Meditations in the Law : No.33 : What is a Guilt Offering
Lev 5:14-19 The LORD said to Moses: “When a person commits a violation and sins unintentionally in regard to any of the LORD’s holy things, he is to bring to the LORD as a penalty a ram from the flock, one without defect and of the proper value in silver, according to the sanctuary shekel. It is a guilt offering. He must make restitution for what he has failed to do in regard to the holy things, add a fifth of the value to that and give it all to the priest, who will make atonement for him with the ram as a guilt offering, and he will be forgiven. If a person sins and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD’s commands, even though he does not know it, he is guilty and will be held responsible. He is to bring to the priest as a guilt offering a ram from the flock, one without defect and of the proper value. In this way the priest will make atonement for him for the wrong he has committed unintentionally, and he will be forgiven. It is a guilt offering; he has been guilty of wrongdoing against the LORD.”
We now come to a further offering which seems to be very similar to the Sin offering we have just considered, but which has some clear differences. Let’s note first of all when this offering is applicable: “When a person commits a violation and sins unintentionally in regard to any of the LORD’s holy things.” (v.14) and “If a person sins and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD’s commands, even though he does not know it” (v.17), so again it is when a person goes against the Lord in respect of the things (probably) of the Tabernacle (v.14) and then generally against any one of the decrees that the Lord had given Israel (v.17) and in both cases they did it without realising that it was wrong. The emphasis is that it is a “wrongdoing against the Lord.” (v.19)
One of the biggest differences appears to be in the language used with this offering. The focus is on the cost or value of the offering which is first being given as a ‘penalty’ (or fine) but then is to have to add something more to ‘make restitution’ and then the original ram offering is to be considered to be making ‘atonement’ for the offender. So, we thus have a fine to make the point that this is a wrong which is to be punished, second that there is to be restitution or making good, and finally there is cleansing or putting right the sin before the Lord (atonement is about changing the circumstances to bring reconciliation with the Lord, and ensuring justice is done.). The focus thus comes on the consequence of the misdemeanour, upon what should have happened but didn’t. It wasn’t just that you had sinned (that was the Sin Offering) but that what you had failed to do, or did do, was something tangible that had a cost attached to it.
Within all this there is a reminder to us that sins have consequences. The apostle Paul taught, “A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction.” (Gal 6:7,8) We may face up to a sin and say sorry to God but forget that there are consequences that follow it. We need to ask for Jesus to also deal with the consequences when we have repented else we may find ongoing problems occurring. In the Isaiah 53 ‘Servant Song’ prophetically referring to Jesus we find, “Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.” (Isa 53:10). Through the Cross God made Jesus a guilt offering with the result that not only sin but the effects of sin can be brought under his work and dealt with so that we can instead receive God’s blessing on our ongoing days.
Now although it is not very clear, most commentators link the first seven verses of Chapter 6 to the preceding ones because of the similarity of purpose: “If anyone sins and is unfaithful to the LORD by deceiving his neighbour about something entrusted to him or left in his care or stolen, or if he cheats him, or if he finds lost property and lies about it, or if he swears falsely, or if he commits any such sin that people may do– when he thus sins and becomes guilty.” (6:2-4) i.e. sins against people are seen as being unfaithful to the Lord. In these cases we find specific instructions for restitution: “he must return what he has stolen or taken by extortion, or what was entrusted to him, or the lost property he found, or whatever it was he swore falsely about. He must make restitution in full, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the owner on the day he presents his guilt offering.”(6:4,5) Not only must he make restitution but he must add a fifth to it as an act of goodwill (implied) and this restitution is separate and distinct and extra to the Guilt Offering that he brings. This restitution is to put the offended person in a similar place as if the thing had never happened. This is similar to English Law in respect of Damages.
However it is still a sin against God and that is acknowledged in what follows: “And as a penalty he must bring to the priest, that is, to the LORD, his guilt offering, a ram from the flock, one without defect and of the proper value. In this way the priest will make atonement for him before the LORD, and he will be forgiven for any of these things he did that made him guilty.” (6:6,7). i.e. there is a cost to be borne before the Lord in bringing the guilt offering which also acts to bring about atonement.
To conclude, when we sin against another person, we need to remind ourselves that we are first and foremost sinning against God. In the parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus has the son thinking, “I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.” (Lk 15:18) Note he had sinned against God as well as against his father by the way he had left home. Some people may be casual about sin but we must not. Our sins may be against people, but they are also always against God. Remember as 6:2 said, “If anyone sins and is unfaithful to the LORD by deceiving his neighbour.” We are unfaithful to the Lord when we sin against others. We should not only say sorry to that person and sorry to God for sinning against that person, but also sorry to Him for being unfaithful to Him! May that clarify our understanding of things that mostly the Christian church is casual about!