ONGOING ACCESS TO A HOLY GOD FOR FELLOWSHIP AND WORSHIP PROMPTS REPARATION OFFERINGS WHERE ONE HAS DEFRAUDED GOD OR HIS NEIGHBOR
Allen Ross: Anyone who sinned by defrauding the LORD’s sacred property or holy name or by cheating his neighbor and swearing falsely about it had to make full restitution, pay an additional surcharge, and present a reparation offering to the priest to make atonement for forgiveness p 148 from the LORD, thus ensuring a clear conscience and continued fellowship in the covenant community.
Richard Hess: In contrast to the purification offering just described, the reparation offering addresses offenses that involve a financial payment on the part of the one who commits the deed. Whereas specific examples of the purification offering include matters related to one’s word and to cultic uncleanness (5:1–4), those of the guilt offering imply the misuse of temple property or a neighbor’s property. Because both cases require the offerer to make restitution in addition to a sacrifice, it seems more accurate to designate the guilt offering as a reparation offering. An early and non-Israelite example may occur in 1 Samuel 6, where the Philistines return Israel’s ark of the covenant but add additional gifts of gold in order to appease God.
Wenham: The reparation offering is prescribed for two main types of offenses, trespass against holy things and trespass against God’s holy name by uttering false oaths in court.
Kenneth Mathews: To defraud someone meant to take from a person his good name or property. By blaspheming the “holy things” of God (5:14–19) or by blaspheming the holy name of God through a false oath (6:1–7), a person stood guilty for depriving God of his sacredness. These crimes are called acts of sacrilege, which means disrespecting God and the holy things pertaining to the worship of God. An example of this today would be arsonists who burn a church building or thieves who rob and deface burial places. It was also possible to defame the Lord in another way—by defrauding another human being. When an Israelite cheated a fellow Israelite, the crime involved defrauding God by taking the Lord’s name in vain through a false oath. The way a person claimed his innocence was through swearing an oath in the name of the Lord. If we were to find a modern parallel, we might consider how people sometimes heatedly say, “I swear this is true!” Or in a formal court setting an oath to tell the truth is accompanied by swearing on the Bible. In effect a witness is saying that God will judge him if he fails to tell the truth. In ancient Israel when a cheater swore falsely, he made the name and reputation of the Lord worthless.
F. Duane Lindsey: The examples given in this section pertain to unintentional misappropriation of sacred property (5:14-16) and service (cf. 14:12, 24), suspected transgressions of divine commands (5:17-19), and the violation of others’ property rights (6:1-7; cf. 1:20-22; Num. 5:6-10).
I. (5:14-19) DEFRAUDING GOD –
INADVERTENT MISUSE OF THE LORD’S HOLY THINGS AND SUBSEQUENT CONFESSION
“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,”
Roy Gane: In 5:14–19, there are two subcases, the first regarding inadvertent misuse of which the sinner later becomes aware (vv. 14–16) and the second concerning inadvertent misuse of which he or she remains unaware (vv. 17–19).
A. (5:15-16) Unintentional Transgression with Subsequent Awareness
“If a person acts unfaithfully and sins unintentionally against the LORD’s holy things, then he shall bring his guilt offering to the LORD: a ram without defect from the flock, according to your valuation in silver by shekels, in terms of the shekel of the sanctuary, for a guilt offering. 16 And he shall make restitution for that which he has sinned against the holy thing, and shall add to it a fifth part of it, and give it to the priest. The priest shall then make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering, and it shall be forgiven him.”
Kenneth Mathews: First, the translation “breach of faith” (v. 15) accurately captures the meaning of the original language. “Breaking faith” then meant acting disloyally, betraying a trust.
Richard Hess: The use of a ram (ʾayil, GK 380) is something new to the sacrifices in Leviticus, and it is the only animal that can be offered for the reparation offering. But it occurs earlier with sacrifices that Abraham makes in his covenant to God (Ge 15:9) and is offered as a substitute for the sacrifice of Isaac (22:13). Rams are sacrificed in the ordination of the priests (Ex 29; Lev 9). While not as valuable as a bull, the ram still represents a major capital investment by its owner. . .
To stipulate this animal as the reparation offering for all offenders, regardless of their financial status, reflects the serious nature of the offense and its absolute criterion for what will satisfy the demand for justice.
Wenham: Quite what constituted an inadvertent sin against the Lord’s sacred property (holy things) is not specified. Eating holy food is one possibility (see Lev. 22:14). Perhaps failing to fulfil a dedicatory vow or to present the tithe would also have constituted an offense meriting a reparation offering. Notice that the penalty is in two parts: the man has to restore to the priesthood that of which they had been deprived by his mistake, plus 20 percent. He must also bring a ram to be slain at the altar. The worshipper had to compensate the man he had offended by giving him back what he lost, and had to acknowledge his guilt before God by bringing the sacrificial ram.
F. Duane Lindsey: This could refer to the improper use of sacrificial flesh eaten by worshipers after a fellowship offering; misuse of the “most holy” portions of the grain, sin, or guilt offerings which were reserved for the priests alone (2:3, 10; cf. 22:14-16); failure to present to God due gifts of sacrifices, tithes, first-fruit offerings, or things dedicated to God (cf. chap. 27); failure to fulfill dedicatory vows (Num. 6:11-12); or deprivation of service due to the Lord (cf. Lev. 14:24).
MacArthur: For sins against the Lord’s property, restitution was made to the priest (5:14-19), while restitution was made to the person who suffered loss in other instances (6:1-7).
B. (5:17-19) Unaware Transgression
“Now if a person sins and does any of the things which the LORD has commanded not to be done, though he was unaware, still he is guilty, and shall bear his punishment. 18 He is then to bring to the priest a ram without defect from the flock, according to your valuation, for a guilt offering. So the priest shall make atonement for him concerning his error in which he sinned unintentionally and did not know it, and it shall be forgiven him. 19 It is a guilt offering; he was certainly guilty before the LORD.”
Richard Hess: This section is central to the reparation offering. It falls between crimes against the religious order and crimes against other people. It summarizes the key elements of the reparation offering without adding much that is new.
Wenham: This then is an instance of a suspected trespass against sacred property, one of the most dreaded sins in antiquity. Someone suspects he has sinned, but does not know exactly how. In his uncertainty he fears the worst, and therefore a reparation offering must be brought, a ram or its equivalent (in money).
Roy Gane: The stative verb ʾšm (“experience liability,” v. 17) indicates that the unknowing individual has a kind of negative experience (suffering, pain, etc.) involving cognitive dissonance (pangs of conscience) associated with consequences of sin, suggesting that all is not well with the divine-human relationship. Beyond this vague prompting, the sinner is clueless. So how does the sinner know that the wrong is sacrilege, which requires the reparation offering? He doesn’t. Neither does he know that it is not sacrilege, which is the worst-case scenario. So to cover any contingency, he offers the sacrifice that would cover the worst possibility: the reparation offering. However, without even knowing for sure that sacrilege is involved, it is impossible to make prior reparation, so this requirement is waived.
R. K. Harrison: A more general class of unwitting offence consists of acts forbidden under covenantal legislation. Here provision is made for a person who may have committed an offence, but is not absolutely certain (‘though he does not know it’) about the matter. To cover all possible contingencies, a compensation offering without the added premium is required, and as in the preceding section this consists of an unblemished ram valued in terms of the monetary standard of verse 15.
Jacob Milgrom: Concern over unconscious sin permeates the Bible. Picture it: A person is experiencing psychological (and perhaps even physical) suffering whose cause he does not understand. Because he cannot attribute his suffering to any sin he knows he committed, he attributes it to an unwitting offense against God, confirming the psychological truth that one who does not know the exact cause of his suffering imagines the worst. This section speaks to the unwitting sinners who, without knowing what sin they have committed to cause such grief, believe they have affronted the Deity, committed sacrilege against the sanctums, and “incurred liability to YHWH” (v. 19*). The law of 5:17–19* responds to this psychological phenomenon by offering the suffering individual a way to repair the unknown wrong and, it is hoped, thereby ease his or her suffering. One of the most significant contributions of Israel’s expiatory sacrifices, therefore, is that all accidental sins are expiable by sacrifice. Intention does play a role in the divine judgment. This constitutes a major break with the theology of the ancient Near East and of old Israel.
II. (6:1-7) DEFRAUDING YOUR NEIGHBOR –
DELIBERATE MISUSE OF A NEIGHBOR’S PROPERTY AND SUBSEQUENT DECEPTION
“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,”
The key in this case is that before being apprehended and forced to acknowledge such a crime, the conscience informs the individual so that he recognizes his guilt and responds with reparation and sacrifice.
Kenneth Mathews: The first crime listed was “deceiving” a neighbor (v. 2). The word is used frequently to mean “to lie.” It indicates in our passage the “distorting” or “dissembling” the truth of a matter. Two specifics follow in the text: first, a neighbor had left an item with a person for a deposit or pledge, but the person refused to acknowledge it; second, a person robbed another by seizing his property. Exodus 22:7–13 instructs the Israelites in the matter of receiving a deposit of money or an animal for safekeeping. For example, if an animal was in a person’s custody, but it was stolen by a thief or injured by a wild animal, the person holding the property had to demonstrate his innocence, showing that he did not steal the animal for himself. In some cases there was a monetary restitution required if the holder of the property had acted neglectfully in the loss of the property.
Another crime was “oppressing” a person (v. 2), which has usually been understood as extortion. Extortion means to obtain something from someone through force or intimidation. This means of stealing was prevalent in suppressing the poor (e.g., Micah 2:2). Someone in a position of power can take advantage of another through threats, thereby gaining something dishonestly. Christian employers and supervisors must especially beware of using their power base for obtaining their ends through pressuring employees directly or subtly. Extortion of money, gifts, or inappropriate actions makes us guilty before God.
Another way to gain advantage over a person is through misleading him. This crime was the result of finding an item that had belonged to a neighbor. Instead of returning it, however, the offender kept the item and when asked about it lied about the discovery. Deuteronomy 22:1–4 legislates the correct procedure for the discovery and return of a lost animal. If the lost animal’s owner is known, it should be returned to him right away; but if he lives too far away, the animal should be kept until the owner comes inquiring for the animal.
Jacob Milgrom: As a general matter, expiation by sacrifice depends on three factors: the unintentionally of the sin, the remorse of the worshiper, and the reparation the worshiper brings to rectify the wrong. Intentional crimes cannot be remedied by sacrifice. This sacrifice, however, breaks the mold. If someone falsely denies under oath having defrauded his fellow—an intentional crime—and subsequently feels guilt, restores the embezzled property, and pays a twenty percent fine, he may then bring a reparation offering to expiate his false oath (5:20–26* [Eng. 6:1–7*]). Here we see the Priestly legists in action, bending the sacrificial rules in order to foster the growth of individual conscience. They permit sacrificial expiation for a deliberate crime against God (in this case, knowingly taking a false oath), provided the person repents without being apprehended. Thus they ordain that repentance converts an intentional sin into an unintentional one, thereby making it eligible for sacrificial expiation.
“When a person sins and acts unfaithfully against the LORD, and deceives his companion in regard to a deposit or a security entrusted to him, or through robbery, or if he has extorted from his companion, 3 or has found what was lost and lied about it and sworn falsely, so that he sins in regard to any one of the things a man may do;”
Wenham: The third situation where a reparation offering was required was quite different. It is again described as trespassing against the Lord (v. 21 [6:2]). The sin dealt with here is not merely stealing a neighbor’s goods, either by blatant robbery, extortion, or by failing to return property entrusted for safe-keeping (vv. 21–22 [6:2–3]), but when challenged about this swearing falsely (v. 22 ) that one is not guilty.
Perry Yoder: These offenses are against God because Israel was commanded to swear only by God’s name: “The LORD your God you shall fear; him you shall serve, and by his name alone you shall swear” (Deut 6:13 NRSV). To commit perjury in God’s name would be to take God’s name “in vain” (Exod 20:7 KJV); accordingly, the NIVtranslates: “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God.” Just as the larger unit begins with the subject of an oath (5:1), so it ends with oath taking.
Mark Rooker: What is distinctive in 6:1-7 is that now the act of unfaithfulness to God is committed through the deception of a neighbor in the matter of personal property (6:2-3). Demarest comments, “Sin against a neighbor is a sin against God.” The offense was compounded when it involved some sort of oath and the oath taker swore “falsely” (6:3) regarding another’s possessions. The guilty party has taken an oath affirming that he did not take the property in question (see Exod 22:11) and has not been honest. This offense thus violates the Third Commandment, where the same root, is also used in the phrase take the Lord’s name “in vain.”
“then it shall be, when he sins and becomes guilty, that he shall restore what he took by robbery, or what he got by extortion, or the deposit which was entrusted to him, or the lost thing which he found, 5 or anything about which he swore falsely; he shall make restitution for it in full, and add to it one-fifth more. He shall give it to the one to whom it belongs on the day he presents his guilt offering.”
“Then he shall bring to the priest his guilt offering to the LORD, a ram without defect from the flock, according to your valuation, for a guilt offering, 7 and the priest shall make atonement for him before the LORD; and he shall be forgiven for any one of the things which he may have done to incur guilt.”
R. K. Harrison: In each case the motivating factor was greed, coupled with the expectation that God would not notice the transgression. Such behaviour was inappropriate for the household of faith, because the nature of the covenant community was such that if one member suffered, all the others were affected by the situation (cf. 1 Cor. 12:26). Unfortunately many religious persons seem totally unaware that there are such concerns as ethics in social relationships, and therefore need to observe the New Testament’s teachings on topics such as honesty, truthfulness, honourable behaviour, purloining, exploitation and the like, as exemplified in Paul’s list of spiritual fruits (Gal. 5:22; cf. Rom. 12:17; Eph. 4:25, 32; Phil. 4:8; Titus 2:10, etc.).