Come: Let Us Reason Together
Moses broke out in a cold sweat. Had he heard correctly? The Lord had just said:
Cut out for yourself two stone tablets like the former ones, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets which you shattered. So be ready by morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself there to Me on the top of the mountain (Ex. 34:1, 2).
After forty days and nights on the harsh mountain, after long periods of intensive instruction and after the heartbreaking sight of the children of Israel worshipping the Golden Calf,1 Moses wondered, “Why me? Why me again?”
Early the next morning Moses began the tedious ascent of Mount Sinai laden with the heavy stone tablets. Upon reaching the appointed meeting place, Moses called out to the Lord. The Lord responded:
The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in LOVINGKINDNESS (hesed) and TRUTH (emeth), who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations (Ex. 34:6, 7).
Moses was overwhelmed. What words! Falling down, he worshipped the Lord (cp, Sanh. 111a). Even today one cannot escape the sense of awe which overcame
Moses. The Lord abounding in LOVINGKINDNESS (hesed) and TRUTH (emeth), One who forgives sin but punishes the guilty … !
God says in His Word, “There is not a righteous man upon the earth who does good and sins not” (Eccl. 7:20).2 King David has written:
The Lord has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one (Ps. 14:2,3).
And the Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book” (Ex. 32:33), If we agree with the words of Scripture, it must be admitted that man desperately needs help — God’s forgiveness. God punishes the guilty, and all are guilty for all have sinned.
We are told, however, that the Lord forgives. But how? God’s forgiveness comes only when LOVINGKINDNESS (hesed) and TRUTH (emeth) meet. Psalm 85 says, “Surely His salvation is near to those who fear Him . . . LOVINGKINDNESS and TRUTH have met together.” That these two should meet seems paradoxical. But, God is truthful. The divine verdict of humanity is “guilty”, for all have sinned. God will not merely excuse us, nor will He break His word to acquit us. With Him there is no unrighteousness, nor forgetfulness, nor respect of persons, nor taking of bribes (Aboth 4:29). On the other hand. God is abounding in lovingkindness and wants to forgive. How can LOVINGKINDNESS and TRUTH meet whereby His salvation and forgiveness can be received?
A clear legal principle is stated in Leviticus 17:11 saying that “blood by reason of the life”3 is necessary for atonement. When the sacrificial animal’s throat was cut, blood flowed out. As a result of the blood loss, the animal soon collapsed and died. Its life was given instead of the guilty sacrificer who helplessly looked on.
Plainly, atonement by substitution is pictured here. The life of an innocent animal was taken in place of a guilty sinner, thus illustrating the concept of the Lord’s LOVINGKINDNESS (hesed) and TRUTH (emeth) meeting. Being truthful, the Lord would not violate His character: A guilty sinner deserved death. However, abounding in lovingkindness, God provided a substitute to die in place of the guilty. God could then in truth extend lovingkindness and forgiveness to the sinner who took God at His word, trusting His provision for sin.
Seemingly, we now face a predicament. Today there are not sacrificial animals as God required. The Temple and all the accompanying ritual has vanished as a puff of smoke. Has God forgotten man’s need of salvation? Not at all! By an act in history, God provided in reality that which always operated in potential. This is to say that in reality LOVINGKINDNESS and TRUTH had to actually meet and not just in theory.
In the New Testament, John wrote that “the Law came through Moses; LOVINGKINDNESS (hesed) and TRUTH (emeth) were realized in Jesus the Messiah” (John 1:17). He was undoubtedly contemplating the words the Lord spoke to Moses (Ex. 34:6, 7). Until that time God acted upon the potential work of His Messiah to forgive the guilty, for in God’s mind the substitute Messiah was slain before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8).5 Even before the creation, God knew man would rebel, be guilty before His bar of judgment and need salvation from sin and its consequences. Thus He always dealt with man on the potential of the work of His Messiah Jesus, who would come and accomplish the actual reality of substitutionary atonement which all animal sacrifices portrayed.
That the Messiah would have such an awesome and horrifying task was clearly prophesied:
Surely our griefs He has bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our peace fell upon Him . . . But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him (Isa. 53:4-6).
The New Testament adds, “He (Jesus) has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Heb.9:26b). This was accomplished when Jesus gave His life on the cross as the substitute for all mankind.
As God promised through David, He did not allow His “Holy One to undergo decay” (Ps. 16:10). We read in the New Testament that David’s prophecy “spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah . . . that His flesh did not decay” in the grave. “This Jesus,” the writer continues, “God raised up again to which we are all witnesses” (Acts 2:31, 32).
Following His resurrection, Jesus himself declared:
Thus it is written (in the Tanach), that the Messiah should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem (Lk. 24:46, 47).
Since LOVINGKINDNESS (hesed) and TRUTH (emeth) have now met in Jesus the Messiah, does this mean that God will forgive everyone automatically? Remember that & sacrificer who took an animal to sacrifice was doing several things; Firstly, he was admitting that he was a sinner in need of God’s forgiveness; secondly, he was also admitting that payment for his sin could not be made apart from a substitute; thirdly, he was obeying a command of God; i.e. dealing with sin on God’s terms.
The same holds true of you and me with regard to God’s promised Son, the Messiah Jesus:
Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world . . . (John 1:29b).
For God loved the world in such a manner that He gave His only begotten Son, that the one believing in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).
Firstly, we need to agree with God that we are guilty sinners in need of His forgiveness. Secondly, we need His Son who died in our place. This means that we cannot pay for our own sin. Thirdly, we must make up our mind, by an act of the will, to obey what He says, that in believing in Jesus, in whom LOVINGKINDNESS and TRUTH met, we will not perish in the wrath of God but will have everlasting life.
- The rabbis teach, “There is no generation in which there is not an ounce from the sin of the Golden Calf” (p. Taan. 86c).
- i.e., always docs good and never sins (Ibn Ezra).
- “Every living creature depends for its life on its blood …” (Rashi).
- That atonement was never based on the mechanical work of offering a sacrifice is seen from biblical and rabbinic statements. E.g., “Whence is it derived that if one repents, it is imputed to as if he had gone up to Jerusalem, built the Temple, erected an altar; and offered upon it all the sacrifices enumerated in the Torah? From the text, ‘The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit’ ” (Ps. 51:17) (Lev. Rabba 7:2).
- From the beginning of the creation of the world King Messiah was born, for He entered the Mind of God before even the world was created” (Pesikta Rab. 52b).
- When the Holy One, Blessed be He, came to create the first man. He foresaw that both Righteous and wicked men would issue from him . , . (Gen. Rabba 8:4a).
- Rabbis have stated that the Messiah, as prophesied by Isaiah, would suffer, e.g., B.M. 85a.