During the US tax season, even the clever commercials for tax preparation apps and services don’t entice us to enjoy doing our taxes. It’s just not a pleasant task. Sometimes, when we owe estimated taxes because we had a “good” year (or sold off some stocks), but we know we won’t owe a dime this year, we must still pay estimated taxes. We lament that we’ll lose interest on it for a year, but, if we get a refund from paying estimated taxes, we can tithe with some of it to devote some to God’s work. If we had left the money in investments, God would receive none. But having withdrawn it and being reimbursed, we can honor God twice—once by rightly paying the estimated tax and then giving some back to him. If we resented paying the estimated or regular taxes owed, we should repent of our willful resistance to God’s work through our government. Paying taxes was also an issue in Jesus’s day, and people resented those who collected them. God’s Word instructs us to respect our governments, to “Give to Caesar the things which are Caesar’s” (Matthew 22:21). Paul wrote, “…one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.” (Romans 13:5-7) In Jesus’s day, the corruption of tax collectors was a huge problem. One tax collector, in particular, comes to mind—Zacchaeus. “He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully…And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house…For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.'” (Luke 19:2-10) Zacchaeus wasn’t saved because he promised to restore what he defrauded—he demonstrated the fruit or works accompanying saving grace. John the Baptist preached, “Produce fruit consistent with repentance” (Matthew 3:8). This was not a new idea for God’s people; Leviticus 5 and 6 record God’s instructions to his people to make compensation for guilt with a sorrowful and repentant heart.
God’s provision for reconciliation, started in the Old Testament sacrificial system, is fulfilled in the New Covenant. Israelites then and today’s believers obey God through confession and compensation to others for injury or abuse to others or the Lord. “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court.” (Matthew 5:23-25) Similarly, we read in Leviticus 5:14-6:7, “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘If anyone commits a breach of faith and sins unintentionally in any of the holy things of the Lord, he shall bring to the Lord as his compensation, a ram without blemish out of the flock…for a guilt offering. He shall also make restitution for what he has done amiss in the holy thing and shall add a fifth to it and give it to the priest. And the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering, and he shall be forgiven…he has indeed incurred guilt before the Lord…If anyone sins and commits a breach of faith against the Lord by deceiving his neighbor in a matter of deposit or security, or through robbery, or if he has oppressed his neighbor or has found something lost and lied about it, swearing falsely—in any of all the things that people do and sin thereby—if he has sinned and has realized his guilt and will restore what he took by robbery or what he got by oppression or the deposit that was committed to him or the lost thing that he found or anything about which he has sworn falsely, he shall restore it in full and shall add a fifth to it, and give it to him to whom it belongs on the day he realizes his guilt….and he shall be forgiven for any of the things that one may do and thereby become guilty.” (Leviticus 5:14-6:7) This prescription for forgiveness is even for those times when the individual is unsure if she offended someone but thinks it’s a possibility. “As the phrase, ‘though he did not know it’ indicates, these verses concern the person who suspects he has transgressed against divine law or another person but is not sure. Sacrificial remedy is provided for those with an uneasy conscience and reparation is offered to God.” (1) Besides an uneasy conscience, a person may realize that a friend is suddenly cold toward him or that a relationship has changed dramatically, which may be an indication of unknowingly offending the person.
Profaning God’s Holy Things
“It’s common to reduce guilt by revising our definition of sin…people have revised what makes us guilty, excluding God. Ironically, that has not reduced feelings of guilt. People are lining up in greater numbers than ever to see psychiatrists, counselors, and psychologists, paying $100 an hour for someone to help them feel less guilty…[But] from the beginning, God intended the Old Testament sacrificial system to be temporary. His perfect plan was for this system of sacrifices to be pedagogical and preparatory. That is, God used the sacrifices to teach world how sinful people are reconciled to him and to prepare the world for the coming of the Messiah, Jesus, who is the final sacrifice for sin and through whom all people can be reconciled to God.” (2) “Followers of Jesus are in a covenant relationship with God—the new covenant in Christ—and any sin we commit is unfaithful to that covenant. We’re guilty when we violate our covenant with God because a covenant relationship with God is a sacred covenant…Israel was the Lord’s bride, and when Israel was unfaithful to the Lord, He called it adultery. A marriage covenant calls for absolute faithfulness…In marriage, 99 percent faithfulness is 100 percent unfaithfulness…God calls us to be faithful in His covenant with us. His covenant is a sacred covenant because it is with God.” (3) We, who are the bride of Christ, are often unfaithful to our Bridegroom and his friends, so we repent with our hearts and conduct. “The law [in 5:15] reminded Israelites of the importance of showing due respect to their holy King by showing due respect to his holy property. To do so was to demonstrate covenant loyalty; to do otherwise was to demonstrate utter disregard for the covenant King. Paul picks up on this same principle when he exhorts Christians to lives of sexual purity, thus acknowledging that their bodies are the Lord’s holy property, his temple, and when he warns them not to harm the church as a whole, since it too belongs to the Lord…[But in Israel, how did] sinners know to bring a sacrifice if they do not know what their sin is?…They experience some type of misfortune and conclude that they must be suffering guilt’s consequences. In short, the person has sinned, but is unaware of what the sin is. The sinner therefore assumes the worst (the profaning of a holy item) and brings the costly reparation offering for atonement and forgiveness…even an inadvertent and unknown sin could be very serious, so much so that it could result in the Lord’s discipline by means of suffering. This certainly served as an exhortation to the Israelites to avoid sin at all costs, an exhortation also given in the New Testament. But it also highlighted to the Israelites the Lord’s grace, in that he provided a way for his people to address such sin and so put their hearts at ease. Believers whose hearts are repentant before the Lord also can have peace, knowing Jesus’ sacrifice atones for all their sins, even those that remain unknown to them.” (4)
Living the Law Through the Gospel
God did not call Israel to merely know the law as a type of liturgy. They were to love it, live it, and witness it. Before God instructed Moses to build the tabernacle and begin the sacrifices, he gave his people the Ten Commandments—to honor God, his Sabbath, and his people. “The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 7:7, ‘I would not have known sin if it were not for the law. For example, I would not have known what it is to covet’…From the beginning God ordained that sin leads to death—physical death and spiritual death. In the sacrificial system God ordained another principle, a principal of His grace. He said that instead of sin leading to the death of the sinner, He would allow sin to result in the death of an animal that would serve as a sacrifice, a substitute for the sinner to be killed in his place. When a sinner repented and accepted God’s remedy of sacrifice, he would be forgiven…God used the sacrifices to teach the world the means by which sinful people are reconciled to holy God…[and] to prepare the world for the coming of the Messiah, Jesus, who is the final sacrifice for sin through whom all people can be reconciled to God…When Jesus died on the cross for our sins, He became our restitution offering. God offered the restitution offering for us when He was in Christ on the cross, laying down His life for ours…All our past sin, everything we have done that was against God’s commands, everything that we should have done but did not do, every wicked thought, every careless word—forgiven.” (5)
The Need for Confession and Compensation
“The case [law in 6:1-7] describes four ways in which sinners could commit fraud against a neighbor…taking something that had been entrusted to them;… ‘robbery’: that is, seizing another’s goods by force; withholding that which belongs to another, for example, cheating others by not giving them due wages; and finding lost property and lying about it, effectively stealing the item from its rightful owner…[The] Israelites learned by this that their sin against others must not only be confessed to the Lord, but also to those they had wronged. Jesus emphasizes the same…true spirituality involves a proper posture to the Lord, as well as to those around us…True repentance goes beyond saying, ‘I’m sorry’; it extends to correcting the wrong as fully as possible.” (6) Zacchaeus vowed to repay four times over to those he defrauded after his conversion. But that was only the beginning of Zacchaeus’s changed life and priorities because he lived in a culture of legalism. We live in a culture of relativism. “In a culture where relativism reigns, acknowledging moral guilt often requires a reversal of worldview…When applied to morality, or right and wrong behavior, concepts like ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are defined individually or socially, not universally or authoritatively…[But] the Bible describes a God who has revealed specific, propositional truth about who He is, who we are, and what He requires of us. That truth is not relative, it is absolute; it is not a matter of human opinion, it is a matter of divine revelation; and it is not malleable, it is unalterable. And it is precise…We are not guilty of sin when we feel guilty or when our friends or society tell us we are guilty; we are guilty when God says we are guilty.” (7) We are to confess our possible sins against our brothers and sisters in Christ and repay what was lost, even respect and honor. “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!'” (James 2:14-19)
Related Scripture: Exodus 19:7-8; 22:4, 9; Leviticus 19:11-12; 22:14-16; Numbers 5:5-7; Deuteronomy 24:14–15; 1 Kings 8:31–3; 2 Samuel 12:4-6; Ezra 10:19; Proverbs 6:30-31; Matthew 5:23-26; 22:37-40; Acts 5:1-11; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 2 Corinthians 7:9-10.
1. The Reformation Study Bible, Leviticus 5:17-19, Reformation Trust Publishing (Ligonier
2. Ministries), Sanford, Fl., 2015.
3. Moseley, Allen, Exalting Jesus in Leviticus, Christ-Centered Exposition Series, Leviticus 5:14-19, B&H Publishing Group, 2015.
4. Mosley, Ibid.
5. Sklar, Jay, Leviticus, An Introduction and Commentary, Leviticus 5:14-6:7, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, IVP Academic, 2014.
6. Mosley, Leviticus 6:1-7, Ibid.
7. Sklar, Ibid.
8. Mosley, Ibid.
March 23, 2023