Forgiveness in the Old Testament

Forgiveness in the Old Testament
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Wednesday, September 30, 2009 at 1:32pm


In your Romans commentary (Vol. I, p. 264) you say that the sins of OT saints were not just “rolled back” until Jesus’ crucifixion, but that the certainty of Jesus’ propitiatory sacrifice enabled God to forgive the sins of OT saints even during the OT era. What, then, is Isaiah referring to when he says in 22:14: “Till your dying day this sin will not be atoned for.” What is the sin? Why was it not forgiven during their time? How can any sin not be atoned for?

Also Isaiah says later in 27:9: “By this, then, will Jacob’s guilt be atoned for, and this will be the full fruitage of the removal of his sin.” What is the “this” referring to? How does that atone for Jacob’s guilt? How can anything outside the cross atone for guilt of sin? What does a “full fruitage” mean in regard to removal of sin?


These are very perceptive questions. Regarding Isaiah 22:14, the reason for the declaration of nonforgiveness (“this iniquity shall not be forgiven you,” literally, “shall not be atoned for”) is the people’s attitude of nonrepentance as expressed in vv. 12-13. Verse 12 says God called on them to repent, but v. 13 says they continued in their sinful revelry. This is always true: no forgiveness without repentance. Regarding Isaiah 27:9, this is addressed to the nation of Israel as a whole, not to any individual or individuals within Israel. It has to do with God’s dealing with Israel as a nation. Because of their national idolatry and sinfulness, God punished them (with temporal, not eternal, punishment) by sending them into captivity first in Assyria then in Babylon. This is the point of v. 8. Then he says in v. 9 that this time of captivity has been ample punishment for “Jacob,” i.e., the nation of Israel. The time spent in captivity is what “atoned” for their national sin. “Through this” means through their time in captivity. Remember that Isaiah is talking here about temporal punishment and redemption for the nation of Israel, not eternal punishment for individuals as such.

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