How does God Provide Atonement for Sin?

Question from a Site Viewer
Hello. I am going through a rough time where my faith is weak. I have read things that have helped weaken it and I’m confused. I read a view from a Jew on how blood is not required to save from sins, only prayer. And they say that in the Old Testament, animal blood sacrificed was only for unintentional sins, not purposeful sins. So if that is true, why would Jesus have had to spill his blood for all sins, if in the Old Testament, blood spilled was only for unintentional sins? How did God forgive those in the Old Testament for intentional sins? This person also used Hosea 14:2 as “proof” that prayer was a replacement for sacrifice, and we were saved from sin simply by praying. They used Kings 8:46-50 as the same example. And then for the part on atonement in Leviticus 17:10-12, they said that blood was used to obtain atonement but it didn’t say blood was used as the ONLY means of atonement. Please help me because I’m lost.

Tim’s Answer
Your Jewish source is partially correct in stating that blood is not required to save from sins, and that prayer saves. From our human standpoint, there is no blood we can offer, no sacrifice we can make, and no offering we can make, that will cover over or atone our sins. Micah 6:6-8 gives us a strong statement on this matter. What does God require of us? The prophet asks the question whether he can come before God with burnt offerings, with thousands of rams, with rivers of oil? Could the prophet offer to God his firstborn to pay for his transgression, or “the fruit of his body for the sin of his soul”? The answer is “no.” None of these things will do. None will cover over sin. But what God requires is that we do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. The Hosea 14:2 passage is another great passage. God does not require us to bring a blood sacrifice; He only asks us to return to Him with our confession. David states in Psalm 51 that sacrifice and burnt offering God does not desire, but a broken and humble heart God does not despise.

Your Jewish source also is partially correct in stating that the Jewish sacrificial system did not cover certain sins. Sins with a high hand, or sins done with a certain level of defiance, these were without atonement (Numbers 15:30-31). But though many translations use the word “intentional” to denote those sins, such is probably not the best choice of words to describe the Hebrew concept. As we think of intentional, Scripture is clear that many intentional sins could be atoned. In Leviticus 6:1-7, Scripture tells us that a person who sins by lying to his neighbor about what was delivered to him for safekeeping, or about a pledge , or about a robbery, or if he has extorted from his neighbor, or if he has found what was lost and lies concerning it; for each of these sins he may bring his offering and the priest will make atonement for him. These are all intentional sins. But, as noted in Numbers 15:30-31, sins with the high hand had no atonement. And yet, David, the great king, when he not only sinned with Bathsheba, but went farther and murdered Uriah, her husband, a sin that we would definitely see as being with a high hand, God forgave him upon repentance (2 Samuel 12:13-14). And wicked king Manasseh, who filled Jerusalem with idolatry and wickedness against God, when he repented, also found mercy with God (2 Chronicles 33:12-13). How is this possible?

And, your Jewish source is partially right in stating that blood was only one of the ways atonement under the Jewish law could occur. The concept of atonement occurs with the ransom money that was paid to the LORD (Exodus 30:11-16) and with the giving of the gold jewelry captured in battle (Numbers 31:50). Those who were too poor to bring two turtledoves for a trespass offering could bring fine flour and it would serve as an atoning sacrifice (Leviticus 5:11-13). Hezekiah prayed for atonement for those who ate the sacrifice without being ceremonially cleansed and God listened to Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 30:18–20). And Isaiah’s iniquity was atoned by the burning coal (Isaiah 6:7). So atonement, or the covering of sins, was not solely linked to a blood sacrifice under the law. Yet, Scripture makes the statement that “it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul” (Leviticus 17:11), a statement it makes about no other method of atonement. And it is safe to say that the overwhelming use of the word “atonement” in the Jewish Scriptures entailed blood. The entire Day of Atonement process was about applying blood to cover sins (Leviticus 16). And though other means were permitted in certain situations, the national celebration of atonement for Israel centered around the shedding and application of blood. One cannot escape the central role of blood in providing for atonement when one reads the Old Testament.

So, here is what we know. The blood was central to the Jewish system of atonement as laid down by God, though not the exclusive means of atonement. We know that God stated that it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul. We know that the sacrificial system of the Law could not take away sins. David (Psalm 51:16-17) and the prophets (Isaiah 1:11-18; Micah 6:6-8) make this clear. We know that only God can remove sins. And we know that we can receive this removal by prayer. These are among the things we know from the Jewish Scriptures.

But we also know some other things from the Jewish Scriptures. We know that there was a hope that God would provide the ultimate atonement for sins. In Deuteronomy 32:43, God promises Himself to provide atonement for His land and His people. In Psalm 79:9, we find Asaph asking God to provide atonement for sins. In Ezekiel 16:63, God again promises to provide atonement for His people. And in Daniel 9:24, we find God telling Daniel that within 70 “7s” (“seventy weeks”), Israel’s transgressions would be finished, her sins would be ended, and her iniquities would be atoned. But we are not told directly in these passages how God would provide atonement. Nevertheless, there is a hint. In the Daniel passage, we are told that during the subject time period the Messiah would be cut off. What Daniel hints, other Old Testament passages make more explicit. The Messiah would be rejected by His people. In Micah 5:1 we are told that they would strike the judge of Israel with a rod on the cheek. In Psalm 118:22 we are told that the the chief cornerstone would be rejected by the builders. In Zechariah 12:10, we are told that the inhabitants of Jerusalem would look on the LORD whom they had pierced and mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son. But perhaps the one passage in all of Scripture that most explains God’s means for our forgiveness is in Isaiah 53. There, God expressly states that our sins are placed on another, who dies in our place, who is buried with the rich, who is made an offering for sin, who bears our iniquities, and who satisfies God.

What we find in the Old Testament, we find confirmed in the New. Jesus was introduced to us with the promise that He would save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). He was introduced to the shepherds as a Savior (Luke 2:11). He was introduced by John the Baptist as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Jesus said in Matthew 20:28 that He came to give His life a ransom for many. Jesus told His disciples at the Last Supper that the wine was “My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for the many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28). He prays in the garden that if it was possible, to let the cup pass from Him (Matthew 26:39, 42). That day He was crucified (Matthew 27:31-50).

Paul tells us in Romans 3:25 that God set forth Jesus Christ as a propitiation (an atonement) by His blood to cover not only our sins, but the sins that previously had been committed. Stated another, the sins of Old Testament saints are covered by Christ’s blood just as our sins are covered. This is why David can be forgiven, and Manasseh, and the rest of us. The writer of Hebrews tells us that the Jewish ceremonies for propitiation were merely symbolic types of what Jesus did, and that Jesus appeared with His own blood once to obtain eternal redemption (Hebrews 9:12).

So, while your Jewish source is partially right, and it is true that we can now obtain eternal redemption by simply asking in prayer, the reason that this is possible is because God Himself made atonement for us through Jesus Christ, who gave His life a ransom for us, took upon Himself our sins (2 Corinthians 5:21), and through His death provided us access to the Father (John 14:6; Ephesians 2:18; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; Hebrews 2:17).

You ask why was it necessary for Jesus to spill His blood. Theologians might give you many different answers. And while thinking about the why question is a great way to search for meaning in Scripture, ultimately we may not know the “why.” Scripture tells us the “what.” We know that He spilled His blood. We also know that His blood provided a covering for sins, once and for all (Colossians 1:14; Hebrews 9:12, 26; 10:12, 14). We know that the spilling of blood to provide a covering is very consistent with the Old Testament. And we know that there was no other way for this to be accomplished, as Jesus said that if there be any other way, He did not want to go through the cross. There was no other way.

The atonement God had promised was fulfilled. The covering for all sin, including those in the Old Testament, was accomplished. The reconciliation of God with man was completed (2 Corinthians 5:19). And the God who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up to die for our sins, now pleads with everyone to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. These things we know from the sacred Scriptures.

I trust this is helpful. May the Holy Spirit deepen you in your faith and love for Christ, and in your service to humanity.

a pilgrim,


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