10) Forgiveness and Atonement

Key precept: Humans are not action figures  –  the results of our actions reverberate through our world.

Stepping stone on the path to eternal life: Ask for forgiveness from the Creator / authority for the damage caused by our selfish misbehavior.

“For when we were yet without strength, in due time The Chosen One / Messiah / Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, The Chosen One / Messiah / Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.” (Romans 5:6-9)

To understand how Messiah’s death saves us from sin, we need to understand what sin is, and what it had to do with death being imposed on humanity just because they ate the fruit.

Using the Bible to explain itself, we can review the record of sin, discover a pattern, and gather all the other names by which this significant behavior is called: iniquity, profanity, transgression, wickedness, evil.

The first known occasion of sin was committed by Lucifer.

“Thus saith the Lord God; Thou sealest up the sum, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty. Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God…Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so…Thou wast perfect in thy ways [from thoughts to actions] from the day that thou wast created, till

  • iniquity was found in thee. 
  • By the multitude of thy merchandise they have filled the midst of thee with violence, and
  • thou hast sinned:
  • therefore I will cast thee as profane out of the mountain of God: and I will destroy thee, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire. 
  • Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty,
  • thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness: I will cast thee to the ground, I will lay thee before kings, that they may behold thee. 
  • Thou hast defiled thy sanctuaries by the multitude of thine iniquities, by the iniquity of thy traffick; therefore will I bring forth a fire from the midst of thee, it shall devour thee, and I will bring thee to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all them that behold thee.” (Ezekiel 28:12-18)

Previously we examined how Lucifer defiantly claimed for himself all that God had granted to humans.  Here we find the most basic definition of sin – defying God’s authority and making oneself the authority, like the woman in the Garden of Eden.

How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!  For thou hast said in thine heart,

  • I will ascend into heaven,
  • I will exalt my throne above the stars of God:
  • I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: 
  • I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
  • I will be like the most High.”

We defy God’s authority when we imagine that we can escape from the restrictions outlined in God’s laws. We selectively obey the parts we like and revise the rest.

“…I am the LORDTherefore shall ye keep my commandments, and do them: I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 22:30-31)

“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matthew 7:21-23)

No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon / pursue wealth. And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him. And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men / influence, power, social status, wealth is abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:8-15)


Joseph son of Jacob makes the sobering point that transgressing his master’s boundaries was actually a transgression against God’s commandments, which broadens the definition of sin and brings it down to earth.

“And it came to pass after these things, that his master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me. But he refused, and said unto his master’s wife, Behold, my master…hath committed all that he hath to my hand…neither hath he kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God? (Genesis 39:7-9)

“Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God; And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;” (Colossians 3:22-23)

“Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.” (Romans 13:1-2) 

This last, of course, does not teach subjection to ungodly edicts, as demonstrated in multiple incidents throughout human history, such as Daniel in the lion’s den for refusing to stop praying, or Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego cast into the fire for refusing to worship the idol. It teaches non-violent resistance to earthly forces when those powers are in direct opposition to God’s word. 

We ought to obey God, rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)

Transgression” is another word for defying authority, with the understanding that there are specific laws like “No Trespassing” and limits like posted road signs.  In King David’s case, it was “Thou shalt not commit adultery” and “Thou shalt not lie” and “Thou shalt not kill.”

God’s likeness is holiness, therefore sin can be understood as any behavior that is not holy.  “Sin is failing to act in accordance with the standard of righteousness set forth by the very character of God.

“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

“Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” (I John 3:4)

1135eaf2-e824-47f1-a7cc-0f7f2da1e79b.jpgThe essential problem with transgressing God’s laws is that these are not, as some people claim, arbitrary rules established by certain cultures which change over time as circumstances change.  The definition of natural law is “a phenomenon of nature that has been proven to invariably occur whenever certain conditions exist or are met.”


Natural laws are God’s invariable, eternal laws, established when he designed the universe. We understand this process in physics, but this also applies to social and spiritual domains. Human actions cannot break these laws without throwing the affected part of the universe into chaos and inevitable destruction.

Don’t make the mistake of narrowly pegging every biblical reference to “law” as being about the law of Moses. Long before God made a particular covenant with the descendants of Jacob / nation of Israel there were basic laws of holiness – perfection in relationship – taught to all mankind. These are for the purpose of establishing and maintaining harmonious relationships with each other and with God. These are built into human conscience with at least the common sense awareness that trouble will follow misbehavior.

For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another.” (Romans 2:14-15)

When anyone sins, i.e. does something un-right-eous, there is a disruption in the “right-ness” of that person’s relationship / connection to God and others, which spreads and contaminates every dimension, not just moral. Anyone who has experienced a relationship breakdown should be able to personalize this concept to their own life.  There is much more than a cessation of relationship with the ex-spouse – there is loss of time and experiences with children during split custody, loss of financial security, loss of shared friends, loss of a home, and it goes on and on. Then there are the effects felt by the children, and family members, and friends, and school associates, and work colleagues, and…

Unless counteracted, unchecked sin results in ever-spreading chaos and ultimate utter destruction. We’ve seen it in world wars and nuclear weapons. Pride, perhaps the greatest sin, is potentially capable of literally generating a black hole.


God responded to Lucifer’s sin by decreeing destruction by fire. This was not out of petty revenge, but to cauterize the damage. No doubt Lucifer is powerful and spiteful enough to generate a world-destroying black hole. And no doubt Lucifer expected the same fate to befall humans.

But because humans are mortal, changeable, we have the option of being restored to our original condition, in perfect right relationship with God.

This process is called forgiveness.

“If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O LORD, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared. I wait for the LORD, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope.” (Psal 130:3-5)

Forgiveness does not mean ignoring the offense or acting as though it didn’t happen.

Forgiveness is when the offended party bears the consequences of the offense.

We see this in action in many aspects of life, such as in:

  1. Banking laws – transferring a debt that is owed by the debtor to the to someone else who pays what is owed, or assumes the debt, also known as “imputing” the debt. For example, just one $150 billion tax rebate by President George Bush in a failed attempt to bail out failing banks in 2008 cost the equivalent of $1,000 for every American household. Those paying taxes that is, with, as always, a much higher burden on the tax-paying middle class. In total, it is estimated that in that one banking crisis tax payers covered $8.5 trillion in bailouts to banks and insurers.
  2. Judicial laws – transferring the punishment imposed on an offender to an innocent person who pays the fine or serves the time.
  3. Physics laws – countering the inevitable link between an undesired effect and its cause by imposing new forces on, or removing, the cause.


We struggle with forgiving those who have hurt us because we feel, justifiably I would say, outraged that the offender gets to shrug off responsibility instead of admitting and repairing the harm that was done to us. Intuitively we understand that when we forgive, we cancel the debt owed to us, and we are left bearing the burden of that offense through emotional suffering, physical suffering, financial costs, damaged reputation, loss of social standing, loss of hopes and dreams for the future.

I once counseled a woman whose boyfriend had insinuated himself into her life over a period of months, charming her into more and more involvement until his true psychopath personality could no longer be held in check.  When I saw her she was article-2276767-1783d302000005dc-826_634x443recovering from broken bones from his most recent and most vicious beating. in retaliation for being told to leave he had utterly destroyed her house by ripping out all the plumbing and electrical and smashing all the windows, drywall, floors, doors and appliances. (The photo represents the damage done, but is not an actual photo of the woman or her home, nor does it fully show the extent of the damage.)

He had wrecked her car. He had terrorized the other employees at her workplace, triggering the loss of her job. She was left to suffer the consequences all alone. She had no homeowner’s insurance for the property damage because it was deliberately caused by an occupant who had lived there long enough to be legally classified as a resident. She had no insurance coverage for her medical bills because she had lost her job. She had no income or outlook for another decent job. Inconceivably, she had no recourse even to have him arrested. She had allowed him to get away with increasingly violent behavior for too long, lied to the authorities to cover for him too many times. She had long since allowed herself to be alienated from former friends by her psychopath control freak boyfriend, she was now homeless, unemployable with a mortgage to pay on a condemned property, forced into bankruptcy with consequent loss of credit rating, terrified of encountering him again.

And Jesus said,

“if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15)

That just doesn’t seem right! 

But in fact, whether or not she felt like it, her best course of action was to forgive her abuser. Her mental, emotional, physical, social – and because we are all interconnected body, soul and spirit – her spiritual health depended on it.  How so?

As long as she chose not to forgive him, she was holding on to the debt he owed her. Can we not recognize that meant she was holding on to a relationship with him?

“You owe me! You need to change your behavior, your attitude, your beliefs to make things right with me!”

Isn’t this how marriage counseling usual goes? And goes and goes around in a circle without ever coming to a resolution as to who will change?

Think about your own experiences with unforgiveness. I know from my own personal experience that brooding over injustice, regret, insistence on “It shouldn’t have been like that!” trapped me in a pit of despair, deep depression, physical deterioration, social restrictions, terribly poor judgment, and a cycle of failed attempts to restore the unforgiven relationship through a series of duplicate and therefore likewise bad and failed relationships. When my divorce lawyer asked “Why did you ever marry _________?” I unwittingly blurted out “Because I wanted my father to love me, or at least a close facsimile.”

I finally pulled out of the rut I had dug myself into when I grasped hold of reality. I wasn’t loved, deal with it in a healthy way. I could then exert my capacities – body, soul and spirit – to heal, focus on my own personal problems – sure, let’s call them sins – and change. 

In this light, Jesus’ admonition that we won’t be forgiven if we don’t forgive is recognized not to be a threat, but a simple law of nature. As long as we, unwittingly or not, make ourselves the judge and enforcer of justice, we’re not allowing God to do his job in our lives.

“Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?” (Matthew 7:1-4)

As we can see, forgiveness is one-sided.  By itself, forgiveness doesn’t fix a bad relationship. Action by the injured party is required. A grudging “I’m sorry if I did something that upset you” – implying that you’re just overly sensitive and need to grow up – doesn’t work. As anyone who has ever experienced a damaged relationship knows, restoration requires forgiveness by the victim plus repentance by the victimizer. We understand this in human relationships, which, being in the likeness of God, are equivalent to our relationship with God.

“If they sin against thee, (for there is no man that sinneth not,)…Yet if they shall bethink themselves…and repent / return to a former condition, a previous good relationship and make supplication unto thee…saying, We have sinned, and have done perversely, we have committed wickedness; And so return unto thee with all their heart, and with all their soul… Then… forgive thy people that have sinned against thee, and all their transgressions wherein they have transgressed against thee, and give them compassion” (I Kings 8:46-50)

To re-pent, re-think or return, means that the victimizer takes responsibility for the relationship problem, usually in increments because this is a huge change of direction for the victimizer. The complete process is the essence of the recovery program in Alcohol Anonymous’ Twelve Steps.

  1. Acknowledge the damage done by his / her actions. Honestly, most relationships just limp along at this level, with continued trauma and apologies, harbored resentment and anger, and increasing distance between the parties, whether personally or in incessant trips at church to the altar to confess and receive absolution (in Baptist as much as Catholic).
  2. Offer to repair the damage done to the extent possible, also called repairs / reparations. Drunk driving wrecked the family car? Repair or replace the car. Constant criticism? Replace with compliments. Loss of trust? Earn trust by providing proof of fidelity.
  3. Take action to prevent a recurrence. This gets to the source of the problem. Stop drinking. Get counseling. Stop interacting seductively with co-workers or online resources. Take medication for neurotransmitter imbalances cause by neuron damage from emotional traumas expressed as PTSD, depression, Bipolar disorder, etc. Be humble enough to admit you need help, you can’t overcome your dependency on pleasure-inducing chemicals whether exogenous (consumed) or endogenous (induced by behaviors such as arousal.)

“Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness…

  1. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me….
  2. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash / vigorously scrub me, and I shall be whiter than snow... Submit to painful processes to repair the damage done to the body and soul from consuming and engaging in harmful and filthy habits. Alcohol and heroin are not the only things that trigger withdrawals. Any pleasure-inducing habit is hard to break, and relapses are more common that successful rehab, witness unsuccessful diets.
  3. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. This gets to the source of the problem. Cast me not away from thy presence; acknowledges the prerogatives of an existing relationship, in God’s case, as our Creator, and take not thy holy spirit from me…uphold me with thy free spirit. This is the ultimate “higher power” that succeeds in overcoming all other drivesThe sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.The humility required to admit we can’t do it alone, we need help.” (Psalm 51:1-17)

Atonement is when the offender acknowledges his debt by giving something of value.

Acknowledging that your actions harmed someone, and giving something of equivalent value to the person who suffered loss by your actions, is called atonement.  To some extent it repairs (the action, verb) the damage that was done, with reparations (the things, noun).

  • In politics, monetary reparations are often imposed on the countries that started, but lost, a war, to repay the winning countries their cost of fighting the war (taking the place of the older system of plunder and slaves).
  • In a court of law, a monetary fine is often imposed on the offender, which puts a value on the damage caused by the wrongdoer’s actions.  This allows the judge to maintain his integrity (honesty, righteousness, faithfulness to the law) while allowing mercy to the person who broke the law (which by definition harms another individual.) It “put things right”, in some mystical way restores balance to the universe.
  • In the physical realm, tax payments are one means by which damage to the environment is repaired.

To be just, reparations have to be equal in value to the damage that was caused. The only equitable atonement for a sin unto death is  – another death.

“Now these are the judgments which thou shalt set before them…

  • He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death…
  • if men strive together, and one smite another…and he die not…then shall he…pay as the judges determine…
  • thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot [in other words, fairly, equitably]…
  • If there be laid on him a sum of money, then he shall give for the ransom of his life whatsoever is laid upon him…” (Exodus 21:1-30)

God had told the first humans, who were genetically all humanity, that if they ate the fruit, they would die that very day, but that didn’t happen in the full meaning of physical death. God forgave Adam and Eve, i.e. he

  • canceled the cost / consequence / effect of death
  • due from becoming indebted / breaking the law / cause of eating the fruit
  • by shifting the cost / consequence / effect to another person – the seed of the woman, scheduled to appear in the future.  

Sin, like cancer, is not something that can be dismissed with a nod and a wave of the hand, like burping in public. Sin, like cancer, is a deeply unpleasant condition requiring a deeply unpleasant remedy involving suffering. The idea that deadly cancer can be cured without a major disruption to the system is, from an objective point of view, a very pleasant idea, but a fatal one, and so it is with sin. So, Richard Dawkins, does this answer your question?


11God then demonstrated atonement, the way humans reconcile their estrangement from him.

While flowers, candy and jewelry may work for human relationships, the deadly consequences of becoming estranged from Creator God can only be restored by giving another life. God killed animals and covered the naked, unprotected human flesh with the animal skins. The man and the woman would have been covered in blood from the freshly skinned hides.

“Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them.” (Genesis 3:21)

10570000_311232579054489_217506234_nRemember, Adam and his wife had named all the animals, i.e. identified each of them according to their unique characteristics, so knew them personally. Imagine having your pet dog, whom you’ve hand-fed and cuddled and who you emotionally bond with like a child, slaughtered because of what you’ve done.  You wear her skin plastered against yours, like a skin graft. I would be horrified, sobbing, shocked into realization of the significance of my sin, screaming my repentance, deeply conscious that I am alive only because another died in my place and that my life is now merged with the one who died.

For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.” (Leviticus 17:11)

“Then Hezekiah the king rose early, and gathered the rulers of the city, and went up to the house of the LORD. And they brought seven bullocks, and seven rams, and seven lambs, and seven he goats, for a sin offering for the kingdom, and for the sanctuary, and for Judah. And he commanded the priests the sons of Aaron to offer them on the altar of the LORD.

  • So they killed the bullocks, and the priests received the blood, and sprinkled it on the altar:
  • likewise, when they had killed the rams, they sprinkled the blood upon the altar:
  • they killed also the lambs, and they sprinkled the blood upon the altar.
  • And they brought forth the he goats for the sin offering before the king and the congregation; and they laid their hands upon them: And the priests killed them,

and they made reconciliation with their blood upon the altar, to make an atonement for all Israel.” (II Chronicles 29:20-24)

“If a soul shall sin through ignorance against any of the commandments of the LORD…then let him bring for his sin… a young bullock… unto the Lord for a sin offering…lay his hand upon the bullock’s head [to identify with the living creature], and kill the bullock before the LORD…pour all the blood of the bullock at the bottom of the altar of the burnt offering…and the priest shall make an atonement for him, and it shall be forgiven him. (Leviticus 4:2-31)

“this shall be a statute for ever unto you: that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, ye shall afflict / humble your souls, and do no work at all…For on that day shall the priest make an atonement for you…that ye may be clean from all your sins before the LORDAnd the priest, whom he shall anoint, and whom he shall consecrate to minister in the priest’s office in his father’s stead…shall make an atonement for the holy sanctuary, and…for the tabernacle of the congregation, and for the altar, and he shall make an atonement for the priests, and for all the people of the congregation.” (Leviticus 16:29-33)

In ancient Israel, the Day of Atonement laid the foundation for God to forgive the people of any sins committed since the previous year’s feast. Thus, the Day of Atonement was a yearly reminder that all of Israel’s daily, weekly, and monthly ritual sacrifices and offerings were not sufficient to permanently atone for sin.

Yom Kippur was the only time during the year when the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies in the innermost chamber of the Temple (or the Tabernacle)…

On this day, the high priest would remove his official priestly garments, which were radiant vestments. He would bathe and put on a pure white linen robe to symbolize repentance.

Next, he would make a sin offering for himself and the other priests by sacrificing a young bull and a ram for a burnt offering. Then he would enter the Holy of Holies with a pan of glowing coals from the altar of incense, filling the air with a smoky cloud and aroma of incense. Using his fingers, he would sprinkle the blood of the bull on the mercy seat and the floor before the ark of the covenant.

Altar of Burnt Offering
High Priest at the Altar of Burnt Offering (Exodus 29), wood engraving, published 1886. ZU_09 / Getty Images

The high priest would then cast lots between two live goats that had been brought by the people. One goat was killed as a sin offering for the nation. Its blood was then added by the high priest to the blood already sprinkled inside the Holy of Holies. With this act, he atoned even for the Holy Place.

With grand ceremony, the high priest would then place his hands on the head of the live goat and confess the sins of the whole nation before the altar of burnt offering. Finally, he would give the live goat to an appointed person who carried it outside the camp and set it free into the wilderness. Symbolically, the “scapegoat” would carry away the sins of the people.

After these ceremonies, the high priest would enter the tent of meeting, bathe again, and redress in his official garments. Taking the fat of the sin offering, he would present a burnt offering for himself and one for the people. The remaining flesh of the young bull would be burned outside the camp.

Today, the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are days of repentance, when Jews express remorse for their sins through prayer and fasting. Yom Kippur is the final day of judgment.

King David committed multiple sins against God who had entrusted the kingdom to him, against his subjects, against his faithful general Uriah, against Bathsheba, and against their illegitimate child. To achieve justice by any reasonable national law he should have been punished with death for any one of them. However, God forgave him, and suffered the loss of his own authority and credibility in the process.

“And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the LORD. And Nathan said unto David, The LORD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die. Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die.” (II Samuel 12:13-14)

Next, because David repented and pleaded for it, God allowed him to make atonement in order to restore their relationship.

Because this case was so extreme, God required the greatest sacrifice any parent can make – the death of his children. David called for a judgment of paying four times restitution in the parable of a man who stole another man’s lamb, and God held him to it. David lost four sons.  

And the LORD sent Nathan unto David. And he came unto him, and said unto him, There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor. The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds: But the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter. And there came a traveller unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress [butcher] for the wayfaring man that was come unto him; but took the poor man’s lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him.

And David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, As the LORD liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die: And he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity. 

And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man. Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul; And I gave thee thy master’s house, and thy master’s wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things. Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in his sight? thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon. 

Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife. Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun. For thou didst it secretly: but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun… 

And the LORD struck the child that Uriah’s wife bare unto David, and it was very sick. David therefore besought God for the child; and David fasted, and went in, and lay all night upon the earth. And the elders of his house arose, and went to him, to raise him up from the earth: but he would not, neither did he eat bread with them. 

  1. And it came to pass on the seventh day, that the child died. And the servants of David feared to tell him that the child was dead: for they said, Behold, while the child was yet alive, we spake unto him, and he would not hearken unto our voice: how will he then vex himself, if we tell him that the child is dead? But when David saw that his servants whispered, David perceived that the child was dead: therefore David said unto his servants, Is the child dead? And they said, He is dead. Then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the LORD, and worshipped…I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.” (II Samuel 12:7-23)
  2. “Amnon…is dead: for by the appointment of Absalom this hath been determined from the day that he forced his sister Tamar.” (II Samuel 13:32)
  3. And the conspiracy was strong…with Absalom. And there came a messenger to David, saying, The hearts of the men of Israel are after Absalom. And David said unto all his servants that were with him at Jerusalem, Arise, and let us flee; for we shall not else escape from Absalom:” (II Samuel 15:12-14) “So they spread Absalom a tent upon the top of the house; and Absalom went in unto his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel.” (II Sam 16:22) “…[David’s] people went out into the field against Israel…and there was there a great slaughter…And Absalom met the servants of David…Then…Joab [David’s top general] took three darts in his hand, and thrust them through the heart of Absalom, while he was yet alive…And ten young men that bare Joab’s armour compassed about and smote Absalom, and slew him. And Joab blew the trumpet, and the people returned from pursuing after Israel: for Joab held back the people. And they took Absalom, and cast him into a great pit in the wood, and laid a very great heap of stones upon him: and all Israel fled every one to his tent. Now Absalom in his lifetime had taken and reared up for himself a pillar, which is in the king’s dale: for he said, I have no son to keep my name in remembrance: and he called the pillar after his own name: and it is called unto this day, Absalom’s place.And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (II Samuel 18)
  4. Then king Solomon sware by the Lord, saying…as the LORD liveth, which hath established me, and set me on the throne of David my father, and who hath made me an house, as he promised, Adonijah shall be put to death this day. And king Solomon sent by the hand of Benaiah the son of Jehoiada; and he fell upon him that he died.” (I Kings 2:23-25)

David didn’t actively kill his children, but he did sacrifice his children when he gave them up to God to do as God willed. You can best be sure that David realized that each time one of his sons died he knew it was in his place. Listen to his heart-wrenching scream “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!” This isn’t just an abstract wish. This is for real. David would much rather have pleaded guilty in a court of law and have been executed for his crimes to end his emotional pain. But he was needed to govern this new nation or Israel would have collapsed even earlier than it did into chaos and potentially utter obliteration.

David’s willingness to bear his suffering throughout his life in order to continue to serve his Lord provides us with our clearest example of atonement. It ain’t easy. In the New Covenant those who identify with YHVH’s Savior’s sacrifice and atonement are called to take up their cross and follow him to crucifixion of the body.

Notice that David also made atonement to Bathsheba, both in giving her another child, and as we saw earlier, giving her son the kingdom instead of his older and politically-connected brothers. Most sinners shift the blame, claiming exculpatory circumstances with claims like “It’s her fault, she made me do it, she shouldn’t have tempted me…” David accepted responsibility and, highly unusual for a man in a powerful position, made reparations to the woman he had wronged.

But this was only possible because Bathsheba accepted his atonement, a life for a life. God can unilaterally forgive sinners but even He can only offer restoration of relationship, which must be accepted.

And David comforted Bathsheba his wife, and went in unto her, and lay with her: and she bare a son, and he called his name Solomon: and the LORD loved him.” (II Samuel 12:7-24)

Like Jesus, Bathsheba was an innocent victim who suffered extreme abuse at the hands of a respected religious figure who betrayed her submission to his authority and used his power to deny justice.  And then to be forced to live with the evil, i.e. lying, deceiving, man who destroyed your life?  It would be insufferable.  To really feel how this impacted Bathsheba, consider the accounts of the survivors of the genocide in Rwanda, poignantly communicated in the book As We Forgive.

And then, one night, David comes to Bathsheba, saying in whatever way he communicated it, “I’m sorry.  Please forgive me.”  She could look into his eyes and see his agony, his soul poured out onto death, his sincere remorse and desperate need for her forgiveness. I don’t think it was enough for David to hear from the prophet Nathan that God had forgiven him.  I think we humans require experiencing forgiveness from one human to another, with our senses – to see the change in expression on the face of the forgiver, to hear the words “I forgive you”, to feel the hug, to smell the skin your face is pressed against, to taste the tears of reconciliation.  

Bathsheba had a choice to make – justice, or mercy.

Justice would salvage at least her reputation and financial stability by demanding public acknowledgement that she was innocent, that he had raped, or at the very least, abused his position of power over her, and force restitution. 

While mercy, through forgiveness, would cost her dearly. For the rest of her Bathsheba would bear the humiliation of an irreparably destroyed reputation as she was falsely convicted in the court of public opinion of seducing the nation’s hugely popular rock star politician. She would feel a sense of betrayal to her first husband Uriah, who had loved her with a total devotion as his only wife. She would experience loneliness, shunning, and outright hatred from the other, highly competitive wives in the king’s harem pushing their own and their son’s interests. She would find it impossible to assuage her heartbreak of losing her first born son due to continued involvement with the man who caused her trauma. This was not an easy choice for her to make.

But if Bathsheba had chosen to withhold forgiveness and instead get “an eye for an eye” justice – suffering for suffering – could David have reclaimed his life and lived out his destiny?  Or would it have been the end of him, and the new nation?

Is it possible that people have a hard time believing that God can forgive them because we have so little experience of human forgiveness? After all, we are designed to have God’s likeness, and our impression of what God is like is informed by our knowledge of humans.

We are used to thinking of Solomon as the son of David whose dynasty culminated in Yeshua, the King of Israel.

“Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David…being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up The Chosen One / Messiah / Christ to sit on his throne…Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made the same Yahweh’s Savior / Yeshua/  Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord [ruler or king] and Chosen Redeemer / Messiah / Christ.” (Acts 2:29-36)

David’s first son by Bathsheba is also fulfilled in Yeshua, who repeated his sacrifice as an innocent dying for the sins of others.

“...And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the son of David; they were sore displeased, “(Mat 21:15) “…the chief priests therefore and officers…cried out, saying, Crucify him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them…I find no fault in him…Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified.” (John 19:6, 16)

A very interesting concept to contemplate is that Yahweh’s Savior / Yeshua / Jesus was given away – sacrificed – by humanity. He had inestimable value. He was the rightful heir to the kingdom of Israel who could have freed Israel from Roman bondage and elevated the priests as rulers over the entire world – but they gave him up to be killed. And it is not just the Jews who sacrificed him. He could have freed Pilate and Herod from the tyrant Caesar. He was executed in “the times of the Gentiles” when the Romans ruled. All humanity is represented in Yeshua’s sacrifice.

“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for

  • our transgressions, he was bruised for
  • our iniquities: the
  • chastisement of our peace was upon him; and
  • with his stripes we are healed.
  • All we like sheep have gone astray;
  • we have turned every one to his own way;
  • and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all…he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter…
  • for the transgression of my people was he stricken…by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for
  • he shall bear their iniquities…
  • he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:3-12)

“And Pilate, when he had called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, Said unto them, Ye have brought this man unto me, as one that perverteth the people: and, behold, I, having examined him before you, have found no fault in this man touching those things whereof ye accuse him: No, nor yet Herod: for I sent you to him; and, lo, nothing worthy of death is done unto him. I will therefore chastise him, and release him. (For of necessity he must release one unto them at the feast.) And they cried out all at once, saying, Away with this man, and release unto us Barabbas: (Who for a certain sedition made in the city, and for murder, was cast into prison.) Pilate therefore, willing to release Jesus, spake again to them. But they cried, saying, Crucify him, crucify him. And he said unto them the third time, Why, what evil hath he done? I have found no cause of death in him: I will therefore chastise him, and let him go. And they were instant with loud voices, requiring that he might be crucified. And the voices of them and of the chief priests prevailed. And Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they required. And he released unto them him that for sedition and murder was cast into prison, whom they had desired; but he delivered Jesus to their will.” (Luke 23:13-25)

Yahweh’s Savior / Yeshua / Jesus became the ultimate and final sacrifice for sin when he died. He was sinless, so his death was not in punishment for anything he did wrong, therefore can be applied to someone else’s punishment. As a human, he was able to represent all humanity, so his death can be attributed as payment – atonement – for the sins of every human.

“ Who did no sin…when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously; who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.” (I Peter 2:24)

This is the good news, the gospel – that we can be reconciled to God, and be at peace with him.

“…we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” (II Corinthians 5:20-21)

“…Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)

Only a death that finalizes the death penalty on humanity could bring about the kingdom as planned before creation, a world filled with perfect humans made in God’s image and matured into his likeness.

“For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in The Chosen One / Messiah / Christ shall all be made alive.” (I Corinthians 15:21-22)

“But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Yahwehs’ Appointed Savior / Yeshua Messiah / Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe, for there is no difference. For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Yahweh’s Appointed Savior / Messiah Yeshua / Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Yahweh’s Savior / Yeshua / Jesus.” (Romans 3:21-26)

“…what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on Yahweh’s Savior / the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house.” (Acts 16:30-32)

 Yeshua’s death on behalf of humanity allows our sins to be remitted, i.e. legally pardoned. His resurrection proves that God was satisfied with the death sentence, and it no longer applies to those who identify with Yahweh’s Savior / Yeshua / Jesus as their sacrifice for sin.

“Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, (Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,)  Concerning his Son Yahweh’s Appointed Savior / Yeshua Messiah / Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead: By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name:” (Romans 1:1-5)

“Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand…For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that The Chosen One / Messiah / Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures. (I Corinthians 15:1-4)

To summarize what we’ve discovered so far:

God created the universe and gave dominion to humans who were subject to the laws of the universe, including the laws of sin and death. When they ate the toxic fruit their DNA mutated to code for decay and death, and their spirit became disconnected from God. God had foreseen this and planned in advance for a sinless human – a second Adam – representing all humans and taking on himself the full consequence / punishment / payment for disconnecting from / sinning against / becoming indebted to God. Humans now have the choice to believe and act on God’s word for forgiveness and remission of sin and death with restoration to holiness / sinlessnesss in an eternal relationship with God, and righteousness-restoring dominion over assigned territory, or to believe and act on Satan’s lie that we don’t need God to solve our problems.  That last piece should be a no brainer. How many of your own problems have you been able to fix?

One thought on “10) Forgiveness and Atonement

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