A Covering for Sin

The sacrifices covered sin, but did not take it away.


According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it.

– Exodus 25:9

And each day you shall offer a bull as a sin offering for atonement, and you shall purify the altar when you make atonement for it; and you shall anoint it to consecrate it.

– Exodus 29:36

And I will meet there with the sons of Israel, and it shall be consecrated by My glory. And I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar; I will also consecrate Aaron and his sons to minister as priests to Me. And I will dwell among the sons of Israel and will be their God.

– Exodus 29:43–45

Now God knew that because of the sin that had infected humankind, the people would not be able to keep these laws. So God told Moses how to build a sacred place where His presence would dwell among them, and the people could bring animals to be slain as offerings for sin. The blood of the animals would be as a covering so that God would not look upon their sin. But while these sacrifices covered sin, they did not take away the sin.

– The HOPE, Chapter 7

Observe & Consider

When God gave the Hebrew people the Law, He knew that, because of the sin that had infected humankind (Lesson 18), they would not be able to keep the Law. It might appear to have been a cruel thing for God to give the Hebrew people a standard He knew they could not live up to. But let’s look a little deeper. Man’s greatest need is to have a healthy relationship with God. Because the Law represents the character of God, man cannot side–step the Law and be right with God. The Law represents who God is. Just as God is holy, righteous and good...so also is the Law (Romans 7:16). Man must be rightly related to the Law if he is to be rightly related with God.

Being full of grace, mercy, and wisdom, God provided the Hebrew people with a way to maintain their right relationship with Him even though they would inevitably break the Law. As it is said in The HOPE, So God told Moses how to build a sacred place where His presence would dwell among them, and the people could bring animals to be slain as offerings for sin. The blood of the animals would be as a covering so that God would not look upon their sin. God’s instructions for this sacred place of sacrifice, known as the tabernacle, are detailed in Exodus 25-27. God’s instructions for the offerings to be given there are detailed in Exodus 29-30.

In Exodus 29:36 we read that this offering was for “atonement.”1 The word “atonement” comes from the Hebrew word “kaphar”2 which literally means “to cover.” (This was the same word that was used when God told Noah to “cover” the ark with pitch.) When offerings were said to be an atonement for sin, they were in a sense “covering” the sin. Now it would be foolish to think that God, the One who sees and knows all things, is blind to sin, as if He could not see through an offering. It would be more accurate to say that God honored the offering by choosing not to look upon the sin or judge the sin...at least for a period of time.

If we jump forward to the New Testament (Hebrews 10:4), we will see that while these offerings “covered” sin, they did not take away the sin. What’s more, we also see that a time will come when things hidden will be revealed (1 Corinthians 4:5 and 1 Corinthians 3:13). In other words, things covered will be uncovered, and every person’s deeds will be revealed, whether good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:10, Revelation 20:12).

The offerings made by the Hebrew people to atone for sin have been likened to a promissory note. When a man borrows a large amount of money, the lender may require him to sign an agreement (a promissory note)3 to repay the money by a certain time. The note does not take away the debt, but it does allow the man to go about life as usual until the time that final payment is due and the debt is satisfied. Similarly, these offerings allowed the Hebrew people to continue living in a right relationship with God. They did not remove sin, but they offered a temporary solution for the problem of sin until that time when the promised Deliverer would take away sin forever (John 1:29). These offerings pointed to a time when one perfect offering would become the final payment that completely cancels the debt of sin!

Ask & Reflect

  • The Bible says that God’s Law is good (Romans 7:12, 1 Timothy 1:8). Does the thought of God’s Law (or laws in general) evoke a good feeling or a bad feeling in you? Why?
  • For most people, the idea of sacrificing animals is offensive. But consider that the magnitude of a medical treatment is often proportional to the disease that is being treated. For instance, a person with cancer might undergo chemotherapy. A person with a damaged heart might undergo by–pass surgery. No one would undergo these kinds of treatments unless their disease warranted it.
  • A sinful act is not just a mistake; it is a violation of God’s Law, and therefore, a violation of God Himself. The power of sin that dwells in every person is not just a bad attitude; it is a dark power that will bring death unless it is dealt with. Taking the life of an animal may seem extreme to some, but the problem of sin is even more extreme. How do you feel about God’s instructions to the Hebrew people to offer animal sacrifices as an atonement for sin? Explain.

Decide & Do

Read Exodus 29-30. Consider that the Hebrew people continually had to offer sacrifices to atone for sin in order to maintain a right relationship with God. But for those who trust in the work of the Deliverer, the matter of sin is settled once and for all. If you’ve never trusted in the Deliverer, then go immediately to the Knowing God section at the end of this study guide. If you have already placed your trust in the Deliverer to deal with your sin, then read Exodus 29-30, prayerfully thanking God for Him and what He has done for you!

For Further Study


1Easton, Matthew George, Atonement. (Easton’s Bible Dictionary Online, 1897; accessed on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library website). (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/easton/ebd2.html?term=atonement). Retrieved October 18, 2006.
2Atonement (kaphar). (Hebrew Lexicon – Word Studies, Ancient Hebrew Research Center, 2006). (http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/27_atonement.html). Retrieved October 18, 2006.
3Promissory Note, defined by Wikipedia, 2006. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Promissory_note). Retrieved October 18, 2006.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB