We come now to a very solemn passage of Scripture in which the matter of sin comes to the fore. If we use the idea of the Lord speaking unto Moses as that which divides up chapters 1-7 of Leviticus, we shall see that the first mention of this is in 1:1, and the second is in the passage before us. Subsequently, we find the expression in 5:14; 6:1; 6:8; 6:19; 6:24; 7:22, and 7:28. When we consider later passages we shall discover that the division is not a simple one, for sometimes a particular aspect of an offering is signalled by the use of the phrase, highlighting its importance.
We see from this that the sin offering is presented to us in 4:1-5:13, and that section includes a form of trespass offering. Then comes the trespass offering proper in connection with the holy things of the Lord, in 5:14. Finally, in 6:1-7 there is the trespass offering for a sin against one’s neighbour. There follows the law of the offerings.
THE WORDS OF THE BIBLE, THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES, AS FOUND IN THE BOOK OF LEVITICUS CHAPTER 4
4:1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
4:2 Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a soul shall sin through ignorance against any of the commandments of the Lord concerning things which ought not to be done, and shall do against any of them:
4:3 If the priest that is anointed do sin according to the sin of the people; then let him bring for his sin, which he hath sinned, a young bullock without blemish unto the Lord for a sin offering.
4:4 And he shall bring the bullock unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the Lord; and shall lay his hand upon the bullock’s head, and kill the bullock before the Lord.
4:5 And the priest that is anointed shall take of the bullock’s blood, and bring it to the tabernacle of the congregation:
4:6 And the priest shall dip his finger in the blood, and sprinkle of the blood seven times before the Lord, before the veil of the sanctuary.
4:7 And the priest shall put[some of the blood upon the horns of the altar of sweet incense before the Lord, which is in the tabernacle of the congregation; and shall pour all the blood of the bullock at the bottom of the altar of the burnt offering, which is at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.
4:8 And he shall take off from it all the fat of the bullock for the sin offering; the fat that covereth the inwards, and all the fat that is upon the inwards,
4:9 And the two kidneys, and the fat that is upon them, which is by the flanks, and the caul above the liver, with the kidneys, it shall he take away,
4:10 As it was taken off from the bullock of the sacrifice of peace offerings: and the priest shall burn them upon the altar of the burnt offering.
4:11 And the skin of the bullock, and all his flesh, with his head, and with his legs, and his inwards, and his dung,
4:12 Even the whole bullock shall he carry forth without the camp unto a clean place, where the ashes are poured out, and burn him on the wood with fire: where the ashes are poured out shall he be burnt.
4:13 And if the whole congregation of Israel sin through ignorance, and the thing be hid from the eyes of the assembly, and they have done somewhat against any of the commandments of the Lord concerning things which should not be done, and are guilty;
4:14 When the sin, which they have sinned against it, is known, then the congregation shall offer a young bullock for the sin, and bring him before the tabernacle of the congregation.
4:15 And the elders of the congregation shall lay their hands upon the head of the bullock before the Lord: and the bullock shall be killed before the Lord.
4:16 And the priest that is anointed shall bring of the bullock’s blood to the tabernacle of the congregation:
4:17 And the priest shall dip his finger in some of the blood, and sprinkle it seven times before the Lord, even before the veil.
4:18 And he shall put some of the blood upon the horns of the altar which is before the Lord, that is in the tabernacle of the congregation, and shall pour out all the blood at the bottom of the altar of the burnt offering, which is at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.
4:19 And he shall take all his fat from him, and burn it upon the altar.
4:20 And he shall do with the bullock as he did with the bullock for a sin offering, so shall he do with this: and the priest shall make an atonement for them, and it shall be forgiven them.
4:21 And he shall carry forth the bullock without the camp, and burn him as he burned the first bullock: it is a sin offering for the congregation.
4:22 When a ruler hath sinned, and done somewhat through ignorance against any of the commandments of the Lord his God concerning things which should not be done, and is guilty;
4:23 Or if his sin, wherein he hath sinned, come to his knowledge; he shall bring his offering, a kid of the goats, a male without blemish:
4:24 And he shall lay his hand upon the head of the goat, and kill it in the place where they kill the burnt offering before the LORD: it is a sin offering.
4:25 And the priest shall take of the blood of the sin offering with his finger, and put it upon the horns of the altar of burnt offering, and shall pour out his blood at the bottom of the altar of burnt offering.
4:26 And he shall burn all his fat upon the altar, as the fat of the sacrifice of peace offerings: and the priest shall make an atonement for him as concerning his sin, and it shall be forgiven him.
4:27 And if any one of the common people sin through ignorance, while he doeth somewhat against any of the commandments of the Lord concerning things which ought not to be done, and be guilty;
4:28 Or if his sin, which he hath sinned, come to his knowledge: then he shall bring his offering, a kid of the goats, a female without blemish, for his sin which he hath sinned.
4:29 And he shall lay his hand upon the head of the sin offering, and slay the sin offering in the place of the burnt offering.
4:30 And the priest shall take of the blood thereof with his finger, and put it upon the horns of the altar of burnt offering, and shall pour out all the blood thereof at the bottom of the altar.
4:31 And he shall take away all the fat thereof, as the fat is taken away from off the sacrifice of peace offerings; and the priest shall burn it upon the altar for a sweet savour unto the Lord; and the priest shall make an atonement for him, and it shall be forgiven him.
4:32 And if he bring a lamb for a sin offering, he shall bring it a female without blemish.
4:33 And he shall lay his hand upon the head of the sin offering, and slay it for a sin offering in the place where they kill the burnt offering.
4:34 And the priest shall take of the blood of the sin offering with his finger, and put it upon the horns of the altar of burnt offering, and shall pour out all the blood thereof at the bottom of the altar:
4:35 And he shall take away all the fat thereof, as the fat of the lamb is taken away from the sacrifice of the peace offerings; and the priest shall burn them upon the altar, according to the offerings made by fire unto the LORD: and the priest shall make an atonement for his sin that he hath committed, and it shall be forgiven him.
Coming to Leviticus chapter 4 in more detail, we note the four categories of sinner:
In verses 1-12, the priest brings a young bullock, and the blood is sprinkled before the vail and upon the horns of the altar of incense.
In verses 13-21, the whole congregation provides a young bullock, and the blood is sprinkled before the vail and upon the horns of the altar of incense.
In verses 22-26, a ruler brings a male kid of the goats, and the blood is sprinkled upon the horns of the altar of burnt offering.
In verses 27-35, one of the common people brings either a female kid of the goats or a female lamb, and the blood is sprinkled on the horns of the altar of burnt offering.
After the sprinkling of blood, the remainder is poured out at the base of the altar in every case.
A fundamental truth we must notice at the outset is that there is the closest of connections between sin, and the death of the sinner or a suitable substitute. Ezekiel 18:20 makes it clear that “the soul that sinneth it shall die”. The emphasis is on “soul” and “it”, or in other words the soul or person that sins is the one who dies, and not another. See also Deuteronomy 24:16. God had declared that it was part of His glory that He would “by no means clear the guilty”, Exodus 34:7. By this statement He signified that it was only in a substitute that a man could be cleared from his sin; his guilt must be borne by another.
The fact that a sin offering is here demanded of an individual, shows that the Day of Atonement was a national provision so that God could continue amongst the people. Individual sins must still be dealt with, and this chapter tells how. Note that the sin offering was for sins of ignorance against the law of God, reminding us of the words of the apostle John that “sin is the transgression of the law”, or lawlessness, and as such is rebellious in character, 1 John 3:4.
(We cannot help noticing that when the apostle John says “if any man sin”, 1 John 2:1, he does not go on to say, “let him bring a sin offering”, but rather, “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous”. In other words, there is one in heaven who pleads our cause, who was Himself the means of dealing with sin at Calvary, and this has powerful appeal with God. There is no suggestion that another sacrifice of any sort should be made. In fact, Hebrews 10:18 informs us that there remains no more offering for sin.
Not that John implies that we may sin carelessly, for he writes to believers that they sin not. The law was given so that Israelites sin not, Exodus 20:20, but whereas the law frightened men into not sinning, grace frees men to not sin, Romans 6:14,18.)
The first class of persons noticed is the priesthood, and the seriousness of this matter is shown by the mention of two things. First, he is anointed, which means he is not only specially selected and approved of by God, but also that he has been brought into great privileges. Second, that he sins according to the sin of the people. The people were “ignorant”, and “out of the way”, Hebrews 5:2, but “the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and the people should learn the law at his mouth”, Malachi 2:7. How serious, then, for such a privileged person to sin.
We see this illustrated in John 19:11, where Christ declares that the one who delivered Him to Pilate had greater sin than Pilate. That one being Caiaphas the high priest, who should have known how to distinguish between righteousness and unrighteousness, and hence should have released Christ, not deliver Him to the governor to be executed.
All believers are priests by virtue of their new birth, and even those who are little children in the family of God are said to “know all things”, 1 John 2:20. Not in the sense that they know every fact there is to know, but that they are able to discern between that which is of God and that which is not. Even newly saved ones therefore have a great responsibility with regard to sin. They have an instinctive distaste for it, for they have been made partakers of the Divine nature, 2 Peter 1:4, and therefore should hate sin as God hates sin.
Once he has realised he has sinned, the priest must deal with the matter. Instead of being in a position to minister to both God and man by the exercise of his priestly office, he is defiled, and must have recourse to the provision God has made for him. He cannot make amends himself, even though he is a priest, but must come the way the ordinary Israelite comes, and deal with the matter before the Lord at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. How humbling this would be! No longer may he enter the tabernacle to function before God, but another has to do enter in for him as we see from verse 5.
He must bring an offering which is without blemish, or in other words, as nearly like the character of Christ as it is possible to be. The animal has no moral sense, and so cannot be said to have sinned. It is vitally important that the sacrifice be free of all trace of fault if it is to be a fit illustration of Christ. When John tells us that Christ was manifest to take away our sins, he is quick to add, “And in Him is no sin”, 1 John 3:5. When Peter tells us “He bare our sins in His own body on the tree”, 1 Peter 2:24, it is not before he has written, “who did no sin”, 1 Peter 2:22. When Paul writes that “He hath made Him to be sin for us”, 2 Corinthians 5:21, he is careful to say, “who knew no sin”. So whether it be John the man of insight telling us what He did not have, or Peter the man of intention telling us what He did not do, or Paul the man of intelligence telling us what He did not know, the lesson is clear, there is no fault in Christ, and this fits Him for the work of dealing with sin.
In full public view, and before God, the priest must lay his hand upon his offering and personally own up to what he has done. But as he does this, the sin that he has committed is transferred to the animal, and from that point on the offering is held responsible for the sin, and not the offerer.
Since this is so, and because the consequence of breaking any of God’s commandments was death, the animal is killed. But it is killed by the man who has sinned, so that the seriousness of his sin may come home to him- he realises that it should have been he that lay lifeless on the ground beside the altar. The priest’s death becomes the animal’s death by direct substitution. The apostle Paul assures us in 1 Corinthians 15:3 that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and Leviticus chapter 4 would be one of the scriptures he would have in mind. “Christ died” informs of an event; “Christ died for our sins” instructs with an explanation; but “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” invites an exposition.
Liability to death has been passed on to us through what Adam did in disobedience when he transgressed a known commandment, Romans 5:12,14. That death has been passed on to us is seen in the fact that we all have sinned- the nature we inherit from Adam has worked itself out in practice. By man came death, and that because we have inherited a sinful nature, but by man, (even the Lord Jesus), comes the resurrection of the dead. Since the consequences of Adam’s sin have been taken on by Christ, the believer is brought clear of sin and its consequences by association with Him in His death, burial and resurrection. The fact that He is risen shows that His work on the cross to deal with sins has been successful, as Romans 4:25 makes clear.
We can easily see then that Christ has brought in far more than animal sacrifices ever could, for a mere animal could not emerge in resurrection and bring those who relied on it to the far side of death, and into a state of righteousness. Believers, however, are “made the righteousness of God in Him”, 2 Corinthians 5:21.
Attention is now drawn to the blood which, because it is the soul or life of the animal, (Leviticus 17:14), is tremendously important. A bowl of blood is the sign that a death has taken place; the death, moreover, of a suitable substitute. But notice it is not the quantity of blood that is important, but the quality, for the priest who acts for his fellow-priest only needs to dip his finger in the blood. Nonetheless he must do this seven times, for the Hebrew word for seven means “to be full, or satisfied”. Thus there is a full and satisfactory answer found to the question of sin.
The sprinkling on behalf of the priest is done before the vail. So the animal is killed before the first vail of the tabernacle, and then its blood is sprinkled before the second vail, as Hebrews 9:3 calls it. Both spheres in which he normally operated have been affected by his sin, so both spheres must be affected by the blood. Sin on a Christian priest affects his ministry both Godward and manward, and must be dealt with at the earliest possible moment. Until that happens, priestly ministry is hampered and ineffective. The believer of this present age is able to enter the very Holiest of all, the immediate presence of God- how careful we should be therefore to only enter with “hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience”, Hebrews 10:22.
Note the expression “before the Lord”, denoting not only that the one sinning must have direct dealings with the God who is sinned against, but also that sin must be dealt with in a manner which bears Divine scrutiny. Only so can a priest be restored to usefulness.
A prominent part of the priestly ministry was to offer incense, so the altar of incense is to be sprinkled too. The apostle Paul was insistent that prayer to God on behalf of men must be done only by those who lift up holy hands, 1 Timothy 2:8. Hands stained with sin are in no fit state to be lifted up in the presence of God.
The blood has done its work, and is now poured out at the base of the altar. This will ensure three things at least. First, that it is not used for another sin, for each sinner must be personally identified with his own sin offering. Second, that all realise that the foundation of everything is the shed blood, so the blood is poured out at the foundation of the altar. Third, that the blood is not drunk, for that was very definitely prohibited by God, Leviticus 17:14. Life is very precious to God, and He always retains ultimate control over it. He signifies this by banning the drinking of blood.
Now instructions are given regarding the fat of the animal, which is removed from the animal in the same way as it is from the sacrifice of peace offerings, and burnt on the altar as a sweet savour. The inwards of the animal represent feelings and emotions of the heart, for the Hebrews believed that a man’s emotions were centred in the lower part of the body. We are reminded by this that the heart-feelings of Christ were deeply affected by His work in dealing with sin. Immediately before the cross He could say, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death”, Matthew 26:38. So deep and strong were His sorrows as He anticipated the cross that He was brought nearly to death by them. How much more agonising must the actual bearing of sin be, if just the prospect of it caused Him such distress! Yet there is another side to this. The burning of the fat as a sweet savour meant that the personal integrity of Christ was maintained, for His dealing with sin did not alter His acceptableness to the Father. Furthermore, the fat assisted the burning of the sweet savour offerings, and so this thought is reinforced still further.
This arrangement means that the fat is burnt at the same time as the carcase, so two sorts of fire are burning at once. Which is what happened at Calvary, for the fire which fed upon Christ as God’s well-beloved, and found all that was satisfying, was also the fire that burned in wrath against sin, and consumed it out of the way.
We are left in no doubt as to the meaning of the burning of the carcase of the sin offering, for the words of Hebrews 13:11,12, are as follows, “For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate”. Fire outside of the camp denotes suffering for Christ. The apostle Peter speaks of this, too, when he writes, “Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God”, 1 Peter 3:18.
This burning is done outside the camp in a clean place, where the ashes are poured out. Once again, the personal integrity of Christ is preserved, not only by the sin offering being burnt in a clean place, but also by being burnt in association with the ashes of sweet savour offerings.
We may notice briefly the other categories of offering, although much of what is said is a repetition of the regulations for the priest’s offering. The whole congregation when it sins as a company must bring the same offering as a priest, and the blood is to be sprinkled in the same way as the blood for a priest.
The horns of the altar of incense must be sprinkled with the blood of the priest’s offering, not only to restore the vessel after association with a priest that had sinned, but also to restore to him his power of intercession, for in scripture horns speak of power.
They must be sprinkled with the blood of the offering for the congregation, to ensure that their prayers and intercessions are able to freely rise to God again.
With the ruler and the individual it is the horns of the brazen altar that are sprinkled. However prominent a position a man may have in Israel, or, on the other hand, however lowly he may be, it matters not. The altar of burnt offering is the place where all in Israel are equal before God, for that is their common meeting-place. Instead of the sinner needing to flee to the altar, and lay hold of it and ask for mercy, (as later happened in Israel, 1 Kings 50,51; 2:28), the blood takes his place there, and ensures mercy and forgiveness.
The apostle Peter was forthright on the Day of Pentecost when he charged the men of Israel with having crucified and slain their Messiah, Acts 2:22. And later he again accused them of killing the Prince of Life, yet he goes on to say, “I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers, Acts 3:15,17. Then again he addressed the rulers, elders, scribes, Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, and others, and accused them of crucifying their Messiah, but he goes on to preach salvation to them, “for there is none other name given among men whereby we must be saved”, Acts 4:10,12. So priests, the whole congregation, and rulers, are all charged with the sin of crucifying Christ, and yet also have preached to them the possibility of forgiveness through what He did at Calvary. In Acts chapter 8 it is Saul of Tarsus, one of the rulers of the people, being a member of the Sanhedrim, who is addressed by Christ Himself, and asked why he was persecuting Him, Acts 9:4. He later testified that he had obtained mercy, because he had done it ignorantly in unbelief, 1 Timothy 1:13.
So whether it be priests, the nation, rulers, or individuals, all may find forgiveness through the blood of Christ shed for sin. And so it is today, in the goodness and longsuffering of God. “Through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: and by Him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses”, Acts 13:38,39.