"And if the whole congregation of Israel sin through ignorance, and the thing be hid from the eyes of the assembly, and they have done somewhat against any of the commandments of the LORD concerning things which should not be done, and are guilty; When the sin, which they have sinned against it, is known, then the congregation shall offer a young bullock for the sin, and bring him before the tabernacle of the congregation. And the elders of the congregation shall lay their hands upon the head of the bullock before the LORD: and the bullock shall be killed before the LORD. And the priest that is anointed shall bring of the bullock’s blood to the tabernacle of the congregation: And the priest shall dip his finger in some of the blood, and sprinkle it seven times before the LORD, even before the vail. And he shall put some of the blood upon the horns of the altar which is before the LORD, that is in the tabernacle of the congregation, and shall pour out all the blood at the bottom of the altar of the burnt offering, which is at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And he shall take all his fat from him, and burn it upon the altar. And he shall do with the bullock as he did with the bullock for a sin offering, so shall he do with this: and the priest shall make an atonement for them, and it shall be forgiven them. And he shall carry forth the bullock without the camp, and burn him as he burned the first bullock: it is a sin offering for the congregation.
"When a ruler hath sinned, and done somewhat through ignorance against any of the commandments of the LORD his God concerning things which should not be done, and is guilty; Or if his sin, wherein he hath sinned, come to his knowledge; he shall bring his offering, a kid of the goats, 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 the LORD: 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 shall pour out his blood at the bottom of the altar of burnt offering. And he shall burn all his fat upon the altar, as the fat of the sacrifice of peace offerings: and the priest shall make an atonement for him as concerning his sin, and it shall be forgiven him.
"And if any one of the common people sin through ignorance, while he doeth somewhat against any of the commandments of the LORD concerning things which ought not to be done, and be guilty; Or if his sin, which he hath sinned, come to his knowledge: then he shall bring his offering, a kid of the goats, 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 slay the sin offering in the place of the 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 shall pour out all the blood thereof at the bottom of the altar. And he shall take away all the fat thereof, 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 savour unto the LORD; and the priest shall make an atonement for him, and it shall be forgiven him. And if he bring a lamb 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 slay 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 shall pour out all the blood thereof at the bottom of the altar: And he shall take away all the fat thereof, as the fat of the lamb is taken away from the sacrifice of the peace offerings; and the priest shall burn them upon the altar, according to the offerings made by fire unto the LORD: and the priest shall make an atonement for his sin that he hath committed, and it shall be forgiven him. — Leviticus 4:13-35 KJV.
13. Whole congregation… sin — It is not to be supposed that so great a multitude should each be guilty of the same inadvertent sin, except it be some defect in worship or some deviation from the letter of the law arising out of their peculiar circumstances, as in 1 Samuel 14:32-35. It is this presumptive sin of the whole congregation of Christian worshippers which renders it eminently appropriate for the Lord’s Prayer, with its petition for forgiveness of debts, to be repeated in every assembly. The sin of the whole congregation was to be expiated in the same way with the sin of the priest, except that the elders, as their representatives, laid their hands upon the victim.
20. Make… atonement for them — The radical significance of this term is to cover the sinner from the holiness of God lest he be consumed because of his sin. The term atonement in the Old Testament corresponds not to the Greek of which atonement is the translation in Romans 5:11, καταλλαγὴν (katallaghn), reconciliation, or a state of harmonized variance, irrespective of the means, but to propitiation, ἱλαστήριον (ilasthrion), (Romans 3:25,) and ἱλασμὸν (ilasmov). 1 John 2:2; 4:10. See note on Leviticus 1:4. It shall be forgiven — For the nature of the Old Testament forgiveness, see The Temporal and Spiritual Benefits of the Levitical Sacrifices.
SIN OF A PRINCE, 22-26.
22. A ruler — This term signifies any high political officer, especially the heads of the tribes, or phylarchs. The rabbins generally understand that under the monarchy it referred only to the king. The ritual for a prince is like that for the priest and for the congregation, except that the victim was a kid of the goats, and that the fat was burned as was that of the peace offering. Instead of being burnt without the camp, the flesh was to be eaten by the priest. Leviticus 6:26.
SIN OF A PRIVATE PERSON, 27-35.
The only difference between the method of expiating the sin of a private person and that of a ruler is, that the offering of the former being a female kid is supposed to be inferior to that of the ruler.
(1.) Ethical writers insist that the moral sense of mankind pronounces innocent the inadvertent doer of an act wrong in itself. They declare that there is a broad distinction between wrong and guilt, on the one hand, and right and innocence on the other, and that guilt always involves a knowledge of the wrong and an intention to commit it. Hence in the light of the moral philosophies filling our libraries and taught in our colleges a sin of inadvertence or ignorance needs no expiation. The punishment of such sins by human judicatories, it is asserted, would be an outrage against which every good man would cry out. Nevertheless, so great are the interests intrusted to men in certain positions that severe penalties are attached to carelessness, as in the handling of poisons by physicians and apothecaries, the involuntary sleep of a weary sentinel at his post, or in the case of the bridge-tender, who, through a misapprehension of the hour of the day, has the draw open when the express train arrives. These are inadvertent sins which men regard and punish as crimes. Now what the exigencies of human society require in a few cases, the perfect moral government of God demands in all cases — satisfaction for involuntary sins. But there is this difference. God always provides an atonement for such sins, and never executes sentence till the atonement has been rejected. Where the expiation cannot be known and applied he forbears to inflict the penalty. The time of this ignorance God overlooked. Acts 17:30. Hence the law of God is more merciful than the law of man, which, in the cases specified, makes no provision for escaping the punishment of involuntary offences. The objection which some have raised against the Divine government for holding errors and inadvertencies as culpable and penal, falls to the ground when we find the first announcement of this fact accompanied by the institution of the sin offering.
(2.) Though a well-meant mistake does not defile the conscience and bring the soul into condemnation, it nevertheless demands a penitent confession and a presentation of the great Sin Offering unto a God of absolute holiness. The refusal to do this, since the sin offering is provided, involves positive guilt. Says John Wesley,
Hence Chas. Wesley sings,
“Every moment, Lord, I want
The merit of thy death.”
(3.) The Jewish teachers were thorough literalists, as is seen in their definition of the sin of ignorance: 1.) It must be involuntary. 2.) Against a prohibition. 3.) An outward act and not a word or a thought. 4.) The deed must be worthy of capital punishment when wilfully committed. We believe that this is taking too narrow a view of the broad field of inadvertent sins. The New Testament here illumines the Old. In Acts 3:17, St. Peter, after boldly charging the Jewish authorities with the denial of the Holy One and the Just, the liberation of a murderer, and the killing of the Prince of life, throws the mantle of charity over these flagrant and wilful sins by saying, “Brethren, I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers.” Then after having brought their sins within the efficacy of the great sin offering, if they will avail themselves of the blood of sprinkling, he exhorts them to repent that their sins may be blotted out. Peter speaks in the same strain in his epistolary exhortation to the Church not to fashion themselves “according to the former lusts in your ignorance.” 1 Peter 1:14. St. Paul repeatedly palliates his wilful sin of violent persecution of the Church by the declaration that he did it ignorantly. 1 Timothy 1:13; Acts 26:9. Hence Archbishop Magee infers that the sin of ignorance “includes all such as were the consequence of human frailty and inconsideration, whether committed knowingly and wilfully, or otherwise. It stands opposed to sins committed with a high hand, (Numbers 15:22-31,) that is, deliberately and presumptuously, for which no atonement was admitted. So that the efficacy of the atonement was extended to all sins which flowed from the infirmities and passions of human nature, and was withheld only from those which sprang from deliberate and audacious defiance of the Divine authority. “This view is also confirmed by the example given of particular sins which called for the atonement — fraud, lying, rash swearing or perjury, and licentiousness.” This throws light upon the sin “for which there is no more sacrifice,” (Hebrews 10:26-29;) the sin unto death, (1 John 5:16;) the irremissible sin, (Mark 3:29;) and clearly identifies it with the sin committed “with a high hand” for which the “soul shall be utterly cut off.” The contrast between the two Testaments, which makes the Old the embodiment of unmitigated severity and the New the impersonation of mercy, is groundless. There is mercy in the dispensation of the law; there is in the dispensation of grace “the wrath of the Lamb” flashing out to consume incorrigible offenders.
(4.) The diversity in the victims appointed for sin offerings was evidently intended to mark the different degrees of offensiveness in the sin to be atoned, except the alternative conceded to poverty. Thus we have an ascending scale: a female kid, or pair of pigeons, a male kid, a young bullock, respectively, for a private person, a prince, a high priest, or the whole people, show that the heinousness of sin increases with the rank and number of the transgressors. “Begin at my sanctuary.” Ezekiel 9:6.