Leviticus 4, Unintentional Sins
This chapter deals with the required sacrifices for “unintentional” sins. Priests (v. 3), the whole congregation (v. 13), leaders (v. 22), the common ordinary Israelite (v. 27) are all bound to offer the specified sacrifices. Everyone sins and has sinned. As one writer said, “Sin does not distinguish between classes of people…It is clear that God does not abandon his people in their sin.” (Currid)
The unintentional sins were those sins committed on account of ignorance or inadvertently. These are distinguished from sins committed “with a high hand” (Num. 15:30) and such a person is to be cut off because “he has despised the word of the Lord and has broken his commandment” (v. 31). Remember, many of these detailed requirements could have been easily overlooked and God recognized their oversight. However, such ignorance, though it mitigated the offense, did not relieve the offender of his guilt.
The priest’s offense affected the whole people (“thus bringing guilt on the people” v. 3) and therefore the largest costly animal was offered, a bull. So serious is the offense, he must take the blood “in the tent of meeting” (a place not permitted for the laypeople) — the blood purified the very border of the Holy of Holies (cf. Currid). The requirements in vv. 8-10 are the same as the peace offerings of chapter 3, except the sacrifice is destroyed and not eaten.
As the priest’s guilt implicated the whole people, so the people’s sins required the elders to act in behalf of the whole people (v. 15) — they acted as the representatives who performed all the required sacrifice for the people who sinned. Like the priest, these elders offered up a bull. This sacrifice made an “atonement” for the people and their sins were “forgiven” (v. 20).
The sins of a “leader” (v. 22) and the common Israelite (v. 27) were less heinous and therefore the sacrifices were not as costly. Because of this, the priest does not enter into the Holy Place to splatter blood because “no defilement has taken place in the sanctuary, and thus there is no need of blood there” (Currid).
Some observations and applications can be made from this passage. Ignorance does not excuse our guilt – it might mitigate it but it still required forgiveness of sins. When it comes to God’s requirements, ignorance is not bliss!
This chapter also shows how seriously God takes our sins, even it was unintentional. Why? Because we did “the things that by the Lord’s commandments ought not to be done” (vv. 13, 27). We might think it is a small thing but it is a true offense because it is against God’s commandments. We sinned against God — our ignorance does not relieve us of our guilt.
Already implied in this exposition is that sin is against God’s command, His Word. However large or small the infraction, it is still defined as a sin because it is against God’s command, His strict requirement. It is called “unintentional sin” but sin nonetheless.
Lastly, let us marvel at the breadth and depth of God’s mercy to us in Christ. His once for all sacrifice for our sins has purchase pardon for all our sins, both intentional and unintentional. So let us freely go to our Heavenly Father and confess them because in the Lord there is forgiveness.