Infectious Iniquity (Leviticus 4:1-6:7)
Topic: One Lord: What is Man? Passage: Leviticus 4:1–6:7
(One Lord: So Great a Salvation)
November 5th, 2017
I. Of Courtrooms and Contaminations
The Bible uses many images to help us understand the true nature of what it calls sin. Often, because of language we use when talking about the gospel, our predicament is described using the language of the courtroom. Therefore sin is transgression. It is lawlessness. Therefore we are guilty. We are condemned.
For anyone who's read the Bible, that language is familiar. Many of our songs and books utilize that imagery. But did you know Scripture, when speaking about sin, also uses the language of contamination? Think about it. Maybe you've read about how sin defiles, how it pollutes or stains, how it corrupts. How it makes us unclean. Sound familiar?
It is very important that we think carefully about why God uses these different analogies to describe our desperate and deadly condition. The courtroom language is very, very important. But so is the language of contamination.
Keep that in mind and turn over to Leviticus chapter 4. After a two-month hiatus, we are returning to the strange, but spectacular book of Leviticus.
II. The Passage: "Ought Not to Be Done " (4:1-6:7)
As we jump back in at this point, in chapter 4, let me remind you very quickly about those first three chapters and the broader context of this book. What is this unique book all about? Well, you may remember that the closing chapters of the preceding book, Exodus, described the construction of a mobile temple called the “Tent of Meeting”. As the name indicates, this is where the newly liberated Israelites would meet with the God of their forefather, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
You see, using Moses and Aaron, God had rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. But He didn't stop there. Through Moses, He gave them His Law. What was the purpose of this Law? Well, at this stage, the Law was meant to show them the way of holiness, that is, the way in which they, as a people, could reflect the holy God they served. God wanted them to be a light to all the other nations, and these rules, these precepts would help them show the way. And that's part of what Leviticus contains.
But before we get to those kinds of rules, Leviticus lays an important foundation in its opening chapters. The opening chapters of this book are all about fellowship with God. Just like a mirror, before we can reflect God, we need to be near Him. As I put it in our very first lesson: “As we walk in the darkness and suffer in the cold grip of sin, we desperately need God's light and heat. We need Him near and we need to draw near.”
But, there's one huge problem: our sin makes us consumable by the fire that is our holy, good, and just God. So for all these reasons, Leviticus provides a path on which the Israelites could walk in order to commune with, and not be consumed by, this great God.
And that path begins with sacrifice. A life with God in the midst always begins with a sacrifice that deals with the sin that separates us from Him. For followers of Jesus, we know that sacrifice was Christ's death on the cross. For the Israelites, that sacrifice was the burnt offering of chapter one. Through the shed blood of an animal, as it took the worshiper's place, that death could atone for the sins of the one who offered it. Through it, the sin that separates us from God was being covered.
But from there, chapter two points us to another sacrifice, a grain sacrifice that helps paint the picture of the worshiper's new fellowship with God over this sacrificial meal. In chapter three, this newly achieved peace with God leads to a sacrifice of peace, a beautiful expression of worship, of thanksgiving in light of restored peace with God.
But what comes next? Well, chapters 4 and 5, and the opening verses of chapter 6, all point to a final set of sacrifices. Your Bible may label these as the “sin offering” and the “guilt offering”. As we take a closer look at these offerings, we will see that they could also be called the “purification offering”, and the “reparation offering”.
Now, we are not going to read all sixty-one verses of this section. But if we did, we would see there are four sections here: two sections dealing with the purification offerings (4:1-35 and 5:1-13), and two shorter sections dealing with the reparation offering (5:14-19 and 6:1-7). So let me do this: let me highlight some key principles from this passage, and in doing that, we will look together at some of the key verses. As we'll see, all of these principles are related to the idea that sin contaminates, that sin defiles, that sin taints. For example...
1. Sin Taints Even When I'm Not Acting Willfully
Listen to the opening words of chapter 4...And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,  “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If anyone sins unintentionally in any of the LORD's commandments about things not to be done, and does any one of them...
Let's stop there. Did you see that word, “unintentionally”? Throughout this passage, we find that same word five times. But there's more. Look at 5:3...if he touches human uncleanness, of whatever sort the uncleanness may be with which one becomes unclean, and it is hidden from him, when he comes to know it, and realizes his guilt...
We see a similar idea in 5:17. God declares, “If anyone sins, doing any of the things that by the LORD's commandments ought not to be done, though he did not know it, then realizes his guilt, he shall bear his iniquity.”
In Numbers 15:29-31 we find an even fuller explanation of this distinction. It says...
You shall have one law for him who does anything unintentionally, for him who is native among the people of Israel and for the stranger who sojourns among them. >>>
 But the person who does anything with a high hand, whether he is native or a sojourner, reviles the LORD, and that person shall be cut off from among his people.  Because he has despised the word of the LORD and has broken his commandment, that person shall be utterly cut off; his iniquity shall be on him.”
So as we see, God's law makes a distinction between inadvertent and deliberate, defiant sins. It recognizes that we can mistakenly or accidentally sin, that we can sin in ignorance, that we can sin rashly, that we can sin in a moment of weakness (or sins of omission (e.g. 5:1-13)).
But while that may give us some comfort, it is extremely important to see that it IS still sin. It is sin that must be atoned for, sin to be forgiven. And that's exactly what this sacrifice accomplished, as we read in 4:35, 5:13, and 5:18. Atonement. Forgiveness.
Keep that in mind as we consider the next point. This section of verses also reveals that...
2. Sin Taints Through My Relational Influence
Now, if we continue on in chapter 4, we discover the first of four different cases of unintentional or inadvertent sin. And these cases are all distinguished by the person who commits the offense. So for example, look at the first person considered. Leviticus 4:1 again...
And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,  “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If anyone sins unintentionally in any of the LORD's commandments about things not to be done, and does any one of them,  if it is the anointed priest who sins, thus bringing guilt on the people, then he shall offer for the sin that he has committed a bull from the herd without blemish to the LORD for a sin offering.
So if we were to continue through chapter 4, we would go on to read about three more potential circumstances: a case involving the congregation (v. 13), and a leader among the people (v. 22), and then finally, an everyday Israelite (v. 27). But from the differences between the requirements for each of these cases, we learn that the greater the position of influence, the greater the taint. The greater the defilement.
Let me give you an example of those differences. For both the priest or high priest, and the congregation, a bull is required for sacrifice. For the leader, a male goat was required. And for the commoner, a female goat or lamb was acceptable. So we see the value of the animal, in terms of that culture, decreases the less influential the sinner. Remember, the priests were teachers and moral examples in Israel. And national sin was by its nature extremely influential. Though local leaders had less influence, their sins also brought defilement.
Now there's another difference we see in this chapter. But I will save that for the next point we find in this passage. And this point is in fact the most important point. We see here that...
3. Sin Taints My Fellowship with God
Let's read the entire account of that first case in which the purification offering is required. That would be Leviticus 4:1-12. Again, we read that...
...the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,  “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If anyone sins unintentionally in any of the LORD's commandments about things not to be done, and does any one of them,  if it is the anointed priest who sins, thus bringing guilt on the people, then he shall offer for the sin that he has committed a bull from the herd without blemish to the LORD for a sin offering.  He shall bring the bull to the entrance of the tent of meeting before the LORD and lay his hand on the head of the bull and kill the bull before the LORD.  And the anointed priest shall take some of the blood of the bull and bring it into the tent of meeting,  and the priest shall dip his finger in the blood and sprinkle part of the blood seven times before the LORD in front of the veil of the sanctuary.  And the priest shall put some of the blood on the horns of the altar of fragrant incense before the LORD that is in the tent of meeting, and all the rest of the blood of the bull he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting.  And all the fat of the bull of the sin offering he shall remove from it, the fat that covers the entrails and all the fat that is on the entrails  and the two kidneys with the fat that is on them at the loins and the long lobe of the liver that he shall remove with the kidneys  (just as these are taken from the ox of the sacrifice of the peace offerings); and the priest shall burn them on the altar of burnt offering.  But the skin of the bull and all its flesh, with its head, its legs, its entrails, and its dung— all the rest of the bull—he shall carry outside the camp to a clean place, to the ash heap, and shall burn it up on a fire of wood. On the ash heap it shall be burned up.
Did you notice what is done with the blood of this sacrifice? Did you notice where it is taken? Remember, up to this point, all of the sacrifices have taken place out in the courtyard of the Tent of Meeting, and the blood from those sacrifices was always thrown against the side of that courtyard altar.
But here, in cases where the priest or congregation sinned unintentionally, that blood is taken into the Tent of Meeting and sprinkled seven times in front of that veil that separated the first chamber from the “Holy of Holies”. That blood was also put on the horns of the altar. No, not the courtyard altar, but the small altar of incense that was in that first room of the Tent. So why these differences?
I believe what God was showing them here is not only the greater the influence, the greater the defilement, but that such defilement contaminated the Tent itself. You see, even their unintentional or inadvertent sins tainted their relationship with God. The space in which and the instruments with which their fellowship was maintained with God had to be cleansed; it had to be purified because of their sin.
So think about that in light of all the sacrifices we studied thus far. If the burnt offering brought the people to God by covering their sin, and the grain offering represented a meal of restored fellowship, and the peace offering was a response of praise in light of the peace they now enjoyed with their Creator, then this offering was, in some sense, for the everyday.
The Israelites needed to see that their condition as sinners was so severe, that even their inadvertent sins defiled their communion with God. In the same way, they needed to see that God's holiness was so intense, that even their inadvertent sins tainted that place of worship and fellowship. Their iniquity was like an infection that spread and hurt others. It was like an infection that spread and hurt their relationship with God. Now shouldn't that picture sober us? Shouldn't it give us an even deeper disgust and distrust of sin?
But forgiveness and cleansing were possible. Even in cases where there was a “breach of faith” with God (5:15; 6:2), that is, a sin against the Tent itself or against the name of God itself (as was the case with making a false oath), there was a sacrfice to repair that taint. The “guilt” or “reparation” offering helped maintain the purity of the Tent and its worship, and thus maintain that everyday fellowship with God.
III. Hindered, But Not Hopeless
So two sacrifice, two connected sacrifices, both pointing us to the defiling nature and corrupting power of our sin. But can this really teach us something about the Christian life. It can. Let's make sure, first of all, that we acknowledge the solid ground underneath our feet. Listen to what the writer of Hebrews tells us about the ultimate, the perfect sacrifice:
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation)  he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.  For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh,  how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:11-14)
Unlike the requirements of the old covenant, Jesus did not have to offer these different kinds of sacrifices, over and over again. His sacrifice on the cross was “once for all”. Therefore it secured “an eternal redemption”. His sacrifice purifies and cleanses, even the taint of our inadvertent sins.
But let's finish by thinking for a minute about these everyday, inadvertent sins. As I was studying this passage, a NT verse came to mind. It is explicitly an 'everyday' kind of verse. Turn over to I Peter 3:7. Now, as I read this verse, think about how this connects with our passage from Leviticus. Peter writes:
Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. (I Peter 3:7)
So what's more 'everyday' then the daily dynamics of a husband and wife? But here, Peter is specifically talking to husbands. But I don't think he is simply addressing cruel husbands who like to see their wives suffer. I believe the Apostle is talking to every husband, praying his words might cause them to stop and consider how they are treating their wives.
You see, as a husband himself, Peter knew how easy it was to slip into patterns of ungratefulness and pride. He knew that as 'stronger vessels', that is, as those who are, in general, physically larger and stronger, it was tempting to for some men to resort to verbal or physical intimidation. Instead of that path, God was calling them to be “understanding”, that is, to be considerate, to be gentle, to be supportive.
But what I want you to see here is that, again, in general, this is an inadvertent lifestyle.
This is the kind of pattern that men can fall into. It is the kind of pattern that a man needs to be confronted with, so (using the language of Leviticus) “he can come to know it, and realize his guilt”. And when the Spirit of God rouses a man from this selfish stupor and shows him his sin, He can be assured of cleansing, right? As I John 1:9 tells us...If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
But until that man repents, guess what? That sin taints his relationship with God. This verse points to that in the last phrase: his prayers can be “hindered” by that sin. And that coincides with Ephesians 4:30, which describes how our sin can “grieve the Holy Spirit of God”.
No, sin is not actually a physical infection. The image of a contagion is meant to tell us something about the moral consequences of our sin. As the leader in his home, a husband's treatment of his wife influences his whole family. Similarly, how we treat our children influences others in our circle. What about our attitude at work? What about how we spend our money or free time? What about our speech, about how we use sarcasm or humor? What about complaining? What about laziness and inaction? What about busyness?
All of these area, and many more, are the breeding grounds for inadvertent, unintentional sin. And those sins not only taint us, but they can infect others as well. The greater the influence, the greater the taint.
Does God care? Absolutely. And He wants us to care about this destructive contagion called sin. He wants us to realize what is going on and face it. He cares so much that He will put our prayers in a folder labeled “hindered”. Why? So we realize that everything is not okay, and He will not pretend it is. He will help us face that sin, those sinful patterns. He wants us to see that even though we might feel hindered spiritually, we are not hopeless.
The perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ is your hope. Don't be afraid to face those patterns of sin. Let the light of the word reveal those things. Let other people into your life, faithful brothers and sisters who can help you see such things. And look to Jesus for the purification, the cleansing that only He can bring...not only to your heart and conscience, but also to others through your influence.
Let's ask God to turn our eyes to Jesus even now, in light of these things.
More in Living Leviticus
July 22, 2018Spiritual Vows and a Voluntary Spirit (Leviticus 27:1-34)
July 15, 2018Just Justice? (Leviticus 26)
July 8, 2018Belonging and Belongings (Leviticus 25)