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The primary laws regulating the sin sacrifice are found in Leviticus 4, but what we want to pay particular attention to at the moment is in verse 2.

Leviticus 4:2
Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a soul shall sin through ignorance against any of the commandments of the Lord concerning things which ought not to be done, and shall do against any of them…

“If a soul shall sin though ignorance,” the Lord said. If we sin through ignorance it means that we did not intentionally or blatantly rebel against the commandments of God. If a person had committed an unintentional sin, they were able to offer up a sin sacrifice and be cleansed. An example of an unintentional sin would be bumping into a grave. You’re walking through a field and—whoops!—you trip over a gravestone. That would make you unclean and in need of a sin sacrifice under the Old Covenant.

In the Old Testament there are well over 600 different civil, ceremonial, and moral laws. You can see the inevitability of being unaware of at least some of them. You know that at some point in time you are going to become ceremonially unclean. It simply requires someone to point it out to you. “Hey, Bob, that beef steak was pretty good, but I don’t know if it was quite kosher. I think we better take a couple of doves the next time we go to the temple.” This is the nature of unintentional sins. Murder, lying, and adultery don’t qualify because God has given to mankind a conscience and, whether or not we are aware of the Ten Commandments, we are intrinsically aware that those behaviors are wrong.

The point here is that in the Old Testament system there was no provision made for intentional and willful sin—none! Oh, I’m sorry. There was one provision made for intentional sin—stoning. The wages of sin is death and death was the only provision made in the Old Covenant for willful disobedience of the commandments of God. The Lord boomed the Ten Commandments off the mountain in the hearing of all the people. They were all aware of His moral requirements; to openly breach them brought death.

Numbers 15:27-31
27 And if any soul sin through ignorance, then he shall bring a she goat of the first year for a sin offering.
28 And the priest shall make an atonement for the soul that sinneth ignorantly, when he sinneth by ignorance before the Lord, to make an atonement for him; and it shall be forgiven him.
29 Ye shall have one law for him that sinneth through ignorance, both for him that is born among the children of Israel, and for the stranger that sojourneth among them.
30 But the soul that doeth ought presumptuously, whether he be born in the land, or a stranger, the same reproacheth the Lord; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people.
31 Because he hath despised the word of the Lord, and hath broken his commandment, that soul shall utterly be cut off; his iniquity shall be upon him.

Those who sinned in ignorance could offer a sin sacrifice, but not those who sinned presumptuously. Sinning presumptuously, which means with an excessively bold and arrogant demeanor, is in essence behaving as if we know better than God; we’ve been told what is wrong and we do it anyway. We breach the command and law of God. The Lord said, “That soul shall be cut off.” What He meant by that is exemplified for us in the verses that follow (verses 32-36). A man was found gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. Those who found him brought him to Moses and Aaron for judgment. When Moses asked the Lord what should be done, the Lord declared that the man had to be stoned. He had willfully flaunted the law of God.

There are other examples of this in the Old Testament. There was the young man whose father was an Egyptian and his mother an Israelite. The people heard him blaspheme the name of the Lord and curse while he was struggling with another man. The Lord said that the man had to bear his own sin. He was taken out of the camp and stoned.[1] Aaron didn’t pat him on the head and say, “Son, it’s all right. We understand that you had a pagan upbringing, what with your father being an Egyptian and all. Tell you what we’ll do. Go over there and fetch one of your daddy’s goats and bring it to me. I’ll watch while you slit its throat and I’ll put his blood on the horns of the altar. Then God will forgive the rashness of your mouth.” No, they laid their hands on his head, signifying that his iniquity remained on him, and then they stoned him!

Achan took some of the devoted things from Jericho and hid them. Because of his sin, Israel lost 36 men in the first battle of Ai. Joshua sought the Lord and was told that there was sin in the camp. He had the children of Israel present themselves by tribes and the tribe of Judah was taken. He had the tribe of Judah present itself before the Lord clan by clan and the clan of the Zarhites was taken. He had the Zarhites present themselves family by family and the family of Zabdi was taken. He had the family of Zabdi present itself man by man and Achan was found out.[2] Now, at any point in time prior to this process, Achan could have played the man and confessed, but he didn’t. He was found out. He didn’t give a full confession until he was confronted. What was the judgment of the Lord? Not only he, but his whole family and all his livestock were stoned and then burned.[3] The Old Covenant had no sacrifice for intentional sin except for the execution of the sinner himself.

“Praise God that we are under grace!” you say. “Praise Jesus that we live under a better covenant. Thank God!” I don’t disagree. But let us not move forward with undue haste.

Hebrews 10:26-29
26 For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,
27 But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.
28 He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses:
29 Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?

Lest we be tempted to believe that we get a free ride for presumptuous and willful sin, we need to recall that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a living God. The writer of Hebrews says, “We live under a more stringent, powerful, and awesome covenant. Under the weaker covenant, people were stoned for willful sin. What do you think is going to happen to those of us who are saved if we say, ‘You know what, forget this ethic. I am going to go out and live in sin. I don’t believe in salvation anymore. Forget the blood of Jesus.’” If we sin willfully, there is no more sacrifice left for sin. I don’t know about you, but that scares me to death!

Does this mean that there is no forgiveness for sins? No, but I am telling you that sin isn’t something to be trifled with, and neither is the Lord Jesus Christ. He’s not some vendi-god,[4] some pawn we can play with when we are feeling bad. He is the Lord God Almighty, King of kings, and executor of justice. He’s the One who poured out His blood for us so that we wouldn’t have to sin anymore. He told us right from wrong. He poured out the Holy Spirit from heaven to lead us down the straight and narrow. We won’t be able to get up there and say, “Lord, I didn’t know.” The Holy Spirit is going to say, “Uh, uh, uh. I told him. I stood right there and said, ‘Don’t do it.’ ‘Don’t do it.’ ‘Don’t do it.’ He did it anyway.”

What do you think is going to happen at the judgment seat of Christ if we die while living in willful sin? “But I’m under grace,” we might protest. Yes, we are. But we can frustrate it by our lifestyle and do despite to the Spirit of grace. Let us not be found in willful sin. Let us be continually covered in the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ.

The sin offering was only for unintentional sin. Praise God that Jesus died for our transgression! Transgression is willful disobedience. And He was pierced for our transgressions. Thank you, Jesus! So if I have committed willful sins and I confess and plead the blood, He will forgive me. But if I get to the point where I am reprobate in my mind to the extent that I think it is okay to sin, He just might take a branding iron to my conscience[5] and allow me to sin myself to the outer darkness.[6] Am I saying that we can lose our salvation? Not of our spirit, dear ones, but the salvation of our soul must be worked out with fear and trembling.[7] The wages of sin is death. Is God going to change the laws of His universe to accommodate us? Dare we say that we are the exception? If there had been an exception, Jesus wouldn’t have had to hang on the cross and bleed to death. “Father, if there is another way, please…” “No, Son, there is no other way. There are no exceptions. You have to die.” Let us not trifle with sin. It cost our Lord His life. If we don’t listen to the message of the sacrifice, that of being dead to sin, sin will cost us our life.

The sin offering was for moral offenses against God where reparations were impossible to pay or even estimate. After all, how does one pay back God for causing unholiness in His universe? The person offering the sin sacrifice would place his hands on the sacrificial animal and confess his sins.[8] Then the animal was slaughtered and its blood was placed on the altar. This was the focal point of the sin offering—the sprinkling of the blood for the forgiveness of sins.[9] Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission. Praise God that Jesus Christ bled for us that our sins might be remitted, cleansed, expiated, and forgiven!

Before we move on to the burnt offering, we need to take a quick look at the trespass offering. It was a special form of sin offering which was designed for the confessed sin of a person who had infringed on the rights or property of another. For example, if someone held back offerings from God or illegally kept possession of his neighbor’s property and confessed his sin, he could offer up a trespass offering.

The confession of the offense moves it from the category of willful sin into the category of unintentional sin where expiation is available. This is due to the fact that nobody else would have known about the sin or could have proven it. The only way it saw the light of day was through the confession of the culprit. Once the confession was made, the sinner had to make reparations and offer the trespass offering. Because it is a special form of sin offering, we are not examining it in detail. But know this, if your sin involves the property of others or the property of God, your conscience will not be clear until you make the appropriate restitution.

[1] Lev 24:11-16
[2] Josh 7:1-18
[3] Josh 7:19-26
[4] The reader may not have encountered this term before. It is a combination of the concept of a vending machine with God. We treat our heavenly Father like a vendi-god when we approach Him only to get the things we want, when we think we can treat Him like a vending machine. This is not the God we serve.
[5] 1 Tim 4:1-2
[6] Matt 25:30, among others.
[7] Phil 2:12
[8] Lev 4:29; 16:21
[9] Lev 4:30-31