Woven into the very fabric of Scripture, and a key to understanding the OT concept of forgiveness of sin, is the word atonement. The Hebrew is kāpar (H3722), from which is derived kippūr (H3725), as used in the name of the well-known Jewish feast Yôm Kippūr (“day” of “atonement” in Leviticus 16).
The root kāpar, as well as its Arabic equivalent, means “to cover over or pacify,” but not in the sense of simply trying to conceal something. “It suggests the imposing of something to change its appearance or nature.” In Isa_28:18, for example, it refers to a covenant being “disannulled” (i.e., “written over”). It also appears in Gen_6:14, where it is translated “pitch,” a substance put over wood to make it waterproof, that is, to change the appearance and nature of the wood. To illustrate further, painters often paint over an existing picture they no longer want and create a new one. The old picture is still there, but has been covered over in such a way as to change its appearance.
This fundamental meaning tells us the true nature of OT atonement: It was a covering for sin not simply to conceal it but to change its appearance and nature. It didn’t remove the sin totally, as Christ’s sacrifice would do, but it did “paint over it.” As mentioned earlier, that is exactly what it means in Gen_6:14 (which actually is the very first occurrence of kāpar). While it’s rendered “pitch,” this is not the usual word for this bituminous substance. Moses’ infant basket, for example, was waterproofed with “pitch,” which is zepeṯ (H2203), what we think of today as “tar” (Exo_2:3). “Whatever the exact nature of this pitch [in Genesis],” writes Henry Morris, “(probably a resinous substance of some kind, rather than a bituminous material), it sufficed as a perfect covering for the Ark, to keep out the waters of judgment, just as the blood of the Lamb provides a perfect atonement for the soul.”
So while “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins” (Heb_10:4; cf. Heb_10:10), which was only an atonement, our Lord’s sacrifice on the cross did just that. “This man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God” (Heb_10:12). While the OT priests never sat down, since the work of sacrifice was never complete, our Lord was the Last Lamb.
Scriptures for Study: Read the following verses, noting what Christ’s sacrifice accomplished: 1Jn_1:7; 1Jn_2:1-2; 1Jn_4:10.