Leviticus 4


The law concerning the sin-offering for transgressions committed

through ignorance, 1, 2.

For the priest thus sinning, 3-12.

For the sins of ignorance of the whole congregation, 13-21.

For the sins of ignorance of a ruler, 22-26.

For the sins of ignorance of any of the common people, 27-35.


Verse 2. If a soul shall sin through ignorance] That is, if

any man shall do what God has forbidden, or leave undone what God

has commanded, through ignorance of the law relative to these

points; as soon as the transgression or omission comes to his

knowledge, he shall offer the sacrifice here prescribed, and

shall not suppose that his ignorance is an excuse for his sin. He

who, when his iniquity comes to his knowledge, refuses to offer

such a sacrifice, sins obstinately and wilfully, and to him there

remains no other sacrifice for sin-no other mode by which he can

be reconciled to God, but he has a certain fearful looking for of

judgment-which shall devour such adversaries; and this seems the

case to which the apostle alludes, Heb 10:26, &c., in the words

above quoted. There have been a great number of subtle questions

started on this subject, both by Jews and Christians, but the

above I believe to be the sense and spirit of the law.

Verse 3. If the priest that is anointed] Meaning, most

probably, the high priest. According to the sin of the people;

for although he had greater advantages than the people could

have, in being more conversant with the law of God, and his lips

should understand and preserve knowledge, yet it was possible

even for him, in that time in which the word of God had not been

fully revealed, to transgress through ignorance; and his

transgression might have the very worst tendency, because the

people might be thereby led into sin. Hence several critics

understand this passage in this way, and translate it thus: If

the anointed priest shall lead the people to sin; or, literally,

if the anointed priest shall sin to the sin of the people; that

is, so as to cause the people to transgress, the shepherd going

astray, and the sheep following after him.

Verse 4. Lay his hand upon the bullock's head]

See Clarke on Le 1:4.

Verse 6. Seven times] See Clarke on Ex 29:30.

The blood of this sacrifice was applied in three different ways:

1. The priest put his finger in it, and sprinkled it seven times

before the veil, Le 4:6. 2. He put some of it on the horns of

the altar of incense. 3. He poured the remaining part at the

bottom of the altar of burnt-offerings, Le 4:7.

Verse 12. Without the camp] This was intended

figuratively to express the sinfulness of this sin, and the

availableness of the atonement. The sacrifice, as having the sin

of the priest transferred from himself to it by his confession

and imposition of hands, was become unclean and abominable, and

was carried, as it were, out of the Lord's sight; from the

tabernacle and congregation it must be carried without the camp,

and thus its own offensiveness was removed, and the sin of the

person in whose behalf it was offered. The apostle (Heb 13:11-13)

applies this in the most pointed manner to Christ: "For the bodies

of those beasts whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the

high priest for sin, are burned without the camp. Wherefore JESUS

also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood,

suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto him

without the camp, bearing his reproach."

Verse 13. If the whole congregation of Israel sin] This

probably refers to some oversight in acts of religious worship,

or to some transgression of the letter of the law, which arose

out of the peculiar circumstances in which they were then found,

such as the case mentioned 1Sa 14:32, &c., where the people,

through their long and excessive fatigue in their combat with the

Philistines, being faint, flew on the spoil, and took sheep,

oxen, and calves, and slew them on the ground, and did eat with

the blood; and this was partly occasioned by the rash adjuration

of Saul, mentioned 1Sa 14:24:

Cursed be the man that eateth any food until evening.

The sacrifices and rites in this case were the same as those

prescribed in the preceding, only here the elders of the

congregation, i. e., three of the sanhedrim, according to

Maimonides, laid their hands on the head of the victim in the

name of all the congregation.

Verse 22. When a ruler hath sinned] Under the term

nasi, it is probable that any person is meant who held any kind

of political dignity among the people, though the rabbins

generally understand it of the king.

A kid of the goats was the sacrifice in this case, the rites

nearly the same as in the preceding cases, only the fat was burnt

as that of the peace-offering. See Le 4:26, and Le 3:5.

Verse 27. The common people] am haarets, the

people of the land, that is, any individual who was not a priest,

king, or ruler among the people; any of the poor or ordinary

sort. Any of these, having transgressed through ignorance, was

obliged to bring a lamb or a kid, the ceremonies being nearly the

same as in the preceding cases. The original may denote the very

lowest of the people, the labouring or agricultural classes.

The law relative to the general cases of sins committed through

ignorance, and the sacrifices to be offered on such occasions, so

amply detailed in this chapter, may be thus recapitulated. For

all sins and transgressions of this kind committed by the people,

the prince, and the priest, they must offer expiatory offerings.

The person so sinning must bring the sacrifice to the door of the

tabernacle, and lay his hands upon its head, as in a case already

referred to, acknowledging the sacrifice to be his, that he

needed it for his transgression; and thus he was considered as

confessing his sin, and the sin was considered as transferred to

the animal, whose blood was then spilt to make an atonement.

See Clarke on Le 1:4.

Such institutions as these could not be considered as terminating

in themselves, they necessarily had reference to something of

infinitely higher moment; in a word, they typified Him whose soul

was made an offering for sin, Isa 53:10. And taken out of this

reference they seem both absurd and irrational. It is obviously

in reference to these innocent creatures being brought as

sin-offerings to God for the guilty that St. Paul alludes

2Co 5:21, where he says,

He (God) made him to be sin (αμαρτιαν, a sin-offering) for us WHO

KNEW NO SIN, that we might be made the righteousness of God-holy

and pure by the power and grace of God, in or through him.

And it is worthy of remark, that the Greek word used by the apostle

is the same by which the Septuagint, in more than fourscore places

in the Pentateuch, translate the Hebrew word hattaah, sin,

which in all those places our translation renders sin-offering.

Even sins of ignorance cannot be unnoticed by a strict and holy

law; these also need the great atonement: on which account we

should often pray with David, Cleanse thou me from secret faults!

Ps 19:12. How little attention is paid to this solemn subject!

Sins of this kind-sins committed sometimes ignorantly, and more

frequently heedlessly, are permitted to accumulate in their

number, and consequently in their guilt; and from this very

circumstance we may often account for those painful desertions,

as they are called, under which many comparatively good people

labour. They have committed sins of ignorance or heedlessness,

and have not offered the sacrifice which can alone avail in their

behalf. How necessary in ten thousand cases is the following

excellent prayer! "That it may please thee to give us true

repentance; to forgive us all our sins, negligences, and

ignorances; and to endue us with the grace of thy Holy Spirit, to

amend our lives according to thy HOLY WORD."-Litany.

Copyright information for Clarke