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Monday, September 25th, 2023
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 5

Simeon's Horae HomileticaeHorae Homileticae

Verses 5-6


Leviticus 5:5-6. 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. 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.

IN the words before us, the terms “sin-offering.” and “trespass-offering” are used as signifying precisely the same thing: and in the 11th and 12th verses the trespass-offering is thrice mentioned as “a sin-offering.” But they are certainly two different kinds of offering; though learned men are by no means agreed respecting the precise marks of difference between them. Indeed, almost all who have undertaken to explain them, confess, that they are not satisfied with what others have written upon the subject. The difficulty seems to lie in this; that the sin-offering seems to have respect to a lighter species of sin, and yet to require the more solemn offering; whilst the trespass-offering relates to considerably heavier offences, and yet admits of an easier method of obtaining forgiveness: for in the trespass-offering, pigeons or turtle-doves might be offered, or, in case of extreme poverty, a measure (about five pints) of flour: but in the sin-offering no such abatement, no such commutation, was allowed. This leads many (contrary to the plain letter of the Scripture) to represent the sin-offering as relating to the lighter, and the trespass-offering to the heavier, transgressions. But we apprehend that sufficient stress has not been laid on some peculiarities respecting the trespass-offering, which give by far the most satisfactory solution to the difficulties that occur in it. As for those things which the sin-offering has in common with the burnt-offerings or peace-offerings, we forbear to touch upon them, they having been already noticed in our discourses on those subjects: nor shall we enter very fully into the trespass-offering, because that is reserved for a future occasion [Note: See Discourse on Leviticus 5:17-19.]. We shall contract our present discussion into as short limits as possible, by omitting all that would lead us over ground already trodden, and fixing our attention on those few points, which will mark the peculiar features of these offerings, together with their distinctive differences.

We will,


Compare them together—

They agree in many things, each requiring that the blood of an animal should be shed and sprinkled as an atonement for sin. But they also differ very materially,


In the occasions on which they were offered—

[The sin-offerings were evidently presented on account of something done amiss through ignorance or infirmity [Note: See the whole fourth chapter.]: but the trespass-offering was for sins committed through inadvertence or the power of temptation. Among these latter were sins of great enormity, such as violence, and fraud, and lying, and even perjury itself [Note:, 4 and chap. 6:2, 3.]. There must of course be very different degrees of criminality in these sins, according to the degree of information the person possessed, and the degree of conviction against which he acted. It might be that even in these things the person had sinned through ignorance only: but, whatever circumstances there might be to extenuate or to aggravate his crime, the trespass-offering was the appointed means whereby he was to obtain mercy and forgiveness.]


In the circumstances attending the offerings—

[In the sin-offering, there was particular respect to the rank and quality of the offender. If he were a priest, he must offer a bullock; which was also the appointed offering for the whole congregation: if he were a ruler or magistrate, he must offer a kid, a male; but if he were a common individual, a female kid or lamb would suffice. The blood of the victim, in the priest’s offering, was to be sprinkled before the veil, and to be put upon the horns of the altar of incense; whilst the blood of the ruler’s, or common person’s sacrifice, was not sprinkled at all, nor put on the horns of the golden altar, the altar of incense; but was put on the horns of the altar of burnt-offering only, (that is, the brasen altar,) and poured out at the bottom of that altar.

In the trespass-offering, no mention is made of a bullock for any one, but only of a female kid or lamb: even turtle-doves or young pigeons might be presented; or, in the event of a person not being able to afford them, he might offer about five pints of flour, which would be accepted in their stead [Note:, 7, 11.]. This is the excepted case which St. Paul refers to, when he says, “Almost all things are by the law purged with blood [Note: Hebrews 9:22.].” Now thus far it does appear, that the heavier sins were to be atoned for by the lighter sacrifices: and this is the source of all the difficulty that expositors find in the subject. But there were three things required in this offering, which had no place in the sin-offering, namely, confession of the crime, restitution of the property, and compensation for the injury. Suppose a person had “robbed God” by keeping back a part of his tithes, (whether intentionally or not,) as soon as it was discovered, he must present his offering, confess his fault, restore what he had unjustly taken, and add one-fifth more of its value [Note: Leviticus 6:5.], as a compensation for the injury he had done. The same process was to take place if by fraud or violence he had injured a man [Note: If the person injured could not be found, restitution was to be made to the priest, as God’s representative. Numbers 5:6-8.]. This gives a decided preponderance to the trespass-offering: and shews, that the means used for the expiation of different offences bore a just proportion to the quality of those offences.]

We shall now proceed to state,


What they were both designed to teach us—

The spiritual instruction to be derived from the sacrifices themselves, and the particular rites that accompanied them, we pass over, for the reasons before assigned. But there are some lessons of an appropriate nature which we may dwell upon to great advantage:—


Sin, however venial it may appear to us, is no light evil—

[There are many branches of moral duty which are regarded as of but little importance. Truth, though approved and applauded as a virtue, is almost universally violated in the way of trade, and that too without any shame or remorse. Who that has ever bought or sold a commodity of any kind, has not seen that character realized, “It is naught, it is naught, saith the buyer; but when he is gone his way, then he boasteth” of the good purchase he hath made [Note: Proverbs 20:14.] ? He must know little of the world, or of himself, who does not know, that “as a nail sticketh between the joints of the stones, so does lying between buying and selling [Note: Ecclus. 27:2.].” Nor is honesty deemed at all more sacred than truth. Persons who would not rob or steal, will yet run in debt, when they know that they have not the means of satisfying their creditors. They will also defraud the revenue by every device in their power; purchasing goods that have not paid the customs, avoiding stamps where they are positively enjoined, and withholding, where they think they can do it without detection, the taxes which by law they are bound to pay. Such is the morality of many, who yet would be very indignant to be called thieves and liars. But God has given them no such licence to dispense with his laws; nor do they applaud such conduct when they themselves are the victims of deceit and fraud. Let them know therefore, that however partial they may be in estimating their own character and conduct, God “will judge righteous judgment:” and that, if sins of ignorance and infirmity were not pardoned without an atonement, much less shall such flagrant sins as theirs. It is true, they may plead custom; but before they venture to rest upon that plea, let them be well assured that God will accept it.]


There may be much guilt attaching, where there is but little suspicion of it—

[It is supposed in the sin-offering, that priests, and rulers, and common individuals, and whole congregations, may have committed sins, without being aware that they have done so. And may not the same thing occur amongst us? Let ministers, the priests of God, look back; let them consider the nature of their office, the responsibility attaching to it, the multitudes who have been, and yet are, committed to their care; the consequences of a faithful or unfaithful discharge of their duty; let them then compare their lives and ministrations with the lives and ministry of Christ and his Apostles, or with the express injunctions of Holy Writ; will they find no sins which they have overlooked? Will they see no occasion for the atonement of Christ? Truly, if it were not for the hope of mercy which we have through his atoning blood, we should be of all men most miserable; so great is the guilt which the most diligent amongst us has contracted by his defective ministrations. Let rulers proceed to make similar inquiries respecting their diligence, their impartiality, their zeal: let them see whether they might not have promoted in many instances a more active co-operation for the suppression of evil, and for the propagation of true religion: will they see no cause for shame and sorrow, when they see how little they have done for God, and in what a degree they have borne the sword in vain? Let any private individual institute a similar inquiry into all the motives by which he has been actuated, the dispositions he has manifested, the tempers he has exercised, and the use he has made of his time, his property, his influence: will he find nothing to condemn? Lastly, let whole congregations or communities be made to examine the maxims embraced, the habits countenanced, and the conduct pursued among them: will there be no room for them to acknowledge a departure from the ways of God? Is society in such a state, that all which we see and hear will stand the test, if tried by the requisitions of God’s holy law?

Yet where are the consciences that are burthened with guilt? Where are the penitents applying to the blood of atonement? Are not the great mass of mankind, whether rulers or subjects, whether ministers or people, blessing themselves as having but little, if any, occasion to repent? Ah! well might David say, and happy would it be for us if it were the language also of our hearts, “Lord, who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from my secret faults [Note: Psalms 19:12. See also Psalms 139:23-24.] !” And let none think that his ignorance is any excuse for him before God: for our ignorance arises only from inconsideration: and God expressly warns us, that that plea shall avail us nothing [Note: Ecclesiastes 5:6.].]


The moment we see that we have sinned, we should seek for mercy in God’s appointed way—

[As soon as the fault or error was discovered under the law, the proper offering (whether sin, or trespass, offering) was to be brought: and, if the offender refused to bring his offering, his sin became presumptuous; and he subjected himself to the penalty of death [Note: Compare Numbers 15:27-31, with Hebrews 10:28.]. To infinitely sorer punishment shall we expose ourselves, if we neglect to seek for mercy through the atoning blood of Christ [Note: Hebrews 10:29.]. The declaration of God is this; “He that covereth his sins, shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy [Note: Proverbs 28:13.].”

But let us beware of one delusion which proves fatal to thousands: we are apt to content ourselves with general acknowledgments that we are sinners, instead of searching out our particular sins, and humbling ourselves for them. Doubtless it is right to bewail the whole state of our souls: but he who never has seen any individual evils to lament, will have but very faint conceptions of his general depravity. We should therefore “search and try our ways:” and not only say with Achan, “I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel,” but proceed with him to add, “Thus and thus have I done [Note: Joshua 7:20.].” This is the particular instruction given in our text: the person who had transgressed any law of God. whether ceremonial or moral, was, as soon as he discovered it, to “confess, that he had sinned in that particular thing.” O that we were more ready to humble ourselves thus! But we love not the work of self-examination: and the evils which we cannot altogether hide from ourselves, we endeavour to banish from our minds: and hence it is that so many of us are “hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.”]


We never can be truly penitent for sin, if we are not desirous also to repair it to the utmost of our power—

[Certain it is that no reparation for sin can ever be made to God. It is the precious blood of Christ, and that only, that can ever satisfy the offended Majesty of heaven. But injuries done to our fellow-creatures, may, and must, be requited. If we have defrauded any, whether individuals or the public, it is our bounden duty to make restitution to the full amount: and, if we cannot find the individuals injured, we should make it to God, in the persons of the poor. To pretend to repent of any sin, and yet hold fast the wages of our iniquity, is a solemn mockery: for the retaining of a thing which we have unjustly acquired, is, in fact, a continuation of the offence. Let us make the case our own, and ask, Whether, if a man had defrauded us, we should give him credit for real penitence, whilst he withheld from us what he had fraudulently obtained? We certainly should say, that his professions of repentance were mere hypocrisy: and therefore the same judgment we must pass on ourselves, if we do not to the utmost of our power repair every injury we have ever done. Look at Zaccheus, and see what were the fruits of penitence in him: “Lord, half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have wronged any man, I restore him four-fold [Note: Luke 19:8.].” See also the effect of godly sorrow in the Corinthian Church; “What indignation against themselves, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge, yea, what a determination to clear themselves” of the evil in every possible way [Note: 2 Corinthians 7:11.] ! Look to it, beloved, that the same proofs of sincerity be found in you. Yet do not presently conclude that all is right, because you have made restitution unto man: (this is a mistake by no means uncommon:) the guilt of your sin still remains upon your conscience, and must be washed away by the atoning blood of Christ: that is the only “fountain opened for sin and uncleanness,” nor, till you are washed in that, can you ever behold the face of God in peace.]

Verses 17-19


Leviticus 5:17-19. 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. And he shall bring a ram without blemish out of the flock, with thy estimation, for a trespass-offering unto the priest: and the priest shall make an atonement for him concerning his ignorance wherein he erred, and wist it not; and it shall be forgiven him. If is a trespass-offering: he hath certainly trespassed against the Lord.

THE ceremonial law was intended to lead men to Christ, and was calculated to do so in a variety of ways. It exhibited Christ in all his work and offices, and directed every sinner to look to him. Moreover, the multitude of its rites and ceremonies had a tendency to break the spirits of the Lord’s people, and to make them anxiously look for that period, when they should be liberated from a yoke which they were not able to bear, and render unto God a more liberal and spiritual service. It is in this latter view more especially that we are led to consider the trespass-offering, which was to be presented to God for the smallest error in the observation of any one ordinance, however ignorantly or unintentionally it might be committed. In order to elucidate the nature and intent of the trespass-offering, we shall,


Shew the evil of sins of ignorance, and the remedy prescribed for them—

It is often said that the intention constitutes the criminality of an action. But this principle is not true to the extent that is generally supposed.
It is certain that ignorance extenuates the guilt of an action—

[Our Lord himself virtually acknowledged this, when he declared that the opportunities of information which he had afforded the Jews, greatly enhanced the guilt of those who rejected him [Note: John 9:41; John 15:22.]. And he even, urged the ignorance of his murderers as a plea with his heavenly Father to forgive them; “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do [Note: Luke 23:34.].” St. Peter also palliated their crime upon the very same principles; “I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers [Note: Acts 3:17.].” And St. Paul speaks of himself as obtaining mercy because what he had done was done ignorantly and in unbelief [Note: 1 Timothy 1:13.]: whereas if he had done it, knowing whom he persecuted, he would most probably never have obtained mercy.]

But it is equally certain that ignorance cannot excuse us in the sight of God—

[A man is not held blameless when he violates the laws of the land because he did it unwittingly: he is obnoxious to a penalty, though from the consideration of his ignorance that penalty may be mitigated. Nor does any man consider ignorance as a sufficient plea for his servant’s faults, if that servant had the means of knowing his master’s will: he rather blames that servant for negligence and disrespect in not shewing greater solicitude to ascertain and perform his duty.
With respect to God, the passage before us shews in the strongest light, that even the slightest error, and that too in the observance of a mere arbitrary institution, however unintentionally committed, could not be deemed innocent: on the contrary, it is said, “He shall bring his offering; he hath certainly trespassed against the Lord.” Much more therefore must every violation of the moral law be attended with guilt, because there is an inherent malignity in every transgression of the moral law; and because man’s ignorance of his duty, as well as his aversion to duty, is a fruit and consequence of the first transgression. Hence is there an eternal curse denounced against every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them [Note: Galatians 3:10.].

It is yet further evident that ignorance is no excuse before God, because St. Paul calls himself a blasphemer, and injurious, and a persecutor, yea, the very chief of sinners, for persecuting the Church, notwithstanding he thought he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus [Note: Act 26:9 with 1 Timothy 1:15.]. And God declares that men perish for lack of knowledge [Note: Hosea 4:6.], and that, because they are of no understanding, he will therefore shew them no favour [Note: Isaiah 27:11.].]

The only remedy for sins, how light soever they may appear to us, is the atonement of Christ—
[The high-priest was appointed particularly to offer for the errors of the people [Note: Heb 9:7 with Ezekiel 45:19-20.]. And as soon as ever an error, or unintentional transgression, was discovered, the person guilty of it was to bring his offering [Note: The offering was to be of proper value according to the priest’s “estimation.” Leviticus 27:2-8.], and to seek for mercy through the blood of atonement. There was indeed a distinction in the offerings which different persons were to bring; which distinction was intended to shew that the degrees of criminality attaching to the errors of different people, varied in proportion as the offenders enjoyed the means of information.

If a priest erred, he must bring a bullock for an offering [Note: Leviticus 4:3.] ; if a ruler erred, he must offer a male kid [Note: Leviticus 4:22-23.] ; if one of the

common people erred, he must bring a female kid, or a female lamb [Note: Leviticus 4:27-28; Leviticus 4:32.], or, if he could not afford that, he might bring two young pigeons. And, to mark yet further the superior criminality of the priest, his offering was to be wholly burnt, and its blood was to be sprinkled seven times before the veil of the sanctuary, and to be put upon the horns of the altar of incense; whereas the offerings of the others were to be only in part consumed by fire; and their blood was not to be sprinkled at all before the veil, and to be put only on the horns of the altar of burnt-offering [Note: Leviticus 4:6-7; Lev 4:12 comp. with Leviticus 4:25-26; Leviticus 4:30-31.]. Further still, if a person were so poor as not to be able to afford two young pigeons, he might be supposed to have still less opportunities of information, and was therefore permitted to bring only an ephah of fine flour; part of which, however, was to be burnt upon the altar, to shew the offerer what a destruction he himself had merited [Note: 2.]. And this is the excepted case to which the Apostle alludes, when he says, with his wonted accuracy, that “almost all things are by the law purged with blood [Note: Hebrews 9:22.].”

But, under the Gospel, there is no distinction whatever to be made. We must now say, without any single exception, that “without shedding of blood there is no remission.” We need Christ as much to bear the iniquity of our holy things, as to purge our foulest transgressions [Note: Exodus 28:38.]: there is no other fountain opened for sin [Note: Zechariah 13:1.], no other way to the Father [Note: John 14:6.], no other door of hope [Note: John 10:9.], no other name whereby we can be saved [Note: Acts 4:12.]. Christ is “the Ram [Note: See the text.],” “caught in the thicket [Note: Alluding to Genesis 22:13.],” if we may so speak, who must be our substitute and surety, whether our guilt be extenuated by ignorance, or aggravated by presumption.]

This point being clear, we proceed to,


Suggest such reflections as naturally arise from the subject—

A more instructive subject than this cannot easily be proposed to us. It leads us naturally to observe,


What a tremendous load of guilt is there on the soul of every man!

[Let but the sins, which we can remember, be reckoned up, and they will be more than the hairs of our head. Let these be added, which we observed at the time, but have now forgotten, and oh, how awfully will their numbers be increased! But let all the trespasses, which we have committed through

ignorance, be put to the account; all the smallest deviations and defects which the penetrating eye of God has seen, (all of which he has noted in the book of his remembrance,) and surely we shall feel the force of that question that was put to Job, “Is not thy wickedness great? are not thine iniquities infinite [Note: Job 22:5.] ?” If we bring every thing to the touchstone of God’s law, we shall see, that “there is not a just man upon earth who liveth and sinneth not [Note: Ecclesiastes 7:20.] ;” and that “in many things we all offend [Note: James 3:2; Proverbs 24:16.] ;” so that there is but too much reason for every one of us to exclaim with the Psalmist, “Who can understand his errors? O cleanse thou me from my secret faults [Note: Psalms 19:12.] !” Let none of us then extenuate our guilt, or think it sufficient to say, “It was an error [Note: Ecclesiastes 5:6.]:” but let us rather humble ourselves as altogether filthy and abominable [Note: Psalms 14:3.], as a mass of corruption [Note: Romans 7:18; Isaiah 1:5-6.], a living body of sin [Note: Romans 7:14; Romans 7:24.].]


How awful must be the state of those who live in presumptuous sins!

[The evil of sins committed ignorantly, and without design, is so great, that it cannot be expiated but by the blood of atonement: what then shall we say of presumptuous sins? how heinous must they be! Let us attend to the voice of God, who has himself compared the guilt contracted by unintentional, and by presumptuous sin; and who declares that, though provision was made under the law for the forgiveness of the former, there was no remedy whatever for the latter: the offender was to be put to death, and to be consigned over to endless perdition [Note: Numbers 15:27-31.]. Let none then think it a light matter to violate the dictates of conscience, and the commands of God; for, in so doing, they pour contempt upon God’s law, yea, and upon God himself also [Note: Numbers 15:27-31.]: and the time is quickly coming, when God shall repay them to their face [Note: Deuteronomy 7:10; Ecclesiastes 11:9.] ; and shall beat them, not like the ignorant offender, with few stripes, but, as the wilful delinquent, with many stripes [Note: Luke 12:48.]. Let this consideration make us cry to God in those words of the Psalmist, “Keep thy servant from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me; so shall I be undefiled and innocent from the great offence [Note: Psalms 19:13.].”]


How desperate is the condition of those who make light of Christ’s atonement!

[Under the law, there was no remission even of the smallest error, but through the blood of atonement. Nor can any sin whatever be pardoned, under the gospel dispensation, but through the sacrifice of Christ Yet, when we speak of Christ as the only remedy for sin, and urge the necessity of believing in him for justification, many are ready to object, ‘Why does he insist so much on justification by faith?’ But the answer is plain: ‘You are sinners before God; and your one great concern should be to know how your sins may be forgiven: now God has provided a way, and only one way, of forgiveness; and that is, through the atonement of Christ: therefore we set forth Christ as the one remedy for sin; and exhort you continually to believe in him.’ Consider then, I pray you, what the true scope of such objections is: it is to rob Christ of his glory, and your own souls of salvation. Remember this, and be thankful, that the atonement is so much insisted on, so continually set before you. Pour not contempt upon it: for, if “they who despised Moses’ law died without mercy,” “of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing [Note: Hebrews 10:28-29.] ?” Yes, to such wilful transgressors, “there remaineth no more sacrifice for sin, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment, and fiery indignation to consume them [Note: Hebrews 10:26-27.].”]


How wonderful must be the efficacy of the blood of Christ!

[Let only one man’s sins be set forth, and they will be found numberless as the sands upon the sea-shore: yet the blood of Christ can cleanse, not him only, but a whole world of sinners, yea, all who have ever existed these six thousand years, or shall ever exist to the very end of time: moreover, his one offering can cleanse them, not merely from sins of ignorance, but even from presumptuous sins, for which no remedy whatever was appointed by the law of Moses [Note: Acts 13:39.]. What a view does this give us of the death of Christ! O that we could realize it in our minds, just as the offender under the law realized the substitution of the animal which he presented to the priest to be offered in his stead! Then should we have a just apprehension of his dignity, and a becoming sense of his love. Let us then carry to him our crimson sins [Note: Isaiah 1:18.], not doubting but that they shall all be purged away [Note: 1 John 1:7.] ; and we may rest assured that, in a little time, we shall join the heavenly choir in singing, “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, be glory and dominion for ever and ever [Note: Revelation 1:5-6.].”]

Bibliographical Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Leviticus 5". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/shh/leviticus-5.html. 1832.
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