The Lord’s Day
October 17, 2004
“But I Didn’t Mean To: The Unintentional Sin Offering”
Dr. J. Ligon
If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to
Leviticus, chapter four, as we continue to work our way through the Book of
Leviticus, looking right now at the five great offerings which are described
twice in Leviticus 1-7. Tonight we are looking specifically at the offering for
purification in the case of unintentional sin–sin that was not high-handed,
there were mitigating aspects to this sin.
Perhaps it will help you, though, if we outline this
passage a little bit ahead of time. It’s a long passage: we’ll read all the way
into the fifth chapter. It has a number of different categories.
First of all, if you look at verses 1-12, you see
the requirement of the offering for purification in the case of unintentional
sin, when the person who is the unintentional sinner is the priest. Now, that’s
a problem. A priest is supposed to help you be purified; what happens when the
priest needs purification? Well, verses 1-12 address that circumstance.
Then look at verses 13-21. This is the command for
the offering for the purification of unintentional sin in case the whole
congregation of Israel sins against the Lord. What if the whole assembly of
God’s people are somehow corporately involved in sin?
Then, in verses 22-26, here is the command for how
to purify the unintentional sin of a leader in Israel, an elder perhaps, a
judge, one of the chief leaders of God’s people.
If you look at verses 27 all the way down to 35 at
the end of the chapter, you have the command for what to do in the case of a
common member of the people of Israel. What do you do when one of the common
people sins unintentionally? And you’ll notice again, like we have already seen
in the Book of Leviticus, various different offerings are allowed to be offered
by individuals in Israel who are in the circumstance of having to offer a
purification sacrifice for their unintentional sin, because the common people
are at very different economic levels, and some can afford a lot, and some can
hardly afford anything at all. And so different levels of sacrifices are
Finally, if you look at chapter five, verses 1-13,
here we have certain circumstances that make a person impure. One circumstance
you’ll see is the circumstance of failing to tell something you know in the
context of a trial that is being held before a judge in Israel. But different
from that, and yet in the same list is the circumstance of touching something or
someone who is ceremonially unclean, and thus partaking of impurity oneself, and
thus being barred from the worship of the Lord and the experience of His
And so we have a long list of circumstances that
make a person impure. Those are the five parts of the passage that we’ll
Let’s hear, then, God’s holy word in Leviticus,
chapter four, beginning in verse one. Before we read God’s word and hear it
proclaimed, let’s look to Him in prayer.
Our Lord and our God, we thank You that You have
given us Your law to show us sin. If we had not had Your law, we would have
been tempted to think lightly of, to make light of sin. We would not have
understood how expansive the possibilities of sin are. We wouldn’t have
realized how egregious sin is in Your sight. Heavenly Father, thank You for
showing us in Your word the provision of sacrifice for sin. Had we seen the
depth of sin and not seen a way out, we would have despaired; but from the very
beginnings of Your law You set forth a way of salvation, a sacrifice, and
ultimately a Savior. We thank You for this. As we see both sin and the Savior
tonight in Your law, speak to our hearts. Grant us, O God, not simply to be
interested or to be informed, but to be humbled by Your Spirit; to be built up
in the Savior; to come to greater appreciation of grace; and to give You all the
praise and glory. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
This is God’s word. Hear it.
Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the sons
of Israel, saying, ‘If a person sins unintentionally in any of the things which
the LORD has commanded not to be done, and commits any of them, if the anointed
priest sins so as to bring guilt on the people, then let him offer to the LORD a
bull without defect as a sin offering for the sin he has committed. ‘He shall
bring the bull to the doorway of the tent of meeting before the LORD, and he
shall lay his hand on the head of the bull and slay the bull before the LORD.
‘Then the anointed priest is to take some of the blood of the bull and bring it
to the tent of meeting, and the priest shall dip his finger in the blood and
sprinkle some of the blood seven times before the LORD, in front of the veil of
the sanctuary. ‘The priest shall also put some of the blood on the horns of the
altar of fragrant incense which is before the LORD in the tent of meeting; and
all the blood of the bull he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt
offering which is at the doorway of the tent of meeting.
‘He shall remove from it all the fat of the bull of the sin offering: the fat
that covers the entrails, and all the fat which is on the entrails, 9and
the two kidneys with the fat that is on them, which is on the loins, and the
lobe of the liver, which he shall remove with the kidneys (just as it is
removed from the ox of the sacrifice of peace offerings), and the priest is to
offer them up in smoke on the altar of burnt offering. ‘But the hide of the bull
and all its flesh with its head and its legs and its entrails and its refuse,
that is, all the rest of the bull, he is to bring out to a clean place outside
the camp where the ashes are poured out, and burn it on wood with fire; where
the ashes are poured out it shall be burned. ‘Now if the whole congregation of
Israel commits error and the matter escapes the notice of the assembly, and they
commit any of the things which the LORD has commanded not to be done, and they
become guilty; when the sin which they have omitted becomes known, then the
assembly shall offer a bull of the herd for a sin offering and bring it before
the tent of meeting. ‘Then the elders of the congregation shall lay their hands
on the head of the bull before the LORD, and the bull shall be slain before the
LORD. ‘Then the anointed priest is to bring some of the blood of the bull to the
tent of meeting; and the priest shall dip his finger in the blood and sprinkle
it seven times before the LORD, in front of the veil. ‘He shall put some of the
blood on the horns of the altar which is before the LORD in the tent of meeting;
and all the blood he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering
which is at the doorway of the tent of meeting. ‘He shall remove all its fat
from it and offer it up in smoke on the altar. ‘He shall also do with the bull
just as he did with the bull of the sin offering; thus he shall do with it. So
the priest shall make atonement for them, and they will be forgiven. ‘Then he is
to bring out the bull to a place outside the camp and burn it as he burned the
first bull; it is the sin offering for the assembly. ‘When a leader sins and
unintentionally does any one of all the things which the LORD his God has
commanded not to be done, and he becomes guilty, if his sin which he has
committed is made known to him, he shall bring for his offering a goat, a male
without defect. ‘He shall lay his hand on the head of the male goat and slay it
in the place where they slay the burnt offering before the LORD; it is a sin
offering. ‘Then the priest is to take some of the blood of the sin offering with
his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering; and the rest
of its blood he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering. ‘All
its fat he shall offer up in smoke on the altar as in the case of the fat of the
sacrifice of peace offerings. Thus the priest shall make atonement for him in
regard to his sin, and he will be forgiven. ‘Now if anyone of the common people
sins unintentionally in doing any of the things which the LORD has commanded not
to be done, and becomes guilty, if his sin which he has committed is made known
to him, then he shall bring for his offering a goat, a female without defect,
for his sin which he has committed. ‘He shall lay his hand on the head of the
sin offering and slay the sin offering at the place of the burnt offering. ‘The
priest shall take some of its blood with his finger and put it on the horns of
the altar of burnt offering; and all the rest of its blood he shall pour out at
the base of the altar. ‘Then he shall remove all its fat, just as the fat was
removed from the sacrifice of peace offerings; and the priest shall offer it up
in smoke on the altar for a soothing aroma to the LORD. Thus the priest shall
make atonement for him, and he will be forgiven. ‘But if he brings a lamb as his
offering for a sin offering, he shall bring it, a female without defect. ‘He
shall lay his hand on the head of the sin offering and slay it for a sin
offering in the place where they slay the burnt offering. ‘The priest is to
take some of the blood of the sin offering with his finger and put it on the
horns of the altar of burnt offering, and all the rest of its blood he shall
pour out at the base of the altar. ‘Then he shall remove all its fat, just as
the fat of the lamb is removed from the sacrifice of the peace offerings, and
the priest shall offer them up in smoke on the altar, on the offerings by fire
to the LORD. Thus the priest shall make atonement for him in regard to his sin
that he has committed, and he will be forgiven.
One of the things that strikes you after reading
that passage is not simply the bloodiness of the sacrificial ritual–there would
have been blood everywhere–but the principle that you heard repeated five more
times, that after atonement there is forgiveness. Atonement/forgiveness;
atonement/forgiveness; sacrifice/forgiveness; sacrifice/forgiveness–over and
over, the principle that there can only be forgiveness, cleansing of guilt,
purification of defilement, with sacrifice. That principle has been reiterated
already in this book. It will continue to be reiterated all the way to
Leviticus 16, but it is driven home once again in Leviticus 4 and 5. It is not
that God’s forgiveness of His people must be conditioned in the sense of being
constrained; it is not that God’s unwilling to forgive His people, and
therefore, some sort of conditioning has to be applied to God, some type of
constraint has to be brought to bear upon God to get Him to forgive His people,
to make Him willing to forgive His people. In other words, sacrifices in
Israel functioned very differently than sacrifices in pagan cultures.
In pagan cultures, sacrifices serve to condition or
to constrain the pagan deities, to try and get the pagan deities to do what you
want them to do: whether it is to forgive sin, or to send fertility, or to save
from enemies, or to make power. The sacrifices serve to condition the deity to
whom the sacrifices are being offered.
But in the Scripture, notice it is God Himself
who appoints the sacrifices on the occasion of all the various needs of
forgiveness of sins. Yes, sacrifice is necessary, and that truth is pounded
home over and over again. In fact, that’s a New Testament principle. Turn with
me to the Book of Hebrews and look at chapter nine. The author of Hebrews says
that this principle of sacrifice as necessary for forgiveness is not an Old
Testament principle; it’s a New Testament principle as well. Hebrews, chapter
nine; look at verse 22:
“According to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood,
and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”
It is not the sacrifice that makes God willing to forgive.
He created the sacrifice. He provided the sacrifice in the Old Testament as
well as in the New, but the principle of God’s justice must be dealt with, and
the sacrifice sets forth that principle. And you saw it in Leviticus chapters
four and five in two ways.
One is, when sin occurs a representative
sacrifice dies. And in the context of that representative sacrifice being
offered, all of the remaining parts after the blood has been poured out and the
prescribed portion has been offered up on the altar, the rest of the sacrifice
is taken outside the camp and is burned. What is that? It is once again an
indication of what the offerer of the sacrifice deserved. The offerer of the
sacrifice, because of his sin, deserved to be cut off from the people of God, to
be taken outside the camp, to be abandoned, to be put aside, to be cast off. And
so, in both the picture of the sacrifice and in the picture of the taking of the
remnants of the offering outside the camp, the consequences–the due consequences
of sin upon sinners is driven home literally in technicolor.
Well, that strikes us as obvious as we flip through
these pages, but are there other lessons to be learned? Yes, more than we have
time to do justice to tonight. But let me zero in on five things that strike
us about this great passage.
I. Even inadvertent, unwitting sin
defiles us, thus we need purification.
The first is this: do you notice how this
passage teaches us that even inadvertent, unwitting sin defiles us and therefore
requires purification? Look at the general setting for this whole section.
Look at Leviticus 4:1-2:
“Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘If
a person sins unintentionally in any of the things which the Lord has commanded
not to be done, and commits any of them….’”
And then you notice that the sentence does something
strange–you’re waiting for that sentence to be completed, and then it phases off
into the situation of the sin of anointed priests. What’s going on there?
Verses one and two are a heading: verses one and two are telling you, “OK, we’re
done with the peace offerings; now we’re going to talk about the purification
offerings in the case of unintentional sins, and here are the categories.” And
it starts out with the anointed priests, and then it looks at the whole
congregation of Israel, and then it looks at the leaders of Israel, and then it
looks at individuals, those who are common people in Israel. And then it looks
at a whole host of categories where you can find yourself in the situation of
needing to be forgiven for unintentional sins. It’s a heading.
But doesn’t that strike you? That God has an
entire class of sacrifices appointed in the book of Leviticus for unintentional
sin?! Our intentional sins are enough, surely! But He sees the impurity
that is brought about by inadvertent, unwitting sin, and points out to His
people that that too needs purification. These are sins that are not
high-handed, premeditated sins. There are mitigating factors to these sins, and
still they defile the people of God, and so they need purification.
How often in our relationships with one
another–friends in high school or in college; husbands to wives and wives to
husbands–do we excuse what we have done with one another or to one another by
saying, “But I didn’t mean to!” And God has a whole sacrificial class for the
‘but I didn’t mean to’s’ of life, because they defile us. And you think about
it. In marriages how often those “but I didn’t mean to’s” become serious burrs
in a relationship and bring about serious breaches that need desperately to be
healed. And here’s the Lord giving a whole class of sacrifices not for
high-handed, premeditated crime, but even for inadvertent, unwitting sin. All
sin defiles us. All sin needs cleansing. And by the way, listen to
that language. It’s not simply that we need forgiveness; it is that we need
cleansing. We have been made impure by sin, and that sin needs to be
Have you ever thought about how the book of Hebrews
talks about the effect of Jesus’ shed blood? Turn back with me to Hebrews and
look at Hebrews 13:12. Jesus suffered, we are told in verse 12, that He
might sanctify His people. Not just to grant us forgiveness and acceptance,
but that He might cleanse us and make us godly and holy; that He might deal with
our impurities, that He might sanctify His people. And notice as well, my
friends, in that verse, that just like the sacrifice for sin in the Old
Testament, Jesus is taken outside the gate to die on our behalf. As the beast
was slain and then discarded outside the tent to show the people of God what
they deserved, Jesus bore what they deserved. Outside the city walls of
Jerusalem in that place of Roman uncleanness, He bore our sin. And so the author
of Hebrews says “let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach.”
So there’s the first thing. Even inadvertent,
unwitting sin defiles us, and thus we need purification and God shows us how
seriously He takes sin by giving a class of sacrifices for the forgiveness of
even unwitting sin.
II. The priest’s sin has
consequences for the people.
Secondly, notice this: that the priest’s sin
has consequences for the people. What’s going on there? Look at Leviticus,
chapter four, again; and this time at verse three: “…if the anointed priest
sins so as to bring guilt on the people…” And you’re saying, “Wait a minute!
I didn’t do anything! I had absolutely nothing to do with this!” You can do
your Sgt. Schultz routine, “I know nothing,” but the priest sins and the people
become guilty. What’s going on? The priest is the representative of God’s
people. He is Israel boiled down to one person representing Israel before God.
He is the agent that God has appointed to deal ritually with the defilement of
Israel and to bring about purification, and if he is defiled how will he serve
that purpose for Israel?
Think again of the New Testament commentary on
Leviticus in Hebrews; what it says about our Savior. Our Savior, unlike that
Old Testament priest, was sinless and undefiled. He did not have to make a
sacrifice on His own behalf like this priest. But what’s the principle again?
Why is Jesus a superior Savior? Because He doesn’t need to offer a sacrifice of
purification on His behalf. He is our representative; He is a perfect
representative in His obedience and in His sacrifice. The priest’s sin has
consequences for the people because he is the people’s representative. We are
tied together with the destiny of our priest; that is why the Book of Hebrews
celebrates our Great High Priest, Jesus.
III. The peoples’ sins have
consequences for the whole community.
There’s a third thing we learn in this
passage, and you see it when you get to both the passage beginning in verse 13
and again in the passage beginning in verse 27. And that is, the people’s sin
has consequences for the whole community, and so there is a whole class of
sacrifice to be offered when the whole congregation of Israel commits error. And
again, there is a class of offering that is to be given if anyone of the common
people sins unintentionally in doing the things that the Lord has commanded not
to be done.
You see the principle there? There are corporate
consequences for the sins of everyone in Israel. You remember the story of
Achan in the days of Joshua? One man, one family: consequences for the whole
of Israel. Do you think of yourself as accountable to one another in this
congregation in that light? Do you realize that you can’t just live your life
like you want to live your life if you’re a part of this local congregation and
it not have an impact on all of us? It does. So there’s a whole class of
sacrifices to be offered in this instance, because the sin of every member of
Israel impacts every member of Israel. And that principle is carried out in the
New Testament as well. We’re accountable to one another. We need one another’s
commitment to holiness, and we are corporately accountable.
IV. Touching an unclean thing or
withholding evidence makes one guilty/defiled.
Fourthly, did you notice in verses 1-13 of
Leviticus, chapter five, that touching an unclean thing made you defiled, made
you guilty? You remember a story in the New Testament that entails that as a
part of its plot line? There’s a man on the Jericho road. He’s been beaten
up. He’s been robbed. A priest and a Levite pass; they see him. He is
unclean. He has come into contact with unclean men, he is ritually unclean,
bloody as he is…perhaps even dead. They don’t touch him, because it would
have made them ceremonially unclean, they would not have been able to perform
their ritual duties in Jerusalem had they done that. Jesus still castigates
them and makes the Samaritan the hero of the story. Did you know that? Did you
know that those men would indeed have been ceremonially unclean? You see what
Jesus is saying. Jesus is making a tremendously important statement about our
moral commitments to God, and He’s saying in that circumstance that the right
thing for those men to have done would have been to have taken upon themselves
the ceremonial uncleanness in order to fulfill their moral obligations. Don’t
be too quick to cast aspersions on them; they faced a real dilemma. They
failed. How often do we do the same?
V. Confession and sacrifice — sin
must be confessed and cleansed before worship/communion can be enjoyed.
One last thing: did you notice again in the
case of the common person who sins unintentionally that when he becomes aware of
the sin that he has committed, he is required first to confess and then to
sacrifice? Confession and sacrifice: sin must be confessed and cleansed before
worship and communion with God can be enjoyed. All of these principles are
being spelled out to help us understand the basic realities of communion with
God. All sin defiles. All sin. Every last bit of it has to be dealt with.
Your Priest, your representative, His life, His behavior, His character,
impinges upon you. In the community you are accountable to one another, and
your life, your behavior, your actions, your choices have a corporate effect;
and confession and sacrifice must be offered before communion can be enjoyed
Turn again to the Book of Hebrews, as we close. As
Hebrews comments on Leviticus, it tells us this. Look at Hebrews, chapter ten.
“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 year by year, which they
offer continually, 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.”
But, he goes on to say–look at
“By this we will have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus
Christ once for all. Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time
after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having
offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of
That is the reason why the
Christian can have assurance. That is the reason why the Christian can have
a conscience that has a sense of cleansing from sin. That is why the Christian,
in the midst of our worst sins, can confidently go to the Great High Priest,
Jesus, and know that if we trust Him, we shall be forgiven and purified, and
accepted and cleansed. Let’s pray.
Our Lord God, we never
grow past the need for forgiveness in the Christian life, for we are never
sinlessly perfected in the Christian life. There may be brothers and sisters
here tonight struggling inside with great guilt over real sin. They need a
Savior whom they know can forgive them, and has offered a sacrifice that
cleanses them from sin. O God, lift their eyes up to the Savior. Lord God,
there may be some of us here tonight who are flippant about sin. We just don’t
think it’s that big a deal, and You tell us again, Leviticus 4 and 5, that every
sin deserves judgment and death, and those who sin deserve to be cut off and
cast out. Lord God, as we contemplate our Savior cut off, cast out, crucified,
dead and buried, let us see that this is the desert of sin, and never make light
of it again. But always and only run to the Savior, embracing Him by faith and
finding in Him full and free forgiveness of sins. These things we ask in Jesus’
Would you stand for God’s
Peace be to the
brethren, and love with faith through Jesus Christ our Lord, until the day break
and the shadows flee away. Amen.
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