Since vowel points weren’t added to Hebrew for two thousand years after the Torah was first written down, the only difference between these words in print is the gimel (hard g sound) in gopher versus the kof (k sound) in the other two words. Otherwise all three words are spelled the same. The puns are clearly intentional.

What makes this even more interesting to me is that kafar (cover) and kofer (pitch) are also identical in spelling to the Hebrew for atonement: kippur. (The F and P sounds are represented by the same Hebrew letter, peh.) Kippur is the root of kapporet, which is Hebrew for mercy seat*. See Exodus 25:17 and 30:10 among many other verses.

These particular words (gofer, kafar, kofer) were used in Genesis 6:14 as a deliberate allusion to atonement.

Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. (ESV)

Make yourself an ark of atonement wood. Make rooms in the ark, and atone it inside and out with atonement.

Noah’s ark was covered with pitch to shelter the survivors from God’s wrath, while Moses’ ark was covered with the mercy seat to be a buffer between us and God’s overwhelming presence. The first ark contained God’s chosen people and miraculously provided sustenance. The Ark of the Covenant contained emblems of God’s Law (the stone tablets), guidance (Aaron’s staff), and sustenance (manna), all given to God’s people and carried by them through the Wilderness.

Messiah Yeshua is the atonement which carried Noah through the flood by which the earth was cleansed of violence and tyranny. Ultimately, he is the atonement, which carries us through Death itself to be resurrected and to stand before the Judgment Seat of God. He will cover us and carry us through that as well.

Back to the numbers…

Noah’s Ark protected its inhabitants through forty days and nights of rain that eventually covered the whole earth, crushing and drowning millions, possibly billions of people. How can such unimaginable destruction contain a teaching on the Messiah?

One of the most profound truths of the Messiah is that he not only saves us from death, but he saves us by and through death.

We cannot approach God directly in our sinful, corrupted state. We need atonement to cover up our stench. The blood of bulls, goats, lambs, and doves was offered on the altar and on the mercy seat as a temporary atonement, but Yeshua’s blood atones for our sins more completely than that of any animal. His blood makes a permanent atonement that cleanses not only our flesh, but our spirits from all taint of sin.

Through Yeshua’s death, we have been enabled to live eternally, but we must pass through death ourselves to obtain it, just like Noah and his family had to pass through the rains in order to be saved from the destruction that took the rest of the world.

Messiah is the atonement which carried Noah through the flood by which the earth was cleansed of violence and tyranny. Ultimately, he is the atonement which carries us through Death itself so that we may be resurrected to stand before the Judgment Seat of God. He will cover us and carry us through that as well.

Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
Revelation 7:15

Yeshua doesn’t always save us from trials, but he does save us through them. Our faith and mettle is tried continually by flood and fire and death, and his atonement will never fail us. We will come through the other side one day with a trove of refined spiritual gold, silver, and jewels in exchange for our own faithfulness.

* “Mercy seat” is a terrible translation of kapporet. Although the cover of the Ark of the Covenant could be considered the seat or center of God’s mercy, “covering” would be a much better translation.

The Real Difference Between the Righteous and the Wicked

The Scriptures call Noah, Abraham, and David righteous men, but Paul said that “all our righteousness is as filthy rags.” The Biblical narratives of these men illustrates Paul’s point very well:

The second thing Noah did when he got off the boat was to plant a vineyard so he could get drunk. (You have to give him props for patience and long-term planning.) When push came to shove, Abraham lied and gave up his wife in order to save his own skin. And who can forget the story of David and Bathsheba? Over the preceding decades, he killed hundreds of men with his own hands and then topped it off by stealing a friend’s wife and having the friend killed to cover up his adultery.

After all that, how can Scripture call them righteous men, “a friend of God”, and “a man after God’s own heart”?

Psalm 32, written by David, is a chiastic song (see here for an explanation of chiasms) that helps us understand this seeming contradiction.

A chiasm in Psalm 32

  • A – V1-2 Blessed is the forgiven who honestly repents
    • B – V3-4 Living in unrepented, unconfessed sin is oppressive to a righteous man
      • C – V5 I determined to confess (speech) and I will be forgiven.
        • D – V6-7 Let the righteous pray to God before it is too late. God will save them.
      • C – V8 Let me tell you (speech) how to find the peace that I have.
    • B – V9 Don’t cling stubbornly to sin. Don’t prompt God to reign you in forcibly.
  • A – V10-11 Steadfast love and joy are for the righteous and upright in heart

David began by describing the reaction of a righteous man to sin in his own life. “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. Day and night your hand was heavy upon me. My strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.” He vividly described a tormented, guilty conscience. He continued by describing the antidote to his shame: confession, forgiveness, repentance. He said the same will work for every righteous person: “Let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may still be found.”

Adopting the perspective of God speaking to the penitent David, he wrote, “I will teach you how to walk and will watch over you as you go.” The wicked, to the contrary, do not repent, but cling stubbornly to their sin. If they feel shame’s call to repent, they suppress it until they can no longer hear it. Longing to be free, they reject God’s Law of life and love, and replace it with another, harsher law of death and hatred. “Many are the sorrows of the wicked,” David said, “but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in Adonai.”

David was a righteous man, yet he sinned. The difference between a righteous and a wicked man, according to David’s testimony, isn’t sin itself, but the man’s response to it. The righteous man doesn’t want to sin. He wants to be perfect, to be obedient to God’s instructions. He listens to his conscience and to God’s words. The wicked man hears the same words, feels the same shame, but trains himself to ignore it, to submit instead to a yoke of sin that can only lead to death.

Be the righteous man by confessing your sins to God, asking His forgiveness, and by endeavoring not to repeat them. In Romans 1-2, Paul describes what will happen if you ignore God’s call for too long.

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.
(Romans 1:28 ESV)

Eventually, it will be too late. You won’t be able to turn back, either because God won’t let you or because you have just run out of time.

(This post is about what separates the heart of the righteous from the heart of the wicked. Later this week, I’ll talk about a few outward evidences of what’s going on inside.)

Patriarchy and Devotion

Noah, Abraham, & David were patriarchal servants of God.You’ve heard that you can know the rightness of something by its fruit. Well, here are some stories of real life patriarchy in action.

One man threw out all good sense, and devoted his entire life to a senseless project with no gain and no practical purpose at all. He neglected his family for his obsession and eventually even dragged them down with him. He abused his wife’s trust and submissive personality by pressuring her into joining him and abandoning any semblance of a real life outside of his tyrannical grip. He denied his children any chance at a normal social life by forcing them to work non-stop for years on end. His self-serving attitude turned his family into his slaves while he constantly harangued them with self-righteous sermons about how much better he was than everyone else in the world. His harping about the evil world eventually brainwashed them all, and they ended up locking themselves away from the rest of mankind and living with animals, virtually as animals.

There was another man who went even further off the deep end. He was the worst kind of sexist, even to the point of making his wife call him “Master,” and probably making her wear a veil too. He was always telling his family how God talked to him. You know what they say, “It’s OK to talk to God as long as you don’t think he’s talking back.” Well, this guy seduced a young immigrant girl and then kept her locked up at his house where he treated her as a slave for nearly twenty years. Eventually he took this woman and the son he had fathered on her out to the desert and left them to die. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, then he told everyone that God had told him to kill his own son as some kind of perverted human sacrifice. He nearly went through with it, but there must have been some last glimmer of sanity, because then he said that God changed his mind. Well, that was the final straw for the wife that he had been dragging around and treating like dirt for decades. She left him and died of a broken heart not long afterwards.

A third man was a womanizer. He always seemed to have a new woman with him. He was a sweet-talker who could carry a tune and was always singing to the ladies. They were probably the kind of women who were attracted to power and money, but didn’t have the intelligence or the character to understand what is really important in life: complete and utter devotion from your man. This man was a thug. He was known to have killed a few men, although no one ever dared stand up to him. He actually claimed to have killed thousands, but that was just his swollen ego talking. When he was caught with someone else’s wife, he made a big deal about being sorry for it, but he kept on sleeping around with his bimbos. One day he was out drunk and causing a commotion in the streets. His wife, who had been faithful for years despite his despicable ways, saw him doing a public strip-tease in front of a crowd of women. She finally told him off and ended up locked away for pretty much the rest of her life. Meanwhile he kept on with his same old ways, even trying to seduce a young girl as an old man.

Or at least that’s how most people, including Christians, would see it today.

Fortunately, God left a record of what really happened, and most Christians are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. The real story is that Noah and Abraham and David were such outstanding men of God that he trusted them with the most difficult tasks. Noah’s wife and three sons knew from their own experience that he was unlike any other man alive. They willingly gave up their professions and their social standing in order to help him build an insane boat, because they knew that he was a man of God. The Bible says that “Noah found favor in the eyes of God.” Abraham was among the kindest and gentlest men that ever lived. He was fair and honest in everything he did, and his wife held him in such great esteem that she called him lord by her own choice. He had such an intimate and complete faith in God that he was willing to give up his own son at God’s command, no matter what the cost to himself or his wife. Sarah may or may not have left him or even died because of that event, but she understood that God’s will must always come first. The Bible calls him the Friend of God. David was a man of great passion and integrity all at the same time. He made a serious mistake with one woman, and paid dearly for it. But the majority of his life was spent in complete devotion to God and service to his country. He was the epitome of the servant king. His first wife, Michal, was jealous of God and rebuked David for his public dancing and singing to God. Her pride cost her everything. She never again had David’s respect, and she died bitter and childless. The Bible calls David a man after God’s own heart.

Don’t expect God’s ways to always be to your liking. His ways are not your ways. The obedience of one man means more to him than the disapproval of ten thousand. To serve him means to give up all claims to social status or pride. He expects complete devotion. A true man of God can never be devoted1 to his wife, because devotion can have only one object. To serve God means to be willing to give up every comfort, every friend, and every loved one. All of those things are no better than dirt in comparison to him.

Or at least that’s how Christ taught it once upon a time.

1 I am using the older sense of devotion, indicating complete absorption. In that sense, devotion to anything besides God is a form of idolatry.