ONGOING ACCESS TO A HOLY GOD FOR FELLOWSHIP AND WORSHIP PROMPTS OFFERINGS FOR INADVERTENT SINS EMPHASIZING THE NEED FOR CLEANSING AND PURIFICATION
Now we are moving from the discussion of the soothing aroma offerings (the first 3 sacrifices) to the non-soothing aroma offerings. It is very difficult to parse out the distinctions in these different offerings. They all had many aspects in common. Certainly there was a sin aspect involved in them all – thus some touchpoint for atonement and forgiveness of sins as well as thankfulness for God’s grace and blessings. Here there seems to be a special emphasis on cleansing and purification.
Allen Ross: If people sinned unintentionally, they sacrificed an appropriate animal for a purification offering, and the priest applied the blood at the appropriate place, burned the inner parts and fat to the LORD, and in some cases burned the remaining parts outside the camp in order to make atonement so that there might be forgiveness.
Perry Yoder: When people become aware of their accidental trespass, they must perform the appropriate ritual for forgiveness. The ritual and the sacrifice to be offered depends on the status of the person committing the sin and whoever is affected by the sin, whether the whole community or a single individual. Chapter 4 begins with the gravest sin, one committed by the high priest, which leads the entire community astray, and it ends with the inadvertent sin of a single common person. . .
The one who sinned inadvertently did not intend to transgress a negative command. In addition, not only was there no intention to transgress, but there also was no consciousness that a prohibition had been broken. Not carrying out a positive command, not acting as you should, is covered in the next ritual series (ch. 5).
Kenneth Mathews: The sacrificial system that is detailed in the book of Leviticus made an accommodation for the unavoidable human condition of sin. The sin offering was God’s gracious provision for the guilty person by which his or her sin was purged and by which he or she received divine forgiveness. The corruption of human sin polluted the tent and required a cleansing. The offering should be thought of as an offering of purification. But the sacrifice of an animal only purged the corruption of the outer person, the body, the book of Hebrews tells us (9:13, 14). What was needed to purge the malignancy of the inner person, the soul? We will discover that the Lord has made a sure and eternal means of forgiveness for each one of us through the death of Jesus Christ, whose sinless life made it possible for our iniquities to be purged from our souls.
F. Duane Lindsey: The general act of sin which occasioned a sin offering was qualified in two respects: it was done “unintentionally,” and it was against “any of the Lord’s commands” (it could include sins of omission as well as commission; cf. Num. 15:30, lit., “with a high hand”) – that is, sin with a set purpose of being disobedient to God – no sacrifice could be brought by an individual. . .
The structure of the law of the sin offering (i.e., the primary ritual portion, Lev. 4; cf. 6:24-30) is divided according to the status of the offerer . . . Also the variety of acceptable sacrifices is presented in descending order of value – a bull for the priest (4:3) or nation (v. 14), a male goat for a tribal leader (vv. 22-23), a female goat (v. 28) or lamb (v. 32) for a common person, two birds for a poor person (5:7), and even an offering of flour for the very poor (5:11-13). The difference in sacrifices did not depend on the nature of the sin but on the social and/or economic status of the sinner. The supplementary information in chapter 5 regards certain offenses requiring the sin offering (5:1-6) and concessions for the poor (5:7-13).
(:1-2) CONTEXT FOR SIN OFFERINGS FOR INADVERTENT SINS
“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 ‘Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, If a person sins unintentionally in any of the things which the LORD has commanded not to be done, and commits any of them,’”
Mark Rooker: Given the opening words of Leviticus 4, “The LORD said to Moses,” it is clear that a new section is being introduced. The last time the text had indicated that the Lord was beginning to address Moses occurred in Lev 1:1 (“The LORD called to Moses and spoke to him”). This division may indicate that the sacrifices about to be discussed, that of the sin and guilt offerings, are of distinct nature from the previous offerings, the burnt, grain, and fellowship offerings. The difference may be due to the fact that the sin and guilt offering are to be made as a consequence to a certain offense, while the offerings of Leviticus 1–3 could be viewed as voluntary. Whereas the main issue in the burnt, grain, and fellowship offerings was the proper procedure to be followed, the main issue in the discussion in the sin and guilt offerings is the occasion that would require these sacrifices. . .
Though the altar would be in need of purification because it was contaminated by sin (in the same way that Israel’s sin contaminates the land), the overall objective is divine forgiveness of the Israelites in Lev 4:1–5:13.
Gordon Wenham: The most important feature of this rite is the sprinkling of the blood on the altar or the veil. Where the blood was sprinkled depended on the social status of the offerer. . . Purification is the main element in the purification sacrifice. Sin not only angers God and deprives him of his due, it also makes his sanctuary unclean. A holy God cannot dwell amid uncleanness. The purification offering purifies the place of worship, so that God may be present among his people. This interpretation of the term seems to be compatible with its root meaning, and to explain the rituals of blood sprinkling peculiar to it. . .
The purification offering dealt with the pollution caused by sin. If sin polluted the land, it defiled particularly the house where God dwelt. The seriousness of pollution depended on the seriousness of the sin, which in turn related to the status of the sinner. If a private citizen sinned, his action polluted the sanctuary only to a limited extent. Therefore the blood of the purification offering was only smeared on the horns of the altar of burnt sacrifice. If, however, the whole nation sinned or the holiest member of the nation, the high priest, sinned, this was more serious. The blood had to be taken inside the tabernacle and sprinkled on the veil and the altar of incense. Finally over the period of a year the sins of the nation could accumulate to such an extent that they polluted even the holy of holies, where God dwelt. If he was to continue to dwell among his people, this too had to be cleansed in the annual day of atonement ceremony (see Lev. 16).
Allen Ross: The sins that could be expiated through the purification offering were those done inadvertently (bišgāgâ). Parallel expressions help clarify that the sins described by this word largely result from either negligence or ignorance (Milgrom, 228). The statement in 5:17 that the sinner did not know (lōʾyādaʿ) about the sin indicates that these sins were not premeditated or intentional. The guilty party realized only later that it was sin. Leviticus 4:13 says that such sin was hidden from the person’s eyes. In the context of the law this is a “sin of ignorance” (Lev. 4), “sin of carelessness” (5:4), or sin without defiance (Num. 15:30). In other words, these were routine sins and overlooked failures that through various means came to a person’s attention. When conviction gripped one’s conscience, then a purification offering was made. The only prerequisites for making this offering were knowledge of the sin and remorse for it.
I. (:3-21) REMEDY = BLOOD SPRINKLED IN THE HOLY PLACE
A. (:3-12) Sin Offering for the Anointed Priest
“if the anointed priest sins so as to bring guilt on the people, then let him offer to the LORD a bull without defect as a sin offering for the sin he has committed. 4 And he shall bring the bull to the doorway of the tent of meeting before the LORD, and he shall lay his hand on the head of the bull, and slay the bull before the LORD. 5 Then the anointed priest is to take some of the blood of the bull and bring it to the tent of meeting, 6 and the priest shall dip his finger in the blood, and sprinkle some of the blood seven times before the LORD, in front of the veil of the sanctuary. 7 The priest shall also put some of the blood on the horns of the altar of fragrant incense which is before the LORD in the tent of meeting; and all the blood of the bull he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering which is at the doorway of the tent of meeting. 8 And he shall remove from it all the fat of the bull of the sin offering: the fat that covers the entrails, and all the fat which is on the entrails, 9 and the two kidneys with the fat that is on them, which is on the loins, and the lobe of the liver, which he shall remove with the kidneys 10 (just as it is removed from the ox of the sacrifice of peace offerings), and the priest is to offer them up in smoke on the altar of burnt offering. 11 But the hide of the bull and all its flesh with its head and its legs and its entrails and its refuse, 12 that is, all the rest of the bull, he is to bring out to a clean place outside the camp where the ashes are poured out, and burn it on wood with fire; where the ashes are poured out it shall be burned.”
Gordon Wenham: It may be noted that the very first paragraph lacks the normal closing phrase, “the priest shall make atonement … and he shall be forgiven.” This is because the priest is the worshipper and he therefore cannot pronounce his own forgiveness. . .
Most commentators, however, believe that only the high priest is meant, i.e., Aaron. In favor of this Num. 35:25 does seem to regard the unction of the high priest as something special. So “the anointed priest” would most naturally refer to the high priest, though the more common technical term is “the great priest” (Lev. 21:10, etc.).
Perry Yoder: The application of blood to these objects effects a cleansing for them and their areas, restoring their purity. The following reason is given explicitly for the purification rituals: so that they do not die in their uncleanness by defiling my tabernacle that is in their midst (Lev 15:31b NRSV). Sin can defile holy areas and objects: for by sacrificing his children to Molek, he has defiled my sanctuary and profaned my holy name (Lev 20:3; NRSV, Molech). Once purified, the tabernacle and its furniture can continue to serve their proper function [The Tabernacle, p. 317].
John Calvin: The more illustrious was his dignity, the more diligently and zealously ought his life to be confirmed to the model of holiness.
John Hartley: Ritual procedure (vv 4–12)
(1) Presentation of a bull (v 4a)
(2) Laying on of hands (v 4bα)
(3) Slaughter (v 4bβ)
(4) Handling of the blood (vv 5–7)
(5) Burning of the fat (vv 8–10)
(6) Disposal of the remainder (vv 11–12)
Kenneth Mathews: In addition to the costly animal, the extent of the priest’s sin required special handling of the animal’s blood. The priest retrieved some of the blood of the slain animal, probably captured in a vessel, and transported the blood inside the sacred tent itself. The high altar was located in the outer court, but the Tent of Meeting housed the two most sacred areas—the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. This was a dramatic departure from the ritual of the sin offering for the ordinary Israelite person. The blood in that case was smeared on the high altar in the outer courtyard. But by requiring the blood inside the tent’s Holy Place, the Law indicated that the priest’s offense was so penetrating that it was necessary to cleanse the tent itself of sin. In other words, the sin of the priest contaminated the sacred tent as well as the outer altar. Why did the effect of the priest’s sin reach beyond the altar to inside the tent? Because the priests alone could enter into the tent to carry out the duties of mediation. The average person was not allowed into the tent. The tent represented the very presence of God, and there had to be cleansing for the place where the priests carried out their exclusive duties.
B. (:13-21) Sin Offering for the Congregation
“Now if the whole congregation of Israel commits error, and the matter escapes the notice of the assembly, and they commit any of the things which the LORD has commanded not to be done, and they become guilty; 14 when the sin which they have committed becomes known, then the assembly shall offer a bull of the herd for a sin offering, and bring it before the tent of meeting. 15 Then the elders of the congregation shall lay their hands on the head of the bull before the LORD, and the bull shall be slain before the LORD. 16 Then the anointed priest is to bring some of the blood of the bull to the tent of meeting; 17 and the priest shall dip his finger in the blood, and sprinkle it seven times before the LORD, in front of the veil. 18 And he shall put some of the blood on the horns of the altar which is before the LORD in the tent of meeting; and all the blood he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering which is at the doorway of the tent of meeting. 19 And he shall remove all its fat from it and offer it up in smoke on the altar. 20 He shall also do with the bull just as he did with the bull of the sin offering; thus he shall do with it. So the priest shall make atonement for them, and they shall be forgiven. 21 Then he is to bring out the bull to a place outside the camp, and burn it as he burned the first bull; it is the sin offering for the assembly.”
David Thompson: The word “congregation” is the Hebrew word “hethah” which refers to the people of the congregation who have legal responsibilities. The word “assembly” is the word “Kahal” which refers to all people. So the emphasis here is on leaders within the body who sin. They are not priests, but they are leaders.
Gordon Wenham: If the anointed priest was offering the purification offering, the blood was sprinkled seven times on the veil of the sanctuary, that is, the curtain acting as the door into the holy of holies, the innermost part of the tabernacle. A little blood was also smeared on the horns of the incense altar that stood in front of the veil. These rites took place in the second most holy part of the tabernacle, the holy place, which only priests were allowed to enter.
If rulers or one of the common people offered a purification offering, the blood was not taken inside the tent of meeting but was smeared on the horns of the large altar of burnt offering that stood in the open court (vv. 22ff.). . .
Traditional Jewish commentators asserted that the congregation refers to the supreme court of justice in ancient Israel, the Sanhedrin. In the OT, however, “congregation” usually has a much broader meaning than this; sometimes indeed it seems to be coextensive with the whole nation (Exod. 12:3, 6; 17:1; Num. 20:1, 2). This has led most Christian commentators to regard “congregation” and “assembly” as interchangeable terms, meaning a large group, or gathering of people.
The truth appears to lie somewhere between these extremes. “The congregation is not the whole people, but the people represented by its heads.” The congregation was a clearly defined group of people in ancient Israel with representative and legal functions. From time to time we find the congregation acting in a legal capacity, especially in capital cases (Num. 15:33ff.; 27:2; 35:12, 24f.). It is a group alongside Moses and Aaron which comes into prominence in times of leadership crisis (Exod. 16:1, 2, 9; Num. 8:20; chs. 13–14, 16). Probably it was a large body, a sort of parliament with representative and judicial functions. It is tempting to see in Num. 1:2; 14:29 a definition of the “congregation,” i.e., “all able-bodied men over the age of twenty.” Since the “congregation” contained representatives of every family in Israel, it is easy to see why it could be used occasionally to designate the whole nation. . .
It is preferable to see the fault in 13ff. as a corporate sin of the leaders of Israel.
Perry Yoder: From this context it seems that persons come to knowledge in two ways: on their own or when they are informed by another.
Mark Rooker: Of paramount importance is the additional statement in 4:20 that atonement and forgiveness are the desired effects of the sin offering. It is safe to assume that though this statement is absent from the paragraph regarding the sin offering of the high priest, it was also true of that offering as well.
An important terminological addition is the occurrence of the root. The root (“forgiveness”) occurs for the first time in Leviticus in 4:20. This is the unique term for forgiveness in the Old Testament, and it has only God as its subject. Many relate the nontheological, concrete meaning of the root to the Akkadian cognate, which has the meaning “to wash, sprinkle.” Theologically this root would convey the notion that forgiveness is equivalent to having sins “washed away.” The fact that only God is the subject and author of forgiveness explains the scribes’ reaction to Jesus’ announcement that the sins of the paralytic had been forgiven (Mark 2:7). Jesus’ pronouncement was in fact a claim to be equal with God.
John Hartley: Ritual procedure (vv 14b–21a)
(1) Action of the assembly (vv 14b–15b)
(a) Presentation of a bull (v 14b)
(b) Laying on of hands (v 15a)
(c) Slaughter (v 15b)
(2) Action of the priest (vv 16–21a)
(a) Procedural instruction (vv 16–20a)
(i) Handling of the blood (vv 16–18)
(ii) Burning of the fat (v 19)
(iii) Treatment similar to first bull (v 20a)
(b) Statement of expiation and forgiveness (v 20b)
(c) Disposal of the rest (v 21a)
II. (4:22-35) REMEDY = BLOOD SMEARED ON THE BRAZEN ALTAR
A. (:22-26) Sin Offering for the Tribal Leader / Ruler
“When a leader sins and unintentionally does any one of all the things which the LORD God has commanded not to be done, and he becomes guilty, 23 if his sin which he has committed is made known to him, he shall bring for his offering a goat, a male without defect. 24 And he shall lay his hand on the head of the male goat, and slay it in the place where they slay the burnt offering before the LORD; it is a sin offering. 25 Then the priest is to take some of the blood of the sin offering with his finger, and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering; and the rest of its blood he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering. 26 And all its fat he shall offer up in smoke on the altar as in the case of the fat of the sacrifice of peace offerings. Thus the priest shall make atonement for him in regard to his sin, and he shall be forgiven.”
Gordon Wenham: Tribal leader (nāśî’) covers a variety of officers in ancient Israel. Its root meaning is “lifted up”; literally it means someone raised over the people. Most often it refers to the heads of tribes (e.g., Num. 2:3ff.), but it may also refer to the head of small groups within a tribe (e.g., Num. 3:24, 30) and even to the head of the nation (1 K. 11:34; Ezek. 12:10). It is a term particularly associated with the tribal organization of early Israel. With the establishment of the monarchy it seems to have fallen out of use, until Ezekiel revived it. He commonly designates the king of the restored Israel as “tribal leader” (e.g., Ezek. 44:3; 45:7, 22, etc.).
B. (:27-35) Sin Offering for the Ordinary Israelite
1. (:27-31) Offering a Goat
“Now if anyone of the common people sins unintentionally in doing any of the things which the LORD has commanded not to be done, and becomes guilty, 28 if his sin, which he has committed is made known to him, then he shall bring for his offering a goat, a female without defect, for his sin which he has committed. 29 And he shall lay his hand on the head of the sin offering, and slay the sin offering at the place of the burnt offering. 30 And the priest shall take some of its blood with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering; and all the rest of its blood he shall pour out at the base of the altar. 31 Then he shall remove all its fat, just as the fat was removed from the sacrifice of peace offerings; and the priest shall offer it up in smoke on the altar for a soothing aroma to the LORD. Thus the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be forgiven.”
2. (:32-35) Offering a Lamb
“But if he brings a lamb as his offering for a sin offering, he shall bring it, a female without defect. 33 And he shall lay his hand on the head of the sin offering, and slay it for a sin offering in the place where they slay the burnt offering. 34 And the priest is to take some of the blood of the sin offering with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering; and all the rest of its blood he shall pour out at the base of the altar. 35 Then he shall remove all its fat, just as the fat of the lamb is removed from the sacrifice of the peace offerings, and the priest shall offer them up in smoke on the altar, on the offerings by fire to the LORD. Thus the priest shall make atonement for him in regard to his sin which he has committed, and he shall be forgiven.”