Propitiation, Jealousy, and the Providence of God
Call it coincidence or the providence of God, but I have found myself reading a couple of books which remarkably parallel each other, my daily through-the-Bible reading plan and my preparation for a sermon series on the Ten Commandments at church. I think this is the third time that I have read JI Packer’s Knowing God. I have also been reading DA Carson’s The God Who Is There. My Bible reading plan is currently taking me through Leviticus. Today and yesterday’s readings from Knowing God was on God’s jealousy and propitiation. Today’s reading from The God Who Is There was, “The God Who Legislates”.
What’s amazing to me is that through these books and my own Bible reading, He is confirming the same thing. What God has given me a deeper understanding of His righteousness as revealed in the Old Testament Law. Maybe I’m just a little slow in my understanding. Or maybe God is revealing yet, another layer of Himself. Or exposing another layer of myself.
God is Jealous
Jealousy is a negative character trait for people. Or so we think. But what if a husband wants a mistress in addition to his wife. Wouldn’t his wife be jealous? Wouldn’t she do whatever she could to fight for her marriage?
That’s a picture of God’s jealousy. He so wants a relationship with his people (the church is the bride of Christ [2 Corinthians 11:2]), that He will do whatever it takes to woo them and protect them for Himself. That’s why He said He name is Jealous (Exodus 34:14) and why He prohibited His people from worshiping other gods. He loved them too much to share them with anybody or anything else. God’s jealousy shows the exclusivity of God (Carson, p. 61).
I’m sure this point will come out in the coming weeks as we look at the Ten Commandments at Center Point Baptist Church [gratuitous invitation to join us].
Most often when we think of the gospel message, we think of Jesus’ death as covering our sin so we can be saved and go to heaven. That is correct (partly) and can be described by the word expiation. However, propitiation – the word used in the Bible referring to what happened in the death of Jesus – goes much further than simple expiation. So what do those words mean? They aren’t words we use every day.
Expiation describes the ancient pagan custom of offering something of value to appease the gods in order to provide some kind of blessing or protection. Jim Dennison (my seminary Philosophy of Religion professor) calls this “transactional religion”. You give the pagan god something and it gives something to you. None of the various gods were omnipotent; each had their own quirks and special interests and would be offended by a small offering or if you gave another god a bigger offering. The ultimate offering was human sacrifice. In connection with human sacrifice, the Bible mentions the god Molech in Leviticus 18:21; 20:2-5.
According to Packer, “Expiation is an action that has sin as its object; it denotes the covering, putting away or rubbing out of sin so that it no longer constitutes a barrier to friendly, fellowship between man and God. Propitiation, however, in the Bible, denotes all that expiation means, and the pacifying of the wrath of God thereby.” (p. 182)
The point I’m trying to make is that when we look at the gospel, we often look only at the expiation part of propitiation. We see Jesus’ blood as covering our sin, but we neglect the other problem of our separation from God in our fallen condition: God’s wrath. We think that God’s wrath is no longer an issue since we’re under the New Covenant. God in the New Testament is the God of love, not wrath, we tell ourselves and the people we seek to evangelize.
In seeing God in this light, we overlook the fact that God doesn’t change (Malachi 3:6, Romans 1:18). The God of the New Testament is the same God as the God of the Old Testament. God as the Righteous Judge has a wrathful punishment that must be dealt with if He is to be truly Just/Righteous. To merely overlook our sin, pretending it isn’t there, would invalidate His justice.
Under the Old Covenant, the people’s sin was covered by the annual Day of Atonement sacrifice and God’s wrath was put off for another year. But they had to do the same thing year after year after year to keep delaying His just wrathful punishment.
In Jesus’ death, God poured out all of His wrath on Jesus in our place. All of it. Hence, as Jesus hung on the cross He cried, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus took our place in receiving the just, wrathful punishment for our sin.
Jesus took your place as His Father poured out His wrathful punishment on himself. That’s the “good news” of the Gospel Message! Today, ask God to give you a fresh taste of the relief you enjoy as one of His children.