Day 2

Atonement on Others’ Behalf

from the Leviticus reading plan


Leviticus 4:1-35, Leviticus 5:1-19, Leviticus 6:1-7, Romans 8:1-4


You may find it challenging to read Leviticus. When studying the Bible feels dense, I like to slow down and try to wrap my mind around specific pieces of a passage so that I can understand the whole message. Today, I’m choosing to understand “sin” better. Just in the verses we read today, the word shows up 50 times. Besides that, there are circumstances to note, and with each one, specific instructions follow. If I’m not going to get lost in the paragraphs, I need to step back to zoom in. I’m going to reflect on breaking down what “sin” means here, and look at how that can teach me something.

One of the more interesting messages right out of the gate reflects the idea that everyone sins differently, and everyone’s sins are different. Some sins are those of humanity’s general infirmity and proclivity to do wrong, while others are intentional acts of absolute rebellion. Still other sins are accidental, or as Leviticus 4:2 offers, “unintentional.” 

The Hebrew root of the word “sin” essentially means “to miss,” as in a failure, to be out of step, disharmonic, fall short, drop, fumble, or otherwise mishandle. I think about what it often takes to miss like this, as there are steps involved. 

In Moses’s day, it would’ve been a quiver full of flighted arrows and a bow freshly strung or an oiled leather slingshot with a pouch full of perfect stones. The gear has been set and readied, but you still aren’t close to scoring a hit. You next choose a target. You’re still only leading up to the attempt. You raise your weapon, spin the slingshot or nock your arrow and draw, judge distance, track movement, note the conditions, wind up, and then let loose!

If you’re trying to hit a target, everything you’ve done up to that point would be right—it’s what you’re supposed to be doing. The thing is, even though you’re trying, you can still miss. You could misstep, fail, overshoot, fumble the release, or any number of things that cause a miss. Looking at what God’s trying to teach Moses, the Israelites, and us today, and knowing what we do about the word “sin,” you can see how there can be failure. It’s not always out of spite, and it’s not always out of intentional disobedience; it’s out of being human.

The bad news is that all humans sin, and all sin must be atoned for, like explained in Leviticus. Ah, I think I see the full picture: the good news is that even though humanity is doomed through sin, Romans 8:1 reminds us “for those in Christ Jesus,” there is no condemnation! What we couldn’t do, despite our best efforts, Jesus did…never missing the mark, never sinning. On our behalf, He atoned for our mistakes and saved us.

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