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This is a continuation of chapter 4 in light of the opening words of 4:1. Now it takes up some specific case studies of sins of omission as well as providing remedies based on affordability for different economic and social classes. The importance of confession of sin is stressed here for the first time.

Allen Ross: Leviticus 5 has sufficient material to warrant treating it as a separate exposition, if the expositor has enough time to do so. And it is important to take time with this chapter, because the ideas here are so often omitted or passed over lightly in messages dealing with sin or reparation. The exposition in this case can treat the passage in its order according to its structure. . .

Anyone who becomes aware of obligations left undone or impure contacts left unpurified must make confession and find forgiveness through God’s provision of atonement.

Douglas Van Dorn: The difference between Leviticus 4 and our passage now starts with the difference between sinning without knowledge, which would be the actual committing of a violation vs. sins of omission. What is a sin of omission? An omission is something that is missing. A sin of omission would therefore be the lack of doing something you were supposed to do. James says, “Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (Jas 4:17). This is a sin of omission.


A. (:1) Witness Violations

“Now if a person sins, after he hears a public adjuration to testify,

when he is a witness, whether he has seen or otherwise known,

if he does not tell it, then he will bear his guilt.”

David Guzik: It wasn’t enough to merely not tell lies. God also required His people to make the truth known, so even if one merely knew about a lie, they were responsible to make the truth known.

R. K. Harrison: Being a true and faithful witness was an important consideration under the old covenant (cf. Exod. 20:16), since individual integrity and communal justice depended so much upon it.

Allen Ross: The first case deals with withholding evidence. The text indicates that any person (nepeš) who was an eyewitness or gained information should step forward and provide it to the magistrates. The implication is that some time has passed since the crime, and the witnesses have not come forward, even though they were bound by oath to do so. The “voice of an oath” (qôl ʾālâ) is the language of court and refers to giving testimony in a legal setting. Public adjuration also involved a curse, because with the call for witnesses, a curse was included on anyone failing to report.

B. (:2-3) Cleanliness Violations

1. (:2) Regarding Touching Unclean Animals

“Or if a person touches any unclean thing, whether a carcass of an unclean beast, or the carcass of unclean cattle, or a carcass of unclean swarming things, though it is hidden from him, and he is unclean,

then he will be guilty.”

Douglas Van Dorn: What he is suggesting here is that the omission in examples 2-3 are that the person should have undergone a ritual bath to remove the impurity and be cleansed (see Lev 11:24-28, 39- 40; 22:4-7). But they forgot about it and thus remain ritually unclean. This could result in serious contamination of the tabernacle precincts, should he decide to go there while in this unclean state.

R. K. Harrison: One of the greatest spiritual challenges for the Christian in the complexity of contemporary social life is to keep himself unspotted from the world (Jas 1:27 av).

R. Laird Harris: The laws of cleanness (vv. 2-3) were partly for public health (cf. chs. 11-15), but they were given sanction in the tabernacle. The priests were the public health officers. Uncleanness demanded ritual cleansing.

2. (:3) Regarding Touching Unclean Humans

“Or if he touches human uncleanness, of whatever sort his uncleanness may be with which he becomes unclean, and it is hidden from him,

and then he comes to know it, he will be guilty.”

Peter Pett: In this case the person has touched man’s uncleanness in one way or another. This could include among other things touching their grave, or a man’s waste left in the wilderness, or a menstruating woman. The first could occur where he learned afterwards that it was a grave, the second if he discovered it on his clothes or his skin on returning from the field or the wilderness, and the third could happen anywhere.

C. (:4) Oath Violations

“Or if a person swears thoughtlessly with his lips to do evil or to do good, in whatever matter a man may speak thoughtlessly with an oath, and it is hidden from him, and then he comes to know it,

he will be guilty in one of these.”

Robert Vasholz: The verb root for the word thoughtlessly (√bṭ’) means to chatter, to speak incessantly and foolishly. It is translated rashly (nasb) in Proverbs 12:18 and Psalm 106:33.

In other words, an oath was made rashly or impulsively with little thought as to what one was promising. An oath made publicly is binding (cf. Deut. 23:23 [24]). Failure to fulfill an oath is a breach of integrity; oaths are to be honored. The concept of ‘oath’ is at the heart of covenant making and was the way of establishing peaceful relationships. When Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, broke covenant with the Shechemites, Jacob told them that they had made him a stench among the Canaanites. They had undermined Jacob’s stature as one who keeps covenant, the way of maintaining civility among herdsmen. In the context of Leviticus 5, the oath refers to a vow made to the Lord without due consideration of terms and consequences. The breaking of a pledge requires a sin offering since it was made at the Tent-Sanctuary.

Allen Ross: Finally, the text deals with an unfulfilled oath, possibly an oath made rashly (cf. Ps. 106:33 and Num. 20:1–13). Someone took an oath, but forgot to fulfill it, or chose to postpone it because it was unpleasant. But just as an impurity still had to be purified, an oath that was made also had to be fulfilled. Divine punishment could very well follow a false oath or an unfulfilled oath. So when such persons remembered the oath, they realized that they were guilty (ʾāšēm) and that they needed to fulfill their oath and make a purification offering.


“So it shall be when he becomes guilty in one of these,

that he shall confess that in which he has sinned.”

David Guzik: The proper confession of sin is a neglected practice among modern believers. There is a lack of serious recognition and confession of sin, both to God (1 John 1:9) and to others (James 5:16). We don’t need to confess to a priest, but for the sake of honesty, humility, accountability, and cleansing more confession of sin should be made “one to another” (as in James 5:16).

David Thompson: Now the word “confess” is the Hebrew word which means to point out or show one’s self as guilty. To confess is to object to yourself and to show yourself as guilty before God. Now what is interesting about this Hebrew word (yadah) is that also in the word is the idea of praise and celebration (Gesenius, pp. 332-333). So what I understand is that it is this confession, this honesty before God that will ultimately lead to praise and celebration. This particular verb in Hebrew is in the Hithpael stem, which means the action is the responsibility of the individual. In other words, the person, himself or herself, must confess his or her own sin.

Douglas Van Dorn: To confess (yadah) comes from a word meaning “to throw” or “to cast.” You are literally taking something inside of you (your guilt) and throwing it or casting it. You do this by taking the guilty conscience and recognizing it for what it is: guilt before God. You did something that violated his commandments. This acknowledgement is a recognition of guilt, a taking personal ownership in it. It is not a throwing of the guilt on to another person, which is what blame does. Rather, it is a throwing it upon God, not blaming God, but casting it upon him.

As the Psalmist says, “Cast your burden on the LORD” (Ps 55:22). Why? He says because “he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.” Peter says, “Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1Pe 5:7). This is the heart of confession.

Kenneth Mathews: Such is the mathematics of the kingdom of God. One’s economic or social position does not advantage or disadvantage a person in receiving God’s forgiveness (Acts 10:34). Every man and woman could receive forgiveness by bringing an offering in hand. The Lord accepted them because of their repentant heart and confession of sin. The same is true of the salvation that the Lord Jesus Christ extends to each person today. There is no excuse for those who do not experience the forgiving grace of God for salvation, since it is a free gift to us, purchased through the shed blood of Christ and offered to all persons who entrust themselves to the Lord. Jesus gave this assurance when he said, “whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37b). There is no one who is outside God’s loving desire that we come to him in repentance, receiving his gracious mercy.

Perry Yoder: First, as a prerequisite for performing the ritual, they must confess in what way they have sinned (v. 5). The confession of sin was not necessary in the case of unintentional sin (ch. 4), but in a case of neglecting to do the right thing, the supplicant must announce their negligence. This confession might also be considered an additional penalty.


A. (:6) Lamb or Goat Offering

“He shall also bring his guilt offering to the LORD for his sin which he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a goat as a sin offering. So the priest shall make atonement on his behalf for his sin.”

B. (:7-10) Bird Offering

“But if he cannot afford a lamb, then he shall bring to the LORD his guilt offering for that in which he has sinned, two turtledoves or two young pigeons, one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. 8 And he shall bring them to the priest, who shall offer first that which is for the sin offering and shall nip its head at the front of its neck, but he shall not sever it. 9 He shall also sprinkle some of the blood of the sin offering on the side of the altar, while the rest of the blood shall be drained out at the base of the altar: it is a sin offering. 10 The second he shall then prepare as a burnt offering according to the ordinance. So the priest shall make atonement on his behalf for his sin which he has committed, and it shall be forgiven him.”

Robert Vasholz: Like the burnt offering, accommodation is made for those who cannot afford to bring a lamb or a goat. Two turtledoves or pigeons, the first for a sin offering and the second for a burnt offering are required. The sin offering is offered before the burnt offering, a practice throughout the Old Testament. The sin offering prepared the way for all the other offerings offered on the altar by fire. Like the burnt offering, the priest killed the bird by wringing off its head (cf. Lev. 1:15).

C. (:11-13) Flour Offering

“But if his means are insufficient for two turtledoves or two young pigeons, then for his offering for that which he has sinned, he shall bring the tenth of an ephah of fine flour for a sin offering; he shall not put oil on it or place incense on it, for it is a sin offering. 12 And he shall bring it to the priest, and the priest shall take his handful of it as its memorial portion and offer it up in smoke on the altar, with the offerings of the LORD by fire: it is a sin offering. 13 So the priest shall make atonement for him concerning his sin which he has committed from one of these, and it shall be forgiven him; then the rest shall become the priest’s, like the grain offering.”

Peter Pett: So do we learn that God’s forgiveness comes equally to all, whether to priest, or whole congregation, or ruler, or commoner, or poor man or destitute. God’s forgiveness is offered to all equally. For in the end all these offerings obtained their efficacy from the one great offering offered once-for-all at Golgotha.