Category Archives: Trespass offering for a sin offering

A type of sin offering, but which includes the idea of trespass

Trespass offering for a sin offering

When we come to Leviticus 5:1-13, we have no “the Lord spake unto Moses”, despite the fact that the offering in this portion is a trespass offering. It is a special sort of trespass offering, however, for it is called a trespass offering for a sin offering, verse 6. We have already noted that the sin offering had to do with offence to the nature of God, and the trespass offering to do with offence against the government of God. This particular section must bridge these two ideas, having elements of both.

The four categories of trespass dealt with are as follows:

  1. Failure, when put under oath, to declare what is seen and known.

  2. Touching an unclean animal without knowing it.

  3. Touching the uncleanness of man without knowing it.

  4. Swearing to do good or evil in a rash way.

In the last three categories the matter was hidden from the offender, and then came to light. At that point he must act by first of all confessing his sin, and then by bringing a trespass offering.

So the first and last sin listed had to do with oaths, and the second and third to do with uncleanness contracted. We can see that both the integrity of a man’s word, and the purity of his flesh, were of concern to God as the Supreme Governor of the nation. No civilised society can flourish if honesty and hygiene are not preserved. The one affects the moral fibre of the nation, and the other its physical well-being.

So in one sense these acts are contrary to God’s ideal for the nation, and are therefore trespasses, but they also involve contraventions of God’s moral code, (in the case of oaths), and God’s medical code, (in the case of uncleanness of beasts and men). So they are sins as well. But they are sins that, in the case of the last three, are for a time hidden from the one committing them, and this is perhaps what marks the difference. The trespass offering proper, in its manward aspect, had to do with two main matters, which both involved property, whether entrusted to a person or found by a person, so the damage was easily quantifiable, and hence the valuation of the damage could be easily made. In the cases before us here, this was not so- who could estimate the cost of spreading germs? Or failing to be honest?

Looking at the trespasses a little more closely, we come to chapter 5:1.


The first category has to do with sin on the part of one who has seen or heard a crime committed, and who, having been put on oath, (hear the voice of adjuration), refuses to testify. Such a one is guilty, bears his iniquity, and needs to bring a trespass offering to the Lord. The orderly government of the nation is undermined if witnesses refuse to testify to what they know. This is why the Lord Jesus, when put on oath by the high priest, responded immediately, and testified, Matthew 26:62-64. He had previously refused to respond to questioning for various reasons, but now that He has heard “the voice of adjuration”, (as “voice of swearing” may be rendered), the situation is different. He will magnify the law and make it honourable, Isaiah 42:21, for He came not to destroy the law and prophets but to fulfil them, Matthew 5:17.

The Lord Jesus not only bore testimony when put on oath, but He was “the faithful and true witness” throughout His ministry. He did not have to be sworn-in to tell the truth. He could say to Nicodemus, “We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen, and ye receive not our witness”, John 3:11.

This should be the attitude of all believers, too. All have an obligation laid upon them to witness for their absent Lord. The apostle wrote, “Necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel”, 1 Corinthians 9:16.

Of course the apostles were witnesses in a special sense, for the Lord had said to His own in the upper room, “And ye shall bear witness, because ye have been with Me from the beginning”, John 15:27. In the strictest sense, only those who have actually seen and heard a matter can bear testimony regarding it. If we had been at the garden tomb 2000 years ago on an Sunday morning in April, and had seen a man standing near a sepulchre, we would have concluded it was the park keeper about his duties. And this is what Mary Magdalene thought at first. But when this person spoke her name, then everything was different. Now she could relate this person to what she had already known of Jesus of Nazareth; something about His voice told her everything. Those who had not known Him before would not have seen the significance, but she certainly did. Her personal knowledge of Him beforehand gives her testimony special significance.

So it is that Peter declares that he and his fellow apostles are witnesses to Christ, because they had been with Him all along, and were familiar with Him, so they would not mistake Him for someone else. They had been chosen beforehand to be witnesses, for the Lord had selected them from the crowds who followed Him from the time He had been baptized until He was crucified, see Acts 1:21,22.

It is the case, then, that believers cannot now bear testimony in the original sense; but they can, and should, bear testimony regarding that which the original witnesses have left on record in the scriptures. Paul exhorts Timothy not to be “ashamed of the testimony of our Lord”. 2 Timothy 1:8. That which had been passed on to him by way of testimony about the Lord, he should not be ashamed of, but rather share in the telling of it forth to others, even if that meant suffering and persecution. In that connection, it is well for us to remember that the Greek word for witness is the one from which we get the English word martyr. We should be prepared to die for what we believe, if necessary. Not forgetting that we should live for what we believe, too.

The other three classes of these special trespass offerings have two things in common. First, the fact that the trespass was temporarily hidden from the one committing it, and then came to light. The passage of time did not rectify the matter, for no matter how long ago the trespass had been committed, there must still be the bringing of a guilt offering. In our situation, it is far better to deal with an outstanding trespass, however long ago it was committed, rather than have it dealt with at the judgement seat of Christ.

Second, the fact that there must be confession, for this emphasizes in a public way that at last the sin has been recognized, and something is being done about it. The apostle John is careful to tell us that it is when we confess our sins to God that God “is faithful and just to forgive us the sins”, 1 John 1:9. This confession being in direct contrast to the denial of sins in verses 8 and 10.


The first of these hidden sins concerns the touching of any unclean thing, whether it be unclean beasts, cattle or creeping things. This would constitute a hazard to the health of the nation, especially in desert conditions, and with a great number of people camped close together. The trespass happens unwittingly, and then there is realisation that a sin has been committed. Perhaps a disease breaks out amongst the cattle, and the man realises he may have been instrumental in the spread of the disease. Confession is made, not only to absolve the offender, but also to alert others of a possible danger to their herd or flock. No doubt God’s promise to not put the diseases of Egypt upon the people ensured that that there was God’s merciful intervention preventing the rapid spread of the disease in these circumstances. The promise to keep Israel free from disease was conditional upon their obedience, however, Exodus 15:26, so it was necessary that the commands set out here with regard to a trespass offering be carefully followed.

Just as there was great danger that disease could be spread in Israel’s camp, so there is also a great danger that the evils in the world around us may be introduced amongst the people of God, with disastrous consequences. It is our duty to be watchful and prayerful with regard to this world. Using it for legitimate and necessary purposes, as guided by Scripture, but not abusing it, which involves using it as the men of the world use it, to pander to their lusts and pleasures, 1 Corinthians 7:31.

We should remember that the apostle Paul quotes from Isaiah 52:11 in 2 Corinthians 6:17, and reminds believers of their duty to “come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.” The exhortation he bases on this quotation is, “Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and the spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord”, 2 Corinthians 7:1.

It is important that when defilement is contracted in this way, confession is made to the Lord as a matter of urgency. Remember the words of the apostle John, that “if we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us the sin, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”, 1 John 1:9. This being in direct contrast with those who say they have no sin, or who have not sinned, verses 8,10. When David sinned in the matter of Bathsheba he kept silence at first, Psalm 32:3. But God’s hand of discipline was heavy upon him until he was brought to say, verse 5, “I acknowledge my sin unto Thee, and mine iniquities have I not hid. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord’: and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah”.


The third category concerns the uncleanness of a man. This would most likely be of a fellow Israelite, so that which is distinctive of the professed people of God is in view here.

The believers at Corinth were very liberal in their attitude to the moral evil represented by the man mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5. Instead of putting away from themselves the one who was sinning, they condoned his sin, and condemned themselves by continuing to have fellowship with him. The saints not only displease the Lord and discourage faithful brethren by such an attitude, but they in fact act against the best spiritual interests of the offender. Instead of the matter being dealt with in discipline, so that the offender, if a true believer, (for notice that the apostle is careful to use the expression “if any man that is called a brother”, verse 11), might repent and be restored, the Corinthians were refusing to act.

The Galatians acted similarly, except that the men defiling them were law teachers, set upon the overthrow of the gospel of God’s grace. These must be purged out too, commands the apostle, Galatians 5:12. We do not know the response of the Galatians to the exhortation of the apostle, but we do know that of the Corinthians. Paul can write in his second epistle, “Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter”, 2 Corinthians 7:9-11. Instead of allowing defilement in their midst, they had recognised it for what it was, dealt with it to God’s glory, and when the man repented, (as, happily, he did), brought him back into the fellowship of the assembly, 2 Corinthians 2:6-11.


The fourth form of trespass dealt with here involved rash speaking, for this is the force of the word “pronouncing” in verse 4. A man rashly puts himself on oath to perform a certain deed, and it is not apparent to him at the time that he is being rash. He may have committed himself to do some evil thing, or even some good thing, but without due thought and consideration. Afterwards it becomes evident that he was speaking rashly, and at that point he becomes liable. The orderly government of the nation of Israel would be compromised if such things were allowed to go unpunished. It must be possible to trust what a man says he will do, or society breaks down. Similarly amongst believers now. “Let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay”, is the command of James 5:12. Rash speaking of any sort and in any circumstances is not acceptable.

Some of the Corinthians were accusing the apostle Paul of speaking lightly, promising to come to them but, in the event, not doing so, 2 Corinthians 1:15,16. He defends himself in verses 17-24 by asserting that his word was not “yea, yea”, solemnly promising to come, and then “nay, nay”, just as strongly refusing to come. To behave like this would be to deny the gospel he preached, for Jesus Christ the Son of God was not marked by indecision, “yea and then nay”, but always with definiteness, “yea”. We expect this from one who is the Son of God, for when His Father promises things in Christ, then those promises are not “yea”, making a promise, and then “nay”, going back on His word. Rather, His promises are “yea and amen”, promising and then confirming the promise. This being so, definiteness and reliability should mark the people of God, who are the recipients of God’s promises as believers in His Son. May the Lord deliver us from rashness, and enable others to rely on what we say and promise. But let our word be neither rash nor considered, when it comes to doing evil, for we are followers of Him “who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth”, 1 Peter 2:22. “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers”, Ephesians 4:29.


Something of the importance of having these trespasses dealt with is seen in the fact that even an offering of flour was allowed, if a person was very poor. No excuse was permitted in this matter. The offerings allowed were as follows: A female lamb or goat; two turtle doves, or two young pigeons; or a tenth part of an ephah of fine flour. If a man has no lamb, he may bring a goat; if he has no goat he may bring a pair of turtle doves; if the turtle doves have not arrived from their migration, he may bring young pigeons; if the pigeons are not yet nesting, then he may bring flour, which he would have all the time, and however poor he was. God graciously makes allowance for every circumstance, but by the same token, insists that an offering must be brought.

The allowance of flour as a sin offering, which obviously did not involve the shedding of blood, might suggest that the man had a limited appreciation of the seriousness of his sin. Over against this we may put the fact that the effort the man would need to put into grinding the flour was considerable. There is a saying that “time is money”, so on that reckoning the man has put the value of his own time into the offering. Couple this with the fact that the amount required, the tenth of an ephah, is a whole day’s ration for him, (for the daily provision of manna from God was this amount, and this ensured they were “filled with bread”, Exodus 16:12,18,36), and we begin to see that the bringing of flour was not of little consequence after all. He can survive without eating lamb or goat, but not without bread, the staff of life.

There must be no oil or frankincense added to this offering. By this the man is brought to realise that he has not been acting in a spiritual way; nor has his life been marked by dependence upon God and prayer as it should have been, (for frankincense was an ingredient of the incense, that represented prayer). “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation” is the Saviour’s word to us, Matthew 26:41.

As for the animals and birds, they all had features of passivity about them. The female represents the passive side of things; the turtle dove is the gentle bird; the pigeons were young and defenceless. There is a conformity between the character of the sin and the offering for that sin, for the trespass was hidden for a while, and only came to light after the passage of time. It is the delay in dealing with the matter that constitutes the trespass, or else a normal sin offering would be required. Perhaps the passive offerings are in order since it is simply the delay that is being dealt with.

There are five particular trespasses listed, and five categories of offering allowed, culminating in the offering of the very poor. This suggests a line of thought. Scripture says that “God hath chosen the poor of this world rich in faith”, James 2:5. Couple that with the words of 2 Corinthians 8:9 concerning Christ becoming poor for our sakes, and we may see in the five classes of offering a progression, as follows:

The female lamb would remind us of the way the Lord Jesus, the “lamb foreordained before the foundation of the world”, 1 Peter 1:20 was prepared to passively accept the will of God that He should be the sacrifice for the trespasses of men. “The meekness and gentleness of Christ”, 2 Corinthians 10:1, as He accepts joyfully the will of His Father, is most marked in the gospel records.

In the female goat we could see the vigour and determination characteristic of that animal, manifesting itself in His pathway here, for the he-goat is comely in going, Proverbs 30:29,31, and the she-goat is surely not far behind, if at all. Fit symbol of Him who “goeth well” as He comes out from His Father’s presence, and “comely in going”, as He went back to heaven via Calvary.

The turtledove was a migratory bird, like the crane and the swallow, and all three “observe the time of their coming”, Jeremiah 8:7. So Christ came forth in the fulness of the time, and not only knew His hour of suffering lay ahead, but also knew when it had arrived- “Father, the hour is come”, John 17:1.

The pigeon, however, was native to the land of Israel, and reminds us that the land belonged to Christ, as Abraham’s seed, Genesis 12:7, and he had come as son of Abraham to “save His people from their sins”, Matthew 1:21. Not only this, the world as a whole is His in virtue of His Deity, Psalm 24:1. That world had been spoiled by the sin of Adam, resulting in creation being made subject to vanity, Romans 8:20; but Christ came to “restore that which He took not away”, Psalm 69:4. Another consequence of the fall is that children born into the world simply perpetuated his trespass. Because of this, mothers in Israel were required to bring either a lamb for a burnt offering and a turtle dove or pigeon for a sin offering, or alternatively, two turtle doves or two young pigeons, the one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. This would indicate to us that the offering of the mother was a trespass offering, since no other offering made provision in this way. But it is the category of trespass offering that makes provision for what we could call passive sins. After all, the mother has only been carrying out her God-given duty to bear children. No blame attaches to her for the fact that the child has a sinful nature when born, and perpetuates the sin of Adam in the race.

It is interesting to notice that Mary brought the class of trespass offering that the poor were allowed to bring. No doubt if the wise men from the east had visited her in the inn at Bethlehem, she would have had resources to buy a lamb. But they came up to two years later, as is seen in fact that Herod slaughtered the babies up to two years old, “according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men”, Matthew 2:16. In other words, the visit of the wise men was after the birth of Christ, but they were able to inform him of when it happened, probably by taking account of the time the star appeared, verse 7.

Of course, in the case of the birth of Christ, no sin offering was needed for Mary, since she had not brought a sinner into the world. He was “made under the law”, however, as well as being “made of a woman”, Galatians 4:4, and as such would submit to the requirements of the law. God was manifest in flesh, but He was also justified in Spirit, 1 Timothy 3:16. So to justify or vindicate Christ’s character, and preserve it from the wrong thoughts of unbelieving men, the Spirit was on hand in the temple when Christ was presented there. Note what is said about Simeon. In Luke 2:25 it is said that the Holy Spirit was upon him, in verse 26 matters are revealed to Him by the Holy Spirit, and in verse 27 he came by the Spirit into the temple to prophesy regarding Christ and His mother. Thus was vindicated the honour of God’s Son.

So there is a sequence suggested by the animals and birds allowed for a trespass offering. From being in the Father’s presence eternally as the foreordained lamb, to knowing the time of His coming; to taking His place as a resident in the land, and to being marked out as having arrived by His presentation in the Temple, accompanied by the bringing of a trespass offering; at all these stages He is shown as fit to be the true and final trespass offering, so that those who believe in Him may know the complete forgiveness of their trespasses against God. Because they are in the good of His sacrifice, the people of God will be very careful to avoid behaviour which harms others, and ready to make amends as is appropriate.

Let us remember the solemn words of the Lord Jesus, “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift”, Matthew 5:23,24.