The previous chapters 1-3 of Leviticus covered several categories of sacrifices which are all characterized by a sweet aroma to the Lord, offered as a symbol of devotion and completeness of Christ. The burnt offering is the most fundamental offering made by Christ to God. It represents the devotion of Christ in giving himself completely to God, and forms a basis for an overall complete salvation of man, all the way from the falling Adam (the first man) to the glory in eternity (not just the forgiveness of sins to return to the Adamic status of innocence).
Although the burnt offering is considered atonement for man (in a sense that it is the basis for the complete salvation of the fallen man), sin is not even mentioned in the burnt offering. Rather, the burnt offering solely focuses on the efficacy of Christ’s devotion and the satisfaction of God.
The grain offering represents the perfect life of the Son of Man, the life of the Second Man, the basis of our resurrected life. The grain offering not only mentions no sin, but even has no element of blood shedding, as if God completely overlooked the problem of sin.
By the same token, the peace offering represents the perfect union and fellowship between man and God, secured by Christ and in Christ with the satisfaction of both God and man, without a shadow of sin.
But sin is a reality that has to be dealt with before man can even come close to God. In chapter 4 of Leviticus, we come to the sacrifices which are the sin and trespass-offerings. In the heart of God, His satisfaction in Christ comes first. But in actual practice sin offerings must be made first to give man a standing before God.
The sin offerings include several types that are alike in the great principle, but differing in character and detail. This difference will be noticed as one reads this chapter and the several subsequent chapters.
But first a very important principle must be noticed. In the sacrifices of sweet aroma, the offerer came of his own voluntary will, and was identified as a worshiper with the acceptance of his sacrifice (the animal victim). In contrast, in the case of the sin offering, the offerer came not as a worshiper, but as a sinner required to come to solve his problem. The offerer here comes not as clean for communion with the Lord, but as having guilt upon him; and instead of his being identified with the acceptance of the sacrifice, the sacrifice became identified with his guilt and unacceptableness, bore his sins and was treated accordingly. This was especially the case where the sin-offering was purely such.
1. Introduction – Sacrifices for the Sin of the Sons of Israel (v. 1-2)
The verses 1-2 of Leviticus 4 start with an introduction which indicates that this chapter overall covers unintentional sins of the sons of Israel.
First, sin is a condition of life and a status of relationship. Just because one didn’t intentionally sin doesn’t mean the person is innocent. Much like a disease but only worse, sin is a problem to the sinner that needs to be solved. Just like a disease separates a person from his physical healthiness, sin separates one from God, his spiritual healthiness (“He is the health of my countenance”-Psalms 42.11). Sin offering is God’s provision for the sinners.
Second, note that sons of Israel include every Israelite, be it a common person, a priest or ruler. On the other hand, it is important to note that the sin offerings in these chapters concern the sins of God’s people, not the whole world. Christ is the propitiation for not only our sins, but also for the whole world (1 John 2.2), but the sin offerings specifically mentioned here concern the sin of God’s people (applicable to believers today) only.
It is important to note that this is not for the purpose of initiating the relationship between God and man, but for the purpose of restoration of holiness and communion. There is another occasion provided for the former purpose (see, for example, Leviticus 16).
Of the sons of Israelites, sins committed are divided into several types, depending on who has sinned and the nature of the offense. It is important to note the various degrees and measures of the application of the sacrifice with regard to different types of sins, as they cause different levels of interruption of the communion.
2. Sacrifices for the Sin of the Priest (vs. 4.3-12)
The sin of an anointed priest (high priest), if it brings the whole congregation into sin, causes an interruption of the communion to a high degree. Accordingly, the application of the sacrifice is of the highest degree of this type. Note the following facts:
1) A bull is offered.
2) The blood is sprinkled seven times in front of the veil of the sanctuary – a reminder to God of the perfect redemption in the blood of Christ. This restores the way to the very presence of God. God of course is always present at the Tabernacle, but certain sin threatens the very basis of the access to such presence.
3) The blood is also put on the horns of the altar of fragrant incense. This restores the intimate communion with God and worship in prayers of the saints.
4) The rest of the blood is then poured out at the base of the altar of burnt offering which is at the doorway of the tent of meeting. This restores the basic ability to approach God.
5) All the fat and two kidneys of the bull are removed and offered in smoke on the altar of burnt offering.
6) All the rest of the bull is brought out to a clean place outside the camp where the ashes are poured out, and burnt on wood with fire. Compare with the burnt offerings and peace offering, in terms of what is being burnt and where the burning takes place.
3. Sacrifices for the Sin of the Whole Congregation (vs. 4.13-21)
For the sin of the whole congregation, the sacrifices are made in similar ways except for the following differences:
1) The sacrifice is made when the sin is known.
2) The bull is brought by the elder of the congregation, instead of by the priest. However, the priest still must offer the sacrifice. The elder cannot offer a sacrifice.
4. The Sin of the Rulers (vs. 4.22-26)
The sin of a ruler is essentially treated as a sin of an individual, despite the fact that he is a ruler having authorities over the people. The sacrifice offered for the sin of a ruler is therefore similar to the sacrifices for the sin of a common person, and very different from the sacrifices for the sin of the priest or the congregation.
1) A male goat is offered.
2) The blood is put on the horns of the altar of burnt offering (not the altar of fragrant incense). Note that the blood is not sprinkled in front of the veil nor put on the horn of the altar of fragrant incense, because the way to God’s presence in the holy of holies is not interrupted, nor is the intimate communion and worship in prayers of the saints as a whole affected. What is affected is the accessibility to God by the particular individual who has sinned, and therefore the application of the blood is at the altar of burnt offering which is always where individuals approach God.
3) The rest of the blood is then poured out at the base of the altar of burnt offering which is at the doorway of the tent of meeting. This restores the basic personal ability to approach God.
4) All the fat (but not the kidneys) of the goat is removed and offered in smoke on the altar of burnt offering.
5) The rest of the goat is not brought outside the camp to be burnt.
5. The Sin of the Common Man (vs. 4.27-35)
The sin of the common man is that of an individual. The sacrifice for this sin is offered in a way very similar to that for the sin of a ruler, except that here a female goat or a female lamb is offered.
6. Several Additional Points Related to the Sin Offering
1) Because a sin offering is required only when the sin has become known, some may think that it is better that one sins without knowing. To this, one must realize that a sin offering is an opportunity for the sinner to solve his problem, not a punishment on him for the sin. The punishment of sin is placed upon the sacrificial animal which typifies that Christ was made sin on behalf of the sinner. For this reason, consciousness of sin is a blessing because the sinner has access to a perpetual Sacrifice that is forever sufficient for securing the forgiveness of sin.
2) Contrary to a common belief, sin cannot be offered on the altar to be burnt. Sin must be burnt outside the camp as a punishment of sin, and cannot be burnt on the altar. In the burnt offering, what is offered on the altar is the complete sinless Christ. In the sin offering, only fat and kidneys may be placed on the altar to be burnt, and the rest of the sacrificial animal, which was without blemish but now made sin, must be taken to the outside of the camp to be burnt, just like the Lord Jesus suffered outside of the gate. He was sinless, but was made sin by bearing our sin.
3) There are two different aspects of a sacrifice: one is the satisfaction of Jehovah which is always based on the complete devotion of Christ; the other is the bearing of sin and the judgment on the sin bearer, which is always based on the crucifixion of Christ. These two aspects are two opposing sides.
Lots of confusion regarding sacrifices is caused by conceptually mixing these two together. The burnt offering, grain offering and peace offering emphasize the satisfaction only, and have no bearing of sin. That’s why all that is burnt in those sacrifices are burnt on the altar. In sharp contrast to the burnt offering is the sin offering on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16), a highest degree of sin bearing, in which only blood is brought to the tabernacle, and everything else is burnt outside. This (not the sin offerings in chapter 4) is the opposite of the burnt offering. This happens only once every year, representing perpetual atonement of all sins, because each year is a cycle representing eternity.
If we use the language we are familiar with today, this sin offering covers our salvation from sin. However, in sin offerings of chapter 4, it is more complicated because the two different aspects are mixed in various degrees.
4) Not everything in a sin offering represents sin bearing. The sin offerings all have, in various degrees, at least some part of the sacrifice bunt on the altar. This part is not for the purpose of sin bearing but for the satisfaction of God on basis of the complete devotion of Christ.
Now, compared to that of the Day of Atonement, the sin offerings in chapter 4 are all of lighter degrees because they deal with unintentional sins that happen day to day. If we use the language we are familiar with today, this represents our sanctification by separating from sins. That’s why chapter 4 covers only unintentional sins. Because if a sin is presumptuous (intentional), it is no longer a matter of sanctification but a matter of salvation, which can only be solved by the sacrifice made on the day of atonement.
This category covered in chapter 4 is further divided into several degrees. For the sin of the anointed priest and congregation, not only the blood is brought to into the tabernacle, but also the fat and the two kidneys are burnt on the altar. This represents the satisfaction of Jehovah based on the devotion of Christ.
The rest is then brought to the outside and burnt as the sin bearer.
When it comes to the least significant type of sin, the blood is not brought into the tabernacle, but the fat is still burnt on the altar to represent the satisfaction, while the rest is not brought out of the camp to be burnt but eaten by the priests. Unlike the peace offering given to the priest as their portion of blessing, in this particular sin offering priests become the sin bearer. But only the least serious type of sin of individuals is dealt this way.
The bottom line is this: whatever that is burnt on altar represents the devotion of Christ, and is always a sweet aroma to the Lord; and nothing that represents sin can be burnt on the altar (and must be generally brought outside of the camp to be burnt and only in minor cases eaten by the priests).
The burnt offering and the sin offering on the Day of Atonement represent two opposites. But even in the sin offering on the Day of Atonement, some blood is sprinkled toward the tent of meeting instead of being burnt outside the camp.
On the Day of Atonement, God squarely faces sin as it is. What result could it be to people had it not been for the blood that is sprinkled? With the blood, it is a day of atonement; without blood, it would be a day of judgment. The blood did not make the judgment disappear. The blood represents the fact that the judgment on that day fell on Christ. We have His own voice cried out on the cross to remind us of this fact. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”