Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Leviticus 4Leviticus 5:1-13; cf. Psalm 19:12; Galatians 6:1; 1 Timothy 1:13, etc. The offerings already considered, viz. the burnt offering, the meat offering, and the peace offering, have respectively emphasized the ideas of personal consecration, consecrated life-work, and fellowship. Moreover, they are to be regarded as voluntary offerings, depending upon the impulse of the heart for their celebration. Special experience might impel an Israelite to express his consecration or his fellowship, and he would then bring the appointed sacrifice. But here we come across an offering which is imperative. The moment an Israelite became convinced of sin, then he was bound to bring the offering prescribed. Besides, the sin offering is Mosaic in its origin; it had no existence, as such, before the promulgation of the covenant at Sinai; and consequently it is to be taken as the rule for penitents, whose consciences have been educated in a more thorough detection of sin through the Law. "By the law is the knowledge of sin." We have at this stage, confrequently, a perceptible elevation of the moral standard.
I. THE FIRST LESSON OF THE SIN OFFERING IS THAT SIN IS A NATURE. The superficial treatment of sin deals with outward and conscious acts, such as trespasses; what God declares by his Law is that, behind all conscious acts of the will, there are natural movements of which we are not conscious, and for which, nevertheless, we are responsible. This important principle is affirmed by all these minute regulations about sins of ignorance. The thoughtful Israelite would see from this that sin is a much wider and deeper thing than he at first suspected; that the motions of his personal being are more numerous and varied than he supposed; that deliberation, in fact, is not essential to every sin, and does not cover responsibility. In other words, he would look within and realize that sin is a nature, working on, sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously, and that for all its workings he will be held accountable. No more important principle lies in the field of self-examination. Without it there can be no thorough treatment of sin. With it we stand abashed and humbled under a sense of the unknown sin as well as of the known. We cry with David, "Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression" (Psalm 19:12, 13; cf. also Shedd's 'Discourses and Essays,' No. VI.).
II. SIN VARIES IS ITS HEINOUSNESS. The Israelite not only recognized this whole category of sins of ignorance marshaled in the Law before him; he also saw a difference of treatment in the cases under review. A sin of ignorance on the part of the high priest was made more emphatic than one on the part of a prince or a private person. The high priest's representative position and character modified the whole case. His sin of omission or neglect became much more serious than a private individual's could be. He was consequently directed to bring a bullock, the same offering as for a sin on the part of the collective people; for his representative character made him, so to speak, a moral equivalent to them. While, therefore, it is well to recognize sin as a nature, we must also remember that God does not treat sin in the mass, but discriminates between the more or less guilty. In his morality there are the most delicate appreciations and adjustments. Penitence must likewise be discriminating as well as profound. Self-examination may be a most humiliating and disappointing process, but we should weigh the relations of our faults and sins when we discover them and deal faithfully with ourselves.
III. YET ALL SINNERS ARE PLACED WITHIN REACH OF AN APPROPRIATE ATONEMENT. The high priest and the collective people, the prince and one of the common people, each and all had their prescribed offering and guaranteed atonement. And when people proved so poor that they could not offer turtle-doves or young pigeons, they were directed to bring an ephah of fine flour, with which the priest would make atonement. And as for this atonement, it is in all cases secured by the surrender of life. Even the ephah of flour conveyed this idea, for the germ is hopelessly sacrificed in its manufacture. The one idea binding the various sacrifices together is the surrender of life. That this idea is to be attributed to substances in the vegetable kingdom as well as the animal, is evident from John 12:24, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit." And it need scarcely be added that the atonement of which these sin offerings were types is that of the Lord Jesus, who "was once offered to bear the sins of many" (Hebrews 9:28; also verses 11-14). In the proclamation of the gospel, this most appropriate atonement is put within the reach of all. No sinner is excluded from the possibility of atonement except through his own self-will.
IV. THE RECONCILIATION WITH the PENITENT, WHICH ATONEMENT SECURES, IS A MATTER OF DEEP DELIGHT TO GOD. For not only is the blood of the sacrifice accepted at the appropriate spot, whether vail and altar of incense, or the brazen altar only, according to the status of the penitent; but there is besides an acceptance of the best portions of the animal upon the altar, indicating that God is delighted with the accomplished atonement. It was, so far as God was concerned, as much a feast as the peace offering. It expressed, consequently, that God was delighted beyond all our conception with the reconciliation. It is well to make this idea always emphatic. Our blinded souls are ready to imagine that we are more anxious for reconciliation, and would be more delighted with it when it came, than God can be. The truth, however, is all the other way. The reconciliation begins with God, the atonement is due to his wisdom and mercy, and over the actual consummation he rejoices with "joy unspeakable and full of glory."
V. THE RECONCILIATION IS ALSO MEANT TO BE A FEAST OF DELIGHT TO ALL GOD'S SERVANTS WHO ARE INSTRUMENTAL IN BRINGING IT ABOUT. For we must notice that, in the cases where the priests are not penitents themselves, but mediators, they are allowed to make a feast of what is left after the best portions are dedicated to God. Of course, when they are penitents, as in the case of a personal or a congregational sin, the carcass is to be considered too holy for the priests to partake of it; hence it is disposed of in its entirety in a clean place beyond the camp. This was the solemn way of disposing of the whole carcass. But in the other cases the priests were directed to feast upon the remainder of the offering, as those bearing atonement. So far they enjoyed what was their lot in the peace offering. As a feast, and not a lugubrious fast, it surely was intended to indicate their personal joy and satisfaction in the reconciliation they were instrumental in bringing about. Luke 15 presents the joy of the Godhead and of the angels over returning penitents. It is this spirit we should cultivate. It will require, of course, much personal dealing with souls, but it is worth all the trouble to be instrumental in leading them to peace with God, and to the joy that results therefrom. - R.M.E.
I. THE UNIVERSALITY OF TRANSGRESSION. Provision is announced for cases of sin, and the possibility of its commission by all classes is thus shown.
1. The ordinary citizen may err; one of "the people of the land" (see verse 27). Poverty and obscurity are not safeguards against unrighteous acts.
2. The man of rank, the "ruler" (verse 22) or prince, is liable to sin. Honour and responsibility do not guarantee or produce immunity from transgression.
3. The whole congregation (verse 13) is not exempt, for collective wisdom and might are not effectual barriers against the encroachments of unlawful desire and action. In the multitude of counselors safety is often thought to lie, but the "people" may do wickedly as well as an individual. This was exemplified at Mount Sinai and Baal-peor, and modern instances abound. Even
4. The man specially consecrated to holy service, the "anointed priest" (verse 3), may incur guilt and bring punishment upon the people. How cautious we should be! What searching of ourselves with the candle of the Lord; what prayer for knowledge and strength should distinguish us all!
II. THE POSSIBILITY OF UNINTENTIONAL TRANSGRESSION. A distinction is intimated between sin that arises from mistake ("ignorance," verse 2), that is at first "hid" from perception and afterwards becomes known (verses 13,14), awaking penitence and a desire to undo the wrong perpetrated, and sin that is willful, committed with a high hand, with an attitude of defiance, a sin against light and knowledge. Inadvertent sinning is possible through
(1) carelessness of behaviour, heedless conduct, acting without previous deliberation; or
(2) a misunderstanding of the Law, failure in correct interpretation, or in remembering the precise precept at the moment; or
(3) a sudden outburst of passion, blinding the judgment and hurrying the will to words and deeds afterwards repented of.
III. THE GUILT OF SUCH TRANSGRESSION. This is assumed by the atonement necessary to shield the doer from penalty, and by the expressions employed in verses 13, 22, and 27. "Guilty" refers to the consequences of sinning, the state of wrath into which the sinner enters, and the moral devastation to which he is liable, and from which preservation is possible only through an offering. Learn, then, that ignorance does not of itself excuse violation of God's commands, but it permits resort to such an atonement as will procure God's forgiveness. Paul said, "I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly and in unbelief." Whereas if we sin willfully, there is no more sacrifice for sins. The soul that doeth presumptuously shall be cut off from among the people. - S.R.A.
I. THE PRIEST AS A SINNER.
1. May he be viewed in this character as a type of Christ?
(1) He is distinguished as "the priest that is anointed." Some suppose this determines him to be the high priest. That the high priest was a remarkable type of Christ there can be no question (Hebrews 3:1).
(3) Yet so was our sin laid to his account that he vicariously stood forth as the universal sinner. "The Lord made to meet upon him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6, margin).
2. He may be viewed as a type of the Christian
(1) He was not necessarily the high priest because "anointed" Aaron's sons were consecrated with Aaron (Leviticus 8:2). This expression may, therefore, simply import that he was a priest who had come to official years, and therefore had received consecration (see Leviticus 7:6, where minors and females are reputed to be "among the priests").
(2) The priests in general were representatives of the nation of Israel, who were, in consequence, viewed as a "kingdom of priests "(Exodus 19:6).
(3) And they typified the Christians (1 Peter 2:9). We do not exercise our priesthood by proxy, but ourselves "draw nigh unto God." This supplies a good reason for their being "anointed," for "Christians," as their name imports, are anointed ones (see 2 Corinthians 1:21; Hebrews 1:9; 1 John 2:20, 27).
II. THE PRIEST AS NEEDING A SIN OFFERING.
1. His sin is that of ignorance.
(1) The case of Eli could not be brought within this statute (see 1 Samuel 3:14). For obstinate sin there is no mercy (see Numbers 15:30, 31; Hebrews 10:26-29). True Christians do not willfully sin (see Matthew 13:38; John 8:44; 1 John 3:6-10). Not all who profess the Christian name have a right to the title.
(3) The sin offering is the only remedy for these. Though ignorance may be pleaded in extenuation, it cannot be pleaded in exculpation (see 1 John 1:7-9).
2. The priest must bring a bullock.
(1) The common people may bring a kid (verse 28). Even a ruler may bring a kid (verse 23). But the priest must bring the larger animal. He has to bring the same which is offered for the whole congregation.
(2) Much is expected of professors of religion; and more especially so of office-bearers and ministers. They should have more perfect knowledge in that which is the principal business of their life. They may, from their position, more easily misguide the people. The words in the text rendered "If the priest that is anointed do sin according to the sin of the people," some construe "If the anointed priest shall lead the people to sin." It is a fearful thing to be a "blind leader of the blind" (see Romans 2:21).
(3) Conspicuous men should consider this. Churchwardens in Episcopal Churches; deacons in Congregationalist Churches; leaders in Methodist Churches; ministers in all; they should watch; they should pray; they should seek the prayers of their Churches (Ephesians 6:19; Colossians 4:3; 1 Thessalonians 5:25; 2 Thessalonians 3:1). - J.A.M.
I. IT IS ENVINCED FROM Romans 8:3: "For what the Law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin," i.e., by a sin offering (the Greek term here used is that by which the LXX. commonly translate the Hebrew for "sin offering")," condemned sin in the flesh," etc. The "flesh" that was "weak" here, we take to be:
1. Not our fallen nature.
(1) The word "flesh" is used for this. It is so used in the connection of this very passage (verses 4-8; see also Galatians 5:16, 17). This circumstance has led expositors to accept the term here in that sense.
(2) But as a matter of fact, is the Law of God weak through our fallen nature? Certainly not. The Law answers all God ever intended it to answer. His purposes cannot be frustrated.
2. But the flesh of the sin offerings.
(1) These were constitutionally weak for the purpose of condemning sin. The flesh of bulls and goats is not "sinful flesh." Therefore sin could not be condemned in it.
(2) This weakness was no frustration of God's purposes, for he never intended that sin should be condemned in such flesh as theirs (Psalm 69:30, 31; Psalm 51:16; Hebrews 10:4). He intended these to foreshadow something better, viz.:
3. The Sin Offering of Calvary.
(1) This was made in a human body. Being in the "likeness of sinful flesh;" there was no constitutional weakness here (Hebrews 10:5-10).
(2) The glorious Person who assumed the "likeness of sinful flesh" was God's "own Son." Thus by virtue of his Divinity not only has he condemned sin in the flesh, but he enables us to fulfill the righteousness of the Law in the spirit of the gospel.
II. IT IS EVINCED IN 2 Corinthians 5:21: "He was made sin," i.e., a sin offering, "for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him."
1. His righteousness is the righteousness of God.
(1) Because he is God himself. The Father was in him. Whoever failed to discern the Father in him did not comprehend him, did not know him (John 14:7-11).
2. This we receive, by imputation, in exchange for our sin.
(1) The transfer of the sin was set forth in the laying on of the hand of the offerer upon the bullock at the altar, while it was yet alive. The Jews give us these as the words uttered by the offerer, "I have sinned; I have done perversely; I have rebelled, and done (here specifying mentally or audibly the cause of his offering). But I return by repentance before thee, and let this be my expiation."
(2) The substitute is then condemned while the offerer is justified. Not only is he released from the obligation to die, but is taken into fellowship with God, and feasts with him upon the meat and drink offerings accompanying (Numbers 15:24).
III. IT IS EVINCED IS Hebrews 9:28: "Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin," i.e., without a sin offering, "unto salvation." The allusions here are to the sin offering of the Law. The teaching is that, whereas at his first advent he appeared in the similitude of sinful flesh for the purposes foreshadowed in the sin offering, when he comes the second time it will be in the glorious similitude of humanity, in innocence and holiness, to effect in us all the glories destined to follow upon his former meritorious sufferings (1 Peter 1:11).
IV. IT IS EVINCED IN Hebrews 13:10-13: "We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle. For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth, therefore, unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach."
1. This passage, like those already cited, asserts generally the fact that the sin offering was a type of the sacrifice of Christ.
2. But it also points out the typical import of the burning of the body in the place of ashes without the camp. What is this place of ashes but Calvary, Golgotha, the place of a skull, which was outside the gate of Jerusalem?
3. It furthermore proves that the consumption of the body of the beasts in the fire, viz. after they had been bled at the side of the altar, foreshadowed the" suffering" of Christ. "He suffered without the camp." This suffering then being distinguished from that represented by the bleeding, it must refer to that agony of soul which Jesus suffered from the fire of God's wrath against sin.
4. Since the altar which supplies our Eucharistic feast is that of Calvary; and since the priests under the Law did not eat of the bodies of those beasts which were burnt without the camp, which were types of Christ, those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat of our altar. Therefore those who embrace Christ and rejoice in his fellowship must, in the first place, renounce the ceremonial law of Moses (Galatians 2:19-21; Galatians 3:1-3). - J.A.M.
I. The Law of God is made the standard of righteousness.
II. Sin is offense against the Law.
III. Offenses of ignorance or error involve guilt; that is, require that the Law shall be honoured in view of them.
IV. There is forgiveness with God for all sin.
V. Those who are in the most responsible position are the most called to offer sacrifice for their sin.
VI. The forgiveness of sin is only through expiation, in recognition of an atonement. These points embrace much of the teaching of the Mosaic economy. Consider -
I. THE LAW OF GOD THE STANDARD OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. The sin which has to be expiated is "sin against any of the commandments of the Lord." While distinction was plainly made from the first between the fundamental moral law, as in the ten commandments, and the ceremonial law - still all that was "commanded of the Lord" was law to Israel - was to be strictly observed, involved the covenant relation between God and man, to violate which was to be estranged from the peace of God. The ceremonial law, taken in connection with the Decalogue and the whole of the Mosaic appointments, set forth this great truth, that the existence of man in all its extent was subject to the will of God, and that that will as declared was law, which must be obeyed at peril of Divine displeasure. So there is still the same subjection of man to law, which is:
1. The law of the heart or of the inward man.
2. The taw of ethics, of man's relations to his fellow-man.
3. The law of the religious life, of man's worship of God.
The standard of righteousness must be applied in each of these spheres of Law, which our Lord shows by his Sermon on the Mount, when he proclaims the wilt of God to be holiness in all these respects - poverty and purity of heart, love to neighbours, sincerity and devotion in the worship of God. Against the Law any offense is sin. Therefore, as the gospel was a new proclamation of the Law, so was it a new revelation of sin; for Christ, by the Spirit, came to "convince the world of sin," by revealing the law of righteousness.
II. SIN IS OFFENSE AGAINST THE LAW. The fundamental conception of the Mosaic economy was the fellowship of God and man - the true blessedness of human existence. The Law was a setting out of the boundaries of that ground of fellowship where alone God and man could meet together. Whether it was civil law, or moral law, or ceremonial law, the same twofold reference was in each to the will of God as Creator, King, Redeemer, to the trustful subjection of man to Divine authority. An offense against Law in this wide sense of the word. must include not only a deliberate setting up of the will of the creature against the Creator as in immorality or intentional disobedience of any kind, but anything in the conduct which hinders the fulfillment of the Divine purposes, anything which opposes the Law as an active principle. We recognize the same universality of sanction to law in that inevitableness which we attach to the laws of nature, whether physical or social. They work out their results both in the individual and in society, apart from all respect of persons. The good man violating a law of nature must suffer the consequences. Not because he is punished by the God of providence, but because he has put himself in the way of the great chariot of the world's onward progress, and has become so far an offense and a stumbling-block, which must be treated as such. It was a grand advance in revelation that all human life was regarded as based upon law, and all law was declared to be God's Law. Therefore, all rightness, all happiness, both positive and negative, must be from God, the fruit of a living fellowship between the creature and the Creator.
III. EXTENSION OF GUILT TO OFFENSES OF IGNORANCE AND ERROR. The word rendered ignorance signifies wandering from the way. Therefore the idea of the offense is not that of absolute ignorance of the Law itself, which would exclude the idea of guilt altogether, but rather that of inadvertence, through carelessness, through human infirmity of any kind, or through the connexion of our own life with the life of others. "There are many things which man's conscience would pass over, many things which might escape man's cognizance, many things which his heart might deem all right, which God could not tolerate; and which, as a consequence, would interfere with man's approach to, his worship of, and his relationship with God" (Macintosh). Hence the need of a Divine atonement - for as David prays we must all pray, "Cleanse thou me from secret faults" (Psalm 19:12). Now, the sin offering pointed to the fact that such secret faults, unintentional violations of the Law, involved guilt, inasmuch as they were occasions demanding that the Law should be vindicated and honoured as truly as the greatest offenses. This has been universally recognized in the law of nations as a natural principle of justice, The overt act is alone before the eye of the law, not the secret intention except as it changes the character of the overt act. The offense of manslaughter embraces a large number of cases where ignorance and error might be pleaded, but are not sufficient to remove the liability of the offender. Guilt is not merely conscious or subjective liability to punishment, but objective liability as well. Thus is the conscience of man enlightened and its power enlarged by the revelation of God. As Adam knew his sin much more clearly when God had called him into colloquy, so the Law of Moses was an appeal to the conscience, a quickening of it, a setting up of the Divine mirror before man, that he might know himself. See this whole doctrine of guilt treated by St. Paul in Romans 7, "Sin by the commandment became exceeding sinful." "I was alive without the Law once, but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died."
IV. THE OFFERING FOR SIN IS THE PLEDGE OF DIVINE FORGIVENESS. The sin of ignorance represented God's view of sin as contrasted with man's view. Therefore, as it was an atoning offering, it proclaimed both the righteousness of God as condemning all sin, and the covenant mercy of God as forgiving all sin. Man would naturally take account only of known sins, but the true peace is that which proceeds from the assurance of entire and infinite atonement. How different is such a revelation of mercy from any of the heathen satisfactions which were mere attempts to appease the Divine wrath as a recognized danger! But dangers are not only seen, but unseen. In the case of natural laws, how often we find that we have broken them when we knew not! The true safety is that which we know is not only partial and probable, but absolutely secured against all possible contingencies. God's thoughts are not as our thoughts. He invites us to hide under the shadow of his wings.
V. RESPONSIBILITY IN PROPORTION TO PRIVILEGE. The priest represented the people. The congregation was the nation in its collective capacity, therefore it represented not only the individuals as sinners, but the special relation of the community to Jehovah as the body to the head. The official position of the high priest was one of peculiar dignity and solemnity, therefore the sin of the individual in his case was more than his own sin - it was the violation of that larger relation in which the people as a whole stood to their God. All superior knowledge, all elevation of office and vocation, all representation, carries with it special responsibility. Those who are ministers of God must feel their sins as heavier burdens, requiring to be put away by special acknowledgment, by extraordinary effort. There are sins which none but the high priest and the congregation could commit. So there are sins of official life and sins of Church life, which we are apt to overlook because they are less upon the individual conscience than our own personal sins; but God shows us by the regulations of his Law, that we must hate them and avoid them and seek their forgiveness, even as though they were deliberate and individual offenses. How often men have done, in the name of their religious system or in their official capacity, what, if it had been ascribed to themselves in their private life, they would have immediately condemned! The purity of Church officers and of Church life in general has much to do with the growth of Christianity. The history of ecclesiastical errors is a very sad one. It was the absolute purity of Christ which so severely condemned the religious leaders of his time. They suffered their consciences to be blinded by the corruption of the system under which they lived. They did evil, thinking often that they did God service. Yet the Church and its rulers will be judged, not by the standard of its own degeneracy, but by the Law of God. Judgment begins at the house of God. There are the most responsible men, there are the greatest offenses, and there must be the most exemplary manifestation of Divine righteousness. The clearing away of sin from the Church is the preparation for the pure worship of God, for the re-established relation between the covenant king and his people, for the outpoured blessings of the throne of grace.
VI. THE FORGIVENESS OF SIN, ONLY BY EXPIATION, THROUGH ATONEMENT. This is especially set forth by the sin offering, for it represented the Divine demand of expiation in cases where human ignorance or error might be pleaded in excuse on man's side. What we require is not mere proclamation of pardon, but a peace which is settled on eternal foundations. So long as there remains in the mind of the sinner the thought that God is not satisfied, there must be a barrier to fellowship. The setting forth of the sin offering was a provision of Divine righteousness as the condition of peace. God does not overlook sin as that which has excuse made for it; he puts it away as that which is atoned for. All the details of the ceremony, especially the connection of the blood of the sin offering with the two altars - that of incense and that of burnt offering - pointed to the completeness of the atonement which God provided. In the antitype, the great sacrifice offered by our Lord Jesus Christ, whose soul was made an offering for sin, we must lay great stress on the Divine perfection of the Victim offered, his coming forth from God, his representation in himself of Divine righteousness; for Christ is not a Saviour merely from individual transgressions, but from sin itself as an evil principle at work in the nature of man. Unless we hold firmly to this atoning perfection of Christ, we cannot proclaim the regenerating gift of the Holy Spirit, for the new life must be founded in a perfect justification; the same faith which admits us into the forgiveness of sins through the blood of Christ, also admits us into that, fellowship and vital union with the living Redeemer, which is the commencement of a new life in the Spirit. The Apostle Peter (1 Peter 1:2) puts the sanctification of the Spirit and the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ in juxtaposition. They are included in the one Sacrifice of Calvary, whereby atonement is made, and the power of an endless life is revealed in him who, having offered himself through the Spirit without spot, rose again from the dead to become the Captain of salvation, the Firstborn among many brethren, the second Adam, the man who is made, by his Divine work, a quickening spirit. "Christ is God's," and "ye are Christ's." - R.
I. THAT ALL MEN HAVE SINNED, AND ARE GUILTY BEFORE GOD. The stern facts of the case make the words, "If a soul shall sin," equivalent to "When a soul sins." The succeeding chapters provide for all possible cases, as if it were only too certain that men in every station and in every position would sin. So in John we have, "If any man sin," accompanied by the plain utterance, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves," etc. (1 John 1:8; 1 John 2:1). It is a significant fact that, in providing for the people of God, the Divine Legislator had to contemplate the moral certainty that all, even those standing in his immediate presence and engaged in his worship, would fall into sin and condemnation. This significant provision is only too well confirmed by:
1. The record of Hebrew history.
3. Our observation and knowledge of mankind.
4. Our own conscience: every soul does sin in thought, in word, in deed; doing those "things which ought not to be done" (verse 2), and leaving undone (not thought, not spoken, not fulfilled) those things God righteously requires. "The God in whose hand our breath is, and whose are all our ways, have we not glorified" (Daniel 5:23).
III. THAT SIN WAS (AND STILL MAY BE) DIVIDED INTO THE PARDONABLE AND UNPARDONABLE. The words, "If a soul shall sin," are preparatory to the announcement of Divine provision for pardon. But there is a line drawn between sin and sin. Reference is frequently made to sinning "through ignorance" (verses 2, 13, 22, 27). This is distinguished from "presumptuous sin" (Numbers 15:30, 31; Deuteronomy 17:12). For the one there was pardon; for the other, instant execution. The word "ignorance" was not confined to mere inadvertence; it extended to sins of unpremeditated folly and passion; probably to all sins but deliberate, high-handed rebellion against God and his Law (Leviticus 16:21; comp. Acts 3:17; 1 Timothy 1:13). Pardon was provided, but there was a limit to the Divine mercy; there was iniquity for which no sacrifice availed (1 Samuel 3:14). Under the gospel there is one "unpardonable sin," the sin "against the Holy Ghost" (Matthew 12:31, 32). In the time of our Lord, this sin took the special form of blasphemy against the Spirit of God. In our time it resolves itself into a persistent and obdurate resistance of his Divine influence. This necessarily ends in final impenitence and ultimate condemnation. This one sin excepted, the mercy of God in Christ Jesus extends
(1) to the blackest crimes;
(2) to the longest career in wrong-doing;
(3) to the guiltiest disregard of privilege and opportunity.
III. THAT GOD HAS PROVIDED FOR THE PARDON OF SIN BY SACRIFICE. It is a striking fact that the same word in Hebrew which signifies sin is also used for "sin offering." So closely, so intimately in the will of God, and hence in the mind of man, were the two things connected - sin and sacrifice. All unpresumptuous sins might be forgiven, but not without shedding of blood. Sin, in God's thought, means death, and the sinner must be made to feel that, as such, he is worthy of death. Hence he must bring the animal from his herd or flock, and it must be slain, the guilt of the offerer having been solemnly confessed over, and (by imputation) formally conveyed to the victim's head. The life of the one for the life of the other. Doubtless it sufficed for the time and for the purpose, but it was not the redemption which a guilty race needed, and which a God of boundless peace was intending and was thus preparing to supply. The sin offering was prophetic, symbolical. The blood of bulls could not take away the sin of the world; only the slain Lamb of God would avail for that (Hebrews 10:4; John 1:29). But "the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin;" "If any man sin,... he is the propitiation for our sins... for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 1:7; 1 John 2:1, 2). "He hath made him to be sin (a sin offering) for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made," etc. (2 Corinthians 5:21). We learn from the foregoing:
1. The one great and deep want of the world. We have bodies that need to be clothed, fed, etc., but this is nothing to the fact that we are souls that have sinned, needing to be forgiven and accepted of God.
2. The inestimable advantages we now enjoy. If the Jew had great advantages over the Gentile, we are far more privileged than he. There has been offered for us "one sacrifice for sins for ever" (Hebrews 10:12), available for all souls, under the heaviest condemnation, for all time.
3. Our proportionate guilt if we are negligent (Hebrews 10:29). - C.
The atonement for involuntary transgression. The Book of Leviticus well repays careful perusal in days when there are many attempts made to lessen men's sense of the enormity of sin and of the necessity of a propitiatory offering. Its teachings are impressive, its pictures vivid.
I. SIN INFLICTS AN INJURY UPON THE HOLINESS OF GOD, AND EXPOSES MAN TO PENAL CONSEQUENCES. The words used to denote sin imply a turning aside from the path marked out, a deviation from rectitude. Man misses his way, goes astray like a lost sheep. He does what he ought not to do (verse 2), and thereby the precepts of God are slighted and God's honour is wounded. This cannot be permitted with impunity. The wrath of God, not a base but holy passion, is aroused, and vengeance or holy indignation threatens to visit the transgressor. We think wrongly of our sinful acts if we minimize their awful importance, or pay regard simply to the injury done to ourselves. This is the least part. The Supreme Being is concerned, and it is his displeasure we have to fear. Sin cuts at the root of government, assails the foundations of the eternal throne.
II. EVERY TRANSGRESSION IS RECOGNIZED AS SINFUL, whether arising from ignorance or willfulness, whether an act of omission or commission. An atonement is insisted on even for what we deem the least flagrant derelictions. Man is so ready to extenuate his crimes, that God strips off the veil, and exposes sin in all its guiltiness, a thing to be loathed and shunned wherever met, requiring purification on our part, however accidentally we may have come in contact with it. That without intention we trod upon a venomous serpent, does not protect us from its fangs. We shall need the remedy, however the poison may have been injected.
III. PENITENCE AND CONFESSION ARE INSUFFICIENT TO OBLITERATE THE MEMORY OF THE SIN. To regret the act and to express sorrow and to determine not to offend again, are good as far as they go, but, to wipe out the stain, blood must be shed. This only con whiten the defiled robes. Sinner, behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world! To have the sin brought to your knowledge, so that you take a more adequate view of its sinfulness, to pour forth agonizing cries and floods of tears, will not obtain forgiveness, unless accompanied with the presentation to the Father of the righteousness of his Son.
IV. SIN BECOMES MORE CONSPICUOUS AND FAR-REACHING WHEN COMMITTED BY THE OCCUPANTS OF A FORTY POSITION. The high priest was the representative of the nation, and hence his offering must equal in value that presented by the whole congregation. So likewise the sin of a ruler was more visible than that of a subject, and wronged God the more, and whilst a she-goat sufficed for one of the people, for him only a he-goat was allowed. Not without reason did the apostle exhort that intercession be made "for kings, and all that are in authority." Iniquity in high places in the Church and in society causes the greatest scandal, becomes most hurtful in its effects, and is most offensive to God. Both the animal offered and the ritual observed testified to the relative enormity of transgressions by different classes. Between the sins of each order in themselves no distinction was made.
V. BY THE APPOINTED VICTIM RECONCILIATION IS POSSIBLE TO ALL INADVERTENT OFFENDERS. We reserve this to the last, in order that the cheeriest aspect may be uppermost. Divest honour of its consequent responsibility we cannot, but we point to the ample provision for forgiveness afforded to comfort the prince and the peasant, the priest and the layman, the individual and the nation. Our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, has given his life a ransom for the many. He satisfies all claims, reconciles us unto God, so that our trespasses are not imputed unto us. - S.R.A.
I. THE DEATH OF AN APPOINTED VICTIM. The hand of the offerer is placed on the animal's head, and the animal's life is surrendered to the will of God. "Without shedding of blood is no remission." This tragic spectacle attests forcibly the rigour of God's requirements. Christ died as our representative, so that in him we all died (2 Corinthians 5), and those who rejoice in the thought of his salvation place their hands by faith upon him, believing that he was "made a curse" for them. Holiness demands an unblemished victim in each case. Hence the impossibility of man becoming his own atonement. Sin cannot expiate sin.
II. THE SPRINKLING OF THE BLOOD BY THE HIGH PRIEST UPON THE HORNS OF the ALTAR. "The blood is the life," and is in this manner brought into the immediate presence of God, symbolized by the altar of burnt offering in the court or incense in the sanctuary. The horns represent the might of the altar, so that to smear them with blood was to carry the offering to the place where the acceptance by God of offerings or praise culminated. Sin dishonours God, and therefore the significance of the offering for sin depends chiefly upon its presentation where God was pleased to vouchsafe his favour to man. Where sin was most dishonouring, as in the event of transgression by the anointed priest, the blood had to be sprinkled before the vail that covered the Shechinah. By his death Christ entered into heaven, presenting his own precious blood to the Father, and now makes intercession as the appointed Mediator.
III. THE POURING OUT OF THE BLOOD AT THE FOOT OF THE ALTAR OF BURNT OFFERING. It is said that, at the building of the temple, conduits were constructed to drain the blood into the valley of Kedron; in the wilderness it sufficed to lot it flow into the earth. The life of the animal was thus completely surrendered to God. Jesus gave himself up to do the will of God. His self-sacrifice is the basis of ours. We must live, not to ourselves, but to him. He considered not his time, words, works, as his own, and we must regard ourselves as devoted to the Father.
IV. THE BURNING OF THE FAT. Thus God would be glorified by the choicest portions, analogous to the ceremony enacted in connection with peace offerings. This resemblance seems designed to teach:
1. That by this sin offering agreement was re-established between God and man.
2. And that God's portion of the victim might be treated in the usual way, the transgression not being on God's side, but on that of man, who therefore is not permitted, as in the peace offering, to eat his part in the enjoyment of a feast. There is thus:
3. A reminder that but for sin man too might have shared in the sacrificial meal with God, but transgression had interrupted the communion, and deprived him of his former privilege. By the obedience unto death of Jesus Christ, God was glorified, and Christ became the "propitiation for our sins."
V. THE CONSUMPTION OF THE CARCASE BY FIRE OUTSIDE THE CAMP. No part of the animal was food for man, but the remainder was to be carried to a clean place, and there burnt. Every detail of the ceremony speaks of God's hatred of sin, and the blessings which man thereby loses, and the need for entire devotion of the victim that is to atone for sin. Nothing must be left, lest it should defile. The Epistle to the Hebrews alludes to the fact that Christ suffered without the gates of the holy city; to such a death of shame was he exposed in order to bear our sins.
CONCLUSION. Beware of transgression! Behold the sternness of God in dealing with it. Admire his grace in furnishing an expiation, and with grateful love avail yourselves of the sacrifice of the Saviour. - S.R.A.
I. THAT SPECIAL PRIVILEGE CARRIES WITH IT PECULIAR RESPONSIBILITY. The high priest, if he sinned, was to bring a bullock without blemish (verse 3), and every detail of the sin offering was to be carefully observed in his case (verses 4, 5, etc.). His transgression was accounted one of greater guilt, needing a more considerable sacrifice. His nearer access to God, his larger share of sacred privilege, made his accountability and his guilt the greater. The children of privilege are the heirs of responsibility; the more we have from God, the closer we are admitted to his presence, the clearer vision we have of his truth and will, - the more he expects from us, and the more heinous will be our guilt in his sight if we depart from his ways.
II. THAT THE PROFESSION OF PIETY CARRIES WITH IT INCREASE OF OBLIGATION. The high priest's enlarged accountability was partly due to the fact that, as high priest, he professed to stand in very close relation to God; he was, in public estimation, the first minister of Jehovah; he was regarded as the holiest man in the whole congregation. Special obligation, therefore, rested on him, and any slight irregularity on his part was most serious. Profession of godliness is a good and desirable thing.
1. It is the right thing: it places us in the position in which we ought to stand; it is being true to ourselves.
2. It is the will of Christ as revealed in his Word (Matthew 10:32).
3. It adds to our influence on behalf of righteousness and wisdom.
4. It is an additional security against the power of temptation. But it enhances responsibility; it increases obligation. For if, professing to love and honour Christ, we do that which he has expressly forbidden, we bring his sacred cause into contempt, and "make the enemy to blaspheme." Rise to the full height of duty, influence, privilege, but remember that on that height are some special dangers, and that a fall therefrom is to be dreaded with holy fear, to be shunned with devoutest vigilance.
III. THAT INFLUENCE CONFERS ADDED RESPONSIBILITY ON THOSE WHO WIELD IT. Special provision is made for the sin of the ruler, "When a ruler hath sinned," etc. (verses 22, 23, etc.). A ruler enjoys a position of prominence and power; his influence is felt afar. What he does will decide, to some considerable extent, what others will do. He has the peculiar joy of power; let him remember that power and responsibility are inseparably united. Let all those who hold positions of influence, all whose judgment and behaviour are importantly affecting the convictions and character of their fellows, realize that if they sin, and thus encourage others in error and transgression, they are specially guilty in the sight of God.
IV. THAT COMMUNITIES OF MEN, AS SUCH, MAY FALL INTO SERIOUS CONDEMNATION. "The whole congregation of Israel" might "sin through ignorance;" it might be led, unwittingly, into practices that were forbidden. In that case, though men have great confidence when they err in large companies, it would be guilty before God; and though it might be inadvertently betrayed into folly, it would be condemned of him, and must bring its oblation to his altar (see Homily on "Collective," etc., infra).
V. THAT NO MEASURE OR OBSCURITY WILL CLOAK SIN FROM THE SIGHT OF GOD. "If any one of the common people sin through ignorance," etc. (verse 27, etc.), he must bring his kid (verse 28) or his lamb (verse 32), and the atoning blood must be shod. We shall not escape in the throng. In the hundreds of millions of fellow-travelers along the path of life, God singles each of us out, and marks our course, and searches our soul. He esteems every human child, however disregarded of men, to be worthy of his watchful glance; is displeased with each sinful deed or word, but is ready to forgive when the penitent seeks mercy in the appointed way (verses 31, 35). - C.
I. THE ACCESS THAT WAS PERMITTED TO EVERY ISRAELITE, AND IS NOW GRANTED TO US. No single individual in the whole congregation of Israel could feel that he was forbidden to go with his offering "before the Lord," to seek forgiveness of his sin. The priest could not think his office stood in his way (verse 3); nor the ruler his function (verse 22); nor could any humble son of Abraham suppose himself too obscure to find attention at the door of the tabernacle (verse 27). Special and explicit legislation provided for each case, and there could not have been one Hebrew family which did not know that the tabernacle of the Lord was open to all, and that on the altar of sacrifice every offender might have his offering presented and come "down to his house justified." Thus broad, and indeed broader still, is the permission to approach which is granted in the gospel. For not only is the Christian sanctuary open to prince and people, to minister and member, to every class and rank, but in Christ Jesus there is neither circumcision nor uncircumcision, neither Greek nor Jew, neither male nor female; every distinction of every kind has disappeared, and is utterly unknown. We are reminded by contrast of -
II. THAT ACCESS WHICH WAS DENIED TO THEM, BUT WHICH IS OFFERED TO US. The ordinary Jew, one of the "common people," could go no further than the "door of the tabernacle:" there his entrance was barred. At that point he had to leave everything to the officiating priest; it was not permitted to him to enter the holy place, to sprinkle the blood upon the altar, to present any part of the victim in sacrifice; - another must do that in his stead. But in Christ Jesus we have:
2. Right to plead, ourselves, the one Great Propitiation for sin.
4. Access to the table of the Lord (1 Corinthians 11:28). Let us try to realize
(1) the height of our Christian privilege, and
(2) the corresponding weight of the responsibility we bear.
From us to whom such full and close access is given will much fruit be required to the glory of his Name, in the growth of our own souls and the salvation of others. - C.
Exodus 34:6, 7; Psalm 86:5, 15; Psalm 103:8; Psalm 145:8; Isaiah 1:18; Isaiah 55:7). So, also, our Lord, in the "prince of parables," included everything that could be introduced - the robe, the ring, the shoes, the fatted calf - to present in the strongest colouring the precious truth that God does not grudgingly or imperfectly forgive, but that he "abundantly pardons." The subject demands our consideration of two things -
I. THE FULNESS OF GOD'S ACCEPTANCE. God's mercy in Christ Jesus embraces:
1. The entire forgiveness of all past sins, so that all our numerous transgressions of his Law, both the more heinous and the less guilty, are "blotted out" of his "book of remembrance," and no more regarded by him; and so that all our more numerous shortcomings, our failure to be and to do that which the heavenly Father looked for from his children, are entirely forgiven.
2. The overlooking of our present unworthiness; so that the scantiness of our knowledge, the imperfection of our penitence, the feebleness of our faith, the poverty of our resolutions, and our general unworthiness do not stand in the way of his "benign regard."
3. The bestowment of his Divine complacency; so that he not only "receives us graciously," but "loves us freely" (Hosea 14:2, 4). He feels toward us the love and the delight which a father feels toward the children of his heart and his home. But to gain this inestimable blessing, let us be sure that we have fulfilled -
II. THE CONDITIONS ON WHICH IT IS BESTOWED. These are twofold. Paul has expressed them thus:
(1) repentance toward God; and
(2) faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21).
He who inspired Paul has taught us the same truth in his own words (Luke 24:47; Acts 26:18). There must be the turning of the heart, in shame and sorrow, from sin unto God, and the cordial acceptance of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Divine Teacher, the all-sufficient Saviour, the rightful Lord of heart and life, which he claims to be. - C.
I. THE SIN OF A NATION. Verse 13.
1. The commandments of the Lord concern nations.
(1) Nations are constituted under the control of his providence. We see this in the account of their origin at Babel (Genesis 11:6-8). In the teaching of prophecy (Genesis 9:25-27; Genesis 17:4, 6, 16). In the inspired review of their history (Acts 17:26).
(3) The Hebrew nation more especially so. He raised them up in pursuance of his promise to their fathers. He preserved them in Egypt. He brought them forth with an outstretched arm. He gave them a code of laws at Sinai. He gave them possession of the land of Canaan. In visible symbol he guided their government. (Psalm 147:19, 20; Romans 9:4, 5).
2. Therefore nations may sin against him.
(2) The Gentile nations sinned in throwing off their allegiance to the true God and joining themselves to idols. They have in consequence sunk into the most abominable immoralities (Romans 1:21-32).
(3) The Hebrews followed the bad example of their neighbours.
(a) In asking a king to be like them (1 Samuel 8:7, 8).
They became demoralized by licentiousness and violence (Isaiah 1:4).
II. THE SIN OF A CHURCH.
1. The commandments of the Lord concern Churches.
(1) The Church of God in the noblest sense is a grand unity existing throughout the universe and throughout the ages. This is the corporation against which the gates of hell cannot prevail (Matthew 16:18).
(2) This invisible Church has visible representatives on this earth. The congregation of Israel was such a representative (Acts 7:38; collate Psalm 22:22 with Hebrews 2:12). Now under the gospel these representatives are many. There is a Church where two or three are met together in the name of Jesus.
2. These Churches are responsible to God.
(2) They have to maintain purity of discipline, viz. by persuasion, by admonition, and by expulsion of incorrigible offenders. Excision in the Jewish Church was accompanied by the infliction of death; for the laws of the nation and those of the Church were one (Exodus 31:14; Numbers 15:34, 35). Now it means withdrawment from the companionship of the offender (Matthew 18:17; Romans 16:17; 1 Corinthians 5; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14; 2 Timothy 3:5).
III. THE OFFERING FOR SIN.
1. Communities are punished in this world.
(1) This is evident from the nature of the case. There is no future resurrection of communities. Disintegration to a community is its utter extinction.
(2) Nations meet their punishment in adversities which are ordered by Providence. These are the sword (1 Samuel 12:9-15); the pestilence (Deuteronomy 28:21); the consequence is famine, and wasting, possibly, unto extinction. God stirs up one nation against another to punish its pride (Isaiah 41:2, 25; Isaiah 45:1-4; Isaiah 46:10; Jeremiah 1:21-32).
(3) Churches have their punishment in this world. It may come in the form of spiritual leanness. In abandonment to apostasy (Isaiah 66:3, 4; 2 Thessalonians 2:11). The candlestick may be taken out of its place (Matthew 21:41-43; Revelation 2:5).
2. Punishment may be averted by sacrifice.
(1) Sacrifices of the Law were concerned with communities. The text furnishes an example. The community may be civil. It may be ecclesiastical. When sacrifice is accepted, no punishment is inflicted. This is the import of the assurance, "It shall be forgiven them."
(2) The sacrifice of Calvary is no less concerned with communities. Churches feel it as well as individuals. Nations feel it as well as Churches. Churches and nations also should plead it far more than they do.
3. There is no mercy for willful sin.
(1) To avail ourselves of the benefits of atonement, there must be repentance. This was expressed when the elders of the congregation, on behalf of their constituents, laid their hands upon the bullock (see verse 15). The gospel of this is obvious.
(2) There must also be faith. The faith expressed in the laying on of hands was carried further in the sprinkling of blood (see verses 16, 18). The vail was a type of Christ, who is our "Way" to God, the "Door" to us into the temple of the Divine Presence (Hebrews 10:19, 20). The blood sprinkled upon the vail set forth the laying of our sin upon him who thereby consecrates for us the way. He also is our altar of incense upon whom the blood of our guilt is laid, and by whose intercession we are rendered acceptable to God (1 Peter 2:5).
(3) Judgment is reserved for the obstinate. When a Church becomes apostate and will not repent, it must be destroyed. Such was the case with Judaism, which was removed amidst the slaughter of the destruction of Jerusalem. Such will be the doom of the Babylonish harlot (Revelation 18:4-8). And what hope is there for nations when they become infidel? If sins of ignorance cannot be forgiven without a sin offering, what must be the fate of communities guilty of presumptuous sins! - J.A.M.
I. THAT, THOUGH GOD DEALS PRIMARILY WITH INDIVIDUAL SOULS, HE HAS DIRECT RELATIONS WITH COMMUNITIES. Ordinarily, constantly, God comes to the individual soul, and says, "Thou shalt" or "Thou shalt not;" "My Son," do this and live, etc. But he has his Divine dealings with societies, with secular and sacred communities also; with
II. THAT COMMUNITIES, AS SUCH, MAY INCUR HIS CONDEMNATION. A "whole congregation," an entire people, may sin (verse 13).
1. The nation: witness the Jewish people, again and again denounced and punished.
2. The Church: witness the Churches of Galatia (Epistle to Galatians), the Churches of Asia Minor (Revelation 2:3).
3. The family.
III. THAT THIS GUILT MAY BE CONTRACTED UNCONSCIOUSLY. "The thing be hid from the eyes of the assembly" (verse 13).
1. The Jewish nation, "through ignorance, killed the Prince of Life" (Acts 3:15, 17). Under some of the better and worthier emperors as well as under the viler, Rome martyred the Christians, thinking them injurious to that human race which they were regenerating.
2. The Church of Christ has unconsciously fallen, at different times and places into
(2) laxity of conduct,
(3) un-spirituality in worship and life,
3. Families fall into
(1) undevoutness of habit;
(2) unneighbourliness and inconsiderateness;
(3) ungraciousness of tone, and unkindness of behaviour in the home circle.
IV. THAT RECOGNITION OF WRONG MUST BE IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWED BY PENITENCE AND FAITH. When "the sin was known," the congregation was to "offer a young bullock," etc. (verse 14). Let every nation, Church, society, family:
1. Remember that it is fallible, and may fall unconsciously into sin.
2. Readily, and with open mind, receive expostulation and warning from others.
3. Upon conviction of wrong, resort in penitence and faith to the all-sufficient Sacrifice of which the sin offering was the type. - C.
I. A NATION MAY BE GUILTY.
1. Negatively, violating the commandments of God. Political unwisdom, producing national disorder, ignorance, division of classes from one another; decay of commerce, and distress. International confusion and war.
2. Positively irreligious. Growth of vices till they become national. Combinations of great masses of people to uphold wrong and protect interests which impede the advance of morality. Sins of rulers in dishonest legislation. State interference with religious liberty. Spread of superstition, for which the nation as a whole is accountable. Indifference of the more privileged classes to the moral and religious condition of the multitudes. Guilty leaders followed.
II. NATIONAL SINS SHOULD BE NATIONALLY CONFESSED AND PUT AWAY. While there are prominent members of the nation who should set an example of penitence and sacrifice, the whole people should be summoned to a united acknowledgment of their position before God. The national fast, if rightly conducted, and emanating from a widespread sense of sin, and not from a mere royal command, must be pleasing to God. At such times the chief stress should be laid not upon the performance of external rites, but upon the facts of the moral state of the people and the gospel call to repentance and faith.
III. THERE IS A FORGIVENESS OF NATIONS AS WELL AS OF INDIVIDUALS. "And the priest shall make art atonement for them, and it shall be forgiven them." We cannot doubt that God, as a Moral Governor, punishes nations. History proves that there is not a mere natural rise and fall of great powers by the working of ordinary physical, social, and economical laws; but there is an ordering of events, so as to visit national sins upon nations. Great illustrations: in France; in United States for slavery; in our own history, Spanish Armada - "Affiavit Deus, et dissipantur." Many instances of change for the better in affairs of nations: France, Italy, America, England at the Commonwealth. Preservation from impending evils. Special help in internal troubles and international relations. We must watch the will of Providence over long periods, and adapt facts and principles to one another. Testimony in the Old. Testament, and especially in the Psalms, to the government of God in nations. - R.
I. THAT INDIVIDUALS ARE RESPONSIBLE TO GOD. We have:
1. The responsibility of the ruler.
(1) Rulers stand related to subjects. Their influence is extensive in proportion to the elevation of their rank. The Jews construe this law to relate to the king; but the term for ruler (נשׂיא, nasi) is not so restricted in Scripture (see Numbers 10:4). This law was in force 400 years before there existed a king in Israel.
(2) As rulers of subjects they stand related to God (Proverbs 8:15, 16; 2 Samuel 23:3). Note: here only, the commandment transgressed is said to be the "commandment of the Lord his God" (verse 22). This is to remind him that if he rules others, God rules him, and will call him to account for the manner in which he uses his authority.
(3) The individual is not sunk in the office. Men are too apt to forget this, particularly so when they sit in conclave. So far from neutralizing, it makes individuality more conspicuous, and should render it more intense.
2. The responsibility of the private person.
(1) Subjects stand related to rulers. They have relative as well as personal duties. They have public as well as private interests and obligations.
(2) They stand as subjects to rulers in relation to God. This is recognized in his laws. (See Exodus 22:28; the margin construes the term אלהים, rendered "gods," by "judges." Magistrates are here presented as representatives of the Elohim.) They are to respect and sustain authority in righteousness (1 Timothy 6:1). To pray for those in authority (1 Timothy 2:1, 2).
(3) The individual is not sunk in the subject. None are too obscure to be noticed by God; too insignificant to escape his inquisition.
II. THAT SIN OFFERING IS PROVIDED FOR INDIVIDUALS.
1. It is appointed for the ruler (verses 22-26).
(1) He has to bring a "kid of the goats," not a bullock, which was required from the priest and from the congregation. The blood of the kid was to be sprinkled simply upon the horns of the altar of burnt offering, whereas the blood of the bullock was also sprinkled upon the altar of incense and the vail. A further difference was that whereas the bodies of the beasts offered for the priest and for the congregation were burnt without the camp, the kid of the ruler was treated as the peace offering.
(2) These differences show that the sin of the ruler, though so heinous as not to be forgiven without sacrifice, was yet not so heinous as that of the priest. More is expected from men of religious profession. Nor was the sin of the ruler regarded as so heinous as that of the congregation. "It is bad when great men give ill examples, but worse when all men follow them" (Matthew Henry).
2. It is appointed for the common person (verses 27-35).
(1) Whereas the offering of the ruler is defined to be "a kid of the goats," that of the private individual may be either a kid or a lamb. As he has more liberty in his sacrifice, so has he in his conduct. Freedom is limited in the ratio of elevation. The humble should not be envious of the great.
(2) The offering of the private person was to be a female, which was proper to one having no authority; whereas, and for the opposite reason, the ruler had to bring a male.
(3) These differences go to show that the sin of a ruler is more serious than that of a common person. If his privileges are greater, so are his responsibilities. If his position is elevated, his influence, for good or evil, is proportionately great.
III. THAT SIN OFFERING IS DISCRIMINATIVE.
1. As to the nature of the sin.
(1) It is for sin against God. It seems to have nothing to do immediately with sins against our fellows or against society. These, of course, may be constructively viewed as offenses also against God. If this were more considered, men would be more respectful to their fellows, who are "made after the image of God" (see James 3:9).
(2) It is for sin against his negative commandments. This is the teaching of verses 2, 15, 22, 27.
(3) It is for sin ignorantly committed against them (see John 16:2, 3; Acts 3:17; 1 Corinthians 2:8). Ignorance is no plea for mercy without sacrifice. It is a plea for mercy with a sacrifice (see Luke 23:34; 1 Timothy 1:13).
2. As to the time of the offering.
(1) "And is guilty," viz. before the punishment of his sin has come upon him. If he discover his sin in time and bring his sin offering, it may avert that punishment. Men should never try to hide their sins from their own souls. On the contrary, they should diligently seek to discover them. We should plead the sin sacrifice for those we have not discovered (see Psalm 19:12; Psalm 139:23, 24; 1 John 1:7).
(2) "Or if his sin, wherein he hath sinned, come to his knowledge," viz. by the punishment of it overtaking him (see 2 Samuel 31:1). When calamity comes we must not too readily relegate it to the category of mere physical sequence, but confess the hand of God. Timely sacrifice may stay a plague (see 2 Samuel 24:25).
3. For obstinate infidelity there is no mercy.
(1) This is what Paul, alluding to the sin offering, calls willful sin (Hebrews 10:26). His argument goes to show that the Great Sacrifice of Calvary is the anti-type of that offering.
(2) The Law had no provision of mercy for presumptuous sins, whether the precept outraged were negative or positive (see Numbers 15:27-31). An awful instance of the severity of the Law is described in Numbers 15:32-36. This instance is referred to by Paul, who goes on to state that the gospel has its corresponding law of extremity, but with a "much sorer punishment" (Hebrews 10:28, 29). If the extreme penalty of the Mosaic Law was the infliction of death upon the body, what punishment can be "much sorer" but the "destruction of both body and soul in hell" (Matthew 10:28)? - J.A.M.
I. OFFICIAL POSITION IS MORAL RESPONSIBILITY. Whether the office be inherited or appointed, the ruler is in a special relation to God and to the people. He must jealously guard his office, and the mere exalted he is, the more he should preserve a conscience void of offense towards God and towards man.
II. THE RULER SHOULD SET THE EXAMPLE of respecting the requirements of God's Law. If the people see their natural leaders and official superiors confessing sin and seeking atonement, religious reverence and obedience will spread through all classes. Fearful curse of wicked rulers. Those in high positions should search their lives and hearts, lest, by their neglect, or ignorance, or sin of any kind, they bring Divine displeasure on the people.
III. The sacrifice is not the same for the ruler as for the man. An OFFICIAL POSITION IS NOT TO HIDE AN INDIVIDUAL AND PERSONAL ACCOUNTABILITY. Too often sins are committed in office, of which men would be ashamed if their own names were connected with them. We may distinguish the official from the personal, but we must remember that God requires both to be pure and holy. - R.
Sins of the common people.
I. We are taught to DEAL WITH THEM PITIFULLY, with consideration of circumstances, with remembrance of their comparative lesser guilt. Mere denunciations, unqualified condemnation, injurious. We should teach people the Law that they may see the sinfulness of sin, but in the spirit of love, lest they be blinded and hardened by a bewildering confusion of conscience and despondency. The traditional condemnation attached to those sins to which the masses are especially tempted might mislead, if not modified by the respect to antecedents.
II. We must hold fast to the Scripture representation - ALL SIN IS GUILT. The attempt to uplift the lower classes, without the power of atonement, by means of mere moral or intellectual appliances or social influences, must be a failure in the long run. Those who make it injure themselves, Nothing delivers them from sin but the power of Christ. Nor will it avail to imitate the folly which "makes light of sin." Cf. the Saviour's instructions in Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7). While we avoid censoriousness and uncharitable judgment, we must cultivate a wise caution, lest we cast our pearls before swine. The Spirit of Christ is our only guide and strength.
III. The prescriptions of the Law varied according to the opportunity of the offender. We must SMOOTH THE WAY FOR RETURN TO GOD. By adapting the commandments to the capacity and opportunity of men. By teaching them the spirituality of the gospel method, which lays the chief stress on motive and affection, not on mere external value in the gift. By sympathy and cooperation helping them to find the way, holding them up in it for a time, surrounding them with cheerful companionship and encouraging words.
IV. The common people being thus marked out, reminds us that there is a special urgency upon the Christian Church in THE MISSION OF THE GOSPEL TO THOSE THAT ARE AFAR OFF. We are apt to think it enough to care for those in and about the temple. The common people heard Jesus gladly. To the poor his gospel is especially preached. If all the sacrifices typify the Great Sacrifice of Calvary, and the sin offering more particularly, the adaptation or' the doctrine of Christ to the masses is thus set forth; we must present the sin offering, if we would redeem society from its teeming miseries.