Continued from Chapter 11d

That which is acceptable to God

The sacrificial atonement system of the Torah was given exclusively to the Jewish people: “I have given it [the blood] to you ... to make atonement for your souls.” (Leviticus 17:11).

A blood sacrifice, in itself, was never enough; it always had to be accompanied by sincere confessionary repentant prayer: “And it shall be, when he shall be guilty in one of these things, that he shall confess that he has sinned in that thing: and he shall bring his guilt offering to the Lord for his sin which he has sinned … and the priest shall make atonement for him concerning his sin” (Leviticus 5:5-6). Thus, the Jewish Scriptures confirm that beside blood, confession was also needed in order to receive forgiveness. But, it is clear from a careful perusal of the Scriptures that sin can be removed through genuine remorse and sincere repentance even without the shedding of blood.

Non-Jews can also find remission of sin through sincere confessionary repentant prayer (Jonah 3:5-10, Daniel 4:27). Jonah tells the idol worshipers of Nineveh to turn from their evil ways; he does not say that unless they begin offering sacrifices to Y-H-V-H or become Jews they are doomed. Their response to his warning is to repent: they fast, pray and turn from their evil. What is God’s response? “And God saw their deeds, that they had repented of their evil way, and the Lord relented concerning the evil that He had spoken to do to them, and He did not do it” (Jonah 3:10). Spiritually, the contrite heart has always been the constant immutable human portion in the atonement process. A transgressor, whether Jew or Gentile, fulfilling this requirement may expect the Almighty to forgive his sins and allow him to enter fellowship with God. For what does God require “but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). God asks of the sinner: “Return to Me ... and I will return to you” (Zechariah 1:3). Acknowledge responsibility for sins committed and sincerely attempt to do better in the future.

God’s mercy

It should be noted that God is often merciful and forgiving even when there is an absence of sincere repentance. The psalmist writes, “But He, being full of compassion, forgives iniquity, and does not destroy; many a time He turns His anger away and does not stir up all His wrath. For He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes away, and comes not again” (Psalms 78:30). The prophet Micah declares: “Who is a God like You, that pardons iniquity, and passes by the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He retains not His anger forever, because He delights in mercy” (Micah 7:18).

Isaiah records that redemption may be forthcoming even when undeserved, for God’s own reasons. “I, even I, am He that blots out your transgressions for My own sake, and will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25). The prophet informs us that in some cases God’s “redemption” precedes Israel’s “return.” “Remember these things, 0 Jacob, and Israel, for you are My servant; l have formed you, you are My servant: 0 Israel, you should not forget Me. I have blotted out as a thick cloud, your transgressions, and as a cloud, your sins. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you…. The Lord has redeemed Jacob, and does glorify Himself in Israel” (Isaiah 44:21-23). Individually, there is no atonement without repentance, but nationally it is possible that sin reaches a degree where after permitting suffering of the nation God forgives for His own sake lest the nations mock Him (Isaiah 43:25). Thus, God’s redemption is not always dependent on repentance preceding forgiveness.

No matter what occurs, Israel is always God’s chosen servant people expressed as a singular entity: Isaiah 41:8, 44:1-2, 45:4, 48:20, 49:3. “They are the offspring whom the Lord has blessed” (Isaiah 69:1).

© Gerald Sigal