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Sin as a Debt: Deposit the Proceeds of Good Deeds in a Heavenly Bank

The King James Version (KJV) is mostly used in these lessons. Click here to access the KJV online.
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The narration of a dream by a powerful non-Jewish leader in the Old Testament parallels the dream of Pharaoh in Genesis (41:1–24). Pharaoh’s dream and Nebuchadnezzar’s dream “warn of terrible days ahead…and both require a righteous Israelite…to interpret them.”16 Yet the dream accounts differ. Pharaoh had two dreams revealing the same famine. According to Joseph’s interpretation, “That Pharaoh had the same dream twice means that the matter has been confirmed by G-d [Yahuwah] and that Yahuwah will soon bring it about (Genesis 4:32).”17 Nebuchadnezzar, on the other hand, had only one dream. His dream involves a great and mighty tree being cut down and its stump being reduced to a near animal state. This “led Daniel to conclude that this dream could not possess the same degree of certainty as to its fulfillment. In other words, there must be a way to avert or at least ameliorate what was coming.”18 In order to prevent the looming punishment of Yahuwah, Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar: “Redeem your sins by almsgiving [ṣidqâ‘] and your iniquities by generosity to the poor [mihan ‘ănāyîn]; then your serenity may be extended.”19 Daniel advises almsgiving as a way to prevent the outcome of the dream, thereby instructing Nebuchadnezzar to atone for his sins through acts of mercy.

But how do almsgiving and generosity to the poor enable a person to have one’s sins and iniquities redeemed? To answer this question requires that one understand the nature of sin as a debt. Gary Anderson has argued persuasively that the notion of sin in the Old Testament shifted from viewing sin as a “weight” to sin as a “debt.” This first arose due to the influence of Aramaic, as the language of the Persian empire during 538–333 BC.20 It was the vocabulary of Aramaic that understood sin as “debt,” and this influenced Jews who were bilingual in Hebrew and Aramaic.21 Additionally, during the development of the Israelite language in the Persian period, the Israelites “were also experiencing exile and enslavement.”22 This centered around the punishment of being sold into slavery for Israel’s sinfulness. Physical punishment served as a way to pay the debt of sin. This idea of paying for sins is encapsulated well in Isaiah 40 (dating to the sixth century BC): “Comfort, comfort my people says your God [Yahuwah]. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her penal service is ended, that her sin has been paid off, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins (Isaiah 40 1–2).”23 The idea of using physical punishment as a form to pay one’s debt “comes directly from the experience of debt-slavery…. In this tradition, anyone unable to repay a loan could work as a debt-slave for the creditor until the loan was paid off. Similarly, if a sinner committed a serious error and so incurred a ‘great debt,’ the penalty imposed upon him was thought to ‘raise currency’ in order to pay down what was owed.”24

Once the nature of sin as “debt” appeared, its natural opposite appears – a “credit.” As Anderson notes:

The very idiom of rabbinic Hebrew supports this, because the antonym for the term ḥôb (debt) is zekût (credit). No such antinomy existed in the First Temple period—the idiom of ‘bearing the weight of one’s sin’ did not have a natural opposite…. [I]n Second Temple Jewish texts, it becomes common to speak of persons whose moral virtuosity was so remarkable that they were able to deposit the proceeds of their good deeds in a heavenly bank.25
 


This lesson was taken from a non-WLC article written by James W. Stroud (Journal of Moral Theology, Vol. 10, Special Issue 1 (2021): 84–103).

We have taken out from the original article all pagan names and titles of the Father and Son, and have replaced them with the original given names. Furthermore, we have restored in the Scriptures quoted the names of the Father and Son, as they were originally written by the inspired authors of the Bible. -WLC Team

WLC Source:
https://www.worldslastchance.com/topical-biblical-studies/download/512
 
Please refer to the link above for citation sources.