The Old Covenant Book of Leviticus outlines five special Levitical fire offerings and sacrifices. The Burnt Offering is for the sanctification of the whole man in self-surrender to the Lord even unto death. The Meal Offering is the fruit of that sanctification. The Peace Offering is the blossoming of the possession and enjoyment of saving grace. The Sin Offering is for making amends for sin. The Trespass Offering was for the restoration of rights that had been violated.
The New Testament views all the old covenant sacrifices as types of the death of Christ. That is, the five sacrifices bring out different aspects and significance of His one sacrificial death on the cross. Lambs sacrificed every morning and evening were the most typical victim, so Jesus is called ‘the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29). Indeed he died at the time of the evening sacrifice. (3)
The Sin Offering (Leviticus 4:1-5:13)
The fourth Levitical offering is the Sin or Purification Offering. The basic purpose of the Sin Offering was to deal with the issue of mandatory offerings for sins committed unintentionally. In Leviticus 4:1, we have God’s second utterance. The first three offerings (i.e., Burnt, Meal, Peace), which were based upon God’s first utterance, were largely voluntary offerings, but the last two offerings (i.e., Sin and Trespass) are based upon the second utterance and concern mandatory sacrifices. These last two, then, are mandatory and atoning. While the first three offerings were already known from the previous revelation, these last two are totally new and revealed for the first time in the Mosaic Law. Realize, the knowledge of sin did not come until the Law was given and with that knowledge, the Sin Offering and the Trespass Offering (1) were instituted (Romans 3:20;5:13;7:7-12. 1 Corinthians 15:56. Galatians 3:19-24. Acts 19:4).
Then the Lord spoke to Moses:“Tell the Israelites, ‘When a person sins by straying unintentionally from any of the Lord’s commandments which must not be violated, and violates any one of them— (Leviticus 4:1,2 NET)
Stating the nature of the sin, God says in Leviticus 4:2: Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If any one shall sin unwittingly. That is the issue-unwitting sin. Literally, the Hebrew means unwittingly in the sense of “unintentionally.” It is a sin that was committed through ignorance, error, or oversight.
The Hebrew word has for its root meaning “to wander,” “to go wrong,” “to make a mistake,” “to commit error.” It is a sin which arises from human infirmity or from the weakness of the flesh; it is a sin of weakness of flesh and blood; it is a sin of waywardness. This is unintentional sin, sin of ignorance or inadvertent sin, such as the sin of manslaughter (Numbers 35:11–23). It is a sin that was committed without premeditation (Num. 15:22–29). In other words, it is not a sin done in a spirit of rebellion; it is not a sin of presumption. This is in contrast with a sin committed with a high hand, a calculated sin of defiance against God, for which there is no sacrifice. The penalty for those kinds of sins was to be cut off or executed (Numbers 15:30–31. Psalms 19:13).
“ ‘But the person who acts defiantly, whether native-born or a resident foreigner, insults the Lord. That person must be cut off from among his people. Because he has despised the word of the Lord and has broken his commandment, that person must be completely cut off. His iniquity will be on him.’ ” (Numbers 15:30–31 NET)
The Hebrew word for sin here is chata, which literally means “to miss the mark.” When you miss the mark, of course, you also hit the wrong mark. Thus, this passage deals with sins that were not premeditated, but sins done out of ignorance, sins that a person just happened to fall into. Leviticus 4:2 goes on to say: in any of the things which Jehovah has commanded not to be done. In other words, we are dealing with sins, which were committed against a negative commandment, a violation of a negative commandment.
Similarly, the Greek word agnoemata (ἀγνοεματα), only used in Hebrews 10:26, or “errors” of the people, for which the High Priest offered a sacrifice on the great day of atonement, were not wilful transgressions or “presumptuous sins” (Psalms 19:13) committed against conscience and with a high hand against God. Again, those who committed such sins were cut off from the congregation as no provision was made in the Levitical constitution to forgive such sins (Numbers. 15:30, 31). But these were sins growing out of the weakness of the flesh, out of an imperfect insight into God’s law, out of heedlessness and lack of due circumspection (Leviticus 4:13; Leviticus 5:15–19; Numbers 15:22–29) and afterward looked back on with shame and regret. Realize, there is always an element of ignorance in every human transgression, which constitutes it human and not devilish. While this does not take away sinfulness, it mitigates the sin to render its forgiveness possible under the Old Covenant. Compare the words of the Lord, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34), with those of St. Paul. ‘I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly, in unbelief’ (I Timothy 1:13).” (14)
The Hebrew word for Sin Offering is chataat. Literally, a Sin Offering is a purification offering. It is not the only one to deal with sin, as the fifth offering will also deal with sins, but the emphasis of the Sin Offering is on the purification from sin. It emphasizes the principle of sin and atonement for the guilt of sin. Again, the Sin Offering focuses on the sin itself; however, the Trespass Offering focused on the practice of sin (i.e., sins) with the emphasis on the harmful effects of sin. In addition, the Sin Offering emphasizes the harm done by transgressing the Law of Moses which brought the Curses of the Law on the transgressor (Deuteronomy 28:15-58).
There are four unique features of the Sin Offering:
- the scriptural discussion on the Sin Offering is twice as long as on all previous offerings,
- the first time that the Sin Offering is mentioned is in this passage,
- the Sin Offering then becomes the most important of the five offerings. (It was not mentioned or practiced before, but with this commandment of Moses, it becomes the most important sacrifice, needing to be offered up even during the festivals),
- no frankincense is allowed with a sin offering (Leviticus 5:11) and
- the sacrifice was killed and the fat and kidneys offered in the same place as the Burnt Offering. However, the body of the bullock was burned outside the camp at the fatty ashes pile. (9) This was a ceremonially clean place that was located in the Kidron Valley once the temple was built in Jerusalem. (Leviticus 4:12) (13).
A male or female animal without blemish according to the social status of the petitioner: (4) (Leviticus 4:3 – 5:13)
- Bull for the high priest (religious ruler),
- Bull for the congregation,
- Male goat for a civil leader or ruler including the king,
- Female goat for the common person, or
- Female lamb for the common person,
- Two Doves for the poor, or
- Two Pigeons for the poor,
- A tenth of an ephah of flour (1) for the very poor. (i.e., a Meal Offering of fine wheat flour without olive oil or frankincense) (5)
In addition, the animal to be sacrificed had to meet the following three criteria:
- Condition – perfect without spot, blemish, disease, or deformity (cf. Malachi 1:8),
- Gender – Male or Female (4), and
- Age – generally, the animal had to be one year old [e.g., a lamb at the peak of life and health]. Sometimes it could be as young as eight days old (Leviticus 22:27) and or as old as three years. (2)
There were eight sequential steps of the Sin Offering ritual:
- the presentation of the sacrifice at the door of the Tabernacle by the Altar (Leviticus 4:4, 15, 23, 28), (refer back to Required Sacrifices above for details)
- an identification of the sinner with the offering. (This was when the sinner laid his hands upon the head of the offering indicating the imputing of the sin of the worshipper to the sacrificial animal, the imputing of the righteousness of the sacrificial animal to the worshipper, and represented that the worshipper understood he deserved the death that the animal was soon to suffer in his place). (Leviticus 4:4, 15, 24, 29),
- the confession of the sin that occasioned the sacrifice (Leviticus 5:5),
- the killing of the sacrifice, which was done by the petitioner himself (Leviticus 4:4, 15, 24, 29),
- the sprinkling of the blood. (see Blood Manipulations immediately below for details),
- the remainder of the blood was poured out at the base of the Altar of Sacrifice (Leviticus 4:7, 18, 25, 30),
- the fat and the kidneys were burned on the Altar (Leviticus 4:8-10, 19, 26) (i.e., the fatty tail, the fat covering the entrails, the two kidneys, and the fat on their sinews, and the protruding lobe on the liver were burned to ashes. However, the smoke was NOT considered to produce a soothing aroma to God (i.e., our sins smell awful to God!) with one exception, the female goat offered for a common person. (Leviticus 4:31)
- the body of the bullock was burned outside the camp at the fatty ashes pile (Leviticus 4:11, 12, 21) outside the camp, a ceremonially clean place. This was located in the Kidron Valley once the temple was built in Jerusalem. (Leviticus 4:12) (13) However, the goat or lambs were not burned outside the camp but rather eaten by the priests under strict guidance (Leviticus 6:24-30). The priest would then keep the animal skin or hide (except in the case of a Sin Offering (1) for the sin of a High Priest where it was burned at the fatty ashes pile outside the camp (Leviticus 4:3-12)) (2) This was a ceremonially clean place that was located in the Kidron Valley once the temple was built in Jerusalem. (Leviticus 4:12) (13).
This procedure differed according to the social status of the petitioner.
- If it were a poor man’s offering, the blood was sprinkled around the Altar.
- If the offering were that of a tribal ruler or a common person, the blood was applied upon the horns of the Altar of Sacrifice (Leviticus 4:25, 30).
- If the offering was for the high priest and the congregation of Israel, the priest took the blood into the Holy Place and sprinkled the blood seven times toward the veil, then applied the blood on the horns of the Altar of Incense, and poured out the remaining blood at the base of the Bronze Altar (Leviticus 4:6,7;4:17,18).
- If on the Day of Atonement, the blood was sprinkled upon the Mercy Seat on this one and only occasion. (This sprinkling of the blood upon the Mercy Seat would provide the blood for the very poor, who, when they offered a Sin Offering, were allowed to bring a bloodless offering. Nevertheless, the poor man’s sins were covered by blood because his Meal Offering was used as a Sin Offering placed upon the twice-daily Burnt Offering, thereby coming in contact with blood. Furthermore, on the Day of Atonement, one goat was offered up for the whole nation, with the animal’s blood sprinkled upon the Mercy Seat; on that occasion, then, the sins of the very, very poor were also taken care).
In summary, the distinctive purpose of the Sin Offering: to atone for sin and provide forgiveness for specific unintentional or non-defiant sins, where no restitution was required. God accepted the animal’s blood as a ransom payment for the particular sin that occasioned it and, by so doing, diverted His wrath from the sinner and, ultimately, to the Messiah on the cross. Many of the Feasts of Israel require a sin offering, as indicated in the table above.
Typological Meaning of the Sin Offering
The key typological meaning is the death of the Messiah as a satisfactory, substitutionary sacrifice to provide forgiveness of sins. The basic typological meaning is the Messiah as our sin-bearer. It typifies redemption for the sinner, the Messiah as our atonement, and forgiveness of sin through His blood.
But the hide of the bull, all its flesh along with its head and its legs, its entrails, and its dung—all the rest of the bull—he must bring outside the camp to a ceremonially clean place, to the fatty ash pile, and he must burn it on a wood fire; it must be burned on the fatty ash pile. (Leviticus 4:11–12 NET)
This is where the sin offering differs from the Burnt offering. In the case of the Burnt Offering where the entrails, head, and legs were washed, there is no mention of “offal,” which is the animal’s dung. Dung represents our sins. In the sin offering for the congregation, the hide, legs, entrails, and offal are taken outside the camp and burned, releasing an unpleasing odor, until it became ashes. Anything that has been reduced to ashes can never be burned again. This means the judgment has already gone through it with no judgment remaining. Thus signifying that Jesus “wholly consumed” all the just judgments of God’s wrath in His own body and blood (1), paying in full the sin-debt we incurred. Consequently, our sins are “wholly consumed” when we get saved. All sins past, present, and future. Hallelujah!
We have an altar that those who serve in the tabernacle have no right to eat from. For the bodies of those animals whose blood the high priest brings into the sanctuary as an offering for sin are burned outside the camp. Therefore, to sanctify the people by his own blood, Jesus also suffered outside the camp. (Hebrews 13:10–12 NET)
Jesus died outside of the walls of Jerusalem. He carried our sins which were completely burned up until they were all gone in the fires of God’s judgment! That is why Paul could state with absolute certainty that “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!”
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. For God achieved what the law could not do because it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4 NET)
Only the Sin Offering of a “female” goat for the common person provided a soothing aroma to God as it ascended (Leviticus 4:27-35). When female animals are the prescribed sacrifices then it is for mankind’s benefit. (4) “Common person” meaning for the benefit of everyone and not just the elite. “Goat” meaning for lost humanity as Jesus Christ revealed that on the day of judgment, God will separate believers, whom He identifies as sheep, from nonbelievers, whom He identifies as goats (Matthew 25:31-46). Standing behind this statement is a shepherding practice common to the ancient world (Ezekiel 34:17). (10 ) From God’s perspective, He was sensing in that smell the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus followed by His ASCENSION to Heaven! Including the joy brought in the presence of God’s angels (i.e., the joy brought to God our Father in whose presence the angels live) by the salvation of lost sinners! (Luke 15:10) This is the only sin offering that had this typology and hence the only one that brought a soothing aroma to God as it ascended.
Then he must remove all of its fat (just as fat was removed from the peace offering sacrifice) and the priest must offer it up in smoke on the altar for a soothing aroma to the Lord. So the priest will make atonement on his behalf and he will be forgiven. (Leviticus 4:31 NET)
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set out for him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1–2 NET)
In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:10 (NET)
I tell you, in the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to repent. (Luke 15:7 NET)
Therefore, be imitators of God as dearly loved children and live in love, just as Christ also loved us and gave himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God. (Ephesians 5:1,2 NET)
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth.” After he had said this, while they were watching, he was lifted up and a cloud hid him from their sight. (Acts 1:8,9 NET)
An interesting story from the Old Covenant connecting burnt offerings with the ascension.
The Lord’s messenger said to Manoah, “If I stay, I will not eat your food. But if you want to make a burnt sacrifice to the Lord, you should offer it.” (He said this because Manoah did not know that he was the Lord’s messenger.) Manoah said to the Lord’s messenger, “Tell us your name, so we can honor you when your announcement comes true.”The Lord’s messenger said to him, “You should not ask me my name, because you cannot comprehend it.”Manoah took a young goat and a grain offering and offered them on a rock to the Lord. The Lord’s messenger did an amazing thing as Manoah and his wife watched. As the flame went up from the altar toward the sky, the Lord’s messenger went up in it while Manoah and his wife watched. They fell facedown to the ground. The Lord’s messenger did not appear again to Manoah and his wife. After all this happened Manoah realized that the visitor had been the Lord’s messenger. (Judges 13:16–21 NET)
Animal Skin or Hide
The animal hides were saved and given to the priest (2). These hides point back to the Garden of Eden when the Lord God made garments of animal skin to clothe them. This event was the first indication that a blood sacrifice is necessary to pay the price for Adam’s transgression (1). The skins providing testimony to the efficacy of the sacrifice and the High Priest (pre-incarnate Jesus in this case) conducting the sacrificial ritual to “cover” sins by the death of animals. Ultimately to abolish sin through the death of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! (1)
The Lord God made garments from skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them. (Genesis 3:21 NET)
However, when the High Priest sinned and the requisite sin offering (1) was given, the skins are not saved but instead burned. Burned indicating the High Priest had failed to be the proper coverage for the nation of Israel and also, could not cover himself but rather must depend on God to restore the covering through the burnt offering (Leviticus 4:3-12). Note when Jesus offered Himself upon the cross as our sacrifice that His body, including His flesh or hide, was not allowed to see decay (i.e., destroyed). This signified that both the sacrifice (Jesus) and the High Priest (Jesus) (1) were effective in removing our sin and all our sins and giving us God’s righteousness! Hallelujah!
God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21 NET)
Sacrifices and Offerings of the Old Covenant Series:
- The Fire Sacrifices and Offerings of Israel – Introduction
- The Fire Sacrifices and Offerings of Israel – The Burnt Offering
- The Fire Sacrifices and Offerings of Israel – The Meal Offering
- The Fire Sacrifices and Offerings of Israel – The Peace Offering
- The Fire Sacrifices and Offerings of Israel – The Sin Offering
- The Fire Sacrifices and Offerings of Israel – The Trespass Offering
- The Fire Sacrifices and Offerings of Israel – The Red Heifer Offering
Biblical Typologies Series:
- The Old Leaven of the Kingdom of Darkness
- The New Leaven of the Kingdom of Heaven
- Finely Sifted (Wheat) Flour
- Olive Oil
- Waving and Heaving
(Peace, Wholeness, Success)
Dear friend, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, just as it is well with your soul. (3 John 1:2 NET)
(1) Select the link to open another article in a new tab with additional information.
(2) This article has been primarily adapted from: Fruchtenbaum, A. G. (1983). The Messianic Bible Study Collection (Vol. 180, p. 16). Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries.
(3) Wenham, G. J. (1981). Numbers: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 4, p. 220). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
(4) The male animal represents this sacrifice is for God’s benefit. Recall, Adam, a male, was made for God’s benefit.
“It follows that I show for what purpose God made man himself. As He contrived the world for the sake of man, so He formed man himself on His own account, as it were a priest of a divine temple, a spectator of His works and of heavenly objects. For he is the only being who, since he is intelligent and capable of reason, is able to understand God, to admire His works, and perceive His energy and power; for on this account he is furnished with judgment, intelligence, and prudence. On this account he alone, beyond the other living creatures, has been made with an upright body and attitude, so that he seems to have been raised up for the contemplation of his Parent. On this account he alone has received language, and a tongue the interpreter of his thought, that he may be able to declare the majesty of his Lord. Lastly, for this cause all things were placed under his control, that he himself might be under the control of God, their Maker and Creator. If God, therefore, designed man to be a worshipper of Himself, and on this account gave him so much honour, that he might rule over all things; it is plainly most just that he should worship Him who bestowed upon him such great gifts, and love man, who is united with us in the participation of the divine justice.”
Lactantius. (1886). A Treatise on the Anger of God. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), W. Fletcher (Trans.), Fathers of the Third and Fourth Centuries: Lactantius, Venantius, Asterius, Victorinus, Dionysius, Apostolic Teaching and Constitutions, Homily, and Liturgies (Vol. 7, p. 271). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.
Eve, a female, was made for the man Adam’s benefit and hence when female animals are prescribed in sacrifices then it is for mankind’s benefit.
The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion for him who corresponds to him.” (Genesis 2:18 NET)
(5) Merrill, E. H. (1998). The Pentateuch. In D. S. Dockery (Ed.), Holman concise Bible commentary (p. 41). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
(6) Sprinkle, J. M. (2003). Red Heifer. In T. D. Alexander & D. W. Baker (Eds.), Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch (p. 669). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
(7) Brand, C., Draper, C., England, A., Bond, S., Clendenen, E. R., & Butler, T. C. (Eds.). (2003). Cedar. In Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (p. 274). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
(8) Masterman, E. W. G. (1915). Hyssop. In J. Orr, J. L. Nuelsen, E. Y. Mullins, & M. O. Evans (Eds.), The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia (Vol. 1–5, p. 1445). Chicago: The Howard-Severance Company.
(9) Moody, D. L. (1875). Life Words from Gospel Addresses of D. L. Moody. (G. F. G. Royle, Ed.) (p. 6). London: John Snow & Co.
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(11) Kaiser, W. C., Jr. (1990). Exodus. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers (Vol. 2, p. 376). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
(12) Balfour, J. H. (1885). The Plants of the Bible (pp. 45–46). London; Edinburgh; New York: T. Nelson and Sons.
(13) Péter-Contesse, R., & Ellington, J. (1992). A handbook on Leviticus (p. 23). New York: United Bible Societies.
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