Every good Christian knows that in order to make atonement for sins, there must be bloodshed. That is why the blood of Jesus made atonement possible for all of mankind. Right? Not exactly. As it turns out, blood is not the only accepted currency of forgiveness, as we'll see in this study.
We're in the middle of a section of the book of Exodus where God describing exactly how He is to worshiped. Almost every detail is given; from the measurements and building materials of the Tabernacle to the clothing the priests were to wear. As we learned in the previous study, this was so important that one mistake could mean your death.
Spare Change for Your Life
Nearly anyone who has been involved with Christianity has heard the quote from Romans 6:23 that “the wages of sin is death”. Impregnated in those words stand the Christian tenets that any man's sin makes him worthy of death at the hand of God, and also that he is worthy of either eternal termination of his soul or to suffer eternally in the afterlife (depending on the particular flavor of Christianity you are talking about). When you add on the also-popular Romans 3:23 quote, that “all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God,” you have reason to believe that God would be justified in killing (and possibly eternally torturing) everybody in the world.
Some sort of atonement was needed to reconcile all of this sin. Normally, atonement was done repetitively by priests sacrificing sin offerings. It was necessary for Jesus to come along and shed His blood to atone for all sins forever (Hebrews 9:11-28 and Hebrews 10). As Hebrews 9:22 puts it:
“In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” NIVIt probably would have been a good idea for the author of Hebrews to have consulted with God first prior to making such a bold statement, because it is, in fact, wrong. It is in direct contradiction with what God Himself said.
Back in Exodus 30:11-16, you will find that God accepted other forms of payment for sins. In fact, in this case it was a literal payment for sins. In these verses you will find that God says when the Israelites take a census, every counted person must “pay the LORD a ransom for his life” (Exodus 30:12). Or, in other words, each person must redeem their lives. And if they don't pay? God will kill them with a plague. We see that the Old Testament concept of redemption is quite different from the New Testament version.
Some may argue that this was not true atonement, or that this was really just a tax, but that position is hard to defend against the words contained in the text. For instance, we see that, despite their level of wealth, everyone is to pay the same amount when they “make the offering to the LORD to atone for [their] lives” (Exodus 30:15). It seems that forgiveness could be bought with cold, hard cash. Obviously, this did not go unnoticed by the Roman Catholic Church in the sale of Indulgences! ;-)
Also worth noting was the fact that this offer of atonement was rather limited. It only applied to those eligible to be counted in the census. As we see in Exodus 30:14, you had to be at least 20 years old. Perhaps children had a grace period? That would be good. However, what we learn from Numbers 1:18 when the census is actually conducted is a bit more dubious: only the men were counted. Given that women were not counted, women were not offered atonement for their lives. This draws into question whether or not there was an original plan for the redemption of women. While the New Testament gives women an equal footing for eternal salvation, these Old Testament verses and many others seem to suggest that women play a diminutive role to that of men.