If you have ever testified against someone who has committed a crime, then you know how stressful and even fearful this can be. Though the desire for justice wells up in us, turning a blind eye to crime or an injustice is our human tendency when fear and stress comes to roost in our hearts. We may make an anonymous call to the police about a drug dealer in our neighborhood, but will we testify against him or her in court when called upon? Prosecutors face this digression daily in the attempt to convict wrongdoers.
In the world of Leviticus, absolving oneself of responsibility for a crime witnessed is unacceptable (5:1). There is a concern in this section for courage to speak against injustice, the need for ritual cleanliness, and thoughtfulness in taking oaths rather than rashly committing property or services to people. Again, there is an ongoing sensitivity to the poor, evidenced by two exceptional gifts to the lamb or goat for the guilt offering (5:6, 7, 11).
The shame of guilt is wrongdoing against the Lord and the guilt offering is a way to restore that relationship between the offender and God through sacrifice, an offering of a lamb, goat, ram, dove, or grain.
Leviticus 6 and 7 review and nuance earlier chapters. Why the repetition? First, repetition was not such a vile thing in ancient literature as it sometimes is viewed today. Second, additional nuance is placed on the burnt, grain, fellowship, sin, and guilt offerings. For instance, emphasis is placed on treatment of neighbor in 6:1-7. He must make restitution.
After reading again through chapter 6-7, notice the five major offering categories and a sixth that is mentioned in afterthought, in the summary statement in 7:37: the ordination offering, which is specific for the beginning of one’s life in the priesthood.
The most important point of the six offerings is that sin separates the community from God, and something must be done about it. Sin also separates people, and something must be done about it. In the tabernacle system of Israel, offerings were implemented in order to restore fellowship with God and one another. Sin is viewed not only as a moral failure but also as an offense against one another and ultimately against God.
There is a recurring theme of comfort to the offender. Read that again: the offender, not the offended. Pay back what you owe and add to it, make your offering, and you will be forgiven. The phrase is repeated several times in this section: “and s/he will be forgiven.” Even if there’s a masculine pronoun there, often it was used as it could be used in English and other languages today, but I no longer accept to use masculine language exclusively for inclusion, because it’s exclusive and has been exclusive by nature, so I use forms such as s/he or she or she/he or he/she.
Don’t we all need to hear those words over and over? The tabernacle sacrificial system provided a way for Israel to feel and hear these ritual words of forgiveness that are repeated many times between Leviticus 4-7 as the rituals are described in detail. “And s/he will be forgiven.”
The following questions can be used in any setting with any Bible text, and we reprint them in our church so we can learn them by heart.
1. What do you like about the story?
2. What do you not like about story?
3. What do you think the story is saying to the original audience?
4. What is the story saying to us today?
5. What is the story calling us to believe?
6. What is the story calling us to do?
7. Who can you share this story with this week?
Greg Taylor preaches for The Journey. Greg’s wife, Jill, teaches math at Broken Arrow High School and Tulsa Community College. Greg and Jill have three adult children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob. Greg is the author of many books, including his latest co-authored with Randy Harris, Daring Faith: Meeting Jesus in the Book of John.