The Scriptures speak of money having atonement value, and Israel had to pay this atonement whenever a census was taken. I have run into people on discussion boards that point to Exodus 30:16, saying that blood is not needed for atonement, because Scripture shows money has atonement value with God. What does this mean? Can one really buy one’s way into eternal life? Can God be bribed? The fact is that this Scripture does not represent a sacrifice or take the place of one. One could not substitute atonement money for a sin offering or any other offering. Atonement money had to do with whether or not one numbered himself as the LORD’s and who submitted himself to the Mosaic Covenant.
Exodus 30:16 JPS And thou shalt take the atonement money from the children of Israel, and shalt appoint it for the service of the tent of meeting, that it may be a memorial for the children of Israel before the LORD, to make atonement for your souls.’
Notice that the Scripture says that this atonement money was a memorial among the children of Israel. It was not levied on women, children under the age of twenty, older men who could not go to war, or any of the Levites (Numbers 1:2-3, 47-49). This alone should tell one is taking the Scripture out of context, if one believes money can be used to purchase our atonement. The atonement money could not be used by everyone. It was used only by those who were able to go to war. It was called redemption money or atonement money, not because it atoned for anyone’s life in the sense that a blood sacrifice did, but it was used to buy back one’s life from the service of the tabernacle. The men who went to war in the service of the God of Israel were dedicated for his purposes. In other words, God used them to judge other nations or he used Israel in the performance of his will. Similarly, the use of money to buy back or atone is seen concerning what was done for unclean animals devoted to the LORD (Leviticus 27:11-13), for a house (Leviticus 27:15) and a field (Leviticus 27:16-19).
Redemption money or atonement money was also used to buy back the firstborn of Israel when the LORD sanctified the Levites instead of them for the service of the Tabernacle (Numbers 3:39-51). This act had absolutely nothing to do with atonement for sin. One’s iniquity was not a consideration as far as atonement money was concerned. Atonement money had to do with one being dedicated to the Lord for his purposes. If one chose to remain dedicated to the LORD, one did not pay the redemption or atonement money, and that one would serve God at the Tabernacle for the rest of his life. This is what Hannah did when she dedicated her firstborn, Samuel, who was not a Levite (1Samuel 1:1-2, 9-11, 19-22).
The half-shekel is worth between fifty cents to a dollar. To think that this Scripture (Exodus 30:16) reveals the debt a sinner owed to the LORD shows a very poor understanding of the word of God. This redemption or atonement money had nothing to do with sin. It had to do with a man or the nation being dedicated to God, and its value was set so low that even a poor man could pay the price.
Many are celebrating the Passover today, the very day in the Hebrew calendar upon which our Lord and Savior was crucified. Some Jews will celebrate the day tomorrow, and many Christians, rather than commemorating the day of the crucifixion on a variable day will remember the sacrifice of Jesus on what we call Good Friday of this week. It is the way of the world to trivialize Jesus’ blood sacrifice. Let us who know him dwell upon the great, unfathomable value of that one Life that is above all life, that one Life that was sacrificed in the stead of all who ever lived. Jesus, the Only Begotten Son of God became man over two thousand years ago and took upon himself the total debt of mankind in order to buy us back from death and present us to the Father. We are his creation, and his love for us knows no limit, for the depth of his love is expressed in the price he paid to redeem each one of us who was lost and without hope. Yet, he became our Hope when we were chained to a hopeless eternal death, giving us new life—his life, from his Spirit—we became a part of the new creation of God in Christ. Now that is something to remember, and value, and celebrate.