Chapter 7: The Trespass Offering
by John M. Riddle, England
The main passages that deal with the trespass offering are Lev.5.1-7; 7.1-7; Num.5.5-7.
Since we have now come to the fifth and last of the major offerings prescribed in the Book of Leviticus, it might be appropriate to “stir up our pure minds by way of remembrance” 2Pet.3.1, and make two general observations:
The Necessity to Distinguish between the Sweet Savour Offerings and the Sin Offerings
Many readers will either have noticed themselves or learnt from others, perhaps through reading earlier chapters of this book, that the sweet savour offerings (the burnt, meal and peace offerings) were for acceptance. This is specifically stated with regard to the burnt offering, Lev.1.4. In this connection we should notice that all three are called “an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the Lord”, e.g. Lev.1.17; 2.9; 3.5. It should also be noted that the word “burn” (qatar) means ‘to cause to burn (as) incense’ (Young’s Concordance). It should be said that the same word is also used of those parts of the sin and trespass offerings offered on the altar to God, cf. Lev.4.10; 5.12. The sweet savour offerings were voluntary.
C.I. Scofield (and many others) point out that “The sweet savour offerings are so called because they typify Christ in His own perfections, and in His affectionate devotion to the Father’s will” (The Scofield Reference Bible). They remind us of Christ in His perfection offering Himself for us to God without sin: “Christ also hath loved us, and hath given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour” Eph.5.2. They remind us that we are “accepted in the Beloved” Eph.1.6.
The sin offerings (the sin and trespass offerings) were obligatory. They were for expiation, and point to Christ offering Himself as our representative for sin. They remind us that God “hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” 2Cor.5.21, and that “our Lord Jesus Christ … gave Himself for our sins” Gal.1.3,4. In the case of the sin offering, the remainder of the animal after certain parts had been offered on the “altar of the burnt offering”, were to be burned “on the wood with fire” in “a clean place” Lev.4.10,12. In this case, the word “burn” (saraph) emphasises the consuming heat involved, reminding us of the intensity of Divine judgment borne by the Lord Jesus at Calvary.
The order in which the five sacrifices are mentioned in Leviticus chapters 1 to 5 is therefore most important. The perfection of the Lord Jesus fitted Him to be a sin offering. Then, in the sweet savour offerings, the offerer came as a worshipper to give his offering which represented himself, something sweet and pleasant to God, whereas in the sin and trespass offerings, the offerer came as a convicted sinner to receive in his offering, which represented himself, the judgment due to his sin and trespass. In the sweet savour offerings, the excellence of the offering was imputed to the offerer, whereas in the sin offerings, the sins of the offerer were imputed to the offering.
The Necessity to Distinguish between the Sin Offering and the Trespass Offering
This is not to say that they are unconnected, something that is emphasised by the fact that there is no distinct division between them. In reading Lev.5.1, we look in vain for the words “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying …” cf. 5.14; 6.1. The connection is also emphasised by the fact that when one of “the common people” sinned through ignorance, he was to “bring his offering, a kid of the goats, a female without blemish” 4.28, something that a man guilty in one of the matters described in 5.1-4 was also to bring: “He shall bring his trespass offering unto the Lord, for his sin which he hath sinned, a female from the flock, a lamb or kid of the goats, for a sin offering …” 5.6.
It is usually said in connection with 5.1-4 that the guilty party was to “bring his trespass offering … for a sin offering” 5.6. This is supported by the fact that the expression “sin offering”, which punctuates Leviticus chapter 4, occurs in Lev.5.6,7,9,11,12 but is now accompanied by the expressions “trespass offering” v.6, “his trespass” v.7, and “if a soul commit a trespass” v.15. See also Lev.6.2, “If a soul sin, and commit a trespass against the Lord …”
Having said this, we should nevertheless distinguish between the two offerings: in the sin offering, emphasis is placed on the offender, the person or persons responsible, that is, “the priest that is anointed”; “the whole congregation of Israel”; “a ruler”; “any one of the common people” 4.3,13,22,27. In the trespass offering, emphasis is placed on the offence. These are specified in 5.1-4; 5.15; 6.2,3.
In considering the details of the trespass offering, we should notice that attention is drawn to three categories of trespass:
In the first case, the trespass offering covers transgressions in personal life not involving injury to others, Lev.5.1-13. The fact that the person concerned was required to “bring his trespass offering unto the Lord, for his sin which he hath sinned” v.6, should be carefully noted.
In the second case, it covers unwitting transgressions in “the holy things of the Lord” Lev.5.14-19, which, though committed in ignorance, are none the less trespasses “against the Lord” v.19.
In the third case, it covers cases involving the infringement of neighbours’ rights, Lev.6.1-7. It should be carefully noted again that such transgressions are, at the same time, “a trespass against the Lord” v.2.
In describing these categories, we have particularly noted that in all three cases, not just the second, the Lord is involved, reminding us that we must never forget His involvement in our personal lives, and in our relationship with other people, whether believers or otherwise. With this always in mind, we must now look again at the three categories in more detail.
These verses outline both the circumstances in which a trespass offering was necessary, vv.1-4, and the way in which the trespass offering was to be presented, vv.5-13.
The Circumstances in Which a Trespass Offering Was Necessary – vv.1-4
Failure to Bear Witness, v.1: “And if a soul sin, and hear the voice of swearing, and is a witness, whether he hath seen or known of it; if he do not utter it, then he shall bear his iniquity” 5.1. We suggest that this draws attention to the possibility of failure in two ways:
Failure in Refraining from Reporting Evil
The concealment of evil is sin. While believers must remember that “charity shall cover the multitude of sins” 1Pet.4.8, that is, we must not ‘home in’ on small petty grievances, nevertheless there are certainly matters which ought to be brought to light; the “house of Chloe” 1Cor.1.11, did not fail in this respect. There is all the difference between tittle-tattle, and the disclosure of information to a person who is spiritually competent to deal with problems that have arisen. Some people spread rumours, and others tell the truth from the wrong motive, but not so here. Sometimes things go wrong in assembly life, and good men stay silent. It must be said, of course, that “the voice of swearing” in our passage refers to using the Lord’s Name in vain, Ex.20.7. Sadly, it became widespread amongst God’s people in the Old Testament, Jer.23.10.
Failure To Give a True Answer When Put on Oath
“And if any one sin, and hear the voice of adjuration …” J.N.D. The Lord Jesus “witnessed a good confession” before Pilate, 1Tim.6.13, and also when He was told by the high priest, “I adjure Thee by the living God, that Thou tell us whether Thou be the Christ, the Son of God” Matt.26.63. We are to be “ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you …” 1Pet.3.15. Failure to do so is a trespass.
Failure in Separation from Uncleanness, vv.2,3:
“Or if a soul touch any unclean thing, whether it be the carcase of an unclean beast, or a carcase of unclean cattle, or the carcase of unclean creeping things, and if it be hidden from him; he also shall be unclean and guilty. Or if he touch the uncleanness of man, whatsoever uncleanness it be that a man shall be defiled withal, and it be hid from him; when he knoweth of it, then he shall be guilty.”
We should notice the repetition of “if it be hidden from him” or “it be hid from him”. In the cases cited, uncleanness had been contracted unwittingly; how much more serious, therefore, when uncleanness is contracted knowingly! 2Cor.6.14-7.1 now becomes compulsory reading: having said, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers” (particularly idolaters), and given the reasons, Paul continues: “Wherefore come ye out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing … let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God”. Failure to do so is a trespass.
Failure in Self-control, v.4:
“Or if a soul swear pronouncing with his lips to do evil, or to do good, whatsoever it be that a man shall pronounce with an oath, and it be hid from him; when he knoweth of it, then he shall be guilty in one of these”. J.N.D. renders this, “Or if any one swear, talking rashly with his lips, to do evil or to do good, in everything that a man shall say rashly with an oath …” The Newberry Bible gives the meanings of “pronouncing” and “pronounce” as ‘speaking unadvisedly’ and ‘speak unadvisedly’ respectively. As C.A. Coates observes, “If it was ‘to do evil’, one ought never to have said it at all; if it was ‘to do good’, one ought not to say it without doing it”.1
- 1 Coates, C.A. “An outline of the book of Leviticus”. Stow Hill Bible and Tract Depot, London, undated.
Solomon gave good advice in saying, “Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few … When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for He hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed …” Eccl.5.2-4. We must be careful what we say and sing. How often, for example, we have sung, “O Jesus, I have promised to serve Thee to the end”. Are we paying what we vowed? Solomon would say, ‘Very well then, pay that which thou hast vowed’. Failure, by speaking “unadvisedly with [our] lips” Ps.106.33, is a trespass.
In summary, not speaking when we should, v.1, is a trespass, and so is speaking when we should not, v.4.
The Way in Which the Trespass Offering Was To Be Presented – vv.5-13
There are two key phrases in these verses, both occurring at their commencement: “he shall confess” v.5; “he shall bring” v.6.
“He shall confess” v.5: “And it shall be, when he shall be guilty in one of these things, that he shall confess that he hath sinned in that thing.” This is a most important first step in spiritual recovery. David knew this: “When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long … I acknowledged my sin unto Thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, ‘I will confess my transgression unto the Lord’; and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah” Ps.32.3-5. Compare 1Jn.1.9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”. John is clearly saying here that forgiveness is guaranteed because God is always “faithful” to His promises, e.g. Heb.10.17, and “just” because His Son died to put away our sins.
“He shall bring” v.6: “And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the Lord, for his sin which he hath sinned.” In each of the three cases which follow, “the priest shall make an atonement for him concerning his sin” (or equivalent wording) vv.6,10,13, with, additionally, in two cases, the words “and it shall be forgiven him”, vv.10,13. See also 5.16,18; 6.7.
We are therefore reminded of the basis on which a trespass may be forgiven. In the words of Thomas Newberry2, “When sin is known in any particular case, the confession of it is not sufficient; the offence might be against man, but the sin is against God; and nothing but the blood of atonement can put away its defilement. The atoning sacrifice of Christ, the Lamb of God, pleaded by faith before God, avails to put away the defilement of transgression, as well as the sense of sin from the conscience.”
- 2 Newberry, Thomas. “Types of the Levitical Offerings”. AMG Publishers, 2014.
In this connection we should notice that provision is made for all. “And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the Lord for his sin which he hath sinned, a female from the flock, a lamb or a kid of the goats, for a sin offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for him concerning his sin. And if he be not able to bring a lamb, then he shall bring for his trespass, which he hath committed, two turtledoves, or two young pigeons, unto the Lord … But if he be not able to bring two turtledoves, or two young pigeons, then he that hath sinned shall bring for his offering the tenth part of an ephah of fine flour for a sin offering” vv.6,7,11. Not only was provision made for all, but none could plead that they could not meet the requirements. Provision was made for the poorest of the people. We should note the distinguishing features of these offerings:
In the first case, v.6: “he shall bring his trespass offering unto the Lord for his sin which he hath sinned, a female from the flock, a lamb or a kid of the goats, for a sin offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for him concerning his sin.”
Whether “a lamb” or “kid of the goats”, it was to be a female, indicating submission and passivity, and reminding us of the “meekness and gentleness of Christ” 2Cor.10.1, in joyfully accepting and implementing His Father’s will. His words, “Even so, Father; for so it seemed good in Thy sight” Matt.11.26, convey His inward submission in this way. If the “lamb” here reminds us, as always, of His submission to His Father’s will, then the “kid of the goats” reminds us of His vigour and determination.
However, not all were in a position to bring “a female from the flock, a lamb or a kid of the goats” as an offering, just as not all believers are yet able to fully appreciate the lovely features of the Lord Jesus conveyed by these Old Testament figures. However, that does not mean that they are unable to bring equal pleasure to God.
In the second case, vv.7-10: “he shall bring for his trespass, which he hath committed, two turtledoves, or two young pigeons unto the Lord; one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering … and the priest shall make an atonement for him for his sin which he hath sinned, and it shall be forgiven him”. It is often said that while the “two turtledoves, or two young pigeons” were offered by poorer people, reminding us that levels of spiritual appreciation differ, the offering was equally acceptable.
The offering of “two turtledoves, or two young pigeons” depicts Christ’s death as the sacrifice of One so harmless, gracious and gentle. We hear Him say, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” Lk.23.34.
The requirement for two birds, “one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering” has been helpfully explained by P. Grieve3: “The simple reason is that there had to be something for God in every offering. In the case of an animal it was a relatively simple thing to remove the fat and offer it on the brazen altar as God’s portion. However, in practical terms, it is not so simple to remove the fat from a bird! Thus, the second bird was offered in its entirety to the Lord on the brazen altar.”
- 3 Grieve, Paul. “What The Bible Teaches – Leviticus”. John Ritchie Ltd., 2010.
In the third case, vv.11-13: “he that sinned shall bring for his offering the tenth part of an ephah of fine flour for a sin offering.”
Provision was made for poor people in Israel who could not even raise the money to buy two birds. However, as before, the offering was completely acceptable and yielded the same happy result, v.13. The evident status of the offerer reminds us again of the different levels of spiritual appreciation amongst believers. Rather than now bemoaning lack of spiritual growth (sadly true in some cases), let us say that it is always encouraging to hear a young man leading the assembly in worship for the first time at the Lord’s supper. His thanksgiving may be simple; it might not seem to soar to great heights, but it is as precious to the Lord as the contributions of older and more experienced men in the assembly. Let the ‘Amens’ ring out!
The “ephah of fine flour for a sin offering” reminds us of the death of the Lord Jesus in all the perfection of His life. As P. Grieve4 observes, “God’s grace is without limit. It is amazing that there could be such a thing as a Sin Offering that did not necessitate the shedding of blood … but the fact that the meal was burnt on the brazen altar immediately associates it with animal sacrifices.”
- 4 ibid
The omission of oil and frankincense, added to the meal offering, Lev.2.1, is significant in view of the fact that this is “a sin offering” v.11, and as such there was no sweet fragrance. However, “The handful of the meal, taken by the priest, was burnt (qatar, as incense) on the altar, so there was something for the Lord.”5
“If a soul commit a trespass, and sin through ignorance, in the holy things of the Lord” v.15, or “If any one act unfaithfully and sin through inadvertence in the holy things of Jehovah” J.N.D. This could evidently happen in two ways: by omission, vv.15,16, and by commission, vv.17-19.
Sins of Omission – vv.15,16
Once again, these verses outline the circumstances in which a trespass offering was necessary, v.15, and the way in which the trespass offering was to be presented, vv.15,16.
The Circumstances in Which a Trespass Offering Was Necessary – v.15
“If a soul commit a trespass, and sin through ignorance, in the holy things of the Lord.”
Since reference is made to adding “the fifth part thereto” v.16, suggesting that a valuation was required to which interest (the fifth part) was to be added, it seems clear that the “trespass” here is withholding from God what is due to Him, with particular reference to the tithes.
Josh.7.1 furnishes us with an example of committing “a trespass…in the holy things of the Lord” (although there was no “ignorance” in that case): “But the children of Israel committed a trespass in the accursed thing …” Achan, acting covertly, “took of the accursed thing”, and robbed God of His right to ‘the first of the spoil’.
At the end of the Old Testament, the Lord asks the question, “Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed Me. But ye say, ‘Wherein have we robbed Thee? In tithes and offerings …” Mal.3.8. The tithes are in fact called “the tithe of holy things which were consecrated unto the Lord their God” 2Chr.31.6. The response of God’s people to the question suggests that they were so out of touch with Him that they did it ignorantly. We might well examine ourselves with the same question ringing in our ears. Are we guilty of trespass in this way? Are we unwittingly robbing God by failing to recognise His rights over us?
The Way in Which the Trespass Offering Was To Be Presented – vv.15,16
“He shall bring for his trespass unto the Lord a ram without blemish out of the flocks, with thy estimation by shekels of silver, after the shekel of the sanctuary, for a trespass offering. And he shall make amends for the harm that he hath done in the holy thing, and shall add the fifth part thereto, and give it unto the priest: and the priest shall make an atonement for him with the ram of the trespass offering, and it shall be forgiven him.” The actual procedure is described in Lev.7.1-7. The details are absorbing:
The offering: The offering was to be “a ram without blemish out of the flocks …” God’s rights had been infringed, and the seriousness of the offence demanded an appropriate sacrifice. The ram reminds us of maturity and energy (see for example Dan.8.3,4). No birds now! No flour now! The ram is also associated with substitution, Gen.22.13, and we are reminded that as “a ram without blemish”, the Lord Jesus, the perfect sacrifice, “offered Himself without spot to God” Heb.9.14. A perfect victim bore the penalty: the sinless One was judged for sin.
The estimation: The standard of judgment in the matter was Moses’ judgment: “thy estimation” v.15. Not the estimation of the guilty party. He was to restore to God according to Moses’ valuation: the valuation was to be made in terms of the “shekel of the sanctuary”: not a trading currency but a Divine standard. The currency of the world is no standard by which to judge! If we have infringed God’s rights, then it is for us, not just to restore, but to show particular diligence and care in doing so.
The restitution: This involved the payment of interest: the “fifth part”, or twenty per cent. As a result, God was left in a better position than before. He received a ‘double tithe’. Not one tenth, but one fifth!
All this reminds us that on the basis of Christ’s work, God can say, “I restored that which I took not away” Ps.69.4. He is in a better position than before, in that the redemption of sinful men and women has brought added glory to Him. God intends to fill the universe, not with men like Adam, but with men like Christ! He will be in a better position than He was with Adam in creation! God will certainly receive “the fifth part”!
We should add that the willingness on the part of the offender to make restitution and pay the added interest proves the reality of his desire to honour God.
Sins of Commission – vv.17-19
Once again, these verses outline the circumstances in which a trespass offering was necessary, v.17, and the way in which the trespass offering was to be presented, vv.18,19.
The Circumstances in Which a Trespass Offering Was Necessary – v.17
“And if a soul sin, and commit any of these things which are forbidden to be done by the commandments of the Lord; though he wist it not, yet is he guilty, and shall bear his iniquity” v.17. This speaks for itself. Ignorance does not mean absolution from guilt. Paul made the point in writing to the Corinthians: “For I know nothing by myself (‘against myself’); yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord” 1Cor.4.4. Interestingly, Paul, having described himself as a one-time “blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious”, adds “but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief” 1Tim.1.13.
The Way in Which the Trespass Offering Was To Be Presented – vv.18,19
“He shall bring a ram without blemish out of the flock, with thy estimation, for a trespass offering, unto the priest: and the priest shall make an atonement for him concerning his ignorance wherein he erred and wist it not, and it shall be forgiven him.” See our remarks in connection with vv.15,16 above.
We should notice that there is no reference here to ignorance. While we are not always aware of our trespass in relation to Divine things, we could hardly be unaware of the things enumerated in vv.2,3.
For the fourth time we should notice both the circumstances in which a trespass offering was necessary, vv.2,3 and the way in which the trespass offering was to be presented, vv.4-7.
The Circumstances in Which a Trespass Offering Was Necessary – vv.2,3
“If a soul sin, and commit a trespass against the Lord, and lie unto his neighbour in that which was delivered him to keep (‘as to an entrusted thing’ J.N.D.), or in fellowship (‘a deposit’ J.N.D.), or in a thing taken away by violence, or hath deceived his neighbour (‘or [that in which] he hath robbed or wronged his neighbour’ J.N.D.); or have found that which was lost and lieth concerning it, and sweareth falsely; in any of all these that a man doeth, sinning therein”. To summarise: “The third case of trespass (entitled ‘Perjury’) includes a number of examples where monies or goods are being withheld to which the keeper has no legal right”6 The examples given are self-explanatory.
- 6 Wilson, Thomas. “Assembly Testimony”. March/April 2013.
We must notice that a sin against a neighbour or, in our parlance, against a brother or sister, is a sin against the Lord. David, referring to his liaison with Bathsheba and the death of Uriah, was well aware of this in saying, “I have sinned against the Lord” 2Sam.12.13, and “Against Thee, Thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in Thy sight” Ps.51.4. Amongst the Lord’s people, like the human body, “the members should have the same care one for another” 1Cor.12.25. Cain cried, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Gen.4.9, to which the answer, strictly speaking, was ‘Yes!’ The local assembly should be marked by the mutual care of its members. Failure to do so is a trespass.
In view of this, we are urged: “Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another” Eph.4.25; “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice” Eph.4.31.
The Way in Which the Trespass Offering Was To Be Presented – vv.4-7
“Then it shall be, because he hath sinned, and is guilty, that he shall restore that which he took violently away, or the thing which he hath deceitfully gotten, or that which was delivered him to keep, or the lost thing which he found, or all that about which he hath sworn falsely; he shall even restore it in the principal, and shall add the fifth part more thereto, and give it unto him to whom it appertaineth, in the day of his trespass offering. And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the Lord, a ram without blemish out of the flock, with thy estimation, for a trespass offering, unto the priest: and the priest shall make an atonement for him before the Lord: and it shall be forgiven him for any thing of all that he hath done in trespassing therein.”
It should be noted that in chapter 5, where the rights of God are infringed, the offering of the ram is placed first, v.15, whereas in chapter 6, where human rights are infringed, the restoration of the principal plus the interest are placed first, v.5, but since this also involves God’s interests, it is followed by reference to the offering of the ram.
Full restoration was to be made, plus twenty per cent interest. That is, the man’s neighbour is left better off than he was before. The principle is expressed in Eph.4.28: “Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth”. The Law said, “Thou shalt not steal” Ex.20.15, but Divine grace goes so much further: the converted thief, who has become a labouring man, is now in a position not to steal from others, but to give to others!
Should a relationship in the assembly become strained or damaged, those concerned should make it their aim, not just to ‘make it up’, but to deepen and sweeten their relationship so that their fellowship becomes richer and happier than it ever was before.
The Lord’s people today have good cause to rejoice with the believers at Colosse, to whom Paul said, “And you, being dead in your sins (‘trespasses’ R.V.) and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath He quickened together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses” Col.2.13.