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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 5

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

And if a soul sin, and hear the voice of swearing, and is a witness, whether he hath seen or known of it; if he do not utter it, then he shall bear his iniquity.

The section (1-13) is a continuation of the law regarding sin offerings in the case of a common Israelite, and specifies three examples of sin, arising from precipitation and neglect, which, though of a lighter character than those previously alluded to, required expiation in the person who committed them.

If a soul ... hear the voice of swearing - or rather, of adjuration [ qowl (H6963) 'aalaah (H423); Septuagint, fooneen horkismou]. The reference is either to one who, having heard another testify on oath to what was false, and neglected to give information of the perjury; or to one who had not gone before a court to give the evidence which he possessed. A proclamation was issued, calling any one who could give information to come before the court and bear testimony to the guilt of a criminal; and the manner in which witnesses were interrogated in the Jewish courts of justice was not by swearing them directly, but adjuring them by reading the words of an oath - "the voice of swearing." The offence, then, for the expiation of which this law provides, was that of a person who neglected or avoided the opportunity of lodging the information which it was in his power to communicate.

He shall bear his iniquity, [ wªnaasaa' (H5375) `ªwonow (H5771); Septuagint, lepsetai teen hamartian] - he shall bear the guilt and consequences of his sin. (See the note at Lev. 28:43 .)

Verse 2

Or if a soul touch any unclean thing, whether it be a carcase of an unclean beast, or a carcase of unclean cattle, or the carcase of unclean creeping things, and if it be hidden from him; he also shall be unclean, and guilty.

If a soul touch any unclean thing. A person who, unknown to himself at the time, came in contact with anything unclean, and either neglected the requisite ceremonies of purification, or engaged in the services of religion while under the taint of ceremonial defilement, might be afterward convinced that he had committed an offence.

Verse 3

Or if he touch the uncleanness of man, whatsoever uncleanness it be that a man shall be defiled withal, and it be hid from him; when he knoweth of it, then he shall be guilty.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 4

Or if a soul swear, pronouncing with his lips to do evil, or to do good, whatsoever it be that a man shall pronounce with an oath, and it be hid from him; when he knoweth of it, then he shall be guilty in one of these.

If a soul swear - a rash oath, without duly considering the nature and consequences of the oath, perhaps inconsiderately binding himself to do anything wrong, or neglecting to perform a vow to do something good. In all such cases a person might have transgressed one of the divine commandments unwittingly, and have been afterward brought to a sense of his delinquency.

Verse 5

And it shall be, when he shall be guilty in one of these things, that he shall confess that he hath sinned in that thing:

It shall be ... shall confess - make a voluntary acknowledgment of his sin from the impulse of his own conscience, and before it come to the knowledge of the world. A previous discovery might have subjected him to some degree of punishment from which his spontaneous confession released him; but still he was considered guilty of a sin, to expiate which he was obliged by the ceremonial law to go through certain observances.

Verses 6-14

And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the LORD for his sin which he hath sinned, a female from the flock, a lamb or a kid of the goats, for a sin offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for him concerning his sin.

He shall bring his trespass offering, [ 'et (H853) 'ashaamow (H817)]. The 'ashaam and the chaTaat' (see the notes at Leviticus 4:2-3), though distinguished in the prescriptions of the law (see the note at Leviticus 5:15), were sometimes used indiscriminately, just as, in English, transgressions of the divine law are called sometimes sins and sometimes debts. The material of the expiative ceremonial was the same in these specified examples as was formerly prescribed for the common Israelite (Leviticus 4:32), unless poverty prevented, and in that case less costly offerings were permitted: he might bring a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons-the one to be offered for a sin offering, the other for a burnt offering (see, for the reason of this alternative choice, the note at Leviticus 1:14); or if even that was beyond his ability, the law would be satisfied with the tenth part of an ephah of fine flour without oil or frankincense.

Verse 11. He shall put no oil upon it, neither shall he put any frankincense thereon; because it is a sin offering. 'Oil and incense symbolize the Spirit of God and the prayer of man. The meat offering in general is the symbol of good works. These, however, are good works, and acceptable to God, only when they proceed from the depths of a godly and sanctified heart, when they are produced and matured by the Holy Spirit, and when, furthermore, they are presented to God as His own work in man, and the latter acknowledges, with thanksgiving and praise, that the works are not the product of his own goodness, but of the grace of God. The sin offering, however, was characteristically an expiatory sacrifice. The idea of atonement was here so entirely predominant that no room for the other ideas remained' (Kurtz, 'Mosaisches Opfer').

Verse 12. And the priest shall take his handful - (see the notes at Leviticus 2:3; Leviticus 7:9, where, in the meat offerings, the priest received all except a handful.) Such was the sin offering-a sacrifice offered for the expiation of such transgressions as were not punished by the laws of the state, or which were known only to the conscience of the individual.

Sin offerings, indeed, were appointed in specific cases, which cannot be included in this category (see the notes at Leviticus 9:2; Leviticus 12:6; Leviticus 14:19); but in general they were designed for transgressions of the social law, on which no penal statute was declared (cf. Exodus 22:25), or a mistake in the observance of the ritual law (as when a person continued his labour so as unwittingly to encroach upon the sacred season of the Sabbath); in short, for transgressions of all the commandments of the Lord (cf. Numbers 15:22-24) which were committed undesignedly, through inadvertency, negligence, or precipitation. For these the sin offering was instituted as a means of atonement-the design being to produce, by the necessity of such sacred formalities, a sense of the evil of sin, in separating the offender from God, and the effect, or at least the tendency, being to impress upon the mind of the offerer the importance of greater circumspection and vigilance in future.

The sin offerings were prescribed for all classes who were conscious of sin to be expiated: and it is observable that the material, as well as the formalities prescribed, were graduated, not so much by the nature of the sin, as by the standing of the offending party; because the principle underlying the offering was, that the sin committed had severed the transgressor from theocratic communion with Yahweh. Accordingly, the commencement of the oblation was made in the forecourt of the sanctuary, and at the altar of burnt offering. The characteristic formality was, that instead of sprinkling the blood of the victim indiscriminately round about the altar (Leviticus 1:5), as in other offerings, it was done exclusively upon the horns of that altar-a significant act; as the horn was the symbol of regal power (Daniel 7:7-8; Daniel 8:3; Daniel 8:9), as well as of honour (Job 16:15; Psalms 89:17; Psalms 112:9), also of temporal prosperity (Psalms 92:10), and hence, of spiritual blessings (2 Samuel 22:3; Psalms 18:2; Luke 1:69).

This particular act was required because, unlike the burnt offering, which had regard to sin generally, the sin offering had to do with a definite offence. This was the common form of the sin offering; and hence, the mention of it occurs in specifying the cases of private individuals or rulers in Israel.

But when the party was a priest, in whom an offence or mistake was aggravated by his high and public position, a more expensive as well as a more solemn process of expiation was prescribed. No victim inferior to a bullock was allowable; and as the sanctuary, in which he discharged his sacred functions, had been desecrated by the fact of his delinquency, so, after the observance of the usual preliminaries, the blood of the sacrifice was carried within the sanctuary, and sprinkled upon the altar of incense, which was chosen not only from its relative superiority in importance to the other furniture, but because it actually embodied the full idea of 'the holy place.' Hence, the blood was besmeared on its horns; but that being insufficient, there was a sevenfold (the covenant number) sprinkling toward the separating veil, before the kaporet (H3727) (mercyseat) - i:e., before the Lord" (Leviticus 4:6).

The same course of observances was required in the offering for the whole congregation, in consequence of their priestly character. This graduated course of ritual atonement, independently of the ends of moral and religious discipline to which it was subservient, seems to have been based on the principle that acts which would not be thought by pagans as having any element of evil in them were sinful when done by the Israelites, who were in national covenant with Yahweh, and still more so in their priests, who were consecrated to His service, and officiated in His sanctuary; just as among us many things are done freely by men of the world which are considered improprieties in Christian people, and reprehensible offences in Christian ministers.

Verse 15

If a soul commit a trespass, and sin through ignorance, in the holy things of the LORD; then he shall bring for his trespass unto the LORD a ram without blemish out of the flocks, with thy estimation by shekels of silver, after the shekel of the sanctuary, for a trespass offering:

If a soul commit a trespass, [ tim`ol (H4603) ma`al (H4604)] - act covertly, faithlessly to the Lord respecting His worship or His servants.

And sin through ignorance, [ bishgaagaah (H7684)] - by mistake, inadvertently (see the note at Leviticus 4:2: cf. Numbers 15:30).

In the holy things of the Lord - i:e., things appropriated by law to the purposes of the sanctuary (Leviticus 22:2), such as the poll-tax, tithes, first-fruits, offerings of various sorts presented to God, or due to Him and the priests (Exodus 34:26; Deuteronomy 12:17-18; Deuteronomy 15:19).

A ram. This was the material appointed in every case of expiation for trespass (see the ceremony of offering the ram, described Leviticus 7:1).

With thy estimation - i:e., of Moses in the first instance, but afterward of the priest on duty (Leviticus 27:3; Leviticus 27:12). But what was he to estimate?-it might be the ram, which in value was to be at the rate fixed by the priest; but most probably it was the amount at which his trespass was estimated-the compensation money which he was to pay for the sacrilege he had committed, the ram being added as a sin offering.

By shekels of silver, after the shekel of the sanctuary, [ kecep (H3701) shªqaaliym (H8255)] - money of shekels, a known and definite weight of silver, which was used as current money among the Israelites - "the shekel of the sanctuary" (see the note at Exodus 30:13), in contradistinction from the common or king's shekel (2 Samuel 14:26). [Septuagint, timees arguriou sikowwn too sikloo toon gioon, the shekel of the holy ones.] This is a case of sacrilege committed ignorantly, either in not paying the full due of tithes, first-fruits, and similar tribute; in eating of meats which belonged to the priests alone; or in neglecting some portions of an appointed offering, or the performance of a vow; and as compensation for the fraud heedlessly committed, he was required, along with the restitution in money, the amount of which was to be determined by the priest, to offer a ram for a trespass offering as soon as he came to the knowledge of his involuntary fraud.

For a trespass offering, [ lª'aashaam (H817)]. The leading idea symbolized by the 'aashaam (H817) was not expiation, as in the sin offering, but compensation or restitution of a debt due to Yahweh as King of Israel. Not the (subjective) forgiveness, but the (objective) wrong done to God's possession here comes under consideration.

Verse 16

And he shall make amends for the harm that he hath done in the holy thing, and shall add the fifth part thereto, and give it unto the priest: and the priest shall make an atonement for him with the ram of the trespass offering, and it shall be forgiven him.

He shall make amends for the harm that he hath done in the holy thing. The trespass offering was conscience-money paid directly to God, who had been defrauded; but there was an additional payment of a fifth made to the sanctuary or the priest. A fifth was the proportion required to be added in the redemption of 'holy things' (Leviticus 27:13; Leviticus 27:15; Leviticus 27:19).

Verses 17-19

And if a soul sin, and commit any of these things which are forbidden to be done by the commandments of the LORD; though he wist it not, yet is he guilty, and shall bear his iniquity.

If a soul sin ... though he wist it not. This also refers to holy things, and it differs from the preceding in being one of the doubtful cases - i:e., where conscience suspects, though the understanding be in doubt, whether criminality or sin has been committed. The Jewish Rabbis give as an example the case of a person who, knowing that "the fat of the inward" is not to be eaten, religiously abstained from the use of it; but should a dish happen to have been at table, in which he had reason to suspect some portion of that meat was intermingled, and he had inadvertently partaken of that unlawful viand, he was bound to bring a ram as a trespass offering. These provisions were all designed to impress the conscience with the sense of responsibility to God, and keep alive on the hearts of the people a salutary fear of doing any secret wrong.

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Leviticus 5". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/leviticus-5.html. 1871-8.
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