THE RELIGIOUS LIFE OF THE ANCIENT JEW AS PRESENTED IN THE BOOK OF LEVITICUS
The Offerings and the Feasts Part 6
The Sin Offering
Leviticus 4 – 5:13
In this chapter I will move away from the offerings associated with the daily sacrifice to the first of the two presented only as and when required. As the name obviously implies this sacrifice was presented when sin was known to have been committed. Andrews Jukes draws the distinction between this offering and the first three, which have already been contemplated:
“The Burnt-offering, the Meat-offering and the Peace-offering much as they differed, were alike in this, that in each of them the offering was the presentation of something which was sweet to Jehovah, an oblation to satisfy his holy requirements, and in acceptance of which he found grateful satisfaction. But in the Sin and Trespass-offerings, we read of sin in connexion with the offering. Here is confessed sin, judged sin, sin requiring sacrifice and blood-shedding; yet sin atoned for, blotted out and pardoned…The Sin-offering shows that sin has been judged, and that therefore the sense of sin, if we believe, need not shake our sense our safety”.1
It is therefore logical to argue that the theme of this sacrifice is forgiveness through Christ. Conviction is the awareness within the sinner of his guilt before God whereas conversion is the experimental realisation that sin has been forgiven through the covering of Christ’s precious blood. This is the glory of the Sin Offering.
Proceeding now to examine the Sin Offering I wish firstly to highlight the reason for the sacrifice. The scriptures record that this sacrifice was particularly required when the sin of “ignorance”2 was committed. Strictly speaking this was not a sin committed in total ignorance, as the Authorised Version has translated it. Professor Fairbairn states that the Hebrew word “bishgagah” means “by erring, by mistake, or oversight”.3 In the case cited in the thirteenth verse it was quite clearly a sin of ignorance that was intended because the people there transgressed due to a lack of spiritual leadership. The truth was “hid from the congregation” and sin ensued. The reference in Numbers to the one guilty of manslaughter, however, throws a lot of light upon this particular Hebrew word:
“Then ye shall appoint you cities to be cities of refuge for you; that the slayer may flee thither, which killeth any person at unawares.”4
The word translated here, as “unawares” is once again the Hebrew “bishgagah”. The manslayer was one who killed as the result of an accident. Due to lack of care and foresight a life was lost and while a wrong was clearly committed the guilt was not as great as in the case of premeditated murder. This sin of ignorance is further defined by the contrast drawn with the so-called sin of presumption. Fairbairn literally translated this misdemeanour a sin “of the high hand”5 or a deliberate act of folly as opposed to mere accident, mistake or a wrong committed in moment of impulse. For this crime there would be no Sin Offering. Rather than receiving mercy such an individual would be “cut off from among the people”.6 It remains the case that there are certain sins which are beyond the reach of mercy. In this New Testament age God is particularly grieved with professing Christians who sin with impunity and appear to have no regard for truth and conscience. Of such Paul declared, “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,”.7
For now, however, let us content ourselves with the reason for the Sin Offering, the inadvertent transgression. Chapter Five furnishes us with specific examples of the kinds of sins, which could be cleansed by the Sin Offering. The first relates to the man who heard “the voice of swearing” and had therefore sinned in so doing. The second involved the individual who touched an unclean creature unwittingly. The third characterised the person who in error touched “the uncleanness of man”. The final example involved the man who made a vow but who did not understand the implications thereof and as a result went back on his word
This sin of ignorance certainly highlights the deceitfulness and darkness that resides in the heart of man. God views sin dimly even in cases where men may make legitimate excuses. One may argue with natural logic that there is no sin in merely hearing the voice of swearing but God thinks differently. The sound of the wicked voice has entered the mind and cleansing must be called for. It is so important that God’s people discover a new sensitivity towards sin because the Lord never minimises its evil.
This sin also instructs in the evil of sins of omission. The one who heard the voice of swearing and who failed to bring the matter before the authority was culpable. Man tends to focus upon sins of commission but God draws to our attention the failure of inaction.
The sin of ignorance certainly brings before us the danger of making conscience the sole arbiter between right and wrong. In this world where people shy away from absolute ideas concerning holiness a lot is said about acting according to one’s conscience. While it is important to have a good conscience where spiritual matters are concerned we must remember that this too has been warped and defaced by Original Sin. Mr MacIntosh wrote on this very issue:
“The fact of a “sin of ignorance” demonstrates, most clearly, the uncertainty which must attend upon every settlement of the question of sin, in which no higher claims have been responded to than those put off by the most refined human conscience. There can never be settled peace upon this ground. There will always be the painful apprehension that there is something wrong underneath. If the heart be not led into settled repose by the scripture testimony that that the inflexible claims of God’s divine justice have been answered, there must, of necessity, be a sensation of uneasiness, and every such sensation is a barrier to our worship, our communion and our testimony.”8
In ancient times an individual may have transgressed in a certain manner because of a lack of knowledge or as a result of poor instruction. This person may then have claimed as some modern Christians do,“My conscience allows me to behave in such a fashion”. Such a defence, however, was not allowable in the court of God’s justice because his word and not man’s reason is the sole judge between right and wrong. Therefore whatever man’s claim was God required a sin offering. The situation that arose between Abraham and Abimelech, King of Gerar, is a case in point. The King took Sarah into the company of his wives and concubines because Abraham lied by introducing her as his sister. Abimilech therefore sinned in ignorance but this did not prevent the Lord coming to him in a dream, “Behold, thou art but a dead man, for the woman which thou hast taken; for she is a man’s wife”.9 Another example is the case of James and John who were so incensed at the Samaritan village which refused their Lord that they called him to bring fire from heaven to destroy the people. Christ rebuked them, however, “ Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.10 The sons of Zebedee were acting sincerely motivated by a sense of loyalty to the Lord. They sinned in ignorance without knowing their manner of spirit but, even so, what they desired was entirely contrary to the gospel of Christ. Therefore they learned a vital lesson which remained with them until the day of their death.
It is undoubtedly true that God’s word gives the New Testament believer freedom to act according to conscience on huge raft of issues relating to practical Christian living. Romans Fourteen is the classic chapter which deals with the doctrine of Christian liberty and its truths must always be borne in mind if unity is to be preserved among God’s people. Conscience, however, must not be employed as a justification for acting in a way, which is clearly against the letter or the spirit of Scripture. Nor must conscience be called to validate words or actions, which are offensive to the church in which we serve. Rather we must be careful to regulate conscience according to the Word of God.
In summing up this sin of ignorance or the unwitting act of folly we are confronted with the solemn fact that every believer sins more than he realizes. James wrote, “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.”11 There is no room for self-righteousness and foolish pride in the thinking of men because together humanity is united by their need of the great Sin Offering of which the ancient ritual was but a faint foreshadowing.
In the second place let us turn our attention to the people who were affected by the Sin Offering. In the Leviticus Four there are four classes of persons whose sin could be atoned for with this sacrifice. The instructions concerning the Sin Offering were different in each case. The first class of persons was the priests of the Lord.12 The second class was the “congregation of Israel”13 The burden of condemnation here, however was upon the spiritual leadership, notably the elders, for failing to guide the people aright and as a result the entire nation fell. This was what transpired at Sinai when as a result of Aaron’s weakness the people worshipped the golden calves. Some have actually interpreted the word “congregation” as pointing to the ruling council or the seventy elders but the Hebrew word, as far as most commentators understand, does not allow this interpretation. The third group affected by this sacrifice was the rulers of each tribe14, which were a lower class of officer than either elder or priest. The final group detailed concerned the common people, which was the lowest class of person in the nation.15
The chief lesson I wish to deduce from the variety of groups is that God takes sin much more seriously when it breaks out among those in spiritual leadership than when it takes root among individuals with no public office to fulfil. The priesthood is mentioned first because as those anointed by Jehovah to order the service of the sanctuary they had a primary role in the administration of the Kingdom. Therefore when the priest sinned it was important that the veil within the Tabernacle of Witness be sprinkled seven times with the blood of the sacrifice. This emphasized the point that the worship of God was affected by the sins of the priest and only the blood of atonement could bring absolution. When those in leadership sin the work of the church is affected, the unsaved think ill of the gospel and the people of God may become discouraged and backslidden. In the case of Hophni and Phineas, the people of God became sinful because of their abuse of the offerings and their immorality.16 Mr Bonar points out that the phrase “If the priest that is anointed do sin according to the sin of the people;” is more properly rendered, “If the priest that is anointed do sin ‘so as to cause the people to sin’”. It is therefore incumbent upon those in leadership to lead lives, which are beyond reproach and those in ministry must be careful that they rightly divide the word of truth. Therefore the people of God must pray for those who are engaged in leading the work of God as Paul himself requested:
“Brethren, pray for us.”17
It is natural that the following group should be the congregation, which relates to the people sinning as a whole as the result of poor leadership. When sin broke out among the people as a whole their standing with God was threatened. This was the case at Sinai, it was also the case when Korah, Dathan and Abiram challenged the leadership of Moses and Aaron and a similar situation prevailed at Kadesh Barnea. Therefore it is was important that when the people fell in this way the inner veil be sprinkled seven times with the shed blood to restore fellowship which was lost. Andrew Bonar, in his typically flowing and spiritually perceptive style, applied the sin of the congregation to the Protestant church with these remarks:
“…a whole church may be in the state of the congregation referred to here. It may be denying some great truth in theory or in practice. Thus, it may make light of the duty that kings and magistrates owe to Christ; as is done by some Churches. It may be suffering ‘that woman Jezebel to teach and to seduce’ (Rev. 2. 20). It may be admitting some civil element into the management of its spiritual affairs, as is done in many Protestant Churches. It may be shutting its eyes to some great truth, or winking at some heresy. It may teach error in doctrine; or it may have left its first love. It may have allowed discipline to become lax and corrupt, as alas! is too generally true of all the churches of the Reformation.
These secret sins may be keeping God from blessing the whole people, though he blesses individuals. Somewhere amid these sources is to be found the origin of much of our inefficiency and unprofitableness. Ai cannot be taken because of the accursed thing in the camp. The mariners cannot make out the voyage to Tarshish with Jonah on board.
Israel was thus led to constant self-examination and close attention to the revealed will of God.”18
Rev Bonar’s remarks are serious and if taken in the correct spirit will provoke every pastor to seriously consider his charge. Is this why we are not experiencing revival in the western world today? Has the glory departed because the church has failed her Lord? David G Fountain’s biography of E.J. Poole-Connor illustrates this fact most appropriately. Poole-Connor was an English non-conformist preacher whose ministry spanned the turbulent years from the time of Spurgeon to his death in 1960. The book is in many respects an account of the slide the Protestant church in England experienced from the heady heights of the nineteenth century revival to the murky depths of liberalism, unbelief and apostasy. The story is one of deep tragedy and enables us to discover the source of Britain’s present spiritual decay. After 1880 the Higher Criticism of the German schools slowly became attractive to British evangelicals. At first they regarded the German scholars as brilliant students who had much to offer. Favourable articles concerning their work appeared in evangelical journals. A growing number of preachers began to accept at least some of the claims made by the Higher Critics. Between 1880 and 1890 the views of this school of unbelief had certainly entered the Bible Colleges, although the pulpits did not preach this message but continued to sound an orthodox tone. The following quotes from Mr Fountain’s book not only tell the sad story but show us how God chastens when the congregation of God’s people are led into sin:
“Thus the doors to higher criticism had been opened by men of ‘unquestioned evangelical faith’. The pew did not want it but the men in the pulpit wanted above all to be ‘in the fashion’.
…Ministers were concerned not to disturb their people with higher criticism, yet wanted to introduce it gently. They tended to keep the ‘old’ interpretations in so far as they were not directly contradicted by the higher criticism they accepted. Some accepted more than others, and each found his own compromise…
Spurgeon ,however, could see where all this was going to lead, and that there was no half-way position. He was the first, and one of the very few, to sound an alarm. But so subtle was the behaviour of the modernists that even Spurgeon underestimated the apostasy, and had sounded the alarm too late.
…The battle came with Spurgeon’s Down-Grade controversy in 1887. It was an attempt to draw out the enemy in open battle, but they would not fight. They had succeeded too well by other means”.19
These statements illustrate how subtly Satan can destroy the Church of Christ. The people of God are ignorantly led into error and the Holy Spirit is grieved and quenched.
It is also worthy of note that sin among the priests and corporate sin within the congregation required the death of a bullock whereas the rulers of the tribes and the common people were asked to make atonement by sacrificing lesser creatures. From this fact it is possible to argue that all sins are not equally heinous in God’s sight. While the smallest transgression of the law renders man deserving of Hell’s flames the Lord sees some sin as carrying a greater weight of condemnation than others. Therefore in the case of Israel he commanded for some the Sin Offering of the bullock and for others the sin offering of the lamb or even a lesser creature still as we shall observe later in this chapter. As God demanded a more expensive beast to atone for the sins of the spiritual leaders it follows that the chastening upon these men, if their iniquity was not confessed, would have been heavier. There is a principle laid down here that God weighs our sin according to our privilege, responsibility and our potential to spread evil influence. When the pastor falls the church is discouraged and the enemies of the gospel are given opportunity to laugh and to mock. Oh that all minister and their officers would take this to heart and walk circumspectly in the world. God, therefore, will deal with the sinful minister in a most severe fashion, as he will not allow his glory to be undermined.
The rulers of the tribes were civil as opposed to being spiritual leaders and were therefore not required to offer the same Sin Offering as those with spiritual responsibility. Nevertheless he brought a male of the goats to make atonement as opposed to the common person who brought only a female of the goats. God does expect those with civil responsibility to honour his law in the administration of state, whether that ruler is a professing Christian or not. In this day of political darkness when the principles of Scripture are being neglected on an unprecedented scale it is most comforting to know that Governments are answerable to God. As the “powers that be are ordained of God”20 he will in time deal harshly with those who refuse the one who gave them their authority. While the hearts of men are swayed by the influence of the evil one, God’s kingdom is above all earthly dominion, and his authority will in the final analysis be unanswerable.
The fact that the common people were included in the Sin Offering highlights the fact that transgressing the law is serious for all people whatever their responsibility. There is one whose eyes pierce every heart and who demands that sin must be punished. The darkness, the deception and the unavoidable nature of sin as we observe it in this sacrifice ought to bring us to our knees with cries for the mercy of God.
Finally, I wish to look at the remedy in the Sin Offering. As surely as this sacrifice reveals the horrendous nature of man’s folly it also paints the glories of God’s sovereign grace. Herein we see Calvary in its fullness. The cross brings before our eyes the darkness of man but above all it reveals the mercy of God in that he gave his only begotten Son to truly cursed death.
When we study in particular the scale of the offerings available to the common people we will note that the remedy was universal in it character. The Scriptures use the words of the worshipper, “If he be not able to bring a lamb”, which seems to imply that the inability was as a result of poverty. The fact that the alternative laid down was “two turtledoves, or two young pigeons” confirms this conclusion, as these creatures were more easily obtainable. The Lord later lowers the standard to yet another level when he again uses the phrase, “if he be not able”, this time with reference to the worshipper’s inability to bring the “two turtledoves, or two young pigeons”. This would indicate extreme poverty but in such circumstances “the tenth part of an ephah of fine flour” was acceptable for a sin offering.21 How gracious was the Lord in recognising the inabilities of his people and meeting their needs in such manner that none were excluded from the Sin Offering. The gospel today is universal in that it extends to every nation, every race, every tongue, every religion and every social class. As the God of glory will accept the “whosoever” the church ought to be excluding none in their evangelism by making salvation freely available.
In the Sin Offering the blood of the beast has a greater emphasis, than in the other sacrifices that we have considered to date. Patrick Fairbairn described the “action with the blood”, as he called it, as being the “chief and most distinctive peculiarity in this species of sacrifice.”22 In every case the blood of the beast was poured out at the bottom of the Brazen Altar. Where the sins of the princes and the common people were concerned blood was placed upon the horns of the altar. When atonement was made for the priests and the congregation, however, the blood was carefully brought into the Tent of Witness to be sprinkled upon the veil and then placed on the altar of sweet incense. There can be no doubt that the blood in relation to forgiveness is deeply symbolic of the precious blood of Christ in the matter of redemption. Fairbairn described this aspect of the Sin Offering as being “the intensely atoning power of its blood” and labelled it “as God’s special provision for removing the guilt of sin.”23 We rejoice in the special provision procured by God at Calvary when Jesus Christ did in substance what the ancient offering did in shadow:
“Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”24
The pouring of the blood at the base of the Brazen Altar prefigures the manner in which our Saviour would die, by the shedding of blood. It was plainly not enough for the Lord to die. The sacrifice of his life was insufficient. As there is no remission without the shedding of blood25 the Saviour was therefore constrained to allow his blood to flow from his body.
The sprinkling of the blood upon the four corners of the Brazen Altar and the Altar of Incense prefigures the coming day when the message of the blood of Christ would go into the four corners of the world; “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.”26
As the number seven is the number of perfection the sevenfold sprinkling of the blood upon the veil typifies the perfect atonement which the sinner receives through the merits of Christ; “But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building;”27
The carrying of the blood into the Tent of Witness shows “how Christ should enter into heaven, by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption for us, Heb. 9.12.”28 The blood is certainly a real entity in heaven and when we come to consider the Day of Atonement we will further observe the type concerning this truth worked out in more detail.
The final element in the remedy of the Sin Offering was also peculiar in that the beasts were not burned on the Brazen Altar but outside the camp. This must have been a most solemn ceremony as A. J. Pollock graphically described:
“But now came the most solemn part of the ceremony. The skin of the bullock, its flesh, its head, its legs, and inwards, its dung, the priest had to carry outside the camp to a clean place, where the ashes were poured out, and burn the whole on wood with fire. Surely the mind of the priest would feel deeply the seriousness of all this. The camp was a large place. Six hundred thousand men able to bear arms, beside old men and youths, women and children were encamped around the Tabernacle. It must have been a solemn testimony as to what God thought about sin. A distance of six or seven miles lay between the Tabernacle and “outside the camp, where its ashes were poured out.”29
The fat, which represented the best and most valuable part of the creature, was burned within the camp, the blood was retained also but the other parts were consumed in this outer place. The parts which were consumed in this way typify what was destroyed in Calvary’s propitiation. The skin of the creature was its outward beauty and that which proud man glories in met divine justice in Christ. The flesh is a general Biblical picture of sin, which was utterly consumed in the body of the Redeemer. As the head of the beast was cast into the inferno so the thoughts of man, which contemplate evil continually, suffered the wrath of the almighty at Golgotha. The legs of the creature speak of the activity of man and Christ suffered the punishment that our wicked deeds deserve. The consumption of the inwards reveal the hidden deceptive sins that were laid bare upon the crucified Lord. The dung represents that which was vile and evil. There is a depth of wickedness in the nature of man, which we in our foolishness cannot comprehend. Calvary, however, focuses our gaze upon both the ruin and recovery of man. It is a truly humbling sight to witness the Eternal Son bearing our vileness in unimaginable torment. Andrew Jukes certainly grasped this truth:
“Do I then speak lightly of sin? God forbid! If we want to know how hateful it is, we have but to look at the Sin-offering; to see the Holy One of God, His beloved Son, for sin cast out and broken”.30
J. Pollock expounded the same wondrous words with the pithy remarks:
“In these details we get the solemn sense of what sin is, and of the unutterable woe that the Lord Jesus, the Son of God, had to face to meet our terrible need”.31
Without a doubt the words of Paul are grander and more eloquent than any penned by men, without the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, concerning the Lord our Sin Offering:
“For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.”32
The burning of the beast without the camp foreshadows the Saviour of men dying physically outside the city walls of Jerusalem. That fact in itself is symbolic of the Christ’s rejection by the Jews as his own people refused him. Without the camp, however, was most perfectly fulfilled when our Lord cried, “My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?” In the intense darkness Christ felt our misery as he trod the winepress of Jehovah’s wrath alone as he was separated from the love of his Father because of our sins, this hymn by Mrs Cousin aptly illustrates:
“Jehovah lifted up his rod
O Christ, it fell on Thee!
Thou wast sore stricken of Thy God;
There’s not one stroke for me:
Thy tears, Thy blood beneath it flowed;
Thy bruising healeth me.
Jehovah bade his sword awake:
O Christ, it woke ‘gainst thee!
Thy blood the flaming blade must slake,
Thy heart its sheath must be:
All for my sake, my peace to make-
Now sleeps that sword for me.
Anne Ross Cousin, 1824 – 1906”33
1 The Law of the Offerings, Jukes, Andrew, Kregel Publications, 1966. Page 137-138
2 Leviticus 4:2
3 The Typology of Scripture Volume Two, Fairbairn, Patrick, Glasgow,
- & T, Clarke, Edinburgh, 1882. Page 327.
4 Numbers 35:11
5 The Typology of Scripture Volume Two, Fairbairn, Patrick, Glasgow,
- & T, Clarke, Edinburgh, 1882. Page 327
6 Numbers 15:27-30
7 Hebrews 10:26
8 Notes on the Leviticus, .MacIntosh, C.H., Second Edition Revised,
George Morrish, 24 Warwick Lane, London, page 99.
9 Genesis 20:3
10 Luke 9:55-56
11 James 2:10
12 Leviticus 4:3-12.
13 Leviticus 4:13-21
14 Leviticus 4:22-26
15 Leviticus 4:27-5:13
16 1 Samuel 2
17 1 Thessalonians 5:25
18 Commentary on Leviticus, Bonar, Andrew, Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, 1966. Page 77.
19 Contending For The Faith, E.J. Poole-Connor, A ‘prophet amid sweeping changes in English evangelicalism,. Fountain, David G, The Wakeman Trust, London, 2005. Pages 55,57,58,59.
20 Romans 13:1
21 Leviticus 5:7,11
22 The Typology of Scripture Volume Two, Fairbairn, Patrick, Glasgow,
- & T, Clarke, Edinburgh, 1882. Page 337.
23 The Typology of Scripture Volume Two, Fairbairn, Patrick, Glasgow,
- & T, Clarke, Edinburgh, 1882. Page 338.
24 Hebrews 9:12-14
25 Hebrews 9:22
26 Mark 16:15
27 Hebrews 9:11
28 Preaching From the Types and Metaphors of the Bible, Keach, Benjamin,
Kregal, U.S.A, 1972. Page 989.
29 The Tabernacle’s Typical Teaching, Pollock, A. J,
The Central Bible Truth Depot, London. Page 111.
30 The Law of the Offerings, Jukes, Andrew, Kregel Publications, 1966. Page 153
31 The Tabernacle’s Typical Teaching, Pollock, A.J.,
The Central Bible Truth Depot, London. Page 112.
32 Romans 8:3
33 Our Own Hymnbook, Psalms, Paraphrases and Hymns, Published by the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, 1989. Hymn No. 100