From sins of inadvertence, violations of natural conscience, and those which become sins by statutory enactment, we pass on to another class, which under the law are called a trespass (maal), and had to be met in the manner revealed to Moses.
Trespasses might be committed against God, or against one's neighbour, so two revelations were vouchsafed to Israel respecting them. The first, in Leviticus 5:14-19, treats of trespasses against the Lord; the second, in Leviticus 6:1-7, of trespasses against a neighbour; and both have this feature in common, that besides the sacrifice which had to be brought, a money payment as well was enjoined on the offender as compensation for the harm that he had done.
Of course every trespass was a sin, though every sin was not a trespass. A recompense being demanded showed that the rights of the one sinned against were not to be ignored; but a sacrifice being also enjoined, showed that a trespass against one's neighbour was not a matter which could be hushed up, or compromised, without any acknowledgment of the guilt before God. The injured party received back that of which he had been wrongfully deprived, with a fifth part of its value in addition, a fine imposed on the offender by the law of his God. But besides the restitution to the injured party, the death of the appointed victim had to take place to make atonement for the guilty person, that he might be forgiven. The forgiveness of his neighbour was one thing; the forgiveness of God was another thing, and with nothing less than that was the offender to be contented. Thus the Lord would teach His people, that their acts of sin had to be viewed in connection with their responsibility to Him, and not merely as they might affect the one sinned against on earth. Many a man might be defrauded without much personal inconvenience to him flowing from it; but a trespass committed against such an one was a trespass against Jehovah, and could only be atoned for as the law directed. How fully were the rights of property to be respected by those who were privileged to be called the people of the Lord. Are Christians sufficiently alive to that of which the Israelite under the law was constantly reminded?
A trespass-offering then supposed the commission of an act by which the Lord or the man's neighbour had been wronged. Of this class of sins we have several examples in the Old Testament. A wife unfaithful to her husband was guilty of a trespass against him; for she defrauded him of his rights. (Num. 5:12.) Aaron, too, and Moses were guilty of this sin at Meribah-Kadesh, when they did not sanctify the Lord in the midst of the children of Israel. (Deut. 32:51.) Similarly Achan, and after him Saul, were convicted of a trespass when they kept back from the destruction to which God had devoted them - the one some property of the Amorites, the other some of the spoil of the Amalekites. (Joshua 22:20; 1 Chron. 10:13.) Again, Uzziah was a trespasser in the holy things of the Lord when he presumed to officiate at the altar of incense, a service only lawful for the priests. (2 Chron. 26:18.) And Ahaz and Manasseh stand out as shameful instances of trespassers; for they turned their backs openly on the worship of God. (2 Chron. 28:19, 22; 2 Chron. 29:19; 2 Chron. 33:19.) But not only were individuals guilty of such a sin; for the nation was convicted of it, both when they turned to idolatry before the Babylonish captivity, and when the remnant intermarried with the people of the countries around them, after the Lord had in mercy allowed them to return to their land. (1 Chron. 5:25; 2 Chron. 36:14; Ezek. 20:27, 28; Ezra 9:2, 4; Ezra 10:6; Neh. 13:27.) Separation to God should have characterized them, but in that they had grievously failed. Lastly, Zedekiah is charged by Ezekiel with this sin (Ezek. 17:20) when he broke his covenant with the king of Babylon, to which the Lord was made a party, by his swearing in God's name to keep it.
These are instances of trespasses which God could not pass over, and for the most of which the law could provide no sacrifice. The returned remnant did, it is true, offer a trespass-offering for their failure in the matter of the strange wives. (Ezra 10:19.) To Manasseh grace was shown when he repented. But the leprous king and the faithless monarch were monuments, as long as they lived, of the evil of such a sin in God's eyes; whilst Moses and Aaron, Achan, Saul, and Ahaz, experienced God's governmental dealing in being removed by death as a visitation on them for their sin. And Israel, exiles to this day, a people without self-government, and even national existence, are witnesses of the grievous consequences of trespassing against their God. Witnesses, too, are they of the law's inability to meet their case, whilst awaiting the coming of that day when the blessed results of the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ shall be applied to them, brought to own their sins, and to turn to the Lord.
In all these cases the distinctive feature of a trespass is discerned. God or man was defrauded of their rights by a wrong done to them. In the case off the individuals, where the law could not provide a sacrifice, the temporal consequences of their sin could never be averted, unless God was pleased, as in Manasseh's case, to act in sovereign grace. In the case of the nation, they will learn by-and-by that their trespasses, to atone for which the law could make no provision, have been fully met and, dealt with by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ shed on the cross. Meanwhile under the law, God did provide a sacrifice, that trespassers, of a certain class might be sheltered from the consequences of their acts, and be assured of divine forgiveness. These are specified in Leviticus 5:14 - 6:7.
A person might sin through inadvertence in the holy things of the Lord, or he might have sinned ignorantly in such matters; for the sins referred to in verse 17, seem to have respect to those mentioned in verses 15, 16. Inadvertently, or in error, he might have committed a trespass, or he may have acted in ignorance; nevertheless he had sinned, so a trespass-offering he was commanded to bring. Again, if he had lied to his neighbour concerning any matter of trust, or deceived him, or had sworn falsely for the purpose of defrauding him, a trespass-offering was demanded by the law, and that offering was to be a ram of the flock, which when duly dealt with at the altar, the money payment having also been made, the guilty one could go home with the assurance from Jehovah Himself of the forgiveness of his sin. So careful was the Lord to impress that on the offender that three times in these few verses is it stated. (Lev. 5:16, 18; Lev. 6:7.) For whether he had to bring a sin-offering or a trespass-offering, if the appointed sacrifice was brought, and the demands of the law complied with, the guilty one was assured of forgiveness on the part of the Lord. Absolution from the priest was not the question. No priest of Aaron's house could absolve a man from his sins, but he could tell him what Jehovah had promised, and assure him of it on the authority of the written revelation by Moses.
Having seen what constituted a trespass according to the law, we would now trace out some of the distinctive features of the required offering; for in each of the offerings at which we have looked, the ritual prescribed had in it something different from the others. For a burnt-offering, a meat-offering, or a peace-offering, as we have seen, the offender had a choice, though only a choice within the range prescribed for him by the Lord. For a sin-offering as treated of in Leviticus 4, God took account, as we have noticed, of the responsibility of the offender. For a sin-offering as enjoined in Lev. 5, the Lord took into consideration the ability of the sinner. In the case of a trespass-offering, on the contrary, there was but one sacrifice appointed for every trespass, without any alternative to meet the offender's temporal circumstances. A ram of the flock was the only sacrifice the law appointed, an offering of less pecuniary value than a bullock, but of greater value than that of a lamb; for since the trespass indicated that either God or man had been defrauded of their rights, a ram, which reminds us of consecration, was the fitting offering to be appointed. With the sacrifice a money payment was demanded (this too was peculiar to this offering), depending in amount on the value of the harm done, with a fifth part of the value added to the sum which had to be paid.
Was it a trespass in the holy things? In that case the money payment went to the priest. Had any individual been injured? The money due was paid to that person, or if dead to his representative; and if he left no representative, then it was handed to the priest. (Num. 5:5-8.) What justice was here displayed! No one was to take advantage of another, even though he were his brother; and if he did defraud or wrong him, he committed a trespass against the Lord. (Lev. 6:2.) The injured party's rights the offender had to acknowledge, and to make amends for the harm done to him. But he had to do with the Lord about that wrong, and his presence at the altar with a ram was a confession of it. Death then could never be pleaded by the guilty one as barring any claim for restitution or the need of confession. Jehovah did not pass away, nor did the priesthood die out; so the Lord's claims had to be acknowledged, and restitution had to be made. Had it been left to man to draw up regulations in cases of trespass, some might have carefully provided for the recognition of the claims of the injured party, and have passed over all consideration of that which was due to God. Others might have stipulated for a sacrifice, and where death had intervened, have released the offender from all claim on him for compensation. With God's law how different. Time would not diminish the gravity of the offence; for it was a trespass against the Eternal One. Circumstances could not lessen the sinner's obligation to make restitution, so He who sat upon the throne, the Righteous One, insisted on that being done, ere atonement could be made for a trespass against a neighbour. The claims then of divine holiness were maintained, and also met in the ram when sacrificed. The demand, too, for a just recompense to be made by the offender was not suffered to remain unsatisfied; yet the guilty one was also cared for in the provision made for his forgiveness. How correct was David in his judgment when he said to the prophet Gad, "Let me now fall into the hands of the Lord; for very great are His mercies." (1 Chron. 21:13.)
Amends then had to be made for the harm done, and where the wrong was one done to a neighbour, the restitution or payment of the fine is spoken of, ere the sacrifice which had to be brought is mentioned. (Lev. 6:1-7.) This order is not without significance. Where God had been defrauded, the sacrifice which He required, that He might be seen to be righteous in acting in grace toward the offender, is put in the foreground. When anyone injured his neighbour, the Lord taught the trespasser that He could not receive his offering, unless he first provided the proper recompense for the one whom he had wronged. The principle here illustrated abides unchanged. Dispensations may pass away, new regulations for the worship of God may be needed; but the recognition of a neighbour's rights God cannot allow us to forget; nor will He accept the sacrifice of the man who, from whatever cause, would ignore them. (1 Thess. 4:6-8; Matt. 5:23, 24.) The ram brought to the altar, we learn from the law of this offering how it was to be dealt with. (7:1-7.) As with the sin-offering and peace-offering, its inwards only were burnt on the altar. In common with the sin-offering and meat-offering, it was most holy. Differing from the peace-offering, but in this resembling the sin-offering, the males only of the priesthood could eat of it; and the priest that made atonement therewith was to have it. Lastly, in common with the burnt-offering and peace-offering, its blood was only sprinkled on the altar round about. Thus the regulations respecting each offering are seen to be different. Resembling others in some points, no two were alike in all. Yet all typified one sacrifice, that which has been offered up, and accepted, even Him who is the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world, whose death therefore will have wide-reaching results, far beyond what any sacrifice under the law could prefigure. They were shadows, but the body is of Christ (Col. 2:17.) They dealt with man's need; His deals with sin as well as with sins. By His precious blood atonement has been made for sins. By His sacrifice on the cross the sin of the world will be taken away. How suitable was it that the priest who offered the offering should have it, so that the sin which was transferred to the sacrifice should never rise up against the offender. The offering put out of sight, because eaten, the sin could never be remembered. How perfectly has God provided for this! (Heb. 10:17.)
We have seen what constituted a trespass - maal - and in what manner such a sin could be dealt with. It will not therefore surprise the reader to learn that at no public festival was a trespass-offering - asham - appointed to be offered; yet a leper could not be cleansed without one (Lev. 14:10-14), nor could a Nazarite, who had defiled the head of his consecration, renew that consecration, till he had brought a he-lamb of the first year for a trespass-offering unto the Lord. (Num. 6:12.) In both these cases God's rights had really been infringed. The leper teaches us what God's professed people ought to be for God, but had not been; the Nazarite shows us what one specially devoted to God should be to Him. But in neither case was harm done, so we have no money payment insisted upon.
For centuries such sacrifices have ceased; for there was only one altar on which they could be offered, that called the altar of burnt-offering. By-and-by that altar will be reared up afresh, and hallowed again for acceptable worship to the Lord. Then trespass-offerings will be brought, as before, to God's altar at Jerusalem (Ezek. 40:39, Ezek. 42:13), and the priests will boil what remains of them in the appointed place (Ezek. 46:20), and eat them as they were commanded of old. (Ezek. 44:29.) But Christians, living between the time of the cessation of sacrifice on the altar and its renewal, know now what the earthly people will then learn - that propitiation has been already made once for all, and substitution in its fulness and reality is a thing of the past, though never to be forgotten; for Jesus Christ the righteous is the propitiation for our sins, and He Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree. (1 John 2:2; 1 Peter 2:24.) C. E. Stuart.