Scripture: “If anyone sins, doing any of the things that by the LORD’S commandments ought not to be done, though he did not know it, then realizes his guilt, he shall bear his iniquity. He shall bring to the priest a ram without blemish out of the flock, or its equivalent, for a guilt offering, and the priest shall make atonement for him for the mistake that he made unintentionally, and he shall be forgiven. It is a guilt offering; he has indeed incurred guilt before the LORD.” Leviticus 5:17-19 ESV
Observation: As mentioned in yesterday’s Daily Focus, the sin and guilt offerings were similar regarding protocol (purification) and purpose (removing the sin), but the guilt offering required, without exception, a ram sacrifice plus restitution to those harmed. And regardless of who sinned, the officiant only sprinkled blood on the altar of the burnt offering. Then, also like the “common” sin offering, the priest ate the meat portion of the sacrifice, whereas, for all other sin offerings, he charred the meet outside the tabernacle over a wood fire. As for restitution, the guilty party must fully replace or restore value for the item plus twenty percent. Also unique to the guilt offering, the supplicant may pay a tabernacle tax of silver shekels equivalent to the value of the ram in substitute of the animal.
As with the sin offering, the violation is considered unintentional but not always easy to parse from intentional. The distinction is subtle: misrepresenting versus outright lying or keeping something found versus altogether stealing. And like the Ten Commandments, violations pertained to misappropriating what belonged to the Lord (e.g., eating first fruits) or to fellow Israelites (loss of property or income). Unfortunately for the poor, if found guilty of causing harm or loss, they would have to use whatever means available to pay the penalty, even selling themselves into slavery.
Takeaway: So, what does the text provoke us to ask? First, regarding the nebulous term “unintentional,” what constitutes guilt? From a biblical perspective, it is more than a feeling; it is a condition caused by sins, whether known or unknown. And it is first and foremost committed against God and is only to be borne by the transgressor (children do not pay for the sins of their parents). A second question to consider is how can those who transgress against God sufficiently repay him? The answer is, we can’t, which is why our loving Father paid the price for reparation with the gift of his Son (John 3:16). As Roy Gane waxes in his commentary, ‘This grace is the profoundly wise “foolishness” of the gospel, so paradoxical that it is best expressed with oxymorons’ (Leviticus, Numbers (p. 135), NIV Application Commentary).
So what does this mean for you and me? All of us are guilty as charged, whether intentional or unintentional. And while we would do well to restore the losses of those we’ve harmed with added interest (like Zacchaeus), we can never pay back our Lord. Any attempt to do so denies the work of Christ as sufficient and blocks his grace from restoring our souls. Instead, like Zaccheaus, he invites us to receive him just as we are, with thanksgiving, because today he wants to come and sup with us.
Prayer: Father God, we confess that we are guilty as charged, that we can do nothing to pay you back for all the ways we have sinned against you, whether intentional or unintentional. And we are thankful beyond words for the incredible love and mercy you and your Son have shown us in his life, death, and resurrection that has purified our sin-marred souls and restored us to you. Would you please help us regularly receive your life-changing grace when convicted of sin so that your love might flow through us to bring healing and restoration to all concerned? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling