Recall that on Mt Sinai the Israelites had promised to abide by the commands they had heard God pronounce — yet within a matter of hours they grossly violated those very commands. They were unable to live up to the law. But God in his grace provides these offerings, painting a picture of all that Jesus Christ would accomplish for us on the cross. We have already considered:
- The burnt offering, in which God pictures his loving acceptance of us, as he calls us to be a people for his own possession. This meets our need for love.
- The grain offering, in which we respond to God’s acceptance by declaring that we belong fully to Him.
- The peace offering, picturing the peace that is ours in the midst of a broken, sin-plagued world.
- The sin offering, showing God’s forgiveness for us through the shed blood of Jesus.
Today we will examine the trespass or guilt offering. This offering is very similar to the sin offering in its details. Indeed, in Leviticus 7:7 God says,
The trespass offering is like the sin offering, there is one law for them.
And in 5:6 the words for “guilt offering” and “sin offering” seem to be used interchangeably (this comes through most clearly in the KJV or NASB; the latter reads: ‘He shall also bring his guilt offering to the LORD for his sin which he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a goat as a sin offering.’)
So instead of following our pattern of looking at the details of this offering, this morning we will expand on the lessons about sin that we gleaned two weeks ago when studying the sin offering. You recall that we noted four points about sin:
- Every sin is serious;
- Every sin requires a death, as acted out when the offerer slits the throat of this perfect animal, signifying that each sin drives another nail into the hand of Jesus;
- Every confessed sin is forgiven;
- The blood of Jesus makes forgiveness possible, cleansing us completely from all sin;
The trespass offering elaborates on the need for confession, and then highlights the need for restitution when that is possible. And, as we will see, this is particularly important when our sins have an impact on other people; God requires not only that we confess the sin to him, he not only wants us to restore the broken relationship with Him, but he also requires that we confess to and recompense the person we have hurt.
Let’s now read beginning in 5:14:
14 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
15 If a person acts unfaithfully and sins unintentionally against the LORD’S holy things, then he shall bring his trespass offering to the LORD: a ram without defect from the flock, according to your valuation in silver by shekels, in terms of the shekel of the sanctuary, for a trespass offering. 16 And he shall make restitution for that which he has sinned against the holy thing, and shall add to it a fifth part of it, and give it to the priest. The priest shall then make atonement for him with the ram of the trespass offering, and it shall be forgiven him.
This category of sin includes unintentional violations of God’s requirements, such as not paying the tithe, or not calculating the firstfruits offering correctly. You can understand how calculating a tithe in an agricultural crop might be difficult; a farmer who lacks literacy and numeracy might unwittingly err in setting aside God’s portion.
When an Israelite made such an error, his obligation did not disappear. Indeed, his obligation increases by 20%. The Israelite is not allowed to delay payment, and then simply say, “Oh, I missed out on that. Here is what I owe.” No. He must add 20% to what was due, plus sacrifice a perfect ram.
An unintentional sin is still a sin. Even a delay in fulfilling an obligation requires a death to atone for the sin. God’s standard is perfection, in timeliness as well as in action.
Let us continue reading in verse 17:
17 Now if a person sins and does any of the things which the LORD has commanded not to be done, though he was unaware, still he is guilty, and shall bear his punishment. 18 He is then to bring to the priest a ram without defect from the flock, according to your valuation, for a trespass offering. So the priest shall make atonement for him concerning his error in which he sinned unintentionally and did not know it, and it shall be forgiven him. 19 It is a trespass offering; he was certainly guilty before the LORD.”
We might summarize these three verses by using the phrase, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse!” Here a person has violated God’s commands unwittingly, because he didn’t properly understand the law. But he can’t use ignorance as an excuse! He is responsible for knowing and following God’s commands.
The case is the same with us. If I’m driving 45 mph in a 25-mph zone, and a policeman stops me, it won’t do me much good to say, “But I didn’t see the speed limit sign!” As a driver, I’m responsible for obeying the law, I’m responsible for keeping my eyes open and seeing traffic signs. Just so, we have this word; we are responsible for studying it, for knowing it.
God in his grace makes provision for the restoration of our relationship to him after sins of ignorance — but once again, punishment must be meted out. A death must occur; even sins done in ignorance require the death of a perfect substitute. Every sin done in ignorance drives another nail into the hands of Jesus.