The Word Made Fresh
1“If someone sins by withholding information regarding something he has seen or heard that is subject to punishment; 2or if someone sins by touching the dead body of any creature unsuitable for sacrificing and keeps that contact a secret; 3or if someone sins by coming into contact with an unclean emission from another person, once the contact is known it is a sin. 4If someone unwittingly promises to do something, good or bad, and doesn’t follow through, when it is brought to light it is a sin.
5“When any of these acts comes to light, the person must confess their sin 6before the LORD, and bring as an offering a female sheep or goat in order to have their sin forgiven. The priest will pronounce that person’s forgiveness.
7“If the guilty party cannot afford a sheep or goat, they may offer two doves or two pigeons, one for forgiveness and the other to honor the LORD. 8The birds must be given to the priest. The priest will present the offering for forgiveness first by severing the head of the bird, 9sprinkling some of its blood on the side of the altar and draining the rest at the base of the altar as a request for forgiveness. 10The second bird must be given as a whole burnt offering according to the previous instructions. In this way the priest will secure your forgiveness from the sin you have committed.
11“If the guilty party can’t afford even two birds, two quarts of pure wheat flour may be offered. Do not pour oil on it or incense because it is an offering of forgiveness. 12Give it to the priest, who will take a handful of it and burn it up on the altar along with other food gifts being given to the LORD, and the guilty party will be forgiven. 13This is how the priest will secure forgiveness for you. The rest of the flour will belong to the priest, as with the grain offering.”
14The LORD said to Moses, 15“Whenever someone sins unintentionally by misusing any of the LORD’s sacred objects, that person must bring to the LORD an unblemished ram from the flock. Its value will be determined by the priests, 16and the guilty person will give it to the priest plus twenty percent of the animal’s value to atone for the sin. The priest will sacrifice the ram, and the guilty party will be forgiven.
17“Anytime anyone sins by breaking any of my laws without realizing it, that person is still guilty and must be punished 18by bringing to the priest an unblemished ram of standard value. Then the priest will sacrifice the ram and the person who sinned will be forgiven. 19The offering is made because the person has been guilty of disobeying the LORD.”
1-6: An odd assortment of examples of sin is given. The first is the case of someone who has refused to come forward with evidence. It is hard to imagine how such a circumstance could be an “unintentional” sin, but the text says that such a one is “subject to punishment.” The second case is of one who has unknowingly come into contact with a dead thing; such a one is “unclean” and “guilty.” The third case is of one who touches any kind of “human uncleanness.” This can be touching a dead body, or the blood of menstruation, or handling human waste; but again, it is hard to imagine how this can happen “unknowingly.” In this third case the party is apparently not “guilty” until the transgression is pointed out to him or her. The fourth case is of one who “utters aloud a rash oath” unknowingly (?!). Once the offense is made known to that one, he or she becomes guilty. These four scenarios are offered as examples of the kinds of things that might prompt someone to bring a sin offering to the altar. The sin offering can be a female sheep or goat, and the procedure is followed that was described earlier (4:27-35).
7-10: But what if the offending person has no flocks from which to bring a sin offering? Well, then he or she may bring two doves or two pigeons. The priest offers the first as a sin offering (for the person’s forgiveness) and the second as a burnt offering (as an act of renewed allegiance to the LORD).
11-13: But what if you cannot bring even two birds? In such a case it is sufficient to bring a measure of flour, a portion of which the priest shall burn on the altar.
14-16: I can make little sense out of this paragraph. It seems at first to be another example of how to deal with an unintentional sin, but this time the offering is a ram (a male sheep). Its value is computed according to prevailing standards and the owner of the ram apparently gives the priest money equal to 120% of the value of the ram. Either that, or the ram is sacrificed and the 20% (1/5) is given to the priest. But why a male sheep instead of female as listed in every other case? And is the animal actually slaughtered or only redeemed by paying the priest for its value plus 1/5? And what is the nature of the offense that is different from the other cases already enumerated?
17-19: This paragraph seems to be a repetition of the last one but I can think of no reason why it should be repeated, and I can find here nothing to distinguish the situation described from the one before. At times the Bible can be a most curious book.
The important thing to remember, even when we cannot understand a particular rule, is that God is setting Israel apart as a blessed nation of people who will carry on God’s purpose in the unfolding of human history. From a purely human standpoint, in the greater scheme of things Israel is not an important player. But from a faith perspective, Israel’s history is absolutely essential because only Israel’s history will lead us to the birth of the son of God and the rescue of humanity.