Leviticus Bible Study (Atonement)

Leviticus 5, The Guilt Offering

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The final offering commanded in this section of Leviticus is the guilt offering (NKJV, trespass offering; HCSB, restitution offering). The guilt offering is very similar to the sin offering in its purpose and commands. The guilt offering was for a sin that had done definitive damage to the tabernacle service or another person. This seems to be the distinction between whether a person made a sin offering or a guilt offering. Sins that have tangible financial damage required a guilt offering to be made. We understand that there are differences in the impact various sins create. Some sins like lust or outburst of wrath do not have a definitive, quantifiable amount of damage. However, there are sins or mistakes that do have a definitive, quantifiable amount of damage. If I hit you with my car, there is a definable amount of damage. If I punch you and knock your tooth out, there is a definable amount of damage. This is the difference between whether a person gave a sin offering or a guilt offering. The sacrifice required in the guilt offering was a ram.

Restoration of the Holy Things

We are responsible and accountable to God for our treatment of things dedicated, devoted, and given to God. For example, a person could accidentally eat food that was to be the firstfruits devoted to the Lord. I have done something similar from time to time. My wife makes a dessert for some party or gathering and I go in and eat some of it. I didn’t know it wasn’t for me to eat. I innocently ate something that was devoted to something else. A person could accidentally eat something that was to be devoted to the Lord. A person could miscalculate their tithe. A person could accidentally not count all that was in their house when they made their tithe calculations. Restitution must be made for even these circumstances.

Restoration Defined

The first thing that immediately strikes us from the text is that God demands reparations for sins. When sin is committed and can be repaired, God demands for restitution to be made. Too often we excuse our sins as if there is nothing we can do to fix what we have done. There are many sins where that is certainly true. There are many sins that we commit that we simply cannot fix what we have done. Some sins are so devastating, like sexual sins, that there is no restitution that can be made. But this does not mean that restitution is never demanded. Any time restoration can be made for sins committed, God demanded that such restitution be made. When we do something wrong against God or a person and we can make payment for what we have done, then the guilt offering was demanded, not the sin offering.

Notice what God considered restitution. God did not simply demand repayment for the amount that was lost. There was to be a 20% fine tacked on top of the amount that was lost. In our legal language, this would be compensatory damages and punitive damages. The compensatory damages repays for what was lost and the punitive damages amounted to 20% more. God is teaching his people that we need to “right the wrong” whenever possible. Repentance is not simply feeling sorry. Repentance is not only confessing our sins. Repentance also involves making restitution. The restitution we make is not only the amount lost but also giving more than what was lost.

This should change our thinking about how we desire to make restitution. Our restitution to our brothers and sisters in Christ, and toward all people, must be more than saying that we are sorry. We should desire to right the wrong in any way that we can. God defined putting things right as not only repaying the amount that was lost, but giving more, which under the Law of Moses was 20%. If I borrow your lawnmower and it breaks, I should not say that I am sorry. I need to replace the lawnmower with an equal or greater value lawnmower. If I do not do that, then I must see that I need pay not only the cost of the lawnmower but more than the cost because of the loss to the owner. Now you do not have a lawnmower and you have to take the time to go get another one. I am supposed to compensate you for those things. I am supposed to do what it takes to right the wrong and make restitution.

Do we see this principle taught in the new covenant? We absolutely do see that we are bound under the same principles of restitution. Zacchaeus was a tax collector and they were renown for taking more from people than required by the government. When Jesus announces that he is going to the house of this tax collector, the people grumble because Zacchaeus is guilty of sin. Notice the response of Zacchaeus:

And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” (Luke 19:8 ESV)

Zacchaeus does not simply say, “I am sorry. I should not have taken the extra money that the government did not require.” Zacchaeus does not even say that he will make full restitution of any money that had been improperly taken. He says that he will restore it fourfold. He would pay back four times as much. Zacchaeus does not say that he will restore the full amount plus one-fifth, like the guilt offering required. He says that he will restore the amount in full plus four times the amount. This is the heart that God requires for restitution. This is what “bearing fruits worthy of repentance” looks like. We are desirous to make restitution. We want to fix anything that we have done wrong and we are willing to go far beyond what most would expect of us.

Restoration First

Another important aspect of the guilt offering is that the offering of the ram was not made first. Restoration to the person wronged was the first act. Leviticus 6:5 says to go to the person and restore in full and add a fifth to it. Verse 6 then allows the person to go to the priest and offer a ram as a guilt offering. There are two critical components of this command.

First, the person who has defrauded the other must go to the person and deal with this sin. The person is to go to the one wronged and make restitution. You are not to avoid the person. You are not to ignore the situation. Notice that there is not even a statute of limitations. As Christians we can act like something was so long ago that there is nothing we should do about it now. If we wronged the Lord or wronged another person, we are required to make restitution. We might think it is too long ago but that is because you are not the person who has been wronged.

Second, restoration with God cannot come until we make restoration with others. By teaching that the worshiper first went to the one wronged and made restitution and then came back to the tabernacle to make the offering we learn that restoration with God cannot take place until we make restitution with people. Jesus taught the same thing about restoration for his followers.

23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. (Matthew 5:23–26 ESV)

We cannot expect God’s forgiveness and acceptance for wronging another person until we have done everything in our power to make things right.

Restoration Required

Please also observe that accidents did not exclude a person from making restitution plus 20%. Sometimes we might think that simply because something was an accident that we do not bear the responsibility. Intentional or unintentional, we are required to make restitution for our sins and mistakes.

Also consider that restitution had to be made whether the person could afford to make restitution or not. This principle was taught earlier back in the book of Exodus.

1 “If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and kills it or sells it, he shall repay five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep. 2 If a thief is found breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no bloodguilt for him, 3 but if the sun has risen on him, there shall be bloodguilt for him. He shall surely pay. If he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft. (Exodus 22:1–3 ESV)

Nothing in Leviticus alleviates the payment if a person cannot pay. There is no remission of the fines for the poor. You have incurred a debt that must be paid. If you could not pay, then you could be enslaved to pay off the debt. Just because we are poor does not mean that we are not to repay with extra to the person that we have wronged. We must make some sort of arrangements to make restitution. Our poverty does not mean that the debt is forgiven.

Jesus, Our Guilt Offering

Isaiah makes an important prophecy about the work of Jesus in Isaiah 53:10. Notice what is told to us about what Jesus was do.

Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. (Isaiah 53:10 ESV)

Jesus’ life and death was an offering that made restitution for our sins. Unfortunately, there a number of translations that miss the reading here because describing Jesus as a sin offering is easier to understand. However, that is not the right Hebrew word. The word used in Leviticus 5:14-6:7 translated guilt offering is the same Hebrew word used in Isaiah 53:10, not the Hebrew word used for sin offering in Leviticus 4. Translations like the KJV, NKJV, NIV, NRSV, and NLT render Isaiah’s words as a sin offering rather than a guilt offering. The HCSB and NET correctly try to show the connection to this prescribed offering in Leviticus.

Yet the LORD was pleased to crush Him, and He made Him sick. When You make Him a restitution offering, He will see His seed, He will prolong His days, and the will of the LORD will succeed by His hand. (Isaiah 53:10 HCSB)

Though the LORD desired to crush him and make him ill, once restitution is made, he will see descendants and enjoy long life, and the LORD’s purpose will be accomplished through him. (Isaiah 53:10 NET)

Jesus not only died as our sin offering (as we looked at in our last lesson) but also as our guilt offering. The death of Jesus removed the debt we owe to God as the price for our sins has been fully paid. Jesus is the payment of our debts for the wrong committed. Jesus is our offering of restitution back to God for our evil and sinful ways.

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