Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Leviticus 4:1-35


When the Lord introduces the "sin offering" to Moses, there are a couple noticeable variances. First, we are introduced to the difference between intentional and unintentional sin. Also, we see that the payment must be different, depending on the person committing the sin. But as we investigate the chapter closely, we also see that all sin has great similarity.


v 1
The text makes the transition clear here, by reminding us that the Lord is speaking directly to Moses.

v 2
Moses is reminded that the information is not just for him, but is to be taught to all the sons of Israel. He next introduces the sin offering for "unintentional sins" (literally, mistaken). This verse serves as an introduction to the entire portion, as He first states "if any person" and will proceed to discuss specific people.

v 3
There is some debate as to the "anointed priest." Some suggest this is a reference to the High Priest, while others would say it is just a priest who has been anointed for service. However, the fact that guilt is brought onto all the people, it seems most likely that the anointed priest would be the High Priest. This also seems likely, since a bull would be the most expensive of all possible sacrifices.

v 4-10
The procedure of the offering is pretty similar to the peace offering (v 10). He will separate out all the fat from the bull and offer it up before the Lord on the altar. He will also lay his hands upon the bull, to symbolize the transfer of sin and guilt. He is also responsible to slay the bull. There are also some distinctions for the offerings. The priest is to dip his hand in the blood and sprinkle blood seven times before the veil of the sanctuary. (Again, that his sin effects the veil to the Holy of Holies seems to point toward the anointed priest being the High Priest.) He will also put some blood on the horns of that altar of fragrant incense. Again, all of the fat would be placed before the Lord.

v 11-12
In earlier sacrifices, the offerer was responsible to wash the entrails and legs clean. However, in this sacrifice, the priest is to separate out these elements (clearly they are not cleansed, for this element includes the refuse). He is to take the rest of the bull outside of the camp, to a clean place where the ashes are poured out. The reference to the clean place is not a statement about the land, but about it being set apart for pure purposes. At this location, the rest of the bull is burned.

v 13-21
Next, the Lord instructs Moses regarding a sin of the entire assembly. This is not just a sin which fellow Israelites commit, but is actually a sin committed in representation to the entire nation. Though it can be hard to exactly quantify, Joshua 9 seems to provide a good example. The elders of the nation of Israel make the decision to enter into a treaty, a treaty representing the entire nation, and binding to the entire nation.

Since the elders play a representative role (and possibly were central in the commission of the sin of the congregation), they must then place their hands upon the sacrifice. This symbolizes the transfer of the sin and guilt to the offering. When the priest sprinkles the blood on the veil, he is also symbolizing that the sin effects the entire communities ability to be in the presence of God. Strain has been created between the True Mediator and the nation of Israel. The priest then removes the fat portions, offers them on the altar, and then takes the remains of the bull and burns them outside of the camp, just as he did for a sin committed by the High Priest.

v 22-26
Although "leader" is not specifically defined, it is used in other places to refer to a prince or ruler. From the passage in Joshua 9, the Hebrew word is identical to describe the "leaders" who chose to make a treaty with the Gibeonites. It does not appear that the leaders sin has called others to also commit sin, for the sacrifice is not treated like the sin of a priest or the congregation. The priest does not approach the veil nor does he burn the remains outside of the camp. The sin payment is also less expensive, as the leader is able to offer a male goat, instead of a bull.

v 27-31
The offering for anyone of the "common people" (lit: people of the earth) is very similar to the offering of a leader, except that it is a female goat, instead of male.

v 32-35
Unlike the other offerings, a common person is given the option to sacrifice a goat or a lamb. If he offers a lamb, the ritual looks very similar to that of a peace offering.


Grace is often under-appreciated because sin is typically misunderstood. Leviticus four provides us some interesting perspectives on sin, which should direct us to understand grace better.

Unintentional Sin--We often associate sin with motives and heart. James 4:17 reminds us, Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin. In Romans 14:23 we are told that violating our conscience is a sin. However, it is tempting for some to believe the moral standard for what is sin is simply within their own determination. They will say that their own feelings and philosophy determine whether something is a sin or not. Then, when they do believe they have sinned, they consider the offense personal...they were the only one violated. Sin becomes completely therapeutic and self-centered. I determine what sin is. I determine if I have sinned. I am the one who has been sinned against.

When one examines "unintentional sin" the categories must be expanded. For many, if it was unintentional, they would not consider it to be sin. It could be classified as a mistake or misjudgment, possibly as an error, but rarely identified as sin. We see an example of an unintentional sin in the life of Abraham:

Now Abraham journeyed from there toward the land of the Negev, and settled between Kadesh and Shur; then he sojourned in Gerar. Abraham said of Sarah his wife, "She is my sister." So Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. But God came to Abimelech in a dream of the night, and said to him, "Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is married." Now Abimelech had not come near her; and he said, "Lord, will You slay a nation, even {though} blameless? "Did he not himself say to me, 'She is my sister'? And she herself said, 'He is my brother.' In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this." Then God said to him in the dream, "Yes, I know that in the integrity of your heart you have done this, and I also kept you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her.--Genesis 20:1-6
It's interesting to know that Abimelech had a pure motive, he was completely unaware. Yet, God was willing to punish the king for a sin he could have committed in ignorance. He had no clue that Sarah was married, yet God prevented Abimelech from following through with his sin.

Such a view of sin reminds us that God is the one who is ultimately violated (Psalm 51:4). He is right to execute judgement because it is His standards which have been compromised. He is right to require sacrifice to atone for sins committed, even when it is isn't intentional.

Unbiased Sin--A person is not less prone to these unintentional sins depending on his status. Priests are capable of unintentional sin. Common people are capable of unintentional sin. Leaders are capable of unintentional sin. The nation can even collectively be brought into such a sin. Sin is not a consequence of our upbringing or the circumstances of our rearing. It doesn't matter if the person has a common upbringing or if he's a son of Aaron. Sin has a deeper root:
We sin because we are sinners (not the other way around). When we contrast ourself with the standard of perfect holiness seen in God, we suddenly realize that all that we do is tainted with sin. This runs counter to our "self-esteem-I'm-OK-if-you're-OK" culture. It does us no good to ignore our sin issue or to think we are somehow exempt.

Uneven Payments--There is a noticeable scale in regard to the offerings. For a priest or the entire congregation, a bull was to be the sacrifice. For a leader, he was required to offer a male goat, while a common person could give a female got or female sheep. The bull seems understandable for sins of an entire congregation, since it would be the entire quantity of the camp. But why such a difference between the offering of a leader and a priest? And why such a little difference between a leader and a common man?

Clearly, those who lead are held to a higher standard. One can easy an elevated standard in the qualifications of an elder (1 Timothy 3:1-7). James reminded us that teachers will be judged more strictly (3:1). Certainly, much of this is due to the fact that they bear responsibility for the growth of the congregation (Hebrews 13:17). However, the difference in sacrifice is not that much different than the sacrifice for a common man.

It must be remembered that the sin of the High Priest is not just the sin of a "super leader." The role of the High Priest serves as a mediatorial role for the entire nation. He was not simply the highest of teachers or highest of servants in the tabernacle, he was to be a type of Christ. His role was to represent the work of Christ on our behalf...a sinless work from Christ. Therefore, when the High Priest sins, even unintentionally, he violates the very pattern he should be setting. Therefore, the sacrifice must be the most costly.

Same Result--In each situation, we see the offerer depends on substitution. In each situation, the High Priest, the elders, a leader or a common man places his hands upon the bull or goat/sheep. This is representative of the sin and penalty being transferred from the sinner to another source. Of course, the sacrifices are a picture pointing to Christ and are not efficient for this purpose on their own:
For the Law, since it has {only} a shadow of the good things to come {and} not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? But in those {sacrifices} there is a reminder of sins year by year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, "SACRIFICE AND OFFERING YOU HAVE NOT DESIRED, BUT A BODY YOU HAVE PREPARED FOR ME; IN WHOLE BURNT OFFERINGS AND {sacrifices} FOR SIN YOU HAVE TAKEN NO PLEASURE.--Hebrews 10:1-6
In each case, forgiveness is granted through the atonement God offers through His Son.


Leviticus four can be a difficult passage for us to read. Verse after verse describes the process of sacrifice and blood being poured out. The passage can seem bloody and gruesome. However, the most difficult part may be the discussion of sin. Sin permeates and effects all people. Sin must be dealt with from a blood sacrifice. Sin, when properly understood, is not just acts we willfully commit but also can be unintentional actions. Sin is a violation of God's perfect, holy, complete standards. We are all guilty of this. We all fall short of the glory of God.

However, when we look at the pervasive, infectious nature of our sin. When we see that we are sinners at the root of our being, we also begin to discover grace. We discover a gracious God who does not save us because we deserve it or are pretty good on our own. We see a Savior who saves us because of His own good pleasure to do so. An Old Testament saint did not believe his sacrifice was bringing him genuine forgiveness, but instead, he brought his sacrifice in response to a God who does forgive sin and make that possible. The sin offering in Leviticus four reminded the Old Testament saint of the grace of God, for He forgives sins we know we have committed but also those which were unintentional. (An offerer only knew he had committed an "unintentional sin" when it was brought to his attention. How many more unintentional sins did he commit which he was not aware of? Yet, he trusted in a gracious, forgiving God who would atone for his sins.)

In a world which trains people to only see the good in ourselves, Leviticus four is a reminder that there is nothing good in ourselves. We see the depths of our sin, which allows us to see the heights of His grace! See how Paul described His grace in the midst of our sin:
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly {places} in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, {it is} the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.--Ephesians 2:1-10

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