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Leviticus 4:22-26 meaning

Sin offerings in the case of an Israelite leader committing a sin.

Leviticus 4:22-26 extends the sin offerings to include leaders of the community. This establishes that unintentional sin touches all levels of society and that leaders can fall into temptation and sin as easily as anyone. Leaders are not exempt from the requirements of atonement and the pursuit of holiness.

The text opens with, "When a leader sins and unintentionally does any one of all the things which the LORD his God has commanded not to be done, and he becomes guilty" (v. 22).

The term leader here likely refers to someone with authority over the people, such as an elder, or judge. It recognizes that leaders, despite their elevated status, are fallible and subject to the same divine laws as everyone else, but also have greater responsibility. One form of a leader is a teacher of which James says,

“Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.”
(James 3:1)

Reflecting on the way we handled circumstances in our past should reveal times we have fallen short in our relationships with God and people. Reflection is one way that unintentional sins can be made known to us.

Another way we can come to recognize sin in our lives is for a friend or fellow believer to alert us to a sin that we may have committed in ignorance. Confession and atonement have always been key steps to being cleansed from sin, and still are today. With our words we should first make confession (1 John 1:9). When a sin has been brought to our attention, the atoning blood of Jesus will cleanse us from our unrighteousness.

But for these community leaders living in an era prior to Jesus’s sacrifice, when a sin which he has committed is made known to him, he shall bring for his offering a goat, a male without defect" (v. 23).

The specificity of the offering having to be a male without defect underscores the need for the offering to be perfect before the LORD. This male goat is a valuable asset, signifying the serious nature of the sin. It also pictures that a perfect sacrifice is needed to atone for sin. This pictures Jesus as a sinless man who became sin on our behalf (2 Corinthians 5:21).

After bringing the goat, the leader who has sinned shall lay his hand on the head of the male goat and slay it in the place where they slay the burnt offering before the LORD; it is a sin offering (v.24).

The act of laying hands upon the goat symbolizes the transfer of the leader's identity and sin to the goat. The location where the goat is slain is also important as it is the same place where burnt offerings are made and where the slaughtering of the offerings took place.

The term burnt offering in Hebrew is “oleh,” which means “to ascend.” As the offerors watched their gifts become smoke and ascend to the sky, it would have provided them with a physically visible representation of a spiritual truth.

On the Day of Atonement, the high priest would perform the most anticipated sin offering of the year. In this case, lots were casts upon two goats, one lot for “Azazel” (sometimes translated “scapegoat”) and the other lot for “Yahweh.” The goat upon which the lot fell for Azazel was released into the wilderness after the high priest would lay his hand on the head of the goat and confess all the sins of the people over it.

Then the goat upon which the lot for Yahweh fell would be slain as a special sin offering for sins of the whole nation of Israel (Leviticus 16:8-9). It would be the blood of this special sin offering that would be brought inside the veil of the tabernacle and sprinkled on the Ark of the Covenant (Leviticus 16:15). This was a foreshadowing of Christ going inside the veil as the perfect offering for sin, and not with the blood of goats but with His own blood (Hebrew 9:24-25).

To learn more about how the two goats on the Day of Atonement foreshadow the work of Jesus on the cross, see our article, “Ransom and Redemption: Jesus and Barabbas as Day of Atonement Symbols.

Then the priest is to take some of the blood of the sin offering with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering; and the rest of its blood he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering (v. 25).

The application of the blood to the altar serves to purify and sanctify the altar, symbolizing the forgiving of the leader's sins as God looks upon the crimson color stained on the altar’s horns. This again pictures that sin is passed over due to the sacrifice of blood. This ultimately looks forward to Jesus shedding His blood on our behalf, that we might be reconciled to Him.

Additionally, All its fat he shall offer up in smoke on the altar as in the case of the fat of the sacrifice of peace offerings. Thus the priest shall make atonement for him in regard to his sin, and he will be forgiven" (v. 26).

The burning of the fat on the altar as an offering to the LORD is “a pleasing aroma,” indicative of divine satisfaction. The act of the priest making atonement is crucial; it is through this priestly mediation that the leader receives forgiveness. Jesus is now our High Priest and the mediator of the new covenant (Hebrews 4:14). We are exhorted to come boldly in His presence to gain help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

These verses indicate the nature of God’s instructions for when a leader in Israel sins. But throughout Leviticus 4 we see that sin offerings were applicable to every member of the community, irrespective of their social status. The sin of a leader has implications not only for the individual but for the entire community they led. Therefore, the restoration of the leader through atonement is crucial for the spiritual wellbeing of the society.

The passage provides a protocol for the leader to seek reconciliation with God. This demonstrates the importance of leaders being models of repentance and humility. By including leaders in the laws of sin offerings, the text conveys a message of equality before God, and the universal need for atonement, a principle that reinforces the idea of collective responsibility in the community of faith.

We are given examples in scripture of leaders intervening for their people, and God delivering them as a result. This includes:

·      Moses interceding for the people after their sin of worshipping the golden calf (Deuteronomy 9:16-20)

·      Hezekiah praying for deliverance of Judah from invaders (2 Kings 19:20),

·      Daniel praying that Judah would be allowed to return to the land (Daniel 9:20-23). 

     New Testament believers can be greatly encouraged that Jesus, our High Priest, prayed for each of us, asking His Father to make us one with Him and with one another (John 17:20-23). 

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