Leviticus 5
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
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.

(1) And hear the voice of swearing.—Better, because he heard the voice of adjuration, and might be a witness, whether he hath seen the offence or known of it, if he doth not tell it. Having laid dawn in the former chapter the regulations about the sin offering, and having shown how these regulations are to be carried out when the offence against the Divine law is inadvertently committed by the spiritual head of the people, by the whole congregation, by the sovereign ruler of the nation, and by the individual members of the community, the lawgiver now proceeds to set forth in Leviticus 5:1-13 of this chapter the trespass offering which every Israelite is to bring when he has violated certain precepts here specified. The first instance adduced is that of failing to come forward as witness after the judicial adjuration has been uttered. It was the duty of every member of the community to aid the authorities in maintaining the integrity of the Divine law. Hence, when an offence was committed which the constituted tribunals were unable to bring home to the offender for want of evidence, a solemn adjuration was addressed by the judge to individual members, to a district, or to the whole community. If after such an adjuration, anyone who was cognizant of the offence failed to come forward to testify what he knew, he was considered in the sight of God as participating in the transgression which he had thus concealed. It is with reference to this law that we are told, “whoso is partner with a thief, hateth his own soul, he heareth cursing and betrayeth it not,” i.e., he hears the adjuration of the judges, and yet stifles his evidence, and thus becomes a partner with the culprit. An instance of this adjuration is recorded in Matthew 26:63, where the high priest said to Jesus, “I adjure thee by the living God that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the son of God,” and it was in recognition of the solemn obligation of this adjuration that Jesus answered the question.

Then he shall bear his iniquity.—Better, and he beareth his iniquity; that is, he is sensible that he bears the load of this guilt, he has become conscious of his sin, without which he could not bring the sacrifice here prescribed. The phrase, “and he beareth his guilt,” has the same meaning as and “he,” or “they are guilty” in Leviticus 4:13; Leviticus 4:22, &c. Unlike the sins committed inadvertently, spoken of in the preceding chapter, where the sin offering is prescribed, the guilt here described is that of designed and culpable silence, and of deliberately concealing a crime.

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.
(2) Or if a soul touch any unclean thing.—The second instance adduced which requires this sacrifice is the case of any one touching the dead body of a clean animal, or the living or dead body of an unclean animal or reptile.

And if it be hidden from him.—That is, if he, through carelessness, forgot all about it that he had contracted this defilement; as the Vulgate rightly paraphrases it, “and forgetteth his uncleanness.” The touching of a carcase simply entailed uncleanness till evening, which the washing of the person and his garments thus defiled sufficed to remove (Leviticus 11:24; Leviticus 11:31). It was only when thoughtlessness made him forget his duty, and when reflection brought to his mind and conscience the violation of the law, that he was required to confess his sin, and bring a trespass offering.

He also shall be unclean, and guilty.—Better, and he is unclean, and acknowledgeth that he is guilty. (See Leviticus 4:13; Leviticus 4:22.) The Greek Version, called the Septuagint, which is the most ancient translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, omits altogether the latter part of this verse, which is represented in the Authorised Version by “and if it be hidden from him, he also shall be unclean and guilty,” thus showing that the Hebrew manuscript, or manuscripts, from which this old version was made, had not this clause. This is, moreover, supported by the fact that it needlessly anticipates the summary formula of the next verse, which continues the subject, and where it appears in its proper place.

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.
(3) Or if he touch the uncleanness of man.—The sundry classes of defilement which a human being might contract and impart to others by contact, are set forth in Leviticus 12-15.

When he knoweth of it, then he shall be guilty.—Better, and he knoweth it, and feeleth that he is guilty. That is, he afterwards becomes conscious that he has contracted the defilement, and feels his guilt. (See Leviticus 5:2.)

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.
(4) Pronouncing with his lips.—Better, speaking heedlessly with his lips. That is, if he uttered an oath in thoughtlessness or in passion, without his heart realising it, that he will do this or that.

To do evil, or to do good.—That is, anything whatsoever which is comprehended under the name good and evil, as these two categories are idiomatically used to embrace all human action. (Comp. Genesis 24:50; Genesis 31:24; Numbers 24:13; Isaiah 51:23.)

Whatsoever it be that a man shall pronounce with an oath.—Better, that a man heedlessly utters with an oath. That is, anything that a man may rashly or thoughtlessly undertake to do, or to abstain from doing, with an oath.

And it be hid from him.—That is, if through this careless way in which it was done, he forgot all about it. (See Leviticus 5:2.)

When he knoweth of it . . . —Better, and he then considereth it, and acknowledgeth that he is guilty (see Leviticus 4:13; Leviticus 4:22; Leviticus 5:2, &c.), in one of these things with regard to which a man may rashly swear that he will do or not do them, and contract guilt.

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:
(5) And it shall be, when . . . —When he feels that he has been guilty of one of these sins specified in Leviticus 5:1-4, he must confess the offence which he has committed. For the form of confession which obtained during the second Temple, see Leviticus 1:4.

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.
(6) And he shall bring his trespass offering . . . a lamb or a kid of the goats.—Better, a sheep, or a shaggy she-goat (see Leviticus 4:23; Leviticus 4:32). The first thing to be noticed is that the sacrifice is here called (āshām) “trespass offering,” which is the right rendering of the word, and is so translated in thirty-five out of the thirty-six passages in which it is used for a sacrifice. In the verse before us, and in the rest of this section, viz., Leviticus 5:7-13, which treat of this sacrifice, no distinction is made between the ranks of the offenders. There is no special legislation for the high priest, the whole congregation, or the prince, as in the case with the (chātāth) sin offering, which is described in the former chapter. The spiritual officer and temporal sovereign are here on a level with the ordinary layman. There is no scale in the sacrifices corresponding to the position of the sinner. They are all alike to bring the same victim, either sheep or she goat. Though nothing is here said about the sacrificial rites which were to be performed in connection with the victim, in this case it is implied that, apart from the minor deviations here specified, they were to be the same as those in connection with the sin offering. The rule which obtained during the second Temple, is as follows: the trespass offerings were killed, and their blood sprinkled, as is before described in Numbers 4; they were then flayed, the fat and the inwards taken out and salted, and strewed on the fire upon the altar. The residue of this flesh was eaten by the priests in the court, like the sin offerings.

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.
(7) And if he be not able to bring.—The only exception to this general rule was poverty. The poor man who was unable to bring a sheep or she-goat, might bring two turtle-doves, as these were plentiful and cheap in Palestine. (See Leviticus 1:14.) We have seen in the preceding verse that in the case of the trespass offering, as in that of the sin offering, the fat parts, or the choicest portion, had to be consumed on the altar, being “the bread of Jehovah,” and that the residue was the perquisite of the priests. As the fat parts of the dove, or the portion for the altar, could not be separated from the bird, and as the burning of it wholly would destroy the character of the trespass offering, and make it into a whole burnt offering, two doves were brought. One represented the portion for the Lord, and hence was burnt on the altar, whilst the flesh of the other became the perquisite of the officiating priest.

And he shall bring them unto the priest, who shall offer that which is for the sin offering first, and wring off his head from his neck, but shall not divide it asunder:
(8) And wring off his head.—For the manner in which this was performed see Leviticus 1:15. It will be seen that it is here distinctly ordered that in this operation the head of the bird is not to be severed from its body. Herein it differed from the burnt offering in Leviticus 1:15. At the time of the second Temple, the priest went to the south-west horn of the altar, held the two feet of the bird between two fingers, and the two wings between two fingers, stretched out the neck of the victim to the breadth of his two fingers, and cut it with the nail of his thumb, breaking open the great blood-vessel at the neck.

And he shall sprinkle of the blood of the sin offering upon the side of the altar; and the rest of the blood shall be wrung out at the bottom of the altar: it is a sin offering.
(9) And he shall sprinkle.—Here again there is a striking difference between the ritual in the sacrifice before us and that in the case of the regular sin offering described in the previous chapters. The blood is simply to be thrown on the walls of the altar, whilst in the ordinary sin offering, the priest had not only to dip his finger seven times in the blood of the victim, but had to put it on the horns of the altar (Leviticus 4:6-7; Leviticus 4:17-18; Leviticus 4:25; Leviticus 4:30; Leviticus 4:34).

And he shall offer the second for a burnt offering, according to the manner: and the priest shall make an atonement for him for his sin which he hath sinned, and it shall be forgiven him.
(10) According to the manner.—That is, according to the rites prescribed in Leviticus 1:14, &c.

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.
(11) But if he be not able.—The benign consideration for the poor, and the desire not to mulct them too heavily for their frailties, are here still more evinced in the statute before us. If anyone is so impoverished that the offering of two birds would press too heavily upon him, he might bring the tenth part of an ephah of fine flour, a little less than half a gallon.

For it is a sin offering.—That is, because it is a sin offering, and not a Minchah or meat offering (see Leviticus 2:1), therefore it shall have no oil or frankincense, otherwise its distinguishing features as such would be destroyed.

Then shall he bring it to the priest, and the priest shall take his handful of it, even a memorial thereof, and burn it on the altar, according to the offerings made by fire unto the LORD: it is a sin offering.
(12) And the priest shall take.—After he separated a handful of the flour, which was burnt on the altar as a memorial to the Lord (see Leviticus 2:12), the officiating priest consumed the rest.

According to the offering made by fire.—Better, upon the offering made by fire. (See Leviticus 4:35.)

And the priest shall make an atonement for him as touching his sin that he hath sinned in one of these, and it shall be forgiven him: and the remnant shall be the priest's, as a meat offering.
(13) As touching his sin that he had sinned in one of these.—That is, in one of the three sins specified in Leviticus 5:1-4 of this chapter. (See Leviticus 5:5.)

And the remnant shall be the priest’s.—Better, and it shall belong to the priest. The word remnant is not in the original, and is better left out, since with the exception of the handful which he took out to burn upon the altar, the whole tenth part of the ephah of fine flour belonged to the priest. At the time of Christ, this only took place when the offerer was a layman. But when a priest committed the offence and brought the offering in question, the whole tenth part of the ephah of flour was burnt on the altar, as was done in the case of the meat offering.

And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
(14) And the Lord spake unto Moses.—As the introductory formula implies, this is another communication made to the lawgiver at a different time, and sets forth a further development of the laws respecting the trespass offering.

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:
(15) If a soul commit a trespass.—The word used here for trespass is not the same which is so rendered in Leviticus 5:19, and from which the noun rendered in this very chapter by trespass offering (Leviticus 5:6-7; Leviticus 5:15-16; Leviticus 5:19), is derived. It literally denotes to cover, then to act covertly, to be faithless, especially in matters of a sacred covenant made either with God (Leviticus 26:40; Numbers 31:16; Deuteronomy 32:51, &c.), or between husband and wife (Numbers 5:12; Numbers 5:27).

And sin through ignorance.—If at the time of its committal he did not know that it was a transgression. (See Leviticus 4:2.)

In the holy things of the Lord.—That is, inadvertently keeping back the things which belong to the sanctuary, and to the service of the Lord, as, for instance, the tithes, the firstfruits, or not consecrating or redeeming his firstborn (Exodus 28:38; Numbers 5:6-8).

A ram without blemish.—For committing any of these transgressions presumptuously, the transgressor incurred the punishment of excision (Numbers 15:30; Hebrews 10:28); but when they were done unawares, he was to bring a ram as a sacrifice. According to the rules which obtained during the second Temple, it must be over thirty-one days in the second year of its age. It was of greater value than the female sheep. The sacrifice for a trespass in holy things, though ignorantly committed, was therefore more costly than for the sin of ignorance mentioned in Leviticus 5:6.

With thy estimation by shekels of silver.—That is, according to the valuation of Moses, to whom this was primarily addressed, the ram is to be so grown up as to be worth several, or at least two shekels. The act of valuing was transferred by Moses to the officiating priests. (See Leviticus 27:8; Leviticus 27:12; Numbers 18:16.) For the shekels of the sanctuary see Exodus 30:13.

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.
(16) And he shall make amends.—As the sacrifice was simply to atone for the transgression, the offender was in the first place to make restitution of the full value of the principal which he had inadvertently appropriated.

And shall add the fifth part thereto.—Besides paying the principal, the fifth part of the value of the holy property thus restored is to be added to the original amount. According to the rules which obtained in the time of Christ, the principal was estimated as four-fifths of the whole, and the lacking one-fifth was added. Thus, for instance, if the offender had consumed holy things to the value of four shekels, he had to pay five shekels, the fifth being added to the four. This, according to our mode of reckoning, is one-fourth. No distinction is here made whether the offender be the high priest, a prince, or a private individual.

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.
(17) And if a soul sin.—To guard the Israelites most effectually against making profane use of anything dedicated to the sanctuary and its service, it is here further enacted in Leviticus 5:17-19, that a trespass offering is to be brought when a man only suspects that he had used things which belonged to the Lord, though he can no longer remember what particular holy property it was, which he used for his own purpose. In the canonical exposition, which obtained during the second Temple, of these sacrificial laws, the trespass offering enacted here is called “The Doubtful Offering,” in contradistinction to the one enacted in Leviticus 5:14-16, which is called “The Certain Offering.”

These things.—That is, the holy things of the Lord specified in Leviticus 5:15.

Though he wist it not, i.e., is uncertain about it. Thus, for instance, he might be in doubt whether or not his transgression consisted in not delivering the first-fruit to the sanctuary, or in having used some other sacred property. (Comp. Genesis 20:5, &c, 2Samuel 20:1, &c.)

Yet is he guilty, and shall bear his iniquity.—Still, he feels that he may be guilty of the transgression, and consequently is burdened with the weight of his iniquity. (See Leviticus 5:1.)

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.
(18) And he shall bring a ram.—Under such circumstances of suspense and feelings of guilt, he is to bring the same victim as in the former instance.

With thy estimation.—That is, according to thy i.e., Moses’ valuation, the ram is to be worth two shekels. (See Leviticus 5:15.)

And wist it not.—Better, though he wist or knew not, the precise sacred thing which he used, as the same phrase is rendered in the preceding verse. That is, to be on the right side, the priest shall make an atonement for him concerning this error of inadvertence, though the offender is uncertain whether he actually committed the offence or not. Still, as the case is a doubtful one, he is exempt from the additional fifth part which the transgressor had to pay who indisputably committed this offence in ignorance. (See Leviticus 5:16.)

It is a trespass offering: he hath certainly trespassed against the LORD.
(19) It is a trespass offering.—That is, though the prescribed fifth part is here dispensed with, it is still a trespass offering, for his conscience tells him that he has trespassed against the Lord.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

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