Leviticus 5:1

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.

If he do not utter it.
1. The former laws seem to concern the Israelites specially, where it said (ver. 27), "If any people of the land"; but these concern all whomsoever they see or know to offend.

2. The sins of ignorance there are propounded generally, here instance is given in some special and particular sins.

3. There sins are mentioned which a man committeth by himself, here such as are done by others whereby one may be defiled.

4. Beside these laws are set forth without any distinction of persons, as in the former chapter of the priest, the congregation, and prince, because the vulgar people are here understood, every law beginning thus, "If any soul," as Leviticus 4:27. "If any soul of the people," by this phrase, then, are meant of private persons of the vulgar sort; as for the special persons as of the priest and prince, they must be understood here as in the former laws to make satisfaction for these sins also with the rite proscribed in their privileges.

5. Add hereunto the reason which is yielded by Tostatus that whereas sins of ignorance are incident both unto the priest, prince, and people, and differ in degree according to the quality of their persons, as it is more grievous for the high priest to fall by error or ignorance than the congregation, and for them rather than the prince, yet for sins committed of malice and passion there cannot be the like difference, for the whole multitude cannot offend in passion as of ignorance as a particular person may (Leviticus 4:1). But I resolve rather with Cajetane, that these laws are specially understood of private persons, and of private offences.

6. And this further difference there is between the sins rehearsed in this chapter and the former — that there the sins of ignorance are by name expressed, here such as proceed of passion; which kind of sins must be understood with some kind of limitation, for there is no sin committed, though of malice, but there is some passion in it, as he which for fear or hope of reward forsweareth himself is led by some passion, yet it cannot properly be called a sin of passion.(1) It must be a strong and forcible passion which are either wrath or lust — the love of money is none of them.(2) It must be a passion suddenly rising, not inveterate, as he that is suddenly enraged sinneth of passion, not he which doth any evil of hatred which is a settled, festered, and inveterate passion, for such an one deliberately offendeth, and not of passion.

(A. Willet, D. D.)

The spiritual truth underlying the Mosaic law is that man is under the direct eye of God, and his life is, therefore, lifted into direct responsibility to God. God sees us, and God sees everything about us and within us. Sins of silence and secrecy, sins of public error and notoriety, which go before a man to judgment, are alike open and naked to Him with whom we have to do. Moses taught that the life of the meanest man fulfilled itself under the open eye of heaven. He was no mere atom in the human ant-hill, no insignificant unit of humanity, lost in the vast ebb and flow of universal life, for insignificance is impossible to man, and obscurity is denied him. He was a person, active, powerful, working woe or weal to others; and just as the calling of a man's voice, or the footfall of a child's step, stir the waves of sound which travel onward and ever onward, till they may be said to break upon the shores of the furthest stars, so the influences of a man's life are boundless. This passage is a striking illustration of these principles. It recognises that sin may lie in silence as in speech, that to hear the word of swearing and not rebuke it is to share the guilt of it; that men are responsible to each other because they are responsible to God. There are three forces in human life, the action of which is illustrated by this passage.

I. The first is INFLUENCE — that intangible personal atmosphere which clothes every man, an invisible belt of magnetism, as it were, which he carries with him. Every human being seems to possess a moral atmosphere quite peculiar to himself, which invests and interprets him, and the presence of which others readily detect. For instance, a pure woman carries a moral and ennobling atmosphere with her. The atmosphere which clothes her seems to flood the room, and the coarse weeds of vicious thought and talk cannot thrive in it. Or look on the other side of the illustration. Picture a type of man but too common — the fast man of society. There is an exhalation of evil which goes before him and spreads around him. That is influence: something subtle, indefinable, yet real; without lips, yet speaking; without visible shape, yet acting with tremendous potency, like the magnetic forces which throb and travel unseen around us, bidden in the dewdrop and uttered in the thunder; influence, which streams out from every human being, and shapes others, and moulds and makes them; influence, which is stronger than action, more eloquent than speech, more enduring than life, which being holy sows the centuries with the seeds of holy life, and being evil multiplies, indeed, transgressors in the earth!

II. The second force is EXAMPLE. Every man sets a copy for his neighbour, and his neighbour is quick to reproduce it. The covetous man has a miser for his son, the light woman has a daughter hastening towards the ways of shame, the drunkard infects a whole neighbourhood with his vices.

III. And then, from influence and example there results RESPONSIBILITY. YOU can as easily evade the law of gravitation as the law of human responsibility. If you cease to speak that will not rid you of the burden; you must cease to be to do that. Nay, even death itself is powerless to destroy influence. Often it multiplies it a thousandfold. Is the life of the heroes, the patriots, the martyrs really closed? They were never so much alive as now; the fire that slew them freed them, and the steps of their scaffolds were the staircase of immortality. Thus influence and example bring with them responsibility to God and responsibility to man.


1. First, it is clear that personal sin always involves others. "If a man hear the voice of swearing," if he even knows of it, he shares the complicity of the sin. There is always some one who hears, who witnesses, who shares. Here is the most tragic and awful aspect of sin — we share our sins! We have involved others in our guilt, and if we forget they will go remembering. It is well that thou shouldest stand in God's house to-day, clothed with decorous reverence, unsuspected, and with no scar of fire upon thee; but what of the poor soiled body of that other one, the sharer of thy sin and shame? For there is a dreadful comradeship in guilt — often intentional, for men love company in their sins, but often unintentional, for others share what they concealed and know what they did secretly. It is the most appalling aspect sin assumes; it is never sterile, it is always multiplying and prolific, passing like a fever-taint from man to man; till from one sin a world is infected and corrupt.

2. Notice again, that he who sees a sin and does not rebuke it shares the sin and bears its iniquity. The only way to purge one's self of the contaminating complicity of another man's guilt is instantly to witness against it. There is no other course open to a spiritual honesty.(1) Look, for instance, at this truth personally. No one need go very far for an illustration. You are a youth employed in a warehouse or office where religion is at a discount. In the warehouse there is sure to be a fast set, a group of youths whose habitual talk is seasoned with profanity or impurity, and who are always eager to get an audience for their shameful recitals. You were silent, you blushed, you were indignant, you turned aside full of abhorrence for the sin and contempt for the sinner, and no doubt you flattered yourself you must be very virtuous and good to feel such virtuous anger, and there you were content to rest. But this text puts an entirely new meaning on your conduct; because you did not witness against that sin you shared it. Blushing is one thing, confessing Christ quite another.(2) Look at this matter nationally. Look at what is going on at the present time in India, Hong Kong, the Barbadoes, wherever the flag of Britain is flying. What is going on, do you ask? This, that wherever that flag goes the shame of British vice follows. And now, mark, who is responsible for all this? According to my text, all who know the facts, and therefore from this hour all who hear these words are responsible for the existence of this licensed infamy. This passage particularly rebukes, then, sins of silence. To be silent when you should speak is as evil as to speak when you should be silent. To be tongue-tied by cowardice when wrong discovers its hideous nakedness to us, is as vile a thing as to praise wrong and sing the coronation song of wickedness.

(W. J. Dawson.)

I. THAT THE SINS OF MEN CANNOT EVADE WITNESSES. An old writer has forcibly said "that to every sin there must be at least two witnesses," viz., "a man's own conscience and the great God."

II. THAT IT IS THE DUTY OF WITNESSES TO GIVE EVIDENCE WHEN JUSTICE DEMANDS IT. When a witness heard the words of adjuration he was required at the proper place to give the needed information. It was his duty because —

(1)The law of the Lord commanded it, and

(2)The purity of society demanded it.

III. THAT IN CONCEALING EVIDENCE AGAINST SIN WE INVOLVE OURSELVES IN SERIOUS GUILT. The guilt of concealing evidence is seen, in that by so doing we —

1. Dishonour God's voice, which speaks within us.

2. Disobey God's published laws.

3. Decrease our own antipathy to sin.

4. Encourage the trespasser in his wrong-doing. All sin ought to be acknowledged and expiated for the sake of the sinner and the wronged.

(F. W. Brown.)

1. Not to conceal, or consent to other men's sins.

2. God's dishonour not to be endured.

3. Confession of our sins unto God necessary (ver. 5). This is the beginning of amendment.

4. Against negligent hearers of the Word (ver. 15).

5. Against sacrilege.

6. To take hold of the sleights and subtle temptations of Satan.

7. To appear before the Lord in sincerity and simplicity of heart.

(A. Willet, D. D.)

When the late Rev. Mr. K — was settled in his congregation of S — , they could not furnish him with lodgings. In these circumstances, a Captain P — , in the neighbourhood, though a stranger to religion, took him into his family. But our young clergyman soon found himself in very unpleasant circumstances, owing to the captain's practice of swearing. One day at table, after a very liberal volley of oaths from the captain, he observed calmly, "Captain, you have certainly made use of a number of very improper terms." The captain, who was rather a choleric man, was instantly in a blaze. "Pray, sir, what improper terms have I used? Surely, captain, you must know," replied the clergyman with greater coolness; "and having already put me to the pain of hearing them, you cannot be in earnest in imposing upon me the additional pain of repeating them." "You are right, sir," resumed the captain, "you are right. Support your character, and we will respect you. We have a parcel of clergymen around us here who seem quite uneasy till they get us to understand that we may use any freedom we please before them, and we despise them."

Kilstein, a pious German minister, once heard a labouring man use the most awful curses and imprecations in a fit of passion, without reproving him for it. This so troubled him that he could scarcely sleep the following night. In the morning he arose early, soon saw the man coming along, and addressed him as follows: "My friend, it is you I am waiting to see." "You are mistaken," replied the man; "you have never seen me before." "Yes, I saw you yesterday," said Kilstein, "whilst returning from your work, and heard you praying." "What! heard me pray?" said the man. "I am sure now that you are mistaken, for I never prayed in my life." "And yet," calmly but earnestly replied the minister, "if God had heard your prayer, you would not be here, but in hell; for I heard you beseeching God that He might strike you with blindness and condemn you unto hell fire." The man turned pale, and trembling said: "Dear sir, do you call this prayer? Yes, it is true, I did this very thing." "Now, my friend," continued Kilstein, "as you acknowledge it, it is my duty to beseech you to seek with the same earnestness the salvation of your soul as you have hitherto its damnation, and I will pray to God that He will have mercy upon you." From this time the man regularly attended upon the ministry of Kilstein, and ere long was brought in humble repentance to Christ as a true believer. "A word in season how good it is." "Be instant in season and out of season; rebuke, reprove, exhort, with all long-suffering and patience."

Sister Dora was once travelling, as usual, third class, when a number of half-drunken navvies got in after her, and before she could change her carriage the train was in motion. She recollected that her dress, a black gown and cloak, with a quiet black bonnet and veil, would probably, as on former encounters with half-intoxicated men, protect her from insult. Her fellow-travellers began to talk, and at last one of them swore several blasphemous oaths. Sister Dora's whole soul burnt within her, and she thought, "Shall I sit and hear this?" but then came the reflection, "What will they do to me if I interfere?" and this dread kept her quiet a moment or two longer. But the language became more and more violent, and it passed through her mind, "What must these men think of any woman who can sit by and hear such words unmoved; but, above all, what will they think of a woman in my dress who is afraid to speak to them?" At once she stood up her full height in the carriage and called out loudly, "I will not hear the Master whom I serve spoken of in this way." Immediately they dragged her down into her seat, with a torrent of oaths, and one of the most violent roared, "Hold your jaw, you fool; do you want your face smashed in?" They held her down on the seat between them; nor did she attempt to struggle, satisfied with having made her open protest. At the next station they let her go, and she quickly got out of the carriage. A minute after, while she was standing on the platform, she heard a rough voice behind her, "Shake hands, mum! you're a good-plucked one, you are! You were right and we were wrong." She gave her hand to the man, who hurried away, for fear, no doubt, that his comrades should jeer at him.

If we compare the fourth and the sixth chapters of Leviticus, it is very evident that the first broad distinction between them is that the former treats of sins committed ignorantly, the latter of sins committed knowingly. The division, however, into sins ignorantly, and sins knowingly committed, is not alone sufficient. Sins committed ignorantly, greatly vary, not only in the degree, but also in the kind of ignorance; and for such ignorance, we may be in different degrees responsible. In order, therefore, to mark that such differences are appreciated by God, and that He desires that we, too, should appreciate them, various classifications of sins of ignorance are given in the fifth chapter; in some of which there is so much of self-caused ignorance that they very nearly approach, in the character of their guilt, to sins knowingly committed, Indeed in the first example given in the fifth chapter, there is so much that is voluntary in the action supposed, that we may perhaps wonder how such an action can at all be placed in the same rank with sins of ignorance. The case supposed is that of a person, who having committed a sin, and being adjured to declare it, refuses. It is evident that terror, or forgetfulness, or carelessness, or some plausible sophistry whereby we may deceive ourselves into the belief that our particular case is an exception to the general rule, may prevent such a sin from being committed with the deliberate voluntariness that marks the trespasses of the sixth chapter. But it stands in striking contrast with sins that spring from that deep universal ignorance which characterises the sins of the fourth chapter. The second case is that of unconsciously touching something that is unclean. Here, again, there is evidently no ignorance of any general principle. The ignorance concerns a specific fact, and is, more or less, the result of carelessness or failure in applying the tests which we possess. There are, however, cases in which ignorance of particulars is the immediate result of being imbued with false general principles. He whose mind has been from his youth up trained in the school of error, and thence received principles which have formed his habits of thought and action, will be found very incapable of determining what is clean or unclean in the particulars of action. The eye of his conscience is blinded; his moral sense is paralysed. The wandering or inattentive eye may be recalled to observation; the slumbering eye may be aroused; but how can we gain the attention of an eye, over which the film of thick darkness has firmly formed? Sins committed in such darkness as this would properly be traced to ignorance as their root, and would be classed with the sins of the fifth chapter, requiring the sin-offering as there described.

(B. W. Newton.)

Transgression may ensue from lack of knowledge that such conduct is forbidden; or it may be that, knowing the prohibition, disobedience is speciously excused on some vague plea that circumstances warrant it or expediency condones it In such cases ignorance, if it be really ignorance at all, is self-induced, and is therefore the more culpable. Amid such reprehensible forms of ignorance may be placed —

I. CARELESSNESS; the mind too placid to rouse itself to inquiry.

II. INDISCRIMINATION; the habit of ignoring vital principles and conniving at inconsistencies.

III. SELF-EXCUSING; finding exceptional circumstances which extenuate faults and condone misconduct.

IV. NEGLECT OF SCRIPTURE; not "coming to the light lest their deeds should be reproved" (John 3:20).

V. SATISFACTION WITH A STATE OF CONSCIOUS DARKNESS; indifference to precise regulations of religion, indisposition of heart towards "perfect holiness"; a loose and easy content over failings and negligence. Ignorance is by some persons consciously cherished: it allows them a covert from the exactions of a lofty and honest piety.

VI. PLAUSIBLE SOPHISTRY; entertaining the delusion that because there is not determined wilfulness in sinning, Or not fullest knowledge of God's prohibitions of sin, they are less responsible, less to be condemned. Note: Many persons, trained from youth in a school of error, grow up with false principles dominating their judgments and consciences, or with ignorance of the application of right principles to particular incidents and actions. Thus Luther, trained amid the blinding theories of Romanism, groped on till manhood in delusions and dimness. Thus Paul, brought up amid the traditions of Judaism, found his soul clouded with wholly wrong thoughts concerning what was "doing God service." It is our duty to undeceive ourselves, to inquire after knowledge, to seek full light, that our dimness may yield to discernment. A complacent ignorance is as the softly gliding stream which flows onwards to the rapids. To be able to rest in such self-satisfied ignorance indicates that self-delusion has began, portending doom. "Whom the gods would destroy they first dement."

1. Search the Scriptures.

2. Seek the Spirit's illumination.

3. Culture a pure and enlightened conscience.

4. Exercise the judgment and will in efforts to "cease from evil and learn to do well."

(W. H. Jellie.)

Our translation suggests, if it suggests at all, a very obscure and imperfect meaning. It is not, "If a soul hear a person swear, and do not rebuke the swearer, or tell of the swearer," which seems to be suggested by our version; but, If a person summoned to a court of law, under the ancient Jewish economy, adjured by the officiating judge to tell the truth, should not so tell the truth, and all that he knew, then he should be guilty. We have an illustration of this verse in such a passage as that where the high priest came to our blessed Lord, as recorded in Matthew 26:63, and said, "I adjure thee by the living God, that Thou tell us whether Thou be the Christ, the Son of God." Now, that was the high priest acting upon the first verse of this very chapter. And our Lord then heard what is called "the swearing" in this verse, or what in that case was the adjuration of the high priest; and as you notice, so obedient was the true Lamb, the true Saviour, to all the requirements of the ceremonial law, that though He had been dumb when asked previously, yet the moment that the high priest adjured Him, that moment, in obedience to the first verse of this chapter, our blessed Lord answered the question addressed to Him; as if it was impossible that He could fail in the observance of the least jot or tittle of the ceremonial law, any more than in the weightiest requirement of God's moral law. We have in Proverbs 29. an allusion to this: "He heareth an adjuration, and telleth not," — that is laid down as a sin, or, in other words, the violation of this verse.

(J. C. Cumming, D. D.)

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