One of the ways in that my wife and I are different has to do with blankets. My wife is almost always warm when she sleeps, so typically a comforter is all she wants to sleep with. I, on the other hand, am perpetually cold when I sleep, so to me, the more blankets the better. This makes for a rather funny appearance, particularly in the wintertime, as I have stacks of blankets on my side of the bed and she has at most a single blanket on top of her side. We have a picture from when we lived back in Maryland of me with either 19 or 22 layers of blankets on my side of the bed. Some people may consider that a bit excessive; I suppose that they have a right to their opinion. In my opinion, blankets are not only there to keep you snug, but they are also a sign of God’s grace.
One of the Hebrew words that is translated as “atonement” is the term rDpA;k (caphar—ironically, it even sounds a little like the word “cover”), which means to cover over. Atonement, of course, is a gift of God’s grace whereby our sins are covered over by the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ and thus we have been restored to a right relationship with God and with his Law. The idea of covering also reflects a picture of the righteousness of Christ being draped across us as new garments, not the filthy garments of our own labors.
As Christians, we do more than simply affirm the atonement as a doctrine, it is the source of our hope! The very fact that when we stand before an almighty God and he asks us why he should allow us to enter his heaven, we do not need to appeal to our own messed up works, be can cry out— “It is because of the blood of Christ! He has saved me and brought me to you! He is my righteousness and I am trusting in his promise alone!” It is because of Jesus’ work of atonement that we can find joy in this life because without it, all we would have to look forward to is judgment and eternal destruction.
Now, granted, we may not find hope and joy in the blankets we use on the bed on a cold night (okay, I even put blankets on the bed on a warm night…), but we do draw comfort from out blankets. I imagine Linus, from the Peanuts cartoon, walking along, dragging that blanket and clinging to it for dear life. For Linus, the blanket represents safety from the terrifying things of this world. Ironically, Snoopy (aren’t dogs supposed to be man’s best friend) is always trying to swipe the blanket from him. Isn’t it interesting how our modern, liberal, Bible-doubting, politically-correct society is always trying to reject or fictionalize doctrines like the atonement, thus trying to rob the church of its security blanket.
Oftentimes, in our modern society, we speak of security blankets as things that provide a kind of false comfort. Linus’ blanket can protect him from no real harm. At the same time, that is not the kind of security that a blanket is supposed to bring. It brings security from being left alone and a security from the cold; it is Linus’ assurance that he will find comfort even in the midst of his failures. The blanket of covering from the Atonement does much the same thing for us today. It cannot protect us from someone who will try and take our money or our job, but it is something that reminds us that we will never be abandoned by Christ (he paid too great a price for us than that!) and that will bring us comfort from that cold and calculating world in which we have been called to live and suffer in faith.
When I curl up under my 20 layers of covers on a cold winter night (okay, yes, I live in Florida), I confess to you that my first thought is not always of the Atonement. At the same time, when I think of the atonement, I do think about my covers and how nice it is that I am held by a God who will never leave nor forsake me and no matter what trials I may need to face, I am held secure and in eternal safety. Such is a blanket that can never be taken away.
“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.