The highway and overpass road construction continues near my home, now in its third year. Since I drive through it daily, I know it changes depending on which section the crews are working on. However, other drivers who aren’t as familiar are unsure which lanes on the overpass are open and they jog to the left or right around the work. So I try to be cautious. Then, when I am past that area, I relax. Lately though, I’ve been cut off by drivers on other roads at an alarming frequency. It got to the point last week that I asked the Lord to show me if there was something I was doing that was confusing those drivers. Maybe it was me and not them because I was too relaxed. Unintentional mistakes, sin, and guilt are all very real. After I prayed and examined my driving, to know if I was the problem, either I somehow corrected my driving or I became more cautious; I haven’t had that experience as much. Unintentional sin is still sin and carries actual guilt, even if we don’t realize its presence. And, “sin’s defiling effects [make] an impact not only on the sinner, but also on those associated with the sinner. In this way, sin [is] like dishonour. For example, when children do wrong, they bring dishonour on themselves, as well as on their family, especially their parents. In a similar way, Israelites who committed certain wrongs brought a defiling dishonour on themselves, their nation (their covenant family) and especially on their covenant Lord. This dishonour clung to the Lord’s ‘home’, the tent of meeting, just as the dishonour of a child’s wrong can cling to the parent’s home.” (1) In Leviticus 4 and 5, we see how God provided the sacrificial system to relieve His people from the corruption and guilt of their unintentional sins, reinstate His relationship with them, and cleanse the tabernacle and community. One takeaway is to be willing to admit and confess our real guilt about unintentional sins, knowing that they negatively impact our relationships with the Lord, each other, and our communities. I am sure that studying our Leviticus passage resulted in my self-examination about my driving. Hopefully, it will extend to all areas of our lives.
All God’s People Were Guilty
“And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If anyone sins unintentionally in any of the Lord‘s commandments about things not to be done, and does any one of them, if it is the anointed priest who sins, thus bringing guilt on the people, then he shall offer for the sin that he has committed a bull from the herd without blemish to the Lord for a sin offering…If the whole congregation of Israel sins unintentionally and the thing is hidden from the eyes of the assembly, and they do any one of the things that by the Lord’s commandments ought not to be done, and they realize their guilt…When a leader sins, doing unintentionally any one of all the things that by the commandments of the Lord his God ought not to be done, and realizes his guilt, or the sin which he has committed is made known to him, he shall bring as his offering a goat, a male without blemish…If anyone of the common people sins unintentionally in doing any one of the things that by the Lord’s commandments ought not to be done, and realizes his guilt, or the sin which he has committed is made known to him, he shall bring for his offering a goat, a female without blemish, for his sin which he has committed.(Leviticus 4:1-3, 13, 22-23, 27-28) “One question to ask with respect to the offering in Leviticus 4 is what to call it…the purpose of this offering was to deal with sin but also to remove defilement in a more general sense. So possibly it’s best to refer to this sacrifice as the purification offering. The fourth chapter of Leviticus describes the procedure for the purification offering for four groups of people—‘the anointed priest’ (or high priest), ‘the whole community,’ ‘a leader’ of the people, and ‘any of the common people’…Sin is not stagnant; it’s powerful and destructive. When we sin, it affects other people; if we’re in a position of leadership, what we do affects more people. When somebody has a contagious infection, he shouldn’t be around others, because the more people he touches or breathes on, the more people he’ll infect. A person in a position of leadership touches a lot of people, and if the leader is infected with sin, his or her sin will affect many. One message of the purification offering is that sin is serious; it’s serious for the congregation as a whole, it’s serious for each individual, and it’s serious for people in positions of leadership.” (2) But the Lord didn’t leave his people in their guilt. He provided the sacrificial system to relieve them from the defilement of their unintentional sins. God wanted an unhindered relationship with His people through the cleansing of their community and the tabernacle. God is immutable; he wants us to continue, through Christ, to influence each other and our communities for his glory. But we don’t always know what we’ve done or even considered doing that offends the Lord, so he offers us the opportunity to ask for illumination, to question our motives, intentions, desires, and choices.
In Israel’s case, “[They] might not realize that they were ritually impure, and eat fellowship offering meat. A modern parallel would be ‘overlooking signs and so unwittingly driving the wrong way down a one-way street.” (3) “The word ‘unintentional’ refers to a sin of error. It comes from a verb that means to stray’. An unintentional sin is not premeditated or planned; it’s a sin we just wander into—because of either ignorance or negligence. We unthinkingly stray into trouble, like a sheep (Isaiah 53:6, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way.”)…Just because we commit unintentional sins out of ignorance or negligence doesn’t mean that we don’t experience consequences because of these sins. We’re defiled by all sin, so God provided a sacrifice to atone for unintentional sins.” (4) Those times when we realize that we may be experiencing the consequences of neglect or ignorance are the best times to ask the Lord or others to help us see whether we have unknowingly sinned against God and others. We experience consequences for a reason. A biblical worldview sees circumstances through God’s eyes, which are superior to ours and his view should encourage and delight us for our sanctification.
Help for Leaders and Common People
“When a leader sins, doing unintentionally any one of all the things that by the commandments of the Lord his God ought not to be done, and realizes his guilt, or the sin which he has committed is made known to him, he shall bring as his offering a goat, a male without blemish…If anyone of the common people sins unintentionally in doing any one of the things that by the Lord‘s commandments ought not to be done, and realizes his guilt, or the sin which he has committed is made known to him, he shall bring for his offering a goat, a female without blemish, for his sin which he has committed. (Lev. 4:22-23, 27-28)
“The phrase, ‘his God’, is here added, and is not used neither of the anointed priest, nor of the congregation, nor of one of the common people; only of the prince, to show, that though he is above others, God is above him, and he is accountable to him; he is his God, of whom he is, and by whom he rules; wherefore if he breaks any of his commandments, though ignorantly, he must bring a sacrifice for it…no man is free from sin; all sorts of persons, of all ranks and degrees, high and low, rich and poor, men in office, civil or ecclesiastical, or in whatsoever state of life, are liable to sin, and do sin continually, either ignorantly or willingly; and Christ is a sacrifice for all sins and for all sorts of sinners.” (5) “This section underscores the fact that the sin of those in authority is viewed as more serious than that of those they lead . This is no surprise: leaders have the greatest potential to lead others astray and to bring dishonor on the Lord’s name. Moreover, since leaders have been entrusted with much, much more is required of them…because the Lord knows that sheep follow the shepherd, he continually emphasizes the need for shepherds to be ‘examples to the flock’ (1 Tim. 3:1–13). Even more than its emphasis on a leader’s responsibility, however, this section underscores both the purity and the mercy of the Lord….Because of the Lord’s great purity, he could not permit such defilement to exist in the midst of his holy camp. But because of his great mercy, he could not help but provide a way for his people to deal with this defilement: the purification offering. With this offering, the animal’s lifeblood served to ransom sinners from the Lord’s just punishment, as well as to cleanse the defilement of their sin. Such mercy is seen in even greater depth in the New Testament, which speaks of Jesus’ death as the ultimate purification offering, one that was powerful enough to cleanse all our sins. Indeed, it is by means of Jesus’ lifeblood that the Lord can ‘forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (Heb. 10:10, 12).’” (6)
Taking Remains and Guilt Outside the Camp
Israel was instructed to take the remains of the sacrificial animal “outside the camp.” “He shall carry the bull outside the camp and burn it up as he burned the first bull; it is the sin offering for the assembly.” (Leviticus 4:12, 21) “The Jewish writers interpret it without the three camps, the camp of the tabernacle, the camp of the Levites, and the camp of the Israelites; when the temple was built, such sacrifices were carried and burnt without the city of Jerusalem…this was typical of Christ being led out of the city of Jerusalem, and suffering without the gates of it.” (6) “For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.” (Hebrews 13:11-12) When God provided the sacrificial system to relieve His people from the corruption and guilt of their unintentional sins, it was complete, and reinstated His relationship with them. Not only was God’s dwelling place, the tabernacle cleaned, but the entire community within the camp was purified by removing anything leftover from the sacrifice to outside Israel’s encampment. When we sincerely confess our sin to the Lord, there is no reason for any guilt to remain. Only doubt in God’s mercy and arrogance holds onto guilt over confessed sin. The Lord has provided forgiveness for confessed sins that should no longer hinder our relationship with him, each other, and our community. “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.” (Psalm 103:11-13) “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2) What more encouragement do we need to rid ourselves of unintentional sins against the Lord and others?
Related Scripture: Leviticus 15:31; Numbers 17:22-26; Joshua 7:19; 1 Kgs 12:25–33; 14:16; Psalm 19:12-13; Ezra 10:1-5; Romans 8:3-4; 1 Tim. 3:1–13; 4:12; James 3:1; Hebrews 9:23-28; 10:12-14; 13:11-13; 1 Peter 5:1-4; 1 John 1:9-10.
1. Sklar, Jay, Leviticus, An Introduction and Commentary, Leviticus 4:1-5:13, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, IVP Academic, 2014.
2. Moseley, Allen, Exalting Jesus in Leviticus, Christ-Centered Exposition Series, Leviticus 4:1-5:13, B&H Publishing Group, 2015.
3. Sklar, Ibid.
4. Mosley, Ibid.
5. Gill, John, John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, Leviticus 4, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/geb/leviticus-4.html.
6. Sklar, Ibid.
7. Sklar, Ibid.
8. Gill, Ibid.
March 9, 2023