This chapter describes laws for sin offerings. These are different from the burnt offerings of the first chapter. Sin offerings were for unintentional sins committed and were made when the sin came to light, not yearly. Different people had to sacrifice different animals in different ways. There was no choice as in the burnt offerings.
If a priest sinned, he had to sacrifice a bull. Verses 4-7 read,
“He shall bring the bull to the entrance of the tent of meeting before the Lord and lay his hand on the head of the bull and kill the bull before the Lord. 5 And the anointed priest shall take some of the blood of the bull and bring it into the tent of meeting, 6 and the priest shall dip his finger in the blood and sprinkle part of the blood seven times before the Lord in front of the veil of the sanctuary. 7 And the priest shall put some of the blood on the horns of the altar of fragrant incense before the Lord that is in the tent of meeting, and all the rest of the blood of the bull he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting.”
Next the priest had to include the fat and the fatty organs with the offering, but some parts of the animal he had to take out of the camp, completely away from the people and burn separately. Verses 11-12 describe it,
“But the skin of the bull and all its flesh, with its head, its legs, its entrails, and its dung— 12 all the rest of the bull—he shall carry outside the camp to a clean place, to the ash heap, and shall burn it up on a fire of wood. On the ash heap it shall be burned up.”
Imagine how disgusting and horrible to kill an animal in front of everyone, butcher it just so and then carry the skin, head, legs, entrails and excrement out of the camp with flies buzzing all around, the smell constantly in your nose, and the guts all over you.
The priest who shouldn’t be ignorant of the law had to admit that he was, and that because of that ignorance he had sinned. He had to tell everyone, as is the case for each of the situations in Leviticus Chapter 4. The sinner had to admit his sin to everyone as the first step of forgiveness. The act of repentance and sacrifice was done in front of the whole assembly. The priest’s sins were considered the most grievous and his sacrifice had to be carried out by him alone.
The next sin described is the unintentional sin committed by the entire congregation. Perhaps everyone was doing something that the Lord had forbidden under the law, when they realized it, they brought a bull from the herd and the elders as representatives for the assembly laid their hands on it as it was killed. And once again the priest was given the duty of carrying the rest of the bull out of the camp. The elders had a responsibility to shepherd the assembly and the priest had an obligation to ensure the group knew and followed the law. So they had to take the fault and burden of the sin.
If one of the leaders committed an unintentional sin, then when that sin was brought to light he had to bring a male goat without blemish. This sacrifice is described in verses 22-26.
“When a leader sins, doing unintentionally any one of all the things that by the commandments of the Lord his God ought not to be done, and realizes his guilt, 23 or the sin which he has committed is made known to him, he shall bring as his offering a goat, a male without blemish, 24 and shall lay his hand on 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. 25 Then the priest shall take some of the blood of the sin offering with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering and pour out the rest of its blood at the base of the altar of burnt offering. 26 And all its fat he shall burn on the altar, like the fat of the sacrifice of peace offerings. So the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin, and he shall be forgiven.”
This sacrifice is of a much smaller animal, but still a valuable one. And there is no carrying the remainders of the corpse outside the city. Additionally once the leader has placed his hand on the head of the goat and killed it, it was the priest who then made atonement for the sin of the leader in order for God to forgive him. The priest is always the one who stands in between man and God. The priest spills the blood in order for God to absolve the sin.
Next the sacrifice for the common man is described. He could bring either a female goat, or a female lamb to be sacrificed in order for the priest to make atonement and God to forgive him.
Unintentional sin happens. Sometimes we are ignorant or we don’t use discernment. Under the law they happened often. There were so many laws to follow that a person couldn’t possibly know and keep each one of them perfectly. But God didn’t require payment of those sins until the person or people became aware of them. Once the sin was realized, God expected public repentance and payment.
It wasn’t public so that the person would feel deeper shame. It was open so that everyone could learn from it. If the leader didn’t know that memorializing a passed loved one was a sin, it is likely that many in the community didn’t know it either. Now they would all know it. It also gave them accountability. They could look out for one another and keep an eye out for repeated offenses.
Jesus gave up His life to pay for our sins all of them, regardless of when or why, whether they were sins of commission or omission, great or small. His sacrifice was the ultimate perfect offering, once and for all.
While all sin is sin, some people carry more of an obligation than others not to sin. Under the law, the onus was on the priest first, then the leaders and lastly on the rest of the congregation. Under grace believers are all priests. We all have direct access to Holy God. We have His awesome Spirit to guide us, teach us, and mold us. But the world doesn’t have the same obligation. They live under sin. The sins of the lost don’t count against them if they don’t know they are sinning. They still have to pay the final price for their sin. But asking a lost person to stop sinning doesn’t make sense. Making him aware of his sinful state, and telling him about Jesus does make sense. Once he understands he is a sinner, then he can ask Jesus to cover him with His blood. We can bring them The Light, but until then, our sin is counted as greater than theirs. But Jesus, our High Priest made the ultimate sacrifice for us. He atoned and we are completely forgiven once and for all.
Still elders, pastors, and teachers face more accountability than others. They are in a position of leadership. As we mature, we should be able to lead people closer to Christ, not teach them to sin. James 3:1 puts it like this,
“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”
We no longer live under the law. We do not keep the law in order to be saved and know God. We live righteously as a result of following Christ and the indwelling of His Spirit in us. We love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind. Because we love Him with our entire being, we love others tangibly. Loving others is how we love God and the supernatural response of our love for God and His love for us.