The principle of atonement

An excerpt from Deuteronomy for Disciples by Brother Alfred Nicholls, page 108

As Israel concludes this year’s celebration of Yom Kippur yesterday, we do well to remember that atonement comes through the Lord Jesus.

Moses does not spare to underline the wickedness of the people. Their rebellion at Horeb took place while he was in the very presence of God to receive

“the tables of stone, even the tables of the covenant which the LORD made with you” (Deuteronomy 9:9).

Moreover, while he was fasting forty days and forty nights in preparation to receive the Torah, the Divine instruction for the people, they were sitting down to eat and drink and rising up to play. The apostolic comment in 1 Corinthians 10:6,7 suggests that something more evil than mere recreation is implied in those words. The casting down of the tables was more than a gesture of anger on the part of Moses; it was a symbolic act indicating that there was in effect no more a covenant between the Lord and His people. They had “quickly turned aside out of the way” which He had commanded them, and had broken the covenant on the very day that Moses was bringing them the ratified evidence of it, “written with the finger of God”. There seemed no escape from the Lord’s sentence:

“Let me alone, that I may destroy them, and blot out their name from under heaven: and I will make of thee a nation mightier and greater than they.” (Deuteronomy 9:14)

We have commented before upon the extraordinary insight developed by Moses into the meaning of the Name, and therefore of the attributes of the great God of Abraham. It is seen in the fact that he was prepared to plead with Him even in the face of so categorical a pronouncement of judgement. Since sacrifice and offering would be of no avail, could such wickedness be forgiven, however, by the resignation of his own part in the glory to be revealed? Exodus 32:32 shows us how close Moses had come to the fulness of the principles of the Atonement:

“Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin – ; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written.”

By the following verses we are taught that atonement is not by substitution, as Moses was taught that he was not the redeemer whom God would ultimately raise up to set His people free. What the record in Exodus does not tell us is found in Deuteronomy 9:18. Moses –

“… fell down before the LORD, as at the first, forty days and forty nights: I did neither eat bread, nor drink water, because of all your sins which ye sinned …”

It was after this period, in yet another visit to the top of the mount, that the eternal glory of that which was as yet unseen was revealed to Moses as he remained hidden in the rock – an experience upon which Moses drew later at Kadesh (see Numbers 14:11–21 again). The links with the Lord Jesus and his forty days fasting in the wilderness are too plain to be ignored. Noteworthy also is the Lord’s displeasure with Aaron – “to have destroyed him”. He who was to become High Priest needed the intercession of Moses! How privileged we are to have the Great High Priest who stands in Moses’ place for our intercessor!

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