In the Bible, there is an old way of doing things and a new way. They are referred to in the Bible as covenants. As we continue to dive into the old ways of Leviticus, we come to chapter 4 and the sin offering. From the text, we will strive to answer 3 important questions. First, "How did they deal with sin in the days of Moses?" Second, "What was what they did supposed to accomplish?" And finally, the most important question for us to ask when dealing with and Old Testament passage, "What does this tell me about Jesus?"
Leviticus 4 starts by saying,
The Lord said to Moses,2 “Say to the Israelites: ‘When anyone sins unintentionally and does
what is forbidden in any of the Lord’s commands— (Lev. 4:1-2 NIV)
The chapter will explain how each of 4 types of people are to deal with unintentional sins. Those people are, the High Priest, the whole Israelite community, a leader, and any member of the community. What will likely strike you first, and perhaps with a moment of panic, is that the sins that can be taken care of here are all unintentional sins. That's right? There is no atonement for intentional sins. Now before you throw your hands up in desperation, recognizing that you have obviously purposefully, intentionally and premeditatively disobeyed God on multiple occasions let's clarify what an unintentional sin is. Guzik's commentary clarifies by saying "The idea is not so much of an accidental sin, but of a sin committed by a person who basically loves God. The contrast to an unintentional sin is to sin presumptuously (Numbers 15:30). Literally, this was "to sin with a high hand." There was no atonement available for the one whose heart was so defiantly turned against the LORD in presumptuous sin. If your heart wasn't turned towards the LORD, then all the animals in the world sacrificed on your behalf did you no good."1 Leviticus 5:17 defines unintentional sin this way, “If anyone sins and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord’s commands, even though they do not know it, they are guilty and will be held responsible." According to Dr. Jeremy Pierre, scripture speaks of three characteristics of unintentional sin. They are (1) from ignorance of God’s will and therefore (2) not deliberately chosen as hostile acts against God, yet (3) they are disobedience nonetheless.2
So how did they deal with sin in the time of Moses?
In each case, an animal had to be sacrificed and it's blood was shed. As the animal's life was taken a hand was placed on the animal identifying that person with the animal. In other words, "I deserve what is happening to this animal. This animal represents me." Then the blood would be taken and sprinkled in particular places. For the sins of the High Priest it was sprinkled on the veil in the tabernacle separating the holy place. It would also be put on the horns of the altar of incense. The rest of the bull's blood (that's alot of blood), was poured at the base of the altar for burnt offerings.
What was what they did supposed to accomplish?
First of all, this is all about life and death and blood because God was telling the truth when He told Adam, "you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Gen. 2:17 NIV). Our sin causes death, death is the removal of life, and blood is appropriate representation of sacrificial death. The veil to the holy place guards the holiness of God. Sin destroys our holiness, therefore, to gain access to the holy God, sacrificial blood has to be sprinkled on that veil of separation from God's holiness. In a sense, the blood on the door (veil) is a "Ok to enter" sign to God's holy presence. Then blood is put on the horns of the altar of incense because the ascending smoke and aroma represent the prayers of God's people. Unfortunately, sin negatively affects our prayer to God so sacrificial blood must be put on the altar of incense as well. Finally, sin has to be atoned for to make right what we've made wrong. For this reason, all the remaining blood of the bull is poured at the base of the altar where the burnt offerings for atonement were made.
What does this tell me about Jesus?
Jesus is a better offering than the offerings given to us by Moses, including this sin offering. Jesus accomplishes everything these sin offerings offer, however it does it completely. Like the veil separates us from the holy place of God, our sin keeps us from any closeness to God. Christ's death and shed blood didn't simply put a "ok, you can come in now" sign on the veil, but tore the veil completely down from top to bottom leaving an empty wall to freely enter into God's holy presence. Though sin cuts off the communication with God, our communication is fully restored by the shed blood of Jesus. And like atonement was made by the killing and offering of a sacrifice on the altar of the burnt offering, so Jesus willfully laid Himself on the cross as our atoning sacrifice.
So how do I deal with sin today? Like in the Old Testament days, you must appropriate your sins to the ultimate sacrifice. Instead of placing your hand on the sacrificial animal to be sacrificed, identifying the animal as taking your place and being sacrificed on your behalf, you place your faith in Jesus. Your faith is like your hand on the sacrifice bearing witness that you willfully identify Jesus as your sacrificial substitute. Jesus was sacrificed for me, once for all, tearing the veil of separation, restoring communication and making me right with God for now and evermore.
Dustin Largent is the Pastor of SonRise Bible Church in Atkinson, IL and the author of "The Christian Marriage Counseling Workbook" and