Today, we'll consider the next offering -- the sin offering. But before we do so, and before we can fully understand the need for such an offering, it is important for us to understand the nature of sin, and why it is a problem for us all (and may actually be an even bigger problem than we initially thought).
(A) Sin: Our condition and rebellion against a holy God
We'll begin by examining, not what we think sin is, but what the Bible says about sin. In Gen 1:26, we learn that there was an order to creation. The Creator God made all creation, and within creation, man was made to rule over other created things. The problem of the fall (Gen 3:14-19) was a subversion of this order -- Eve listened to the serpent and Adam did not protect his wife as God obeyed, and both put their own desires above the commands of God. Sin is overthrowing the divine order. It is going against God's intention and directly challenging God.
In Gen 3:6, we also learn that even before acting on it, Eve's heart betrayed her rebellion and disobedience. Look at what she thought of it -- "good for food", "delight", "desired". Sin is not merely doing something wrong outwardly, it begins in the heart. In fact, because we are descendants of Adam, we are all born into this world spiritually dead and enslaved to this sin condition (Rom 5:12). As sinners, we make a practice of lawlessness, as a result of our deeply rooted sin nature which is so embedded as part of our identity (1 John 3:4). We no longer recognise the sovereignty and supremacy of God as king of heaven and earth and all that is in it. As a result, we are cut off from God. We see this in Gen 3:24, where Adam and Eve were exiled from the Garden. The way back requires any individual to pass by the cherubim with the flaming sword (Gen 3:24).
But how do we respond to sin? There are two ways we can react to all these. If we think that sin is equivalent to a violation of the law, we will resolve to do everything in our power to minimise and avoid it. However, the verses above remind us that sin is not less than wilful obedience, and our sin problem is far greater than we think. If we are far more enslaved to it than we care to admit, it means that even on our best days, our best efforts by which we try and justify ourselves are but filthy rags. If sin is my inherent condition, I cannot do anything about it to save myself, and this only means one thing -- I need God's help. This is important for us to know. In fact, God knows and is not interested in us trying to save ourselves, as if our burnt offerings in and of themselves can please Him. Ps 51:16-17 remind us that He is interested in the state of our hearts and requires us come with hearts that acknowledge our own helplessness.
(B) Sin Offerings: The atonement that enables us to live with a holy God (Leviticus 4:1-5:13)
When we read Leviticus 4, we notice 4 different types of sin offering -- for the anointed priest (v.3), the whole congregation (v.13), a leader (v.22) and the individual (v.27). Notice also that these are actually ordered according to the severity and impact of sin on the people of God. It is not that God thinks of sins by some individual as more important than that of others. For the case of the priests, they were to perform an intercessory role as a mediator on behalf of the people before God. Thus, it was important for him to be made holy, confessing his own sins, before he acts on behalf of the people. In the same way, the congregation of Israel as an entire nation collectively has a role to play as God's chosen people to display His glory to the world, and thus, they were placed ahead of the individual.
In reading these verses, also notice the repetition of the word "unintentionally" (v.2,13,22,27). The sin offerings were specifically made of sins that the individual did not intentionally commit, but is now repenting of after it has been brought to mind. What do we realise here? Our own personal knowledge is not the standard of whether we have sinned or not. Here, the Israelites are being made aware that God is the ultimate standard of sin and knows even when we do not. Thus, our accountability does not end with our own knowledge or ignorance becasue God always holds us accountable. This links back to what we've learnt about sin. If sin was simply about doing the right thing, we cannot be blamed for our unintentional sins. But, if sin is a far deeper problem, tied to our very nature, then we realise why God made provisions for sin offerings even for the unintentional sins.
Lev 5:1-4 gives us some specific examples of conditions under which an individual Israelite must perform the sin offering. They are:
- The case of an absent witness, or assisting in injustice by neglecting your civic duty (v.1)
- Becoming ritually impure by touching an unclean object (v.2)
- Touching human uncleanness (v.3)
- A rash oath (v.4)
What can we learn from these? We see how justice is important to God, in the case of the witness and making a rash oath. Making a rash oath that you cannot keep is injustice on the other. We also see how God requires purity of his people. Lev 5:5-13 gives us further details about the types of offerings that the Israelites could offer. Like the other offerings, God makes a provision for people with different economic situations. Those that cannot afford a lamb can bring before Him two turtledoves and two pigeons (v.7) and if they cannot afford even that, God was willing to accept a tenth of an ephah of fine flour. We see a holy and just God, but also one who shows grace and mercy in his acceptance of sin offerings.
The bulk of Lev 4 gives us the steps of the different types of sin offering (v.3-35). The table below summarises:
|Priest and congregation||Leader||Individual|
|Type of animal ||Bull from the herd without blemish (v.3,14)||Male goat without blemish (v.23)||Female goat or lamb without blemish (v.28)|
|Treatment of the blood||(v.5-7, 16-18)||(v.25)|| (v.30, 34)|
|What is burnt on the altar?||Fat, kidneys and liver (v.8, 19-20)||Fat, kidneys and liver (v.26)||Fat, kidneys and liver (v.31, 35)|
|What is burnt and thrown away?||Everything else (v.12, 21)||Everything else (v.12, 21)||Everything else (v.12, 21)|
But how does it compare to the peace (Lev 3:1-5) and burnt offerings (Lev 1:3-9) that we have studied before? Unlike the burnt offering where the entire animal is burnt, the sin offering only requires a portion. Unlike the peace offering where everything that is not burnt can be eaten, the sin offering does not make such provisions. But there are also two more important things to note about the sin offerings. in the case of the priest and congregation, blood is brought into the holy place and smeared on the horns of the altar of fragrant incense. Furthermore, unlike the burnt offering where the worshipper does most of the work, the sin offering requires the priest to do most, if not all of the work. This is an important different and teaches us that the work of atonement is not something that we can do and work towards on our own. Worship, in the form of the burnt offering and peace offering, is an act that the Israelites themselves as worshippers could perform and were involved in. But when it came to atonement, and seeking the forgiveness of God, they needed to depend on the mediation from the priest.
The sin offering also deals a lot with the treatment of the blood of the animal. We see how the blood is brought into the holy place, where the priest then dips his finger in the blood and sprinkles it 7 times before the veil. This symbolises making the tent of meeting holy again and cleansing it from the corruption of sin. The blood is also placed on the horns of the altar of fragrant incense as a symbol of restoring the bridge between God and his people (specifically the priests and the leaders of Israel). Lastly, blood is also poured out at the base of the altar of burnt offerings (compared to spraying it at the altar in the case of the burnt and peace offerings). Remember that blood is a symbol of life, and th pouring of blood is the emptying of the animal's life. This is a visual reminder of the substitution that has taken place, that the animal has borne the worshipper's deathly consequence of sin.
These offerings in Leviticus were therefore not just ritualistic tendencies that were woven into the life of the people. These were given by God to remind them of who they are before a holy and just God. The sin offerings clearly remind them, and us, of the inherent and deep-rooted sin nature that we have, and we have no power to cleanse ourselves of its influence. The sacrifices for unintentional sin were visual reminders of this perennial, pervasive problem. These offerings also pointed forward to Jesus, the true sin offering. As we read the description of the sacrifice in Leviticus 4 -- the animal without blemish, bringing blood into the holy place, pouring out the blood at the altar -- we see them all at the cross! At the cross, Jesus, the only one who obeyed God fully and was the perfect High Priest who knew no sin, became our substitute, the innocent bearing the punishment on behalf of the guilty. By his death, he bled for our sin. His blood sanctified and restored the relationship of sinners with God the Father.
What do you think of your sin today? Do you recognise your need to repent? Do you believe wholly in the work of Jesus as your sacrifice? How does Lev 4 help and remind us to live holy lives before this holy God?