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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 6

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

5. The trespass offering 5:14-6:7

The structure of Leviticus 4:1 to Leviticus 6:7 indicates that this offering has a close relationship to the sin offering. This offering removed the guilt of certain sins that involved trespassing against God. Trespassing means going beyond the limits of what is right. The Hebrew word ’asham, translated "guilt," also means "reparation." It may be helpful to think of this offering as a reparation or compensation offering since other sacrifices also deal with guilt.

"Guilt in the biblical sense is not just a feeling but a condition. There may be known transgressions that bring feelings of guilt, but there is also the condition of guilt before God, caused by sins known or unknown. Sometimes a hardened sinner has few feelings of guilt when he is the most guilty." [Note: Harris, p. 551.]

This chapter is divisible into two parts: the trespass offering for inadvertent sin (Leviticus 5:14-19), and the trespass offering for deliberate sin (Leviticus 6:1-7). There is a further distinction in Leviticus 5:14-19 between trespasses that someone committed with sure knowledge of his guilt (Leviticus 5:14-16) and those that someone committed with only suspected knowledge of his guilt (Leviticus 5:17-19).

"From all these cases it is perfectly evident, that the idea of satisfaction for a right, which had been violated but was about to be restored or recovered, lay at the foundation of the trespass offering, and the ritual also points to this." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 2:316.]

The identity of the "holy things" (Leviticus 5:15) is problematic. The phrase evidently refers to anything dedicated to God by the Israelites, including the tabernacle, its furnishings, the offerings, houses, lands, and tithes (cf. ch. 27). [Note: Jacob Milgrom, "The Compass of Biblical Sancta," Jewish Quarterly Review 65 (April 1975):216.] Violating these things would have involved eating holy food (cf. Leviticus 22:14), taking dedicated things, and perhaps failing to fulfill a dedicatory vow or failing to pay a tithe.

The situation described in Leviticus 5:17-19 evidently involved an instance of suspected trespass against sacred property. Someone suspected that he had sinned but did not know exactly how. [Note: Wenham, The Book . . ., p. 108.] This sacrifice pacified oversensitive Israelite consciences. Stealing sacred property was one of the most dreaded sins in antiquity. [Note: Jacob Milgrom, Cult and Conscience: The "Asham" and the Priestly Doctrine of Repentance, pp. 76-77.]

The third type of offense (Leviticus 6:1-7) involved not only stealing property but lying about it when confronted. The real offense was not only taking the property but trespassing against God’s holy name by swearing falsely about one’s innocence.

"It seems likely that atonement for deliberate sins was possible where there was evidence of true repentance, demonstrated by remorse (feeling guilty), full restitution (Lev 5:23 [4]), and confession of sin (cf. Numbers 5:6-8)." [Note: Wenham, The Book . . ., p. 109. Cf. Luke 19:8.]

The major distinctives of this offering were these.

1. It was not a soothing aroma offering.

2. The Israelites were to offer it when they had wronged someone-either God (Leviticus 5:15; Leviticus 5:17) or God and man (Leviticus 6:2). Every trespass against one’s neighbor involved a trespass against God, but not every trespass against God involved a trespass against one’s neighbor (cf. Psalms 51:1-4). Even though the offender may not have been aware of his trespass, he was still guilty. When he became aware of his sin or even suspected his guilt, he needed to bring this offering. This repentance reduced the guilt of the crime to that of an involuntary act. [Note: See Jacob Milgrom, "The Priestly Doctrine of Repentance," Revue Biblique 82 (April 1975):186-205.]

3. The offending Israelite had to pay restitution to the injured party in some cases (Leviticus 5:16; Leviticus 6:5). The guilty party had to restore whatever the victim of his sin had lost.

4. In addition to restitution the offender had to add 20 percent (Leviticus 5:16; Leviticus 6:5). This policy applied in the ancient Near East outside Israel in some cases (cf. Genesis 47:26). God considered the fifth part a debt the offender owed because of his offense, not a gift to the victim. The victim ended up better off in one sense than he was before the offense. Reparation is evidence of true repentance (cf. Matthew 3:8; Matthew 5:23-24; Luke 19:8-9).

There is much less description of the ritual involved in presenting this offering compared to the others (cf. Leviticus 7:1-7).

The only significant variations in this offering were that only a ram or a male lamb was acceptable (cf. Leviticus 5:14-19; Leviticus 14:12-20; Leviticus 19:21-22; Numbers 6:12). Evidently if a person could not bring a ram or a lamb he could substitute the value of the animal in silver. [Note: E. A. Speiser, Oriental and Biblical Studies, pp. 124-28; B. A. Levine, In the Presence of the Lord, pp. 124-28.] There were more options in most of the other sacrifices.

"The reparation offering thus demonstrates that there is another aspect of sin that is not covered by the other sacrifices. It is that of satisfaction or compensation. If the burnt offering brings reconciliation between God and man, the purification or sin offering brings purification, while the reparation offering brings satisfaction through paying for the sin.

"The sacrificial system therefore presents different models or analogies to describe the effects of sin and the way of remedying them. The burnt offering uses a personal picture: of man the guilty sinner who deserves to die for his sin and of the animal dying in his place. God accepts the animal as a ransom for man. The sin offering uses a medical model: sin makes the world so dirty that God can no longer dwell there. The blood of the animal disinfects the sanctuary in order that God may continue to be present with his people. The reparation offering presents a commercial picture of sin. Sin is a debt which man incurs against God. The debt is paid through the offered animal." [Note: Wenham, The Book . . ., p. 111.]

These various models help clarify why sin is so bad. Christians do not need to try to compensate God for our offenses against Him since He has accepted the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as full payment for our debt (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:19; Ephesians 2:1; Ephesians 2:4-5; Colossians 2:13). Nevertheless we have a responsibility to recompense others against whom we trespass (cf. Matthew 5:23-24; Matthew 6:12).

"Anyone who violates the covenant by defrauding the LORD or another person must confess the sin and make full restitution in order to find full forgiveness and restoration." [Note: Ross, p. 152.]

Verses 8-13

The law of the burnt offering for the priests 6:8-13

Each morning a priest would put on his robes, approach the altar of burnt offerings, and clean out the ashes. Correct clothing was essential so that it would cover his "flesh" (i.e., his private parts, Leviticus 6:10; cf. Exodus 20:26; Exodus 28:42-43). [Note: Wenham, The Book . . ., p. 119.] He would then change his clothes and put on ordinary garments, collect the ashes, and take them outside the camp to a clean place where he would leave them. He could not wear his official robes outside the courtyard, but he had to wear them whenever he approached the brazen altar. Obviously Moses did not record in Leviticus all the details involved in sacrificing.

The main point in this legislation was that the fire on the altar of burnt offerings was never to go out when the Israelites were encamped (Leviticus 6:9; Leviticus 6:12-13). This was fire that God Himself had kindled (Leviticus 9:24). Since the fire represented God’s presence, this perpetual burning taught the Israelites that the way of access to God by the burnt offering sacrifice was always ready and available. It also taught them the importance of maintaining close contact with God and of the continuing need for atonement to cover their ever-recurring sins. The New Testament teaches Christians to maintain the same awareness (1 Thessalonians 5:19; Hebrews 7:25).

"Although atonement for sin was provided in each of the blood offerings, atonement was not their basic purpose. Israel’s initial relationship with God as His redeemed people had been established through the Passover sacrifice on the night of their deliverance from Egypt. The offerings presented at the Tabernacle were the means of maintaining that relationship between the Israelites and their God." [Note: Schultz, p. 67.]

"Those who minister must take care in personal sanctification and spiritual service to ensure that people may always find access to the holy God." [Note: Ross, p. 161.]

Verses 8-38

6. Instructions for the priests concerning the offerings 6:8-7:38

"The five basic sacrifices are . . . introduced twice, each sacrifice being treated both in the main section addressed to the people [Leviticus 1:1 to Leviticus 6:7] and in the supplementary section addressed to the priests [Leviticus 6:8 to Leviticus 7:38]." [Note: Lindsey, p. 172.]

The main theme of this section is who may eat what parts of the offerings and where. Generally only the priests could eat the sacrifices, but the offerers could eat part of the peace offering. In this section frequency of offering determines the order of the material. The regular daily burnt and meal sacrifices come first, then the less frequent sin (purification) offering, then the occasional trespass (reparation) offering, and finally the optional peace (fellowship) offering.

"To lead the congregation in corporate worship is both a great privilege and an enormous responsibility. In the following passages something of the responsibility concerning the ritual is laid out for the priests." [Note: Ross, p. 155.]

"To bring a person closer to God is the highest service that one person can render another." [Note: J. S. Stewart, quoted by D. Tidball, Discovering Leviticus, p. 49.]

Verses 14-18

The law of the meal offering for the priests 6:14-18

God considered the meal, sin, and trespass offerings "most holy" (Leviticus 6:17; Leviticus 6:25; Leviticus 7:1; Leviticus 7:6). This means that they were sacrifices that only the priests could eat.

The "layman who touched these most holy things became holy through the contact, so that henceforth he had to guard against defilement in the same manner as the sanctified priests (Leviticus 21:1-8), though without sharing the priestly rights and prerogatives. This necessarily placed him in a position which would involve many inconveniences in connection with ordinary life." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 2:319.]

These instructions about the meal offering clarify the priests’ rights. They could eat this offering but only in a holy place, such as the tabernacle courtyard. The priests enjoyed special privileges, but they also had to observe high standards of behavior. This is also true of Christians (cf. Luke 12:48; James 3:1; 1 Peter 4:17).

Verses 19-23

The meal (cereal) offering of the priests 6:19-23

The priest was to offer a daily meal offering every morning and evening for himself and the other priests. This was just one small offering half of which he offered with the morning burnt offering and half with the evening burnt offering. Unlike other meal offerings, he burned it up completely on the altar; he was not to eat a sacrifice that he offered for himself. This sacrifice represented the constant worship of the priests as they served God day by day. This taught the Israelites that the priests were not just to serve God by serving His people, but they were also to worship Him themselves. It is easy to become so involved in serving and ministering to others that we stop worshipping God ourselves.

"Ministers must assure worshipers that God accepts sincere dedication-not only by how they receive the acts of dedication but also by how they themselves live dedicated lives." [Note: Ross, p. 165.]

Verses 24-30

The law of the sin (purification) offering for the priests 6:24-30

The priests slew the burnt, sin, and trespass offerings in the same place, before the altar of burnt offerings. Again the emphasis is on what the priests could and could not eat. They were not to confuse the holy and the common (profane; cf. Leviticus 6:18).

"People need to know that they have been forgiven and that they can enter God’s presence with confidence; they need the reality of forgiveness, not simply the hope of forgiveness. If worshipers come away from a worship service unsure of their standing with God, then something has gone terribly wrong." [Note: Ibid., p. 167.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Leviticus 6". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/leviticus-6.html. 2012.
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