Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, July 23rd, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 5

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary




Commentators have found it difficult to draw a well-defined line between the chattath the sin offering and the asham the trespass offering; the latter is for sins of ignorance or inadvertence as well as the former. The only exception is the case of falsehood, fraud, and voluntary silence when justice calls for testimony. Even these, usually the offspring of fear or some other weakness, would be regarded by Archbishop Magee as sins of ignorance. Leviticus 4:2, note. Some discriminate the trespass offering from the sin offering by attaching reparation of injuries to the former, as the restoration of goods fraudulently gotten; but this can apply only to a few of the sins for which the trespass offering is designed. Gesenius frankly admits that “the precise point of distinction between the two kinds of faults or sins has hitherto been sought in vain.” See Leviticus 5:6, note. The asham is used for the offence as well as for its expiatory offering. It then signifies guiltiness, (Genesis 26:10;) sin, (Jeremiah 51:5; Proverbs 14:9;) and trespasses, (Psalms 68:21.) The Seventy have never translated asham by αμαρτια , sin, but generally by some such soft word as πλημμελεια , mistake, or αγνοια , ignorance. The Hebrew does not justify this exclusive rendering, as an examination of the above passages will show. The soul or life of the “Man of sorrows” was made an asham, a trespass offering. Isaiah 53:10.

Verse 1


1. Hear the voice of swearing This does not refer to profaning the Divine name, but to the case of a witness who hears the magistrate adjuring the people to utter the truth for the promotion of justice.

If he do not utter If he refuses to testify. This is not perjury, but a suppressio veri, a withholding of the truth, which in law is regarded as culpable as the suggestion of a falsehood. Since justice depends on evidence, concealment of evidence is indicative of a sympathy with injustice.

Bear his iniquity The right word is used; it is iniquity in-equity a crime against right, the primordial basis of human society, which would be subverted by the universal practice of keeping back evidence. The iniquity which he shall bear is that which he screens from punishment by his silence. He has made himself a partaker of the crime.

Verses 2-3


2. If a soul touch The soul is here put for the entire man.

Any unclean thing It is difficult for those who have not been ceremonially trained from infancy to group together things differing so widely as the moral turpitude just mentioned and the accidental and innocent contact with a dead mouse or snail, (Leviticus 11:23-43;) yet in the religious development and discipline of the Hebrews there was a perpetual commingling of offences, arbitrary, factitious, and temporal, with immutable and eternal moral principles. It is not for us to deny that this period of ceremonial pupilage was necessary. Things which would be unsuited to the Gospel dispensation, and even ridiculous in contrast with its spiritual sublimities, have their proper place in a law of temporal sanctions, chiefly or solely affecting the present life only.

Shall be unclean He was cut off for the time from certain religious and social privileges, and his citizenship in Israel was in abeyance. From these disadvantages, certain ritualistic acts alone could free him. These were not required in order to magnify the office of the priest, but to impress upon the people a sense of the personality and holiness of God, and of the reality of his covenant. In shadow they suggested the necessity of a spiritual cleansing from moral pollution.

Guilty The verb asham here expresses a different idea from the iniquity committed by the silent witness of wrong. It signifies primarily to be desert, to lie waste; hence, as applied to man, to fail in duty.

Verses 4-5


4. If a soul swear… to do evil This refers to an inconsiderate vow. In the light of subsequent knowledge it is found that the performance of the vow would be evil. In this dilemma he must refrain from that evil deed. Nevertheless his broken vow must be accounted a fault to be atoned for by a trespass offering.

Or to do good The good may have become impracticable by reason of circumstances hid from him when the vow was made, or because of neglect or procrastination till the opportunity has passed by. Keil extends the inadvertency in oaths to any thing affirmed with an oath without due reflection, and afterwards discovered to be a deviation from the truth.

5. He shall confess Confession is the natural expression of true penitence, breaking down pride and promoting the virtue of humility, an essential of true piety. For the traditional form of confession, see note on Leviticus 4:4.

Sinned in that thing The public acknowledgment of specific sins is much more difficult than the vague confession of sinfulness, easily made, because it does not isolate the sinner from a sinful race. While a general confession of sins is required, there are occasions demanding their individual and specific disclosure both to God and man. TRESPASS OFFERING THEREFOR, 6-13.

Verse 6

6. Trespass offering… sin offering These are here apparently used as equivalent or convertible terms. This constitutes the difficulty of discriminating between them confessed by Gesenius. He has scriptural grounds for viewing them as essentially identical in Leviticus 7:7, where it is said “as is the sin offering so is the trespass offering, there is one law for them.” Keil endeavours to maintain a difference by denying that asham, trespass offering, or rather guilt or debt offering, in this verse and the following, “means either guilt offering or debitum, (Knobel,) but culpa, guilt, or delictum, offence. But this meaning would not make good sense if substituted for trespass offering in this verse. Keil reads the next verse thus: “he shall bring as his guilt, that is, for the expiation of his guilt.” This is approved by Fairbairn, who resolves this double star into two distinct orbs by assuming that the asham, as an offering, is not spoken of till Leviticus 5:14, and then is limited to offences admitting of some sort of an estimation and recompense, and quotes Numbers 5:5-8 in proof. This view is now generally concurred in, also, by Hengstenberg, Keil, Bahr, Kurtz, and others. Professor Murphy’s distinction is this, in brief: in propitiation are two distinct things expiation, the payment of the penalty, and satisfaction, the performance of the righteousness due to the law. The sin offering typifies chiefly the expiation, and the trespass offering the obedience or satisfaction. Every moral offence is both a sin and a trespass, hence both offerings may be made for the same act. But, if this theory be correct, both offerings ought to be made for every sin, in order to its perfect propitiation.

Verse 7

7. Not able to bring a lamb For the adjustment of the Divine requirements to human ability, see Leviticus 1:14, note.

One for a sin offering This brings the sinner into reconciliation with God.

The other for a burnt offering This typifies the complete consecration of the reconciled sinner, soul, body, and spirit, unto Him who hath redeemed him with his precious blood. The sin sacrifice symbolically brings the penitent offerer into the state of justification, and the whole burnt sacrifice, in like manner, initiates him into entire sanctification.

Verse 8

8. The sin offering first This direction is important, as it determines the order of the sacrifices. See Introduction, (5.)

Verse 10

10. According to the manner See Leviticus 1:13-17.

Verse 11

11. Turtledoves… pigeons See chap. 1, notes, also Introduction, (4)

The tenth… ephah… flour The most impoverished person was supposed to be able to present three quarts of sifted wheat or barley flour for the disburdening of his conscience.

No oil… neither… frankincense The addition of these would make a mincha, or bread offering, Leviticus 2:2, a eucharistic sacrifice, which could be offered only by one in a state of acceptance with God. The sinner must secure pardon before he offers praise. Says Kurtz: “Oil and incense symbolized the Spirit of God and the prayers of the faithful; the meat offering, always good works; but these are then only good works and acceptable to God when they proceed from the soil of a heart truly sanctified. The sin offering, however, was pre-eminently the atonement offering; the idea of atonement came out so prominently that no room was left for others. The consecration of the person, and the presentation of his good works, to the Lord, had to be reserved for another stage in the sacrificial institute.” How strikingly this corroborates the Wesleyan doctrine of entire sanctification as a work distinct from justification. Jesus, the great Sin Offering, so fills the vision of the penitent sinner that there is no room for the consideration of his other office, by which he is made unto the believer “wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification.”

Verses 14-16

DEFECTS IN HOLY THINGS, Leviticus 5:14-19.

15. Commit a trespass This is the first time that the word מעל , to act treacherously, or to be faithless, is found in the Bible. By the use of a new term the sacred writer speaks of a peculiar kind of moral delinquency which flows from human infirmity, neglect, or cowardice.

Holy things of the Lord This relates to deficiencies in the tithes, firstfruits, sacrifices, vows, redemption of the firstborn, and other sources of revenue to the priests, which have occurred through forgetfulness or negligence. Those who had erroneous judgments or short memories in respect to their dues to the house of God a numerous class, which, unfortunately, did not become extinct with Judaism were to be enlightened and convicted of their delinquencies, and excited to make amends and seek forgiveness.

With thy estimation The person addressed is Moses, who here represents the priest. The “estimation” is the assessed amount of the deficiency, which, with a fifth added, and a perfect ram besides for a sin offering, was deemed a sufficient indemnity for the past and safeguard for the future. When we see the sin “in the holy things of the Lord” committed by careless or covetous Christians, we are inclined to wish that the Gospel were a system of precepts instead of principles precepts prescribing the exact payment of a certain proportion of income to the Lord’s treasury, instead of broad principles easily forgotten or misapplied. Yet the Gospel, the law of liberty, has its compensations in the many noble characters which this system of spiritual freedom develops, while the preceptory religion of the Hebrews sadly failed to eradicate that “covetousness which is idolatry.” Malachi 3:8-10.

Verse 17

17. If a soul sin… though he wist it not The case described in Leviticus 5:17-19 differs from the preceding in the fact that this sin of ignorance never comes to knowledge, while there is ground for suspecting that the sin may have been committed. In this case the person is not to give himself the benefit of the doubt, but he should make amends for the hypothetical delinquency. The example cited by the rabbins is that of a person who has grounds for suspecting that he has eaten suet, or fat of the inwards, intermingled with other food. His conscience can be relieved of the doubt only by bringing a ram as a trespass offering. Thus that principle is divinely established which is cogently argued by Bishop Butler, namely, that doubt in religious matters involves proof enough to incite to the performance of religious duties, and to criminate the doubter if he refuses. See Romans 14:23, note. CONCLUDING NOTE.

Opponents of that central doctrine of both the Levitical and Christian dispensations, the vicarious atonement, endeavour to invalidate it by an objection drawn from this chapter, namely, the prominence given to defilements not moral, but merely bodily and external, as contact with the carcass of an unclean beast. But an attentive examination will show that this prominence is seeming rather than real. These ceremonial impurities appear to be of the greatest importance, because they are minutely defined and broadly spread out before the reader. But it will be found that the mention of them is only supplementary, lest the people should suppose that such comparatively trifling offences against the law of purity were not included. This must be evident to him who reads the preceding chapter, where it is said in regard to the priest, the prince, the congregation, and the private individual, if they sin “against any of the commandments of God,” let the prescribed sin offering be made. Here it requires no minute definition of sin, since the decalogue had been written on the tables of stone, a visible expression of the older decalogue written on the tablets of the heart. It was impossible for the Hebrews to understand “the commandments of God” in any other sense than the moral precepts and prohibitions given on Mount Sinai. These were prominently before their minds, and for infractions of these chiefly was the blood of the victims to be shed. Again, when the symbolical nature of ceremonial institutions shall be correctly unfolded, there will be found a moral element deeply embodied in them, for the sake of which alone these shadowy rites were instituted, the uncleanness of a man prefiguring the filthiness of “the flesh and spirit,” and the dead body fore-showing the natural corruption of the unregenerate heart, styled by St. Paul, “the body of this death.”

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Leviticus 5". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/leviticus-5.html. 1874-1909.
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