Pursuing our investigation into the history of sacrifice, we now come to that one called the sin-offering (chattath), and which, next to the burnt-offering, was more frequently called for than any other; though till the law was given this sacrifice had no place in any ritual. Offerings for sins committed were previously known. Job offered them, and the Lord accepted them (Job 42); but a sin-offering, distinct in its treatment from that of a burnt-offering, was only appointed by the ritual which the Lord instituted by Moses. Now, this is in perfect harmony with what we have already traced out. The institution of animal sacrifice was of God. The knowledge that blood could shelter men from divine judgment was also from God. Now, we learn of the aspect of the Lord's atoning death, in which He is viewed as the sinner's substitute, made sin for us, who in Himself knew no sin; but in this, as in other cases, the type falls short of the antitype. The sin-offering was for the most part for sins committed through ignorance, the only exception to that being the case of an unwilling witness in a court of justice. For the man who sinned presumptuously there was nothing to expect, according to the law, but death. (Num. 15:30, 31.) That God could provide a sacrifice for a sinner the law of the sin-offering indicates; but it also shows us that more is really wanted than the law could provide. A substitute to make atonement for even presumptuous sins is the only thing that could meet our case; and, thank God, nothing less than that has He provided by the death of His Son on the cross.
Provision for sins of the deepest dye manifests the abounding grace of our God. The call, on the other hand, under the law for an offering for a sin done through ignorance proclaimed the holiness of God, and the call for an offering for every such sin told out plainly that God would not pass over even one, unless a sacrifice was offered up for it. "I was not aware of it," the offender might truly have said, but the law was in exorable; for Jehovah could make no compromise with evil. Little sins then, as people speak of (measuring their sins by a standard of their own), we shall look for in vain in God's law, or God's word; for apart from the death of His Son no sin could ever have been forgiven. How brightly, then, His grace shines out who has provided such a Lamb for the sacrifice! Brightly too did His grace shine out under the law, limited though it then was in its provisions; for instead of cutting off by death every one who sinned, God made a distinction between an act of frailty, which is sin, and the presumptuous deeds of a man who would act after the dictates of his own evil will. Had the Lord acted simply in righteousness, every sinner must have been cut off; for there is no child of Adam who has not sinned (1 John 1:10); and king Solomon bears witness that in his day no one kept the law perfectly. (1 Kings 8:46.) The Lord then provided the sin-offering - a token that on the ground of an accepted sacrifice He could act in grace towards one who had sinned.
We pass, then, now from the consideration of those sacrifices which the people were allowed to bring, to those which they were obliged to present when the circumstances of the case permitted of it. What they were the law set forth; for if it was Jehovah's prerogative to declare what sacrifices He was willing to receive as the voluntary expression of His people's thankfulness, it clearly was for Him, and Him alone, to announce what those offerings were to be which could meet the claims of His holiness. And this He did, classing those sins for which sin-offerings could be brought in two categories; viz., sins against any of the commandments of the Lord, which ought not to be done, i.e. violations of natural conscience; and sins which were made such by special divine enactment. The former are treated of in Lev. 4, the latter in Lev. 5:1-13. As regarded the former, the Lord took note of the responsibility of the offender. With reference to the latter, He took account of the sinner's ability to procure an offering for his sin. How gracious was this!
In Lev. 4 the circumstances under which the sin was committed determined the question, whether or not the offender could avail himself of the Lord's gracious provision; for the Lord therein provided only for sins against any of the commandments of the Lord which ought not to be done, when committed through inadvertence, or in error, as sh'gagah means, rather than ignorance. In the cases specified in Lev. 5 ignorance was for the most part the reason why an offender in the ways described was permitted to draw nigh with his offering. In each case the commandment was clear which the person had broken; hence nothing less than bloodshedding could meet the necessities of the case. Measuring his sin, as man is apt to do, by the circumstances under which it has been committed, the guilty one might have thought lightly of his offence, in extenuation of which he could rightly urge the plea of inadvertence. But God, as we have said, measures sin by a different standard. His holiness therefore must be cared for, and the measure of the offender's responsibility may also have to be taken into account, as we learn from Lev. 4.
Whoever had sinned through inadvertence, the death of the appointed sacrifice had of necessity to take place. Life had to be taken for the offender to be saved from death. Blood had to be presented to God for the guilty one to be forgiven. But a greater degree of responsibility attached to the anointed priest, the whole congregation, or even the ruler, than to the common person, when any one of these different classes had sinned through inadvertence. Now, this is not according to man's ordinary judgment of such things, who, provided the matter does not personally concern himself, is wont to deal more leniently with the great ones of the earth who offend than with one of the common people. Not so God who judges righteously.
The sin known and owned, the offender or offenders approached with the prescribed offering, which for the anointed priest, or the whole congregation, was a bullock, for a ruler a he goat, but for one of the common people a female kid, or a female lamb; then laying his or their hands on its head, the offerers killed it before the Lord. Thus whether a burnt-offering was brought, a peace-offering, or a sin-offering, identification of the offerer and the offering were in each case openly declared. But in the last the offender's guilt was, as it were, thereby transferred to the sacrifice offered up in his stead. After that the priest's work began in the dealing with the blood, and here one essential difference between the sin-offering and the burnt-offering, or peace-offering, comes out. In the case of either of these latter the blood was simply sprinkled round about on the altar; in the case of the former it was dealt with in various ways, "being sprinkled first of all where the standing of the guilty one was, which under the law was not the same for every individual.
For the anointed priest, or for the whole congregation, whose standing according to the law was the same, the blood was sprinkled seven times before the veil in the sanctuary, after which some was put on the horns of the golden altar, the altar of incense, and the rest was poured out at the bottom of the altar of burnt-offering, the brazen altar in the court of the tabernacle of the congregation. For a ruler, or for a common person, the blood was carried no farther than the altar of burnt-offering, some being put on its horns, and the rest poured out at its base. The blood poured out spoke of the life (for the blood is the life of the flesh) being poured out before God. That sprinkled on the horns of the altar, whichever altar it was, spoke of the standing according to the law of the guilty one before God; and that sprinkled before the veil shadowed forth more nearly propitiation by blood, which in type was only made annually on the day of atonement. Propitiation, standing, and substitution, the life of the sacrifice, poured out for the sinner, all these are really needed for an offender to be accepted before God. All these, fully set forth in type only on the day of atonement, were but faintly traced out as often as the anointed priest or the whole congregation had sinned through inadvertence, and brought their sin-offering in consequence; whereas the guilty person, who represented nobody but himself (for the anointed priest represented the people), learnt that his standing was made good by blood, and that a victim had been provided in his stead.
After that, the altar received its portion, which was the same in the case of a sin-offering, or trespass-offering, as it was in that of the peace-offering, and all that was thereon burnt was a sweet savour unto the Lord (Lev. 4:31); for it spoke of what the Lord Jesus Christ was in Himself, so contrary to what man is, even though he may be a saint of God, as David owned when he said, "Thou desirest truth in the inward parts." (Ps. 51:6.) But he had not answered to that. Of the Lord it is said, "Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness;" and truth, meekness, and righteousness characterized him. (Ps. 45.) Perfect in His inmost soul, the trials of the way, the opposition of enemies, the lack of intelligence among His disciples, the loneliness of His path and position, nothing that He passed through, nothing that He suffered at the hand of God, nothing that He experienced from man, brought forth from Him in word or deed aught that was not perfect nor in season.
In the wilderness He would wait for God. (Matt. 4:4.) In service He would bow to the Father's good pleasure. (Matt. 11:25, 26.) In the garden He would yield up His will to the Father. (Luke 22:42.) On the cross He justified God. (Ps. 22:3.) Reviled, He reviled not again. Suffering, He threatened not. Rejected by Jerusalem, He wept over her. Crucified by His creatures, He prayed for them. With the cross before Him, He could yet be occupied with His own people; and on the night previous to His crucifixion He instituted the supper for them. Passing through the agony in the garden with none, not even Peter, to watch with Him; such was the Lord Jesus, perfect in everything, thus proving that He was without blemish, fitted to be the sinner's Substitute on the cross, and the sacrifice which God could accept for the sin-offering was to be without blemish (Lev. 4:3, 23, 28, 32), typical of the perfectness of the true sacrifice, the Lamb of God.
All done at the altar that had to be done, the offerer could return to his tent, not uncertain about his condition, but assured of divine forgiveness; and of this the Lord Himself assured him. "It shall be forgiven him" declared it (Lev. 4:20, 31, 35; Lev. 5:10, 13, 16, 18; Lev. 6:7), God's gracious announcement when atonement had been made; but, let the reader mark, not before it was made. Forgiveness there was, but only on the ground of a sacrifice, and when that sacrifice had been offered up; but the moment atonement had been made, ere the offerer left the altar he could know on the authority of the word of his God that his sin was forgiven.
In accordance with this order in the type, the Lord Jesus on the day of His resurrection announced it to His disciples, by telling them what they were to preach to all upon earth. How willing and desirous is God to set the sinner at home before Him! How that can be done righteously, without compromising His holiness, the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, of which the sin and the trespass-offering were but types, alone makes plain; and to make it evident that the guilty one's forgiveness depended solely on the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, forgiveness of his sin was declared as soon as all the work at the altar was completed, and before the sin-offering was all disposed of. God had received His part, and the blood had been duly dealt with; but the victim to which the offerer's sin had been transferred was not yet put out of sight.
Before considering that, let us look at the provision for sins, which were made such by special divine enactment.* (Lev. 5:1-13.) Here the offerer's ability to bring an offering was taken into account. The normal one for sins of this class was a female of the sheep or of the goats, just the same as the sin-offering for a common person who had sinned in the manner defined in the previous chapter. If such a sacrifice was beyond his reach, he might bring two birds, young pigeons, or turtle-doves, the one for a sin-offering, the other for a burnt-offering. If they were also beyond his reach, the Lord would graciously receive the tenth part of an ephah of fine flour instead. In a land where every family owned some ground, no one would be so destitute, that a tenth of an ephah of flour would be beyond their reach. A sacrifice, or an offering, the Lord told them He must have; but the pecuniary value of it He graciously provided should not be above the ability of the poorest to procure. Could a sin have been passed over without an offering, surely that was the opportunity for announcing it, when the offerer was too poor to procure a living creature for God's altar. But no hint is there in the Word of such a thought on the part of God. With a sin-offering of God's appointment the offender had to approach the altar, if his sin was to be forgiven. How jealous is God of His holiness! But how wonderfully gracious is it to declare what is needed on the sinner's behalf! No one in Israel was left in doubt about this, and no one was placed by a sin described in this chapter (Lev. 5:1-13) beyond the pale of divine forgiveness.
*A difficulty might be here raised as to whether the offerings described in Lev. 5:1-13 were sin-offerings or trespass-offerings, since in verse 6 we read: "He shall bring his trespass-offering. [or guilt-offering, ashamo] for his sin which he hath sinned." The clue to the solution of any difficulty that might arise, is met with in the purpose stated for which the offering was to be brought. Here it was to be brought for his sin (Lev. 5:6, 7, 11), so it was really a sin-offering. Where the guilt of the offender required a trespass-offering, we read it was brought for that purpose. (See Lev. 5:15, 18; Lev. 6:6.) A marked difference too between the sin and trespass-offering can be traced in the manner of dealing with the blood.
Turning now to the treatment of the victim after the work at the altar was finished, we learn that it varied with the appointed dealing with its blood. "No sin-offering" (was the divine command) "whereof any of the blood is brought into the tabernacle of the congregation to reconcile withal in the holy place, shall be eaten: it shall be burnt in the fire." (Lev. 6:30.) There were then two ways of disposing of the victim, either the priest eat it, or it was all burnt. If eaten, the priest who offered it eat it, and all the males of the priesthood could share it with him, but in a holy place in the court of the tabernacle of the congregation, for it was most holy. If burnt, it was burnt in a clean place outside the camp, where the ashes were poured out; for we read, "And the skin of the bullock, and all his flesh, with his head, and with his legs, and his inwards, and his dung, even the whole bullock shall he carry forth without the camp unto a clean place, where the ashes are poured out, and burn him on the wood with fire: where the ashes are poured out shall he be burnt." (Lev. 4:12.) How precise these directions, and how complete. Every part of the animal was to be burnt; nothing of it was to be preserved. Either to be burnt, or to be eaten; such was the command concerning it. Why was this? God was here teaching the non-imputation of guilt to the sinner for that sin, on account of which he had just brought the sacrifice. Laying his hand on the head of the animal he confessed over it his sin. The victim was thus charged with that sin, and when either eaten, or burnt, the sin could no longer be found; for the victim to which it was transferred was nowhere to be found. So when Moses sought for the goat of the sin-offering offered up for the people on the eighth day of Aaron's consecration, which in the ordinary way Aaron and his sons should have eaten, it could not be found, for they had burnt it. (Lev. 10:16.)
Thus God provided in the sin-offering; first, that a sacrifice should be offered on the offender's behalf, such as He could accept; next, that the guilty one should be forgiven, and should know it; and thirdly, He taught him that no imputation of guilt could ever rest on him for that sin, which was by the priestly dealing with the victim put away, since the animal could no longer be found. Man's thought, how often is it the case, is to deny his guilt, in order to cover it up. God provides that the sin dealt with by sacrifice, if sought for, shall not be found. Under law every sin could not be thus put away. Now by the blood of Christ all are thus dealt with for those who believe on Him. Who would stand out against the proffered mercy, and attempt to justify themselves, rather than be justified by God?
Of public and special sin-offerings we also read. On the day of atonement, of course, the sin-offering was in season, and on that day it took precedence of the burnt offering, and some of its blood was taken within the veil for the high priest to make propitiation for the sins of the people, and to make atonement with it for the sanctuary as well. Again, if the congregation, or any individual, after Israel had entered their land, had sinned inadvertently by not observing all the commandments enjoined on them by Moses, a sin-offering was called for, and had to be brought for atonement to be made. (Num. 15:22-27.) Further, on the recurrence of every feast, and on each day of their feasts, a sin offering to make atonement with the appointed burnt offering was to be offered on God's altar (Num. 28:29); and with the offering of the two wave loaves a sacrifice for sin was appointed (Lev. 23:19), in addition it would seem to the special sin-offering commanded for that festal day. (Num. 28:30.) Nor could any month begin its course unless a sacrifice for sin was brought for the people. (Num. 28:15.) On the Sabbath-day, however, no such offering was demanded. That day spoke of rest - God's rest in creation - ere sin had defiled this scene; but the new moon spoke of renewal, thus looking on to the future. But how could there be renewal in connection with gladness unless a sin-offering was provided, and accepted? On those public occasions, then, which had special reference to man's blessing or man's acceptance, they were forcibly reminded by a sin-offering of that which they needed. But on the sabbaths, and at the offering of the wave sheaf, which typified the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, the burnt-offering was in season, and a sin-offering was not required.
On special occasions also was this sacrifice appointed. Throughout the week of the consecration of Aaron and of his sons, on each day there was a sin-offering offered up for them. And on the grand eighth day, when, for the first time in the history of Israel, they had a high priest qualified to represent them before God, a kid of the goats for their sin-offering was presented to the Lord. (Lev. 8, 9) So, too, when the Levites were set apart for their work, a sin-offering, a kid of the goats, Aaron offered up on their behalf. (Num. 8) And when the princes of the tribes brought each their offerings, commencing with the day that the tabernacle was fully set up, and on the eleven succeeding days, each brought a sin-offering with them. The leper, too, on the eighth day of his cleansing had need of such a sacrifice and the Nazarite, on the completion of his vow, and the happy mother, when the days of her purification were accomplished, had likewise to own the holiness of God and the grace which provided that of which they had need. (Lev. 14; Num. 6; Lev. 12) Thus when the service specially appointed had respect to those who brought the offerings, a sin-offering was in season.
So much for the past. In the future such offerings will be again called for. (Ezek. 44, 45.) In the past they looked onward to the true sacrifice. In the future they will point back to it. For in themselves there was no inherent efficacy (Heb. 10:4), but of that of which they were types, the efficacy is everlasting. Hence there is no real difficulty in understanding that animal sacrifice will by-and-by form part of the earthly people's ritual of worship, even when the Lord shall be reigning over them in power and blessing. And since that sacrifice is of abiding efficacy, of which they were but types, we can understand Hezekiah's action in offering a sin-offering for all Israel (2 Chron. 29:23, 24), though the captivity of part of the nation had already commenced, and that of the remainder of the ten tribes only awaited the fulfilment of the word by Ahijah to Jeroboam's wife. (1 Kings 14:15, 16.) Great as had been their sin, the true sin-offering can atone for it. In the same spirit surely it was, that the returned remnant (Ezra 6:17; 8:35) offered twelve he goats as a sin-offering for all Israel. They counted on the efficacy of that sacrifice, then future, to which we look back. And now looking up, as we can, to where He is who offered up Himself, we know of God's acceptance of His sacrifice; and from the truth as to His person, thus manifested, we are assured of its abiding validity for all who believe on Him. C. E. Stuart.