The Sin Offering
Arthur G. Clarke
I. Hebrew Name
'Chatath', Lev. 4 to 5. 13; 6. 24-305 Num. 15. 22-29.
II. Relevant Scriptures
Psalm 22; Gospel of Mark.
III. Primary Purpose
Expiation of sin issuing in forgiveness for the offender. Divine provision is made for an Israelite whose conscience is troubled by the discovery of sin committed in ignorance or through negligence. Except for sins mentioned in the last category (paragraph 6) it will be seen that persons rather than acts are specified. The offerer is judged on the ground of what he is - a sinner, proof of which is by reference to the Law of divine commandments as having been broken or neglected, 4. 2,13,22,27. In his stead the substitute victim which he presented received the just penalty for sin, which is death.
IV. Typical Significance
The cross of Christ is here viewed as rendering full satisfaction to God for sin, making forgiveness for man righteously possible. Conscience-stricken believers ever have recourse to the Saviour's sacrifice of Himself as the sin offering, 2 Cor. 5. 21. Nevertheless, there must be confession of particular sins when they become known in order to secure the promised forgiveness, 4. 29 with 5. 5; cf. 1 John 1. 7-9. Indwelling sin as well as acts of wrongdoing were confessed and atoned for by the Saviour's sacrifice. Our representative offerer, Christ, confessed our sins, took up the burden of them and as substitute victim bore the curse. He received at God's hands the judgment due to us. Justice is now satisfied and God is 'just to forgive', i John i. 9.
V. Atoning Blood
Provided for the sins of ignorance and negligence due to the depravity of the offender's nature.
VI. Appointed Sacrifices
These were graded according to the standing of the sinner. It was a compulsory arrangement; there was no choice (contrast the burnt offering). There are five categories.
(i) Sin of the priest, 4. 3, R.v. Sacrifice brought was a young bull without blemish. The high priest's sin would entail interrupted communion with God for the congregation of Israel because they would have no fit representative to appear before God for them. The atoning blood was therefore brought into the place of his high priestly service and was sprinkled seven times before the beautiful veil. This secured Jehovah's continued relations with His people. Blood was also smeared on the horns of the incense altar, thus preserving the true basis of the people's worship through the ministrations of their high priest. Finally, the remainder of the atoning blood was poured out at the base of the brazen altar maintaining the ground of the individual Israelite's approach. By way of contrast our High Priest as the sinless One never needed a sacrifice for Himself, Heb. 7. 27, 28.
(ii) Sin of the congregation, 4. 136°. This, too, needed a young bull without blemish. Such corporate failure would involve the whole camp, interrupting the communion of all, including both priests and common people, therefore the ritual was similar to that of the first category. Elders represented the people and the high priest officiated in the prescribed manner.
(iii) Sin of a ruler, 4. 22-26. This required a he-goat without blemish. As the rest of the congregation was not directly implicated, communion with God was suspended only for the individual concerned. Rule entails public responsibility, so an elder's sin was more serious that that of a commoner. Note the modification of ritual for this category and the next respecting the disposal of the atoning blood. The brasen altar marked the limit of the individual Israelite's approach to God so the blood was applied here only.
(iv) Sin of a commoner, 4. 27-35. He was to bring a female goat or sheep, also without blemish. The Hebrew word in vv. 28 and 32 indicates full-grown animals. An individual only being implicated, the ritual procedure was the same as in category (iii). We may remark at this point that the priest and his place of approach to God set forth in type the believer's service in the 'heavenhes'. The commoner and his place of approach typify the believer's service as on earth.
(v) Sin of a specified nature, 5. 1-13, R.V., but committed in ignorance at the time or through carelessness. As sins are here in view rather than persons, the sacrifice was more in the nature of a trespass offering, and, in fact, is so termed in v. 6. Note the following distinctions:
a. In circumstances, 5. 1-5, R.v. (cf. 1 Kings 8. 31). (1) Concealment of vital evidence, v. 1. This refers particularly to occasions of solemn adjuration in civil and religious courts, Prov. 29. 24, 25. (2) Contact with unclean things, w. 2, 3. (3) Non-fulfilment of rash promises, v. 4. Such made on oath, if not carried out, meant that God had been called upon to witness to a he, and if it was a promise to do evil, God's honour was implicated any way. In each case the order of procedure was first confession of guilt then expiation of guilt, w. 5, 6.
b. In ability 5. 6-13. Offering of a female goat or female sheep, v. 6 (Hebrew), or two birds (specified), or one-tenth ephah (an omer) of fine flour without oil and frankincense (contrast the meal offering), so neither pleasant to taste nor fragrant to smell as befitted an offering for sin. The absence of atoning blood from this last was met by its association with the daily burnt offering, the memorial handful being burnt upon the never-dying altar fire. In the case of the two birds it is important to notice that one was for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering, but the ritual differed somewhat from that in the burnt offering in chapter 1. Divine grace thus makes provision for the poorer Israelites, 5.7-13. Christians young in experience or those feeble in faith whose understanding of Christ as the sin offering is vague or incomplete may be symbolized here. However, Christ remains always the same and God accepts even the feeblest believer according to His estimate of the sacrifice of the Saviour, not man's.
In the lower categories there is a noticeable lack of detail when compared with the higher categories. The nature of the offering being exchanged for a view of the effects of it. In Christian experience, too, there are stages upward from an appreciation of the effects of Christ's sacrifice to an appreciation of the preciousness of the Saviour Himself as the true sin offering.
VII. Added Ingredient
Salt; see remarks under the corresponding paragraph of the meal offering.
VIII. Prescribed Ritual
(i) The Offerer's Work. In the principal grades this was:
a. Presentation 'before the Lord', 4. 4.
b. Identification by the laying on (leaning) of his hand upon the victim's head, signifying thus the transference of guilt to the appointed substitute. Contrast the burnt offering in which there was transference of the offering's acceptableness to the offerer. It must be remembered that imputed sin is not imparted sin, an important truth with reference to Christ the antitype.
c. Immolation, for life forfeited is the due penalty of sin. The slaying took place on the north side of the brazen altar, 6. 25 with 1. 11.
d. Separation of the choice fat, etc., 4. 8-10.
e. Destruction by fire of the whole carcase in the appointed place outside the camp, 4. 11, 12 (cf. Heb. 13. 11-13, signifying the manifestation of divine wrath against sin. The sin-bearing substitute is cast out of God's presence as accursed, Gal. 3. 13. Contrast the 'ascending' fire of the sweet savour burnt offering. There is one vital point of difference between type and antitype. With the former the fire wholly consumed the sacrifice; in the latter, the holy victim after enduring the judgment stroke of God emerged victorious to a never-ending resurrection life, Rom. 6. 9, 10. 'He shall carry forth the bullock', 4. 12, 21, is to be understood in the light of a common Hebrew idiom to mean that he was to attend to the matter, for he could not personally carry such a load.
(ii) The Priest's Work. For his own sin he acted as in (i), and in all cases he was responsible for
a. Applying the blood in the manner directed for each grade (see paragraph 6);
b. Attending the altar to burn the choice fat or one of the birds for a burnt offering, 5.10, or the 'memorial' handful of the fine flour;
c. Appropriating his portion (paragraph 9). The application of the atoning blood and the burning of the choice fat upon the altar fire testified to the perfect acceptability to God of the sacrifice for sin, for even while bearing the guilt of the sinner the victim itself was 'most holy', 6. 25, 29; 7. 1, 6. The sanctifying power of the sin offering is emphasized, 6. 27 (cf. Hag. 2. 10, 11). The purport of this in reference to Christ the antitype is easily grasped.
At this point it may be stated that Heb. 13. 10-13 is often misinterpreted. 'We' refers to the Hebrews not to Christians and 'altar' not to Christ, but by the common figure metonymy, to a 'sacrifice'. The next verse makes the writer's meaning abundantly clear. Note the connecting word 'For'. Readers are being reminded of differences found in the ritual of the sin offerings. The flesh of victims in the lower grades was to be eaten by the priest, Lev. 6. 26, whereas in the two highest grades it was not so. In these the blood was brought into the holy place and the body was wholly burnt outside the camp, Lev. 6. 30. It is upon the fulfilment in the antitype that the appeal in v. 13 is based.
IX. Allotted Portions
(i) Jehovah's Share. This was the choice fat with kidneys and caul of the victims in the higher grades, the bird for a burnt offering and the memorial handful of the fine flour in the last grade.
(ii) Priest's Share. To him was granted the flesh of the sacrifices in grades (iii) to (v), the bird for a sin offering and the remainder of the fine flour offering, 6. 24-30. Thus was set forth an intelligent association with the sinner in his need (cf. 10. 17), a lesson for Christians when a fellow-believer sins. They should look upon the sin as if it were their own and in their priestly character intercede for the offender (cf. Daniel's prayer, Dan. 9). We may see also in the type Christ as Mediator finding satisfaction in the vindication of divine justice.
(iii) Offerer's Share. Nothing whatever.
X. General Remarks
(i) The Law 'made nothing perfect' and so made no provision for sins of a presumptuous nature, that is, in open contempt of the commandments, Persons guilty of such were to be 'cut off', Num. 15. 30, 31; Deut. 17. 12,13; Heb. 10. 28; Ps. 19. 13; (e.g. Achan's sin, Josh. 7). If repentant they could but cast themselves upon the mercy of God as David did, Ps. 51 and 32. The Gospel, on the contrary, meets the sinner at every point of his need. Divine grace now reckons as wilful sin only the rejection of the Holy Spirit's testimony to the person and work of Christ, John 16. 8, 9; 3. 18. Even the crucifixion of the Son of God by Israel, Acts 3. 17, and Gentile rulers, 1 Cor. 2. 8, is classed by God as a sin of ignorance.
(ii) The heinousness of a sin of ignorance lies not so much in the nature of the act as in the state of heart capable of it without knowing it is sin. It may be even counted as good. Acts 3. 17; 1 Tim. 1. 13 with Acts 26. 9. Sins of ignorance abound where conscience is most hardened against the truth. For instance the Jews rejected the testimony of the Scriptures, John 5. 39, 45-47, of John Baptist, Matt. 21. 32, and of Christ's own walk, words and works, John 5. 36, 38, 40. Ignorance is culpable for it is the duty of man to learn and comply with God's requirements. Men tend to regard ignorance as synonymous with guiltlessness, conscientiousness with blamelessness, but Paul's experience shows this is not so. Even in national law ignorance is not a permissible plea.
(iii) We read of no specific sin offerings before the giving of the Law, but burnt offerings, meal offerings and drink offerings were known, Gen. 8. 20; 22. 2, 7; 35. 14; also Rom. 3. 20; 4. 15; 5. 13. The burnt offering sometimes included the idea of an offering for sin (see Job 1. 5; 42. 8). Such was Abel's sacrifice, Gen. 4. 4, 7. The priestly house was the first group in Israel to know a sin offering, namely at their consecration, Lev. 8.14-17 (which chronologically precedes ch. 1 to 7).
(iv) The sin offering was appointed only for a redeemed people. It has been shown that in the New Testament the Gospel for the unregenerate is never stated in the language of this offering. Types used for example, are the passover lamb, Exod. 12, the brazen serpent, Num. 21, and many others.
(v) Two sin offerings of a special character were appointed for Israel. The first was on the yearly Day of Atonement, Lev. 16, when the general sins of the congregation were dealt with. By divine direction one he-goat was offered as a sin offering. The other, after the high priest had laid both hands upon its head, confessing over it 'all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and their transgressions, even all their sins', was sent away into the wilderness, in token of the nations' cleansing and forgiveness, w. 30 and 34. The second was a once-for-all offering of a red heifer, Num. 19, unblemished and never having come under the yoke. Details need not be entered into here, except to state that through this sacrifice divine provision was made for the removal of ceremonial defilement contracted by contact with unclean persons or things. It was provision for Israel's journey through the wilderness, accordingly there is no reference to the choice fat, which in other offerings had a more direct relation to the access to God of worshipping Israelites. The efficacy of the work of Christ on the cross is typically brought out in these two sin offerings, and has been much dwelt upon by other writers.