Forgiveness Under the Law
By: Scott Morton
Since the fall of man occurred in Genesis 3, man has been searching to be forgiven for the things he has done wrong. Since God is the only who is righteous, He has to be the one to provide the forgiveness for an individual during any dispensation. As Bible students, we need to come to an understanding of what Scripture says in order to determine how forgiveness was obtained.
In the Old Testament, God was dealing primarily with one group of people, the nation Israel. The only way for any other people could enter Godís will would be to join with Israel under the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:1-3). They were to bless Israel and would then receive the blessings given to them.
The nation Israel had entered into captivity in Egypt. They were slaves and were not following Godís program. God starts to use Moses to teach His people the things of God in order to bring them to an understanding of where they need to be. Through the signs given to Moses and the plaques that start to inflict Egypt, the power of God is being demonstrated to those that are watching this. The end result of these things is they are delivered from Egypt and are going to become the nation God intended them to be.
There are many difficulties during the journeys. It is not easy for them to be going through this, as God is specifically trying to teach them certain things:
And they said unto Moses, Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? wherefore hast thou dealt thus with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt?  Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness.  And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will shew to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever.  The LORD shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.
So Moses brought Israel from the Red sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness, and found no water.  And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter: therefore the name of it was called Marah.  And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink?  And he cried unto the LORD; and the LORD shewed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet: there he made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there he proved them,  And said, If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the LORD that healeth thee.  And they came to Elim, where were twelve wells of water, and threescore and ten palm trees: and they encamped there by the waters.
These are two examples of what was going on during this time. The nation was journeying to the promised land and were complaining about every inconvenience they encountered. They were worse than the child in the back seat of the car who keeps asking ĎAre we there yet?í during a road trip. Each time something didnít go their way, they were questioning Moses and what he was asking them to do.
The reason for these things happening was they were supposed to be teaching Israel an important lesson. They were to understand the fact that they needed to rely on God. If they were willing to do what God asked, He would provide them everything they needed.
God wants to help individuals achieve forgiveness. The Bible indicates God is ready to forgive (Psalm 86:1-7). If the sin issue is not taken care of, individuals will be blotted out of the book (Exodus 32:32-33). This is a reference to the end times when an individualís name is looked at in order to determine if it is in the book of life. The names of the individuals in the book of life will be able to enter the kingdom of God. Those who are not written in the book of life will partake in the second death, which is separation from God (Revelation 20:11-15).
How did the Law work?
God always has a way of dealing with man. The important part of dispensational Bible study (2 Timothy 2:15) is to be able to understand how God is dealing with individuals. It does not help a person to try to apply something that is meant for someone else, as it is moving a person away from God, instead of towards Him.
As the nation of Israel is preparing to enter the land, God shows them what they are going to need to do and how they are going to receive forgiveness. Moses goes up into the mountain and the following occurs:
In the third month, when the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same day came they into the wilderness of Sinai.  For they were departed from Rephidim, and were come to the desert of Sinai, and had pitched in the wilderness; and there Israel camped before the mount.  And Moses went up unto God, and the LORD called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel;  Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself.  Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine:  And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.  And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the LORD commanded him.  And all the people answered together, and said, All that the LORD hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the LORD.
Look at their response. God has asked them to keep a covenant, but He has not provided any of the details for this. It would make sense for a person to want to know some of the details of what was expected before agreeing to do it. This would be like an individual stating they would agree to do some remodeling work on an individualís home for a certain price. They do not know what the work is going to be, it could be a small job, or it could be a complete home restoration.
Israel, in their arrogance, states they will keep the law. This would be a big mistake for them, as we will see some of their struggles to keep this law. However, this covenant does get ratified with the nation. In Exodus 24:1-8, there is a discussion again related to the covenant. This time there is a shedding of blood they are dealing with. This shed blood is the sign of the covenant being put in place for the nation to follow.
It was nothing more than human pride that caused them to state they would be able to keep this covenant. As Moses is receiving the Word of God they are to follow (that they have already said they would follow), look what happens:
And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.  And Aaron said unto them, Break off the golden earrings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them unto me.  And all the people brake off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them unto Aaron.  And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.  And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, To morrow is a feast to the LORD.  And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.  And the LORD said unto Moses, Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves:  They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed thereunto, and said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.
It didnít take long for them to break these commandments. They had already broken the first two statements of the law. They had created another god in place of the true God, and had also created an image they were worshipping. This was not an innocent mistake being made at this time. It was a big deal, as Israel had already said they would be able to keep the law that had yet to be given to them.
It also has to do with what this means. Sin is defined as transgression of the law (1 John 3:4). By these actions, Israel had committed sin in the eyes of God and would need to receive forgiveness. It doesnít take much to fall into this trap, as there are between 600 and 900 different elements of the law an individual needed to follow (depending on who is making the breakdown of these things). It is not an easy thing for an individual to attempt to follow the law. Below are just two elements of the law:
Thou shalt not wear a garment of divers sorts, as of woollen and linen together.
If a bird's nest chance to be before thee in the way in any tree, or on the ground, whether they be young ones, or eggs, and the dam sitting upon the young, or upon the eggs, thou shalt not take the dam with the young:
The first of these is a simple thing to keep in memory. Every piece of clothing should only be made of one fabric. This is something that is broken all the time today. If you donít believe me, go to your closet and just glance at a few of the tags on the articles of clothing. It will probably not be long before you find at least one piece of clothing that is made up of some blend. All I can say to this is thank God we are no longer under the law!
The second of these passages is a little more difficult. Did you even know this passage was even in the Bible? If you had never read this passage before, do you think you will remember this passage tomorrow? Israel would never have an option to remember a passage or not. They were responsible for carrying out every element of the law, whether they knew it or not. This was the difficulty Israel had, as ignorance was never an excuse for them. Think about how difficult it must have been for them to be able to follow the law.
What happened when they broke the law?
It was inevitable for them to break the law. Seeing the things they were trying to follow, it would not be long before they transgressed the law in some manner. God did provide a way for them to deal with this, as the offerings were placed in the law.
There were two specific offerings that were given to deal with this issue, the sin offering and the trespass offering. The details of these offerings can be seen in Leviticus chapters 4-6. The trespass offering was done in order to cover the specific actions of an individual in order to have this covered. The sin offering was done in order to deal with the sin nature, which was passed down to every individual through Adam. It is important to note these things were not a permanent issue of taking away sin. These offerings are only a shadow of the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. These offerings were temporary in nature and only lasted until the next time the law was transgressed.
If these offerings would have been successful in dealing with the sin problem on a permanent basis, the conscience issue of sin would have been dealt with. There would have been no reason for David to make this statement:
And David's heart smote him after that he had numbered the people. And David said unto the LORD, I have sinned greatly in that I have done: and now, I beseech thee, O LORD, take away the iniquity of thy servant; for I have done very foolishly.
We can see David was concerned with the actions he had done. This caused many problems for him in his life. However, if the sacrifices were to cover the guilt feelings that often come with someone doing wrong, he would not have felt this way.
The offerings were important for the issue of blood, as this is what is needed in order to have any form of forgiveness. In Genesis 3:21, we see what happens with Adam and Eve. They had broken the commandment of God related to not eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They had made an attempt to cover this by using fig leaves to cover up the fact that they were naked. God takes care of it by killing animals and using the skins for clothing. This is the first instance of death in the Bible and the blood shed here is used as a covering for Adam and Eve based on their transgressions.
The purpose of the shedding of blood is to make an atonement for their souls (Leviticus 17:11). The blood contains life and is used as a payment for the sins of an individual:
And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.
The offerings showed the failures of mankind. Each time a sacrifice had to be done, it showed a person had transgressed the law again. This would have made a person have to perform this sacrifice over and over again, as the permanent sacrifice of Jesus Christ had not come to them yet.
Israel had the difficulty of trying to keep the law. A sacrifice system was in place for them to cover their sin. When they were doing right, they were able to have the blessings of God in their lives (Deuteronomy 28:1-14). If they were not able to follow what God was asking them to do, they would receive the curses of the law, based on the fact that they were no longer in Godís favor (Deuteronomy 28:15-68). The Psalms record the person is blessed whose sins are covered (Psalm 32:1). Israel should have spent time trying to avoid this warning:
The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying,  Hear ye the words of this covenant, and speak unto the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem;  And say thou unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel; Cursed be the man that obeyeth not the words of this covenant,  Which I commanded your fathers in the day that I brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace, saying, Obey my voice, and do them, according to all which I command you: so shall ye be my people, and I will be your God:  That I may perform the oath which I have sworn unto your fathers, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey, as it is this day. Then answered I, and said, So be it, O LORD.
Israel had been given all the promises of God through the covenants. It was their responsibility to do what God had asked them to do, and then they would have this land that had been promised.