Atonement. The covering for iniquity. To propitiate, to pacify, to make peace for the debt owed due to transgression. Pretty major theme throughout the Scriptures. Normally not too surprised when I come across it in my readings. But this morning it did catch me a bit off guard. Not because of what I read but because of where I read it–in the book of Proverbs.
By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for,
and by the fear of the LORD one turns away from evil.
(Proverbs 16:6 ESV)
When I think Proverbs I think practical wisdom, principles for doing life, tips and techniques for walking in a manner pleasing to God. Not where I expect to find such a profound doctrinal theme as atonement. But here it is–the one and only time the word atoned is used in Proverbs–and it jumps off the page at me this morning.
It is by steadfast love and faithfulness that iniquity is atoned for. Solomon must have been thinking beyond the mere act of sacrifice occurring 24/7 at the temple. Instead, I imagine him meditating on the divine dynamic established such that the blood of sheep and goats might provide a covering for the sins of men and women.
The first part of the dynamic depending on the one offering the atoning sacrifice. Sacrifice for sacrifice sake won’t cut it. Animal flesh without actual faith is all but useless. Offering without obedience has little impact (2Sam. 15:22). What’s more, “the sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD” (Prov. 15:8). To go through the motions while remaining hostile towards the LORD provides no benefit, for “GOD cant stand pious poses” (MSG).
But sincerity on the part of the sacrifice-er could never be enough, by itself, to pay the price owed for sin’s transgression against a holy God. No, acts of atonement that actually atone for sin are dependent on the nature of Him who receives the offerings of men and women for their sin.
The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with [Moses] there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness . . . ”
(Exodus 34:5-6 ESV)
Steadfast love and faithfulness. It is the essence of the glory of God. It is at the core of His nature and being. And it is the “secret sauce” of atonement. The X-factor. That which makes it all work.
Our God is a God of steadfast love and faithfulness. Manifest throughout the millennia leading up to the once-for-all atoning sacrifice for sin as God accepted the blood of animals as a covering because He knew that at “just the right time” (Rom. 5:6) He would provide the perfect Lamb to take away the sin of the world (John 1:29).
Steadfast love and faithfulness. That’s what compelled the Father to send His Son “to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Heb. 9:26).
Steadfast love and faithfulness. That’s what drove the Son to set His face toward Jerusalem knowing that there He would be handed over to men, crucified on a cross, and forsaken of the Father, that through His death He might reconcile sinners, once alienated and of hostile mind, to His Father in order to present them “holy and blameless and above reproach before Him” (Col. 1:21-22).
Steadfast love and faithfulness. His, not mine. That’s my only plea. That’s my only assurance that what He has begun in me will be completed at the day of Jesus’ return (Php. 1:6). It is the foundation of my hope, the surety of my expectation. It’s the anthem of my song.
Wasn’t expecting to find atonement in Proverbs this morning. But really, is there any more “practical” advice as to why we should keep on keepin’ on than the steadfast love and faithfulness of our God? Right now, I’m thinkin’ not!
All because of His abundant grace. All for His eternal glory.