On the next day Moses said to the people, “You yourselves have committed a great sin; and now I am going up to the LORD, perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” Exodus 32:30 NASB
Make atonement – God is never appeased! Appeasement is demanded by pagan deities, not by YHWH. Why? Because appeasement implies that the deity is in a state of wrath or anger and that some human action is needed to defer that anger. Appeasement suggests that human beings are able, through their own efforts, to assuage the anger of the gods. But the Hebrew view begins from an entirely different perspective. God isn’t angry at us. He is brokenhearted. God loves His creation. Our rebellion produces a broken relationship that He is anxious to restore. Of course, if all His efforts fail, the moral integrity of the creation calls for punishment, but this is not His beginning state of mind. That’s why the Hebrew verb kipper “never refers to propitiation of God. Even when a human person is the subject of the action, kipper denotes the action of a substitutionary mediator, effecting forgiveness of sin.”
How is atonement made? Someone stands between the offender and the offended. Someone acts as the mediator. Someone offers payment on behalf of the offender in order to restore the relationship with the offended.
In most of the sacrificial settings, a priest acts as the mediator. The offering becomes the payment required by the offended party in order to heal the broken relationship. The Torah spells out in great detail exactly what is required to restore such broken relationships. The requirement implies a legal setting much like a court of law where certain restitution must be made to satisfy the judgment. This works perfectly when the offenses concern interactions between human beings (for example, when a man steals someone’s property). Atonement is the payment of the penalty. But what happens when the offended party is God Himself? What happens when my sin breaks relationship with Him? How will I atone for that? I am the offender. I can’t come to the offended one, YHWH, on my own because I am the one who broke the relationship. I need a mediator.
We see this principle in action when Israel offends YHWH in the incident of the golden calf. Moses must act as the mediator. Even with Moses in the middle, the outcome is uncertain. “Perhaps I can make atonement.” Why isn’t the atonement guaranteed? Moses isn’t certain what God will require as payment. And Moses might not be sure if God will accept his role as mediator. There is a lot at risk here since the required payment has not been specified. Moses is doing all that he knows to do and all that he can do, but it might not be enough. The price might just be too high for anyone to pay. This sin is a “great sin,” a sin of blasphemy and idolatry, a sin that offends the very nature of God since it implies God is not who He claims to be. The punishment for this sin is death. But who can pay such a price? Must every one of the children of Israel die in order to balance the books? Must you and I be put to death because we too have committed a great sin?
God says, “NO!” “I will take your place.” No man can ransom the life of another from God. In fact, no man is able to ransom even his own life from God (Psalm 49:8). The price exceeds our ability to pay. Who then will pay?
And He does.
Topical Index: kipper, atonement, ransom, substitution, Exodus 32:30
 Lang, kipper, TDOT, Vol. 7, p. 294