Law of Moses

Printable .pdf version,

As A Rule of National and Individual Life
By Robert Roberts
Chapter 25 - Burnt Offerings, Sin Offerings, And Trespass Offerings

The Burnt Offering
The Sin Offering
The Tresspass Offering

THESE were compulsory offerings as distinguished from the offerings considered in the last chapter -- which were more or less voluntary. That there should be these two classes of offering is an adaptation to spiritual needs. There are appointments of God that are imperative -- not at all left to human choice -- to be omitted on pain of death. In the observance of these, every enlightened man delights. But it is a great addition to his delight that he can go beyond the actual prescriptions of law, and indulge the sense of his admiring and grateful allegiance by any extravagance of love (as Judas considered Mary's costly ointment of spikenard) with the certainty that it will be accepted. It was the sentiment illustrated in David's case, when, as he sat at his ease in the magnificent palace erected for him by Hiram, he conceived the idea of a more opulent provision for the celebration of the divine service. "See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwelleth within curtains." He was not permitted to build a temple, but it was said to him, "It was well that it was in thine heart"

There is ample field for every liberal soul who may conceive liberal things in the service of God. By liberal things he shall stand. There are not many to whom liberality occurs in this direction. But the celestial phenomenon is not absolutely unknown. Surprising instances are permitted to break the monotony of carnal stagnation, which even Paul lamented when he said, "All seek their own, and not the things which are Jesus Christ's". The rule has not been cancelled which he formulated thus: "He that soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully, and he that soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly." A man seems a fool who spends on God. Final developments will show a light on this subject that all men will be able to see.

The diversity of offerings is a little perplexing at first; and it is some time before we discover the difference between them. They all seem indiscriminately sacrifices -- animals to be slain and consumed in the fire of the altar. By and by, we naturally ask, what are burnt offerings as distinguished from sin offerings and trespass offerings? and why should there be a trespass offering in addition to a sin offering, seeing that trespass is sin? The light gradually dawns. We find they represent gradations of the same subject. All were for atonement, but atonement for different degrees of sin, as we might express it. There was a form of sin for which there was no atonement. "The soul that doeth aught presumptuously . . . reproacheth the Lord: that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Because he hath despised the word of the Lord, and hath broken his commandment, that soul shall utterly be cut off: his iniquity shall be upon him" (that is, shall not be purged by sacrifice) (Num. 15:30-31). But this was not a common case. The common case was sin not of presumption: sin of natural state, sin of ignorance, and sin of weakness: the first, the constitutional uncleanness that has come into the world by sin, which is "no more I, but sin that dwelleth in me" (Rom. 7:20): the second, where men do wrong without knowing it, as in" sin of ignorance": and third, acts of known disobedience, but not deliberate or intentional but the result of infirmity deplored. For these three phases of sin, the burnt offering, the sin offering, and the trespass offering appear to have been provided, differing in methods and accessories according to the respective cases.

The Burnt Offering

The burnt offering was burnt wholly on the altar (Lev. 1:8-9). It was left to smoulder all night into ashes, and the ashes were removed in the morning. It was called the burnt offering "because of the burning upon the altar all night unto the morning" (6:9). It was an act of worship on the part of a mortal being, apart from guilt of specific offence. Thus Noah, saved from destruction by the flood, "took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar" (Gen. 8:20). Thus also the test of Abraham's faith was to offer Isaac "for burnt offering" (Gen. 22:2). That burnt offering should be required in the absence of particular offence shows that our unclean state as the death-doomed children of Adam itself unfits us for approach to the Deity apart from the recognition and acknowledgment of which the burnt offering was the form required and supplied. It was "because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel", as well as "because of their transgressions in all their sins", that atonement was required for even the tabernacle of the congregation (Lev. 16:16).

The type involved in complete burning is self-manifest: it is consumption of sin-nature. This is the great promise and prophecy and requirement of every form of the truth; the destruction of the body of sin (Rom. 6:6). It was destroyed in Christ's crucifixion -- the "one great offering"' we ceremonially share it in our baptism: "crucified with Christ", "baptized unto his death". We morally participate in it in putting the old man to death in "denying ungodliness and worldly lusts"; and the hope before us is the prospect of becoming subject to such a physical change as will consume mortal nature and change it into the glorious nature of the Spirit. "We shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye!"

The whole process of consumption is the work of the Spirit, whether we consider the sending forth of Christ to condemn sin in the flesh, or our association with his death in baptism or our repudiation of the old man as the rule of life, or our change at the judgment seat into the incorruptible and glorious nature of the Son of God. When the work is finished, flesh and blood, with all its weakness and its woe, will have ceased from the earth, and given place to a glad and holy race of men immortal and "equal to the angels". It was a beautiful requirement of the wisdom of God in the beginning of things that He should require an act of worship that typified the repudiation of sinful nature as the basis of divine fellowship and acceptability. Those who deny Christ's participation thereof, deny its removal by sacrifice, and therefore deny the fundamental testimony of the gospel, that he is "the Lamb of God, taking away the sin of the world". They think they honour him by saying his flesh-nature was a clean nature. In reality, they deny his qualification for the work he was sent to do. They mistake holiness of character for holiness of nature, and by a wrong use of truth, destroy.

The removal of the ashes in the morning out of the camp, has an evident allusion to the change effected in the dawn of the perfect day, when the unconsumed remnants of sin's flesh -- that is, the men who are not changed by the Spirit, or consumed by the altar fire -- will be "put away like dross". The body of the burnt offering as the type of Christ might not seem to leave room for the idea of "ashes" if we think only of Christ personal but when we extend our view to the whole race as federally involved in him, we can see how the treatment of the body of the burnt offering would typify the purpose of God with regard to the race, and therefore leave a place for the ashes to be removed in the morning.

The Sin Offering

A sin offering differed from the burnt offering in several particulars. It was called for when "a soul sinned through ignorance against any of the commandments of the Lord concerning things that ought not to be done" (Lev. 4:2). If a priest sinned in the same way: or if it was the case of the whole congregation sinning ignorantly, then when the sin was discovered, they were to "bring a young bullock without blemish unto the Lord for a sin offering".

The question has been asked, Why should a sin of ignorance require atonement? I have indeed known of a stout revolt against the whole doctrine of sins of ignorance, and a disposition to reject Moses on the ground of them. This is not reasonable. If it had been a case of punishing a man for unconscious transgression, there might be some difficulty experienced. But it is not a case of that sort, but of the reverse sort, namely, of providing a way of escape from a false position. A false position is a false position, whether known or not. Reason must recognize this: if the will of God be that certain things be not done, then the man who does them does things that are displeasing, whether he know it or not. His ignorance does not make a displeasing thing pleasing, though it will modify the light in which he may be regarded as an unintentional offender. A presumptuous doing of it -- a doing of it in the full knowledge of what he is doing, and with the full intention that his act shall be an act of enmity as hurtful as he can make it, ensures condign punishment, as we have seen. But a doing of it in ignorance that he is doing wrong is mercifully treated: provision is made for rectification or justification. A sin offering is required. The sin is not ignored, for sin there has been, though ignorant sin, for sin is the breaking of the law of God in any matter.

But even a sin offering is not exacted till knowledge makes the sinner aware of his sin. It is "when the sin which he hath sinned come to his knowledge" that a sin offering is to be brought (Lev. 4:23). Then "the priest shall make an atonement for him as concerning his sin: and it shall be forgiven him" (verse 26). A superficial view would say there is nothing to forgive in such a case. But the fact is the offence exists though the man did not intend it, and is therefore righteously the subject of disapprobation. Even a man dealing with men, feels and recognizes this in matters of trespass. A neighbour may infringe your rights unintentionally. If on knowing it, he makes reparation, all is well: justice is not felt on either side to be violated in the requirement of the reparation. But if reparation is refused, then a sin of ignorance becomes one of contumacy, and the subject of penalty.

It will be found on reflection to be a fitting and a beautiful thing that God should hold sin to be sin, even though done in ignorance: for otherwise His law would be at the mercy of human whim, and human ignorance would become the standard of action. Yet were He to deal with ignorant sin as He deals with knowing sin, the moral discernments with which He has endowed us would be violated. That He should hold the sin to be sin, yet that He should hold the sinner responsible only when his sin comes to his knowledge, and then offer forgiveness by atonement, is all in harmony with the perfect justice and wisdom and goodness that belong to the divine character. It is an illustration of the doctrine proclaimed and illustrated on many another page of the Bible outside the Law of Moses: that "times of ignorance, God winks at" (Acts 17:30); that where there is blindness, there is no accountability (John 9:41); that only where there is knowledge does the ground of condemnation exist (Jas. 4:17; John 3:19; Luke 12:47); that where there is great privilege, there is great responsibility (John 15:22-25); that, in a word, to whom much is given, of them is much required (Luke 12:48).

When sins of ignorance become known, whether in the case of a priest, or the whole congregation, a young bullock was to be brought as a sin offering (Lev. 4:2, 3, 13).* The bullock was not to be consumed on the altar like the burnt offering. Yet it was to be consumed, though in another way. When it had been killed by the offerer, and a portion of its blood had been taken by the priest into the tabernacle, and sprinkled by the priest's finger seven times before the veil, and put by touch on the four horns of the incense altar, the rest of the blood was to be poured out at the bottom of the brazen altar, and the fat of the animal was to be burnt on the altar; and then the body was to be carried out of the camp to a place of ashes, and there burnt on a fire of wood (Lev. 4:4-12).

[* In the case of a ruler the offering was a male kid of the goats, and in that of one of the people a female kid.]

In this it differed, not only from the burnt offering, but from the ordinary treatment of a sin offering. The law of the ordinary sin offering was (Lev. 6:25-30), that it should be eaten by the priests, and that the blood should be sprinkled on the altar, but not offered in the tabernacle. If the blood was offered in the tabernacle, then the body was not to be eaten, but taken out of the camp to be burnt (Lev. 6:30). This curious distinction between two classes of sin offering must have had a meaning. We are not told what it was, but we may discover it in the difference between the two classes of sin for which they were respectively offered. The offerings not to be eaten but burnt, and whose blood was to be presented in the tabernacle, were those offered for sins of ignorance; while those to be eaten, were for sin in general. The bringing of the blood into the tabernacle and the burning of the bodies, would seem to express intenser repudiation than the eating of the flesh. And yet the intenser repudiation was for the class of sin that men are liable to consider the most venial -- sins of ignorance.

What is the explanation of this? Is it so that unconscious sin is more hateful to God than that which is known and confessed? It would not be difficult to think so. When a man knows his faults, disowns them and struggles against them, his friends bear with him more easily than if he offends regularly in a line of things of which he is not aware. In his ignorance, he supposes himself perfectly acceptable, while all the time it may be he is making it the hardest work in the world to endure him. We are probably not far wrong in supposing that this is how it is with our imperfect selves towards God, and that there is a special meaning in the declaration that He "hath not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities", How often may we grieve Him by our want of perfect loyalty: by our forgetfulness of Him: by our failure in meekness and gentleness and mercy; by the weakness of our love, the poverty of our worship, the feebleness of our service--while all the time, perhaps, we think the Laodicean thought that we, are spiritually" rich and increased with goods and have need of nothing", and highly acceptable in His sight.

The Laodiceans had obeyed the gospel, and were "looking for the mercy of the Lord unto eternal life", The Laodiceans, having so good an opinion of themselves, would no doubt be zealous against all gross and open sin, and sincerely penitent if they fell into such. And yet as regards the richer forms of spiritual fruitfulness, we have the Lord's authority for it that they were "wretched, and poor, and miserable, and blind, and naked". It is easy for us to imagine how much more difficult it would be for the Lord to condone their deficiencies (or sins of ignorance) than the sins they confessed and disowned. This may enable us to understand why, in the Mosaic type, sins of ignorance should be the subject of a more energetic purgation than those in which the humbled confessor voluntarily recognized his offence.

The practical application has much in it, both of fear and comfort. Sins of ignorance were not forgiven till known and repudiated in sacrifice. Here arises the necessity for what Paul recommends when he says, "Examine yourselves", and "prove your own selves"; and John, "purify yourselves"; and James, "cleanse your hearts". If we go on in ignorance of what is acceptable to God in our character, how can we expect to obtain the forgiveness that comes only on confession? On the other hand, how comforting to know that when we have discovered and confessed our shortcomings, and come to God with Christ, the crucified, in our hands and hearts, "He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all iniquity", even sins of ignorance also -- so trying to divine holiness. There is ground for even a higher degree of comfort than this. If the Lord prayed for his murderers, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do", what may not those hope for from the divine clemency who love and fear him when they read the beautiful words of Psa. 103? "Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust .... As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our iniquities from us."

We are taken one step higher in the words of Rom. 8:26: "The Spirit itself helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what to pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God" (that is, by Christ, verse 34). Here is a mixture of human helplessness and distress, and divine provision and recognition, that appeals to every enlightened man's experience of what he needs in the imperfect state through which he is passing in this age of faith and weakness. It is all in harmony with the compassionate foreshadowing, yet holy requirements, of the Mosaic service.

The eating of the flesh of the sin offering by the priests in the second class of sin offerings, would appear to typify the reception and assimilation of the truth concerning the heinousness of sin and the doctrine of its putting away through Christ: for we are even now, as Peter declares, "an holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. 2:5). We eat the antitypical flesh of the sacrifices in receiving the truth of the Sacrifice of Christ, who gave his flesh for the life of the world (John 6:51), and who asks that in this sense we eat his flesh and drink his blood as the condition of eternal life (verse 53). Here is where the various false theories of the sacrifice of Christ are so dangerous; they put a man's heart out of harmony with God's aims in the greatest of His works upon earth.

The flesh of the sin offering was declared to be "most holy", so that "whatsoever shall touch the flesh thereof shall be holy". This, at first sight, appears singular in view of the fact that sin is defiling, and that the sin offering was considered to have upon it the sins it was offered for, as in the case of the "two kids of the goats for a sin offering" (16:5). "Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat . . . and the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited". How should an offering bearing sin have the power of imparting holiness to "whatsoever touched the flesh thereof"? The difficulty is at an end when we remember why it is that a sin offering was appointed at all: because "God is holy" and "of purer eyes than to behold iniquity" His holiness made all His appointments holy, even though uncleanness was incidental to the process of bringing that holiness to bear, as, for example, the defilement of all the furniture of the holy tabernacle through contact with the uncleanness of the children of Israel (Lev. 16:16, 33). All was holiness to the Lord: even the nation was "an holy people to the Lord thy God" (Deut. 7:6), notwithstanding their uncleanness and their sin. Sin was in their midst only as a thing to be repudiated. So the sin offering was a holy ordinance in being for the removal of sin because of the Lord's holiness, and therefore holy in the midst of the uncleanness incidental to sin. The antitype in Christ, "the one great offering", "who put away sin by the sacrifice of himself", is clear. Though made of like nature with ourselves, as his sacrificial mission required, though subject to death because of its entrance into the world by sin, as all men are -- he was the Lord's "Holy One" -- separated and dedicated from the very beginning for this very work of taking it away -- without iniquity himself, as prefigured by the spotlessness of the sacrificial animals, yet bearing in himself the hereditary effects of sin, that he might remove them by death and resurrection for all who should take his name and be approved by him. Preached as the crucified and resurrected Jesus -- (the Lamb of God bearing away the sin of the world) -- he is the flesh of the sin offering most holy, by the eating or contact with which, in the affectionate understanding thereof, we become holy in him.

The Trespass Offering

The ceremonial adjuncts of this were the same as for the sin offering: "As the sin offering is, so is the trespass offering: there is one law for them" (Lev. 7:7). Why, then, should there be a trespass offering as distinct from a sin offering? Because, while all trespass is sin, all sin is not trespass. There is what Paul calls "sin that dwelleth in me" (Rom. 7:17). There is sin of forgetfulness; sin of "unadvised" but unintentional words, in "the multitude of which", in an ordinary way, as Solomon says, "there wanteth not sin"; sin of omission; sin of thought -- all of which cause a righteous man to exclaim with Paul, "O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me?" but which do not constitute trespass. Trespass is an open and hurtful act, in disobedience of express statute, as when a man lies or steals.

The enumeration of the offences for which trespass offerings were to be provided shows this: the concealing of known and unrepented sin in others; the contraction of uncleanness; the utterance of an unlawful oath; the embezzlement of things committed in trust; treachery, violence, misrepresentation, false swearing, etc. (Lev. 5:1, 3; 6:1, 5). The fact that provision was made for such offences, when truly repented of, is an illustration of what Christ teaches: "All manner of sin shall be forgiven unto men, except the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit". Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is rebellion against the authority of God, and is naturally in a different category from sins of weakness that are not conceived in the spirit of presumptuous disobedience. Even human law distinguishes between treason and breaches of recognized law: and "Shall mortal man be more just than God?" Treason is a capital offence, while breaches of common law' may be condoned by restitution or apology.

The combined effect of all these sacrificial provisions of the law is to give ground of hope to all men who fear God and submit to His appointments. They may be erring and shortcoming, and a trouble to themselves because of their many imperfections: but if they are "humble and contrite of heart", and make confession of their sins in the name of Jesus, in whom all these sacrifices concentre as the end and substance foreshadowed, they may trust to be forgiven. "If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared" (Psa. 130:3-4). May it not, then, be said to many a fearful one, "Lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; and make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way"? (Heb. 12:12-13).


Ch 26