The Offerings of Leviticus: 6. Sin (Trespass) Offering

Leviticus 5:1‑13  •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Lev. 5:1-131And if a soul sin, and hear the voice of swearing, and is a witness, whether he hath seen or known of it; if he do not utter it, then he shall bear his iniquity. 2Or if a soul touch any unclean thing, whether it be a carcase of an unclean beast, or a carcase of unclean cattle, or the carcase of unclean creeping things, and if it be hidden from him; he also shall be unclean, and guilty. 3Or if he touch the uncleanness of man, whatsoever uncleanness it be that a man shall be defiled withal, and it be hid from him; when he knoweth of it, then he shall be guilty. 4Or if a soul swear, pronouncing with his lips to do evil, or to do good, whatsoever it be that a man shall pronounce with an oath, and it be hid from him; when he knoweth of it, then he shall be guilty in one of these. 5And it shall be, when he shall be guilty in one of these things, that he shall confess that he hath sinned in that thing: 6And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the Lord for his sin which he hath sinned, a female from the flock, a lamb or a kid of the goats, for a sin offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for him concerning his sin. 7And if he be not able to bring a lamb, then he shall bring for his trespass, which he hath committed, two turtledoves, or two young pigeons, unto the Lord; one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering. 8And he shall bring them unto the priest, who shall offer that which is for the sin offering first, and wring off his head from his neck, but shall not divide it asunder: 9And he shall sprinkle of the blood of the sin offering upon the side of the altar; and the rest of the blood shall be wrung out at the bottom of the altar: it is a sin offering. 10And he shall offer the second for a burnt offering, according to the manner: and the priest shall make an atonement for him for his sin which he hath sinned, and it shall be forgiven him. 11But if he be not able to bring two turtledoves, or two young pigeons, then he that sinned shall bring for his offering the tenth part of an ephah of fine flour for a sin offering; he shall put no oil upon it, neither shall he put any frankincense thereon: for it is a sin offering. 12Then shall he bring it to the priest, and the priest shall take his handful of it, even a memorial thereof, and burn it on the altar, according to the offerings made by fire unto the Lord: it is a sin offering. 13And the priest shall make an atonement for him as touching his sin that he hath sinned in one of these, and it shall be forgiven him: and the remnant shall be the priest's, as a meat offering. (Leviticus 5:1‑13)
This section, it may be observed, is a sort of appendix to chap. iv., and of transition to the proper Trespass offering which begins in chap. v. 14. For this reason, while it falls under the same revelation from Jehovah to Moses as the chapter before, it is called both a Trespass offering and a Sin offering in ver. 6. Four distinctions in the circumstances calling for the offering are laid down in the four opening verses. They were defilements incurred by special inadvertent offenses against ordinances of Jehovah; as in chap. iv. provision was made for inadvertent sins in general which simply violated the conscience.
“'And if a soul sin, and hear the voice of an oath, and he is a witness whether he hath seen or known, if he do not inform, then he shall hear his iniquity. Or if a soul touch any unclean thing, whether it be the carcass of an unclean beast, or the carcass of unclean cattle, or the carcass of unclean creeping things, and it be hid from him, he also is unclean and guilty. Or if he touch the uncleanness of man, any uncleanness of him by which he is defiled, and it be hid from him, when he knoweth, then he shall be guilty. Or if a soul swear rashly with his lips, to do evil or to do good, in everything that a man shall say rashly with an oath, and it be hid from him, when he knoweth, then shall he be guilty in one of these. And it shall be when he shall be guilty in one of these, that he shall confess wherein he hath sinned; and he shall bring his trespass to Jehovah for his sin which he hath sinned, a female from the flock, a lamb or a goat for a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for him from his sin” (vers. 1-6).
Adjuration was all the more solemn for an Israelite, as Jehovah dwelt in their midst to judge. It was not secret providence, or waiting for a final assize. He was there to deal according to His law and their relationship as His people. Even in a day of utter ruin and in proceedings which mocked all righteousness, we hear our Lord, silent before man's profound hypocrisy and false witness, at once answer the wicked high priest when adjuring Him, though He knew it would seal His condemnation unto death. Did one shrink and keep back or prevaricate, one must bear one's iniquity if left there. Then came cases of defilement from contact with death, either unclean beasts or cattle, or crawling things, or again from uncleanness of man, whatsoever its form. Lastly, there might be defilement from a hasty vow unperformed, it mattered not what its shape, “to do evil or to do good,” which on reflection one shirked, dreading to do or not to do. Think of Jephthah's vow!
What then was he that feared God in such circumstances to feel, when it comes before his soul? Was he not guilty? If in any of these cases he was defiled, he was called on to “confess wherein he hath sinned,” not after a vague general sort. It is the first time we hear of it. Was it not due to carelessness before Jehovah? But more; nothing but sacrifice could remove the stain. “And he shall bring his trespass offering to Jehovah for his sin which he hath sinned.” What more specific for the clearing his guilt away? Here, as in the Sin offering for one of the people, a female sufficed, lamb or goat, and was called an offering for trespass and sin; and the priest should make atonement for him to clear him from his sin.
The tender consideration of the poor (to us the young or feeble in faith) is marked in the alternative that is next given.
“' And if his hand be not able to bring a lamb, then he shall bring to Jehovah for his trespass which he hath sinned two turtle doves or two young pigeons; one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering. And he shall bring them to the priest, who shall offer that which is for the sin offering first, and pinch off its head at the neck, but shall not divide it asunder; and he shall sprinkle of the blood of the sin offering on the wall of the altar; and the rest of the blood shall be wrung out at the bottom of the altar. And he shall offer the second for a burnt offering according to the ordinance. And the priest shall make atonement for him from his sin which he hath sinned; and it shall be forgiven him” (vers. 7-10).
Jehovah was even more minute in His concern for him who could not bring a sheep or goat. The victim's blood was sprinkled unusually, or at least there is a fuller expression given to it. The offering of less pecuniary value He prized for the conscientious soul, and gave a witness of acceptance as well as of the sin judged and gone. The same principle is yet more conspicuous in a third case. “But if his hand cannot attain to two turtledoves or two young pigeons, then he that hath sinned shall bring for his offering the tenth part of an ephah of fine flour for a sin offering; he shall put no oil on it, nor shall he put frankincense thereon, for it is a sin offering. “And he shall bring it to the priest, and the priest shall take his handful of it, the memorial thereof and burn it on the altar with Jehovah's fire offering: it is a sin offering. “And the priest shall make atonement for him from his sin which he hath sinned in one of them, and it shall be forgiven him; and it shall be the priest's as the oblation” (vers. 11-13). Here we have the most abject need of all: even pigeons are beyond the means. But grace has its resource for the least condition of faith. His pity was shown, not in dispensing with an offering, but in suiting the need. Though no part of this form of the offering could have the character of Burnt offering like the second bird, Jehovah would accept an offering of fine flour. But unlike the oblation proper, neither oil nor frankincense must be there. It was for sin. The quantity was just that of the manna for a day's food. Of this the priest took his handful to burn according to the Fire offerings to Jehovah, though for one ceremonially unclean; and as this was valid to atone, so the rest became the priest's as in the ordinary oblation of meal. Truly God was good to Israel, even to such as owned their uncleanness in the humblest way He prescribed. Here again, as has been already noticed elsewhere, the lowest form of an offering passes from its proper distinctness into assimilation with others: in the second alternative, with the Burnt offering; in the third with the Meal offering. The stronger the faith, the less can one relish vague apprehension of Christ's work: one seeks, cherishes, and enjoys God's side as well as our own in the fullness of divine revelation. The weaker it is, the more one is disposed to be content with a view so misty that the wondrous and instructive differences in its manifold relations vanish in a comprehensive but hazy sense of efficacy. The value of Christ is the same to God, whatever shape the offering might take in God's condescension. The absence of blood-shedding in the last instance is just the exception which proves the rule. Jehovah testifies His consideration for such poverty as could bring no animal to die, where there was real concern about the trespass and an offering to Him in acknowledgment of it,