“And to Sarah he said, ‘Behold, I have given a thousand pieces of silver to your brother. Behold it is for you a covering of the eyes to all that are with you and to all that you may be found to be in the right.’”
In many cases, this is the kind of passage we might be tempted to pass over as simply Abimelek giving an additional peace offering to Abraham for having taken Sarah as his wife. And we might as well have glossed over the passage save for one word: tOwsV;k (kesoth). Literally, this means “covering” and in its most basic sense refers to the clothing that one would cover their body with, like a robe or a cloak. Yet, in ancient cultures, clothing also served to indicate your status in society as well as your status before God. In the ultimate sense, it reflects the work of atonement, hence after Adam and Eve have sinned, God kills an animal and makes for them clothes to wear, not simply for protection from the elements, but a sign of the work of atonement that has been promised in Christ.
Abimelek understands that he is making atonement for his sin and the silver offered is a sign that Sarah committed no sin. The principle is that there is a cost incurred when the law is broken. Just as with the civil law today, when an infraction occurs, there are fines typically attached to the infraction. If we drive too fast, we pay a speeding ticket; the worse the infraction, the more serious the fine. The seriousness of breaking a law is related proportionally to whose law is broken. Thus, breaking a county ordinance is typically not as serious as breaking a state law and breaking a state law is not as serious as breaking a federal law. In turn, most people are less concerned about being in the county jail than in the federal penitentiary. When we break the law of God, we are not offending a local, state, federal, or even an international body—we are offending the creator of the universe and his perfect, righteous character. He is infinite and thus breaking his law is an infinite offense. Thus, the fine is far greater than a few thousand silver pieces—the fine, the punishment matches the infinite greatness of the one we have offended: God himself!
Since the wages of sin is death, the payment that must be exacted for our infraction of the law of God is eternal death—eternal death not just for our sins as a whole, but eternal death for each and every sin we have committed. In the Old Testament, substitutes were offered for the sins of the people, but the blood of rams and goats could only serve as a reminder of the horror of our own sinful state. Animals died, but they were neither perfect nor infinite, and thus could not effectively stand in our place to pay the debt we owe. For thousands of years, blood flowed from the altars of the people. All to no lasting avail.
Yet, God himself provided a better substitute in his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus was fully man, thus could identify with us and effectively take our place and he was fully God, which means he was without sin and infinite, thus able to pay an infinite debt. He owed God nothing, but chose to pay God everything in substitute for our sin. And thus, just as Abimelek, after making a payment of atonement for Sarah declares her to be righteous before all who would judge, so too, does Jesus Christ declare us to be righteous before his Father, the one who judges us according to his perfect law. While the atonement is more than a payment for sin incurred, said payment is a very important aspect of what it is that Jesus is doing, praise be to the Lord!
Loved ones, do not miss these shadows that God has blessed us with here in the Old Testament. We often read through these narratives without making much note of what God is pointing us toward, yet the Holy Spirit has seen fit to have these encounters recorded for all time to be both a word of instruction and encouragement for us—to not take time to notice that encouragement, misses much of what God has given us. Jesus indeed has made a covering for us, not from silver or gold nor from the blood of animals, but instead from his own blood. Let us never take for granted this remarkable gift and let us celebrate and share that gift with others, telling them about the Good News of what God has wrought for sinful man.
“But now, you must take off—even you—the whole: wrath, anger, evil, blasphemy, obscene speech from your mouth.” (Colossians 3:8 )
Oh, the follies of youth. Sometimes, in looking back on some of the things that I did growing up, I groan a little—and sometimes I groan a lot. I remember one summer evening, I had just gotten home from doing something with my friends Heath and Jason, and the three of us got to talking and then we got to boasting. As I remember it, it was Heath who boasted that Jason and I could not wrestle him down—it was not long before the three of us were on the ground, in the dark, wrestling about. And had things ended there, the memory of the event would have faded into obscurity. The reason the evening has remained in my mind all of these years is because of what Heath did next.
As we were wrestling about, Heath reached out his hand for balance and put it in something soft and mushy—a pile of dung left behind by one of the neighborhood dogs. And with the kind of logic that only makes sense to the teenage mind, deciding that if he had it on him, we might as well have it on us as well, it was not long before he started smearing it wherever he could get it on us. Oh, the exclamations of surprise that came from the two of us! When everything was said and done, Jason fared the worst, but we all reeked of something that we ought not to have reeked from. Jason’s mom made him hose off before he was allowed in the house. When I got inside, I could not get out of my soiled clothes and into the shower fast enough. I wanted to get that stench off of me and fast.
Now what does having dog poop smeared all over you have to do with what Paul is talking about in this verse? The word that Paul uses here, translated as, “you must take off,” is the Greek word ajpoti/qhmi (apotithami). Literally, this word refers to the taking off of one’s clothing. But Paul adds force to this word by using the imperative, saying you must take these things off! In the larger context of the passage, Paul is saying to us, “look, you have been born again, you have been made into a new person because of the work of Jesus Christ—get out of those dirty, wretched, filthy, smelly clothes that you have been wearing and put on the righteousness of Christ!”
Clothes are a common metaphor in scripture, and are used to convey the idea of status and righteousness. Our own righteousness is as soiled rags, horrid, wretched things deserving of nothing other than to be burned up in the fire (Isaiah 64:6; Philippians 3:8). Yet, the wonderful blessing of God’s grace is this, if we are born again believers in Jesus Christ, having repented of our sins and come to Christ in faith, when we stand before God in judgment, we will not stand on our own merits or, to maintain the metaphor, in the clothing of our own righteousness. As believers, we stand before God clothed in the righteousness of his Son, Jesus Christ. Oh, what a wonderful gift we have been given as believers—and how that should spur us on to get out of our own stained and smelly rags as fast as we can with the Lord’s help.
Beloved, one of the difficulties of this life is that even though we have put on Christ, we so often drift back to the rags of our own life. It is almost as if we, after having been given new garments, have saved the old soiled ones, putting them away even without washing them so that every once in a while we might get them out to see if they still fit. Loved ones, the things of your old life—the things that belong to this world—should not be clung to, but should be burned! Friends, let your mouth and your actions reflect the one who has saved you—the one whose garments you wear. One of the arguments that is made for making children neat, clean uniforms to school is that children tend to behave better when they are dressed better. While I am not entirely sure just how true this is, Paul is applying a similar principle to believers. Beloved, work to make your behavior match the clothes that you wear; in doing so, you will glorify the one who has saved you and draw others to his wonderful presence.