In our previous article (Tidings, 6/2006) we determined that the consistent pattern for an easterly direction indicated a progression away from God and toward the flesh. A western progression indicated a return to God, such as the exclusively western direction needed to approach the divine presence between the cherubim in the tabernacle, and later in the temples. We also noted that when a scriptural pattern appears to diverge there is an invitation to significant understanding. This further article will consider two of the east-west applications that raise questions. (We note that both center on the removal of sins.)
David mentions a feature of forgiveness being related to the east-west issue in Psalm 103:12: “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.”
Our second observation in this commentary will also relate the removal of sins with the east-west issue, examining the blood spattered on the mercy seat on the Day of Atonement. Our Heavenly Father confirms divine principles through many shadowed avenues such as direct statements, laws and features of creation, detailed rituals, numbers and mathematics, colors and spectrometry, prophecies, parables, visions and dreams. When we see the repetition of a relationship in more than one avenue of divine expression (i.e., the poetry and songs of Psalms and the distinct rituals of the Day of Atonement), we can confidently confirm correct understanding. The east-west issue is paralleled in the removal of sins more than once. What are we supposed to learn? And what heart-induced, instinctive reasoning should be corrected by this parallel?
One of the observations made about the difference between east and west is that the gulf between them is limitless. This is not the case with north and south. If one travels north from any point on earth, then it is only a matter of time before he begins heading south, and vice-versa. However, when one travels west, he can theoretically do so forever, unless he reverses himself. The same is true of an eastern progression. This observation expresses the gulf between spirit and flesh, and heaven and earth. Jesus, produced by a combination of heaven and earth (spirit and flesh) and hosting the victory of the spirit over the flesh, constitutes the bridge over this abyss. We can certainly approach the tree of life to our west (upon being expelled from the Garden of Eden), but only through Christ.
It is sometimes suggested that the expression of this east/west gulf in relation to sin removal means God actually forgets our forgiven sins. It is reasoned that when our sins are forgiven they have no effect on our relationship with God ever again, that forgiveness means forgetting. While this would be a very pleasant conclusion it contradicts divine behavior.
God forgave David for his adultery and contract murder. Despite already having forgiven David, God chastised him severely with the death of the child, treachery within his household, the national embarrassment of Absalom with his concubines, and the temporary loss of his kingdom. Although God did forgive, David still faced divine consequences, and he suffered greatly because of his serious sins. Forgiveness clearly does not mean forgetting, by divine precedent. The eastñwest distance to which God has removed our sins is defined by the gulf between spirit and flesh, between the divine and the cursed, the infinite and the finite, a spiritual focus as opposed to a fleshly focus — and not the distance between behavior and mental recognition.
Blood to the east, blood to the west
Confirming this relationship between the removal of sins and the east/west issue is the divinely-required east-and-then-west direction for the blood being spattered upon the mercy seat on the Day of Atonement.
After generating the life-saving cloud of incense to fog the ark of the covenant, the high priest re-entered the most holy with the blood of the bullock for the atonement of the high priest and his family. “And he shall take of the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it with his finger upon the mercy seat eastward; and before the mercy seat shall he sprinkle of the blood with his finger seven times” (Lev. 16:14).
The high priest had to spatter the blood in two directions: (1) “eastward” as well as (2) “before” the mercy seat. Initially he had to direct the blood eastward, which would require him to go behind the ark of the covenant, turn around facing the veil, and spatter blood upon the mercy seat. The only way to enter the most holy section of the tabernacle was in a westerly direction. Upon entering he would be facing the ark to the west of him. If he spattered the blood at this time he would not be directing it eastward as the ritual required. This eastward direction of the blood would demand his circling behind the ark and turning back to face the east with the ark in front of him in order to accomplish this first blood application. Facing east from behind the ark, the high priest would spatter the blood eastward “upon the mercy seat.”
The verb “spatter” is used here, since this particular Hebrew verb is used exclusively with sin-offerings and does not indicate a dainty sprinkling but more of a violent spattering.
Why would God require the blood for the atonement of the high priest and nation to be directed eastward as well as westward — two distinct directions?
Several scriptural themes satisfy this apparent pattern divergence. We will examine two of them. Blood represents mortal life throughout scripture. We see both directions presented here, eastern and western. This is full circle, representing both the exit from paradise (as the curse of mortality is inflicted) and the return to paradise (through the sin-offering of our ultimate High Priest). The whole progression (from expulsion to the east, to their westward return to paradise) can be seen in the east-then-west spattering of the blood of atonement.
The heaven and earth partnership
The initially-east-and-then-west blood spattering also reflects the partnership of heaven (eastern progression of God to man) and earth (western progression of man to God) in the process of atonement. The initial defining feature of a correct understanding of the atonement is that it was primarily the work of our Heavenly Father. This is evidenced by Paul’s powerful statement: “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation” (2 Cor.5:19). The Creator initiated and orchestrated the atonement process, working within Christ to reconcile His creation to Himself, achieving harmony without violating His principles. The work of the atonement was the combined work of God and Christ, of blessed immortality along with cursed but transgression-less mortality, of heaven and earth. This is displayed in the east-and-then-west spattering of the blood. Appropriately, the initial application of the blood had to be eastward upon the mercy seat, validating the understanding that the work of the atonement is first and foremost the work of God.
Consistent application of scriptural metaphors presented by writers spanning centuries, and covering every economic and political station, is more than just an uplifting validation of the divine inspiration of the Bible. It is frequently a doorway to greater understanding of the divine mind and the unveiling of His principles. Our conclusion then, at least morally, is to “Go west, young man, go west.”