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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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LEVITICUS 4

This chapter and through Lev. 5:13 set forth the divine regulations concerning the sin-offering, both this offering and the one presented in the next section (Lev. 5:14--6:7) which is called the guilt-offering are distinguished from the three offerings which have already been given in Lev. 1--3, called "sweet-smelling" offerings to God. The sin-offering and the guilt-offering are not so designated. The difference is in this: The burnt-offering, the meal-offering, and the peace-offering "envision Christ in his infinite perfection completely devoted to the Father's will," whereas the latter two "picture Christ bearing the whole demerit of the sinner."F1

A special attribution of the instructions given in each case (Lev. 1:1-2 for the sweet-smelling offerings, and here in Lev. 4:1-2 for the non-sweet smelling offerings) declares that God Himself is the author of these instructions: "And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying ... etc." Therefore, we may set aside all such assertions as that of Lofthouse who stated that both of these offerings were "unknown before the Exile."F2

The type of sins for which the sin-offering was efficacious was that of an unintentional or unwitting nature. There was no provision whatever under the Law of Moses for "high-handed" sins of open rebellion against God. Sinners of that class, exemplified by the sabbath-breaker in Numbers, were put to death. The nature of the sins covered by this offering and also the guilt-offering was that of unintentional disobedience, or sins committed under rash, or thoughtless impetuosity.

The provision in the sin-offering for the sins of the priests points up the fact that all people are fallible and subject to sin. Priests, and all ministers of religion, stand upon the same ground as that of the people whom they seek to serve or lead, for "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).

The word here translated as "sin-offering" (Leviticus 4:3) comes from a single Hebrew word [~chat'at], a word that actually has two meanings. "It means `sin' or `guilt' and also refers to the `offering' that cancels sin."F3 This is especially important in understanding Gen. 4:7, where, clearly, sin-offering is the actual meaning.


 
Verses 1-12
And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If any one shall sin unwittingly, in any of the things which Jehovah hath commanded not to be done, and shall do any one of them: if the anointed priest shall sin so as to bring guilt on the people, then let him offer for his sin, which he hath sinned, a young bullock without blemish unto Jehovah for a sin-offering. And he shall bring the bullock unto the door of the tent of meeting before Jehovah; and he shall lay his hand upon the head of the bullock, and kill the bullock before Jehovah. And the anointed priest shall take of the blood of the bullock, and bring it to the tent of meeting: and the priest shall dip his finger in the blood, and sprinkle of the blood seven times before Jehovah, before the veil of the sanctuary. And the priest shall put of the blood upon the horns of the altar of sweet incense before Jehovah, which is in the tent of meeting; and all the blood of the bullock shall he pour out at the base of the altar of burnt-offering, which is at the door of the tent of meeting. And all the fat of the bullock of the sin-offering he shall take off from it; the fat that covereth the inwards, and all the fat that is upon the inwards, and the two kidneys, and the fat that is upon them, which is by the loins, and the caul upon the liver, with the kidneys, shall he take away, as it is taken off from the ox of the sacrifice of peace-offerings: and the priest shall burn them upon the altar of burnt-offering. And the skin of the bullock, and all its flesh, with its head, and with its legs, and its inwards, and its dung, even the whole bullock shall he carry forth without the camp unto a clean place, where the ashes are poured out, and burn it on wood with fire: where the ashes are poured out shall it be burnt.

Despite the fact of these other offerings having been outlined first (Lev. 1--3), it was always the sin-offering or the guilt-offering which was first offered in the case of multiple sacrifices. The other three were presented first in the text because, "they were already in existence, and had existed from the time of the Fall."F4

A number of important differences appear in these instructions when compared to the offerings previously described. Note that all of the bullock was to be consumed, the priests were not being allowed to eat any of it. Even the skin, which in other offerings, was a prerequisite of the priests, was to be burnt. Another distinction is seen in the disposal of the whole bullock by fire without the camp. Also, the blood was sprinkled upon the altar of sweet incense instead of being sprinkled upon the altar of burnt-offerings, and in the case of the sin of the anointed priest, it was sprinkled before Jehovah within the Holy Place and before the veil of the Holy of Holies. A Jewish author explained that the priest stood some distance away and sprinkled blood in the direction of the veil. "The curtain would not be stained, except by accident."F5

The sprinkling of the blood so near the veil seems to have resulted from the high rank of the sinner whose transgression was expiated by this offering. The usual place for the sprinkling of blood was upon the altar of burnt-offering, and only in the case of the priest, or of the whole people, was it sprinkled near the veil. The higher the rank of the sinner, the nearer to the presence of Jehovah within the veil was the blood sprinkled.

The offering in Lev. 1--3 were voluntary, but these are obligatory. Although the principal class of violations covered by these were inadvertent, unintentional, or unwitting, "there are a few exceptions in Lev. 5."F6 The Jewish law did not permit a man to commit a sin deliberately and then square it with a sacrifice. "The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord" (Proverbs 15:8).

Another marked difference between the first three and the last two kinds of offerings regards their purpose. Although there was an implication of expiation in the sweet-smelling sacrifices, it was general and not specific, whereas, in the sin-offerings and guilt-offering, specific sins were "forgiven" (See Lev. 4:20).

If the anointed priest shall sin…
(Leviticus 4:3). All of the priests were anointed, especially the high priests. Therefore, although this is generally understood as a reference to the high priest, all priests were included.

A young bullock without blemish…
(Leviticus 4:3). This offering symbolizes Christ loaded with the believer's sin (2 Corinthians 5:21), absolutely in the sinner's place as a substitute, and not appearing in his own perfection, as in the sweet-smelling sacrifice.F7 The bullock was also the largest of the animals in such sacrifices.

The bullock shall he carry forth. without the camp ..…
(Leviticus 4:12). This does not indicate that the offerer was required to do this personally. In whatever manner, or by whatever instrumentality, he might accomplish the removal.F8 See Num. 19:9, where an attendant is described as gathering up the ashes. The Levites were probably the ones employed in the discharge of such duties.

Without the camp…
The encampments of Israel occupied a great deal of space, and this designation of the place where the sin-offering was to be disposed of lay on the outskirts of the camp of the Levites ... the distance would not have exceeded half a mile.F9 Christ himself suffered without the camp (Hebrews 13:11-13). This burning of the sin-offering beyond the camp not only symbolized the crucifixion of Christ beyond the walls of Jerusalem, but it also emphasized the extreme repulsiveness of sin in the eyes of God.

The choice of a victim for the sin-offering seems to have been determined by the rank of the sinner. For a high priest, or for the whole people, it was a bullock, (Leviticus 4:3,14); for a ruler, a he-goat was chosen (Leviticus 4:23); a she-goat sufficed in the instance of an ordinary person (Leviticus 4:28), or a lamb (Leviticus 4:32) or two doves or pigeons (Leviticus 5:7), or a measure of fine flour (Leviticus 5:11), depending upon the sinner's ability to pay. Despite such variations, however, all sinners without exception had no means whatever of finding peace with God except as provided here; and even here, no absolute forgiveness was available, for they, like ourselves, were finally dependent upon the grace of God. In an accommodative sense, of course, they were forgiven, but there was a remembrance year by year of sins, even those sins already forgiven. (See Lev. 4:20.)

Although no provision whatever was made under the Mosaic Law for the forgiveness of willful and "high-handed" sins, there appears to be in the O.T. certain instances in which God did forgive sins of a most presumptive and "high-handed" nature. Take, for example, the case of David's lustful seizure of Bathsheba and the brutal murder of Uriah in a vain effort to cover up his transgression. Yes, God forgave David, following his confession and true repentance. Instances such as this give credibility to the words of Clements who wrote:

"God always remained sovereign over the ritual which was offered to him. Forgiveness was his free prerogative, not man's right, controlled by rigid conditions."F10


 
Verses 13-21
And if the whole congregation of Israel err, and the thing be hid from the eyes of the assembly, and they have done any of the things which Jehovah hath commanded not to be done, and are guilty; when the sin wherein they have sinned is known, then the assembly shall offer a young bullock for a sin-offering, and bring it before the tent of meeting. And the elders of the congregation shall lay their hands upon the head of the bullock before Jehovah; and the bullock shall be killed before Jehovah. And the anointed priest shall bring of the blood of the bullock to the tent of meeting: and the priest shall dip his finger in the blood, and sprinkle it seven times before Jehovah, before the veil. And he shall put of the blood upon the horns of the altar which is before Jehovah, that is in the tent of meeting; and all the blood shall he pour out at the base of the altar of burnt-offering, which is at the door of the tent of meeting. And all the fat thereof shall he take off from it, and burn it upon the altar. Thus shall he do with the bullock; as he did with the bullock of the sin-offering, so shall he do with this; and the priest shall make atonement for them, and they shall be forgiven. And he shall carry forth the bullock without the camp, and burn it as he burned the first bullock: it is the sin-offering for the assembly.

With regard to the guilt here said to be incurred by the congregation, or assembly, and the possibility of their remaining ignorant of the guilt incurred raises the question of how such a thing was possible. Perhaps an example may be seen in the case of the unwise and sinful covenant the people made with the Gibeonites (Josh. 9), a sin into which the people were deceived and tricked by the strategy employed by their enemies. Also, a whole people can be involved in sin by the actions of their corporate leaders, ancestors or government. Through the sin of Adam, all people are guilty.

The priest shall make atonement for them, and they shall be forgiven…
(Leviticus 4:20) All forgiveness and atonement under the Old Covenant was accommodative, provisional, and typical of the ultimate atonement and forgiveness which came through Christ alone. Any notion that the blood of bulls and goats could actually take away sin is untenable. For it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sin (Hebrews 10:4). In those sacrifices there is a remembrance made of sins year by year. (Hebrews 10:3). Despite this, there was a definite release from guilt for those who honored God's commandments by their obedience. Although not final and complete, the forgiveness they received was sufficient, for God merely passed over their transgressions until the final and Great Atonement would appear at that time, when, In one day God would remove iniquity (Zechariah 1:9), that Day, of course, being the Day HE DIED on Calvary! Prior to that day, the sins of God's people were merely passed over until the true atonement was achieved by Jesus Christ (Romans 3:25).

Those with any true spiritual discernment, even under the Mosaic covenant, must surely have been aware that animal sacrifices could not remove sin, and that there had to be a Greater Offering, foreshadowed and typified by the bloody sacrifices, which would finally achieve a release from sin which those sacrifices only typified. As Meyrick explained it:

"The ceremonial cleansing of the sinful Israelite by the sin-offering in the old dispensation foreshadows the effect of baptism in the new dispensation, for as Calvin noticed in his commentary, `All sins are now washed away by baptism, so under the Law also sacrifices were expiations, although in a different way'."F11


 
Verses 22-26
When a ruler sinneth, and doeth unwittingly any one of all the things which Jehovah his God hath commanded not to be done, and is guilty; if his sin, wherein he hath sinned, be made known to him, he shall bring for his oblation a goat, a male without blemish. 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 Jehovah: it is a sin-offering. 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 the blood thereof shall he pour out at the base of the altar of burnt-offering. And all the fat thereof shall he burn upon the altar, as the fat of the sacrifice of peace-offerings; and the priest shall make atonement for him as concerning his sin, and he shall be forgiven.

When a ruler sinneth…
If Leviticus had been written at some time long after Moses, there is utterly no way that such a word as this would have crept into the text. Ruler is a term particularly associated with the tribal organization of early Israel.F12 This effectively dates Leviticus (and the Pentateuch) in the early tribal period (the period of Moses), and refutes both the monarchial and post-monarchial periods as the time these instructions were given. Yes, it may be true that ruler was a term here and there used for kings (even David) in later Jewish history, but the ruler in this passage did not have the rank of king. The he-goat, as contrasted with bullock, demonstrates his lower rank, below that of both the high priest, or any priest, and that of the public assembly also.

A goat, a male without blemish…
It is of interest that the Hebrews had two words for goat, [~sa`iyr] and [~attud], denoting, according to Keil, two different kinds of goats, one, a rough-haired shaggy kind of goat, and the other, the buck-goat of stately appearance. [~Attud], which was the goat commanded here, denoted the buck-goat of noble appearance.F13

He shall be forgiven…
See Lev. 4:20.


 
Verses 27-31
And if any one of the common people sin unwittingly, in doing any of the things which Jehovah hath commanded not to be done, and be guilty; if his sin, which he hath sinned, be made known to him, then he shall bring for his oblation a goat, a female without blemish, for his sin which he hath sinned. And he shall lay his hand upon the head of the sin-offering, and kill the sin-offering in the place of burnt-offering. 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 all the blood thereof shall he pour out at the base of the altar. And all the fat thereof shall he take away, 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 savor unto Jehovah; and the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be forgiven.

For a sweet savor unto Jehovah…
This was not to classify sin-offerings with the sweet-smelling sacrifices described earlier. A better word here was noted by Bamberger: For a pleasing odor to the Lord ... This formula was needed to indicate that these offerings too, though occasioned by sin, are dear to God, who welcomes the repentant.F14

The common people . . …
(Leviticus 4:27). The American Standard Version margin has people of the land instead of common people. The phrase stands for the people as a whole.F15 Noticeable in the provisions given is the allowance for sin-offerings of lesser value than were required for priests and rulers. In cases of poverty, doves, pigeons, or even fine flour were allowed.

The priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be forgiven…
None of these sacrifices procured any removal of sin in any perfect sense, but all of them were representations and prefigurations of the ultimate forgiveness to be achieved in the atoning death of Jesus Christ. The word atonement means any kind of reconciliation.F16 When the word is used in connection with sin-offerings, It expresses nothing more than that, in consequence of this sacrifice, there was reconciliation between God and the worshipper.F17 One who had not made the sin-offering stood without the covenant until he did so, but upon the offering of it, he was restored to the fellowship of the covenant people. (See more on this under Lev. 4:20.)


 
Verses 32-35
And if he bring a lamb as his oblation for a sin-offering, he shall bring it a female without blemish. And he shall lay his hand upon the head of the sin-offering, and kill it for a sin-offering in the place where they kill the burnt-offering. 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 all the blood thereof shall he pour out at the base of the altar: and all the fat thereof shall he take away, as the fat of the lamb is taken away from the sacrifice of peace-offerings; and the priest shall burn them on the altar, upon the offerings of Jehovah made by fire; and the priest shall make atonement for him as touching his sin that he hath sinned, and he shall be forgiven.

The almost verbatim repetitions here are another of the characteristics of writings during the second pre-Christian millennium (about 1500 B.C.) Special attention was given to this phenomenon in the commentary on Exodus, where it was discussed at length in the introduction to Exo. 35. Here also it must be viewed as a positive and convincing evidence of these instructions having been written in the times of Moses, and not at some period centuries later.

Practically every portion of the instructions here have been discussed where they appeared in previous similar instructions concerning these sin-offerings.


Footnotes for Leviticus 4
1: Merrill F. Unger, Unger's Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. 1 (Chicago: Moody Press, 1981), p. 152.
2: W. F. Lofthouse, Peake's Commentary on the Bible, Leviticus (London: T. C. and E. C. Jack, Ltd., 1924), p. 198.
3: Bernard J. Bamberger, The Torah, a Modern Commentary (New York: Union of Hebrew Congregations, 1979), p. 27.
4: F. Meyrick, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 2, Leviticus (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 53.
5: Bernard J. Bamberger, op. cit., p. 29.
6: Ibid., p. 27.
7: Merrill F. Unger, op. cit., p. 153.
8: Robert Jamieson, Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1957), p. 437.
9: Ibid.
10: Ronald E. Clements, Broadman Bible Commentary, Vol. 2, Leviticus (Nashville: Breadman Press, 1972), p. 18.
11: F. Meyrick, op. cit., p. 53.
12: Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979), p. 99.
13: C. F. Keil, Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), p. 309.
14: Bernard J. Bamberger, op. cit., p. 34.
15: W. F. Lofthouse, op. cit., p. 199.
16: Robert Jamieson, op. cit., p. 440.
17: Ibid.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Leviticus 4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=le&chapter=004>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  

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