Gleanings In Exodus
by A. W. Pink
54. The Atonement Money
The above versus present to us that which it is by no means easy to understand at first glance, and up to the point where God grants light upon them the more they are studied the more will the force of their difficulties be felt. That which is central in our present portion is Jehovah commanding His people to give "every man a ransom." This ransom was a monetary one, a half shekel of silver, and it was in order "to make an atonement for their souls." But this seems so utterly foreign to the general tone and tenor of Scripture that many have been sorely puzzled by it. How is our present passage to be harmonized with the words of Isaiah 55:1, "without money and without price?" How may we interpret it so as not to clash with 1 Peter 1:18 "Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things as silver and gold?"
Nor is the presenting of money by the Israelites as a "ransom" and for "an atonement’’ the only difficulty here. The position occupied by our present passage seems a strange one. Israel were already a "redeemed" people. Had they not sung at the Red Sea, "Thou in Thy mercy hast led forth the people which Thou hast redeemed" (15:13)! Why, then, was a "ransom" price necessary now? Then, too, why introduce this strange ordinance between descriptions of the golden-altar and the laver; what possible connection was there between the three things? Surely our passage calls for prayer as well as study! May the God of all grace open now our eyes that we may be enabled to behold wondrous things out of His law.
In taking up our passage the first thing we must do is to ponder it in the light of its wider context; that is to say, consider carefully the particular book in which it is found. This is ever essential if we are rightly to ascertain the scope of any passage. Each book of Scripture has a prominent and dominant theme which, as such, is peculiar to itself, around which all its contents are made to center, and of which all its details are but the amplification. As stated in our opening article upon Exodus, this book, viewed doctrinally, treats of redemption; that is its principal subject, its dominant theme.
This important and blessed truth of redemption is illustrated in Exodus by God’s dealings with the children of Israel. First, we are shown their need of redemption—a people in captivity groaning in bitter bondage. Second, we behold the might and holiness of the Redeemer Himself—displayed in His plagues upon Egypt. Third, we see the character of redemption—purchased by blood, emancipated by power. Fourth, we learn the duty of the redeemed—obedience to the Lord. Finally, we have set before us the privileges of the redeemed—worshipping God in His holy habitation. Thus, we are enabled to see at the outset, that our present passage has to do with the people of God entering into the privileges of redemption. Bearing this in mind, let us now attend to the details of our passage.
"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" (v. 12). Observe the two words placed in italics. Whenever the Holy Spirit supplies a time-mark like this, it should be carefully pondered: often it supplies a valuable key to a passage—cf. Matthew 13:1; 25:1, etc.; such as the case here. The giving of this ransom-money was connected with the "numbering" of Israel: observe that a reference to this fact is made no less than five times in vv. 12-14. Here, then, is the next thing to be weighed as we seek to ascertain the spiritual meaning of this ordinance. What, then, are the thoughts connected with "numbering" in Scripture?
That this is no unimportant question is at once evidenced by the fact that the fourth book of the Old Testament is designated "Numbers:" its title being taken from the numberings of the children of Israel for war, for ministry, and for their inheritance in Canaan. Thus, a just apprehension of Jehovah’s design in these numberings is essential to a spiritual understanding of the act. Now the most obvious thing suggested by "numbering" is ownership. Take one or two simple examples which illustrate this. It is natural for me to number the books in my own library; but I would never think of doing so with my neighbor’s. A farmer numbers the sheep of his own flock, but not those belonging to another. Property in, and consequent right over are the thoughts connected with "numbering." So it is in the Scriptures: when God numbers or orders anything to be numbered, taking the sum of them denotes that they belong to Him, and that He has the sovereign right to do with them as He pleases. The action itself says of the things numbered, "These are Mine, and I assign them their place as I will." If the following passages be pondered it will be found that they confirm our definition.
"Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things, that bringeth out their hosts by number, He calleth them all by names by the greatness of His might, for that He is strong in power; not one faileth" (Isa. 40:26). The reference here is to the heavenly bodies. God’s ownership and sovereign disposings of them. So again in Psalm 147:4 we read. "He telleth the number of the stars; He calleth them all by their names."
Let us take now another kind of example: "Therefore will I number you to the sword, and ye shall all bow down to the slaughter" (Isa. 65:12). This passage does not, indeed, assert God’s property in His enemies, but the expression "number you to the sword" asserts His power to dispose of them; and the other is clearly implied. The Lord "numbers" to the sword because He has "made all things for Himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil" (Prov. 16:4). A similar instance is found in the sentence pronounced on Belshazzar: "MENE, God hath numbered thy kingdom and finished it" (Dan. 5:26). This may suffice to show the meaning of the Divine sum-takings. They assert God’s property rights and His power to do what He will with His own.
In the numberings of Israel it was God dealing with the people whom He had redeemed for Himself, appropriating what was His, and assigning to each and all their place before Him. This is what is made so prominent in the book of Numbers—Israel were Jehovah’s soldiers and servants, and He distributed each as He pleased. As men of war belonging to the Lord, engaged in a warfare by which His name was to be glorified, it was for Him to muster the army for Himself:
"The Lord is a Man of war: the Lord is His name" (Ex. 15:3). "The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle" (Ps. 24:8). All the hosts of heaven are His, and all the armies of the earth; therefore it is His prerogative to number them. How jealously the Lord guards this prerogative may be seen, with terrific force, in the history of David. He had been entrusted with the leading forth of the armies of the living God, and so long as he occupied his place before the hosts it was well; but at length David forgot God’s glory, and sought his own.
"And Satan stood up against Israel and provoked David to number Israel. And David said to Joab and to the rulers of the people, Go, number Israel from Beersheba even to Dan; and bring the number of them to me, that I may know it. And Joab answered, The Lord make His people an hundred times so many more as they be; but my lord the king, are they not all my lord’s servants? why then doth my lord require this thing? why will he be a cause of trespass to Israel? Nevertheless, the king’s word prevailed against Joab... and God was displeased with this thing; wherefore He smote Israel. And David said unto God, I have sinned greatly, because I have done this thing: but now, I beseech Thee, do away the iniquity of Thy servant; for I have done very foolishly" (1 Chron. 21:1-4, 7, 8).
It may be asked, What harm was there in thus numbering the people? Is not a census valuable? Yes, for men warring after the flesh and walking according to worldly principles; but even Joab, a man of iniquity, knew so well what the numbering of the army of the living God signified, that he protested against the act, as one flagrantly trenching upon the rights and glory of the Lord, that judgment was sure to follow; as it did. God will not give His glory to another. Alas, David forgot this, and brought evil upon Israel. There is only one King, the Captain of our salvation, who, being entrusted with the ordering of God’s people, never forgets the Father’s glory. And this is what is before us in our present type, as God said to Moses, "When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel:" it was only the typical mediator who could take the sum of God’s people!
Above, we have pointed out how that the numberings of Israel recorded in the fourth book of Scripture set forth God’s appropriation and ordering of a people whom He had redeemed for and unto Himself. It is this which supplies the key to our present portion. Appropriately is this first reference to the "numbering" of Israel found in that book which, doctrinally, treats of redemption; and significantly is it said at the beginning of the passage, "when thou takest the sum of the children of Israel after their number, they shall give every man a ransom for his soul" (v. 12). Thus, as usual, the key is hung right on the door for us! That which is central in this ordinance of the atonement-money is, that God appropriates His elect unto Himself only as a ransomed people. A clear proof of this has already been before us in Exodus 12 and 13, where we saw the "firstborn" secured by Him because ransomed to Him.
In Exodus 12 and 13 the "firstborn" were ransomed and secured by blood-shedding; here in Exodus 30 the children of Israel are owned as Jehovah’s ("numbered") by "silver." The change of figure should occasion no difficulty. Twice in our passage is the money specifically termed "an offering unto the Lord." As was pointed out when commenting upon the silver sockets under the boards of the tabernacle’s framework (26:19), the blood of the sacrifices more nearly exhibited the mode by which actual atonement was to be made for sin, but the "atonement-money" fitly proclaimed the preciousness of that by which sinners should be redeemed. Further confirmation of this is found in Numbers 31:49-54, where we learn that the officers of Israel’s hosts brought an offering of gold "to make an atonement." That our present passage does not stand alone may be seen by a reference to Numbers 3:46-51; 18:15, 16, etc.
We learn best the meaning of our type by observing how the Holy Spirit sets it aside once the antitype has come in. Just as we see most clearly the typical meaning of the blood of bulls and goats when, in the presence of the "one sacrifice for sins" God declares it is not possible "that these should take away sins" (Heb. 10:4); so we get hold of the design of the atonement-silver and the atonement-gold (cf. Num. 31:49-54 where the term "gold" is found four times) when, beholding Him in whom is treasured up all redemption’s wealth we are told, "Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things as silver and gold, from your vain conversation . . . but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot." Thus, the "precious blood" (an expression found nowhere else) in this connection, tells us that the "ransom" money prefigured the costliness of Christ’s sacrifice, as the "blood" did the character of it.
Does not this satisfactorily dispose of the first difficulty in our passage to which we called attention at the beginning of this article? True, the Israelite was required to give a monetary ransom for his soul, but this no more signified that salvation might be secured by the sinner’s own efforts than did the furnishing of a bullock or lamb imply that the offerer was thereby purchasing God’s favor. Instead, it was the Lord teaching His people, in type and figure, of Him who alone could make an atonement for sin, namely Christ: the slaying of the offerer’s sacrifice telling of the shedding of His blood, the bringing of the silver or gold speaking of the preciousness of that blood. That each was furnished by the Israelite himself only emphasized the truth that the sinner must, by faith, personally appropriate the Lord Jesus, and place Him between his sins and a holy God.
Let us notice next the amount required from each Israelite: "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): an half shekel shall be the offering of the Lord" (v. 13). Thus we learn that the "ransom" stipulated consisted of half a shekel or ten gerahs. This detail in our type is not without its significance, rather does it throw light upon it as a whole.
Ten, as we have shown in previous articles, is the number of human responsibility, and here we see the "ransom" fully meeting this responsibility. Less than ten gerahs would not avail before God—note how the woman in Luke 15:8 was not satisfied with only nine pieces of silver! The sinner imagines that if he discharges his duties toward his fellow-man, that is all which can fairly be required of him; God and His claims are left entirely out of his calculations. But the Ten Commandments begin with man’s relations with and responsibility to the Lord God. But where is the one who ever loved the Lord his God with all his heart, or even his neighbor as himself? Ah, there is only one, the Lord Jesus Christ. He it was who presented to God the required ransom: "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us" (Gal. 3:13). He was also "made under the law, to redeem them that are under the law" (Gal. 4:4, 5). Though we could not pay the ten gerahs of our responsibility, Christ has paid in full for us: He kept the law perfectly, in thought and word and deed, and also suffered its penalty on our behalf; thus has He provided the perfect ransom.
"Half a shekel, after the shekel of the sanctuary" (v. 13). This is a most important detail. It was by the standard "shekel," which was kept there in the sanctuary that all others were tested: each must be full up to the required weight. So it was with the antitype. The true Atonement has been weighed in the balances of the heavenly sanctuary and found of full value before the throne of God. The Father’s acceptance of our Savior’s ransom was convincingly demonstrated when He raised Him from the dead, and afterwards exalted Him to His own right hand. Christ has fully discharged the whole of His people’s debt, completely satisfied every demand of Divine holiness, and provided a sure and eternal standing-ground for us before God.
"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" (vv. 14, 15). This is very striking.
"All were to pay alike. In the matter of atonement, all must stand on one common platform. There may be a vast difference in knowledge, in experience, in capacity, in attainment, in zeal, in devotedness, but the ground of atonement is alike to all. The great apostle of the Gentiles and the feeblest lamb in all the flock of Christ stand on the same level as regards atonement. This is a very simple and a very blessed truth. All may not be alike devoted and fruitful, but ‘the precious blood of Christ,’ and not devotedness or fruitfulness, is the solid and everlasting ground of the believer’s rest. The more we enter into the truth and power of this the more fruitful shaft we be" (C.H.M.).
"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" (v. 16). The "appointment" of this atonement-money is mentioned in Exodus 38:25-28: it furnished the foundation for the Tabernacle! The use to which this ransom money was put supplies additional confirmation of our interpretation of the type. The House of God rested upon the "silver sockets." Thus, the foundation of God’s people being around Himself is redemption. That the silver from which these "sockets" was made was given by Israel at the time of heir "numbering," was God, in figure, propitiating His elect unto Himself as a ransomed people.
If we be not ransomed, we are not His. If we are not before Him, in the value of the blood of Christ, we are not numbered to Him as the lot of His inheritance. "The necessity for that is strongly emphasized in that no man could be considered as His at all apart from the redemption money paid for each one. No exemption was made, and no excuse could be pleaded. The rich was not permitted to pay more, nor the poor less than the half shekel. A shekel is said to be equivalent to thirty pence or sixty-two cents. A half shekel each man had to pay alike. God is no respector of persons and redemption views all men on the same level before God. The rich might think it but a trifle, but it could not be neglected; and none were so poor as to be unable to give it. The prominent thought is the availability of the ransom-price, so as to leave each one without excuse: If God is to have a ransomed people among whom He will dwell, it must be according to His, not their, thoughts.
"The price is to be half a shekel, or ten gerahs, according to the shekel of the sanctuary—the Divine estimation. Man might conceive that something else would be more suited for his redemption—this own works, his feelings, his worthiness, or his faithfulness. But God’s holiness and righteousness would not permit poor man to be so deceived. The foundation must be according to God’s estimation, the shekel must be according to the balances of the sanctuary" (Mr. Ridout).
"And thou shalt take the atonement money of the children of Israel, and shall 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" (v. 16). The mention here of the "memorial" is most blessed. A lasting testimony was before God that atonement had been made for the souls of His people. They might but feebly enter into the blessedness of redemption, but the "memorial" of it was ever before Jehovah. The anti-type of this is brought before us at length in the Epistle to the Hebrews—Christ now at the right hand of God, there as the Representative of His people.
There is a practical application to be made of our type to Christians today. We are under deep and lasting obligations to own the redemption-rights of Christ. God ransomed Israel to Himself in Egypt, but after they had been brought on to redemption-ground, they were required to acknowledge the responsibility this entailed, by bringing their ten gerahs of silver. So often we dwell upon what Christ’s ransom has freed us from; so little are we occupied with what His ransom has freed us for. By ransoming us Christ has acquired rights over us, and He is entitled to our recognition of this in a practical way. Our lives should ever evidence the fact that we are not our own. If they do not, we shall suffer from a "plague" (v. 12)—Divine righteousness will chasten us.
It only remains for us now to point out that the order of these types is Divinely perfect. In Exodus 28 and 29 we have seen the establishment of the priesthood, and inconsequence, God dwelling in Israel’s midst. Then we have had their worship, ascending to Him as a sweet savor (30:1-10). Now we are shown how the people themselves were identified with the holy service of the tabernacle through redemption. A lasting "memorial" of it remained before Jehovah: a permanent standing-ground was provided before Him in that which, in figure, spoke of the preciousness of the Lamb’s atonement. O that we may be increasingly occupied with Him, and our responsibility to glorify Him in our spirits and bodies which are His by purchase right.