If any member of the community sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD’s commands, when they realize their guilt and the sin they have committed becomes known, they must bring as their offering for the sin they committed a female goat without defect.
— Leviticus 4:27–28 (NIV)
Everyone roared with laughter at Maggie’s story about Brad’s klutziness in fixing the car. Brad was mortified.
Thad had been paying bills online and then, without ever really planning to, he found himself deep in pornography. Melanie walked in and found him viewing images he had no business seeing.
Arthur and Gabriela thought they were just getting together with some friends from church, but then they found themselves caught up in an angry coup to get rid of the pastor. Six months later, the church was in shambles, and Arthur and Gabriela were wondering how they let themselves get involved in the mess.
Sometimes we sin without meaning to. We aim for righteousness, honor and wisdom, but we miss by a mile. Leviticus 4:2 introduces a Hebrew word for sin that means “to miss the mark.” George R. Knight, professor of church history at Andrews University Theological Seminary (Berrien Springs, Michigan), explains, “You have missed, not because you are wicked, but because you are stupid, silly, careless, inattentive, perhaps lazy, or more probably because you do not possess the proper aim in life.”
Add to that Hebrew word for sin the word “unintentionally,” and it suggests someone wandering away like a silly sheep or someone who isn’t thinking. We sometimes feel we ought to be given a break if we didn’t really mean to sin. But the Bible doesn’t cut us any slack. Whether we mean it or not, sin damages our relationship with God and with others. Anyone who is married knows that unintentional hurts, such as teasing about someone’s weaknesses or being chronically late or missing a birthday, can do a lot of harm.
Leviticus 4 shows that God takes unintentional sins seriously. Forgiveness is available, but it doesn’t come cheap. No quick, “Oops, sorry. Guess I wasn’t thinking.” Specific instructions were given in Leviticus 4 for how different groups were to deal with these kinds of sins. While the details differed a little from one group to another, the basic corrective steps were the same for each situation: bring an offering, then have it sacrificed to atone for the sin.
Today, we who confess Jesus Christ as Savior are grateful that we don’t have to go through the laborious and gruesome atonement rituals of the Old Testament. Still, as we read through the requirements in Leviticus, we realize how the sacrificial system illustrates the seriousness of sin. These sin sacrifices did not overdramatize the sinner’s situation; rather, they underdramatized it. The blood of animals could never pay for sin, whether unintentional or not. God mercifully accepted such sacrifices until his plan could be carried out to give his one and only Son, Jesus, as the complete sacrifice for sin.
Sin is terrible—even when it’s unintentional. Praise God that Christ’s death provides forgiveness for us and that his indwelling Spirit gives us the strength to aim straight at godliness.
- What unintentional sins have we committed that proved our aim was way off?
- What happens when we do not take such sins as seriously as God does?
- As we read Leviticus 4:27–35, let’s imagine doing each corrective step. What would it feel like? How would we be affected?