Attaining Holiness

Sin and Guilt Offerings - Part 1

This lesson reviews the requirements of the Sin Offering for the different types of people who present it.
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We've noted that the book of Leviticus provides instruction for training in holiness, specifically through the proper manner of offering sacrifices to God by an anointed priesthood.

The book itself is conveniently divided into two sections:

  1. Attaining Holiness
    1. Through various practices and people.
  2. Practicing Holiness
    1. By maintaining one's religious obligations.

The reason for all of this was that if Israel was to be the exclusive people belonging to a holy God, they themselves had to be holy. Leviticus was God's instruction in how to go about doing that. So far in our study we have looked at the first manner in which one attained holiness and that was through various types of sacrifice. There were five types described:

  1. Burnt offerings
  2. Grain offerings
  3. Peace Offerings
  4. Sin offerings
  5. Guilt offerings

We have looked at the first three types of sacrificial offerings, in this chapter we will begin to examine the sin offering and the requirements expected from the different people offering it.

I. Sin Offering – Leviticus 4:1-5:13

At this point (sin and guilt offerings) things tend to become repetitive or confusing because there seems to be several kinds of sacrifices for – all the same thing – sin! Here is a way to differentiate each sacrifice or offering and its relationship to sin:

  1. Peace Offering
    • Not mandatory
    • A request for God to look favorably on the weak and dependent worshipper. (i.e. Lord have mercy on us…)
  2. Burnt Offering
    • Not mandatory
    • A petition for the forgiveness and mercy in general (i.e. The Our Father prayer)
  3. Sin Offering
    • Mandatory
    • A petition for forgiveness of a particular sin (i.e. a particular lie)
  4. Guilt Offering
    • A petition for the forgiveness of a particular kind of sin (dishonest character, lustful heart, lazy, attitude)
1Then 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,
- Leviticus 4:1-2

God introduces the next category of offerings, the sin offering, to be required where a true sin has been committed and specifies in vs. 2 that this sacrifice is required even for unintentional sins:

  • Sin committed in ignorance.
  • Sins which were not premeditated.

Sin was breaking God's laws and commands, even if done without knowledge or done on the spur of the moment or as a result of provocation. However, the sin offering was not sufficient to forgive capitol offenses like blasphemy, murder, or adultery for which the penalty was death (Leviticus 20:10-12; Deuteronomy 22:22).

Once God establishes the need to deal with sin through sacrifice to atone for sin, He does not provide a list of the sins that require a sin offering (after all, breaking God's laws/disobeying His commands - each instance of these is sin and requires atonement and forgiveness).

A. Sin Offering for the Anointed Priest – Leviticus 4:3-12

This referred to the High Priest himself whose sin brought guilt and condemnation on the people he represented (vs. 3). The priest had to offer the most expensive offering, a bull without defect and he followed the procedure we have already looked at in studying the steps in preparing a burnt offering.

  1. He brought the animal to the entrance of the tabernacle.
  2. He laid his hands on the bull signifying the transfer of his sin to the animal.
  3. He killed the bull.
  4. He sprinkled the blood of the bull 7 times in front of the veil of the Holy of Holies; also put blood on the horns (corners) of the altar of incense; poured out the rest of the blood at the base of the altar of burnt offerings in the courtyard.
  5. He was then to burn the fat parts of the animal on the altar of Burnt Offerings.

Unlike other burnt offerings where edible parts of the animal were left on the altar of burnt offerings, for the priest's sin offering only the fat parts were burned on the altar – the hide, head, flesh, legs, entrails and refuse were all taken to a ceremonially "clean" place outside of the Tabernacle complex and burned to ashes. The idea here was that the priest would not profit in any way (i.e. keep the hide, eat the flesh) from the offering of the animal for his sin. The symbolization of the sin offering for the Holy Priest:

  1. Laying on of hands
    • Transferred sin
    • Identified with doomed animal as doomed sinner
  2. Death of the animal represented death of sinner whose sin is not forgiven.
  3. Sprinkling of blood was an appeal to God to accept the sacrifice for sin.
  4. Burning the animal outside the camp signified that the sin had been removed from the priest as well as the people.

B. Sin Offering for the Congregation – Leviticus 4:13-21

13'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; 14when 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.
- Leviticus 4:13-14

There would be times when the nation as a whole would disobey God's commands (idolatry) or fail to carry out their duties (neglect the Sabbath or worship). In cases like this God would raise up a prophet or leader to exhort the people and part of the repentance process would be to offer a sin offering on behalf of the nation. The leaders would bring a bull to the entrance of the Tabernacle and the same procedure would be followed as the sin offering for the priests.

C. Sin Offering for a Leader of the People – Leviticus 4:22-26

22'When a leader sins and unintentionally does any one of all the things which the Lord his God has commanded not to be done, and he becomes guilty, 23if his sin which he has committed is made known to him, he shall bring for his offering a goat, a male without defect.
- Leviticus 4:22-23

The value of the animal sacrifices correlated to the ability of the one offering the sacrifice to provide, as well as the impact of the sin on the nation. Individual leaders were important (male goat without defect), but their influence was not equal to the nation as a whole or the High Priest.

The offering of the animal was similar to the previous examples except for following:

  • No blood was taken inside the Holy Place.
  • Both the fat parts and the remaining parts were put on the altar of burnt offering – nothing was taken outside the camp.

This suggests that the priests could eat the parts of the animal placed on the altar of burnt offering.

D. Sin Offering for the Common People – Leviticus 4:27-35

27'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, 28if 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.

32'But if he brings a lamb as his offering for a sin offering, he shall bring it, a female without defect.
- Leviticus 4:27-28; 32

The common people (not priest or leader) who repented from sin had a choice of bringing a female goat or lamb without defect as a sin offering. This animal was less expensive than the bulls and goats required from priests and leaders. The offering followed the same procedure as the male goats where the entire animal was placed on the altar of burnt offering, this allowed the priests to eat part of the animal.

1'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. 2Or 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. 3Or 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. 4Or 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. 5So it shall be when he becomes guilty in one of these, that he shall confess that in which he has sinned. 6He 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.
- Leviticus 5:1-6

This section elaborates on the kinds of sins that required a sin offering. Three examples are given:

  1. Someone fails to act as a witness (speak up) when they know the truth of a matter, which is being judged and witnesses are sought. No matter how they acquire the information, if they refuse, neglect, or forget to come forward, they are guilty of sin.
  2. A person becomes "unclean" by touching something unclean (i.e. dead body, grave, etc.) and neglects or forgets to do what is necessary to become ceremonially clean again. The sin was not being unclean, the sin was neglecting to deal with the situation.
  3. Not fulfilling a vow because it was made in haste, or forgotten once made, or broken for whatever reason, would be guilty of sin. All three of these examples have the common feature of unintentional sin. Sin through neglect or forgetfulness, but not premeditated.
    • A person may not have been aware that his witness was necessary.
    • Or that he had become unclean somehow.
    • Perhaps he made a hasty promise which was as quickly forgotten.
      1. The person was still required to offer the appropriate sacrifice for atonement and forgiveness.
      2. A female lamb or goat was offered in the same manner as the offering of the common people (Leviticus 4:27-35).

E. Sin Offering for Poor People – Leviticus 5:7-10

Poor people commit sins similar to common or rich folks, but couldn't afford the required animal sacrifices, so they could offer less expensive creatures (turtledoves) which were a smaller species of doves whose name was derived from the sound made when calling out. Two birds or two pigeons were required, one partially sacrificed leaving a portion for the priest and the other totally burned up leaving nothing for the priest. In this way a sacrifice made with a larger animal was duplicated using two small birds. Each followed the order of sin offering made for common people.

F. Sin Offering for the Poorest People – Leviticus 5:11-13

Those too poor to obtain two turtledoves or pigeons, still had to make an offering for their sins. God permitted this group to offer "fine flour" made from barley grain – 1/10 of an ephah = 6lbs. of flour. No oil or frankincense was added since this was an offering for sin (not a grain offering for peace or thanksgiving). A handful was thrown on the altar with other sacrifices burning (called a memorial offering). The rest was kept by the priest for his use.

So the priest shall make atonement for him concerning his sin which he has committed from one of these, and it will be forgiven him; then the rest shall become the priest's, like the grain offering.'"
- Leviticus 5:13

Note that when done properly, the same result of atonement and forgiveness for the sinner were achieved. Whether it was a 1,000lb bull ox without blemish or a handful of baking flour – when offered by a repentant heart, according to God's command – atonement for sin was made and forgiveness for the sinner was the result.

II. Applications

We've reviewed the six different groups of people who would offer "sin offerings" said to be required as a petition to God for a particular sin. We noted that the type and manner of sin offering differed based on the category of the person offering the sacrifices – priest, leader, common, poor and poorest, were the five categories we looked at. In the end, Paul's statement in Romans 3:23 describes the situation quite clearly, "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."

This elaborate, complex, and cumbersome system was only a preview of what was to come – a way that would accomplish the same results (atonement and forgiveness) but accomplished it in a more dynamic way and for a greater number of desperate people, not just for a single nation. In the next chapter we will examine the fourth type of offering made for sin, the guilt offering.

As we close out this chapter, I'd like to make a few observations about the sin offering.

1. The "Sin Offering" was a new development in the religion of Israel – introduced in Exodus 29:14. 36; 30:10.

  • Prior to this, the burnt offering was used for sins (i.e. Job made burnt offerings in case his children may have sinned and cursed God in their hearts (Job 1:5).
  • The burnt offering was an ancient practice that was used for thanks (Cain and Abel) and other communication with God (Abraham – Genesis 22).

Now that God's laws were codified (10 Commandments and Book of the Law) and a formal place and method of worship given, a distinct and clearer instruction was needed, not only to determine what sin was – a distinct way was necessary for the people to deal with corporate and personal sin. God calls upon the people to be holy as He is and gives them the Law, which will reveal their sins, unholy practices and behavior. There needed to be a way for them to unburden themselves of the sure guilt and personal suffering this knowledge would bring. God provides the sin and guilt offering system as a temporary way to deal with sin (atonement and forgiveness via sacrificial system) until He brings about the final solution through Jesus Christ.

2. No Excuses; No Exceptions

When it came to sin there were no excuses, whether done knowingly, by mistake, through negligence or forgetfulness – when a sin occurred privately or nationally, it had to be atoned for and forgiven. The one who presented a sin offering did so by first acknowledging responsibility for the sin. (i.e. "Lord, I am guilty and I am sorry").

Note also that there were provisions for everyone in the sin/guilt offerings – from the king and nation to the High Priest, local leaders, common people, as well as the poor and poorest of citizens. As Paul said, "All have sinned…" and the sin and guilt offerings made provision so that all could make atonement and all could receive forgiveness and the blessings that come with forgiveness.

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