Leviticus 5
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
The Psalmist cried out, "Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults." To dwell upon the manner in which sin may be committed, and to try to deepen our sense of its flagrancy, is not a pleasant employment, but it is highly necessary. And, blessed be God! a rainbow of cheerful hope spans the dark cloud of transgression; the same page that speaks of sin tells also of forgiveness.

I. This chapter reminds the Israelites of several ways in which, without having been resolutely determined upon, sin might result. Through silence and concealment of knowledge (verse 1), through defilement by contact with uncleanness of man or beast (verse 2), or through rash declarations (verse 4), it was possible inadvertently to transgress the laws of God. SIN ASSUMES MANY FORMS. It may be of the voice or the finger, by word or deed. It may be by forcible repression of the truth or by careless voluble utterance. It may be incurred in connection with the noblest or the lowest parts of God's creation. This thought should beget constant watchfulness in speaking and acting. We can never be sure of preserving ourselves from contamination with evil. "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." The abolition by the gospel of ceremonial restrictions has rather increased than diminished the strictness of the universally obligatory precepts, making them more searching in character. Our Lord taught that there may be adultery in a look, murder in a thought.

II. We find one law applicable to these different cases, one sentence pronounced, one ordinance appointed. THE IMPORTANT FACT COMMON TO ALL FORMS OF SIN IS THAT THEY INVOLVE THE OFFENDER IN GUILT. About the particular sin we need not trouble so much as about the fact of transgression and consequent demerit. "He shall bear his iniquity" (verse 1). "He shall be unclean and guilty" (verse 2). Jehovah can no longer look upon his subject with favour; sin places him under a cloud, mars him in the sight of God. Only ignorance can keep a man at ease under such circumstances. The awakened soul exclaims, "I have sinned: for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord." The peace of the wicked is like the calm that often precedes the tempest. It is the office of the Word of God to convince the ungodly of their hard speeches and ungodly deeds, and the question the preacher loves to hear is that which shows that the arrow has reached its mark, when the agonized sinner inquires, "What must I do to be saved?"

III. "By the Law is the knowledge of sin," but to leave the matter here would be to subject the transgressor to intolerable anguish. THERE IS A TWOFOLD METHOD OF EXPIATION, to restore communion with God. There must be confession of blameworthiness. "I have sinned against heaven and before thee." "He shall confess that he hath sinned in that thing" (verse 5). This acknowledgment by the individual is due to the majesty of God, and is the first step towards obliterating the injury caused by sin. The forces of government have not henceforth to fear assault by the criminal; once arrayed against him in hostile phalanx, they now wear a milder look. The rebel has voluntarily put the yoke of submission upon his neck, and this public token goes far to countervail the damage suffered by the king's honour. And, secondly, there must be the presentation of an atonement by the priest. The transgressor is not holy enough to appease offended Deity himself; an unblemished offering is demanded, which must be slaughtered by God's servant and its blood sprinkled upon the altar, and the other rites of a sin offering duly performed. It is not sufficient to acknowledge and repent of our misdeeds; we want a sin offering, the Lamb of God, so that we can make mention of his righteousness and enjoy the atoning virtue of his precious blood. It is not the offender but the priest who makes atonement (verse 6). Apart from our great High Priest, our prayers, confessions, vows, and. gifts are of no avail. "No man cometh unto the Father but by me."

IV. Either a lamb or a kid, two turtle-doves or pigeons, or a homer of fine flour would be accepted as a propitiatory offering. No CLASS OF THE COMMUNITY IS DEBARRED FROM AN ATONEMENT BY LACK OF MEANS. Regard is here paid to the resources of the humblest ranks. The same end is attained under the gospel by providing a way of salvation accessible to all, suited to the illiterate and the learned, the men of substance and the poor. And in each case the forgiveness is complete. "It shall be forgiven him." The deed done cannot be undone, but its consequences may be averted. God treats the believer as if he had never sinned; his iniquities are cast behind the back of Deity and remembered no more. Fears are banished, fellowship is resumed. With every subsequent transgression the same course must be adopted. Whilst in the world stains are frequent, and frequent must be our resort to the crimson tide that flows from the cross of Christ. What unity of plan and procedure is visible in the Law and the gospel! - S.R.A.

This was very much of the nature of the sin offering. Julius Bate translates the word (אשׁם, asham) "guilt offering." Possibly the "sin offering" and the "burnt offering" may be here comprehended under the general expression, "trespass offering" (see verse 7). We have here brought under our notice -

I. EXAMPLES OF the TRESPASS. Verses 1-4, Taken in order these are:

1. Concealing the truth when adjured.

(1) The Hebrew law recognized a power of adjuration. This is assumed in the words "And if a soul sin," etc. (verse 1). The adjuration in such a case is called the "oath of the Lord" (see Exodus 22:11). Paul refers to this law when he says, "An oath for confirmation is the end of all strife" (Hebrews 6:16).

(2) The Hebrew history furnishes notable examples of adjuration. Saul, pursuing the Philistines, "adjured the people, saying, Cursed be the man that eateth food until the evening, that I may be avenged on mine enemies" (1 Samuel 14:24). Caiaphas said to Jesus, "I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell me whether thou he the Christ, the Son of God" (Matthew 26:63).

(3) To conceal the truth when adjured was a crime meriting death. Achan and his family perished in the valley of Achor for his crime in concealing the" accursed thing "(see Joshua 6:17-19; Joshua 7:11, 23-26). Jonathan, in unwittingly trespassing in the adjuration of Saul, was in danger of losing his life (1 Samuel 14:43).

2. Touching an unclean thing.

(1) The law of the case was that whoever touched any unclean thing, the carcass of an unclean animal, a living person who was leprous or otherwise unclean, or the corpse of a man, became unclean. The purpose was to show how scrupulously we should avoid social contact with those whose influence would be demoralizing (see James 4:4).

(2) Being thus unclean, before he can appear in the sanctuary, he must "wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even," viz. when the daily sacrifice was offered. This shows how we must be purified by the washing of regeneration before we can mingle in the congregation of the heavenly temple.

(3) But if a person had inconsiderately entered the sanctuary unclean, not knowing that he was polluted, he has trespassed against the Law, and is guilty. As soon as he becomes aware of his guilt he must bring a trespass offering or bear his sin.

3. Swearing rashly.

(1) Verse 4 is somewhat obscure, but this appears to be the meaning: If a man swear to do something without knowing whether it be good or evil, but afterwards it becomes evident that to carry out his oath would be evil; now he is in a dilemma: If he perform his oath he is guilty of doing evil; if he refrain he is guilty of violating his oath.

(2) In either case, then, he has to bring a trespass offering with an humble confession of his sin. If he fail in this then his guilt is upon him. The lesson is that we should be slow to swear, lest our oaths should prove rash and involve us in humiliation or ruin.


1. Confession must be made.

(1) Not of sin in general. There is comparatively little humiliation in general confession. Individuality loses itself in the multitude.

(2) But in particular, "that he hath sinned in this thing." Sin thus carried home humbles us into the dust. Such was the confession of Achan (Joshua 7:20), who, though his sin was "unto death," may yet have found the mercy of God to his soul. Such was the confession of David (Psalm 51:4).

2. It must be accompanied with sacrifice.

(1) "And he shall bring," etc. (verse 6). Here the "trespass offering" is also called a "sin offering." It is in this case specified to be "a female from the flock, a lamb or kid of the goats." This was the sin offering for any of the common people. The presumption therefore is that for a ruler a male kid should be brought for a trespass as for a sin offering; and for a priest, a bullock (Leviticus 4:4, 23, 28).

(2) Confession without atonement will not be accepted. If Achan found acceptance with God in the spirit it must have been immediately through the atonement of Calvary. Atonement without confession will not avail. We have to "work out our own salvation;" meanwhile "God worketh in us both to will and to do."

3. The poor have special consideration.

(1) Those who may not be able to furnish a lamb may bring either a pair of turtle-doves or a brace of young pigeons. The alternative here appears to be because in certain seasons pigeons in the East are hard and unfit for eating. Turtle-doves are then very good. That must not be given to God which would not be acceptable to man.

(2) Two are specified, which are to be thus disposed of: one is offered for a sin offering, the other for a burnt offering; and they are offered in this order. The sin offering goes first to make an atonement; then follows the burnt offering, which is a sacrifice of adoration. Before we can properly praise God we must be at peace with him.

(3) Those so very poor as not to be able to bring a brace of pigeons may bring a tenth part of an ephah (about three quarts) of flour. A memorial of this is burnt upon the altar. There must be no oil in the flour to render it tasteful; no frankincense with it to give it fragrance: "it is a sin offering," and sin is distasteful and odious. The remnant is the priest's as a "meat offering." The interchanging of these offerings, sin and trespass, sin and burnt, sin and meat, shows how they are intended to represent the same great subject under its various aspects. No one typical sacrifice could sufficiently body forth all the merits of that blessed Person who "made his soul a (אשׁם, asham) trespass offering" (Isaiah 53:10). - J.A.M.

The sinfulness of withholding evidence in a court of law is here formally and solemnly incorporated in the divine statutes. We may remind ourselves -

I. THAT WE SPEND OUR LIFE IN THE SIGHT OF MAN AS WELL AS UNDER THE EYE OF GOD. That we do everything in God's view is a truth the fullness and the greatness of which we cannot exaggerate. "Thou God seest me" should be as a frontlet for every man to wear between the eyes of his soul. But not unimportant is the truth that we act daily and hourly in the sight of man.

1. A very large proportion of our deeds is done obviously and consciously before man.

2. Many that we think are wrought in secret are seen by some unknown witness.

3. Many leave traces which point unmistakably to our agency. "Be sure your sin will find you out." Sooner or later, in unsuspected ways, our evil doings come under the eye of human observation, and under the ban of human condemnation.

III. THAT IT IS OFTEN OUR DUTY TO SCREEN AN OFFENDER FROM PUBLIC NOTICE. This is not in the text, but it belongs to the subject. He who would "do what wrong and sorrow claim" must sometimes "conquer sin and cover shame." There are many cases in which public justice does not demand inquiry and reprobation, but private consideration does call for tenderness and mercy (John 8:7). "Of some have compassion, making a difference" (Jude 1:22).


1. It is our duty to God, for he has ordained human justice. "The powers that be are ordained of God" (Romans 13:1-4). The Jewish judges had the right to adjure a witness to speak the truth in the name of the Supreme Judge ("hear the voice of swearing:" see 1 Kings 8:31; Matthew 26:63, 64). If, therefore, under an oath we withhold what we know, we are disregarding a demand that comes indirectly and ultimately from God himself.

2. It is also our duty to society. The commonwealth of which we are members has a right to expect that we shall take our share in the necessary conviction and punishment of crime. When solemnly summoned to state what we know, and especially when an oath of the Lord is upon us, we are not free to keep back evidence, but are bound to disclose it.

3. It may be our duty to the offender himself. For it is better for him that he should bear the penalty due to his crime than that he should elude justice and be encouraged in transgression.

4. It is further our duty to ourselves, for if we are called on to bear witness, and if we undertake, or are even supposed to undertake, to speak all we know, and if then we suppress important testimony, we are consciously misleading those who hear; we are not "doing the truth," but are acting falsely, and are injuring our own soul thereby.

IV. THAT NEGLIGENCE IN SUCH SOCIAL OBLIGATIONS IS A SERIOUS OFFENSE IN the SIGHT OF GOD. It is sin. It is a thing to be repented of and to be forgiven. - C.

They are in some sense trespasses, although not properly under the head of trespass offerings. The ground of guilt is covenant relation violated. We may take this in its twofold aspect -


1. It separated from the unclean, and therefore enforced holiness.

2. It maintained society. Man's duty to his fellows was exalted. He must speak the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth; for we are members one of another.

3. It promoted vigilance and circumspection in conduct, both personal and relative. See that you are pure both in your intentional acts and in your circumstances; walk in wisdom towards them that are without.

II. The offering provided and the atonement possible in all cases, even the most minute, plainly said, GOD WILL ABUNDANTLY PARDON; HIS LAW is LIBERTY." The covenant was not intended to be bondage; it was salvation, not destruction. If any man sin, there is forgiveness. But this waited to be gloriously illustrated when the perfect fulfillment of the Law was set forth in him who offered himself without spot, "able to save unto the uttermost all who come unto God through him." - R.

We naturally ask, Why such stringent regulations as to everything of man or beast that was "unclean"? We may understand -


1. The two main truths God was teaching his people were the divine unity, and purity of heart and life. The state of surrounding heathendom made these two lessons emphatically and particularly necessary.

2. God's method of teaching was pictorial: it was by rite, symbol, illustration. The world was in its religious childhood.

3. Under this method bodily ills naturally stood for spiritual evils; as wholeness of the body stood for health of the soul, so the sickness of the body answered to the malady of the soul, and the uncleanness of the one to the impurity of the other.

4. Hence would result the fact that the careful avoidance of the one would be an instructive lesson in the shunning of the other. Associating the two things so closely in their minds, commanded to shun most scrupulously all bodily uncleanness, taught to look at the least defilement as a transgression of the law, they would necessarily feel, with all desirable intensity, that every moral and spiritual impurity must be most sensitively avoided. Therefore such enactments as those of the text.


1. That we should avoid all that is suggestive of impurity..

2. That we should shun everything which can, in any way or in the least degree, be communicative of spiritual evil.

3. That a stain upon the soul may be contracted without our own knowledge; "if it be hidden from him." This may be through books, friends, habits of speech.

4. That we should point out to the unwary their danger or their error.

5. That on the first intimation of error we should penitently return on our way. - C.

The reference in the text is to inconsiderate oaths: the hasty undertaking, before God, to do some act of piety or kindness on the one hand (swearing "to do good"), or of retribution and permissible punishment on the other (swearing "to do evil"). It is contemplated that such pledges into which the Divine Being is introduced, rashly and thoughtlessly taken, may be overlooked and remain unfulfilled. We learn -

I. THAT THE FORMAL ASSOCIATION OF THE DIVINE BEING WITH ANY ACT LENDS TO IT AN INVIOLABLE SACREDNESS. That which is done before God, or with which his holy name is intentionally associated, must be regarded as peculiarly sacred: even if done impulsively and without due deliberation, an obligation is thereby incurred: "God's vows are upon us."

II. THAT IT IS WISE ON ORDINARY OCCASIONS NOT TO INCUR SUCH MULTIPLIED RESPONSIBILITY. Better to use the yea, yea, or nay, nay; the simple affirmation or denial with the lesser obligation than to strengthen our utterance with an oath, and so run the risk of more serious sin in non-fulfillment. Calm, quiet, unimpassioned words are Best for daily use. Reserve oaths for large occasions.

III. THAT SUCH RESPONSIBILITY AS WE DO INCUR WE MUST RELIGIOUSLY DISCHARGE. If we only affirm in our own name, but far more if we introduce the Divine name, we must see to it that we redeem our word. Negligence, on whatever grounds, though it be through sheer inadvertence - if "it he hid" from us - is culpable in the sight of God. Wherefore:

1. Study to avoid promising without a due sense of the bond that is entered into.

2. Take the earliest opportunity of redeeming your word, for good or evil.

3. Make an opportunity, if one does not soon offer.

4. Take necessary means of keeping the promise in remembrance; by natural, or (if necessary) by artificial means. We may infer -

IV. THAT IF SPECIAL RESPONSIBILITY ATTACHES TO A PROMISE WITH WHICH GOD'S NAME IS ASSOCIATED, SO DOES IT TO ONE IN CONNECTION WITH HIS CAUSE. If we cannot vow, before him, to do any humblest thing without incurring added liability, neither can we undertake to serve in the affairs of his kingdom without similar obligation. A promise made to take any post or fill any office in the Church of Christ should be regarded as exceptionally sacred and. binding; neglect by inadvertence is wrong, sinful. We are bound to keep before our mind and on our heart anything with which God's name and cause are immediately connected. - C.

The requirements of the Law, as stated in these verses, speak of the possibility of pardon for every offender, if he be willing to submit himself to the wilt of God. We have -

I. CONFESSION OF SIX. "He shall confess that he hath sinned" (verse 5). It is believed that confession was always required from the offerer when he laid his hand on the victim's head. It was a marked feature in the ceremonies of the Day of Atonement; it is expressly enjoined here. This was not only necessary from all, but possible to all; within every one's power: none would be unable, and none would be unwilling, but the impenitent who were unprepared for pardon.

II. AN OFFERING WHICH EVERY ONE COULD PRESENT. He that could do so was to bring a lamb or kid (verse 6); he that could not might bring "two turtle-doves, or two young pigeons" (verse 7); if this were beyond his means, he might bring a portion of "fine flour" (verse 11). The costliness of the offering was thus graciously graduated to the circumstances of the offerer. And of so much importance did it appear to the Divine Legislator that the sacrifice should be within the reach of all, that he allowed a deviation from the otherwise unalterable rule that there must be the shedding of blood for the remission of sins (Leviticus 17:11; Hebrews 9:22). The very poor might bring flour (verse 11), though, in order that there might be no mistake as to the import of it, it was specially prohibited to mix oil or frankincense with it (verse 11).

III. A PLACE OF APPROACH OPEN TO ALL. The transgressor, convinced of his error, was to take his offering "unto the Lord," by taking it "to the priest." The priest at the door of the tabernacle was always approachable; never a day when he might not be found.

IV. INSTRUCTIONS THAT ALL COULD UNDERSTAND. There could be no' doubt or difficulty as to what precise things were to be done. What offering should be presented, whither it should be taken, what should be done with it, - all this was so explicitly and clearly laid down in the Law (verses 6-12), that every Israelite who had the burden of conscious sin upon his soul, knew what he should do that the guilt might be removed, and that he himself might stand clear and pure in the sight of God. In the gospel of Christ we have analogous but fuller advantages. We have -

1. Confession of sin. We must all say, as we all can say, "Father, I have sinned" (Luke 15:21). (See Romans 10:10; John 1:9.)

2. One offering that all can plead. No need of lamb, or goat, or turtle-dove, or even the humble measure of flour. The rich and the poor of the land may say, "Nothing in my hand I bring;" for they have but to plead the one Great and All-sufficient Sacrifice that has been presented, once for all (Romans 6:10; Hebrews 9:28; 1 Peter 3:18), and they will find mercy of the Lord. The richest can do no more; the poorest need do no less.

3. An open throne of grace. "In Christ Jesus our Lord we have boldness and access with confidence" (Ephesians 3:11, 12). No day nor hour when the way to the mercy-seat is barred; from every home and chamber the sin-laden, struggling soul finds its way thither: one earnest thought, and it is there!

4. Familiar knowledge of the will of God. Every unlettered man and untutored child may know what is "the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning us." Our statute-book, our New Testament, makes it clear as the day that, if we would find forgiveness of our sin, we must not only confess our transgression, but have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and by faith we shall be saved. - C.

I. To WITHHOLD FROM GOD HIS DUES IS SINFUL. The rigour of Leviticus may well sharpen that perception of sin which is so apt to become dim. God is wealthy, and yet will not submit tamely to robbery. Minute instructions were given concerning the offering of tithes, etc., for the use of his servants at the tabernacle, and for his glory; and to omit such offerings and to employ them in profane uses is here counted as acting covertly, as faithless dealing. For it was a condition of the covenant that the people should purchase their exemption from entire devotedness, by recognizing that it was incumbent on them to support those engaged wholly in God's service; and to neglect this condition was, in truth, a breach of trust. It is not less needful today that Christians should contribute of their substance to the carrying on of the work of the Church. Nor is it less important to call attention to the trespass committed by failing to present to God the emotion he claims. Many imagine that they are comparatively faultless if they abstain from open notorious wickedness, and they overlook their fatal omissions in the matter of religious service, affection, and faith. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart," etc. "Trust ye in the Lord for ever." Not to confess Christ is considered as denying him. Besides, it is in the passage before us assumed that the property which ought to have been devoted to the Lord has been consumed for personal enjoyment. And similarly, we may argue that the love and time and strength not used as required for God, are lavished upon other objects, and a wrong is done to our Father in heaven.

II. TO COMMIT A TRESPASS UNINTENTIONALLY DOES NOT PREVENT THE NECESSITY OF AN ATONEMENT. This is a lesson frequently enforced in the Law. "Though he wist it not, yet is he guilty, and shall bear his iniquity" (verse 17). Evidences of the same Divine Law are visible in the consequences that follow mistakes in life, where accidental errors, wrong judgments, hasty steps, are productive of as injurious effects as if the word or action had been planned with utmost deliberation, and its result foreseen. Any other arrangement might augment men's carelessness, and prove in the end more harmful than the apparently inequitable law. We are taught the infinite importance that attaches to our actions, linked on as they are with a chain of invariable results. To sin is to run counter to widespreading principles; it is not a little matter that may be contemned; it makes a breach in the fortress of right and justice, and this breach must be repaired ere the offender can be regarded as on the side of the eternal verities. "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." If not the transgressor, then an unblemished ram must be slaughtered as his substitute, that blood may cleanse the stain, and cover the transgressor from wrath. How easy is the way made under the gospel, whereby, after the sin offering of Christ, all our sins are forgiven us for his name's sake!

III. ACQUAINTANCE WITH THE WRONG DONE MUST BE FOLLOWED BY AN ENDEAVOUR To AMEND IT. The high priest is to value the "harm," and a fifth being added to the amount, the priest receives it as compensation. The offender has gained nothing by his sin. Sin never profits in the end. The restitution is thorough. We may reasonably distrust the sincerity of a repentance that is unaccompanied by reformation. When conscience money is brought, then the confession and desire of the offender to undo the evil wrought, as far as possible, are patent. The atonement and the restitution together procure the forgiveness of the supplicant. What avails it that men have learnt their "trespass," unless it lead to amendment? Knowledge is designed to be the forerunner of action. Like electricity, it furnishes light and moving power. - S.R.A.

The verses now under consideration form a distinct matter of revelation, or were communicated to Moses at a separate time. This we infer from the opening words, "And the Lord spake unto Moses," comparing them with like expressions twice used already (see Leviticus 1:1; Leviticus 4:1).


1. It is fraud "in the holy things of the Lord."

(1) These are such things as belong to him by requirement of his Law or by solemn dedication. Thus he claims half a shekel per head ransom money when the people are numbered (Exodus 30:11-16). He claims the firstborn or a redemption for it (Exodus 34:11, 20; Numbers 18:16). He claims the firstfruits of the harvest (Leviticus 23:10-14; Proverbs 3:9). He claims tithes (Leviticus 27:30-32). The treasures of the temple of whatever kind were also holy things.

(2) To withhold any of these dues, or to profane by eating that which belonged to the priests, was a sacrilege, and, if wittingly done, exposed the criminal to death (see Leviticus 22:14-16; comp. verse 9).

2. This was the crime of Achan.

(1) Joshua's adjuration devoted all the spoils taken at Jericho to the Lord (Joshua 6:17-19). Achan, therefore, not only incurred the curse of the adjuration, but was also guilty of sacrilege. He is, therefore, said to have "transgressed the covenant of the Lord" (Joshua 7:11, 15).

(2) His punishment was consequently signal. For his sake the children of Israel were smitten before the men of At, and the anger of the Lord. was only averted from the nation by their stoning and burning Achan, his family, and all pertaining to him (Joshua 7:24-26).

3. This also was the crime of Ananias and Sapphira.

(1) Under the glorious influences of the Holy Spirit at the Pentecost, the Church agreed to have all things in common, to which Ananias and Sapphira were consenting parties. They accordingly sold a possession which had been thus devoted to God, but secretly reserved part of the price placing the balance only at the apostles' feet.

(2) This crime was miraculously punished with death. The punishment evinced that the sprat of the Law is still in the gospel. Query: How does this bear upon those who have vowed that a proportion of their revenue should be sacred to God, but with increasing prosperity have become worldly, and withdrew the hand (see Malachi 3:8-12)?


1. In cases that are undoubted.

(1) This class of cases is described verse 15: "If a soul commit a trespass, and sin through ignorance, in the holy things of the Lord," etc. He knows what he did, though ignorant that it was sacrilege, but is now better informed.

(2) His duty now is clear: "He shall bring for his trespass unto the Lord a ram without blemish out of the flocks." He brings a male, probably in recognition that his sin was an interference with things concerning rulers ecclesiastical. "With thy estimation by shekels of silver, after the shekel of the sanctuary, for a trespass offering."

(3) But how are we to understand this? It may mean that payment may be made in money or silver, according to the estimated value of the harm sustained by the trespass. Some read, "by thy estimation two shekels of silver," etc., which would be a restoring fourfold, half a shekel being the atonement money. This is given to the temple (see Exodus 30:13). "And he shall add to it a fifth, and give it to the priest." With this he is accepted.

2. In cases that are doubtful.

(1) These are described verse 17: "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 wast it not, yet," etc. He suspects that he may have trespassed in sacrilege, but is not sure; "Yet is he guilty." The very doubt makes him guilty.

(2) This principle is recognized in the precepts of the New Testament. Paul doubtless deduced from this Law his declarations, that "Whatsoever is not of faith is sin," and that "He that doubts is damned," or condemned.

(3) This person also must bring a ram with his estimation for the hypothetical harm; but in this case there is no addition of the fifth. Learn that ignorance is a crime, as it leads to transgression: therefore study God's Law. Cultivate a tender conscience. - J.A.M.

Leviticus 5:14-6:7
Distinguished as:

1. Being violations of rights of property, either religious or non-religious property.

2. Including a fine, apportioned by the priest, for restoration.

3. Without distinction of persons or circumstances.

4. The victim, a ram without blemish from the flocks, and the atonement both sacred as producing. Divine forgiveness, and secular as including pecuniary indemnity; the blood being in this case merely swung against the side of the altar, not smeared on the horns.

Leviticus 5:14-6:7
comp. Philippians 4:8, 9; Luke 19:8; Matthew 5:23, 24. The trespass offering, in emphasizing the idea of restitution, is needful to complete the list of sacrifices. Without the just dealing this sacrifice demands, the personal consecration, fellowship, and atonement would savour of what was unreal and vain. God's mercy secures morality, and his Word condemns every desire to enjoy his grace and the fruits of injustice at the same time. Let us, then, notice -

I. THE POSSIBILITY OF WRONGING BOTH GOD AND MAN UNINTENTIONALLY. This passage presents this possibility. An Israelite might miscalculate the amount of his offerings, and find, on examination, that he has defrauded his God. This omission must be made good. Or again, he might commit, through want of thought, something God had forbidden, and for this sin of commission he must make restitution according to the estimation of the priest. The possibility of wronging a fellow-man unintentionally is too obvious to require illustration. Of the first wrong we have, in these gospel times, an instance in defective liberality on the part of Christians. How many fail to calculate how much they owe to God! Systematic beneficence is a general principle, but it is applied only in the rough, and a faithful analysis will generally prove that God has been defrauded. We defraud God also in the matter of time and of work. We grudge him his own day; we give him stinted service. A quite appreciable defalcation under such heads as these might be made out against most of us. Again, unintentional wrong is often done a neighbour in, for example, an unexpected failure in business. There are many, let us believe, who reach bankruptcy without intending it. They erred with the very best intentions, and through faulty management allowed their affairs to become hopelessly involved. But the loss suffered by a man's neighbours is not the less real because of his good intentions. Nor will these good intentions pass as good bills with the wronged neighbour's creditors.

II. LET US NOTICE THE POSSIBILITY OF DELIBERATELY WRONGING OUR NEIGHBOUR. We have intentional trespass against man brought out in the opening verses of the sixth chapter. We have here such sins contemplated as falsity in trust, robbery, oppression, and tergiversation about property which has been found. Here the intention as well as the act is at fault. Our present mercantile immoralities afford ample illustrations. In fact, business qualities are regarded by many as consisting in the advantage which a man is able, legally, to take of his neighbour. Men, without sufficient courage to become highway robbers, can take advantage of a neighbour behind the hedge of some blundering act of parliament.

III. THE LAW OF MOSES DEMANDED RESTITUTION IN ALL THESE CASES AS A CONDITION OF PARDON. Unless the trespassers brought the amount of the defalcation, with a double tithe in addition, and the prescribed ram for a trespass offering, God refused them pardon and fellowship. The case of Zacchaeus is in point. His interview with Jesus led to the desire of restitution arising naturally in his heart. "If 1 have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold" (Luke 19:8). God's forgiveness is not independent of moral feeling. God will not forgive trespass so as to encourage the continuance of injustice. There must be restitution and compensation, or he will not grant pardon.

IV. AT THE SAME TIME, THAT RESTITUTION SHOULD NOT BE REGARDED AS MERITORIOUS, THE LAW REQUIRED A TRESPASS OFFERING IN ADDITION. There have been cases of restitution by bankrupts and other trespassers, but they are so blazed abroad in the newspapers, that the public is ready to set them down as meritorious, and almost supererogations. But the Divine Law excluded all possibility of boasting, by attaching a trespass offering to the restitution. A ram must be brought; confession of sin must be made over it in the usual fashion; it must be slain; its blood must be sprinkled as in the former cases; the choice portions are dedicated to God on his altar; and the remainder eaten by the priests. All this was to show that, even for such an act as restitution, atonement was needful. It could not stand alone; it had no inherent merit; it was only tardy justice; and for the wrong there is need of atonement as well as reparation. And surely the same great truth meets us in the Christian life. Jesus as the Trespass Offering - and this is the phraseology employed in Isaiah 53:10 regarding him - must encircle us with his merits, even when we are conscientiously making restitution. It is as penitents we should do this. Even though the world glories in the reparation of wrong as something in its view most meritorious, the persons making reparation should do so in a penitent spirit, having regard always to the atoning merits of the Saviour.

V. THE COURAGE NECESSARY TO MAKE RESTITUTION MUST BE SUSTAINED BY THE FEARLESS PROCLAMATION OF GOD'S LAW. A certain antinomianism is encouraged, if not proclaimed, by a loose presentation of God's gospel. Immoralities are tolerated in commerce on the part of professing Christians, that go far to defeat the mission of Christianity. It is essential, in these circumstances, that we should cultivate the courage of men, and sustain their resolutions to be honest and just in making all possible restitution. God requires no less honesty in his gospel than he did in his Law. He never meant his pardon to be enjoyed along with the fruits of wrong-doing. These must be surrendered if it is to be enjoyed. "If it is absolutely impossible to be saved by the works of the Law, it is not less impossible to be saved without the works of faith, for faith without works is no faith at all." We must consequently think on "whatsoever things are honest" (Philippians 4:8), and remember our Saviour's words, "If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift" (Matthew 5:23, 24). - R.M.E.

The trespass for which "God spake unto Moses" that the children of Israel should make atonement, was an offense in which there was present the element of reparable wrong-doing. Something, it was contemplated, would be done which could be in some respects made good, and where this was possible it was to be done. In most cases this would refer to wrong done to man; but here we have the truth that God may be wronged, and that he condescends to receive restitution at our hands. We may look at -

I. SIN REGARDED AS A DEBT WHICH IS DUE TO GOD. Jehovah was sovereign Lord of the Hebrew commonwealth, and actual proprietor of all; anything withheld from those who were his ministers was a sacred due withheld, a debt undischarged. Our God is he:

1. Who has placed us under immeasurable obligation - by creation, preservation, benefaction, fatherly love, Divine interposition.

2. To whom we owe everything we are and have - our hearts and lives.

3. From whom we have withheld that which we shall never be able to pay: our reverence, gratitude, obedience, submission; "ten thousand talents" (Matthew 18:24). But there are some special defaults: -

II. ARREARS IS HOLY THINGS. "If a soul commit a trespass.., in the holy things of the Lord" (verse 15). The Israelites were under many injunctions; they probably received professional instruction from the Levites, as well as religious teaching at home (Deuteronomy 6:7). But they might be betrayed into ignorance or fall into forgetfulness, and they might come short of their duty

(1) in the offerings they were to bring to the altar,

(2) in the contributions they were to make to the ministers of God. They might ignorantly rob God in offerings and in tithes, as they even did intentionally (Malachi 3:8). We also may fall far short of what we should bring to God; we may take a totally inadequate view

(1) of the nature of the worship we should render,

(2) of the frequency of our devotional engagements,

(3) of the contribution we should give to the support of the Christian ministry,

(4) of our due share in the maintenance of the cause and the extension of the kingdom of Christ. Thus we may ignorantly but guiltily (verse 17) fall short of our sacred obligations.

III. THE ATONEMENT WHICH MUST BE FIRST PRESENTED. First of all, there was the offering "not without blood" to be made: the ram must be brought by the offender, and" the priest shall make an atonement for him with the ram.... and it shall be forgiven him." First, we must plead the atoning blood of the slain lamb, seeking and finding forgiveness through the Saviour's sacrifice. But this is not all; there is -

IV. THE RESTITUTION WHICH SHOULD SUBSEQUENTLY BE MADE. The Jew was required to "make amends for the harm he had done in the holy things," and not only to give an equivalent to that which he had withheld, but to "add the fifth part thereto;" he was not only to make up, but do more than make up for his default. We cannot and we need not attempt to act according to the letter of this injunction, but we may and should act in the spirit of it, by letting our consciousness of past deficiency in the worship and the service of Christ incite us to multiplied endeavours in the future. In looking back we recall negligences to attend the sanctuary, to come to the table of the Lord, to worship God in the secret chamber of devotion; therefore let us seek his face and his favour with constancy and earnestness in the days to come. We have not served his cause and our generation according to the measure of his bountiful dealings with us; therefore let us open our hand freely, and give far more generously than we should otherwise have done to those various agencies of beneficence which are turning the wilderness of wrong into the garden of the Lord. - C.

Is there not something here contrary to our generally received ideas respecting sin? Can a man sin "though he wast it not"? The text suggests -

I. THAT WE COMMONLY CONNECT WITH OUR IDEA OF SIN THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF GUILT AT the TIME OF TRANSGRESSION. Sin is only possible to intelligent, responsible beings; it implies the power of discernment; it is usually followed by self-reproach; it seems, at first sight, to involve a consciousness in the soul of error and wrong-doing at the moment of commission. Hence men expect to be excused if they can say they did not know it was wrong at the time, etc.


1. That sin is a willful departure from rectitude: it is the soul consenting to commit some one of "those things which are forbidden to be done by the commandments of the Lord." Where the will does not consent, there is no moral character in the act at all.

2. That the less there is of knowledge, the less there is of guilt (Luke 12:48).

3. That in the absence of all possible knowledge, there is entire freedom from guilt. "Where no law is, there is no transgression" (Romans 4:15). Scripture confirms what our reason declares, that there can be no condemnation where there are no means of knowing "the commandments of the Lord." But we are hound to remember for ourselves, and to impress on others, the opposite aspect, viz. -


1. Attainable knowledge not gained involves sin. The Jews ought to have known that it was obligatory on them, and highly beneficial to them, to be loyal to Jehovah, to be obedient to his servant Moses, to receive the exhortations of the prophets; their ignorance was culpable, and therefore their errors were sinful. So with their nonrecognition of Jesus Christ. So with our ignorance of that which is most binding on us and most beneficial to us. We ought to know that the service of Christ is the chief duty and the supreme blessing; in our ignorance is our guilt.

2. Needless forgetfulness is sin. It was criminal on the part of the Jews of the prophetic age to forget the merciful and mighty interpositions of God in earlier days; on the part of those of our Lord's day to forget the mighty works by which he proved himself to be the very Son of God. It is criminal on our part to forget those vital truths of which God's Word reminds us.

3. The blunting of our spiritual perceptions is sin. When we are blind to the truth which is before us, because our prejudice, or our pride, or our passion, or our worldly interests distort our vision, or because long continuance in folly has blunted our spiritual powers, we are guilty: we "know not what we do," even when we are crucifying a Messiah; but the guilt in the action lies chiefly in the existence of these enfeebled or perverted faculties, and, though we "wist not," yet we "are guilty" in the sight of God.

IV. THAT UNCONSCIOUS SIN CARRIES ITS PENALTY WITH IT. "He shall bear his iniquity." The penalty is threefold:

1. The displeasure of God - his condemnation.

2. Serious harm done to our own soul.

3. Awaking, soon, to the conviction that we have done grievous wrong to others, - it may be a reparable, but it may be an irreparable, wrong. - C.

Though he wist it not, yet is he guilty, and shall bear his iniquity.


1. As a revelation of the character of God.

2. As a basis on which the moral law is placed.

3. As a means of convincing man of sin, separating the idea of guilt from arbitrary, capricious, local, individual, emotional respects.


1. Atonement is provided not only for sins repented of and confessed, but for offenses unwittingly committed. God is thus represented as the shield of his creature, amid, the working out of his inscrutable will in the universe.

2. The mind obtains wonderful peace when it is assured that all possible liabilities are foreseen and averted.

3. Forgiveness is not a mere doing away of sin in the conscience, but a removal of the burden from the life. The Law has nothing more against us. - R.

The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database.
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