"And if a soul sin, and hear the voice of swearing, and is a witness, whether he hath seen or known of it; if he do not utter it, then he shall bear his iniquity. Or if a soul touch any unclean thing, whether it be a carcase of an unclean beast, or a carcase of unclean cattle, or the carcase of unclean creeping things, and if it be hidden from him; he also shall be unclean, and guilty. Or if he touch the uncleanness of man, whatsoever uncleanness it be that a man shall be defiled withal, and it be hid from him; when he knoweth of it, then he shall be guilty. Or if a soul swear, pronouncing with his lips to do evil, or to do good, whatsoever it be that a man shall pronounce with an oath, and it be hid from him; when he knoweth of it, then he shall be guilty in one of these. And it shall be, when he shall be guilty in one of these things, that he shall confess that he hath sinned in that thing: And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the LORD for his sin which he hath sinned, a female from the flock, a lamb or a kid of the goats, for a sin offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for him concerning his sin." — Leviticus 5:1-6 KJV.
Commentators have found it difficult to draw a well-defined line between the חַטָּאת (chattath) — the sin offering — and the אָשֵׁם (asham) — the trespass offering; the latter is for sins of ignorance or inadvertence as well as the former. The only exception is the case of falsehood, fraud, and voluntary silence when justice calls for testimony. Even these, usually the offspring of fear or some other weakness, would be regarded by Archbishop Magee as sins of ignorance. Leviticus 4:2, note. Some discriminate the trespass offering from the sin offering by attaching reparation of injuries to the former, as the restoration of goods fraudulently gotten; but this can apply only to a few of the sins for which the trespass offering is designed. Gesenius frankly admits that “the precise point of distinction between the two kinds of faults or sins has hitherto been sought in vain.” See verse 6, note. The אָשֵׁם (asham) is used for the offence as well as for its expiatory offering. It then signifies guiltiness, (Genesis 26:10;) sin, (Jeremiah 51:5; Proverbs 14:9;) and trespasses, (Psalm 68:21.) The Seventy have never translated אָשֵׁם (asham) by ἁμαρτία (hamartia), sin, but generally by some such soft word as πλημμελεια (plhmmeleia), mistake, or ἄγνοια (agnoia), ignorance. The Hebrew does not justify this exclusive rendering, as an examination of the above passages will show. The soul or life of the “Man of sorrows” was made an אָשֵׁם (asham), a trespass offering. Isaiah 53:10.
SIN AGAINST JUSTICE — CONCEALING TESTIMONY, 1.
1. Hear the voice of swearing — This does not refer to profaning the Divine name, but to the case of a witness who hears the magistrate adjuring the people to utter the truth for the promotion of justice. If he do not utter — If he refuses to testify. This is not perjury, but a suppressio veri, a withholding of the truth, which in law is regarded as culpable as the suggestion of a falsehood. Since justice depends on evidence, concealment of evidence is indicative of a sympathy with injustice. Bear his iniquity — The right word is used; it is iniquity — in-equity — a crime against right, the primordial basis of human society, which would be subverted by the universal practice of keeping back evidence. The iniquity which he shall bear is that which he screens from punishment by his silence. He has made himself a partaker of the crime.
INVOLUNTARY VIOLATION OF CEREMONIAL PURITY, 2-3.
2. If a soul touch — The soul is here put for the entire man. Any unclean thing — It is difficult for those who have not been ceremonially trained from infancy to group together things differing so widely as the moral turpitude just mentioned and the accidental and innocent contact with a dead mouse or snail, (Leviticus 11:23-43;) yet in the religious development and discipline of the Hebrews there was a perpetual commingling of offences, arbitrary, factitious, and temporal, with immutable and eternal moral principles. It is not for us to deny that this period of ceremonial pupilage was necessary. Things which would be unsuited to the Gospel dispensation, and even ridiculous in contrast with its spiritual sublimities, have their proper place in a law of temporal sanctions, chiefly or solely affecting the present life only. Shall be unclean — He was cut off for the time from certain religious and social privileges, and his citizenship in Israel was in abeyance. From these disadvantages, certain ritualistic acts alone could free him. These were not required in order to magnify the office of the priest, but to impress upon the people a sense of the personality and holiness of God, and of the reality of his covenant. In shadow they suggested the necessity of a spiritual cleansing from moral pollution. Guilty — The verb אָשֵׁם (asham) here expresses a different idea from the iniquity committed by the silent witness of wrong. It signifies primarily to be desert, to lie waste; hence, as applied to man, to fail in duty.
INADVERTENCY IN OATHS, 4-5.
4. If a soul swear… to do evil — This refers to an inconsiderate vow. In the light of subsequent knowledge it is found that the performance of the vow would be evil. In this dilemma he must refrain from that evil deed. Nevertheless his broken vow must be accounted a fault to be atoned for by a trespass offering. Or to do good — The good may have become impracticable by reason of circumstances hid from him when the vow was made, or because of neglect or procrastination till the opportunity has passed by. Keil extends the inadvertency in oaths to any thing affirmed with an oath without due reflection, and afterwards discovered to be a deviation from the truth.
5. He shall confess — Confession is the natural expression of true penitence, breaking down pride and promoting the virtue of humility, an essential of true piety. For the traditional form of confession, see note on Leviticus 4:4. Sinned in that thing — The public acknowledgment of specific sins is much more difficult than the vague confession of sinfulness, easily made, because it does not isolate the sinner from a sinful race. While a general confession of sins is required, there are occasions demanding their individual and specific disclosure both to God and man.
TRESPASS OFFERING THEREFOR, 6-13.
6. Trespass offering… sin offering — These are here apparently used as equivalent or convertible terms. This constitutes the difficulty of discriminating between them confessed by Gesenius. He has scriptural grounds for viewing them as essentially identical in Leviticus 7:7, where it is said “as is the sin offering so is the trespass offering, there is one law for them.” Keil endeavours to maintain a difference by denying that אָשֵׁם (asham), trespass offering, or rather guilt or debt offering, in this verse and the following, “means either guilt offering or debitum, (Knobel,) but culpa, guilt, or delictum, offence. But this meaning would not make good sense if substituted for trespass offering in this verse. Keil reads the next verse thus: “he shall bring as his guilt, that is, for the expiation of his guilt.” This is approved by Fairbairn, who resolves this double star into two distinct orbs by assuming that the אָשֵׁם, as an offering, is not spoken of till verse 14, and then is limited to offences admitting of some sort of an estimation and recompense, and quotes Numbers 5:5-8 in proof. This view is now generally concurred in, also, by Hengstenberg, Keil, Bahr, Kurtz, and others. Professor Murphy’s distinction is this, in brief: in propitiation are two distinct things — expiation, the payment of the penalty, and satisfaction, the performance of the righteousness due to the law. The sin offering typifies chiefly the expiation, and the trespass offering the obedience or satisfaction. Every moral offence is both a sin and a trespass, hence both offerings may be made for the same act. But, if this theory be correct, both offerings ought to be made for every sin, in order to its perfect propitiation.