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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

Leviticus 5



Verse 1

Leviticus 5:1

If he do not utter it.

Of the difference between these laws in the fifth and those in the fourth chapter

1. The former laws seem to concern the Israelites specially, where it said (verse 27), “If any people of the land”; but these concern all whomsoever they see or know to offend.

2. The sins of ignorance there are propounded generally, here instance is given in some special and particular sins.

3. There sins are mentioned which a man committeth by himself, here such as are done by others whereby one may be defiled.

4. Beside these laws are set forth without any distinction of persons, as in the former chapter of the priest, the congregation, and prince, because the vulgar people are here understood, every law beginning thus, “If any soul,” as Leviticus 4:27. “If any soul of the people,” by this phrase, then, are meant of private persons of the vulgar sort; as for the special persons as of the priest and prince, they must be understood here as in the former laws to make satisfaction for these sins also with the rite proscribed in their privileges.

5. Add hereunto the reason which is yielded by Tostatus that whereas sins of ignorance are incident both unto the priest, prince, and people, and differ in degree according to the quality of their persons, as it is more grievous for the high priest to fall by error or ignorance than the congregation, and for them rather than the prince, yet for sins committed of malice and passion there cannot be the like difference, for the whole multitude cannot offend in passion as of ignorance as a particular person may (Leviticus 4:1). But I resolve rather with Cajetane, that these laws are specially understood of private persons, and of private offences.

6. And this further difference there is between the sins rehearsed in this chapter and the former--that there the sins of ignorance are by name expressed, here such as proceed of passion; which kind of sins must be understood with some kind of limitation, for there is no sin committed, though of malice, but there is some passion in it, as he which for fear or hope of reward forsweareth himself is led by some passion, yet it cannot properly be called a sin of passion.

Sins of silence

The spiritual truth underlying the Mosaic law is that man is under the direct eye of God, and his life is, therefore, lifted into direct responsibility to God. God sees us, and God sees everything about us and within us. Sins of silence and secrecy, sins of public error and notoriety, which go before a man to judgment, are alike open and naked to Him with whom we have to do. Moses taught that the life of the meanest man fulfilled itself under the open eye of heaven. He was no mere atom in the human ant-hill, no insignificant unit of humanity, lost in the vast ebb and flow of universal life, for insignificance is impossible to man, and obscurity is denied him. He was a person, active, powerful, working woe or weal to others; and just as the calling of a man’s voice, or the footfall of a child’s step, stir the waves of sound which travel onward and ever onward, till they may be said to break upon the shores of the furthest stars, so the influences of a man’s life are boundless. This passage is a striking illustration of these principles. It recognises that sin may lie in silence as in speech, that to hear the word of swearing and not rebuke it is to share the guilt of it; that men are responsible to each other because they are responsible to God. There are three forces in human life, the action of which is illustrated by this passage.

I. The first is influence--that intangible personal atmosphere which clothes every man, an invisible belt of magnetism, as it were, which he carries with him. Every human being seems to possess a moral atmosphere quite peculiar to himself, which invests and interprets him, and the presence of which others readily detect. For instance, a pure woman carries a moral and ennobling atmosphere with her. The atmosphere which clothes her seems to flood the room, and the coarse weeds of vicious thought and talk cannot thrive in it. Or look on the other side of the illustration. Picture a type of man but too common--the fast man of society. There is an exhalation of evil which goes before him and spreads around him. That is influence: something subtle, indefinable, yet real; without lips, yet speaking; without visible shape, yet acting with tremendous potency, like the magnetic forces which throb and travel unseen around us, bidden in the dewdrop and uttered in the thunder; influence, which streams out from every human being, and shapes others, and moulds and makes them; influence, which is stronger than action, more eloquent than speech, more enduring than life, which being holy sows the centuries with the seeds of holy life, and being evil multiplies, indeed, transgressors in the earth!

II. The second force is example. Every man sets a copy for his neighbour, and his neighbour is quick to reproduce it. The covetous man has a miser for his son, the light woman has a daughter hastening towards the ways of shame, the drunkard infects a whole neighbourhood with his vices.

III. And then, from influence and example there results responsibility. You can as easily evade the law of gravitation as the law of human responsibility. If you cease to speak that will not rid you of the burden; you must cease to be to do that. Nay, even death itself is powerless to destroy influence. Often it multiplies it a thousandfold. Is the life of the heroes, the patriots, the martyrs really closed? They were never so much alive as now; the fire that slew them freed them, and the steps of their scaffolds were the staircase of immortality. Thus influence and example bring with them responsibility to God and responsibility to man.

IV. Let us mark further the precise way in which these forces work.

1. First, it is clear that personal sin always involves others. “If a man hear the voice of swearing,” if he even knows of it, he shares the complicity of the sin. There is always some one who hears, who witnesses, who shares. Here is the most tragic and awful aspect of sin--we share our sins! We have involved others in our guilt, and if we forget they will go remembering. It is well that thou shouldest stand in God’s house to-day, clothed with decorous reverence, unsuspected, and with no scar of fire upon thee; but what of the poor soiled body of that other one, the sharer of thy sin and shame? For there is a dreadful comradeship in guilt--often intentional, for men love company in their sins, but often unintentional, for others share what they concealed and know what they did secretly. It is the most appalling aspect sin assumes; it is never sterile, it is always multiplying and prolific, passing like a fever-taint from man to man; till from one sin a world is infected and corrupt.

2. Notice again, that he who sees a sin and does not rebuke it shares the sin and bears its iniquity. The only way to purge one’s self of the contaminating complicity of another man’s guilt is instantly to witness against it. There is no other course open to a spiritual honesty.

The sin of conniving at wrong-doings

I. That the sins of men cannot evade witnesses. An old writer has forcibly said “that to every sin there must be at least two witnesses,” viz., “a man’s own conscience and the great God.”

II. That it is the duty of witnesses to give evidence when justice demands it. When a witness heard the words of adjuration he was required at the proper place to give the needed information. It was his duty because--

III. That in concealing evidence against sin we involve ourselves in serious guilt. The guilt of concealing evidence is seen, in that by so doing we--

1. Dishonour God’s voice, which speaks within us.

2. Disobey God’s published laws.

3. Decrease our own antipathy to sin.

4. Encourage the trespasser in his wrong-doing. All sin ought to be acknowledged and expiated for the sake of the sinner and the wronged. (F. W. Brown.)


1. Not to conceal, or consent to other men’s sins.

2. God’s dishonour not to be endured.

3. Confession of our sins unto God necessary (Leviticus 5:5). This is the beginning of amendment.

4. Against negligent hearers of the Word (Leviticus 5:15).

5. Against sacrilege.

6. To take hold of the sleights and subtle temptations of Satan.

7. To appear before the Lord in sincerity and simplicity of heart. (A. Willet, D. D.)

The voice of swearing repudiated

When the late Rev. Mr. K--was settled in his congregation of S--, they could not furnish him with lodgings. In these circumstances, a Captain P--, in the neighbourhood, though a stranger to religion, took him into his family. But our young clergyman soon found himself in very unpleasant circumstances, owing to the captain’s practice of swearing. One day at table, after a very liberal volley of oaths from the captain, he observed calmly, “Captain, you have certainly made use of a number of very improper terms.” The captain, who was rather a choleric man, was instantly in a blaze. “Pray, sir, what improper terms have I used? Surely, captain, you must know,” replied the clergyman with greater coolness; “and having already put me to the pain of hearing them, you cannot be in earnest in imposing upon me the additional pain of repeating them.” “You are right, sir,” resumed the captain, “you are right. Support your character, and we will respect you. We have a parcel of clergymen around us here who seem quite uneasy till they get us to understand that we may use any freedom we please before them, and we despise them.”

Guilty silence deplored and amended

Kilstein, a pious German minister, once heard a labouring man use the most awful curses and imprecations in a fit of passion, without reproving him for it. This so troubled him that he could scarcely sleep the following night. In the morning he arose early, soon saw the man coming along, and addressed him as follows: “My friend, it is you I am waiting to see.” “You are mistaken,” replied the man; “you have never seen me before.” “Yes, I saw you yesterday,” said Kilstein, “whilst returning from your work, and heard you praying.” “What! heard me pray?” said the man. “I am sure now that you are mistaken, for I never prayed in my life.” “And yet,” calmly but earnestly replied the minister, “if God had heard your prayer, you would not be here, but in hell; for I heard you beseeching God that He might strike you with blindness and condemn you unto hell fire.” The man turned pale, and trembling said: “Dear sir, do you call this prayer? Yes, it is true, I did this very thing.” “Now, my friend,” continued Kilstein, “as you acknowledge it, it is my duty to beseech you to seek with the same earnestness the salvation of your soul as you have hitherto its damnation, and I will pray to God that He will have mercy upon you.” From this time the man regularly attended upon the ministry of Kilstein, and ere long was brought in humble repentance to Christ as a true believer. “A word in season how good it is.” “Be instant in season and out of season; rebuke, reprove, exhort, with all long-suffering and patience.”

Sister Dora’s noble rebuke of swearing

Sister Dora was once travelling, as usual, third class, when a number of half-drunken navvies got in after her, and before she could change her carriage the train was in motion. She recollected that her dress, a black gown and cloak, with a quiet black bonnet and veil, would probably, as on former encounters with half-intoxicated men, protect her from insult. Her fellow-travellers began to talk, and at last one of them swore several blasphemous oaths. Sister Dora’s whole soul burnt within her, and she thought, “Shall I sit and hear this?” but then came the reflection, “What will they do to me if I interfere?” and this dread kept her quiet a moment or two longer. But the language became more and more violent, and it passed through her mind, “What must these men think of any woman who can sit by and hear such words unmoved; but, above all, what will they think of a woman in my dress who is afraid to speak to them?” At once she stood up her full height in the carriage and called out loudly, “I will not hear the Master whom I serve spoken of in this way.” Immediately they dragged her down into her seat, with a torrent of oaths, and one of the most violent roared, “Hold your jaw, you fool; do you want your face smashed in?” They held her down on the seat between them; nor did she attempt to struggle, satisfied with having made her open protest. At the next station they let her go, and she quickly got out of the carriage. A minute after, while she was standing on the platform, she heard a rough voice behind her, “Shake hands, mum! you’re a good-plucked one, you are! You were right and we were wrong.” She gave her hand to the man, who hurried away, for fear, no doubt, that his comrades should jeer at him.

Sins of ignorance classified

If we compare the fourth and the sixth chapters of Leviticus, it is very evident that the first broad distinction between them is that the former treats of sins committed ignorantly, the latter of sins committed knowingly. The division, however, into sins ignorantly, and sins knowingly committed, is not alone sufficient. Sins committed ignorantly, greatly vary, not only in the degree, but also in the kind of ignorance; and for such ignorance, we may be in different degrees responsible. In order, therefore, to mark that such differences are appreciated by God, and that He desires that we, too, should appreciate them, various classifications of sins of ignorance are given in the fifth chapter; in some of which there is so much of self-caused ignorance that they very nearly approach, in the character of their guilt, to sins knowingly committed, Indeed in the first example given in the fifth chapter, there is so much that is voluntary in the action supposed, that we may perhaps wonder how such an action can at all be placed in the same rank with sins of ignorance. The case supposed is that of a person, who having committed a sin, and being adjured to declare it, refuses. It is evident that terror, or forgetfulness, or carelessness, or some plausible sophistry whereby we may deceive ourselves into the belief that our particular case is an exception to the general rule, may prevent such a sin from being committed with the deliberate voluntariness that marks the trespasses of the sixth chapter. But it stands in striking contrast with sins that spring from that deep universal ignorance which characterises the sins of the fourth chapter. The second case is that of unconsciously touching something that is unclean. Here, again, there is evidently no ignorance of any general principle. The ignorance concerns a specific fact, and is, more or less, the result of carelessness or failure in applying the tests which we possess. There are, however, cases in which ignorance of particulars is the immediate result of being imbued with false general principles. He whose mind has been from his youth up trained in the school of error, and thence received principles which have formed his habits of thought and action, will be found very incapable of determining what is clean or unclean in the particulars of action. The eye of his conscience is blinded; his moral sense is paralysed. The wandering or inattentive eye may be recalled to observation; the slumbering eye may be aroused; but how can we gain the attention of an eye, over which the film of thick darkness has firmly formed? Sins committed in such darkness as this would properly be traced to ignorance as their root, and would be classed with the sins of the fifth chapter, requiring the sin-offering as there described. (B. W. Newton.)

Complacent ignorance

Transgression may ensue from lack of knowledge that such conduct is forbidden; or it may be that, knowing the prohibition, disobedience is speciously excused on some vague plea that circumstances warrant it or expediency condones it In such cases ignorance, if it be really ignorance at all, is self-induced, and is therefore the more culpable. Amid such reprehensible forms of ignorance may be placed--

I. Carelessness; the mind too placid to rouse itself to inquiry.

II. Indiscrimination; the habit of ignoring vital principles and conniving at inconsistencies.

III. Self-excusing; finding exceptional circumstances which extenuate faults and condone misconduct.

IV. Neglect of scripture; not “coming to the light lest their deeds should be reproved” (John 3:20).

V. Satisfaction with a state of conscious darkness; indifference to precise regulations of religion, indisposition of heart towards “perfect holiness”; a loose and easy content over failings and negligence. Ignorance is by some persons consciously cherished: it allows them a covert from the exactions of a lofty and honest piety.

VI. Plausible sophistry; entertaining the delusion that because there is not determined wilfulness in sinning, Or not fullest knowledge of God’s prohibitions of sin, they are less responsible, less to be condemned. Note: Many persons, trained from youth in a school of error, grow up with false principles dominating their judgments and consciences, or with ignorance of the application of right principles to particular incidents and actions. Thus Luther, trained amid the blinding theories of Romanism, groped on till manhood in delusions and dimness. Thus Paul, brought up amid the traditions of Judaism, found his soul clouded with wholly wrong thoughts concerning what was “doing God service.” It is our duty to undeceive ourselves, to inquire after knowledge, to seek full light, that our dimness may yield to discernment. A complacent ignorance is as the softly gliding stream which flows onwards to the rapids. To be able to rest in such self-satisfied ignorance indicates that self-delusion has began, portending doom. “Whom the gods would destroy they first dement.”

1. Search the Scriptures.

2. Seek the Spirit’s illumination.

3. Culture a pure and enlightened conscience.

4. Exercise the judgment and will in efforts to “cease from evil and learn to do well.” (W. H. Jellie.)


Our translation suggests, if it suggests at all, a very obscure and imperfect meaning. It is not, “If a soul hear a person swear, and do not rebuke the swearer, or tell of the swearer,” which seems to be suggested by our version; but, If a person summoned to a court of law, under the ancient Jewish economy, adjured by the officiating judge to tell the truth, should not so tell the truth, and all that he knew, then he should be guilty. We have an illustration of this verse in such a passage as that where the high priest came to our blessed Lord, as recorded in Matthew 26:63, and said, “I adjure thee by the living God, that Thou tell us whether Thou be the Christ, the Son of God.” Now, that was the high priest acting upon the first verse of this very chapter. And our Lord then heard what is called “the swearing” in this verse, or what in that case was the adjuration of the high priest; and as you notice, so obedient was the true Lamb, the true Saviour, to all the requirements of the ceremonial law, that though He had been dumb when asked previously, yet the moment that the high priest adjured Him, that moment, in obedience to the first verse of this chapter, our blessed Lord answered the question addressed to Him; as if it was impossible that He could fail in the observance of the least jot or tittle of the ceremonial law, any more than in the weightiest requirement of God’s moral law. We have in Proverbs 29:1-27. an allusion to this: “He heareth an adjuration, and telleth not,”--that is laid down as a sin, or, in other words, the violation of this verse. (J. C. Cumming, D. D.)

Verses 1-13


Leviticus 4:4-35; Leviticus 5:1-13; Leviticus 6:24-30

ACCORDING to the Authorised Version, {Leviticus 5:6-7} it might seem that the section, Leviticus 5:1-13, referred not to the sin offering, but to the guilt offering, like the latter part of the chapter; but, as suggested in the margin of the Revised Version, in these verses we may properly read, instead of "guilt offering," "for his guilt." That the latter rendering is to be preferred is clear when we observe that in Leviticus 5:6, Leviticus 5:7, Leviticus 5:9 this offering is called a sin offering; that, everywhere else, the victim for the guilt offering is a ram; and, finally, that the estimation of a money value for the victim, which is the most characteristic feature of the guilt offering, is absent from all the offerings described in these verses. We may safely take it therefore as certain that the marginal reading should be adopted in Leviticus 5:6, so that it will read, "he shall bring for his guilt unto the Lord"; and understand the section to contain a further development of the law of the sin offering. In the law of the preceding chapter we have the direction for the sin offering as graded with reference to the rank and station of the offerer; in this section we have the law for the sin offering for the common people, as graded with reference to the ability of the offerer.

The specifications {Leviticus 5:1-5} indicate several cases under which one of the common people was required to bring a sin offering as the condition of forgiveness. As an exhaustive list would be impossible, those named are taken as illustrations. The instances selected are significant as extending the class of offences for which atonement could be made by a sin offering, beyond the limits of sins of inadvertence as given in the previous chapter. For however some cases come under this head, we cannot so reckon sins of rashness (Leviticus 5:4), and still less, the failure of the witness placed under oath to tell the whole truth as he knows it. And herein it is graciously intimated that it is in the heart of God to multiply His pardons; and, on condition of the presentation of a sin offering, to forgive also those sins in palliation of which no such excuse as inadvertence or ignorance can be pleaded. It is a faint foreshadowing, in the law concerning the type, of that which should afterward be declared concerning the great Antitype, {1 John 1:7} "The blood of Jesus cleanseth from all sin."

When we look now at the various prescriptions regarding the ritual of the offering which are given in this and the foregoing chapter, it is plain that the numerous variations from the ritual of the other sacrifices were intended to withdraw the thought of the sinner from all other aspects in which sacrifice might be regarded, and centre his mind upon the one thought of sacrifice as expiating sin, through the substitution of an innocent life for the guilty. In many particulars, indeed, the ritual agrees with that of the sacrifices before prescribed. The victim must be brought by the guilty person to be offered to God by the priest; he must, as in other cases of bloody offerings, then lay his hand on the head of the victim, and then (a particular not mentioned in the other cases) he must confess the sin which he has committed, and then and thus entrust the victim to the priest, that he may apply its blood for him in atonement before God. The priest then slays the victim, and now comes that part of the ceremonial which by its variations from the law of other offerings is emphasised as the most central and significant in this sacrifice.

Verse 2

Leviticus 5:2

He also shall be unclean.

Moral contagion

This avoidance of unclean animals and places is not without practical illustration in our own personal experience and action. To-day, for example, we avoid places that are known to be fever-stricken. We are alarmed lest we should bring ourselves within the influence of contagion. The strongest man might fear if he knew that a letter were put into his hand which had come from a house where fever was fatally raging. However heroic he might be in sentiment, and however inclined to boast of the solidity of his nervous system, it is not impossible that even the strongest man might shrink from taking the hand of a fever-stricken friend. All this is natural and all this is justifiable, and, in fact, any defiance of this would be unnatural and unjustifiable. Is there, then, no suggestion in all such rational caution that there may be moral danger from moral contagion? Can a body emit pestilence and a soul dwell in all evil and riot in all wantonness without giving out an effluvium fatal to moral vigour and to spiritual health? The suggestion is preposterous. They are the unwise and most reprehensible men who being afraid of a fever have no fear of a moral pestilence; who running away in mortal terror from influences leading towards small-pox, cholera, and other fatal diseases, rush into companionships, and actions, and servitudes which are positively steeped and saturated with moral pollution. That we are more affected by the one than by the other only shows that we are more body than soul. Literally, the text does not refer in all probability to a purely spiritual action, yet not the less is the suggestion justified by experience that even the soul considered in its most spiritual sense may touch things that are unclean and may be defiled by them. A poor thing indeed that the hand has kept itself away from pollution and defilement if the mind has opened wide all the points of access to the influence of evil. Sin may not only be in the hand, it may be roiled as a sweet morsel under the tongue. There may be a chamber of imagery in the heart, i man may be utterly without offence in any social acceptation of that term--actually a friend of magistrates and judges, and himself a high interpreter of the law of social morality and honour, and yet all the while may be hiding a very perdition in his heart. It is the characteristic mystery of the salvation of Jesus Christ that it does not come to remove stains upon the flesh or spots upon the garments, but to work out an utter and eternal cleansing in the secret places of the soul, so that the heart itself may in the event be without “spot or wrinkle or any such thing”--pure, holy, radiant, even dazzling with light, fit to be looked upon by the very eye of God. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Dread of defilement

Pierius Valerianus, in his book of Egyptian Hieroglyphics, maketh mention of a kind of white mouse, called the Armenian mouse, being of such a cleanly disposition, that it will rather die than be any way defiled, so that the passage into her hole being besmeared with any filth, she will rather expose herself to the mercy of her cruel enemy, than any way seek to save her life by passing so foul an entrance. (J. Spencer.)

Defilement to be avoided

Men have looked into the crater of a volcano to see what was there, and going down to explore, without coming back to report progress. Many and many a man has gone to see what was in hell, that did see it. Many and many a man has looked to see what was in the cup, and routed a viper coiled up therein. Many and many a man has gone into the house of lust, and found that the ends thereof were death--bitter, rotten death. Many and many a man has sought to learn something of the evils of gambling, and learned it to his own ruin. And I say to every man, the more you know about these things the more you ought to be ashamed of knowing; a knowledge of them is not necessary to education or manhood; and they ought to be avoided, because when a man has once fallen into them, the way out is so steep and hard. (H. W. Beecher.)

Verse 5

Leviticus 5:5

He shall confess that he hath sinned in that thing.

Sin must be fully confessed

Cover sin over as much as we may, and smother it down as carefully as we can, it will break out. Many years ago the packet ship Poland was bound for Havre, with a cargo of cotton on board. By some singular accident the cotton took fire clear down in the hold. The captain, finding that he could not reach the fire, undertook to smother it; but in vain. Then he caulked down the hatchways; but the deck grew so hot that neither passengers nor crew could stand on it. At length he fired a signal gun in distress, put all his people into the boats, and left the doomed ship to her fate. He watched her as she ploughed gallantly through the waves, with all her canvas on; but ere she sunk below the horizon, the fire burst forth in a sheet of flame to the mast-head. That ill-fated packet, carrying the fatal fire in her own hold, is a vivid picture of the moral condition of thousands of men and women. They cover their sins by all manner of concealments; they batten down the hatchways with a show of respectability, and, alas! sometimes with an outward profession of religion; but the deadly thing remains underneath in the heart, and if it does not burst forth in this world, it will in the next. Probably this reveals the reason why some Church members are so constantly halting and stumbling and fall so easily into backsliding. Their “first works” of repentance and confession to God were shallow. (T. L. Cuyler.)

Particular sins must be confessed

Physicians meeting with diseased bodies, when they find a general distemperature, they labour by all the art they can to draw the humour to another place, and then they break it, and bring out all the corruptions that way; all which is done for the better ease of the patient. Even so must all of us do when we have a general and confused sorrow for our sins; i.e., labour as much as may be to draw them into particulars; as to say, In this and in this, at such and such a time, on such an occasion, and in such a place, I have sinned against my God; for it is not enough for a man to be sorrowful in the general, because he is a sinner; but he must draw himself out into particulars, in what manner, and with what sins he hath displeased God, otherwise he may deceive his own soul. (J. Spencer.)

Verse 9



Leviticus 4:6-7; Leviticus 4:16-18; Leviticus 4:25; Leviticus 4:30; Leviticus 5:9

"And the priest shall dip his finger in the blood, and sprinkle of the blood seven times before the Lord, before the veil of the sanctuary. And the priest shall put of the blood upon the horns of the altar of sweet incense before the Lord, which is in the tent of meeting; and all the blood of the bullock shall he pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering, which is at the door of the tent of meeting And the anointed priest shall bring of the blood of the bullock to the tent of meeting, and the priest shall dip his finger in the blood, and sprinkle it seven times before the Lord, before the veil. And he shall put of the blood upon the horns of the altar which is before the Lord, that is in the tent of meeting, and all the blood shall he pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering, which is at the door of the tent of meeting And the priest shall take of the blood of the sin offering with his finger, and put it upon the horns of the altar of burnt offering, and the blood thereof shall he pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering And the priest shall take of the blood thereof with his finger, and put it upon the horns of the altar of burnt offering, and all the blood thereof shall he pour out at the base of the altar And he shall sprinkle of the blood of the sin offering upon the side of the altar; and the rest of the blood shall be drained out at the base of the altar; it is a sin offering."

In the case of the burnt offering and of the peace offering, in which the idea of expiation, although not absent, yet occupied a secondary place in their ethical intent, it sufficed that the blood of the victim, by whomsoever brought, be applied to the sides of the altar. But in the sin offering, the blood must not only be sprinkled on the sides of the altar of burnt offering, but, even in the case of the common people, be applied to the horns of the altar, its most conspicuous and, in a sense, most sacred part. In the case of a sin committed by the whole congregation, even this is not enough; the blood must be brought even into the Holy Place, be applied to the horns of the altar of incense, and be sprinkled seven times before the Lord before the veil which hung immediately before the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies, the place of the Shekinah glory. And in the great sin offering of the high priest once a year for the sins of all the people, yet more was required. The blood was to be taken even within the veil, and be sprinkled on the mercy seat itself over the tables of the broken law.

These several cases, according to the symbolism of these several parts of the tabernacle, differ in that atoning blood is brought ever more and more nearly into the immediate presence of God. The horns of the altar had a sacredness above the sides; the altar of the Holy Place before the veil, a sanctity beyond that of the altar in the outer court; while the Most Holy Place, where stood the ark, and the mercy seat, was the very place of the most immediate and visible manifestation of Jehovah, who is often described in Holy Scripture, with reference to the ark, the mercy seat, and the overhanging cherubim, as the God who "dwelleth between the cherubim."

From this we may easily understand the significance of the different prescriptions as to the blood in the case of different classes. A sin committed by any private individual or by a ruler, was that of one who had access only to the outer court, where stood the altar of burnt offering; for this reason, it is there that the blood must be exhibited, and that on the most sacred and conspicuous spot in that court, the horns of the altar where God meets with the people. But when it was the anointed priest that had sinned, the case was different. In that he had a peculiar position of nearer access to God than others, as appointed of God to minister before Him in the Holy Place, his sin is regarded as having defiled the Holy Place itself; and in that Holy Place must Jehovah therefore see atoning blood ere the priest’s position before God can be reestablished.

And the same principle required that also in the Holy Place must the blood be presented for the sin of the whole congregation. For Israel in its corporate unity was "a kingdom of priests," a priestly nation: and the priest in the Holy Place represented the nation in that capacity. Thus because of this priestly office of the nation, their collective sin was regarded as defiling the Holy Place in which, through their representatives, the priests, they ideally ministered. Hence, as the law for the priests, so is the law for the nation. For their corporate sin the blood must be applied, as in the case of the priest who represented them, to the horns of the altar in the Holy Place, whence ascended the smoke of the incense which visibly symbolised accepted priestly intercession, and, more than this, before the veil itself; in other words, as near to the very mercy seat itself as it was permitted to the priest to go; and it must be sprinkled there, not once, nor twice, but seven times, in token of the reestablishment, through the atoning blood, of God’s covenant of mercy, of which, throughout the Scripture, the number seven, the number of sabbatic rest and covenant fellowship with God, is the constant symbol.

And it is not far to seek for the spiritual thought which underlies this part of the ritual. For the tabernacle was represented as the earthly dwelling place, in a sense, of God; and just as the defiling of the house of my fellow man may be regarded as an insult to him who dwells in the house, so the sin of the priest and of the priestly people is regarded as, more than that of those outside of this relation, a special affront to the holy majesty of Jehovah, criminal just in proportion as the defilement approaches more nearly the innermost shrine of Jehovah’s manifestation.

But though Israel is at present suspended from its priestly position and function among the nations of the earth, the Apostle Peter {1 Peter 2:5} reminds us that the body of Christian believers now occupies Israel’s ancient place, being now on earth the "royal priesthood, the holy nation." Hence this ritual solemnly reminds us that the sin of a Christian is a far more evil thing than the sin of others; it is as the sin of the priest, and defiles the Holy Place, even though unwittingly committed; and thus, even more imperatively than other sin, demands the exhibition of the atoning blood of the Lamb of God, not now in the Holy Place, but more than that, in the true Holiest of all, where our High Priest is now entered. And thus, in every possible way, with this elaborate ceremonial of sprinkling of blood does the sin offering emphasise to our own consciences, no less than for ancient Israel, the solemn fact affirmed in the Epistle to the Hebrews, {Hebrews 9:22} "Without shedding of blood there is no remission of sin."

Because of this, we do well to meditate much and deeply on this symbolism of the sin offering, which, more than any other in the law, has to do with the propitiation of our Lord for sin. Especially does this use of the blood, in which the significance of the sin offering reached its supreme expression, claim our most reverent attention. For the thought is inseparable from the ritual, that blood of the slain victim must be presented, not before the priest, or before the offerer, but before Jehovah. Can anyone mistake the evident significance of this? Does it not luminously hold forth the thought that atonement by sacrifice has to do, not only with man, but with God?

There is cause enough in our day for insisting on this. Many are teaching that the need for the shedding of blood for the remission of sin, lies only in the nature of man; that, so far as concerns God, sin might as well have been pardoned without it; that it is only because man is so hard and rebellious, so stubbornly distrusts the Divine love, that the death of the Holy Victim of Calvary became a necessity. Nothing less than such a stupendous exhibition of the love of God could suffice to disarm his enmity to God and win him back to loving trust. Hence the need of the atonement. That all this is true, no one will deny; but it is only half the truth, and the less momentous half, -which indeed is hinted in no offering, and in the sin offering least of all. Such a conception of the matter as completely fails to account for this part of the symbolic ritual of the bloody sacrifices, as it fails to agree with other teachings of the Scriptures. If the only need for atonement in order to pardon is in the nature of the sinner, then why this constant insistence that the blood of the sacrifice should always be solemnly presented, not before the sinner, but before Jehovah? We see in this fact most unmistakably set forth, the very solemn truth that expiation by blood as a condition of forgiveness of sin is necessary, not merely because man is what he is, but most of all because God is what He is. Let us then not forget that the presentation unto God of an expiation for sin, accomplished by the death of an appointed substitutionary victim, was in Israel made an indispensable condition of the pardon of sin. Is this, as many urge, against the love of God? By no means! Least of all will it so appear, when we remember who appointed the great Sacrifice, and, above all, who came to fulfil this type. Goal does not love us because atonement has been made, but atonement has been made because the Father loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

God is none the less just, that He is love; and none the less holy, that He is merciful: and in His nature, as the Most Just and Holy One, lies this necessity of the shedding of blood in order to the forgiveness of sin, which is impressively symbolised in the unvarying ordinance of the Levitical law, that as a condition of the remission of sin, the blood of the sacrifice must be presented, not before the sinner, but before Jehovah. To this generation of ours, with its so exalted notions of the greatness and dignity of man, and its correspondingly low conceptions of the ineffable greatness and majesty of the Most Holy God, this altar truth may be most distasteful, so greatly does it magnify the evil of sin; but just in that degree is it necessary to the humiliation of man’s proud self-complacency, that, whether pleasing or not, this truth be faithfully held forth.

Very instructive and helpful to our faith are the allusions to this sprinkling of Blood in the New Testament. Thus, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, {Hebrews 12:24} believers are reminded that they are come "unto the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better than that of Abel." The meaning is plain. For we are told, {Genesis 4:10} that the blood of Abel cried out against Cain from the ground; and that its cry for vengeance was prevailing; for God came down, arraigned the murderer, and visited him with instant judgment. But in these words we are told that the sprinkled blood of the holy Victim of Calvary, sprinkled on the heavenly altar, also has a voice, and a voice which "speaketh better than that of Abel"; better, in that it speaks, not for vengeance, but for pardoning mercy; better, in that it procures the remission even of a penitent murderer’s guilt; so that, "being now justified through His blood" we may all be saved from wrath through. {Romans 5:9} And, if we are truly Christ’s, it is our blessed comfort to remember also that we are said {1 Peter 1:2} to have been chosen of God unto the sprinkling of this precious blood of Jesus Christ; words which remind us, not only that the blood of a Lamb "without blemish and without spot" has been presented unto God for us, but also that the reason for this distinguishing mercy is found, not in us, but in the free love of God, who chose us in Christ Jesus to this grace.

And as in the burnt offering, so in the sin offering, the blood was to be sprinkled by the priest. The teaching is the same in both cases. To present Christ before God, laying the hand of faith upon His head as our sin offering, this is all we can do or are required to do. With the sprinkling of the blood we have nothing to do. In other words, the effective presentation of the blood before God is not to be secured by some act of our own; it is not something, to be procured through some subjective experience, other or in addition to the faith which brings the Victim. As in the type, so in the Antitype, the sprinkling of the atoning blood-that is, its application God-ward as a propitiation-is the work of our heavenly Priest. And our part in regard to it is simply and only this, that we entrust this work to Him. He will not disappoint us; He is appointed of God to this end, and He will see that it is done.

In a sacrifice in which the sprinkling of the blood occupies such a central and essential place in the symbolism, one would anticipate that this ceremony would never be dispensed with. Very strange it thus appears, at first sight, to find that to this law an exception was made. For it was ordained (ver. 11) that a man so poor that "his means suffice not" to bring even two doves or young pigeons, might bring, as a substitute, an offering of fine flour. From this, some have hastened to infer that the shedding of the blood, and therewith the idea of substituted life, was not essential to the idea of reconciliation with God; but with little reason. Most illogical and unreasonable it is to determine a principle, not from the general rule, but from an exception; especially when, as in this case, for the exception a reason can be shown, which is not inconsistent with the rule. For had no such exceptional offering been permitted in the case of the extremely poor man, it would have followed that there would have remained a class of persons in Israel whom God had excluded from the provision of the sin offering, which He had made the inseparable condition of forgiveness. But two truths were to be set forth in the ritual; the one, atonement by means of a life surrendered in expiation of guilt; the other, -as in a similar way in the burnt offering, -the sufficiency of God’s gracious provision for even the neediest of sinners. Evidently, here was a case in which something must be sacrificed in the symbolism. One of these truths may be perfectly set forth; both cannot be, with equal perfectness; a choice must therefore be made, and is made in this exceptional regulation, so as to hold up clearly, even though at the expense of some distinctness in the other thought of expiation, the unlimited sufficiency of God’s provision of forgiving grace.

And yet the prescriptions in this form of the offering were such as to prevent anyone from confounding it with the meal offering, which typified consecrated and accepted service. The oil and the frankincense which belonged to the latter are to be left out (Leviticus 5:11); incense, which typifies accepted prayer, -thus reminding us of the unanswered prayer of the Holy Victim when He cried upon the cross, "My God! My God! why hast Thou forsaken Me?" and oil, which typifies the Holy Ghost, -reminding us, again, how from the soul of the Son of God was mysteriously withdrawn in that same hour all the conscious presence and comfort of the Holy Spirit, which withdrawment alone could have wrung from His lips that unanswered prayer. And, again, whereas the meal for the meal offering had no limit fixed as to quantity, in this case the amount is prescribed-"the tenth part of an ephah" (Leviticus 5:11); an amount which, from the story of the manna, appears to have represented the sustenance of one full day. Thus it was ordained that if, in the nature of the case, this sin offering could not set forth the sacrifice of life by means of the shedding of blood, it should at least point in the same direction, by requiring that, so to speak, the support of life for one day shall be given up, as forfeited by sin.

All the other parts of the ceremonial are in this ordinance made to take a secondary place, or are omitted altogether. Not all of the offering is burnt upon the altar, but only a part; that part, however, the fat, the choicest; for the same reason as in the peace offering. There is, indeed, a peculiar variation in the case of the offering of the two young pigeons, in that, of the one, the blood only was used in the sacrifice, while the other was wholly burnt like a burnt offering. But for this variation the reason is evident enough in the nature of the victims. For in the case of a small creature like a bird, the fat would be so insignificant in quantity, and so difficult to separate with thoroughness from the flesh, that the ordinance must needs be varied, and a second bird be taken for the burning, as a substitute for the separated fat of larger animals. The symbolism is not essentially affected by the variation. What the burning of the fat means in other offerings, that also means the burning of the second bird in this case.

Verse 10



Leviticus 4:8-12; Leviticus 4:19-21; Leviticus 4:26; Leviticus 4:31;, Leviticus 5:10; Leviticus 5:12

"And all the fat of the bullock of the sin offering he shall take off from it; the fat that covereth the inwards, and all the fat that is upon the inwards, and the two kidneys, and the fat that is upon them, which is by the loins, and the caul upon the liver, with the kidneys, shall he take away, as it is taken off from the ox of the sacrifice of, peace offerings: and the priest shall burn them upon the altar of burnt offering. And the skin of the bullock, and all its flesh, with its head, and with its legs, and its inwards, and its dung, even the whole bullock shall he carry forth without the camp unto a clean place, where the ashes are poured out, and burn it on wood with fire: where the ashes are poured out shall it be burnt And all the fat thereof shall he take off from it, and burn it upon the altar. Thus shall he do with the bullock; as he did with the bullock of the sin offering, so shall he do with this: and the priest shall make atonement for them, and they shall be forgiven. And he shall carry forth the bullock without the camp, and burn it as he burned the first bullock: it is the sin offering for the assembly. And all the fat thereof shall he burn upon the altar, as the fat of the sacrifice of peace offerings: and the priest shall make atonement for him as concerning his sin, and he shall be forgiven. And all the fat thereof shall he take away, as the fat is taken away from off the sacrifice of peace offerings; and the priest shall burn it upon the altar for a sweet savour unto the Lord and the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be forgiven. And he shall offer the second for a burnt offering according to the ordinance: and the priest shall make atonement for him as concerning his sin which he hath sinned, and he shall be forgiven. And he shall bring it to the priest, and the priest shall take his handful of it as the memorial thereof, and burn it on the altar, upon the offerings of the Lord made by fire: it is a sin offering."

In the ritual of the sin offering, sacrificial meal, such as that of the peace offering, wherein the offerer and his house, with the priest and the Levite, partook together of the flesh of the sacrificed victim, there was none. The eating of the flesh of the sin offerings by the priests, prescribed in Leviticus 6:26, had, primarily, a different intention and meaning. As set forth elsewhere, {Leviticus 7:35} it was "the anointing portion of Aaron and his sons"; an ordinance expounded by the Apostle Paul to this effect, {1 Corinthians 9:13} they which wait upon the altar should "have their portion with the altar." Yet not of all the sin offerings might the priest thus partake. For when he was himself the one for whom the offering was made, whether as an individual, or as included in the congregation, then it is plain that he for the time stood in the same position before God as the private individual who had sinned. It was a universal principle of the law that because of the peculiarly near and solemn relation into which the expiatory victim had been brought to God, it was "most holy," and therefore he for whose sin it is offered could not eat of its flesh. Hence the general law is laid down: {Leviticus 6:30} "No sin offering, whereof any of the blood is brought into the tent of meeting to make atonement in the holy place, shall be eaten; it shall be burnt with fire."

And yet, although, because the priests could not eat of the flesh, it must be burnt, it could not be burnt upon the altar; not, as some have fancied, because it was regarded as unclean, which is directly contradicted by the statement that it is "most holy," but because so to dispose of it would have been to confound the sin offering with the burnt offering, which had, as we have seen, a specific symbolic meaning, quite distinct from that of the sin offering. It must be so disposed of that nothing shall divert the mind of the worshipper from the fact that, not sacrifice as representing full consecration, as in the burnt offering, but sacrifice as representing expiation, is set forth in this offering. Hence it was ordained that the flesh of these sin offerings for the anointed priest, or for the congregation, which included him, should be "burnt on wood with fire without the camp." {Leviticus 4:11-12; Leviticus 4:21} And the more carefully to guard against the possibility of confounding this burning of the flesh of the sin offering with the sacrificial burning of the victims on the altar, the Hebrew uses here, and in all places where this burning is referred to, a verb wholly distinct from that which is used of the burnings on the altar, and which, unlike that, is used of any ordinary burning of anything for any purpose.

But this burning of the victim without the camp was not therefore empty of all typical significance. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews calls our attention to the fact that in this part of the appointed ritual there was also that which prefigured Christ and the circumstances of His death. For we, {Hebrews 13:10-12} after an exhortation to Christians to have done with the ritual observances of Judaism regarding meats:-"We," that is, we Christian believers, "have an altar,"-the cross upon which Jesus suffered, -"whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle"; i.e., they who adhere to the now effete Jewish tabernacle service, the unbelieving Israelites, derive no benefit from this sacrifice of ours. "For the bodies of those beasts whose blood is brought into the Holy Place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned without the camp"; the priesthood are debarred from eating them, according to the law we have before us. And then attention is called to the fact that in this respect Jesus fulfilled this part of the type of the sin offering, thus: "Wherefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the camp." That is, as Alford interprets (Comm. sub. loc.), in the circumstance that Jesus suffered without the gate, is seen a visible adumbration of the fact that He suffered outside the camp of legal Judaism, and thus, in that He suffered for the sin of the whole congregation of Israel, fulfilled the type of this sin offering in this particular. Thus a prophecy is discovered here which perhaps we had not else discerned, concerning the manner of the death of the antitypical victim. He should suffer as a victim for the sin of the whole congregation, the priestly people, who should for that reason be debarred, in fulfilment of the type, from that benefit of His death which had else been their privilege. And herein was accomplished to the uttermost that surrender of His whole being to God, in that, in carrying out that full consecration, "He, bearing His cross, went forth," not merely outside the gate of Jerusalem, -in itself a trivial circumstance, -but, as this fitly symbolised, outside the congregation of Israel, to suffer. In other words, His consecration of Himself to God in self-sacrifice found its supreme expression in this, that He voluntarily submitted to be cast out from Israel, despised and rejected of men, even of the Israel of God.

And so this burning of the flesh of the sin offering of the highest grade in two places, the fat upon the altar, in the court of the congregation, and the rest of the victim outside the camp, set forth prophetically the full self-surrender of the Son to the Father, as the sin offering, in a double aspect: in the former, emphasising simply, as in the peace offering, His surrender of all that was highest and best in Him, as Son of God and Son of man, unto the Father as a Sin offering; in the latter, foreshowing that He should also, in a special manner, be a sacrifice for the sin of the congregation of Israel, and that His consecration should receive its fullest exhibition and most complete expression in that He should die outside the camp of legal Judaism, as an outcast from the congregation of Israel.

Accordingly we find that this part of the type of the sin offering was formally accomplished when the high priest, upon Christ’s confession before the Sanhedrim of His Sonship to God, declared Him to be guilty of blasphemy; an offence for which it had been ordered by the Lord {Leviticus 24:14} that the guilty person should be taken "without the camp" to suffer for his sin.

In the light of these marvellous correspondences between the typical sin offering and the self offering of the Son of God, what a profound meaning more and more appears in those words of Christ concerning Moses: "He wrote of Me."

Verse 14


Leviticus 5:14; Leviticus 6:7; Leviticus 7:1-7

As in the English version, so also in the Hebrew, the special class of sins for which the guilt offering is prescribed, is denoted by a distinct and specific word. That word, like the English "trespass," its equivalent, always has reference to an invasion of the rights of others, especially in respect of property or service. It is used, for instance, of the sin of Achan (Joshua 7:1), who had appropriated spoil from Jericho, which God had commanded to be set apart for Himself. Thus, also, the neglect of God’s service, and especially the worship of idols, is often described by this same word, as in 2 Chronicles 28:22; 2 Chronicles 29:6, and many other places. The reason is evident; for idolatry involved a withholding from God of those tithes and other offerings which He claimed from Israel, and thus became, as it were, an invasion of the Divine rights of property. The same word is even applied to the sin of adultery, {Numbers 5:12; Numbers 5:27} apparently from the same point of view, inasmuch as the woman is regarded as belonging to her husband, who has therefore in her certain sacred rights, of which adultery is an invasion. Thus, while every "trespass" is a sin, yet every sin is not a "trespass." There are, evidently, many sins of which this is not a characteristic feature. But the sins for which the guilt offering is prescribed are in every case sins which may, at least, be specially regarded under this particular point of view, to wit, as trespasses on the rights of God or man in respect of ownership; and this gives us the fundamental thought which distinguishes the guilt offering from all others, namely, that for any invasion of the rights of another in regard to property, not only must expiation be made, in that it is a sin, but also satisfaction, and, so far as possible, plenary reparation of the wrong, in that the sin is also trespass.

From this it is evident that, as contrasted with the burnt offering, which preeminently symbolised full consecration of the person, and the peace offering, which symbolised fellowship with God, as based upon reconciliation by sacrifice; the guilt offering takes its place, in a general sense, with the sin offering, as, like that, specially designed to effect the reinstatement of an offender in covenant relation with God. Thus, like the latter, and unlike the former offerings, it was only prescribed with reference to specific instances of failure to fulfil some particular obligation toward God or man. So also, as the express condition of an acceptable offering, the formal confession of such sin was particularly enjoined. And, finally, unlike the burnt offering, which was wholly consumed upon the altar, or the peace offering, of the flesh of which, with certain reservations, the worshipper himself partook, in the case of the guilt offering, as in the sin offering, the fat parts only were burnt on the altar, and the remainder of the victim fell to the priests, to be eaten by them alone in a holy place, as a thing "most holy." The law is given in the following words: {Leviticus 7:3-7} "He shall offer of it all the fat thereof; the fat tail, and the fat that covereth the inwards, and the two kidneys, and the fat that is on them, which is by the loins, and the caul upon the liver, with the kidneys, shall he take away: and the priest shall burn them upon the altar for an offering made by fire unto the Lord: it is a guilt offering. Every male among the priests shall eat thereof: it shall be eaten in a holy place: it is most holy. As is the sin offering, so is the guilt offering: there is one law for them: the priest that maketh atonement therewith, he shall have it."

But while, in a general way, the guilt offering was evidently intended, like the sin offering, to signify the removal of sin from the conscience through sacrifice, and thus may be regarded as a variety of the sin offering, yet the ritual presents some striking variations from that of the latter. These are all explicable from this consideration, that whereas the sin offering represented the idea of atonement by sacrifice, regarded as an expiation of guilt, the guilt offering represented atonement under the aspect of a satisfaction and reparation for the wrong committed. Hence, because the idea of expiation here fell somewhat into the background, in order to give the greater prominence to that of reparation and satisfaction, the application of the blood is only made, as in the burnt offering and the peace offering, by sprinkling "on the altar (of burnt offering) round about". {Leviticus 7:1} Hence, again, we find that the guilt offering always had reference to the sin of the individual, and never to the congregation; because it was scarcely possible that every individual in the whole congregation should be guilty in such instances as those for which the guilt offering is prescribed.

Again, we have another contrast in the restriction imposed upon the choice of the victim for the sacrifice. In the sin offering, as we have seen, it was ordained that the offering should be varied according to the theocratic rank of the offender, to emphasise thereby to the conscience gradations of guilt, as thus determined; also, it was permitted that the offering might be varied in value according to the ability of the offerer, in order that it might thus be signified in symbol that it was the gracious will of God that nothing in the personal condition of the sinner should exclude anyone from the merciful provision of the expiatory sacrifice. But it was no less important that another aspect of the matter should be held forth, namely, that God is no respecter of persons; and that, whatever be the condition of the offender, the obligation to plenary satisfaction and reparation for trespass committed, cannot be modified in any way by the circumstances of the offender. The man who, for example, has defrauded his neighbour, whether of a small sum or of a large estate, abides his debtor before God, under all conceivable conditions, until restitution is made. The obligation of full payment rests upon every debtor, be he poor or rich, until the last farthing is discharged. Hence, the sacrificial victim of the guilt offering is the same, whether for the poor man or the rich man, "a ram of the flock."

It was "a ram of the flock," because, as contrasted with the ewe or the lamb, or the dove and the pigeon, it was a valuable offering. And yet it is not a bullock, the most valuable offering known to the law, because that might be hopelessly out of the reach of many a poor man. The idea of value must be represented, and yet not so represented as to exclude a large part of the people from the provisions of the guilt offering. The ram must be "without blemish," that naught may detract from its value, as a symbol of full satisfaction for the wrong done.

But most distinctive of all the requisitions touching the victim is this, that, unlike all other victims for other offerings, the ram of the guilt offering must in each case be definitely appraised by the priest. The phrase is, {Leviticus 5:15} that it must be "according to thy estimation in silver by shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary." This expression evidently requires, first, that the offerer’s own estimate of the value of the victim shall not be taken, but that of the priest, as representing God in this transaction; and, secondly, that its value shall in no case fall below a certain standard; for the plural expression, "by shekels," implies that the value of the ram shall not be less than two shekels. And the shekel must be of full weight; the standard of valuation must be God’s, and not man’s, "the shekel of the sanctuary."

Still more to emphasise the distinctive thought of this sacrifice, that full satisfaction and reparation for all offences is with God the universal and unalterable condition of forgiveness, it was further ordered that in all cases where the trespass was of such a character as made this possible, that which had been unjustly taken or kept back, whether from God or man, should be restored in full; and not only this, but inasmuch as by this misappropriation of what was not his own, the offender had for the time deprived another of the use and enjoyment of that which belonged to him, he must add to that of which he had defrauded him "the fifth part more," a double tithe. Thus the guilty person was not allowed to have gained even any temporary advantage from the use for a while of that which he now restored; for "the fifth part more" would presumably quite overbalance all conceivable advantage or enjoyment which he might have had from his fraud. How admirable in all this the exact justice of God! How perfectly adapted was the guilt offering, in all these particulars, to educate the conscience, and to preclude any possible wrong inferences from the allowance which was made, for other reasons, for the poor man, in the expiatory offerings for sin!

The arrangement of the law of the guilt offering is very simple. It is divided into two sections, the first of which {Leviticus 5:14-19} deals with cases of trespass "in the holy things of the Lord," things which, by the law or by an act of consecration, were regarded as belonging in a special sense to Jehovah; the second section, on the other hand, {Leviticus 6:1-7} deals with cases of trespass on the property rights of man.

The first of these, again, consists of two parts. Leviticus 5:14-16 give the law of the guilt offering as applied to cases in which a man, through inadvertence or unwittingly, trespasses in the holy things of the Lord, but in such manner that the nature and extent of the trespass can afterward be definitely known and valued; Leviticus 5:17-19 deal with cases where there has been trespass such as to burden the conscience, and yet such as, for whatsoever reason, cannot be precisely measured.

By "the holy things of the Lord" are intended such things as, either by universal ordinance or by voluntary consecration, were regarded as belonging to Jehovah, and in a special sense His property. Thus, under this head would come the case of the man who, for instance, should unwittingly eat the flesh of the firstling of his cattle, or the flesh of the sin offering, or the shew bread; or should use his tithe, or any part of it, for himself. Even though he did this unwittingly, yet it none the less disturbed the man’s relation to God; and therefore, when known, in order to his reinstatement in fellowship with God, it was necessary that he should make full restitution with a fifth part added, and besides this, sacrifice a ram, duly appraised, as a guilt offering. In that the sacrifice was prescribed over and above the restitution, the worshipper was reminded that, in view of the infinite majesty and holiness of God, it lies not in the power of any creature to nullify the wrong God-ward, even by fullest restitution. For trespass is not only trespass, but is also sin; an offence not only against the rights of Jehovah as Owner, but also an affront to Him as Supreme King and Lawgiver.

And yet, because the worshipper must not be allowed to lose sight of the fact that sin is of the nature of a debt, a victim was ordered which should especially bring to mind this aspect of the matter. For not only among the Hebrews, but among the Arabs, the Romans and other ancient peoples, sheep, and especially rams, were very commonly used as a medium of payment in case of debt, and especially in paying tribute.

Thus we read, {2 Kings 3:4} that Mesha, king of Moab, rendered unto the king of Israel "a hundred thousand lambs, and a hundred thousand rams, with the wool," in payment of tribute; and, at a later day, Isaiah {Isaiah 16:1, R.V} delivers to Moab the mandate of Jehovah: "Send ye the lambs for the ruler of the land unto the mount of the daughter of Zion."

And so the ram having been brought and presented by the guilty person, with confession of his fault, it was slain by the priest, like the sin offering. The blood, however, was not applied to the horns of the altar of burnt offering, still less brought into the Holy Place, as in the case of the sin offering; but {Leviticus 7:2} was to be sprinkled "upon the altar round about," as in the burnt offering. The reason of this difference in the application of the blood, as above remarked, lies in this, that, as in the burnt offering, the idea of sacrifice as symbolising expiation takes a place secondary and subordinate to another thought; in this case, the conception of sacrifice as representing satisfaction for trespass.

The next section (Leviticus 5:17-19) does not expressly mention sins of trespass; for which reason some have thought that it was essentially a repetition of the law of the sin offering. But that it is not to be so regarded is plain from the fact that the victim is still the same as for the guilt offering, and from the explicit statement (Leviticus 5:19) that this "is a guilt offering." The inference is natural that the prescription still has reference to "trespass in the holy things of the Lord"; and the class of cases intended is probably indicated by the phrase, "though he knew it not." In the former section, the law provided for cases in which though the trespass had been done unwittingly, yet the offender afterward came to know of the trespass in its precise extent, so as to give an exact basis for the restitution ordered in such cases. But it is quite supposable that there might be cases in which, although the offender was aware that there had been a probable trespass, such as to burden his conscience, he yet knew not just how much it was. The ordinance is only in so far modified as such a case would make necessary; where there was no exact knowledge of the amount of trespass, obviously there the law of restitution with the added fifth could not be applied. Yet, none the less, the man is guilty; he "bears his iniquity," that is, he is liable to the penalty of his fault; and in order to the reestablishment of his covenant relation with God, the ram must be offered as a guilt offering.

It is suggestive to observe the emphasis which is laid upon the necessity of the guilt offering, even in such cases. Three times, reference is explicitly made to this fact of ignorance, as not affecting the requirement of the guilt offering: (Leviticus 5:17) "Though he knew it not, yet is he guilty, and shall bear his iniquity"; and again (Leviticus 5:18), with special explicitness, "The priest shall make atonement for him concerning the thing wherein he erred unwittingly and knew it not"; and yet again (Leviticus 5:19), "It is a guilt offering: he is certainly guilty before the Lord." The repetition is an urgent reminder that in this case, as in all others, we are never to forget that however our ignorance of a trespass at the time, or even lack of definite knowledge regarding its nature and extent, may affect the degree of our guilt, it cannot affect the fact of our guilt, and the consequent necessity for satisfaction in order to acceptance with God.

The second section of the law of the guilt offering {Leviticus 6:1-7} deals with trespasses against man, as also, like trespasses against Jehovah, requiring, in order to forgiveness from God, full restitution with the added fifth, and the offering of the ram as a guilt offering. Five cases are named (Leviticus 6:2-3), no doubt as being common, typical examples of sins of this character.

The first case is trespass upon a neighbour’s rights in "a matter of deposit"; where a man has entrusted something to another to keep, and he has either sold it or unlawfully used it as if it were his own. The second case takes in all fraud in a "bargain," as when, for example, a man sells goods, or a piece of land, representing them to be better than they really are, or asking a price larger than he knows an article to be really worth. The third instance is called "robbery"; by which we are to understand any act or process, even though it should be under colour of legal forms, by means of which a man may manage unjustly to get possession of the property of his neighbour, without giving him due equivalent therefore. The fourth instance is called "oppression" of his neighbour. The English word contains the same image as the Hebrew word, which is used, for instance, of the unnecessary retention of the wages of the employee by the employer; {Leviticus 19:13} it may be applied to all cases in which a man takes advantage of another’s circumstances to extort from him any thing or any service to which he has no right, or to force upon him something which it is to the poor man’s disadvantage to take. The last example of offences to which the law of the guilt offering applied, is the case in which a man finds something and then denies it to the rightful owner. The reference to false swearing which follows, as appears from Leviticus 6:5, refers not merely to lying and perjury concerning this last-named case, but equally to all cases in which a man may lie or swear falsely to the pecuniary damage of his neighbour. It is mentioned not merely as aggravating such sin, but because in swearing touching any matter, a man appeals to God as witness to the truth of his words; so that by swearing in these cases he represents God as a party to his falsehood and injustice.

In all these cases, the prescription is the same as in analogous offences in the holy things of Jehovah. First of all, the guilty man must confess the wrong which he has done, {Numbers 5:7} then restitution must be made of all of which he has defrauded his neighbour, together with one-fifth additional. But while this may set him right with man, it has not yet set him right with God. He must bring his guilt offering unto Jehovah (Leviticus 6:6-7); "a ram without blemish out of the flock, according to the priest’s estimation, for a guilt offering, unto the priest: and the priest shall make atonement for him before the Lord, and he shall be forgiven: concerning whatsoever he doeth so as to be guilty thereby."

And this completes the law of the guilt offering. It was thus prescribed for sins which involve a defrauding or injuring of another in respect to material things, whether God or man, whether knowingly or unwittingly. The law was one and unalterable for all; the condition of pardon was plenary restitution for the wrong done, and the offering of a costly sacrifice, appraised as such by the priest, the earthly representative of God, in the shekel of the sanctuary, "a ram without blemish out of the flock."

There are lessons from this ordinance, so plain that, even in the dim light of those ancient days, the Israelite might discern and understand them. And they are lessons which, because man and his ways are the same as then, and God the same as then, are no less pertinent to all of us today.

Thus we are taught by this law that God claims from man, and especially from His own people, certain rights of property, of which He will not allow Himself to be defrauded, even through man’s forgetfulness or inadvertence. In a later day Israel was sternly reminded of this in the burning words of Jehovah by the prophet Malachi: {Malachi 3:8-9} "Will a man rob God? yet ye rob me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with the curse: for ye rob me, even this whole nation." Nor has God relaxed His claim in the present dispensation. For the Apostle Paul charges the Corinthian Christians. {2 Corinthians 8:7} in the name of the Lord, with regard to their gifts, that as they abounded in other graces, so they should "abound in this grace also." And this is the first lesson brought before us in the law of the guilt offering. God claims His tithe, His first fruit, and the fulfilment of all vows. It was a lesson for that time; it is no less a lesson for our time.

And the guilt offering further reminds us that as God has rights, so man also has rights, and that Jehovah, as the King and Judge of men, will exact the satisfaction of those rights, and will pass over no injury done by man to his neighbour in material things, nor forgive it unto any man, except upon condition of the most ample material restitution to the injured party.

Then, yet again, if the sin offering called especially for faith in an expiatory sacrifice as the condition of the Divine forgiveness, the guilt offering as specifically called also for repentance, as a condition of pardon, no less essential. Its unambiguous message to every Israelite was the same as that of John the Baptist at a later day: {Matthew 3:8-9} "Bring forth fruit worthy of repentance: and think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father."

The reminder is as much needed now as in the days of Moses. How specific and practical the selection of the particular instances mentioned as cases for the application of the inexorable law of the guilt offering! Let us note them again, for they are not cases peculiar to Israel or to the fifteenth century before Christ. "If anyone deal falsely with his neighbour in a matter of deposit"; as, e.g., in the case of moneys entrusted to a bank or railway company, or other corporation; for there is no hint that the law did not apply except to individuals, or that a man might be released from these stringent obligations of righteousness whenever in some such evil business he was associated with others; the guilt offering must be forthcoming, with the amplest restitution, or there is no pardon. Then false dealing in a "bargain" is named, as involving the same requirement; as when a man prides himself on driving "a good bargain," by getting something unfairly for less than its value, taking advantage of his neighbour’s straits; or by selling something for more than its value, taking advantage of his neighbour’s ignorance, or his necessity. Then is mentioned "robbery"; by which word is covered not merely that which goes by the name in polite circles, but all cases in which a man takes advantage of his neighbour’s distress or helplessness, perhaps by means of some technicality of law, to "strip" him, as the Hebrew word is, of his property of any kind. And next is specified the man who may "have oppressed his neighbour," especially a man or woman who serves him, as the usage of the word suggests; grinding thus the face of the poor; paying, for instance, less for labour than the law of righteousness and love demands, because the poor man must have work or starve with his house. What sweeping specifications! And all such in all lands and all ages, are solemnly reminded in the law of the guilt offering that in these their sharp practices they have to reckon not with man merely, but with God; and that it is utterly vain for a man to hope for the forgiveness of sin from God, offering or no offering, so long as he has in his pocket his neighbour’s money. For all such, full restoration with the added fifth, according to the law of the theocratic kingdom, was the unalterable condition of the Divine forgiveness; and we shall find that this law of the theocratic kingdom will also be the law applied in the adjudications of the great white throne.

Furthermore, in that it was particularly enjoined that in the estimation of the value of the guilt offering, not the shekel of the people, often of light weight, but the full weight shekel of the sanctuary was to be held the invariable standard; we, who are so apt to ease things to our consciences by applying to our conduct the principles of judgment current among men, are plainly taught that if we will have our trespasses forgiven, the reparation and restitution which we make must be measured, not by the standard of men, but by that of God, which is absolute righteousness.

Yet again, in that in the case of all such trespasses on the rights of God or man it was ordained that the offering, unlike other sacrifices intended to teach other lessons, should be one and the same, whether the offender were rich or poor; we are taught that the extent of our moral obligations or the conditions of their equitable discharge are not determined by a regard to our present ability to make them good. Debt is debt by whomsoever owed. If a man have appropriated a hundred pounds of another man’s money, the moral obligation of that debt cannot be abrogated by a bankrupt law, allowing him to compromise at ten shillings in the pound. The law of man may indeed release him from liability to prosecution, but no law can discharge such a man from the unalterable obligation to pay penny for penny, farthing for farthing. There is no bankrupt law in the kingdom of God. This, too, is evidently a lesson quite as much needed by Gentiles and nominal Christians in the nineteenth century after Christ, as by Hebrews in the fifteenth century before Christ.

But the spiritual teaching of the guilt offering is not yet exhausted. For, like all the other offerings, it pointed to Christ. He is "the end of the law unto righteousness," {Romans 10:4} as regards the guilt offering, as in all else. As the burnt offering prefigured Christ the heavenly Victim, in one aspect, and the peace offering, Christ in another aspect, so the guilt offering presents to our adoring contemplation yet another view of His sacrificial work. While, as our burnt offering, He became our righteousness in full self-consecration; as our peace offering, our life; as our sin offering, the expiation for our sins; so, as our guilt offering, He made satisfaction and plenary reparation in our behalf to the God on whose inalienable rights in us, by our sins we had trespassed without measure.

Nor is this an over refinement of exposition. For in Isaiah 53:10, where both the Authorised and the Revised Versions read, "shall make his soul an offering for sin, " the margin of the latter rightly calls attention to the fact that in the Hebrew the word here used is the very same which through all this Levitical law is rendered "guilt offering." And so we are expressly told by this evangelic prophet, that the Holy Servant of Jehovah, the suffering Messiah, in this His sacrificial work should make His soul "a guilt offering." He became Himself the complete and exhaustive realisation of all that in sacrifice which was set forth in the Levitical guilt offering.

A declaration this is which holds forth both the sin for which Christ atoned, and the Sacrifice itself, in a very distinct and peculiar light. In that Christ’s sacrifice was thus a guilt offering in the sense of the law, we are taught that, in one aspect, our sins are regarded by God, and should therefore be regarded by us, as debts which are due from us to God. This is, indeed, by no means the only aspect in which sin should be regarded; it is, for example, rebellion, high treason, a deadly affront to the Supreme Majesty, which must be expiated with the blood of the sin offering. But our sins are also of the nature of debts. That is, God has claims on us for service which we have never met; claims for a portion of our substance which we have often withheld, or given grudgingly, trespassing thus in "the holy things of the Lord." Just as the servant who is set to do his master’s work, if, instead, he take that time to do his own work, is debtor to the full value of the service of which his master is thus defrauded, so stands the case between the sinner and God. Just as with the agent who fails to make due returns to his principal on the moneys committed to him for investment, using them instead for himself, so stands the case between God and the sinner who has used his talents, not for the Lord, but for himself, or has kept them laid up, unused, in a napkin. Thus, in the New Testament, as the correlate of this representation of Christ as a guilt offering; we find sin again and again set forth as a debt which is owed from man to God. So, in the Lord’s prayer we are taught to pray, "Forgive us our debts; so, twice the Lord Himself in His parables" {Matthew 18:23-35 Luke 7:41-42} set forth the relation of the sinner to God as that of the debtor to the creditor; and concerning those on whom the tower of Siloam fell, asks, {Luke 13:4} "Think ye that they were sinners (Greek ‘debtors,’) above all that dwelt in Jerusalem?" Indeed so imbedded is this thought in the conscience of man that it has been crystallised in our word "ought," which is but the old preterite of "owe"; as in Tyndale’s New Testament, where we read, {Luke 7:41} "there was a certain lender, which ought him five hundred pence." What a startling conception is this, which forms the background to the great "guilt offering"! Man a debtor to God! a debtor for service each day due, but no day ever fully and perfectly rendered! in gratitude for gifts, too often quite forgotten, oftener only paid in scanty part! We are often burdened and troubled greatly about our debts to men; shall we not be concerned about the enormous and ever accumulating debt to God! Or is He an easy creditor, who is indifferent whether these debts of ours be met or not? So think multitudes; but this is not the representation of Scripture, either in the Old or the New Testament. For in the law it was required, that if a man, guilty of any of these offences for the forgiveness of which the guilt offering was prescribed, failed to confess and bring the offering, and make the restitution with the added fifth, as commanded by the law, he should be brought before the judges, and the full penalty of law exacted, on the principle of "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth!" And in the New Testament, one of those solemn parables of the two debtors closes with the awful words concerning one of them who was "delivered to the tormentors," that he should not come out of prison till he had "paid the uttermost farthing." Not a hint is there in Holy Scripture, of forgiveness of our debts to God, except upon the one condition of full restitution made to Him to whom the debt is due, and therewith the sacrificial blood of a guilt offering. But Christ is our Guilt offering.

He is our Guilt offering, in that He Himself did that, really and fully, with respect to all our debts as sinful men to God, which the guilt offering of Leviticus symbolised, but accomplished not. His soul He made a guilt offering for our trespasses! Isaiah’s words imply that He should make full restitution for all that of which we, as sinners, defraud God. He did this by that perfect and incomparable service of lowly obedience such as we should render, but have never rendered; in which He has made full satisfaction to God for all our innumerable debts. He has made such satisfaction, not by a convenient legal fiction, or in a rhetorical figure, or as judged by any human standard. Even as the ram of the guilt offering was appraised according to "the shekel of the sanctuary," so upon our Lord, at the beginning of that life of sacrificial service, was solemnly passed the Divine verdict that with this antitypical Victim of the Guilt offering, God Himself was "well pleased". {Matthew 3:17} Not only so. For we cannot forget that according to the law, not only the full restitution must be made, but the fifth must be added thereto. So with our Lord. For who will not confess that Christ not only did all that we should have done, but, in the ineffable depth of His self-humiliation and obedience unto death, even the death of the cross, paid therewith the added fifth of the law. Said a Jewish Rabbi to the writer, "I have never been able to finish reading in the Gospel the story of the Jesus of Nazareth; for it too soon brings the tears to my eyes!" So affecting even to Jewish unbelief was this unparalleled spectacle, the adorable Son of God making Himself a guilt offering, and paying, in the incomparable perfection of His holy obedience, the added fifth in our behalf! Thus has Christ "magnified this law" of the guilt offering, and "made it honourable," even as He did all law. {Isaiah 42:21}

And, as is intimated, by the formal valuation of the sacrificial ram, in the type, even the death of Christ as the guilt offering, in one aspect is to be regarded as the consummating act of service in the payment of debts Godward. Just as the sin offering represented His death in its passive aspect, as meeting the demands of justice against the sinner as a rebel under sentence of death, by dying in his stead, so, on the other hand, the guilt offering represents that same sacrificial death, rather in another aspect, no less clearly set forth in the New Testament; namely, the supreme act of obedience to the will of God, whereby He discharged "to the uttermost farthing," even with the added fifth of the law, all the transcendent debt of service due from man to God.

This representation of Christ’s work has in all ages been an offence, "the offence of the cross." All the more need we to insist upon it, and never to forget, or let others forget, that Christ is expressly declared in the Word of God to have been "a guilt offering," in the Levitical sense of that term; that, therefore, to speak of His death as effecting our salvation merely through its moral influence, is to contradict and nullify the Word of God. Well may we set this word in Isaiah 53:10, concerning the Servant of Jehovah, against all modern Unitarian theology, and against all Socinianising teaching; all that would maintain any view of Christ’s death which excludes or ignores the divinely revealed fact that it was in its essential nature a guilt offering; and, because a guilt offering, therefore of the nature of the payment of a debt in behalf of those for whom He suffered.

Most blessed truth this, for all who can receive it! Christ, the Son of God, our Guilt offering! Like the poor Israelite, who had defrauded God of that which was His due, so must we do; coming before God, confessing that wherein we have wronged Him, and bringing forth fruit meet for repentance, we must bring and plead Christ in the glory of His person, in all the perfection of His holy obedience, as our Guilt offering. And therewith the ancient promise to the penitent Israelite becomes ours, {Leviticus 6:7} "The priest shall make atonement for him before the Lord, and he shall be forgiven; concerning whatsoever he doeth so as to be guilty thereby."

Verses 14-19

Leviticus 5:14-19

If a soul commit a trespass.

The trespass-offering

I. As to the distinctive character of this offering.

1. It was not a “sweet savour” offering. Christ is here seen suffering for sins; the view of His work is expiatory.

2. It was a trespass as distinct from a sin-offering. Not the person, but the act of wrong-doing, is the point noticed and dwelt upon. And how solemn is the truth here taught us, that neither our conscience, nor our measure of light, nor our ability, but the truth of God, is the standard by which both sin and trespass are to be measured. “Though he wist it not, yet is he guilty; he hath certainly trespassed against the Lord.” If man’s conscience or man’s light were the standard, each man might have a different rule. And, at this rate, right or wrong, good or evil, would depend, not upon God’s truth, but on the creature’s apprehension of it. At this rate, the filthiest of unclean beasts could not be convicted of uncleanness, while it could plead that it had no apprehension of that which was pure and seemly. But we do not judge thus in the things of this world; neither does God judge so in the things of heaven. Who argues that because swine are filthy, therefore the standard of cleanliness is to be set by their perceptions or ability; or that because they seem unconscious of their state, therefore the distinction between what is clean and unclean must be relinquished. No: we judge not by their perceptions, but our own; with our light and knowledge, not their ignorance, as our standard.

3. In the trespass-offering we get restitution, furl restitution for the original wrong. The amount of the injury, according to the priest’s valuation of it, is paid in shekels of the sanctuary to the injured person. The thought here is not that trespass is punished, but that the injured party is repaid the wrong. The payment was in shekels: these “shekels of the sanctuary” were the appointed standard by which God’s rights were measured; as it is said, “And all thy estimation shall be according to the shekel of the sanctuary.” Thus they represent the truest measure, God’s standard by which He weighs all things. By this standard the trespass is weighed, and then the value paid to the injured person. And God and man, though wronged by trespass, each receive as much again from man in Christ through the trespass-offering. Whether honour, service, worship, or obedience, whatever God could claim, whatever man could rob Him of, all this has He received again from man in Christ, “according to the priest’s estimation in shekels of the sanctuary.” But man also was injured by trespass; and he, too, receives as much again. Christ for man as offerer of the trespass-offering, must offer to injured man the value of the original injury. And such as accept His offering find their loss through man’s trespass more than paid. Has trespass wronged man of life, peace, or gladness, he may claim and receive through Christ repayment. For man to man, as for man to God, Christ stands the One in whom man’s wrongs are remedied.

4. But this is not all. Not only is the original wrong paid, but a fifth part more is paid with it in the trespass-offering. Who would have thought that from the entrance of trespass, both God and man should in the end be gainers? But so it is. From man in Christ both God and man have received back more than they were robbed of. In this sense, “where sin abounded,” yea, and because sin abounded, “grace did more abound.”

II. The varieties or grades in this offering. These are fewer than in any other offering, teaching us that those who apprehended this aspect of Christ’s work, will apprehend it all very much alike. It will be remembered that in the sin-offering the varieties were most numerous and that because sin in us may be, and is, so differently apprehended; but trespass, the act of wrong committed, if seen at all, can scarce be seen differently. Accordingly, we find but one small variety in the trespass-offering, for I can scarce regard the two different aspects of trespass as varieties. These aspects are, first, trespasses against God, and then trespasses against our neighbour; but this distinction is more like the difference between the offerings than the varieties in different grades of the same. It simply points out distinct bearings of trespass, for which in each case the atonement seen is precisely similar. There is, however, one small yet remarkable difference between the two grades of the offering for wrongs in holy things. In the first grade, which gives us the fullest view of the offering, we read of the life laid down, the restitution made, and the fifth part added. But in the lower class, the last of these is unnoticed: “the fifth part” is quite unseen. And how true this is in the experience of Christians. Where the measure of apprehension is full, there not only the life laid down, and the restitution made in the trespass-offering, but all the truth also which is caught in the “fifth part,” will be seen as a consequence of trespass and a part of the trespass-offering. Not so, however, where the apprehension is limited: here there is no addition seen beyond the amount of the original trespass. (A. Jukes.)

The trespass-offering; or, substitution and restitution

I. The trespass-offering (or guilt-offering, R.V.) refers more especially to the evil actions which are the outcome of our corrupt nature: while the sin that is inherent in that nature, as descendants of fallen Adam, is fully met in the sin-offering--last considered. The evil deeds, or sins, met by the trespass-offering may be thus divided--as against God and against man.

II. “a trespass . . . through ignorance, in the holy things of the lord,” is the first mentioned. Here there is a similarity to the sin spoken of in chap. 4., for it is “through ignorance.” Who can measure the holiness of God, or know the extent of sin against such a Being? Perfect purity and holiness demand the same; but we are born in sin, “shapen in iniquity” (Psalms 51:5); and “who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one” (Job 14:4). Hence, till the heart is changed by “the grace of God” (Romans 5:15; 1 Corinthians 15:10), the sin within is ever showing itself in evil actions; and even after we know the Lord we are apt to trespass in His “holy things.” In men’s very religion, too, there may be sin. How often do they invent a worship of their own, not in accordance with God’s Word; a way of salvation which dishonours Him; a way of approach to Him other than He has given! If living for self, the world, or other purpose than God’s glory, we are robbing God. It may be through ignorance, but “though he wist it not, yet he is guilty, and shall bear his iniquity” (Leviticus 4:17-19), saith the Lord. There is thus no hope for us in ourselves, but He has met this (as all) our need in His “Beloved Son,” as shown in type before us, for the sinning one is bidden to bring--

1. “A ram without blemish . . . for a trespass-offering” (guilt-offering, R.V.), “and the priest shall make atonement for him concerning his ignorance . . . ;” for “he hath certainly trespassed against the Lord.” Mark well the words “certainly trespassed,” though in ignorance. The same truth is here again shown, that no sin could be atoned for without the shedding of Jesu’s blood; but His was a full, perfect, and complete atonement, when He made “His soul a guilt-offering” (Isaiah 53:10, marg., R.V.; same word as verses 5:19, R.V.). He “was delivered up for our trespasses” (Romans 4:25; Romans 5:16, R.V.)

2. “Shekels of silver, after the shekel of the sanctuary,” were also to be brought with the ram, to “make amends for the harm . . . done in the holy thing.” No lower standard than God’s could be accepted. Have we a just perception of God’s holiness?

3. A fifth part added. Who could do this in its full meaning? None but Jesus. And He brought more glory to God by redemption than could have accrued from creation. Christ was perfect in His obedience to God’s holy law, and gave rich surplus. He--the Antitype of trespass-offering (both of ram and silver, 1 Peter 1:18-19)--was also Priest who made atonement or reconciliation (Romans 5:10-11; 1 John 2:2); and the blessed result is--

4. Forgiveness (verses 16, 18) to “all that believe” (Acts 13:38-39).

III. Wrong done to a neighbour is equally described as “trespass against the Lord” (Leviticus 6:1-7). This the unregenerate heart fails to see, but God pronounces it to be “sin”; and the truth of Hebrews 9:22 is once more brought before us; but, in contrast to the trespass against the holy things, in the case of wrong done to a neighbour--restitution with addition of fifth part must be made, before bringing the trespass-offering of “a ram without blemish,” with the “estimation.” The former teaches that only on the ground of blood shed could God accept the offerer, or “the amends” He would have him make; whereas, in the case of wrong done to a neighbour, “amends” must first be made to that neighbour before pardon can be sought of God. This is the lesson enforced by our Lord (Matthew 5:23-24; Matthew 6:14-15). See, too, Zaccheus ready to “restore fourfold” (Luke 19:8). To approach God with a wrong against a neighbour unredressed will not bring acceptance; while in the case of trespass against the Lord in holy things, pardon through Jesus must first be sought before “amends for the harm” done, can be accepted. Each must be according to God’s ordering, and then there is the same gracious promise of forgiveness (verses 16, 18, 6:7; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13).

IV. The law of the trespass-offering opens out some further details (Leviticus 7:1-7). It was to be--

1. Killed in the same place as the burnt-offering (Leviticus 1:5; Leviticus 1:11), that is, “on the side of the altar northward before the Lord.” It was the “same Jesus” in all, though different aspects and results of His death are presented in each.

2. The blood was to be sprinkled “round about upon the altar.” Only in the sin-offering was it to be poured out, as that offering presented a more comprehensive view of the fulness of the atonement.

3. The costliest parts were to be burned on the altar, as in the sin-offering, telling of the rich and intrinsic excellency of the Lord Jesus which could stand the searching fire of God’s holiness.

4. “Most holy” (Leviticus 6:25; Leviticus 6:29; Leviticus 7:1; Leviticus 7:6). The use of such an expression, in connection with sin-offering and trespass-offering is most striking. The more we meditate thereon the more we learn how the heart’s affection, mind, inward parts, were all perfect in Jesus--hence He is a perfect Saviour. Lastly, the trespass-offering was--

5. To be eaten in the Holy Place, by “every male among the priests,” typifying the Church, as partakers of Him who bare their “sins” (1 Peter 2:24), while “the priest that maketh atonement” was type of Jesus, thus seen to identify Himself with His people. (Lady Beaujolois Dent.)


The trespass here indicated is sacrilege--mistake and misappropriation in the use of sacred things: a culpable trespass, whether done wittingly or unwittingly. From this rite we are taught--

I. The jealousy of Jehovah for the honour of his worship in the tabernacle.

II. The influence this jealousy was calculated to exert upon the worshippers in the tabernacle.

1. Sensitiveness of feeling.

2. Tenderness of conscience.

3. Scrupulousness of conduct. (F. W. Brown)


I. Sin is a wrong done to god.

II. Sin is a wrong done to man. Amends must be made by--

1. Appropriate contrition.

2. Personal sacrifice.

3. Unreserved consecration: evincing itself in a holy, useful, Christly life. (F. W. Brown)

Error, though inadvertent, is guilty

I. A sophistry needing correction. This: that intention constitutes the quality of an action, whether conduct is criminal or not. But this declaration of “guilt,” though in the action he “wist it not,” testifies against a sweeping and all-inclusive application of that principle, viz., that intention qualifies action.

1. Ignorance may and does extenuate the guilt of an action. Knowledge deepens guilt (John 9:41; John 15:22). Ignorance alleviates it (Luke 23:34; Acts 3:17; 1 Timothy 1:13).

2. Yet ignorance cannot excuse guilt. A man is not excused for breaking the laws of the land because he was ignorant of them. Nor is he innocent who trespasses, through error, against any ordinance of the Lord. And, if so in respect of ceremonial observances, much more so in relation to moral duties. Hence the curse stands against “every one that continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them” (Galatians 3:10).

3. God Himself refuses to condone such ignorance. His Word declares that men “perish for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6); and that though “a people be of no understanding, He will not have mercy on them, and will show them no favour.”

II. Man’s uncomputed guilt.

1. Reckon up our remembered sins. “They are more in number than the hairs of our head.”

2. Add the sins realised at the time but now forgotten. Memory lets slip multitudinous trespasses.

3. Yet what can represent the number of our unrecognised sins, done in ignorance, done in error?

4. Deviations and defects also, which God’s eye alone detected, and which we too self-indulgently condoned.

III. Vast virtue needed in atonement.

1. Under the ceremonial arrangements for expiation, how manifold and minute and numerous were the regulations and provisions necessary to make atonement for sin!

2. When all sin had to be expiated by Christ’s one offering, what value it must needs possess! Yet “by one offering” the Saviour “purged our sins.”

Gain by redemption

In the addition of “the fifth part,” as here set forth, we have a feature of the true trespass-offering, which, it is to be feared, is but little appreciated. When we think of all the wrong and all the trespass which we have done against the Lord; and, further, when we remember how God has been wronged of His rights in this wicked world, with what interest can we contemplate the work of the Cross as that wherein God has not merely received back what was lost, but whereby He is an actual gainer. He has gained more by redemption than ever He lost by the fall. “The sons of God” could raise a loftier song of praise around the empty tomb of Jesus than ever they raised in view of the Creator’s accomplished work. The wrong has not only been perfectly atoned for, but an eternal advantage has been gained by the work of the Cross. This is a stupendous truth. God is a gainer by the work of Calvary. Who could have conceived this? When we behold man, and the creation of which he was lord, laid in ruins at the feet of the enemy, how could we conceive that, from amid those ruins, God should gather richer and nobler spoils than any which our unfallen world could have yielded? Blessed be the name of Jesus for all this! It is to Him we owe it all. It is by His precious Cross that ever a truth so amazing, so divine, could be enunciated. (C. H. Mackintosh.)

Verse 17-18

Leviticus 5:17-18

Though he wist it not, yet is he guilty.

Sins of ignorance

It is supposed in our text that men might commit forbidden things without knowing it; nay, it is not merely supposed, but it is taken for granted, and provided for. The Levitical law had special statutes for sins of ignorance, and one of its sections begins with these words (Leviticus 4:2). It is first of all supposed that a priest may sin (Leviticus 4:3). As Trapp says, “The sins of teachers are teachers of sins,” and therefore they were not overlooked, but had to be expiated by trespass-offerings. Further on in the chapter (verse 22) it is supposed that a ruler may sin. Errors in leaders are very fruitful of mischief, and therefore they were to be repented of and put away by an expiatory sacrifice. It was also according to the law regarded as very likely that any man might fall into sins of ignorance, for in Leviticus 4:27, we read, “And if any one of the common people sin through ignorance, while he doeth somewhat against any of the commandments of the Lord.” The sin even of the commonest person was not to be passed over as a mere trifle, even though he could plead ignorance of the law. An enlightened conscience mourns over sins of ignorance, which it would never do if they were innocent mistakes. The word rendered “ignorance” may also bear the translation of “inadvertence.” Inadvertence is a kind of acted ignorance: a man frequently does wrong for want of thought, through not considering the bearing of his action, or even thinking at all. He carelessly and hastily blunders into the course which first suggests itself, and errs because he did not study to be right. There is very much sin of this kind committed every day. There is no intent to do wrong, and yet wrong is done. Culpable neglect creates a thousand faults. “Evil is wrought by want of thought as well as want of heart.” We do not take time enough to examine our actions; we do not take good heed to our steps. Life should be a careful work of art, in which every single line and tint should be the fruit of study and thought, like the paintings of the great master who was wont to say, “I paint for eternity”; but alas! life is often slurred over, like those hasty productions of the scene painter, in which present effect alone is studied, and the canvas becomes a mere daub of colours hastily laid on. We seem intent to do much rather than to do well; we want to cover space rather than to reach perfection. This is not wise. Oh that every single thought were conformed to the will of God! Now, seeing that there are sins of ignorance and sins of inadvertence, what about them? Is there any actual guilt in them? In our text we have the Lord’s mind and judgment.

I. By the Divine declaration that sins of ignorance are really sins the commandment of god is honoured.

1. Enlarging upon this thought, I would observe that hereby the law is declared to be the supreme authority over men. The law is supreme, not conscience. Conscience is differently enlightened in different men, and the ultimate appeal as to right and wrong cannot be to your half-blinded conscience or to mine. If we break the law, although our conscience may not blame us, or even inform us of the wrong, yet still the deed is recorded against us; we must bear our iniquity. The law is also set above human opinion, for this man says, “You may do that,” and a second claims that he may do the other, but the law changes not according to man’s judgment, and does not bend itself to the spirit of the age or the taste of the period. It is the supreme judge, from whose infallible decision there is no appeal. This exalts the law above the custom of nations and periods; for men are very wont to say, “It is true I did so and so, which I could not have defended in itself; but then it is the way of the trade, other houses do so, general opinion and public consent have endorsed the custom; I do not therefore see how I can act differently from others, for if I did so I should be very singular, and should probably be a loser through my scrupulosity.” Yes, but the customs of men are not the standard of right.

2. Note again, if a sin of ignorance renders us guilty, what must a wilful sin do? Do you not perceive at once how the law is again set on high by this?

3. Thus again, by the teaching of our text, men were driven to study the law: for if they were at all right-hearted they said, “Let us know what God would have us do. We do not wish to be leaving His commands undone, or committing transgressions against His prohibitory precepts through not knowing better.”

4. And you will see at once that this would lead every earnest Israelite to teach his children God’s law, lest his son should err through ignorance or indavertence. Fear of committing sins of ignorance was a spur to national education, and tended greatly to make all Israel honour the law of the Lord.

5. I close these thoughts by noting that to me the sin-revealing power of the law is wonderfully displayed as I read my text. What a law is this by which men are bound! How severe and searching! How holy and how pure must God Himself be!

II. By the teaching of the text the conscience is aroused.

1. Our ignorance is evidently very great. As the conies swarm in the holes of the rocks, the bats in the sunless caves of the earth, and the fish in the deep abysses of the sea, so do our sins swarm in the hidden parts of our nature. “Who can understand his errors? Cleanse Thou me from secret faults!”

2. The ignorance of very many persons is to a large degree wilful. Many do not read the Bible at all, or very seldom, and then without desiring to know its meaning. Even some professing Christians take their religion from the monthly magazine, or some standard book written by a human author and adopted by their sect, but few go to the Word of God itself; they are content to drink of the muddied streams of human teaching instead of filling their cups at the crystal fount of revelation itself. Now, if ye be ignorant of anything concerning God’s mind and will, it is not, in the case of any of you, for want of the Book, nor for want of a willing guide to instruct you in it; for, behold, the Holy Spirit waiteth to be gracious to you in this respect. Break in, O light eternal! Break in upon the dimness of our ignorance.

3. Now it will be vain for any man to say in his mind, as I fear some will do, “God is hard in thus dealing with us.” If thou sayest thus, O man, I ask thee to remember God’s answer. Christ puts your rebellious speech into the mouth of the unfaithful one who hid his talent. Wiser far is it to submit and crave for mercy.

4. Let us recollect, in order that our doctrine may appear less strange, that it is according to the analogy of nature that when God’s laws are broken, ignorance of those laws should not prevent the penalty falling upon the offenders.

5. It is of necessity that it should be according to this declaration. It is not possible that ignorance should be a justification of sin; for, first, if it were so, it would follow that the more ignorant a man was the more innocent he would be. If, again, the guilt of an action depended entirely upon a man’s knowledge, we should have no fixed standard at all by which to judge right and wrong; it would be variable according to the enlightenment of each man, and there would be no ultimate and infallible court of appeal. Moreover, ignorance of the law of God is itself a bleach of law, since we are bidden to know and remember it. Can it be possible, then, that one sin is to be an excuse for another? If sins of ignorance are not sins, then Christ’s intercession was altogether a superfluity.

6. Once again, I am sure that many of us now present must have felt the truth of this in our own hearts. You who love the Lord and hate unrighteousness, must in your lives have come to a point of greater illumination, where you have said, “I see a certain action to be wrong; I have been doing it for years, but God knows I would not have done it if I bad thought it wrong. Even now I see that other people are doing it, and thinking it right; but I cannot do so any more; my conscience has at last received new light, and I must make a change at once.” In such circumstances did it ever come to your mind to say, “What I have done was not wrong, because I did not know it to be wrong”? Far from it. You have justly said to yourself, “My sin in this matter is not so great as if I had transgressed wilfully with my eyes open, knowing it to be sin”; but yet you have accused yourself of the fault and mourned over it.

III. By the grand and awful truth of the text the sacrifice is endeared. Just according to our sense of sin must be our value of the sacrifice. God’s way of delivering those who sinned ignorantly was not by denying their sin and passing it over, but by accepting an atonement for it. Under the law this atonement was to be a ram without blemish. Our Lord had no sin, nor shade of sin. He is the spotless victim which the law requires. All that justice, in its most severe mood, could require from man by way of penalty our Lord Jesus Christ has rendered; for in addition to His sacrifice for the sin, He has presented a recompense for the damage, as the person who sinned ignorantly was bound to do. He has recompensed the honour of God, and He has recompensed every man whom we have injured. Has another injured you? Well, since Christ has given Himself to you, there is a full recompense made to you, even as there has been made to God. We may rest in this sacrifice. How supremely efficacious it is. It takes away iniquity, transgression, and sin. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Ignorance may be culpable

Some years ago through the mistake of a signalman an accident took place on the Metropolitan Railway, by which several persons lost their lives. At the inquiry it transpired that the signalman had in his possession a book of instructions which if they had been attended to the accident could not have occurred, but this book he confessed he had never read, hence the terrible accident. How many of the sins of professing Christians may be traced to similar culpable ignorance!

Knowledge of God’s law to be cultivated

A kindred error is that a man does right when he obeys his conscience--does what his conscience tells him is right; in other words, does what he thinks is right. If this be true then Saul was right when he made havoc of the Church, for he verily thought he was doing God service. We are, no doubt, bound to do what we think is right; but we are under equal obligations to have our thinking in regard to duty correct. God has given us reason, moral powers, and revelation that we may know our duty and do it. The intellect needs training that it may perceive what is true. The conscience needs training that it may perceive what is true; in other words, the mind’s power of perceiving both scientific and moral truth needs cultivating. It may err in regard to scientific truth. It may err in regard to moral truth. In regard to the latter we have an infallible standard in the Word of God, which, if rightly applied, will relieve us from error. We see why the Bible attaches so much importance to a knowledge of the truth. It is the condition of right perception in regard to duty.


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Leviticus 5:4". The Biblical Illustrator. 1905-1909. New York.

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