Forgiveness in Old Testament Times —Basis of forgiveness prior to Yeshua’s death
This lesson is a study of forgiveness in Old Testament times up till Yeshua died. The question is, “On what basis were people then forgiven before the cross of Messiah?”
1 By Faith and Not by Law
“Even as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness.” Know therefore that those who are of faith are children of Abraham. The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the Good News beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you all the nations will be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed with the faithful Abraham. For as many as are of the works of the law are under a curse. For it is written, “Cursed is everyone who doesn’t continue in all things that are written in the scroll of the Torah, to do them.” Now that no man is justified by the law before God is evident, for, “The righteous will live by faith.” The law is not of faith, but, “The man who does them will live by them.” Messiah redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us. For it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree,” that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Messiah Yeshua, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”
Long before the old testament law was given by Moses, Abraham was justified —made right with YHWH having his sins forgiven (Galatians 3:6-14).
Not only was Abraham forgiven before the law existed, but he was not yet even circumcised. Abraham was granted forgiveness and justification because he believed YHWH. YHWH counted Abraham’s faith as righteousness.
Now Moses did not improve on this by bringing in the law. For (hypothetically) to be justified by the law without faith you would have to keep the law perfectly without a single fault. One transgression and the law would condemn you without providing a remedy.
So people still relied on a faith like Abraham’s. Without that faith they would be cursed by the law. Certainly the law was a good thing. However any transgression of that law was sin, and that law within itself provided no means of forgiveness.
People had to have faith in a means of forgiveness beyond that law, namely the death of Messiah . The law foreshadowed this means of forgiveness, but lacked a means of its own.
2 By God’s Servant and Not by Self
“Who has believed our message? To whom has the Lord’s arm been revealed? For he grew up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He has no good looks or majesty. When we see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of suffering and acquainted with disease. He was despised as one from whom men hide their face; and we didn’t respect him. Surely he has borne our sickness and carried our suffering; yet we considered him plagued, struck by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought our peace was on him; and by his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray. Everyone has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, yet when he was afflicted he didn’t open his mouth. As a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he didn’t open his mouth. He was taken away by oppression and judgment. As for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living and stricken for the disobedience of my people? They made his grave with the wicked, and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him. He has caused him to suffer. When you make his soul an offering for sin, he will see his offspring. He will prolong his days and the Lord’s pleasure will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light and be satisfied. My righteous servant will justify many by the knowledge of himself; and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion with the great. He will divide the plunder with the strong; because he poured out his soul to death and was counted with the transgressors; yet he bore the sins of many and made intercession for the transgressors.”
In old testament times prophecy looked forward to the suffering servant whom YHWH would exalt because by his death he would justify many (Isaiah 53:1-12).
The people of the Mosaic age could do nothing on their own to remove their guilt. They transgressed, the punishing stroke was due them, and they had no recourse except this promise of YHWH’s Servant who would be punished in their stead. This was true not only for them but for people in every age.
Because the Lamb would be led to the slaughter, people of faith could sing, “You forgave the iniquity of your people; you covered all their sin… Lovingkindness and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Psalms 85:2,10)..
3 By God’s Guarantee and Not by Goats
“For the Torah, having a shadow of the good to come, not the very image of the things, can never with the same sacrifices year by year, which they offer continually, make perfect those who draw near. Or else wouldn’t they have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having been once cleansed, would have had no more consciousness of sins? But in those sacrifices there is a yearly reminder of sins. For it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins. Therefore when he comes into the world, he says, “You didn’t desire sacrifice and offering, but you prepared a body for me. You had no pleasure in whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come (in the scroll of the book it is written of me) to do your will, O God.’” Previously saying, “Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin you didn’t desire, neither had pleasure in them” (those which are offered according to the Torah), then he has said, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He takes away the first, that he may establish the second, by which will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Yeshua the Messiah once for all. Every priest indeed stands day by day serving and often offering the same sacrifices which can never take away sins, but he, when he had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God, from that time waiting until his enemies are made the footstool of his feet. For by one offering he has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. The Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them: ‘After those days,’ says the Lord, ‘I will put my laws on their heart, I will also write them on their mind;’” then he says, “I will remember their sins and their iniquities no more.” Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.”
The sacrifices made under the law could not take away sins; it was impossible; and those sacrifices only pointed to the offering of Yeshua’s body and blood (Hebrews 10:1-18). Once he made that sacrifice there was no longer any need of further sacrifices. Sins could now be remembered no more.
YHWH never took pleasure in the sacrifice of animals for the sins of the people who were under the law. These sacrifices could not make perfect the sinner seeking forgiveness through them.
Those sacrifices did have a purpose. They served as a constant reminder of sins, and they pointed symbolically to the coming sacrifice that could take away sins. People who believed in that sacrifice would be assured that when that sacrifice came their sins would be forgiven.
The death of Yeshua enabled “the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant” (Hebrews 9:15). This was their faith and hope.
So their justification and forgiveness of sins rested on the promised Messiah. They knew that goats couldn’t take away their sins, but by faith in Yeshua they could have their sins provisionally forgiven against the day that Messiah would bring redemption.
In the story of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) The Samaritan took the wounded victim of the robbers to an inn. He said to the the inkeeper, “Take care of him, and when I return I will repay all expenses.”
So, although the account had not yet been settled, the victim received all the benefits of the inkeeper’s care —based on the guarantee that redemption would be made later on. That is similar to the manner in which YHWH dealt with people in Old Testament times.