Leviticus 4:1-2; 5:1, 11 “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If anyone sins unintentionallyin any of the Lord’s commandments about things not to be done, and does any one of them, if it is the anointed priest who sins, thus bringing guilt on the people, then he shall offer for the sin that he has committed a bull from the herd without blemish to the Lord for a sin offering. . . If anyone sins . . . But if he cannot afford two turtledoves or two pigeons, then he shall bring as his offering for the sin that he has committed a tenth of an ephah of fine flour for a sin offering.’”
The sin offering: it was an offering that was to be made for unintentional sins. These were sins for which a person may not have been aware when at first, he committed them, but for which he became aware later through further instruction or when it was pointed out to him by someone else who was aware of that sin. One lesson from this offering is that sin is sin whether or not we are aware of it. Ignorance of God’s law was no excuse; however, if there was ignorance, God graciously made provision for justification and forgiveness related to that sin.
One of the interesting aspects of this offering was that there was a range of types of offerings that were acceptable. It wasn’t the type of sin that factored into the type of offering, however, i.e., some sins weren’t considered as worse sins than others in terms of what the offering was. What did matter was who committed the sin. If the sin was committed by a priest, someone who definitely should have known better, then the offering was to be a bull. It was the costliest animal, for the sin of a priest was very costly in terms of its influence. The leaders’ sins had an effect on the entire congregation; thus, leaders were held to a very high standard. As Jesus warned much later in Israel’s history “to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more (Luke 12:48).” Then it was James that said “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness (James 3:1).” This is a sober warning to those God has placed in positions of spiritual leadership, for with that privilege comes great responsibility.
But then another aspect of the Sin Offering that is noteworthy is that a provision for this offering was made available to all. There was a gradation of the value of the offering depending on who committed the sin. It ranged from a bull for a priest, to a male goat for a leader who was not a priest, to a female goat for one of the “common people.” But then if a person couldn’t afford a goat, then they could sacrifice a pigeon or a turtle dove. But if they couldn’t even afford that, then they could offer fine flour. With this shadow God is showing us that His mercy extends to everyone. No one is beyond His reach. Anyone can be forgiven, for the sacrifice that would ultimately be given to fulfill all these Old Testament shadows would extend to all.
You see, Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, rich and poor, male and female, king and slave, no matter what nationality, no matter what physical or mental ability (or disability), and no matter what social status. “For God so loved the world,that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).”
So, do you think you are beyond the reach of God’s forgiveness? Are you overwhelmed with guilt because of what you’ve done because you should have known better? Are you a parent whose sin has affected your whole family, or a boss whose sin has affected all those under your authority? Or perhaps you’re none of these things. Perhaps you are all alone. You see yourself as unimportant with no influence on anyone, and so insignificant that nobody really cares about you. Be assured that the King of Kings and Lord of Lords has made provision for you, no matter who you are. His mercy is everlasting, and He is a merciful King who is, as the King James version puts it “good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee (Psalm 6:5).”
So, how ready to forgive is He? For this answer we have the gracious and wonderful reply of Jesus to the question of how many times we should forgive others. It was Peter who asked the Lord, how many times should we forgive? Seven times?! And Jesus’ reply: “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times (Matthew 18:22),” for that’s how God forgives.
But then you might argue, the Old Testament Sin Offerings were for “unintentional sins,” i.e., sins done in ignorance. Well to that the Bible would tell us that few of us are truly knowledgeable about the seriousness of our own sin. We might even see ourselves as “good people,” when the Bible tells us that “no one does good (Romans 3:12).” But how serious of a sin can someone actually do “in ignorance?” Listen to Jesus’ words as He hung on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34).”
May God graciously open our eyes to actually see the seriousness of our sin, and then open our eyes to His gracious forgiveness when we turn to Him for it, for wonderfully “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more (Romans 5:20).”