For on that day shall the priest make an atonement for you, to cleanse you, that ye may be clean from all your sins before the LORD.
Leviticus 16:30 (KJV)
Before – Is God forgiving of all sin? Can He forgive all sin? Sure we’re familiar with Mark 3:29 wherein Yeshua explains that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is an unforgivable sin, but what about other sin? Is there any sin in which God has no right to forgive? “No”, you might say. “God forgives all sin through the atonement of Yeshua.” But there’s a reason this question arises, and it starts here with this word “before”.
This word is translated from the Hebrew word paniym which means “face”. The translation can be read as “that ye may be clean from all your sins ‘in the face of’ the LORD”. And isn’t all sin seen by God? So is the author being redundant, or could this be a Hebrew idiom? I submit that this is actually an idiom that we know quite well and has been preserved in the English language to this day. If I did something ‘in your face’, what does that mean? It means that I did this thing to you, in front of you, with you as the intended receiver. In all intents and purposes, you were the target of this thing that I did.
So now when we read that God will cleanse us from all sins that we did directly to Him (His face), this begs the question… what about sin we did to someone else? On the Day of Atonement, does He forgive that sin as well?
Let’s use a story to work this through. If I stole your car, and later went to service on the Day of Atonement and repented before God and asked Him for forgiveness, am I cleansed of that sin? Could I then just continue to drive your car around town with no guilt? Let’s say I was truly remorseful and swore never to steal again. Can God cleanse me of that sin while you remain offended? Day after day you’d see me driving that car, how would you feel? So now I ask again, does God have the right to forgive that sin, or is there something else we need to understand?
Yeshua speaks in Matthew 5:23-24 that if you bring an offering to the altar, but still have an offense with a brother, to leave the offering there and go make amends first before presenting your offering to God. But if God forgave all sin, this wouldn’t matter, right? The Hebraic understanding is that God only forgives sin you’ve committed against Him, and sin that you first amended that was committed against your brother. If offense still remains between you and another, God cannot forgive that sin.
Take a look at the Lord’s prayer. Yeshua teaches us to pray “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors”. The word “as” is actually the word “after” in most accepted original texts. So then we must first forgive others (and seek their forgiveness) before seeking the forgiveness of God. Another example of this is the parable of the unforgiving servant from Matthew 18:21-35.
There is such an importance throughout Scripture to forgive and seek forgiveness from your brethren. Reconcile your debts from one another before approaching God about forgiveness. With this said, I must first return the stolen car to the victim before I can be assured that God will forgive me of my sin. And according to Leviticus 6:1-7, I am also required to add a fifth of the cost of what I stole on top of what I return. I have to make good prior to bringing my offering!
Forgiveness can be quite complicated, can’t it? There’s an order to it, there’s a process, and even requirements of atonement. We have forgiveness in Yeshua, but does that give us the right to leave our sin unreconciled? No, it’s time to own up to our sin and pay back to those we’ve wronged. This will strengthen the brotherhood, it will rebuild the relationships that have been torn apart.