God’s Requirements for His People’s Sins
While there is an undoubted difference between the Sin Offering and the Trespass Offering, it is generally agreed that there is what has been called a “gray area” in the first thirteen verses of chapter 5. One verse alone suitably demonstrates this. “And 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” (Lev 5:6). Here, in one short verse, both “Trespass Offering and “Sin Offering” are used to describe the same offering. The answer seems to be that although the two offerings in question are to be distinguished yet there are principles which apply to both and Leviticus 5:1-13 is like a transition between the two.
This section outlines sins which are sins of omission rather than sins of commission and which have an element of ignorance. Everyone knows that telling an untruth is sin. But here is the case of a man who may not speak at all. Adjured by the magistrate he does not tell what he knows. He tells no lie but he has sinned, even by not speaking.
Then there is the case of a man who, perhaps walking in long grass or undergrowth, unknowlingly stumbles on the carcass of an unclean beast. This is indeed done in ignorance; had he known he would have avoided it. But, ignorance or not, he has touched it and is thereby unclean. Defiling associations will defile a man and must be carefully avoided.
There follows the story of one who has promised to do something. He has solemnly sworn his intention, but for some reason or other he cannot fulfill his promise when the time comes. His intention may be good and his inability to keep his promise be due to circumstances completely out of his control. How, or why, in such cases, can a man be guilty? The answer is simple. When God promises, He always keeps His promise. If a man promises and fails to deliver that is not like God and is therefore ungodly. Was the promise made rashly, without full knowledge of the circumstances? There may indeed be an element of ignorance but it is sin, and in every case of sinning there are three requirements.
First, there must be a full and frank confession of the sin. A general acknowledgement of failure was not enough. “It shall be, when he shall be guilty in one of these things, that he shall confess that he hath sinned in that thing” (Lev 5:5). The confession must relate to the particular sin for which the man is seeking forgiveness.
Second, there must be the appropriate offering; in this case, God required a female from the flock, a lamb, or a kid of the goats like that for the commoner of Leviticus 4:28, 32. Later in Holy Scripture that awful sentence would be reiterated, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezek 18:4, 20). Even Adam knew that. “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen 2:17). The penalty for sin is death but Jehovah has provided for man a way of escape. If another acceptable life can be found then such may die as a substitute for the guilty. But even under law God is very gracious and He will, as will be noted later, make allowances for the meager resources of some of the people.
Third, the priest who offers the Sin Offering must eat it in holiness in the court of the tabernacle (Lev 6:26). It is as if to say that the priest is entering into the feelings of the sinner and assimilating the seriousness of the sin. For us the lesson is that responsible brethren, guides in the assembly, with true priestly hearts, will grieve in the holy place, in the seclusion of the presence of God, over the sins of the people. Sin must not be broadcast or gossiped about in the publicity of the camp.
However, as has been suggested, Jehovah graciously remembers the poverty of some of the people. Notice the two occurrences of the phrase “If he be not able” (Lev 5:7, 11). Some there were whose resources would not permit them to bring a lamb for an offering. In such cases they could bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons and these would be accepted. One bird would be offered as a Sin Offering, its blood being sprinkled on the side of the altar and wrung out at the bottom of the altar. It was death, the substitutionary death of a victim, and the sin was forgiven. The second bird was a Burnt Offering so that there was a portion for God even as the sinner’s need was being met.
But there were occasions when even two birds were beyond the means of some of the people. Jehovah then would accept the tenth of an ephah of fine flour for a Sin Offering. This was estimated to be just a few pints of flour, with neither oil nor frankincense applied, but the problem arises, “How can a bloodless offering procure forgiveness as a Sin Offering?” No blood indeed, but a poor man was offering according to his resources and soon the stipulated handful of his offering would be upon the altar, saturated with the blood of other offerings. The remainder of this offering would be the food of the priest as a Meat Offering.
How many there are today, children and the feebleminded, who come to the Savior in extreme and utter simplicity. Do they know the difference between propitiation and reconciliation and substitution and atonement and justification? Not at all. Their mental resources are meager indeed, but this they know, that Jesus has died and they trust Him, and, bless God, that is sufficient, like a tenth of an ephah of fine flour. As Thomas Newberry says, “Divine grace condescends to human infirmity.”