Notes (NET Translation)
5:14 Then the Lord spoke to Moses:
5:15 “When a person commits a trespass and sins by straying unintentionally from the regulations about the Lord’s holy things, then he must bring his penalty for guilt to the Lord, a flawless ram from the flock, convertible into silver shekels according to the standard of the sanctuary shekel, for a guilt offering.
In this passage a “trespass” (ma`al) involves either sacrilege against sanctuary property or the violation of the covenant oath. Both cases are ultimately sacrilege against God himself (Milgrom 1991, p. 345-351). Milgrom’s survey of biblical, rabbinic, and Hittite sources leads him to believe the term “the Lord’s holy things” refers to “all of the sancta, major and minor, from the time of their dedication until, if they be food, they are eaten or incinerated” (Milgrom 1991, p. 325-326). Exactly what constituted an inadvertent sin against the sancta is not specified but involved things like eating holy food (Lev. 22:14) or assuming priestly authority (2 Chr. 26:16-18).
What the NET calls a guilt offering could also be called a reparation offering (‘asham). This offering differs from the sin/purification offering in that compensation is called for. A flawless ram was needed but it is unclear what the phrase “convertible into silver shekels” means. The rabbis held that the ram had to be worth at least two shekels because the term is plural. Another option is that monetary restitution could be paid in place of the animal sacrifice. Lev. 7:1-10 suggests that the blood of the animal was splashed on the altar’s sides, that the fat of the animal was consumed on the altar, and that the meat of the animal was eaten by the priests.
5:16 And whatever holy thing he violated he must restore and must add one fifth to it and give it to the priest. So the priest will make atonement on his behalf with the guilt offering ram and he will be forgiven.”
The reparation offering draws attention to the fact that sin has both a social and a spiritual dimension. It not only affects our relation with our neighbor, it affects our creator. It influences our relationship vertically with God as well as horizontally with our fellow man. Just as we must put ourselves right with men by paying them back for the wrongs we have done them, so we must compensate our heavenly Father for the debts we run up against him. (Wenham 1979, loc. 1449-1452)
5:17 “If a person sins and violates any of the Lord’s commandments which must not be violated (although he did not know it at the time, but later realizes he is guilty), then he will bear his punishment for iniquity
The phrase “realizes he is guilty” refers to the feeling of guilt the individual undergoes (Milgrom 1991, p. 342-345). Perhaps this case involves an instance where a person suspects he sinned but does not know exactly how. The context suggests a sin against sanctuary property is in view.
5:18 and must bring a flawless ram from the flock, convertible into silver shekels, for a guilt offering to the priest. So the priest will make atonement on his behalf for his error which he committed (although he himself had not known it) and he will be forgiven.
5:19 It is a guilt offering; he was surely guilty before the Lord.”
The second half of this verse could also be translated “he has made reparation to the Lord” (Wenham 1979, loc. 1412). This fits better with the view that the offerer was not sure of his guilt.
6:1 (5:20) Then the Lord spoke to Moses:
The verse number in the MT is given in parentheses.
6:2 (5:21) “When a person sins and commits a trespass against the Lord by deceiving his fellow citizen in regard to something held in trust, or a pledge, or something stolen, or by extorting something from his fellow citizen,
The sins mentioned in 6:2-3 [5:21-22] basically involve the theft of property or money. Presumably there were no witnesses (it’s one person’s word against the other) so, when sued, the defendant lied under oath and asserted his innocence. This oath is alluded to in the phrase “swears falsely” in Lev. 6:3 [5:22]. The false oath invoked the name of God. “The reparation offering, which in vv 15-19 was enjoined for real or suspected desecration of God’s property, is now imposed for the desecration of God’s name” (Milgrom 1991, p. 365).
6:3 (5:22) or has found something lost and denies it and swears falsely concerning any one of the things that someone might do to sin –
6:4 (5:23) when it happens that he sins and he is found guilty, then he must return whatever he had stolen, or whatever he had extorted, or the thing that he had held in trust, or the lost thing that he had found,
The sinner was already aware of his guilt and so it is surprising that sacrificial atonement was permitted. It seems that the sinner’s remorse/repentance has reduced his intentional sin to an inadvertent sin, rendering it eligible for sacrificial expiation.
The admission by the guilty party enables the victim of a crime to recover his lost property in a case where there is no other legal recourse; that is, although the criminal is under suspicion, there is no proof of his guilt. Whereas, in the first place, the overriding objective in biblical law is to prevent theft, fraud, robbery, and other crimes, in the event they occur, it becomes of prime importance to recover what was lost or damaged on behalf of the victim. God accepts the expiation even of one who swears falsely in His name because the guilty person is willing to make restitution to the victim of his crime, for God is offended less by the desecration of His name than by disobedience of His law, which produces violence among men. (Levine 1989, p. 33)
6:5 (5:24) or anything about which he swears falsely. He must restore it in full and add one fifth to it; he must give it to its owner when he is found guilty.
The sinner must make restitution to man before he makes the offering to God (cf. Matt. 5:23-24).
Another notable feature of this law is the low level of restitution made to the man who had lost his property, in comparison with the law in Exod. 22:6ff. There, for similar offenses, double restitution was the norm (200 percent), whereas here it is only one and one fifth (120 percent) restitution plus a ram. Traditionally this discrepancy has been accounted for as follows: Exodus envisages a situation where the offender is convicted on the evidence presented by the plaintiff, but in Leviticus the culprit confesses his guilt. Making the penalty a low one should have encouraged voluntary surrender. (Wenham 1979, loc. 1421-1424)
6:6 (5:25) Then he must bring his guilt offering to the Lord, a flawless ram from the flock, convertible into silver shekels, for a guilt offering to the priest.
6:7 (5:26) So the priest will make atonement on his behalf before the Lord and he will be forgiven for whatever he has done to become guilty.”
Hartley, John E. Leviticus. Dallas, Tex.: Word Books, 1992.
Levine, Baruch A. Leviticus. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989.
Milgrom, Jacob. Leviticus 1-16. New York: Doubleday, 1991.
Rooker, Mark, and Dennis R. Cole. Leviticus. Kindle Edition. Holman Reference, 2000.
Wenham, Gordon J. The Book of Leviticus. Kindle Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979.