New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary


Lev 4:1 Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying-
God spoke to Moses, who then spoke to the Israelites (:2). He is presented as mediator between God and man, looking ahead to the greater prophet like him, Messiah, the Lord Jesus.

Lev 4:2 Speak to the children of Israel, saying, ‘If anyone sins unintentionally, in any of the things which Yahweh has commanded not to be done, and does any one of them-
We note that the legislation about the cities of refuge likewise reflected God's special concern about unintentional sin. He recognizes that there are different kinds of sin. And in this we see His sensitivity, for the other legal codes at the time saw everything in black and white terms of obedience or disobedience to legal statutes. The word for "unintentionally" is s.w. 'deceived' (Job 12:16). It could be that God also recognizes that some are deceived into sin, and therefore treats those who lead into sin more severely than those who are led into sin. Likewise the New Testament condemns false teachers, but seems to be more acceptive of the falsely taught, the misguided. 

Lev 4:3 if the anointed priest sins so as to bring guilt on the people, then let him offer for his sin, which he has sinned, a young bull without blemish to Yahweh for a sin offering-
Sins of ignorance still needed to be atoned for. Sin is a felt offence against God, whether or not we were aware of it at the time. If we accidentally step on someone’s foot and they don’t tell us about it until tomorrow, it doesn’t mean that we didn’t hurt them at the time. The sins we committed before baptism, in ignorance, were still felt by God and need atonement- which is available freely through being “in Christ”. David asked to be forgiven for the sins he committed which he didn’t know about (Ps. 19:12 cp. Ps. 90:8). We should pray the same. But this means we are asking for forgiveness for sin which we haven’t specifically repented of. We should likewise forgive others for their sins which although we so clearly feel them, they themselves don’t realize they have committed them. We can, if we wish, insist that we shall only forgive those who repent to us of their sins. But the problem with that approach is that as we forgive others, the basis we choose upon which to relate to them, so we will be forgiven (Mt. 6:12). If we trust we are forgiven for sins we aren’t conscious of, even though they are very clear to God and felt by Him, then we ought to forgive others for their sins even when they don’t perceive (at this point in their spiritual journey) that they have sinned.

Lev 4:4 He shall bring the bull to the door of the Tent of Meeting before Yahweh; and he shall lay his hand on the head of the bull, and kill the bull before Yahweh-
To lay the hand upon is a phrase which means more than merely touching the head, but implies leaning upon or pushing upon. It is rendered "lean his hand [upon a wall]" (Am. 5:19). It was an act of very conscious identity. The same phrase is used of how God's hand upholds those who spiritually fall (Ps. 37:24). So we see the mutuality of relationship between God and man. We strongly place our hand upon the offering of the Lord Jesus, and God places His hand upon us. Paul may have this idea in view when he speaks of how he grabs hold of Jesus and is grabbed hold of by Jesus (Phil. 3:12); just as the Lord seized hold of Peter drowning in the lake, as Peter grabbed hold of Him. That incident surely was a mini parable of our redemption.           

Lev 4:5 The anointed priest shall take some of the blood of the bull, and bring it to the Tent of Meeting-
‘Christ’ means ‘the anointed one’, and so Jewish minds would have associated ‘Jesus Christ’ with the priest who saves [‘Jesus’ means ‘Yahweh’s salvation’].

Lev 4:6 The priest shall dip his finger in the blood, and sprinkle some of the blood seven times before Yahweh, before the veil of the sanctuary-
The blood of the sin offering was to be sprinkled “before the LORD, before the veil" (Lev. 4:6,17). Yet the veil was a symbol of the flesh of the Lord Jesus at the time of His dying. At the time of the sprinkling of blood when the sin offering was made, the veil [the flesh of the Lord Jesus] was identifiable with Yahweh Himself. The blood of the offerings was poured out “before Yahweh" (Lev. 4:15 etc.), pointing forward to how God Himself, from so physically far away, “came down" so that the blood shedding of His Son was done as it were in His presence. And who is to say that the theophany that afternoon, of earthquake and thick darkness, was not the personal presence of Yahweh, hovering above crucifixion hill? Over the mercy seat (a symbol of the Lord Jesus in Hebrews), between the cherubim where the blood was sprinkled, “there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee" (Ex. 25:22). There we see the essence of God, and there in the cross we hear the essential word and message of God made flesh.

The sprinkling of the blood of the sacrifices around the altar is mentioned several times, but only for the sin offering do we read that the priest was to sprinkle it with his finger. This perhaps pointed forward to how there was to be a very personal connection between the priest and the atonement made for others, just as there was between the Lord Jesus and the atonement He made for us. The blood would presumably have made the priest unclean and unable to further officiate, again looking forward to the ending of the priestly function through the blood of the Lord Jesus.

Lev 4:7 The priest shall put some of the blood on the horns of the altar of sweet incense before Yahweh, which is in the Tent of Meeting-
The sweetness of the incense speaks of how pleasing is prayer to God; for incense represents prayer later in the Bible. But that acceptability and pleasure is dependent upon confession of sin, and the sacrifice of the blood of the Lord Jesus.

And he shall pour out all of the rest of the blood of the bull at the base of the altar of burnt offering, which is at the door of the Tent of Meeting-
We think of the blood of Christ trickling down the stake to the ground.

Lev 4:8 He shall take all the fat of the bull of the sin offering off of it: the fat that covers the inward parts, and all the fat that is on the inward parts-
There is huge emphasis upon the “inward parts” in the regulations about sacrifices. Our inward parts and thoughts of the heart are laid open before God and should be offered to Him, not just the externalities which men see (Heb. 4:12). The same word is used of Sarah's laughing "within herself" (Gen. 18:12). The sacrifice of Christ was so perfect because His innermost thoughts were offered to God. And it is our thoughts when nobody else is watching which are of the essence to God; "to be spiritually minded", as the New Testament expresses it. This is why Yahweh could not go up in "the midst" of Israel (Ex. 33:3; Num. 14:42; Dt. 1:42), because they didn't have Him in their midst. Thus to marry unbelievers would be a snare "in the midst of you" (Ex. 34:12), right in the inner mind which is what God seeks above all. David in the Psalms speaks of the "inward parts" of the human mind, which are critical in God's judgment of a person as wicked or righteous (e.g. Ps. 5:9; 36:1; 49:11 and Ps. 64:6, where "inward thought" is s.w. "inward parts"). It is those inward parts which were to be washed (Lev. 1:13), just as our innermost heart can be washed by the Spirit which is given at baptism. For this is the gift of the Spirit in the new covenant, whereby God's law is placed within our inward parts (s.w. Jer. 31:33; Ez. 36:26,27) by the God who can form the spirit of man in man's inward parts, the God who can work directly upon the human heart (Zech. 12:1).  

Lev 4:9 and the two kidneys, and the fat that is on them, which is by the loins, and the cover on the liver, with the kidneys, he shall take away-
"Take away" is the word usually used for declining, refusing etc. The idea may be that these internal organs were not to be eaten by the priests, but were to be wholly offered to God. For our inner things are to be wholly His. David came to understand that all the Mosaic emphasis upon the "kidneys" was because they represented the inner heart or mind. He often uses the word to describe his innermost thoughts (Ps. 7:9; 16:7; 26:2; 73:21; 139:13). Jeremiah likewise (Jer. 11:20; 12:2; 17:10; 20:12). The Hebrew for "kidneys" is a form of the word for "jewel"; for the innermost core thoughts of a person are so precious to God.  Likewise the Hebrew for "liver" is literally 'that which he heaviest / most valuable'. For the innermost thoughts are the weighty things to God. We see here the supreme importance of being spiritually minded.

Lev 4:10 as it is taken off of the bull of the sacrifice of peace offerings. The priest shall burn them on the altar of burnt offering-
The emphasized similarity with the peace offering was because the idea of the sin offering was to restore peace with God.

Lev 4:11 The bull’s skin, all its flesh, with its head, and with its legs, its inward parts, and its dung- 
The idea is, "the whole bull" (:12). In the same way as we cannot choose to live in isolation from the Father and Son, so we cannot separate ourselves from others who bear the same Name. The Scribe well understood all this: "There is one God... and to love him... and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices" (Mk. 12:32,33). Those whole offerings represented the whole body of Israel (Lev. 4:7-15). The Scribe understood that those offerings taught that all Israel were unified together on account of their bearing the same Name of Yahweh. We must love others who bear that Name "as ourselves", so intense is the unity between us.

Lev 4:12 even the whole bull shall he carry forth outside the camp to a clean place, where the ashes are poured out, and burn it on wood with fire. Where the ashes are poured out it shall be burned-
The Lord Jesus suffered and died, shedding the blood of atonement, "outside the camp" (Heb. 13:13). We are bidden go forth to the Lord Jesus "outside the camp", just as those who "sought Yahweh" did when there was no tabernacle (Ex. 33:7). The people watching Moses as he walked out to it, without the camp, therefore looks ahead to a faithless Israel lining the via Dolorosa and watching the Lord walk out to His place of crucifixion. And we are to get behind Him and follow Him there, stepping out from the mass of Israel. As the Lord Jesus suffered "outside the camp", so various parts of the Mosaic sacrifices were to be burnt there (Lev. 4:12,21; 8:17; 9:11; 16:27); and yet it was the blood of those sacrifices which achieved atonement (Heb. 13:11; Num. 19:3,9). "Outside the camp" was the place of excluded, condemned sinners (Lev. 13:46; 24:14; Num. 5:3,4; 15:35,36; 31:13,19), and it was here that the Lord Jesus died, in identification with us. 

Lev 4:13 If the whole congregation of Israel sins, and the thing is hidden from the eyes of the assembly, and they have done any of the things which Yahweh has commanded not to be done, and are guilty-
LXX "and they should do one thing forbidden of any of the commands of the Lord". James may have this in mind when he says that obeying all the law but breaking just one commandment will lead to condemnation (James 2:10). His argument becomes all the more powerful if he is alluding here, for the point is then made that this holds true even if that one commandment is broken in ignorance. Clearly the only way to justification with God is through faith in the Lord Jesus. 

Lev 4:14 when the sin in which they have sinned is known, then the assembly shall offer a young bull for a sin offering, and bring it before the Tent of Meeting-
The closest historical example of this is when Josiah discovered the book of the law, and realized that Israel were guilty of disobedience in ignorance. But he did far more than follow the ritual prescribed here. See on Lev. 6:5. Again we see how the Mosaic law was not a chain, a wearisome and limiting leash upon man, but rather a springboard to using personal initiative to respond to the principles taught- often to a far greater extent than mere obedience to the letter of the law. We see this in the way Boaz interpreted the Levirate law, and also the laws about allowing gleaning.

Lev 4:15 The elders of the congregation shall lay their hands on the head of the bull before Yahweh; and the bull shall be killed before Yahweh-
Before the priests who represented God. God Himself is in Heaven, but His representatives on earth are functionally Him to other people. We must therefore watch our behaviour and who we are, because we who have been baptized into His Name are His representatives on earth.


Lev 4:16 The anointed priest shall bring of the blood of the bull to the Tent of Meeting-
The sins of ignorance were the only offerings where the offering was to be brought to the tent of meeting, to be taken beyond the altar of burnt offering. It emphasized the gravity of what had been done; that God was especially interested in how man responds once he becomes aware of his failures. And that is an abiding principle.

Lev 4:17 and the priest shall dip his finger in the blood, and sprinkle it seven times before Yahweh, before the veil-
This describes the priest as sprinkling the blood "before the LORD, even before the veil". This implies that the veil and the "LORD" were associated, as if the Angel, the 'LORD', was just behind the veil, i.e. in the Most Holy. See on Ps. 78:60. The rending of the veil at the Lord's death therefore as it were displayed God Himself to men.

Lev 4:18 He shall put some of the blood on the horns of the altar which is before Yahweh, that is in the Tent of Meeting; and the rest of the blood he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering, which is at the door of the Tent of Meeting-
The altar in view is that of incense (as in :7). The ritual of the offering was very similar to that for the high priest if he personally realized he had sinned. Perhaps there is to be deduced the idea that the high priest was representative of all Israel. They were in him, and he was in them. This looks ahead to the representative nature of the Lord's sacrifice and relationship with His people; as a representative and not a substitute.

Lev 4:19 All its fat he shall take from it, and burn it on the altar-
If the sacrifice was to be treated as the high priest's sin offering (:20), we can assume this included the kidneys etc.; see on :9. 

Lev 4:20 Thus shall he do with the bull; as he did with the bull of the sin offering, so shall he do with this; and the priest shall make atonement for them, and they shall be forgiven-
Again and again the point is made- atonement and forgiveness was still required even for sins of ignorance. The hurt to God had still been caused. Repentance was still needed. Otherwise there would be a disinterest in learning God's ways, a preference to remain in ignorance. Whereas once we grasp that sins of ignorance are still culpable sins, we will rather be motivated to learn all we can of God's ways. If we love God, we will want to please Him, we will want to know what He wishes from us, we will desire to learn His ways.

Lev 4:21 He shall carry forth the bull outside the camp, and burn it as he burned the first bull. It is the sin offering for the assembly-
He needed help to carry an entire bull, hence LXX "they shall carry forth the calf whole without the camp".

Lev 4:22 When a ruler sins, and unwittingly does any one of all the things which Yahweh his God has commanded not to be done, and is guilty-
Again we note that guilt is still reckoned even for past sins of ignorance. See on :20. We don't read "If a ruler sins...", but "when". This ought to have warned Israel against desiring a human king; they were being reminded that all human leadership has feet of clay, and leaders sin.  

Lev 4:23 if his sin, in which he has sinned, is made known to him-
The double emphasis that he "has sinned" must be noted; ignorance doesn't work some kind of automatic atonement for sin. See on :20. "Is made known to him" could suggest he has his sin pointed out to him. We think of the situation with king Uzziah in 2 Chron. 26:18.

He shall bring as his offering a goat, a male without blemish-
No animal actually is without blemish. God recognizes that we will not attain perfection in this life, but we are to do our best towards it; and His love imputes righteousness to us, counting us as unblemished because of our status in Christ. For only Christ was the sacrifice totally without moral blemish (1 Pet. 1:19).

Lev 4:24 He shall lay his hand on the head of the goat, and kill it in the place where they kill the burnt offering before Yahweh. It is a sin offering-
For "lay his hand", see on :4. The scenario presented here is quite counter instinctive, especially in the societies of those days. You didn't point out sin to a leader (:23), and he typically would be proud and angry rather than humbly penitent.  

Lev 4:25 The priest shall take some of the blood of the sin offering with his finger, and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering. He shall pour out the rest of its blood at the base of the altar of burnt offering-
On one level, God surely foreknew that the scenario here described, whereby leaders of Israel humbly accepted rebuke and followed this ritual, was just not going to happen. And yet the whole legislation was given because this was God's hope. We think of all the detailed legislation of Ez. 40-48 for the exiles, in order that they might restore the temple. But it was not obeyed. This is one of the most tragic dimensions of God- setting up so much potential which is wasted. Perhaps David alludes to this legislation when he laments that there was no sacrifice prescribed for a king who had sinned as he had; for his sins were not those of ignorance but of presumption. 

Lev 4:26 All its fat he shall burn on the altar, like the fat of the sacrifice of peace offerings; and the priest shall make atonement for him concerning his sin, and he will be forgiven-
The record of the sin offering in Lev. 4:10,26,31,35 stresses an impressive four times that the animal was to be prepared and offered in a similar way to the peace offerings, (e.g.) "as the fat is taken away from the peace offering”. This serves to emphasize the link between the two sacrifices; the peace offering was in gratitude and rejoicing for the peace of sins forgiven. For this reason it was totally voluntary.

Lev 4:27 If anyone of the common people sins unwittingly, in doing any of the things which Yahweh has commanded not to be done, and is guilty-
LXX "and they should do one thing forbidden of any of the commands of the Lord". See on :13. "The common  people" is literally 'the people of the land / eretz', a phrase which usually refers to the non-Israelite peoples within the land promised to Abraham (Gen. 23:7; 42:6; Num. 13:18,28; 14:9; Dt. 28:10; Josh. 4:24; 1 Kings 8:43,53; 1 Chron. 5:25 etc.). This would be the likely understanding of the phrase here (and in Lev. 20:2,4).

Lev 4:28 if his sin, which he has sinned, is made known to him, then he shall bring for his offering a goat, a female without blemish, for his sin which he has sinned-
The ruler was to offer a male, but the common person was to offer a female. It may simply be because female animals cost less, and the ruler was to realize that he had greater responsibility in his failure and needed to show this in the kind of sacrifice he made.

Lev 4:29 He shall lay his hand on the head of the sin offering, and kill the sin offering in the place of burnt offering-
The person had to personally kill the animal, not delegate it to a priest or someone else. It would’ve been an unpleasant experience, but designed to teach the seriousness of sin. ‘This animal has done nothing wrong; it’s me who ought to be dying for my sin’ would’ve been the thought of all sensitive, spiritually minded people who did this. And this is our thought as we survey the cross with the son of God dying upon it for our sins.

Lev 4:30 The priest shall take some of its blood with his finger, and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering; and the rest of its blood he shall pour out at the base of the altar-
Because the altar represented the Lord Jesus (Heb. 13:10), it has been wrongly argued that these rituals speak of the cleansing of the nature of the Lord Jesus by His own death. This runs far too close to making the Lord Jesus a sinner who needed reconciliation with God; whereas His perfect character made Him for ever "one" with His Father, both before and after His death. Rather I suggest the blood of the sin offering was placed on the altar (and other items) in order to demonstrate how they achieved any forgiveness of sin. They only functioned in practice through their identification with the blood of Christ, represented by that of the bull slain as a sin offering. It as impossible that the blood of a bull could take away sin; it only functioned in this way insofar as God foresaw the blood of His Son (Heb. 10:4). The horns of the altar were perceived as the place of salvation for sinners (1 Kings 1:51; 2:28). But this was only finally to be true through the power of the blood of Christ. This idea was taught by the daubing of sin offering blood on the horns of the altar- as an act of identification of the altar with the blood, rather than to somehow make the metal of an unclean altar now clean. The whole system was dedicated to God, and accepted by Him, only through its association with the future blood of the Lord Jesus.   

Lev 4:31 All its fat he shall take away, like the fat is taken away from off of the sacrifice of peace offerings; and the priest shall burn it on the altar for a pleasant aroma to Yahweh; and the priest shall make atonement for him, and he will be forgiven-
“A pleasant aroma” is a very common phrase. This concept is important to God. It first occurs in Gen. 8:21 where it means that God accepted Noah's sacrifice and vowed that the pole of saving mercy in His character was going to triumph over that of necessary judgment. Under the new covenant, it is persons and not sacrifices or incense which are accepted as a "pleasant aroma" (Ez. 20:41). The word for "pleasant" means strong delight; this is how God's heart can be touched by genuine sacrifice. Those pleasing offerings represented us, the living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1). And so it is applied to us in 2 Cor. 2:15- if we are in Christ, we are counted as a pleasant aroma to God. The offering of ourselves to Him is nothing of itself, but because we are in Christ and counted as Him, we are a delight to God. Hence the colossal importance of being “in Christ”. "Aroma" or "smell" is a form of the Hebrew word ruach, the word for spirit or breath. God discerns the spirit of sacrifices, that was what pleased Him rather than the burning flesh of animals. Our attitude of mind in sacrifice can touch Him. Sacrifice is therefore accepted, Paul says, according to what a person has to give, but the essence is the attitude of mind behind it. We think of the two coins sacrificed by the widow.

Lev 4:32 If he brings a lamb as his offering for a sin offering, he shall bring a female without blemish-
For "female" see on :28. This looked ahead to the unblemished character of the Lord Jesus. The offering of sacrifices "without blemish" uses a word which is used about Abraham and Noah being "without blemish" (AV "perfect") before God (Gen. 6:9; 17:1). Although the word is used about the sacrifices, it is really more appropriate to persons- "you shall be perfect with Yahweh your God" (Dt. 18:13), "serve Him in sincerity (s.w. "without blemish")" (Josh. 24:14). The idea, therefore, was that the offerer was invited to see the animal as representative of himself. Our lives too are to be as "living sacrifices" (Rom. 12:1). And yet in practical terms, no animal is without blemish. They were to give the best they could, and God would count it as without blemish; as He does with us. David frequently uses the term in the Psalms about himself and the "upright", even though he was far from unblemished in moral terms.

Lev 4:33 He shall lay his hand on the head of the sin offering, and kill it for a sin offering in the place where they kill the burnt offering-
Many of the offerers would never have killed an animal. The experience would have been traumatic for some of them, and a powerful lesson in the effect of sin, even if committed unwittingly.

Lev 4:34 The priest shall take some of the blood of the sin offering with his finger, and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering; and all the rest of its blood he shall pour out at the base of the altar-
"The base of the altar" points ahead to the significance of the blood at the foot of the cross of the Lord Jesus.

Lev 4:35 All its fat he shall take away, like the fat of the lamb is taken away from the sacrifice of peace offerings; and the priest shall burn them on the altar, on the offerings of Yahweh made by fire; and the priest shall make atonement for him concerning his sin that he has sinned, and he will be forgiven’-
The sin of crucifying the Lord Jesus is very generously presented as a sin of ignorance by the Lord's saying that “they know not what they do”, confirmed by Peter's appeal to repent although “Through ignorance you did it” (Lk. 23:34; Acts 3:17). Repentance was therefore encouraged on the basis of having had sin made known to them. And the offering for that sin had already been made, in the Lord's death. Their sin of [apparent] ignorance was therefore in fact the forgiveness for their sin- if they actualized it by recognition and repentance.