Questions: Are we accountable for unintentional sin? How much? Does it depend on who we are? Or what kind of sin? What if we can’t pay the price? What if we sin against our neighbor? Does that cost God?
“Read More” to pursue answers from Leviticus.
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a soul shall sin through ignorance against any of the commandments of the LORD [concerning things] which ought not to be done, and shall do against any of them:
Now, this is fascinating. We usually think of sin as a conscious moral choice to disobey God, but this verse makes it clear than sin is an objective reality, regardless of our subjective awareness.
If the priest that is anointed do sin according to the sin of the people; then let him bring for his sin, which he hath sinned, a young bullock without blemish unto the LORD for a sin offering…
The first case is for when a priest sins unintentionally, the second is for everybody:
And if the whole congregation of Israel sin through ignorance, and the thing be hid from the eyes of the assembly, and they have done [somewhat against] any of the commandments of the LORD [concerning things] which should not be done, and are guilty; When the sin, which they have sinned against it, is known, then the congregation shall offer a young bullock for the sin, and bring him before the tabernacle of the congregation.
It says something profound that a single priest’s sin “costs” as much as congregational sin. I also find it significant that the elders are the ones who appear to bear (and release!) the guilt on behalf of the people:
And the elders of the congregation shall lay their hands upon the head of the bullock before the LORD: and the bullock shall be killed before the LORD.
Surprisingly, the sin of secular leader is less costly than that of a priest:
When a ruler hath sinned, and done [somewhat] through ignorance [against] any of the commandments of the LORD his God [concerning things] which should not be done, and is guilty;Or if his sin, wherein he hath sinned, come to his knowledge; he shall bring his offering, a kid of the goats, a male without blemish:
Not knowing the relative price of male and female goats, I’m not sure the price for commoners is much less:
And if any one of the common people sin through ignorance, while he doeth [somewhat against] any of the commandments of the LORD [concerning things] which ought not to be done, and be guilty;Or if his sin, which he hath sinned, come to his knowledge: then he shall bring his offering, a kid of the goats, a female without blemish, for his sin which he hath sinned.
Still, it is clear that i) everyone has to pay, even for unintentional sin, and ii) how much one pays depends on their role among God’s people.
Then follows a list of particular sins which someone might commit unintentionally:
And if a soul sin, and hear the voice of swearing, and [is] a witness, whether he hath seen or known [of it]; if he do not utter [it], then he shall bear his iniquity.
Or if a soul touch any unclean thing, whether [it be] a carcase of an unclean beast, or a carcase of unclean cattle, or the carcase of unclean creeping things, and [if] it be hidden from him; he also shall be unclean, and guilty.
Or if he touch the uncleanness of man, whatsoever uncleanness [it be] that a man shall be defiled withal, and it be hid from him; when he knoweth [of it], then he shall be guilty.
Or if a soul swear, pronouncing with [his] lips to do evil, or to do good, whatsoever [it be] that a man shall pronounce with an oath, and it be hid from him; when he knoweth [of it], then he shall be guilty in one of these.
With their consequence:
And it shall be, when he shall be guilty in one of these [things], that he shall confess that he hath sinned in that [thing]:
And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the LORD for his sin which he hath sinned, a female from the flock, a lamb or a kid of the goats, for a sin offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for him concerning his sin.
Note that (presumably public) confession is necessary, but not sufficient. Though there is a budget alternative:
And if he be not able to bring a lamb, then he shall bring for his trespass, which he hath committed, two turtledoves, or two young pigeons, unto the LORD; one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering.
Huh, I wonder if that’s why two turtledoves is a traditional end of year gift. 🙂 Though there’s even one level below that:
But if he be not able to bring two turtledoves, or two young pigeons, then he that sinned shall bring for his offering the tenth part of an ephah of fine flour for a sin offering; he shall put no oil upon it, neither shall he put [any] frankincense thereon: for it [is] a sin offering.
The implication seems to that unintentional sin is serious, but not so severe as to overwhelm economic considerations. Though some are more serious than others:
If a soul commit a trespass, and sin through ignorance, in the holy things of the LORD; then he shall bring for his trespass unto the LORD a ram without blemish out of the flocks, with thy estimation by shekels of silver, after the shekel of the sanctuary, for a trespass offering:
And he shall make amends for the harm that he hath done in the holy thing, and shall add the fifth part thereto, and give it unto the priest: and the priest shall make an atonement for him with the ram of the trespass offering, and it shall be forgiven him.
And sins against general commandments seem more severe than the minor trespasses listed above:
And if a soul sin, and commit any of these things which are forbidden to be done by the commandments of the LORD; though he wist [it] not, yet is he guilty, and shall bear his iniquity.
And he shall bring a ram without blemish out of the flock, with thy estimation, for a trespass offering, unto the priest: and the priest shall make an atonement for him concerning his ignorance wherein he erred and wist [it] not, and it shall be forgiven him.
Though it is good to know that forgiveness is even then available!
In fact, forgiveness is available even for deliberate sin:
If a soul sin, and commit a trespass against the LORD, and lie unto his neighbour in that which was delivered him to keep, or in fellowship, or in a thing taken away by violence, or hath deceived his neighbour;
Or have found that which was lost, and lieth concerning it, and sweareth falsely; in any of all these that a man doeth, sinning therein:
Though at a price:
Then it shall be, because he hath sinned, and is guilty, that he shall restore that which he took violently away, or the thing which he hath deceitfully gotten, or that which was delivered him to keep, or the lost thing which he found,
Or all that about which he hath sworn falsely; he shall even restore it in the principal, and shall add the fifth part more thereto, [and] give it unto him to whom it appertaineth, in the day of his trespass offering.
I find the 20% premium fascinating (though just). It feels like 10% for borrowing, and 10% for not asking permission.
Perhaps more significantly, though, the thief also owes God:
And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the LORD, a ram without blemish out of the flock, with thy estimation, for a trespass offering, unto the priest:
And the priest shall make an atonement for him before the LORD: and it shall be forgiven him for any thing of all that he hath done in trespassing therein.
The inescapable conclusion is that when we sin against another human being we also sin against God! Perhaps that’s obvious in the theocratic context, but it isn’t something I normally consider.
Then follows some rules for the burnt offering:
This [is] the law of the burnt offering: It [is] the burnt offering, because of the burning upon the altar all night unto the morning, and the fire of the altar shall be burning in it.
And the meat [grain] offering:
And this [is] the law of the meat offering: the sons of Aaron shall offer it before the LORD, before the altar.
And one for the priests:
This [is] the offering of Aaron and of his sons, which they shall offer unto the LORD in the day when he is anointed; the tenth part of an ephah of fine flour for a meat offering perpetual, half of it in the morning, and half thereof at night.
I suppose one might call these “ritual offerings”, since they’re done periodically rather than in response to a particular problem. The rules for the sin offering, though, are most striking:
Speak unto Aaron and to his sons, saying, This [is] the law of the sin offering: In the place where the burnt offering is killed shall the sin offering be killed before the LORD: it [is] most holy.
And He isn’t kidding about the holy:
Whatsoever shall touch the flesh thereof shall be holy: and when there is sprinkled of the blood thereof upon any garment, thou shalt wash that whereon it was sprinkled in the holy place.
I’m not sure if this is a restriction on who may touch it, or a claim that the flesh is so holy it sanctifies the toucher! Though the holiness seems to extend even to the pots:
But the earthen vessel wherein it is sodden shall be broken: and if it be sodden in a brasen pot, it shall be both scoured, and rinsed in water.
The key lesson in all this, though, is that God takes sin (and holiness) very seriously. Sin isn’t just some mental state I experience within myself, it is as real and tangible as the life and death of a goat. And God has gone to great lengths to make this clear to us, so that we are without excuse.
God, I confess that I don’t take sin very seriously. Forgive me for all the ways I’ve robbed you in my indolence and selfish pursuits. Have mercy on me, O my God, for the sake of your son Jesus Christ. Teach me what it means to be holy, and show me the sacrifice I must make in restitution. I ask this only in the righteousness of Christ my savior, Amen.
About the Title:
Today’s title is a play on the English proverb.