Leviticus 5 – The Trespass Offering and the Guilt Offering
A. Specific occasions requiring the trespass offering.
1. (1) Failing to be a truthful witness, or being a false witness.
‘If a person sins in hearing the utterance of an oath, and is a witness, whether he has seen or known of the matter—if he does not tell it, he bears guilt.
a. If a person sins in hearing the utterance of an oath, and is a witness, whether he has seen or known of the matter: It wasn’t enough to merely not tell lies. God also required His people to make the truth known, so even if one merely knew about a lie, they were responsible to make the truth known.
b. If he does not tell it, he bears guilt: Therefore, it was the duty of someone who was a witness to come forward and tell the truth about the matter. To fail in faithfully representing the truth was to bear guilt.
i. “In Israel all the people were to be involved in seeing that justice was done. Not to witness was a sin.” (Harris)
ii. “He shall suffer for his sinful silence; because he could, but would not, help the truth in necessity, but stand as if he were gagged by Satan.” (Trapp)
iii. We can say that the same principle applies to our witness of Jesus Christ. It isn’t enough that we refrain from actively denying Jesus or lying about our relationship with Him. We must also take every opportunity to tell the truth about Jesus.
2. (2-3) Ceremonial uncleanness.
‘Or if a person touches any unclean thing, whether it is the carcass of an unclean beast, or the carcass of unclean livestock, or the carcass of unclean creeping things, and he is unaware of it, he also shall be unclean and guilty. Or if he touches human uncleanness—whatever uncleanness with which a man may be defiled, and he is unaware of it—when he realizes it, then he shall be guilty.
a. If a person touches any unclean thing: The cleansing of the sin offering was also necessary when a person became ceremonially unclean through touching any unclean thing. This could happen accidentally or purposefully, but if a person touched any unclean thing, they had to be ceremonially cleansed. This was ceremonial guilt, not moral guilt.
b. Whether it is the carcass of an unclean beast…. Or if he touches human uncleanness: There were several things that might make a person ceremonially unclean. These included touching the carcass of an unclean animal or a person who was already ceremonially unclean. The sin offering was a remedy for this uncleanness.
i. “Either the dead body of a clean animal, or the living or dead carcass of any unclean creature. All such persons were to wash their clothes and themselves in clean water, and were considered as unclean till the evening, chap. 11:24-31. But if this had been neglected, they were obliged to bring a trespass-offering.” (Clarke)
c. When he realizes it, then he shall be guilty: In this context, the guilt did not begin when he realized it; he was guilty when he committed the sin. However, when he realizes it, then he was responsible for dealing with the sin as God commanded. We must deal with sin as we become aware of it, under the work of the Holy Spirit upon our heart and conscience.
3. (4) Swearing a false oath.
‘Or if a person swears, speaking thoughtlessly with his lips to do evil or to do good, whatever it is that a man may pronounce by an oath, and he is unaware of it—when he realizes it, then he shall be guilty in any of these matters.
a. If a person swears, speaking thoughtlessly: A careless promise was still a promise before the LORD and had to be observed. If the promise was not kept it had to be atoned for by a sin offering.
b. When he realizes it, then he shall be guilty: When we are aware of our broken vows, we must repent of them. It is common to make vows and promises in the Christian life that are not kept, and when we see this we must repent and trust in the atoning, covering blood of Jesus to bring forgiveness.
i. Think of these common examples of broken vows:
· To spend more time in prayer.
· To make more intercession for others.
· To do more devotional reading.
· To practice more intense Bible study.
· To be more of a personal witness.
· To be more faithful in tithing.
· To live as a better example to others.
· To have more patience with the children.
· To be pure in sexual matters.
ii. It may not be wrong to make such vows. They may be the legitimate, decisive expression of a move of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life. Yet if the vow is not kept, it must be confessed as sin and repented of.
B. The Trespass Offering.
1. (5) Preparation for the trespass offering.
‘And it shall be, when he is guilty in any of these matters, that he shall confess that he has sinned in that thing;
a. When he is guilty: This more has the sense of “when he realizes his guilt.” Though a person is guilty of sin the moment he commits the sin, he has no idea he needs to make atonement for the sin until he realizes his sin (5:3-4).
b. He shall confess: This was an important preparation for the trespass offering. To confess meant one would agree with God that the sin was wrong. If there was not confession of sin before the sacrifice, then the sacrifice would do no good. Confession of crossing God’s boundary is still an important principle for clearing away sin that hinders our fellowship with God.
i. “Confession is taking God’s side against ourselves. It is the act of judging evil in the light of the Throne. It is like the unpacking of a box, in which one begins with the lighter things at the top, and works steadily down to the heavy articles underneath.” (Meyer)
ii. According to Rooker, the Hebrew word translated confess is from the root word with the meaning “expose or reveal” and can be rendered “confess” or “praise.” “The connection between these two concepts is determined by whether the focus of the action is upon God or man. If man is the object, the idea of confession of sin is paramount; but if God is the object, the notion of praise is called for.”
iii. The proper confession of sin is a neglected practice among modern believers. There is a lack of serious recognition and confession of sin, both to God (1 John 1:9) and to others (James 5:16). We don’t need to confess to a priest, but for the sake of honesty, humility, accountability, and cleansing more confession of sin should be made “one to another” (as in James 5:16).
iv. Real, deep, genuine confession of sin has been a feature of every genuine awakening or revival in the past 250 years. But it isn’t anything new, as demonstrated by the revival in Ephesus recorded in Acts 19:17-20. It says, many who believed came confessing and telling their deeds. This was Christians getting right with God, and open confession was part of it.
2. (6-7) Presenting the trespass offering.
And he shall bring his trespass offering to the LORD for his sin which he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a kid of the goats as a sin offering. So the priest shall make atonement for him concerning his sin. ‘If he is not able to bring a lamb, then he shall bring to the LORD, for his trespass which he has committed, two turtledoves or two young pigeons: one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering.
a. His trespass offering to the LORD: A trespass is a particular kind of sin (for his sin which he has committed). Trespassing is the unlawful crossing of a boundary. God has certain boundaries for humanity in general and for His people specifically, and when they cross those boundaries it is a sin of trespass.
i. It’s important to remember that according to verse 5, this had to be preceded by confession of sin. “The necessity of confession indicated that forgiveness for the Israelite could not be attained simply by following the prescribed procedure given for a sacrifice. This would be tantamount to magic, which the Old Testament condemns.” (Rooker)
b. Two turtledoves or two young pigeons; one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering: The trespass offering of a poor Israelite shows how it was really two offerings in one. It was a sin offering, to make atonement for the sin of trespass. It was also a burnt offering, to express renewed, complete commitment to walking within God’s boundaries.
3. (8-10) The priest presents the trespass offering of the poor man.
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 completely. Then he shall sprinkle some 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 as a burnt offering according to the prescribed manner. So the priest shall make atonement on his behalf for his sin which he has committed, and it shall be forgiven him.
a. For the sin offering first: The offering for atonement always came first. Sin had to be dealt with before the burnt offering could be made (which was a picture of renewed commitment and consecration).
b. It shall be forgiven him: God assured the one who brought the trespass offering that sin would be forgiven if the sacrifice was made according to God’s prescribed manner.
4. (11-13) The priest presents the trespass offering of the poorest man.
‘But if he is not able to bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons, then he who sinned shall bring for his offering one-tenth of an ephah of fine flour as a sin offering. He shall put no oil on it, nor shall he put frankincense on it, for it is a sin offering. Then he shall bring it to the priest, and the priest shall take his handful of it as a memorial portion, and burn it on the altar according to the offerings made by fire to the LORD. It is a sin offering. The priest shall make atonement for him, for his sin that he has committed in any of these matters; and it shall be forgiven him. The rest shall be the priest’s as a grain offering.’”
a. If he is not able to bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons: Cleansing from trespass was available to everyone, even if they couldn’t offer a sheep or a goat, or even if they could not afford to bring birds as an offering. If a man was too poor to offer two birds, even fine flour could be offered as a sin offering.
i. The other side of this principle was also true. If a person could offer a greater sacrifice, it would be a sin to offer a lesser one. “If a man’s means sufficed for the appointed lamb or a goat, and he brought two turtle doves or pigeons, or a tenth part of an ephah of fine flour, such action would show that he had no adequate sense, either of his own sin, or of the Divine grace.” (Morgan)
b. He who sinned shall bring for his offering one-tenth of an ephah of fine flour as a sin offering: We see in this that it was not so much the substance of the sacrifice that was important, but the heart of the one who brought the offering. In some sacrifices, the shedding of blood was essential for the forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 9:22). But when it came to the walk of a humble, poor Israelite believer, God looked to the heart and not the nature of the sacrifice itself. It could be said of the one who properly brought a flour offering, it shall be forgiven him.
i. Put no oil on it, nor shall he put frankincense on it: In the grain offering of the poorest Israelite, they could not add oil or frankincense. “In the normal presentation of the grain offering these elements would accompany the sacrifice and would accentuate the joy of the occasion. Because in this exceptional case the grain offering was being substituted for the sin offering; those elements that would be associated with joy are omitted.” (Rooker)
ii. When we see how strongly the principle of atonement by sacrifice is emphasized in the Old Testament, many people wonder why the Jewish people today no longer make sacrifices. The most common answer is that they believe their good works will substitute for animal sacrifice.
iii. “Indeed, when the second temple fell, the rabbis, denied an altar in Jerusalem, came to the conclusion that gifts and prayers were as acceptable as animal sacrifice.” (Harris)
C. The Guilt Offering.
1. (14-16) The procedure for the guilt offering.
Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: “If a person commits a trespass, and sins unintentionally in regard to the holy things of the LORD, then he shall bring to the LORD as his trespass offering a ram without blemish from the flocks, with your valuation in shekels of silver according to the shekel of the sanctuary, as a trespass offering. And he shall make restitution for the harm that he has done in regard to the holy thing, and shall add one-fifth to it and give it to the priest. So the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the trespass offering, and it shall be forgiven him.
a. If a person commits a trespass: The guilt offering was essentially the same procedure used in the sin offering, except that the guilt offering was used when someone had sinned in regard to the holy things. This spoke of some type of desecration of the tabernacle or its associated items.
i. According to Peter-Contesse, the literal sense is more, if a person trespasses a trespass – that is, that the “noun and the verb have the same root. This is a rather emphatic addition.”
b. In regard to the holy things of the LORD: These included the firstfruits (Leviticus 2:14, 23:9-14), the firstborn (Leviticus 27:26-27), the tithe (Leviticus 27:30-33, Deuteronomy 14:22-29), and vowed offerings (Leviticus 27:1-25, Numbers 30:1-16). When an Israelite failed to fulfill these, they had to make this atonement. This was something of a “repayment offering.”
c. He shall make restitution for the harm that he has done in regard to the holy thing: When holy things had been desecrated in some way, a mere sin offering was not enough. Restitution was also required, paying back what was lost plus twenty percent (he shall add one-fifth to it).
i. “If one has been unfaithful in the holy things of Jehovah it is not enough that one should confess and bring a sin-offering. Restitution must be made for the wrong done; it must be put right. There was something due to God that was not rendered in its season, and things will not be right until it is rendered.” (Coates)
ii. With the guilt offering, the priest was allowed to keep the hide of a bull that was sacrificed (Leviticus 7:8).
2. (17-19) The necessity of the guilt offering even when a person did not know they had sinned in regard to the holy things.
“If a person sins, and commits any of these things which are forbidden to be done by the commandments of the LORD, though he does not know it, yet he is guilty and shall bear his iniquity. And he shall bring to the priest a ram without blemish from the flock, with your valuation, as a trespass offering. So the priest shall make atonement for him regarding his ignorance in which he erred and did not know it, and it shall be forgiven him. It is a trespass offering; he has certainly trespassed against the LORD.”
a. Though he does not know it, yet he is guilty and shall bear his iniquity: If someone desecrated the holy things of the tabernacle, “I didn’t know” was not an acceptable excuse. They had to still make a sacrifice to atone for their sin.
i. Sins of ignorance do differ from sins done with knowledge in the degree of guilt. Jesus said so in Luke 12:47-48: And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few.
ii. Yet, it is important and necessary to remember that one may be guilty of sin without feeling it or thinking it so. “If, again, the guilt of an action depended entirely upon a man’s knowledge, we should have no fixed standard at all by which to judge right and wrong: it would be variable according to the enlightenment of each man, and there would be no ultimate and infallible court of appeal…. The art of forgetting would be diligently studied, and ignorance would become an enviable inheritance.” (Spurgeon)
b. So the priest shall make atonement for him regarding his ignorance in which he erred and did not know it: Atonement had to be made, even for sins done in ignorance. It is no excuse; the one who sins in ignorance has still certainly trespassed against the LORD.
i. “Ignorance of the law of God is itself a breach of law, since we are bidden to know and remember it.” (Spurgeon)