Don’t forget the purpose for Leviticus is that God is taking this nation of former slaves He’s just liberated from Egypt and He’s imparting to them a new identity. Beginning from Mount Sinai and now continuing from the tabernacle God is specifically ordering Israel in such a way that they’d be separated for His purposes and distinct from the world around them. In this creation process the incredible attention to detail played a significant role.
Let me apply this idea by speaking personally… Have you ever felt like your life or say your children’s lives were dysfunctional and chaotic — that things weren’t functioning the way they needed to be — that life wasn’t operating as it should? I have, and if you’re like me, it’s so easy when confronted with this reality to get depressed by the totality of the problem.
Again, one of the many concepts God is illustrating in Leviticus is that order always manifests from an attention to the details. We find this to be the case in the original creation narrative of Genesis and we see this once more emerging in the Book of Leviticus. What this means is that instead of getting overwhelmed by the totality of the problem, place your energy and focus on the details knowing that order always ensues.
As Jessica and I have talked about this concept the application for our children has been so helpful. Our challenge over the last few months has been twofold: (1) getting two boys aged 7 and 4 to go to bed without the process descending into a meltdown, and (2) getting those same two boys off to school, on-time, without threatening to strip their lives of all human joy!
And this is where our study in Leviticus has been so beneficial. Instead of getting frustrated by the situation, feeling like parental failures, and exploring all the ways we could legally put them both up for adoption… Our focus on the details has helped create order.
Every night we working on a routine: family dinner, followed by baths and showers, brushing teeth, reading books with mom, having distinct bedtimes following a few innings of watching the Braves with Dad. In the morning to temper the madness we’re focusing on the details… When the boys get home from school backpacks and lunchboxes are placed in specific locations, before bed their clothes for the next day are laid out, shoes and socks placed on the stairs, etc. Details create order and order is the mortal enemy of chaos!
Friend, whether it’s raising children, your walk with the Lord, or simply trying to get your life and home operating in a more healthy way, never forget God teaches us a valuable lesson in Leviticus — order always flows out of an attention to the details! Don’t get overwhelmed and instead place your energy into doing the little things well.
Now the footnote… Concerning these details I had to very quickly establish a rule to help guide our study through Leviticus. Since copious amounts of commentary have been written aimed at elucidating the typological meaning behind all of the details we’ve been examining, I realized if I were to delve into all of the theories we’d find ourselves lost in the weeds and largely distracted from the main ideas God is seeking to articulate through this book.
While all of the details are interesting and important, my rule is simple. The only explanations I’m going to include in our study are the ones that seem obvious, are broadly agreed upon by trusted commentaries, and can easily be verified. That said… If you have any specific questions or want to hear a few additional theories, I’ve included my email at the bottom of c316.tv. Reach out at any point and I’ll be addressing these questions via video each week.
Over the last few weeks we’ve been looking at five sacrifices the people were instructed to come and offer before the Lord at the tabernacle of meeting. In chapter 1 we had the Burnt Offering. In chapter 2 the Grain Offering. In chapter 3 the Peace Offering. And in chapter 4 the Sin Offering. This morning let’s wrap up this section by looking at the Trespass Offering. As we’ve done before, let’s work through the text before adding our commentary at the end.
Leviticus 5:1-4, “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. (This first scenario is that you witness an accord between parties, the deal is violated, and you decide to remain silent allowing the injustice. In this God says you “bear guilt” in the matter.) 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 (these would be unclean animals that are also dead), 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 (“human uncleanness” will be defined in latter chapters), and he is unaware of it — when he realizes it, then he shall be guilty.
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 (this would apply to making a rash vow or promise there was no way you could ever really follow through on) — when he realizes it, then he shall be guilty in any of these matters.”
Leviticus 5:5-6, “And it shall be, when he is guilty in any of these matters (once you’ve realized your guilt the following is the way in which you’d make atonement), he shall confess that he has sinned in that thing (first you have to acknowledge to God you’ve erred); and he shall bring his trespass offering to the Lord for his sin which he has committed (you'd then have to bring the Asham or literally Guilt or Trespass Offering to the tabernacle of meeting), 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.”
In order to avoid a natural confusion that tends to arise with the Trespass Offering there are two things you need to keep in mind. First, the Trespass Offering was unique in that it incorporated the Sin Offering and in other instances the Burnt and Peace Offerings.
Secondly, there seems to be two different iterations of the Trespass Offerings: As we just saw there is a version of the Trespass Offering made when restitution was not applicable. In verse 14 we'll see a second form of the Trespass Offering specifically designed to include restitution when it was necessary — whether to the Lord or one’s neighbor.
Continuing in this first iteration where restitution was not relevant, God provides an alternative if you were poor… Leviticus 5:7, “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.”
The best explanation for why “two birds” could be offered as a Trespass Offering by doubling as both the Sin and Burnt Offerings was because the person was so poor. It’s also worth pointing out birds were not included in the protocols of the Sin Offering which tells us the Lord is demonstrating an incredible measure of grace within this particular concession.
Leviticus 5:8-10, “And he shall bring them (these two birds) 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 (bird) as a burnt offering according to the prescribed manner (the procedure for this was articulated by the Lord back in Leviticus 1:14-17). So the priest shall make atonement on his behalf for his sin which he has committed, and it shall be forgiven him.”
God now provides a final alternative if you were really poor… Leviticus 5:11-13, “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 (2 quarts). He shall put no oil on it, nor shall he put frankincense on it, for it is a sin offering. (Unlike the Peace Offering, an offering for a specific sin was not “a sweet aroma unto the Lord.”)
Then he (the offerer) shall bring it (the 2 quarts of fine flour) 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.’”
In Hebrews 9:22 we read that “according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission.” It’s likely the author of Hebrews had this unique concession within the Trespass Offering for the extremely impoverished to offer “fine flour” to “make atonement for his sin” in mind when he wrote this. It’s strange.
Some have attempted to use this allowance for atonement being made through a non-blood offering as evidence God could forgive sins apart from a blood sacrifice. The problem with this perspective is threefold… First, a one time concession under an extreme circumstance such as abject poverty doesn’t discount the consistent precedent established all throughout Scripture that atonement required blood. Good theology never derives from an exception.
Secondly, unlike the concession made for birds being offered, it’s clear that while the “offering of one-tenth of an ephah of fine flour” could be made for a Sin Offering it could not double as the Burnt Offering. The “atonement” found in the Burnt Offering was still lacking.
Lastly, from a much broader perspective concerning the totality of the sacrificial system, the fact still remains this non-blood sacrifice of “fine flour” could only be offered because of the umbrella blood sacrifice made for all sin on the Day of Atonement. Again, as we read in Hebrews, “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.”
Let’s transition to the version of the Trespass Offering that required an act of restitution be included… Leviticus 5:14-16, “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 (your trespass or treasonous act is committed against God), 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 (this would be the priestly estimation of the price of the ram being offered).
And he (offerer) shall make restitution for the harm that he has done in regard to the holy thing, and shall add one-fifth to it (20% of the ram’s value) and give it to the priest. (This word “restitution” is shalam meaning to make peace with.) So the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the trespass offering, and it shall be forgiven him.”
The purpose for the Trespass Offering is then repeated by the Lord… Leviticus 5:17-19, “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.”
If you are studying Leviticus on your own there seems to be a consensus among scholars that while God specified a way “unintentional sins” could be atoned for through a Sin Offering, such a concession was never made for sins committed intentionally. Aside from the fact such a belief overlooks the complexities of this word “unintentional,” the other problem with this position is the difficulty of then trying to explain the need for a Trespass Offering.
Though it is absolutely true there were a litany of sins no sacrifice could ever provide atonement for (crimes like adultery, murder, and rape were capitol offenses), I completely disagree with the notion there was no sacrifice for sins committed with intent.
Yes, it’s true that within the Trespass Offering the idea of sinning in ignorance was included. In verse 17 we read, “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 yet, don’t forget the entire section began with a scenario where a person intentionally failed to step forwarded when an oath was being violated!
In fact, let’s read on and you tell me if there was no sacrifice for deliberate sins… Leviticus 6:1-3, “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: ‘If a person sins and commits a trespass against the Lord by lying to his neighbor about what was delivered to him for safekeeping or about a pledge (this is one Hebrew word that spoke of a security deposit), or about a robbery (something taken from him by violence), or if he has extorted from his neighbor (literally he intentionally defrauds his neighbor), or if he has found what was lost and lies concerning it (you find something lost and fail to return it), and swears falsely — in any one of these things that a man may do in which he sins:
In the circumstance of a deliberate sin against one’s neighbor… Leviticus 6:4-7, “Then it shall be, because he has sinned and is guilty, that he shall restore what he has stolen, or the thing which he has extorted, or what was delivered to him for safekeeping, or the lost thing which he found, or all that about which he has sworn falsely. He shall restore its full value, add one-fifth more to it (20%), and give it to whomever it belongs, on the day of his trespass offering. (Before you come and make your offering.)
And he shall bring his trespass offering to the Lord (after making restitution), a ram without blemish from the flock, with your valuation, as a trespass offering, to the priest. So the priest shall make atonement for him before the Lord, and he shall be forgiven for any one of these things that he may have done in which he trespasses.”
Understand, while the Sin Offering presented a path for the atonement of sins committed because we are sinners by nature (not willful, deliberate, or malicious), there is an element of the Trespass Offering that clearly addresses sins committed intentionally. In a way you might consider these to be conscious sins. The person knew what was wrong and yet willingly chose to do it anyway. The person crossed a line they knew existed!
Sure, whether a sin was committed in ignorance or with intention, a sacrifice was required all the same. And yet, unlike the Sin Offering, the Trespass Offering was different because it required restitution be made in addition to a sacrifice before God! As we read if the sin was committed against the Lord, an additional 20% was to be given to the priest. If the sin was committed against one’s neighbor, restoration included an additional 20% be added before you could even come to the tabernacle to offer the Trespass Offering.
One detail that will help you understand what’s being addressed is how frequently the word “sin” is used. 21 times in the last two chapters we find this word — 8 times in connection with the Sin Offering and 13 times in regards to the Trespass Offering. In the Hebrew the word “sin” has a two-sided meaning. It means to miss the way and to incur a penalty.
The idea of sin implies more than just doing something that misses the mark of God’s righteous standard for human behavior. To sin was to also take upon oneself the necessary consequence for falling short. This is why in connection with the word “sin” we also have a ruling judgment… “He is guilty and shall bear (or carry the weight of) his iniquity!”
Here’s the point… While the Sin Offering was focused on creating a path for a person to repent of their sin and receive God’s forgiveness (the missing the way), the Trespass Offering was designed to remove the weight and guilt of a person’s sin (the penalty). To do this a sinner was required to make restitution as well as an atoning sacrifice.
Now because freedom from the weight of sin necessitates first and foremost the repentance of sin, it makes since the Trespass Offering was completely intertwined with the Sin Offering, which we noted last Sunday pointed the sinner back to the Burnt Offering — God’s sacrifice!
As we did last Sunday with the Sin Offering, let’s wrap things up with a few big ideas we can take away from the Trespass Offering… First, one of the foundational concepts established in the Trespass Offering is that a sin against your neighbor is a sin against God! Leviticus 6:2, “If a person sins and commits a trespass against the LORD by lying to his neighbor…”
Never forget the primary victim of your sin is your Creator! Your actions missed the mark of His standard for human behavior and ultimately your atonement would demand He incur the penalty for your sin as well. As such He takes your sin towards another very personally. It’s really not a surprise then that God always seems to land on the side of the victim.
Which leads to the second point… Don’t overlook the fact the Trespass Offering demanded you make restitution with the victim BEFORE you came to the tabernacle to make a sacrifice before the Lord. The law God is establishing is that failing to make things right with the person you’ve harmed will have a negative effect on your relationship with Him.
While it’s true if you are in Christ there is nothing that can tarnish your right-standing before God positionally, this law is still applicable. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is discussing the Kingdom of God when out of the blue the Trespass Offering gets an honorable mention.
In Matthew 5:23-24 Jesus says, “If you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you (basically you realize your brother is upset with you because you’ve done something to hurt him), leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
Don’t forget the entire purpose behind a sinner taking the steps to make restitution with the person they’ve wronged was to demonstrate genuine repentance. Meaning the reason a failure to seek restoration effects your relationship with God is that it reveals you haven’t repented. Friend, a failure to confess and repent of sin, as demonstrated by a failure to make restitution, will effect your relationship with God — not standing, but definitely experience.
Here’s an example every married couple understands… When you act like an ass to your spouse and are in the wrong but are unwilling to apologize or make things right, how’s your prayer life? If it carries into a Sunday morning, how’s your worship experience? Regardless of what I’m teaching it’s likely the only message you’re getting is stop being so stupid.
Again, failing to seek reconciliation in the end has a negative effect on your relationship with God. So before you come to make an offering to the Lord, go and make things right with the person you’ve harmed! “Well, Pastor Zach I’ve tried to make it right and they won’t accept my apology.” Isn’t it interesting the Trespass Offering doesn’t even care if your overtures to make restitution are received? God says, “Restore what was taken and add 20%. I’ve determined that’s fair.” You see the Trespass Offering required restitution not reconciliation. While the later needs the involvement of both parties, restitution can be a oneway street.
How this specifically applies to the beef between you and another is hard for me to say… Every situation is different. And yet, I can say restitution goes further than simply saying you’re sorry. It might begin with an apology manifesting from the confession of sin, but what it will take for restitution to occur is something you’ll need to pray about and ask the Lord to reveal to you. That being said… These things matter deeply to God! Do they matter to you?
Before we get to the final lesson we can draw from the Trespass Offering there is one big component to God’s structuring of the Nation of Israel we need to address. In Leviticus we’ve noted how God was specifically ordering the way He wanted their society to operate in direct contrast to the way the worldly system tainted by sin was structured. With this in mind, the underlying concept behind the Trespass Offering presented a radicle, new idea.
In the Bible Egypt was presented as a society filled with perpetual injustices and rampant inequalities. For example, out of a deep fear the minority population of Hebrews were gaining power and influence, the Egyptians enslaved an entire ethnic class with zero recourse. They brutalized the people of Israel forcing them into labor camps. It was terribly unjust and wrong!
In addition to the generational and systemic slavery, in the story of Joseph recorded for us in the final several chapters of Genesis, it was in Egypt that we have the first mention of a prison system. Joseph was falsely accused of a crime and without any trial or opportunity to defend himself he was incarcerated with no way to regain his freedom.
In light of the fact Israel has just spent 400 or so years in Egypt suffering under a broken system, what makes God’s ordering of the nation so fascinating is that we have no mention of a prison system at all! In fact, the entire way crime was to be handled within this new society ordered by God was not only revolutionary, but the first of its kind in the world.
You see at the heart of the Trespass Offering was the idea that restitution was the best way to provide justice for the victim, effectively rehabilitate the lawbreaker, and in the end deter continued criminality. As we already read, if you did something that wronged your neighbor, the Law required the guilty party take personal ownership of their crime and immediately engage in the necessary steps to make it right — restore in full with an added 20%. The idea of serving time in jail as an equitable consequence was totally rejected.
Not only does this concept explain why certain crimes resulted in death as there was no way the culprit could make restitution… Or why a failure to obey these laws resulted in the guilty party being kicked out of society… But even the Levitical allowance of slavery embodied something completely different. As we’ll see generational servitude or the enslaving of ethnic minorities was forbidden. Instead, slavery was a means by which a person with no money could make restitution for a crime through his labor. Once the debt was paid, he was freed.
While there are those who see Leviticus as antiquated and regressive, in America there is no question our penal system is terribly broken and justice far from fair or equitable. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, in 2016, 2.3 million people were incarcerated. One of the biggest indicators the system doesn’t work is that within five years of being released from prison the recidivism rate is 76.6%! Our approach fails to deter criminal behavior.
I wonder what our society would look like if instead of using “time served” as a mode of punishment we had a system where a criminal had to make restitution? Needless to say our society would save a ton of money and the recidivism rates would likely plummet.
In a round about way this leads me to the third big idea we can draw from the Trespass Offering… There is no question God cares deeply about the victim receiving justice! Aside from the fact requiring restitution forces the guilty party to fully understand the effects of their crime, the brilliance of this particular system is that its central pursuit is seeing the victim made whole again. This was so important God is abundantly clear He wouldn’t even entertain an offering made by the guilty party until the victim had been properly taken care of!
Not to beat a drum, but our legal system is a joke because we’ve separated criminal adjudication from civil litigation. Our courts fail to provide justice because they’re more interested in punishing the wrongdoer than seeing the one who’s been wronged restored. Sadly, a criminal serves time with no attempt ever made to insure the victim is made right.
Fourth, I can’t help but note through the examples the Lord uses throughout our text that God is keenly aware how sin manifests in our human condition! Within this passage it’s interesting that God mentions lying, stealing, bearing false witness, making promises we can’t keep, He even references the finders-keepers impulse. What’s amazing about this is that it tells us Jesus didn’t come to earth to save us from a theoretical view of sin — He knew what our sin really looked like! But there is another angle to this we must consider…
The Trespass Offering also confirms the fact God knows the way in which our sin weighs heavily upon us. You see God knows the results of guilt and the longterm ramifications of shame resulting from sin. God knows “bearing iniquity” has a brutal effect on the human soul — which is why He’s created a mechanism to set us free from the burden of such things.
In closing, the final idea we should take away from the Trespass Offering is that Jesus is willing to forgive even our intentional sins! On four separate occasions throughout this passage (Leviticus 5:10, 13, 16, 18) you’ll find the Lord saying, “It shall be forgiven him!” The burden of sin is heavy, but Jesus promises that if you’d come to Him, confess your sin, place your faith upon the sacrifice He offered for your atonement, you “shall be forgiven!” Amen!
Email Questions to Pastor Zach: ZacharyAdams@mac.com