Did you know that YOU can be an atonement for someone – and that you SHOULDN’T be?

Atonement is one of those complicated words that no one really understands. Most people sort of know it’s something to do with God forgiving you, or a payment for sin, or something, but EXACTLY what it is eludes them.

The Hebrew word translated “Atonement” is kaphar. It’s also translated as a few other things, among them, “pitch”. The first use of the word is in Noah’s Ark:

Genesis 6:14 Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch <kaphar> it within and without with pitch.

Kaphar means “to cover or conceal”. So covering the wood with pine tar (pitch) to seal it is a logical use of this word. Obviously for the Levitical use of atonement it means to cover or conceal our sins. But interestingly, we cannot do that for ourselves.

By that I mean, we cannot attempt to cover our own sins. We can’t sweep them under the rug, or make excuses for them; only a leader can do that for us. Throughout the Bible, the word “atonement” is ALWAYS, and ONLY used when a LEADER or someone in a position of authority makes an atonement for the sins of his SUBJECTS.

Leviticus 4:20 …and the priest shall make an atonement for them, and it shall be forgiven them.

Leviticus 4:26 …and the priest shall make an atonement for him as concerning his sin, and it shall be forgiven him.

It is repeated over and over throughout Leviticus that the PRIEST makes atonement for THEM. But a person need not be a priest to perform this function. When Moses was on Sinai to get the first set of commandments, God informed him that the Israelites had corrupted themselves and that He was going to kill them:

Exodus 32:10-11 Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation. And Moses besought the LORD his God, and said, LORD, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand?

And so Moses talked God out of killing Israel. So then Moses descended the mountain, ground the idol to powder, cast it on the water, and made the Israelites drink it; then gave Aaron a good tongue-lashing, had the Levites kill three thousand of them (vs 27-28), and then returned to the mountain. But notice that before he went back to the mountain, he had made the Israelites repent of their idolatry.

Exodus 32:30 And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses said unto the people, Ye have sinned a great sin: and now I will go up unto the LORD; peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sin.

Mind you, he had already begged their lives from God, which God had granted; but he still felt it necessary to return to the mountain and make an atonement FOR THEM. Moses hadn’t sinned. The people had sinned. God was fully intent on killing all the people for their sins, but Moses went up on the mountain and made a successful atonement, a “covering” of their sins, and God let them live.

Verses 31-32 And Moses returned unto the LORD, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin—; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written.

So here Moses, the leader, after correcting the people himself and getting them back on track, is offering his own life to pay for theirs. But God said no, that won’t work.

Verses 33-34 And the LORD said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book. Therefore now go, lead the people unto the place of which I have spoken unto thee: behold, mine Angel shall go before thee: nevertheless in the day when I visit I will visit their sin upon them.

Moses was a type of Christ in many ways. And Moses tried to offer his own life for the life of his people once he had corrected them. He said they had sinned, but begged their forgiveness. And God refused. He said that He would lead them to the promised land like He’d said, but that their sins would be visited on them in time.

But Moses was only a type of Christ. He was a carnal man with a sinful nature who had sinned. A very good one whom God liked very much, but he was not perfect himself. Moses could only die for his own sins, and not for the sins of another. But Christ can – now – die for the sins of another. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

So an atonement can only be made for a subject by a leader. The people, since they had sinned, could not have gone to the mountain to make an atonement for themselves – God was so mad at them, He’d have killed them on sight.

Part of it is because of that. But the other part is that the leader is the one on whom the blame really falls. God originally set up a theocratic state; which means a state governed by God through a priesthood, rather than a king or a judge. And in this state, the priesthood was the highest law. They were responsible for upholding that law and enforcing righteousness in the nation.

And so if someone sinned, it was their fault. They were to blame. And they were the ones who had to correct it.

Leviticus 10:17 Wherefore have ye not eaten the sin offering in the holy place, seeing it is most holy, and God hath given it you to bear the iniquity of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the LORD?

The tribe of Levi bore the iniquity of all the nation, and made an atonement for all of them. This was ceremonially set up by God through the laying on of hands. When God was setting up the tribe of Levi to be His priesthood, He first commanded that all the Levites were cleansed (Numbers 8:6)

Numbers 8:9-10 And thou shalt bring the Levites before the tabernacle of the congregation: and thou shalt gather the whole assembly of the children of Israel together: And thou shalt bring the Levites before the LORD: and the children of Israel shall put their hands upon the Levites:

Notice that the lesser put hands on the greater. This is how the Levites bore the sins of Israel, symbolically, as the previous verse stated. Israel was putting their sins on the heads of the Levites.

Verses 11-12 And Aaron shall offer the Levites before the LORD for an offering of the children of Israel, that they may execute the service of the LORD. And the Levites shall lay their hands upon the heads of the bullocks: and thou shalt offer the one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering, unto the LORD, to make an atonement for the Levites.

But the Levites, again being men with their own sins, could not be sacrifices themselves; so they symbolically passed the responsibility for those sins on to the bullocks, by laying THEIR hands on the heads of the bullocks in turn. The bullocks then died for their sins and the atonement was made.

Verses 13-14 And thou shalt set the Levites before Aaron, and before his sons, and offer them for an offering unto the LORD. Thus shalt thou separate the Levites from among the children of Israel: and the Levites shall be mine.

This put the Levites in a position of authority that all who laid hands on them acknowledged – they were now responsible for the sins of the people, and bore the iniquity of the congregation. And then of course, they offered offerings to make atonements for themselves.

Leviticus 8:34 As he hath done this day, so the LORD hath commanded to do, to make an atonement for you [Priests].

But now let’s talk about the other type of atonement. See, your leader can make a conscious atonement for you, or an unconscious one. Let’s say you have a job in a big company and you work in middle management, and your employee makes a huge mistake. You can make an atonement for him (cover his sin) by going to your boss and saying “Look boss, it was an honest mistake, he’s already corrected it and he won’t ever do it again – and if you want a sacrifice, take it out of my hide not his”.

And most reasonable bosses will be appeased by that, and you’ll both keep your jobs. But if your employee makes a huge mistake, and upper management wants heads on a platter, if your employee can say “But my boss never TOLD me to do that!” – he’s off the hook. No one would expect an employee to magically know what he should or should not do without being told! And so if middle management – that’s you – forgot to tell him to do something, or didn’t want to burden him with too much at once, or you were just lazy and too busy playing computer solitaire to do your job – why, your head will be what winds up on the platter.

See, in both cases YOU made the atonement for him. No mistake, your employee was the one who messed up in both cases. He had definitely sinned in the second example – but he sinned IGNORANTLY. He didn’t KNOW any better! And YOU made that possible! YOU were the one who prevented him, either actively or through negligence, from KNOWING the right thing to do! And so YOU bore the blame in his place!

Not in a good, noble way like the first time – but in a bad, you-get-fired-and-blackballed sort of way! And you don’t want to be that sort of atonement!

We know the story of atonement in Leviticus 16 well. Two goats, lots cast, one goes to be sacrificed and one is banished to the wilderness. One represents Christ, and one represents Satan. But BOTH MAKE ATONEMENTS FOR US!

Leviticus 16:15-16 Then shall he kill the goat of the sin offering, that is for the people, and bring his blood within the vail, … And he shall make an atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins …

Everyone knows that this goat that represents Christ is the sin offering that makes an atonement for us. But the goat that represents Satan ALSO makes an atonement for us!

Leviticus 16:10 But the goat, on which the lot fell to be THE SCAPEGOAT, shall be presented ALIVE before the LORD, TO MAKE AN ATONEMENT WITH HIM, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness.


Of course, he doesn’t do it for any noble reason like the other goat; but I’ll get to that in a minute.

Leviticus 16:20-21 …he shall bring the live goat: And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the HEAD of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness:

One goat dies to PAY for our sins; and one goat gets BLAMED for our sins! There is a huge difference. Christ pays for our sins as the middle-manager who says “the problem has been dealt with, he’s repented, he won’t do it again”, and offers His own life to pay for ours. As Moses tried to do, but was simply unfit.

But Satan pays for our sins as the middle manager who lied to us, who was goofing off when he should have been working, and who didn’t tell us what we should have been doing – and so he is our EXCUSE! We didn’t know right from wrong clearly BECAUSE OF HIS DECEPTION! And so it is HIS HEAD who will make an atonement for us!

But as important as that is, we’re going to move a little closer to home now. Leaders bear the blame for their people’s sins. One way or another, if someone sins under you, it is your fault and you must make the atonement for your subjects. This is why God says…

James 3:1 My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.

If you’re a teacher, you are responsible for the sins of those you teach. You’re also responsible for your actions, because if you set a bad example, you will receive a much greater condemnation because many people will look at you and say “Well, if that’s how HE acts, surely that’s how I can act!”

Look at David for instance; after the “incident” with Bathsheba, God said…

2 Samuel 12:14 Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given GREAT OCCASION to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die.

David gave the enemies of God – those who didn’t want to obey God in the first place – a great deal of EXCUSE to blaspheme and do all sorts of sins BECAUSE of his sin! David JUSTIFIED their sins by giving them an example, JUST LIKE Satan justified our sins by giving US an example! So David bore the sins of all those people who would now blaspheme God because HE GAVE THEM AN EXCUSE! On judgment day, THEY will point to HIM and say “well, HE did it!” – and David paid a heavy price for that.

But the more people you’re in charge of, the more people you risk bearing sin for; the more people a bad example can affect. If you’re in charge of a church, you’re responsible not only for your own sins, but for the sins of those whom you ordain; for THEIR actions, and THEIR teachings, as well as your own!

1 Timothy 5:22 Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men’s sins: keep thyself pure.

If someone working under you in the church sins, you are a partaker of those sins. It doesn’t matter if you knew about it beforehand or not – if you allowed a situation to exist where those sins happened, you are to blame. If you don’t correct it the first instant you hear of it, you’re even more to blame. You are the atonement for that minister, who is himself the atonement for all those under him who follow his sinful example. That sort of blame can quickly stack up to a huge load on your shoulders.

But this applies not only to ministry and governments, it applies to anyone who is in charge of anything. For instance, if you’re a husband, you’re responsible for the sins of your household.

1 Timothy 3:4-5 One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)

As in the case of the Garden; Eve sinned first, but God went to Adam first for an explanation. Had Adam said “I didn’t care what you said God, I was gonna eat it whether you liked it or not!”, God would have killed him on the spot. There is no sacrifice for a willful, blatant sin (Hebrews 10:26). But Adam didn’t – he blamed his wife. He transferred the blame for the sin to the person whose idea it was. So God went to her.

Genesis 3:11-13 And he said [to Adam], Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat? And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat. And the LORD God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.

Notice how Adam blamed the woman; the woman blamed the devil; and the devil stared at his toes. They all had to pay a price, and each received a curse, but the curse was mitigated by their excuses. Believe it or not, the devil kept Adam and Eve alive that day. Had they sinned on their own, God could not have overlooked their sin. Heads had to roll. Satan was their atonement. He paid for their sins, not willingly, but by his lies and deception he gave man EXCUSE to sin, and God being more than fair, accepted that excuse and took it out of Satan’s hide. Scales. Whatever.

But this is about to move even closer to home. Yeah, ministry is responsible, sheriffs, governors, kings are responsible; but so are you. See, the possession of knowledge conveys responsibility. If you know something is a sin, see someone breaking it, and don’t tell them about it – YOU bear that sin for them.

Leviticus 19:17 (Darby) Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart; thou shalt earnestly rebuke thy neighbour, LEST THOU BEAR SIN ON ACCOUNT OF HIM.

KJV margin renders that last part “that THOU bear not sin FOR HIM”. So you see, it is quite possible to bear someone else’s sin. All you have to do is know something that they don’t, and refuse to tell them they’re wrong – if you allow them to sin and don’t say anything because you’re afraid of hurting their feelings, or afraid of offending them, or just plain afraid – you bear their sin. You could have said something, but you didn’t, so now when God seeks an atonement you’ll be there alongside Satan the Devil, taking your share of the whipping for this person’s sin.

This is deadly serious. Cain said “Am I my brother’s keeper?” – Cain, being the follower of the Devil that he was, didn’t think he was. But the fact of the matter is, yes. Cain was his brother’s keeper. We are ALL our brother’s keeper. If you don’t correct your sinning child, you hate him!

Proverbs 13:24 (NKJV) He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him promptly.

If you love your brother, you will discipline him promptly in any thing where you know he is sinning, and thereby hurting himself and creating a rift between him and God. But if you hate him, you will do what this world’s “love” says – ignore his sins, allow him to remain cut off from God, and when God demands of you why your brother is sinning, you’ll no doubt say “am I my brother’s keeper???” – and God will say to you, as He said to Cain, “the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground” (Genesis 4:10). You are your brother’s keeper. And if you’re not, you will be your brother’s atonement.

Ezekiel 3:20 (NKJV) Again, when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die; because you did not give him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; but HIS BLOOD I WILL REQUIRE AT YOUR HAND.

Any time your brother sins, and you don’t tell him he’s sinning, you have chosen to keep him in the dark; we all know that “sin is not counted where there is no law” (Romans 5:13 RSV),and we all know that if someone is ignorant, God won’t blame them. What people don’t seem to realize is that when we are NOT ignorant, we get blamed even if THE SINNER IS!

By keeping them in the dark, shielding them from the truth you know to be true, you set yourself up as their leaders; you set yourself in a position where you take the right to decide what they should and should not know about God, and filter the words God has given to you and only tell them the ones you think are “good” for them.

John 15:22 (Darby) If I had not come and spoken to them, they had not had sin; but now they have NO EXCUSE FOR THEIR SIN.

If Jesus had not come and spoken to them, they would have been in ignorance, and their sins would have been on HIS head! But once He told them and they rejected Him, they had NO EXCUSE – no one on whom to pass the blame! No one but that one goat sent off into the wilderness on Atonement!

So whether you call yourself a minister or not, if you know truth that would help someone, and hold back that truth FOR ANY REASON, when God comes looking for a payment for their sin He will require their blood at your hand. They will still die either way, but YOU won’t be clean unless you warn them about their sins!

Ezekiel 3:19 Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; BUT THOU HAST DELIVERED THY SOUL.

You have enough problems on your own; you don’t need to be partakers of “other men’s sins” because you “love” them so much that you “don’t have the heart” to tell them the cold, hard facts. You don’t need to “bear sin for him”. It’s wrong, it hurts them, and it hurts you. You won’t get extra pennies in heaven because you were too “loving” to tell a sinner he was sinning. You’ll get extra stripes.

You don’t want to be someone’s atonement. For ANY REASON! Because no righteous man can pay for the sins of someone else!

Ezekiel 14:20 Though Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, as I live, saith the Lord GOD, they shall deliver neither son nor daughter;they shall but deliver THEIR OWN SOULS BY THEIR RIGHTEOUSNESS.

When Moses tried to be an atonement for Israel, God refused and said “Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book” (Exodus 32:33). Only a perfect person, a flawless person who need not die for his own sins can be an atonement. Because a righteous atonement takes the sins of the people on him. And if he bears his own sins already, he can’t die for yours!

Even Jesus, when He was alive, COULD NOT BEAR SINS FOR YOU RIGHTEOUSLY! He could have lied to people, deceived them, and borne them that way – but had He borne your sins an INSTANT before He died, then His sacrifice would have been tainted! The sacrifice had to be flawless, not tarnished by HIS sins, or OTHER MEN’S SINS! Only after He died, and was resurrected as a spirit Being could He be your righteous atonement, and bear your sins of ignorance and apply His sacrifice to you.

So you can’t be that atonement while you live, no matter what you do! And so the only sort of atonement you can be is the UNRIGHTEOUS atonement – the deceiver, the liar, the cheat; the bad example, the EXCUSE for sin. And you won’t want to be my excuse, your spouse’s excuse, your church’s excuse or your neighbor’s excuse! You don’t need the burden of that much condemnation falling on your shoulders!

So next time you are talking to someone who brings up a concept you know to be wrong, next time you catch a friend in a sin, next time your church spouts a doctrine the Bible clearly contradicts, ask yourself; “do I want to bear their sin? Do I want to suffer because of this person?

“Do I want to leave them in the dark, keep them shut off from God so that they will die in their sins, AND die myself because I kept them in ignorance? Do I really want to be THEIR atonement?? Or should I just obey the command of God and ‘speak the truth in my heart?’ (Psalms 15:2)

Shouldn’t you, for perhaps the first time in your life, actually BE your brother’s keeper? Shouldn’t you obey the command NOT to hate your brother, but to correct him, so that you will not bear sin in his place? You don’t want to be his atonement. Or else one day, you’ll find yourself being led out into the wilderness by the hands of a fit man…

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

If you enjoyed this article you need to check out our comprehensive Bible Study Course! Learn how to study your Bible and get the answers to life's most important questions directly from God's word!

Post navigation