The Lord's Day EveningOctober 24, 2004
“The Guilt Offering”
Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas
Now turn with me in your Bibles, if you would, to the Book of Leviticus. This is a part of the word of God, and we owe it all the respect that the word of God deserves. This was written by the finger of God, and written for our edification. Before we read it together, in Leviticus 5 and beginning at verse 14, let's look to God in prayer.
Our Father, we've just sung that astonishingly solemn hymn, “Great God, What Do I See and Hear? The end of all things....” and as that hymn brought us to the Day of Judgment, and a day of accountability, we remind ourselves that we must one day give an account for the way in which we have treated Your word, the Bible. You've given to us in this age, in this land, in this time and era in which we live here, the availability to have Your word in not only our own tongue and language, but to have multiple copies of it in the church, in our homes, in our cars, everywhere...on electronic instruments, on computers and laptops. Our Father, forgive us for the neglect that is so often ours when it comes to the reading and studying and delighting in Your word. So grant us now as we turn to it, Your rich and manifold blessing. Come, Holy Spirit, and illuminate our minds, that we might understand, that we might read, learn, and inwardly digest all that You have caused to be written. So hear us, Lord, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Our reading, then, is found in Leviticus, chapter five, beginning at verse 14 and reading through into the first section of chapter six.
“Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘If a person acts unfaithfully and sins unintentionally against the Lord's holy things, then he shall bring his guilt offering to the Lord: a ram without defect from the flock, according to your valuation in silver by shekels, in terms of the shekel of the sanctuary, for a guilt offering. And he shall make restitution for that which he has sinned against the holy thing, and shall add to it a fifth part of it, and give it to the priest. The priest shall then make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering, and it shall be forgiven him. Now if a person sins and does any of the things that the Lord has commanded not to be done, though he was unaware, still he is guilty, and shall bear his punishment. He is then to bring to the priest a ram without defect from the flock, according to your valuation, for a guilt offering. So the priest shall make atonement for him concerning his error in which he sinned unintentionally and did not know it, and it shall be forgiven him. It is a guilt offering; he was certainly guilty before the Lord.’
“Then the Lord spoke to Moses saying, ‘When a person sins and acts unfaithfully against the Lord, and deceives his companion in regard to a deposit or a security entrusted to him, or through robbery, or if he has extorted from his companion, or has found what was lost and lied about it and sworn falsely, so that he sins in regard to any one of the things a man may do; then it shall be, when he sins and becomes guilty, that he shall restore what he took by robbery, or what he got by extortion, or the deposit which was entrusted to him, or the lost thing which he found, or anything about which he swore falsely; he shall make restitution for it in full, and add to it one-fifth more. He shall give it to the one to whom it belongs on the day he presents his guilt offering. Then he shall bring to the priest his guilt offering to the Lord, a ram from the flock without defect, according to your valuation, for a guilt offering, and the priest shall make atonement for him before the Lord; and he shall be forgiven for any one of the things which he may have done to incur guilt.’ ”
Thus far God's holy and inerrant word. May He add His blessing to the reading of it.
The Book of Leviticus, as we have been seeing in these last number of weeks, is called ‘the holiness code.’ It is the book in which the text “be ye holy for I am holy,” a verse that is repeated several times in the course of the New Testament, that verse occurs here in this Book of Leviticus. It's a book pre-eminently, then, about holiness, about the parameters of holiness; about the structure of holiness, godliness, righteousness, integrity. God cannot be approached easily in the Old Testament.
I've been trying this week, indeed, ever since Ligon began to expound once again this extraordinary book, the Book of Leviticus, I've been trying to imagine what it might have been like to engage in public worship in the days of Moses, in the days of the first or second temple in those days when ritual sacrifice took place daily, and several times during the course of the day, let alone the great feast days–what that would have looked like, what it would have felt like, what it would have smelled like; what it would have been to us, you and me, as we have walked in the precincts of the temple into the Holy Place to watch the priests perform all the rigors and strictures of levitical worship.
One of the things, I think, that would come home to us, and come home very clearly to us, that it was not easy to approach God in the Old Testament. There was ritual. There was sacrifice. There was the shedding of blood. Without sacrifice, without the shedding of blood, it was impossible to come into the presence of God. God's holiness distances himself from us, and only on the basis of these sacrifices and these many sacrifices, and these variegated sacrifices was it possible to come into the presence of God and to feel in any way safe as we worshiped the Lord.
Now, we've seen some of the main sacrifices expounded for us in these opening chapters. We've seen the burnt offering of Leviticus 1. The burnt offering is a component part of most of the offerings, including this one that we are looking at this evening. We've looked at the grain offering of Leviticus 2; we've looked at the fellowship (or the peace) offering of Leviticus 3; we've looked at the sin offering of Leviticus 4 and the early part of chapter 5.
And tonight we come to the fifth principle sacrifice in the cultus, in the ritual of worship under the Old Covenant, called the guilt offering, or the trespass offering, or the satisfaction offering, or the compensation offering, or the reparation offering...and depending on which version of Scripture you’re reading and which commentary and whose notes you may be reading, you may come across all of those descriptives for this particular sacrifice, a sacrifice which, as we shall see, involves restitution.
It's called a reparation offering, or a guilt offering, or a restitution offering because it required financial compensation according to the shekel of the sanctuary, the particular form of money that was employed and utilized in the century; and some kind of financial payment, fine, was imposed for a breach of faith or an act of sacrilege. Some sins offended against others, and some, as we shall see, specifically had their focus against the Lord. And the way of repentance would involve reparation, the total satisfaction of every claim that sin might exercise upon the sinner. We will see the reparation or guilt offering alluded to again in Leviticus 7.
Now, by the way, some of you may be wondering about preaching through the Book of Leviticus. And apart from what that says about our view of the Bible, and not an insignificant thought at that, it's very interesting to read, as I was reading yesterday in the very latest edition of Christianity Today, an article about Mars Hill Bible Church, one of these mega-emergent churches. A congregation made up of 20's and 30's–twenty-something's and thirty-something's–they sit in easy chairs...it's a huge phenomenon in the United States just now. The congregation at Mars Hill is a congregation of way over ten thousand members, and that church was begun by a series of sermons on the Book of Leviticus.
Now, to get a clearer picture of what is happening here, I want us to think of something that John the Baptist says. And you remember that one of the things that John the Baptist says is this: “Bring forth, therefore, fruit in keeping with repentance.” “Bring forth, therefore, fruit in keeping with repentance.” And what is in view here is the issue of defrauding someone of property, and the violator may have voluntarily confessed it, or he may make this offering “just in case”–but the issue is as to whether that repentance that he's offering is genuine. And the way the genuineness of that repentance is seen is by the act of restitution plus the payment of an extra one-fifth. In other words, it cost him something. It wasn't a cheap repentance. It wasn't an easy repentance. It was a repentance that dearly cost him.
Now let me outline the passage in chapter five verses 15-19. What we have here is a sin which is inadvertently committed against the sacred property, and the person has to pay full restitution plus a surcharge, and bring reparation or a guilt offering to the priest to make atonement for the forgiveness of sins. When a person wasn't sure, they would estimate the amount to be paid.
And then in chapter six and verses 1-7, the sin is now against someone else (although as we shall see, it is also a sin against the Lord, but specifically a sin against a neighbor), where property or money has been defrauded. There may have been false swearing of some kind. And again, full restitution plus a surcharge had to be paid, and a reparation or guilt offering had to be made to the priest to make atonement for the forgiveness of sins.
So, you have two cases: one against the Lord's property, and another against your neighbor. Now there were other situations in the Old Testament that required reparation or guilt offerings that are not envisaged here in this particular passage we're looking at tonight, and they might be the kind of thing, for example, that Achan did. You remember when, in going into the Promised Land everything was considered under the ban, and Achan, you remember, stole the shekels of silver, the wedge of gold, and the Babylonish garment and hid them in his tent. Uzziah, offering incense to the Lord–doing that which by right was the act of a priest, and you remember he was struck with leprosy, and he would have to offer a guilt offering, a reparation offering to cleanse himself and to receive forgiveness for that sin. Adultery was another instance when reparation or guilt offerings had to be given, and you read about that in Numbers 5.
I. Sins against God.
What kinds of things are envisaged here in this passage? Things that come under the rubric, first of all, of inadvertent. Things that belong to the Lord, but were denied Him. For example, you might eat something that you shouldn't. You might contravene one of the food laws, and without realizing it there was minced pork in your soup, and you weren't aware of it, but you've eaten it and you've been defiled. You've transgressed a commandment of God, and you've had to repent of it. You were guilty before the Lord. Inadvertent or not, ignorance was no excuse.
You might make a vow, like the Nazarites would make a vow, and then not keep that vow. And it might be inadvertent. You might without intention, touch a dead carcass. You might put your hand down and there was a dead mouse underneath your chair, or something that rendered you unclean. You would be guilty before the Lord.
Sometimes the priest in the temple would have to offer a reparation or guilt offering, because he might have eaten something that he shouldn't have eaten. You remember there are lots of complicated rules about what the priest could eat and what he couldn't eat of the sacrifices. And he might make a mistake. The sacrifices might get mixed up, and the carcasses might have been stored together. You've transgressed; you have to offer up a guilt offering.
You might take one of the utensils of the temple, one of the spoons that you stirred the pots with in the temple. You might have taken it home, and you might have used it at home inadvertently, and then realized that this is a holy utensil, it belongs in the temple.
You might be late in bringing your offering, and it may be through no fault of your own. You might have been sick, or you might have been detained. You would be guilty before the Lord. You would have to offer reparation or a guilt offering.
And as you read these rules and regulations, you can imagine how easy it was to make a mistake. In verses 17-19 of chapter five, the offender doesn't know what he has done wrong. He just thinks that he might have transgressed in some way. His conscience is saying to him he just might have sinned in some way, and just in case, he is to offer a reparation, a guilt offering.
Now what were you to do? Well, there was a ritual, and it's described a little bit here and it's described in more detail in chapter seven (watch this space). A ram has to be taken to the door of the tabernacle, and hands would be laid symbolically on the head of the ream, symbolic of the transfer of guilt. And then the offerer would slaughter the animal. Blood was collected, and it would be sprinkled by the priest. And in the case of skin diseases, the ritual was a little different. Fat was burned and the priest ate the meat of this offering. The guilty party had to confess his sin, publicly make full restitution of what was defrauded and add a fifth, twenty percent.
II. Sins against a brother.
Then in chapter six, you've got another situation. This time it's a sin against a brother. Note in verse 2 of chapter 6 it was also against the Lord. Every sin is against the Lord, but the point at issue here is that it's specifically a sin not against the holy sanctuary or the vessels of the sanctuary, but it's a sin now against a brother and a breach has been committed in some way. Again, this is not inadvertent as was the case at the end of chapter five. These are deliberate sins.
Now, what kind of things? Well, denial of trust. You borrow something and you hold onto that item longer than you should. Like books! Like my books! You may steal, borrow (because it's raining, as an elder did of my umbrella, after a Session meeting very recently!) and never return it (and you have to return that umbrella to me, and a fifth of that umbrella, and Visa, MasterCard, any of the above will do)! You might borrow something, and just not give it back. And somebody may come into your house and see it, and say, “Hey, that's mine!” And you add to your sin by swearing to the Lord that it's yours, or your Aunt Jemima gave it to you last Christmas! You've transgressed, and you need to make a guilt offering.
Or it might be property rights, and legal rights, unlawful seizure of a deposit or a security; stealing another's property. Or it might be something that you find. You just find it. It's just lying there.
I've told you this story, I think, before. It's a good story. I’ll tell you it again. It was Christmas Eve, roughly–can't remember the year, but roughly 1990. Christmas Eve, just near to where I live there was a park, and very often particularly in moments of great stress I would stop the car at that point, having visited somebody that the meeting had not gone terribly well, and I'd stop the car. And there was a forest, and there was a walk, and there was a one-mile walk; and if the meeting had gone really bad, there was a three-mile walk around this forest. And I remember Christmas Eve I was going on one of these walks, and there on the floor I spied a twenty-pound note. And I looked around, you know, and I picked it up. And I walked on. And sure enough, there was another one! And another one! And another one! It stops there. Eighty pounds. What is that?—$150 or so. Let me tell you, in 1990 $150 was a lot of money, and it was Christmas Eve, and I was giving thanks to the Lord for this wonderful providence. I thought, “This is going to be a great Christmas!” But by the time I had walked by mile I had realized, there is a guilt offering here. A trespass offering, a guilt offering, a reparation offering is knocking on the door. So I had to take it to the police, and they summarily put it in a plastic bag and said, “If you come back in six months and nobody has claimed it, it is yours.” Well, I blabbed about this story so much, you know, when I did come back six months later the money was still there. Nobody had claimed it. Would be very hard for anybody to actually prove it was theirs. And I had made such a song and dance of it everybody knew when the six months was up, and they kept asking me, “Well, did you get the $150, the 80 pounds?” and I had to give it to the church.
You might pick something up, just something. It might be some shady business deal in which you have been less than honest, and again the ritual is the same: Restitution: twenty percent and an offering, a sacrificial offering of a ram.
Now, all that's very interesting, but what has that got to do with me? Let me say it has three things to do with us.
First, sin is a serious thing. It's a serious thing. You see, I think if you’re saying to me, and I know there are one or two of you are saying it, “Why is Ligon preaching on Leviticus?” Do you know what Leviticus will do? It will point up the seriousness of sin. Are you serious about wanting to be the Lord's? About wanting to be a soldier of Christ? The opening sentence of J. C. Ryle's book, Holiness: “He who would make great strides in holiness must first uncover the depths of his sin.” That's the issue. Sin is serious. And you know what the Book of Leviticus and other books in the Pentateuch do? They examine every nook and cranny of our lives. They uncover sins that we would never think about. They uncover sins that we would dismiss in a heartbeat, and they say every sin is a transgression of the law of God, and every single sin renders you guilty; renders you guilty, for that little sin...and for that little sin... and for that little sin. You cannot come into the presence of a holy, righteous God just as you are without an offering. Sin is a serious thing. It's a very, very serious thing.
Secondly, some sins require restitution. Some sins require restitution. The story of course that comes to mind is Zaccheus. What was the evidence of Zaccheus’ conversion? What was the evidence that Zaccheus had found Christ? It was these words: “Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything I will pay back four times the amount.”
Now there were certain cases in restitution that involved four-fold penalties. Not just twenty percent, not just a fifth, but four-fold. That was the evidence that Zaccheus had found Christ: his willingness, his eagerness to engage in restitution.
In the 1920's there was a revival in Ulster in Northern Ireland, and particularly in Belfast. And a very famous preacher–he was a little strange in his ways and demeanor and said some very strange things to people in the congregation, sometimes verging on the offensive, to be honest–but God used this frail, sinful being, and used him mightily. And during that revival, in the shipyards of Belfast, the shipyard workers who had “borrowed” so many bits and pieces of equipment from the shipyard the shipyard had to build special barns in order to place all the stuff that was coming back, because their conscience was now condemning them; that in actual fact, the evidence that a true work of grace had come to their lives and to their hearts was their eagerness to bring back that which they had in fact stolen.
There's a famous story of a preacher who speaks of a member of his congregation...who works in a certain place, and “borrows” these copper nails because he wants to build a boat, and the idea of copper nails is of course that they don't rust. And this man is a Christian, but he's been “borrowing” these nails, stealing these nails from his company for years. And he's witnessing to his boss, and the boss has no time for religion, regards this man as a hypocrite–and indeed, there were aspects of his testimony that were hypocritical. And for a long time he struggles with what he should do, because he's come to the conviction that he needs to make amends for his wrongdoing. He needs to confess to his boss that he's taken these nails and he needs to pay for them. And he needs to make restitution, and in the end he does. And he goes to his boss, and his boss says to him, “You know, I always thought that you were a hypocrite, but now that I see you doing this, I see something perhaps of the genuineness, of the genuineness of your profession.” And so the story goes this boss is savingly drawn to Christ.
Well, sin is serious. Some sins require restitution.
And the third thing I want us to see is this: that there is forgiveness. There is forgiveness. You notice in verse 18 of chapter 5, and again repeated in verse 7 of chapter 6, “...the priest shall make atonement for him before the Lord.” The priest shall make atonement for him. You bring a ram, and depending on the extent of your crime it would be determined how big a ram it would need to be. And you understand, this was a lot of money, let alone the one-fifth extra. The ram itself would be expensive. It would cost you something; plus the restitution, plus the fifth. And you’d bring the ram, and you’d bring it to the door of the tabernacle, and you’d lay your hands on the head of that ram. You’d confess your sins and you’d do it publicly and in the face of those, in the hearing of those that you had sinned against, and you’d have to slaughter than ram. You’d have to do it. You’d have to do it.
I’ll never forget...I grew up on a farm, and we killed all kind of animals for food. Hold on to your supper, now! I’ll never forget visiting the local abattoire, which is a nice French word for a slaughterhouse. I’ll never forget. I was maybe eight or nine years old, it was over forty years ago and I can see those images even now as I speak to you. I've never been back to one, and I never want to go back to one. It was horrific. Do you understand the costliness of Old Testament worship? Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. But you know, there's another side; the other side is: there is forgiveness. No matter what the sin, no matter how great the sin, no matter how complicated the sin; no matter how offensive the sin, there was a way of forgiveness. There is forgiveness with the Lord, that He may be feared.
You know, Isaiah speaks of this in verse 10 of that great fifty-third chapter of Isaiah. It speaks of Jesus Christ as Himself making a guilt offering. He made the guilt offering. Whatever it is that is owed to God because of our sin that renders us guilty, Jesus bore it. Not the blood of lambs, not the blood of bulls, not the blood of goats, not the blood of doves–not all the blood of Jewish altars slain can ultimately forgive me my sin and cleanse me of my guilt.
If the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls, and with the ashes of the heifer, sanctifies for the purification of the flesh in an outward sense, how much more will the blood of Christ, who, through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works? Purify your conscience from dead works, to serve the living God. How much more shall the blood of Christ?
Do you see what this is saying? It's saying there is forgiveness with God, but it's only through shedding of blood, the shedding of Jesus’ blood. Oh, it's at the heart of the gospel, my friends! The substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ on our behalf–it's being denied in the evangelical church. A book has just come out on the press, there's a big storm about it in the British media, and the British evangelical media at the minute denying the substitutionary atonement of Jesus, a book that calls the idea of Jesus’ substituting for our guilt “cosmic child-abuse.” Cosmic child-abuse.
What's our song tonight?
“And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Savior's blood? Died He for me, who caused His pain, for me,
who Him to death pursued? Amazing love! How can it be? That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me”
“Jesus lifted up His rod, O Jehovah lifted up His rod, O Christ, it fell on Thee. Thou wast sore stricken of my God
there's not one stroke for me.”
“Jesus paid it all; all to Him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain; He washed it white as snow.”
“A debtor to mercy alone, of covenant mercy I sing....”
We don't bring rams or goats, the ashes of a heifer. We come with the blood of Jesus and look to that, to the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ shed for me. He died for me. He gave Himself up for me, in my room, in my stead. There is forgiveness. No matter what the sin, my friend, no matter how great the sin, you go to Jesus, you build on the foundation of the solid Rock of Jesus and His blood, and there is forgiveness for you, my friend. Praise God, there is. Praise God, there is.
Let's pray together.
Our God and our Father, strange as this Book of Leviticus is to us, the rituals so far removed from anything that we have known in our worship, we bless You this evening through the blood of the everlasting covenant, through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, a guilt offering has been made on our behalf, that we may come boldly into Your presence and know You as our Lord and Sovereign, and worship You and give You our praise. Father, we pray for Your mercy. We ask that sins that we may be conscious of this very evening, some of which may require restitution on our parts, give us grace to be faithful servants, to bring forth fruit of repentance that will bring You glory. And hear us, Lord, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Please stand, receive the Lord's benediction.
Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
© First Presbyterian Church.
This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.
Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.