OT Atonement for Unintentional and Deliberate Sins

Leviticus 4 begins the Lord’s instructions to Moses concerning the law of the sin offerings. Verse 2: “Speak to the sons of Israel saying ‘if a person sins unintentionally in any of the things which the Lord has commanded not to be done . . . ‘ The chapter then continues by a specifying particular types of sacrifices offered and ceremonies performed for different types of people who commit sins, always with the understanding that these are unintentional. Verse 3ff. refers to the case where the anointed priest is the one who sins. Verse 13ff. has the discussion of the case where the whole congregation of Israel commits unintentional sin. Verse 22ff. discusses where a non-priestly leader of the people sins. Then finally in verse 27ff. we find a paragraph a common person’s sin. Always these are unintentional sins that are discovered after the fact and must be atoned for so that a holy God may reside with an unholy people.

Although Leviticus 5 introduces a new topic, guilt offerings, it seems to carry on the theme of sacrifices for unintentional sins. For example, verses 2 and 3 the case of a man who unknowingly touches something unclean, though it is “hidden from him” he is unclean and must make his offering as soon as he becomes aware of it. Or, verse 4 describes someone who “swears thoughtlessly from his lips” and his oath is “hidden from him.” Verse 14 says, “Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘If a person acts unfaithfully and sins unintentionally against the Lord’s holy things, then he shall bring his guilt offering to the Lord.’”

So what about deliberate sins? Does the Lord prescribe offerings for deliberate, known, willful sins? Leviticus 6:1ff. specifies the guilt offering in the case of theft, robbery, extortion, lying, and swearing falsely. Verses 3 and 7 broaden the application of this guilt offering: “so that he sins in regard to any one of the things a man may do” (3) . . . “and the priest shall make atonement for him before the Lord, and he will be forgiven for any one of the things which he may have done to incur guilt” (7).  Even though the focus in chapters 4 and 5 is on unintentional sins there is an atonement, forgiveness, for deliberate sins too.

Leviticus 6:1ff. teaches us that in the OT:

1)      Deliberate sin can be atoned for and forgiven.

2)      The sinner who follows the Lord’s instructions remains a member of the covenant community.

3)      Restitution is still required though the guilt offering obtains atonement and forgiveness.

4)      The guilt offering in this case, 6:1ff., is very costly, a male ram, though it seems to vary with the severity of the sin.

  1. At least one male is needed to maintain a flock; sacrificing a male may severely limit the potential for economic growth
  2. In the prior cases on unintentional sins, the guilt offering may be a female, or even a grain offering

Th OT sacrifices are the types of which Christ’s sacrifice is the antitype. Studying OT detail leads to NT comfort.

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