Forgiveness. What an incredible release it brings to those who experience it! Ted as a young man felt that his life had begun all over again when he was “born again” as he put it. He began to experience a whole range of feelings as a result. These included:- a load lifting off him; a real sense of freedom; a sense of being at peace with God; an excitement in discovering a purpose for living. However there was one thing that still disturbed him. He had lived a pretty riotous life, by his own admission. As he reflected on his life he realised that there were many things he would not want other people to know about his life before his conversion. He couldn’t forget the things he had said and done. Some memories brought him a renewed sense of shame. He wondered, “Will it always be like this? Will I ever forget those things or do I have to go through those feelings of shame for the rest of my life?”
Ted discovered a Bible truth that made an incredible difference in his life. It meant that he could hold his head high as a new believer. What was the truth that had helped set him free in this way? The truth is contained in the concept described in our final two words. Both of them have the concept of God “covering over” sin in His forgiveness of people.
1) “KAPHAR”. This is found in 93 verses and can have the meanings to appease, cover, cleanse, expiate, forgive, and make atonement. For convenience I will use a fairly recent translation, the English Standard Version (ESV) to see how it is translated in that version. These are some of the uses.
Annul. It means to make null and void something in existence. In Isaiah 28:18, it is a covenant with death that is annulled or made to be of no account. The rulers of Jerusalem had turned to other nations and to other gods and had turned away from trusting in YHWH. Instead of walking in obedience as the people in covenant with their God, they had formed allegiances with other nations. Isaiah 28:14 Therefore hear the word of the LORD, you scoffers, who rule this people in Jerusalem! 15 Because you have said, “We have made a covenant with death, and with Sheol we have an agreement, when the overwhelming whip passes through it will not come to us, for we have made lies our refuge, and in falsehood we have taken shelter”. However they could not escape the judgment of God. The covenant (those alliances) they relied on would be annulled and God would move against those who had rejected His rule over them. Isaiah 28:18 Then your covenant with death will be annulled, and your agreement with Sheol will not stand; when the overwhelming scourge passes through, you will be beaten down by it.
Appease. It is used only on the human level in terms of a person doing something to avert the anger of another person. It is used in this way in Genesis 32 of Jacob sending presents ahead of him to ensure that Esau would not be angry with him. He commanded his servants, Genesis 32:20 and you shall say, ‘Moreover, your servant Jacob is behind us.'” For he thought, “I may appease him with the present that goes ahead of me, and afterward I shall see his face. Perhaps he will accept me.”
It is also found in Proverbs to give the good advice that it is wise to seek to pacify rulers who might have power to punish with death those who incur their anger, Proverbs 16:14 A king’s wrath is a messenger of death, and a wise man will appease it.
Cleanse. God would cleanse His people and their land by punishing His adversaries and by removing idolatry from the nation. (Deuteronomy 32:43 “Rejoice with him, O heavens; bow down to him, all gods, for he avenges the blood of his children and takes vengeance on his adversaries. He repays those who hate him and cleanses his people’s land.” (This does not conflict with other passages showing that God is a forgiving God. Here God deals with those who remain His adversaries and continue to hate Him. They have no desire or intention to ask Him for forgiveness.) However we see that there was better news for those who turned away from their sin and turned back to God. Deut 32:45 And when Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, 46 he said to them, “Take to heart all the words by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law. 47 For it is no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.” God would not only cleanse the people’s land but He was also cleanse the people who turned back to Him.
Expiation. This refers to the removal of sin. Numbers 35:33 ‘So you shall not pollute the land in which you are; for blood pollutes the land and no expiation can be made for the land for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it, (in NASB, RSV and NRSV versions. “Atonement” in ESV). Murder made the land unclean. Justice and cleansing demanded that the murderer be executed. There was no other expiation or sacrifice that could be made to cleanse the land.
Forgive. (Many instances of “Kaphar” are translated as “forgive” in some translations. However in the ESV it is usually translated as “atone” or “make atonement”.
Make atonement or to atone
There are 12 occurrence where the words for “make atonement” ( karphar) and “forgive” (salach which I have described in previous articles) are linked together. This is especially so in the book of Leviticus. It makes sense, because it is the process of offering the required sacrifices which brings about the atonement or “covering over” of sin. This is what makes forgiveness available. Just one example, (Leviticus 4:26) And all its fat he shall burn on the altar, like the fat of the sacrifice of peace offerings. So the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin, and he shall be forgiven. Other verses with the same recurring theme “make atonement” … “shall be forgiven” are found in Leviticus 4:31, 35, 5:10, 13, 16, 18, 6:7, 19:22.
The other references with the same linked themes are in Numbers 15 where the sacrifices are offered for the covering over (atonement) of unintentional sins, (Numbers 15:25) And the priest shall make atonement for all the congregation of the people of Israel, and they shall be forgiven, because it was a mistake, and they have brought their offering, a food offering to the LORD, and their sin offering before the LORD for their mistake. …. 28) And the priest shall make atonement before the LORD for the person who makes a mistake, when he sins unintentionally, to make atonement for him, and he shall be forgiven. The people could express their repentance for their sin and their faith in God by bringing the necessary offering to enable God to cover over their mistakes.
2) “KASHAH”. Another word dealing with God “covering” sin
This is found in over 149 verses in the Old Testament and is used to indicate the covering of many things. It mainly refers to the covering or concealing of things or people. But it is also used for the covering of sin or transgressions. Some examples are these:-
Nehemiah asks God not to “cover” the sins of those who had hindered the rebuilding of Jerusalem. As such they were opposing God Himself, Nehemiah 4:5 Do not cover their guilt, and let not their sin be blotted out from your sight, for they have provoked you to anger in the presence of the builders. Nehemiah is concerned for the glory of God. The sin of those who maintained their opposition to God should not be covered over. Nor should their ongoing sin be blotted out and forgiven while they remained God’s enemies.
Job desired to be open with God and not like others who concealed their sin, Job 31:33 if I have concealed my transgressions as others do by hiding my iniquity in my bosom. In his openness to God he wanted to bring any sin before God rather than hiding it, Job 31:37 I would give him an account of all my steps; like a prince I would approach him.
David spoke of the blessing of being open with God, Psalm 32:1 Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. But he was not always like that. He had tried to hide his sin from God and went through great turmoil as a result. As he later uncovered his sin before God, God covered it over and forgave him. In David’s words, I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Psalm 32:5
King Solomon said much the same as David, in Proverbs 28:13, Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. There is no blessing in hiding one’s sin. But to uncover them before God by confessing them to Him and then forsaking them, brings His mercy. It could be said that the only sin God does not “cover over”, is the sin we humans fail to “uncover” before Him in repentance.
Ted rejoiced in the knowledge that though his sins were “pretty gross” as he put it, when he confessed them to God and asked His forgiveness, God forgave him. Not only that but He had “covered over” all those sins. If God Himself was not going to keep looking at them, then Ted realised that he had no right to think about them either.
In summary, as we look at these 2 words for God “covering over” sin in forgiveness, we can say a couple of things. The first is that the whole sacrificial system was instituted by God Himself. It was not set up by humans to try to appease Him. It came from the grace of God in telling humans that sin mattered to Him; that it had to be dealt with; that a sacrifice had to be offered to cover over the sin (atonement); and that forgiveness became available as a result of offering the sacrifices He required. In offering the sacrifices God had instituted, the people were acting in faith on what God had said. They were trusting in His provision for their sins to be covered over and forgiven.
Secondly what was needed for forgiveness to be received was a humble approach to God. This meant uncovering all one’s sins before Him and deciding not to try to hide them from Him as David apparently tried unsuccessfully to do. It also meant asking God for His forgiveness and allowing Him to cover over all those sins in His mercy, grace and forgiving love.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER by Groups or Individuals. (added Sunday 7th August 2016)
Ques 1. In our story Ted felt a lot of guilt even after he became a Christian. Did you have the same sort of experience and if so, how did you learn to overcome that feeling of guilt?
Ques 2. In the paragraph beginning with “Cleanse”it appears that God does not “cover over” the sins of those who refuse to turn to Him. What do these verses from 1 John 1:8 to 9 tell us about God cleansing His people when they turn to him in repentance? (1 Jn 1:8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.)
Ques 3. In the paragraph beginning “Make atonement or to atone” how do the people express their repentance and how do they seek to have their sin covered over?
Ques 4. Have you ever had an experience like that of King David in Psalm 32? How did you uncover your sin before God? How did you know that God covered over those sins?
Ques 5. What is the significance in the fact that God Himself established the sacrificial system? What were the parts that God, the priest and the worshipper played in this sacrificial system?
Jim Holbeck. Blog No. 11. Posted on Sunday 27February 2011