The Sin Offering

Dr. John Boyd, Holywood, N. Ireland

Part 5 of 7 of the series The Levitical Offerings

5. The Sin Offering

The details of the sin offering are found in Leviticus 4.1 to 5. 13, with further instructions for the priest in chapter 6 verses 24-30. The Hebrew word translated sin offering is chattath, from a root meaning to miss a goal. Sometimes rendered “sin”, that is, the offence, Gen. 18. 20, it is more often used as the technical term for the sin offering, the means by which the sin is covered. Both renderings of the word are found together in Leviticus 4. 3.

Unlike the three previous offerings we have considered, there is no mention of the sin offering prior to the giving of the ceremonial law. Genesis 4. 7 is no exception. Sin, not the sin offering, lay at Cain’s door. The expiation of sin is a new concept, which, although hot absent from the burnt and peace offerings, is brought into prominence here. This offering was not seen before Mount Sinai, because through the law came the knowledge of sin. Sin is not imputed where there is no law, Rom. 5. 13.

The purpose of the sin offering is explicitly stated. It was intended to make atonement for an Israelite who had broken God’s law, and to restore him to a right relationship with God, Lev. 4. 31. It was not intended for wilful sin; this carried its own punishment. It met the need of a sin committed unwittingly, but which later came to the knowledge of the offender. Examples of what was envisaged are found in Leviticus 5. 1-4. When the Israelite became aware of his sin he must confess it, 5. 5, and bring a sin offering, 5. 6. “Trespass offering” in this verse should rather be rendered “for his guilt”, R.V. marg. In the animal brought as his substitute, the offerer received the punishment due to his sin.

It is important to note that the sin offering was God’s provision for His own people, namely for those who had been sheltered by the blood of the pascal lamb - for those who had been redeemed from the bondage of Egypt. It was a necessary prelude to other offerings in the Israelite’s desire for worship. It developed in him a deep consciousness of sin and guilt, even for sins of which he was not at once aware. All must be atoned for, and only by sacrifice.

The Animals Offered

Different animals were required for sin offerings from different ranks of sinners, emphasising a greater degree of responsibility in some than in others. Four ranks are dealt with: (i) God’s anointed priest (the high priest), Lev. 8. 12, must bring a bullock, 4. 3-12; (ii) a similar sacrifice was required for the whole congregation, 4. 13-21; (iii) a ruler must bring a male goat, 4. 22-26, and (iv) one of the common people could bring either a female goat, 4. 27-31, a female lamb, 4. 32-35, two turtledoves or two young pigeons, 5. 7-10, or a tenth of an ephah of fine flour, 5. 11-13, each according to his ability providing what was necessary for the sacrifice. The high priest must bring a bullock, the same offering as for sin affecting the whole congregation, for his sin brought guilt on all the people. Thus it would seem that the higher the person’s rank the more valuable his sin offering must be, indicating that in the sight of God his sin is the more grievous. The application of this today is obvious. Those in high places should be careful lest they sin. Sin is exceeding sinful in those given positions of responsibility in the church, whether elder, teacher, evangelist or Sunday School teacher, Jas. 3. 1. Sin affecting the whole assembly is also most serious in God’s sight, cf. Amos 3. 2. Just as Israel, standing in a responsible position towards other nations, must be holy, so the assembly, a centre from which the gospel radiates, must maintain an untarnished reputation.

A ruler, that is the leader of the tribe, was one in a position of secular authority. His sin offering, being of greater value than that of the common people, indicates a higher degree of responsibility to live a holy life. The believer today who holds any post of prominence in the world must likewise watch lest sin mar his testimony before men.

The rank and file of Israel were not exempted from the necessity of bringing a sin offering. Sin in everyone must be atoned for. But God in His grace made it possible for all, no matter how poor, to have such an opportunity. Four grades of offering were available to the common person, according to his ability to provide. Even the poorest, whose means could only rise to a tenth of an ephah of fine flour, was considered. God would thus show that He takes cognisance of the sins of all His children, even the poorest and least significant in the eyes of their fellowmen. At the same time, Christ is ever available as the sin offering for all believers. Before approaching God in worship, the value of the blood of Christ to cleanse from sin must be appreciated. Before God accepts Christ as the burnt offering from the believer, he must acknowledge his indebtedness to Christ as a sin offering.

The kind of sin requiring an offering is depicted in Leviticus 5. 1-4. This is additional to the unwitting sins of chapter 4. 2, 13, 22. While no sin is so trifling in God’s sight as to be overlooked, He is gracious and desirous to forgive even these lesser transgressions. For some sins, the thunders of the law demanded inexorable judgment, Num. 15. 30. But the sins committed without full knowledge, for refraining from being witness to an oath., for touching an unclean thing, for rash swearing, for these things God held the offender guilty, and yet made provision so that by means of an offering the sin could be expiated. In all this God would teach us that sins reckoned small by man’s standards are not insignificant in His sight, but would interfere with the believer’s proper worship.

The Ritual

The ritual of the sin offering consisted of six actions, (i) bringing an offering to the door of the tabernacle, (ii) laying hands on the offering, and possibly then confessing the sin, Lev. 5. 5; 16. 21, (iii) killing the offering where the burnt offering was killed, (iv) the priest dealing with the blood in the cases of the high priest and the congregation sprinkling bit efore the veil, putting it on the horns of the altar of incense, and pouring out the remainder at the base of the brazen altar - in the case of the others, putting some on the horns of the brazen altar, and then pouring the rest at its base, (v) burning the fat on the brazen altar, (vi) disposing of the remainder of the sacrificed animal - in the cases of the high priest and the congregation burning all the remnant outside the camp - in the case of the others the priest eating what was left, Lev. 6. 29-30.

When birds were presented, the blood of one was sprinkled on the side of the brazen altar, and the rest of the blood poured out at its base. The second bird was offered as a burnt offering, 1. 15-17. In bringing flour, no oil nor frankincense was added, as in the case of the meat offering, but a handful out of the flour was taken and burned on the altar as a memorial.

Some interesting facts emerge from the consideration of this ritual, (i) The offering in all cases was brought to the same place, to the door of the tabernacle. There is no distinction among sinners in the sight of God, Rom. 3. 22-23. (ii) The laying of hands on the animal and the confession of sin indicated the offerer’s identification with the offering, with the acknowledgement that it would henceforth bear the judgment due to his sin. (iii) The specific mention that the sin offering should be slain where the burnt offering was killed suggests a close relationship between these offerings. The greater detail concerning the blood of the animal in the sin offering draws particular attention to the shedding of the blood, the giving of the life. It emphasises the lesson of Hebrews 9. 22, that apart from the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins. The sprinkling of the blood of the offering for the high priest and the congregation before the veil reminds us that the sins of God’s priests must be atoned for within the holy place, into which alone the priests went. The blood of the offerings for the ruler and the common person was only sprinkled on the brazen altar in the court, to which alone the ordinary Israelite had access. Thus the nearer the sinner approached God, the more intensive must be the expiation, (iv) As in the case of the peace offering all the fat was the Lord’s. It was all burnt on the altar as the visible evidence of divine appropriation of what was best. In this God smelled a sweet savour, (v) The burning outside the camp of the remnants of the animal offered for the high priest or the congregation reminds us that this was the place where the curse was borne, Lev. 24. 14-15.

The Truth Set forth by the Offering

This sin offering was God’s provision for those already sheltered by the blood of the pascal lamb. This indicates the believer’s need to appreciate Christ as his sin offering before he approaches God in worship, or seeks to serve Him, Heb. 9. 14. It portrays not so much the sinner’s initial coming to Christ for salvation, as the provision in Christ for sins committed by the believer in his walk since conversion. He does well ever to be conscious both of his sins, even though regenerate, and of his need for cleansing from them if he is to serve God effectually.

Everyone who sinned, whatever his rank, had to bring his offering, and kill it at the brazen altar. Every believer, without regard to his standing in the church, is shut up to the one sin offering, the death of Christ on the cross, “the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin”, 1 John 1. 7. Just as the Israelite, laying his hand on the offering, confessed his sin, so will the believer find that if he confesses his sins, God is faithful and just to forgive him his sins.

The sprinkling of the blood within the holy place for the sin of the high priest or of the priestly nation reminds us that the blood of Christ avails for us in the holy place in heaven, to which we have access as priests today, Heb. 9. 12; 10. 19-22; 12. 24. The sprinkling of the blood was done by the priest. So our heavenly priest today presents the value of His blood to God as a propitiation for our sins. To this function He was appointed by God, 2. 17 R.V.

The taking off of the fat, as in the case of the peace offering, and the burning of it on the altar for a sweet savour to God, indicate the delight God has in the sacrifice of Christ as our sin offering. The pleasure of the Lord has prospered in His hand. The burning of the remainder outside the camp points to the fact that “Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people through his own blood, suffered without the gate”, Heb. 3. 12 R.V. It was outside the city of Jerusalem, John 9. 20; it was the place of reproach, the place of the outcast of Israel, the ultimate depth of the Lord’s humiliation.

There we see Thy love unshaken - outside the camp,
Scorned by man, by God forsaken- outside the camp.

The law of the sin offering in Leviticus 6. 24-3O impresses us with the sanctity with which God regarded it. It must be eaten in a holy place; it must be eaten only by the males; it was put into vessels reckoned holy; it was most holy. And so with the great antitypical sin offering. His was not the offering of “the shambles”. He was the Holy One, who offered Himself up without blemish for the sins of His people, Heb. 7. 26-27.

Let us then appreciate more and more the value of the work of Christ on the cross for our sins. Let us behold Him afresh “made sin for us”. Let us hasten to avail ourselves of His atoning work on behalf of those sins we commit often so easily as believers. We do well to recognise these sins, judging them in the light of God’s holiness, and not in comparison with the sins of our fellowmen. Let us confess them, and seek forgiveness and cleansing through the blood of His cross - the sin offering that still avails for us today. Then we can go on in the holy exercise of worship.