Exodus 30:15 and 16, To make atonement for your souls. Some will read these verses and conclude that one can buy their redemption through charitable giving and therefore circumvent the need to place one’s faith in Yeshua’s atoning death on the cross. Does this passage suggest a theology where man can save himself from his sins by acts of charity? Let’s dig a little deeper to see what these verses are really teaching us.
In this passage, YHVH instructed the Israelites to pay an annual half-shekel temple tax. This money went, in part, toward, the service (verse 16) and constructing of the Tabernacle of Moses (e.g. Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the OT, vol. 1, p. 459; Exod. 38:21–31), and later toward the purchase of the animals the priests sacrificed (The Temple and Its Service, by Alfred Edersheim, p. 48). In this way, the people were participating vicariously in the act of sacrificing an innocent animal as an offering or atonement for their sins. Again, the Scriptures reveal that this sacrificial system merely pointed prophetically toward the Greater Sacrifice that would come later in the Person of Yeshua, the Redeemer of Israel. (Read Isa 53.) On the point that the paying the half-shekel was a merely a temporary solution to the problem of man’s sin, Keil and Delitzsch say in their commentary on this passage,
As an expiation [atonement] for souls, it pointed to the unholiness of Israel’s nature, and reminded the people continually, that by nature it was alienated from God, and could only remain in covenant with the Lord and live in His kingdom on the ground of His grace, which covered its sin (ibid.).
Keil and Delitzsch’s point is further strengthened in Exodus 30:16, which says,
And you shall take the atonement money of the children of Israel, and shall appoint it for the service of the tabernacle of the congregation; that it may be a memorial unto the children of Israel before YHVH, to make an atonement for your souls. (emphasis added; ibid.)
The giving of the half-shekel was a memorial to what? The Hebrew word for memorial is zikrown (Strong’s H2146) meaning “reminder, token, record.” According to The TWOT, a zikrown is an object or act which brings something else to mind or which represents something else. It reminded them of their sinfulness and pointed prophetically to a Redeemer—Yeshua the Messiah— who would come and take away their sins once and for all (Heb 10:10). For a more detailed study of this subject, please see our teaching article entitled, “The Atonement: Bloody or Bloodless? Understanding the Concept of Atonement in the Torah” located on the Hoshana Rabbah website at http://www.hoshanarabbah.org/pdfs/atone.pdf.