And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel after their number, then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the Lord, when thou numberest them; that there be no plague among them, when thou numberest them. This they shall give, every one that passeth among them that are numbered, half a shekel after the shekel of the sanctuary: (a shekel is twenty gerahs:) a half shekel shall be the offering of the Lord. Every one that passeth among them that are numbered, from twenty years old and above, shall give an offering unto the Lord. The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel, when they give an offering unto the Lord, to make an atonement for your souls. And thou shalt take the atonement money of the children of Israel, and shalt appoint it for the service of the tabernacle of the congregation; that it may be a memorial unto the children of Israel before the Lord, to make an atonement for your souls.–Exodus xxx. 11-16.
THE scriptural description of the Atonement is that of God’s winning man to Himself by His mercy, His Wisdom, and His Love.
The foundation thought of all religion according to the Word of God is, that our Heavenly Father is infinitely, unchangeably good: good to all, and his tender mercies over all his works.
His delight is to make man happy; but happiness can only be obtained in goodness, in wisdom, in virtue, and in union with the Lord Jesus Christ; hence, He requires repentance, faith, worship, and affection towards Himself for mans sake. He never changes (Mal. iii. 6, James i. 17), and needs not change, for he cannot become better, and he will not become worse. All the change, therefore, included in the Atonement is a change of man. There is no change in God. Man is to be won by God’s love, the love of the Lord Jesus; by God’s wisdom teaching Him in His Word; and by God’s power redeeming and regenerating Him. Thus man is reconciled to God; and He receives the Atonement (Rom. v. 11, 2 Cor. v. 19).
Change of mind, change of life, change of heart: these are what are required to make man happy here, and blessed hereafter. He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good, and what doth the Lord thy God require of thee; but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.–Micah vi. 8.
Such is not only the marked and general teaching of the Sacred Scriptures: it is the universal teaching. There is no single text or statement in the divine writings, where the Atonement is described as pacifying God, or the wrath of God: it is in every instance, in the Old Testament as in the New, represented as cleansing, purifying, reconciling man. Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.–Titus ii. 14.
No words can express the importance of this view of the great work of the reconciliation of man to God, as the only means of true happiness on earth and in heaven. Religion, too often, at present, has an extremely feeble influence in the improvement of mankind, because it has been diverted into efforts for changing God, and making Him propitious, who is never otherwise; while the inner changes which can alone banish sorrow from hearts and homes, and bring peace and joy, are overlooked and neglected. Hence, the world groans in misery! Hence, we see homes so unhappy, from the wearing anxieties and petty miseries of daily life. Social frauds and other crimes are as numerous, public dishonesty, and armed violence, as prevalent in Protestant as in Romish lands, and both have scarcely any marked superiority over cultivated but non-scriptural countries. The reason is, that we have made the commandments of God of none effect by our traditions. The eternal truth Ye must be born again, is passed over, and we are earnest and busy about ceremonies end services by which we wish to induce God to give us blessedness and peace instead of seeking by prayer and practice that entire change of character by which the Lord can bless us here and raise us to everlasting happiness in heaven.
There is a great variety of things mentioned in Scripture by which Atonement is spoken of as being effected, here it is by ten small pieces of silver. A half-shekel shall be the offering of the Lord. A shekel is twenty gerahs. This was to be called the Atonement money of the children of Israel, and was to be used for the service of the tabernacle of the congregation. It was to make an Atonement for their souls.
We have mentioned that Atonement in the Scriptures is always described as affecting and changing man. We wish to see this in perfect clearness, for it is of great importance.
In the New Testament the word Atonement only occurs once, and then it is said, We have received the atonement.–Rom. v. 11.
But reconciliation occurs oftener, and is the translation of the same word in the original. Reconciliation, however, is always represented as affecting us. It is not the reconciliation of God to man, but the reconciliation of man to God. God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself.2 Cor. v. 19. Who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ.2 Cor. v. 18. That he might reconcile both to God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby.–Eph. ii. 16. By him to reconcile all things unto himself: by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled.–Col. i. 20, 21. We thus see constantly the same truth stated, God the All-Good, lovingly reconciling and uniting man to Himself. It is the same lesson which is always taught, even when very different forms of speech are adopted. Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the SIN of THE WORLD.–John i. 29. Thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins.–Matt. i. 21. Unto him that loved us, and WASHED US from our sins, in his own blood.–Rev. i. 5. For this is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission [the removal] of sins.–Matt. xxvi. 28.
The word Atonement is used oftener in the Old Testament than in the New, but is always accompanied by similar language shewing that it was intended to represent that change of mind and heart without which happiness and heaven are impossible.
Thus, in the first chapter in which the word Atonement occurs in the Old Testament, we read, Thou shalt offer every day a bullock for a sin-offering, for atonement: and thou shalt cleanse the altar when thou hast made an atonement for it, and thou shalt anoint it to sanctify it. Seven days thou shalt make an atonement for the altar, and sanctify it, and it shall be an altar most holy.–Ex. xxix. 36, 37. And I will sanctify the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar: I will sanctify also both Aaron and his sons, to minister to me in the priests office. And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will be their God.–44, 45. Thus we have the same divine teaching; man is to be purified, and then the Lord can dwell with him. So on the great annual day of the Atonement it is said, For on that day shall the priest make an atonement for you, to cleanse you, that ye may be clean from all your sins, before the Lord.–Lev. xvi. 30.
This lesson is indeed the lesson of lessons, for all to learn. To become, by power from the Lord, wise, victorious over our evil passions and propensities; and thus, pure, orderly, loving, and good; this is the path, the only path, which leads to life.
The cultivator of the earth assumes that a beneficent Providence will ensure the sun rising at his appointed time; the rains will duly fall; and a pure atmosphere will afford the sweet influences by which flower and fruit will ripen; if only he be diligent, intelligent, and persevering. If he were to neglect his work, and neither dig nor plough, neither sow nor weed, but betake himself to praying that God’s part might be done, while he neglected his own, how surely would the land be cursed with barrenness. The cause would be not a curse from God, but a curse from his own folly.
Yet, in religion, this is far too generally done. The ground of the human soul, as to its greater part, is infested with the rank weeds of ignorance and superstition. Follies of a thousand kinds swarm in the mind: wild, howling passions, like fearful beasts prowl in the jungles of the mental wilderness, and pain and misery are the sad result. Instead of the ploughshare of the gospel being driven through these, and tares being rooted out; instead of the wild beasts of selfishness, envy, and hate, with their horrid broods of malignant feeling, being encountered and overcome within us, we are too often found bemoaning our griefs, but neglecting the only real work by which this wilderness can be turned into Eden; this desert into the garden of the Lord. Let us work while it is day. Let us tread on the lion and the asp, the young lion and the dragon, and in the power of the Lord Jesus they will sink and die. Soft and gentle feelings and sentiments, like lambs, sheep, and doves, will occupy the heart and mind and soon we shall hear our Heavenly Father whispering the encouragements of His goodness, and saying, Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him; I will set him on high because he hath known my name. He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble. I will deliver him and honor him; with long life will I satisfy him, and shew him my salvation.
O that these divine words would sink deeply into all hearts, and rouse them, from youth onwards, to the only Christian mode by which progress, peace, and joy can ever be attained either by individuals or by the world. Work, work, work, especially work in your heart and mind, in the hours of daily life.
The Atonement before us was to be effected on the occasion of numbering the people.
There is no express direction as to how often the people should be numbered; yet it is evident that numbering the people was not wrong in itself, only when it was done it was to be accompanied by the offering of the ten gerahs, or pieces of silver, that no plague might be the result.
The people of Israel represent all things of the Church in man: all the affections, sentiments, ideas, works, and words, in relation to religion.
To number them is to ascertain their quality and their quantity, to regard their existence, and to seek comfort in their abundance. The Scriptures speak of numbering our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom (Ps. xc. 12), and of considering the divine mercies, so as to know that they are so numerous that they never can be numbered (Ps. xl. 5). These declarations, and the language of our text, shew that numbering in a proper manner, and with the accompaniment of the offering of silver, is not condemned by the Lord.
Yet, the test before us, where it speaks of the offering of silver, lest a plague should come (12), and the terrible punishment of David for numbering the people, shew that there are modes of numbering that bring condemnation and ruin. There is a good numbering, and a bad numbering. Nor is this at all difficult to understand.
If a person number his blessings, or a nation reckon its people or its products, as the evidences of divine goodness, as gifts of heaven calling for gratitude and love, such numbering is not injurious, but rather tends to deeper adoration, and to profounder wisdom.
But if a person number his blessings, or a nation number its possessions from vain glory, or under the persuasion that such gifts are really its own, and are evidences of its merit and grandeur then such numbering is most pernicious, and indicates the speedy approach of dread calamity. Mark the terrible history of the Babylonish king, Nebuchadnezzar. He surveyed the mighty capital of his kingdom, and swelling with the spirit of pride exclaimed, Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom, by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty? While the word was in the kings mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, saying, O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken: The kingdom is departed from thee. And they shall drive thee from men; and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the held: they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and seven times shall pass over thee, until thou know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will.
The same hour was the thing fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzar. He became insane. He was, in fact, insane from pride before. This was simply the outward exhibition of what had inwardly taken place.
So in the case of David. He had become marvelously prosperous. Every foe was put down. Internal dissension and external war had alike been overcome. Abundance blessed him on every side. Yet both his people and himself were sunk into evil states; states of self-elation, and self-complacency: for this is the import of the terms. The anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go number Israel and Judah.–2 Sam. xxiv. 1. The Lord is said to be angry when He appears angry to the evil man. The sun is said to be red and louring when the atmosphere is thick, lurid, and heavy. The sun is really bright and unchanged above. So, when the souls atmosphere is full of dark and evil states, the Lord appears wrathful and terrible, and the results of such wickedness will be all the misery and ruin which the benighted spirit attributes to the anger of the Lord.
While, then, from pride and arrogancy in the king, and from the apathy of the people, this numbering was persevered in and completed, notwithstanding the protest of Joab, the sin was accomplished which placed them under the power of destroying angels, and which was outwardly exhibited in the pestilence which slew seventy thousand men. The three punishments proposed by the prophet Gad to David represent the three forms of affliction which come to the soul which claims merit in goodness, and arrogates virtues to itself, as its own.
Gad came to David and told him, and said unto him, Shall seven years of famine come unto thee in thy land? or wilt thou flee three months before thine enemies, while they pursue thee? or that there be three days pestilence in thy land?
The seven years of famine represented an utter deficiency of goodness and truth, for these are heavenly food. The soul full of its fancied merits closes itself against those celestial purities and joys which are a present blessedness, and which are only given to humble, self-denying, self-condemning love. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The three months flight before enemies represent the harassing of the soul by evil spirits. When the inflated mind deems itself quite sufficient, quite rich enough in itself for all its requirements, without the defense of Omnipotence by which the confiding Christian is surrounded, what bitter infestations it is doomed to bear! Its state is described in the pathetic words of the Psalmist, My soul is among lions:
I lie among them that are set on fire, the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword.–Lvii. 4. By such chastenings are many of those who say they are rich and have need of nothing taught amidst bitter experience that they are of themselves wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.
Those who attribute goodness and truth to themselves are as unable to contend with success against the powers of darkness as a single arm is to thrust back the advancing billows of a storm on the ocean.
The third punishment, the three days of pestilence and the destruction of seventy thousand men, represented the devastation of the most sacred feelings of the soul. With spiritual pride the tenderest emotions die. There is a blight on our holiest sympathies. The fine gold becomes dim. The child-like love, that inward innocence, which is the essence of every virtue, and which recognizes a divine hand in everything, is struck by pestilence. From Dan to Beersheba there expires seventy thousand men. There is a flatness, a deadness, a meanness which come over the heart, and which tell how truly we have fallen, while we vainly dreamed we had climbed up to heaven by the strength of our self-conceit. Such is the numbering that brings a plague.
Let us turn, now, to the numbering which is accompanied by the offering of the ten pieces of silver, the half a shekel, to the Lord, for the service of the sanctuary. There are times when it is good for the soul to notice its spiritual progress and be thankful.
In the discipline of regeneration there are sometimes long periods of dreary days, and weariness lengthened out, extremely hard to bear. We seem to make no progress. The happy times we once had, come seldom, or seem entirely to have disappeared. The autumn is fading into winter, and we dread a darkness, darker still. We are almost in despair; some one sorrow, it may be, long drawn out, infests us. At such times it is not forbidden to number our mercies. Nay, it is a duty to look at the bright side. We should take stock of the blessings which have flowed from the divine hand, and from soul to body, from head to foot, have made their number like the hairs of the head. When the one speck before the minds eye has well-nigh blotted out the universe, it is well not only to brush it away, but to recount with holy pleasure the stores of blessed things which Divine Love and Mercy have bestowed upon us. Only let us view them with the feeling expressed in the sacred exclamation, Bless the Lord O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits: who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases; who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with loving-kindness and tender mercies.
This spiritual confession of all our mercies being from the Lord, which they really are, is the offering of silver. The ten gerahs, or ten pieces of silver, represent the spirit of all heavenly truths.
Spiritual truths, as compared with the lessons of the letter of the Word, are like silver compared to iron. Hence it is written, The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.–Ps. xii. 6. For iron I will bring silver, the Lord says by His prophet.–Isa. lx. 17. And in the Gospel, the inner truths of the divine commandments, the epitome of the whole Word, ate represented as in our text, by ten pieces of silver. Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it?–Luke xv. 8. The beauty, brightness, and worth of silver make it a perfect correspondence of the spiritual sense of the Holy Word; and the importance of this sense, as the indispensable means of leading us to the highest states of heavenly goodness, is represented by the interesting fact that we cannot refine gold except by means of refined silver.
The ten gerahs, or silver pieces of our text, which are to be offered to the Lord for an Atonement, when the numbering was effected, and then to be used for the service of the tabernacle, teach us that we may take notice of our acquirements in the regenerate life, of the graces, virtues, and possessions we have attained, if at the same time we acknowledge from spiritual wisdom that all these heavenly riches are from the Lord in us.
They are used for the service of the sanctuary. They are like the silver of Josephs brethren, which was returned in their sacks, although they got also their supply of corn. All that we give to the Lord is really employed by Him in blessing us again.
Thus does the silver of inward truth unite us to the Lord Jesus, and make us At-one-mind with Him and His blessed kingdom, enabling us whenever we are comforted by the self-knowledge that the riches of heaven have been to some extent unfolded within us, to glory at the same time in the acknowledgment, that to the saving mercy of the Lord Jesus we owe all we have, and all we are; the more we have, the more we owe. Let us then cast all our crowns before Him, the King and Lord of all.
Author: Jonathan Bayley — From Egypt to Canaan (1869)