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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Leviticus 5

 

 

Introduction

Three Revelations Made By God To Moses All Related To Guilt/Compensation Offerings (Leviticus 5:14 to Leviticus 6:7).

Three revelations are now made concerning the guilt offering and when it should be offered. Two of the three are introduced by the words, ‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying.’ They may have been given on two separate occasions. They were probably added here to connect with the previous reference to the Guilt Offering. In that instance no compensation was payable, although instead confession was required. In these examples the question of compensation raises its head.


Verses 1-4

The Guilt Or Trespass Offering - ’asam (Leviticus 5:1-11).

The essence of the Guilt Offering is that it appears to be in respect of fixed types of sins which make the person guilty in the eyes of others who may have suffered because of their failures, or guilty in the eyes of the sanctuary. In both cases recompense is usually needed. But it is not a case here of either a purification for sin offering or a guilt offering. This Guilt Offering is also a purification for sin offering, in one case also combined with a whole burnt offering.

This final offering in this whole section from Leviticus 4:1 to Leviticus 5:11 is with respect to very specific offences committed in ignorance; 1) failing to give witness in official courts under adjuration, 2) the touching of what is unclean because its uncleanness results from death, or because it is the uncleanness of Prayer of Manasseh 1:3) or the making of a rash oath by a man when not in possession of his full senses (and therefore presumably drunk) which he cannot keep. They are grave matters, but ameliorated in the last two cases by the doing of them in ignorance. Yet nevertheless they have brought impurity on Israel and must be publicly confessed and atoned for.

It should be noted that this is the first mention of public confession of sin, and the confession is clearly seen as an important part of the process of making the offering. These are sins that have directly affected others. They have thus made the perpetrators guilty, not only before God, but before each other.

The Sins For Which This Guilt Offering Is Required (Leviticus 5:1-4).

Leviticus 5:1

‘ And if any one sin, in that he hears the voice of adjuration, he being a witness, whether he has seen or known, if he does not utter it, then he shall bear his iniquity.’

The voice of adjuration here meant a witness being put under a charge by the courts as to whether they had heard or seen anything with regard to the case in hand, with the indication that they must speak the truth under pain of blasphemy. Here the person has not lied. They have simply failed to declare the truth. But in a position like this, silence is a sin. Once it is known, they will bear as their punishment whatever the courts decide (bear their iniquity), but they are also guilty before God and require atonement, and must make public confession. They have sinned against both man and God. This is in order to bring out the seriousness of the offence. In this case silence is not golden. It is an offence against God and His justice. Unless true men are willing to assist the courts and see justice done, justice will be continually perverted. See Proverbs 29:24.

Leviticus 5:2

‘Or if any one touch any unclean thing, whether it be the carcase of an unclean beast, or the carcase of unclean cattle, or the carcase of unclean creeping things, and it be hidden from him, and he be unclean, then he shall be guilty.’

In this case the person has unknowingly touched something that was dead, either the carcase of a wild animal, or of a domestic animal, or of a small creature. He or she had not realised it, possibly through carelessness, but they have been rendered unclean by it. Yet because they did not realise it or think about it they have not undergone ‘cleansing’, and may well even have approached the sanctuary, entering the court of the tabernacle, while unclean. Once they know of it they must confess it and seek purification and atonement. This could especially come about through picking up a bone without realising what it was, or something similar. Or it may have happened while out hunting or fighting and have been forgotten for a while. Later all contact with death is seen as unclean, but this is the early foundation teaching concerning this.

The avoidance of dead animals was a sensible precaution for they may have died of some disease, or have been infected by carrion. The only safe way was not to touch them but to leave them to the scavengers. ‘Unclean’ wild animals would include the camel, the coney, the hare, and the swine (Leviticus 11:2-3), ‘unclean’ domestic animals would include the horse and especially the ass (Leviticus 11:26-28). For unclean creeping things see Leviticus 11:29-31. Their dead carcases were not to be touched. The idea of clean and unclean animals went back as far as Noah (Genesis 7:2) where it was seemingly in regard to animals that could be offered as offerings to God. This law would later be expanded in some detail. By being made a religious ordinance that came between man and God it ensured that it was mainly observed.

For it was not only a sensible precaution, it was a command of Yahweh. The dead of these creatures must be left to Him. By coming in physical contact with the carcase of these unclean creatures and not taking action to obtain the appropriate cleansing they have sinned against God either through carelessness or ignorance. It is therefore necessary to seek forgiveness.

Leviticus 5:3

‘Or if he touch the uncleanness of man, whatever his uncleanness be wherewith he is unclean, and it be hidden from him; when he knows of it, then he shall be guilty.’

In this case the person has touched man’s uncleanness in one way or another. This could include among other things touching their grave, or a man’s waste left in the wilderness, or a menstruating woman. The first could occur where he learned afterwards that it was a grave, the second if he discovered it on his clothes or his skin on returning from the field or the wilderness, and the third could happen anywhere.

In both of these last two examples of ‘uncleanness’ in Leviticus 5:2-3 the point is that they have only discovered it too late to go through the process of ritual cleansing. Thus they have mixed freely with others and may even have gone to the tabernacle.

Leviticus 5:4

‘Or if any one swear rashly with his lips to do evil, or to do good, whatever it be that a man shall utter rashly with an oath, and it be hid from him; when he knows of it, then he shall be guilty in one of these things.’

“To do evil or to do good” is a phrase meaning ‘to do anything over a wide range of things’ looking from one extreme to the other, the two opposites signalling the bounds not the content. Clearly an oath to do evil would not be binding, even though the swearing of it would be a sin in itself. The swearing rashly and not knowing about it must suggest that the person was under the influence of alcohol. The point, of course, is that he has not fulfilled his vow because he has forgotten it, and then learns it from someone and finds that it is beyond him, or is something that he feels he cannot do. The purpose here is to bring out the seriousness of a vow. It cannot just be dismissed, even when made in a drunken state. It must be publicly confessed, and atoned for.


Verse 5-6

The Guilt Offering of An Animal (Leviticus 5:5-6).

Leviticus 5:5-6

‘And it shall be, when he shall be guilty in one of these things, that he shall confess that wherein he has sinned, and he shall bring his guilt offering to Yahweh for his sin which he has sinned, a female from the flock, a lamb or a goat, for a sin-offering, and the priest shall make atonement for him as concerning his sin.’

So if he is guilty as a result of any of these four things, he must first confess to the truth about the matter. It may be that the situation can be put right. And even if not any who have been offended or hurt by them should be informed. Then he must make his sin offering as a ‘trespass/guilt offering’ in accord with the usual practise. Here the guilt offering is also described as a purification for sin offering. But the point is that he is seen as guilty towards others as well as towards God.


Verses 7-10

The Alternative Guilt Offering of Birds (Leviticus 5:7-10).

Leviticus 5:7

‘And if his means suffice not for a lamb, then he shall bring his guilt offering for that in which he has sinned, two turtle-doves, or two young pigeons, to Yahweh, one for a sin-offering, and the other for a burnt-offering.’

For this type of offering there is the alternative, as with the burnt offering, of offering birds, two turtle-doves or two young pigeons ‘if his means suffice not for a lamb’. In this case one bird will be offered as a sin offering, and the other as a whole burnt offering in the way described in Leviticus 1. For once the sin has been forgiven as a result of the one shedding of blood a further sin offering is unnecessary. What is now required is the rededication offering.

There is an important lesson here on the need to accept forgiveness. Once we have brought our sin to God in line with His terms through the blood of Christ we must accept the forgiveness and not keep harping back to it, and not go over it again and again. Then we must dedicate ourselves to Him in total surrender.

Leviticus 5:8-10

‘And he shall bring them to the priest, who shall offer that which is for the sin-offering first, and wring off its head from its neck, but shall not divide it asunder: and he shall sprinkle of the blood of the sin-offering on the side of the altar; and the rest of the blood shall be drained out at the base of the altar: it is a sin-offering. And he shall offer the second for a burnt-offering, according to the ordinance; and the priest shall make atonement for him as concerning his sin which he has sinned, and he shall be forgiven.’

With the sin offering the priest wrings the bird’s neck. Whether he removes the head depends on whether we see ‘but he shall not divide it asunder’ as referring to the neck or the whole bird (compare Leviticus 1:17).

We are probably to see what now happens to the blood as being a general statement, taking into account that it is almost certainly the offering in Leviticus 5:6 that is in mind as well as the bird offering. The account is very much abbreviated. Nothing has been said there about the application of the blood, and the terminology is that usually for an animal offering. This suggestion must be so. The bird would not have sufficient blood to do what is described here (contrast Leviticus 1:15). The blood is applied to the side altar and the remainder drained out at the base of the altar.

This is a combination of what happens to a whole burnt offering and to a purification for sin offering. In the one the blood is sprinkled on the sides of the altar, in the other the remainder of the blood is flung at the base of the altar (to sanctify it and make atonement for it). This is because it is a purification for sin offering, but only for an individual sin. But it is unlike the purification for sin offering in that the horns of the altar are not daubed with the blood to purify the altar. The one sin is not as all pervasive as the many. The second bird is dealt with in accordance with ‘the ordinance’, that is in the same way as in the whole burnt offering (Leviticus 1:14-17).

“And the priest shall make atonement for him as concerning his sin which he has sinned, and he shall be forgiven.” Thus will the priest make atonement for the one who has sinned, and he will be forgiven. Note the repetition in ‘the sin which he has sinned’. Sin is no light matter.


Verses 11-13

The Second Alternative A Guilt Offering of Grain (Leviticus 5:11-13).

Leviticus 5:11

‘But if his means suffice not for two turtle-doves, or two young pigeons, then he shall bring his oblation for that in which he has sinned, the tenth part of an ephah of milled grain for a purification for sin-offering: he shall put no oil on it, neither shall he put any frankincense on it; for it is a purification for sin-offering.’

For the very poor another alternative is offered. Nothing must be allowed to prevent a purification for sin offering from being made. In this case the offering is of milled grain. At first sight this appears not to involve the shedding of blood. But note how carefully the writer says that it is to be offered ‘on the offerings of Yahweh made by fire’. For the very poor God graciously combines his offering with those of others.

No oil or frankincense is added to it. For this is not a positive expression of dedication, praise and thanksgiving, (and one who was so poor could not afford it). It is a purification for sin offering. Thus the bare grain is offered alone. Its full content is absorbed from the previous offerings made by fire. The person has given all that he can afford without embellishment and without pretence, and God does the rest.

Leviticus 5:12

‘And he shall bring it to the priest, and the priest shall take his handful of it as its memorial, and burn it on the altar, on the offerings of Yahweh made by fire: it is a purification for sin-offering.’

The priest takes from his offering the memorial portion as described in Leviticus 2, and he burns it on the altar on the offerings of Yahweh made by fire. Note the change in wording, ‘the offerings of Yahweh made by fire’. They were now Yahweh’s offerings and He has provided through them what was lacking in the poor man’s offering. Note that it is no more a grain offering but a purification for sin offering.

Leviticus 5:13

‘And the priest shall make atonement for him as touching his sin that he has sinned in any of these things, and he shall be forgiven: and the remnant shall be the priest's, as with the grain offering.’

Thus will the priest make atonement for him with regard to any of these sins that he has committed. He shall be forgiven as much as will the ruler with his he-goat. And what is left of the grain is the priest’s as with the grain offering. His holiness will absorb the holiness of the offering.

So do we learn that God’s forgiveness comes equally to all, whether to priest, or whole congregation, or ruler, or commoner, or poor man or destitute. God’s forgiveness is offered to all equally. For in the end all these offerings obtained their efficacy from the one great offering offered once-for-all at Golgotha.

(What is more, so is His bounty. When it comes to rewards, one man may finance a cathedral, the other give a cup of cold water, but both are treated the same. Indeed the cup of cold water may well count for more than the cathedral (Mark 12:43-44)).

We note as a postscript that once again the writer has provided his material about this guilt offering in a group of three. With this ends this session of Yahweh’s words to Moses.


Verses 14-19

Three Revelations Made By God To Moses All Related To Guilt/Compensation Offerings (Leviticus 5:14 to Leviticus 6:7).

Three revelations are now made concerning the guilt offering and when it should be offered. Two of the three are introduced by the words, ‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying.’ They may have been given on two separate occasions. They were probably added here to connect with the previous reference to the Guilt Offering. In that instance no compensation was payable, although instead confession was required. In these examples the question of compensation raises its head.

Guilt Offerings With Compensation For Sanctuary Offences (Leviticus 5:14-19).

Reference is made here to two types of offence against the sanctuary.

Leviticus 5:14

‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,’

This indicates a new revelation, rather than it being a continuation of what went before. It confirms that it is describing Yahweh’s requirements. It deals with offences against the Sanctuary.

Leviticus 5:15-16

‘If any one commit a breach of faith, and sin unwittingly, in the holy things of Yahweh, then he shall bring his guilt offering to Yahweh, a ram without blemish out of the flock, according to your estimation in silver by shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary, for a guilt offering, and he shall make restitution for that which he has done amiss in the holy thing, and shall add the fifth part to it, and give it to the priest; and the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering, and he shall be forgiven.’

The sins in question here are ‘unwitting’ sins with respect to the sanctuary, sins which might result from carelessness, or forgetfulness, or a false ‘shrewdness’, or pure lethargy. In some way the person has stepped out of line. It may be that they have failed to bring their offerings as due, or have brought lower level ones when they were well enough off to bring higher level ones, grain instead of birds, birds instead of a sheep. Or perhaps in some other way they have ‘profited’ from a failure to fulfil all their religious responsibilities according to the Law. But clearly the person’s conscience has now disturbed him, or he has been ‘found out’ and it is thus a question of making amends, paying restitution and offering the correct guilt offering.

The offering he must bring is a ram, a male sheep and thus of a higher level than the female sheep of the purification for sin offering. Here there are no alternatives offered. This may suggest that a poor man would not be expected to commit this breach of faith, which could suggest that being parsimonious is what is mainly in mind. There has been a failure to meet proper dues. Indeed, as well as it being without blemish, the value of the ram necessary is to be calculated by the priest according to how much loss the sanctuary is considered to have suffered. Then a further one fifth of that value has to be paid to the priest to compensate the priest for what in most cases he would have lost. After that the ram is to be offered as a guilt offering. We are given no details but it is probable that it is offered in a similar way as that described in Leviticus 5:6-9, or it may be as a purification for sin offering (Leviticus 7:7).

We have here an indication that when men have sinned against God in holy things by holding back from Him what is His due, the sacrifice has to be of sufficient value to cover the level of sin. We can therefore see clearly at what value God had assessed Jesus Christ Who was sufficient to meet the failures in this way of the whole world, and more, an incalculable amount.

Leviticus 5:17

‘And if any one sin, and do any of the things which Yahweh has commanded not to be done, though he knew it not, yet is he guilty, and shall bear his iniquity.’

This, due to its direct connection with Leviticus 5:15-16 would seem to refer to someone who has sinned against the Sanctuary in some other way than financial, otherwise it would be little different from Leviticus 4:27. They in one way or another consider that they have offended against holy things, they have done what Yahweh has commanded not to be done. Now their conscience has smitten them. This may well especially have in mind those with a tender conscience, who become concerned about small details, with the aim of enabling them to obtain peace of mind for their guilty conscience. But there would be others as well who had sinned in this way more certainly. Either way they accept their guilt and that they must be punished accordingly (must ‘bear their guilt’).

Leviticus 5:18-19

‘And he shall bring a ram without blemish out of the flock, according to your estimation, for a guilt offering, to the priest, and the priest shall make atonement for him concerning the thing wherein he erred unwittingly and knew it not, and he shall be forgiven. It is a guilt offering. He is certainly guilty before Yahweh.’

Again the offering is to be a ram without blemish, its required value to be estimated by Moses (‘your estimation’) according to the level of the failure. Its purpose is to remove the person’s guilt. Although the correct value ram has to be offered there is no extra compensation required. The sanctuary has not suffered financial loss. The priest will offer the ram as he would a purification for sin offering, and make atonement for the person in question, and he will be forgiven. It is a guilt offering.

“He is certainly guilty before Yahweh.” This comment may reflect that because this is a sin against the sanctuary there can be no question that he is guilty before Yahweh.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Leviticus 5:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/leviticus-5.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 12th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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