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 Trespass Offering (Leviticus 5:14-6:7)
The fifth and last Levitical offering is called the Trespass Offering. Two basic Hebrew words are used for this offering: first, the word asham, which carries the concept of guilt; thus, this offering is referred to as a Trespass Offering, a Reparation Offering, or Guilt Offering. Secondly, the Hebrew word is maal, which basically means “a violation.” It has to do with an act of misappropriation or denial of that which is rightfully due to another, with the word “another” being God or man. (2)
The emphasis of this offering is on the practice of sin (i.e., sins) rather than the sin itself. The Sin Offering focuses on the sin itself; however, the Trespass Offering focused on the practice of sin with the emphasis on the harmful effects of sin upon others. Therefore, this offering requires confession, compensation, and restitution for the wrong done. It was an expiation, making amends, reparation, or atonement of trespass claims of both God and man. (6) Consequently, the Book of Leviticus discussed this offering in two parts: first, sins or trespasses against God (Leviticus 5:14-19); and secondly, trespasses against man (Leviticus 6:1-7).
This offering was required when one committed a violation, a maal. This was an act of misappropriation, a denial to either God or man of his rightful due. It was an offense that caused damage or loss that may have been either unintentional or intentional.
Again, the main idea of the Trespass Offering was satisfaction for the restoration of rights that had been violated. Whereas the main idea of the Sin Offering was atonement for sin. This offering was for intentional and unintentional sins committed against others that were not intentionally defiant sins against God (Numbers 15:30).
There were five occasions when the Trespass Offering was required when:
- the sin committed is listed as a trespass sin in Leviticus 5:1-4 (i.e., failing to testify when a witness, unknowingly touching anything ceremonially unclean, or unknowingly swearing a rash oath),
- the sin committed is listed as a trespass sin in Leviticus 5:15,17;6:2,3 (i.e., unknown at the time trespass of Holy things, unknown at the time trespass of the Lord’s commandments, or trespass of neighbor by deception, extortion, stealing, or false oath),
- cleansing of a Jewish leper as he was healed of his leprosy (Leviticus 14:10–14),
- fornication was committed with a female slave, who was betrothed to another (Leviticus 19:20–22), and
- needed for the cleansing of a Nazirite who was defiled by touching a dead body during his vow (Numbers 6:9–12).
Unlike the Sin Offering the Trespass offering required restitution by the payment of a fine to the wronged party. If the sin could be assessed for monetary compensation then the guilty party had to bring a ram (4) for the guilt offering, as well as pay compensation in property or in silver of the actual value plus a twenty percent fine. That is, some sins are more serious than others as evidenced by the different sizes of offerings required for restitution. The ram itself was not part of the restitution, but rather for the atonement of the trespass before God.
There are four salient lessons of the Trespass Offering:
- that the offender must give complete satisfaction to the offended,
- the concept that both satisfaction and compensation were essential
- that sin defiles and this defilement has both spiritual and social connotations, and
- in cases of sin that caused harm to others, restitution had to be made before making the offering. (This same principle is taught in Matthew 5:23,24; 6:12).
So then, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother and then come and present your gift. (Matthew 5:23,24 NET)
and forgive us our debts, as we ourselves have forgiven our debtors. (Matthew 6:12 NET)
There are six basic steps of the Trespass Offering:
- the offerer (i.e. the offender) presented the sacrifice (always a ram without blemish) and, in this presentation, had to estimate the proper value of the crime, while also estimating the value of the ram (Leviticus 5:15; 6:2–6),
- the offerer would then need to make restitution, which had to be made before the actual atonement (Leviticus 5:16; 6:5). As part of this restitution, he had to pay the full value of the deed plus a twenty percent fine. If the sin were against God, the twenty percent fine was paid to the priest; if it were against another person, it was paid to the offended, (5)
- the offerer would then carry out the atonement itself, in which the ram was offered up and the blood of the ram was shed (Leviticus 5:15, 18),
- the blood of the ram was sprinkled on the sides of the Altar of Sacrifice by the priest (Leviticus 7:2),
- the fat (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) of the Ram was burned, but the smoke was NOT considered to produce a soothing aroma to God (i.e., our trespasses smell awful to God!) (Leviticus 7:3-5), and
- the remainder of the sacrifice was eaten by the priests in a Holy Place as it was most holy (Leviticus 7:6).
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
- Age – generally, the animal had to be one year old [i.e., a Ram 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 is no explicit mention of the Trespass Offering in the New Testament, but it is found implicitly in the death of the Messiah. Isaiah 53:10 states that the Messiah was to be a Trespass Offering, and this chapter is quoted in the New Testament:
- Isaiah 53:1 is quoted in John 12:38 and Romans 10:16,
- Isaiah 53:4 is quoted in Matthew 8:17,
- Isaiah 53:5,6 is quoted in 1 Peter 2:24,25,
- Isaiah 53:9 is quoted in 1 Peter 2:23, and
- Isaiah 53:12 is quoted in Luke 22:37.
In the famous messianic prophecy of Isaiah 53:10, speaking about the death of Jesus the Messiah, it states that God will make Him an offering for sin. The word for offering for guilt is asham, which has to do with the Trespass Offering meaning that Jesus removed the harmful effects of our Trespass sins.
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. (Isaiah 53:10 ESV)
In addition, this offering presents Jesus the Messiah who died for our trespasses on the cross restoring what He did not take away (Psalms 69:4).
Those who hate me without cause are more numerous than the hairs of my head. Those who want to destroy me, my enemies for no reason, outnumber me. They make me repay what I did not steal! (Psalm 69:4 NET)
Jesus answered to God for our trespasses and paid our debt by His shed blood. Furthermore, He has added more than what was taken away by man’s rebellion! Infinitely more than twenty percent since the value of Jesus is infinite and the new man is a joint-heir with Jesus! Consequently, Jesus brought more glory to God, and more blessings to mankind than were had before sin entered the world. Hallelujah!
Consequently, the Trespass Offering typifies Jesus the Messiah’s overpayment for the penalty of our trespasses against our Holy God. Atonement was made by the blood of the offering and the trespasser (mankind) was forgiven thus restoring fellowship between the offender (mankind) and the offended (God).
Again, the Trespass Offering covered the sins of which the offerer was unaware. Jesus, as our Trespass Offering on the cross, made forgiveness for those that unintentionally crucified Him available when He said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” On the following Pentecost, Peter by the Holy Spirit preached to those in Jerusalem concerning this unintentional sin with the result that 3000 repented (1) and were saved that day! (Acts 2:14-41 NET)
But Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” Then they threw dice to divide his clothes. (Luke 23:34 NET)
Therefore let all the house of Israel know beyond a doubt that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ.” Now when they heard this, they were acutely distressed and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “What should we do, brothers?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far away, as many as the Lord our God will call to himself.” With many other words he testified and exhorted them saying, “Save yourselves from this perverse generation!” So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand people were added. (Acts 2:36–41 NET)
Sacrifices and Offerings of the Old Covenant
- The Five Fire Sacrifices and Offerings of Israel – Introduction
- The Five Fire Sacrifices and Offerings of Israel – The Burnt Offering
- The Five Fire Sacrifices and Offerings of Israel – The Meal Offering
- The Five Fire Sacrifices and Offerings of Israel – The Peace Offering
- The Five Fire Sacrifices and Offerings of Israel – The Sin Offering
- The Five Fire Sacrifices and Offerings of Israel – The Trespass Offering
(1) Left-click on the underlined phrase to open another article in a different tab with more explanation.
(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 other 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) “…the Leviticus passage [Leviticus 5:16] required a twenty percent restitution, but Exodus 22:4-14 required a one hundred percent restitution. So is there a contradiction between Leviticus and Exodus? The answer is “no,” and the solution is in examining the context. In the Book of Exodus, the offender is convicted by the evidence, and if so, then the restitution must be one hundred percent. But in the Leviticus passage, the offender voluntarily surrenders and confesses his sin, so the restitution is only twenty percent.”
Fruchtenbaum, A. G. (1983). The Messianic Bible Study Collection (Vol. 180, p. 18). Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries.
(6) From atonement for sin in the OT came such terms as expiation and forgiveness. From the idea of atonement for the wrath or judgment of God came propitiation and reconciliation. Hence in modern English translations various terms attempt to express the concept of atonement provided by God… In the Bible both expiation and propitiation are part of God’s atoning work. Christ’s sacrifice both propitiates (turns away) the wrath of God and expiates… [removes] human sin. God’s redemptive work is both personal, or relational, and objective. When a biblical context concentrates on God’s wrath, propitiation is involved; when human sin is the focus, then redemption provides expiation… That expiation means “removal of sin” underscores a fundamental dimension of redemption: “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Psalms 103:12).
Lyon, R. W., & Toon, P. (1988). Atonement. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 1, p. 232, 746). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.