Troublesome Topic: The Guilt offering Was Not What I Expected

The guilt offering is described in Leviticus 5:14-6:7 and 7:1-10.

What Did the Name of the Offering Mean?

The key word in the name of this sacrifice was a word that meant “guilt, offense, a wrong, at fault, compensation for an offense, restitution for a wrong.”

I prefer to call this one the restitution offering.

What Was Sacrificed and What Did it Symbolize?

It was always a ram. It had to be at least 2 years old and worth at least ___ amount, as determined by Moses or the High priest (we are not told what that amount was).

A ram was a fairly high price to pay, the only animal more costly to them was a bull. The costliness of the sacrifice was intended to make people pay attention to what they were doing and be careful and wise.

They were reminded that God provided a ram for Abraham. If we will just trust Him, He will provide, we do not need to keep what is not ours in order to get ahead.

Restitution was also required.

If the offender had wronged a fellow man, he had to pay back the amount lost plus one fifth, or 120% total, on top of the sacrifice of a ram.

If the offender had committed a wrong against God’s “holy things” (see below), he had to pay restitution to the tabernacle or temple. Once again it was 120%.

There were some occasions when the amount of restitution was more than 120%. Exodus chapter 22:1-4 explains how much restitution had to be paid for stealing something from someone. If the stolen item or animal was found intact, the thief had to pay double, meaning he had to return the item or animal stolen and pay twice that much besides. The original owner would end up with three sheep where he had previously had one. However, if a thief stole an animal and killed it or sold it, then he had to pay four sheep for one sheep or 5 head of cattle for one ox. In this case the original owner would end up with 4 sheep where he had previously had one, and five head of cattle where he previously had possessed one ox.

In these ways the Law God gave to the ancient Israelites discouraged doing wrong to a fellow human being and strove to teach the principles of self-control and hard work.

How Was it Offered?

The blood was sprinkled against all sides of the altar.

The fatty parts were to be removed and burned in the fire, causing a big whoosh of flames. Once again this demonstrated that one was indeed on-fire for God, even though he had neglected to fulfill something required of him. He had let something slip, but he would be more careful next time because his fire for God had not gone out.

The officiating priest could take home the hide and the meat, which was quite a bit because the only thing removed was the fat (and the blood of course).

When Was it Offered?

The restitution offering seems to have had more than one function – it was for unintentional sins committed against God’s “Holy things,” and also for offenses committed knowingly or unknowingly against another person’s possessions.

If it was an offense against another person, it had to be accompanied by restitution of 120% the value of what was lost paid to the person who was wronged.

What did it mean for something to be an offense against God’s “holy things”? “Holy things” meant anything that, if withheld, would create a loss for those serving in the tabernacle or those being benefitted from it. Obvious examples are the tithe, the firstfruits, the redeeming of the first born, or any fees. It might also apply if a common man ate something that only priests should eat.

How might these offenses be unintentional? Let’s suppose that someone did not do their math correctly in figuring their tithe. They brought a tithe, and they thought it was the right amount. But let’s suppose that later on, something came up which made the farmer look at his numbers again and he realized that he had done his math wrong and he had not given enough in tithe, it was less than 10%. Now he was guilty of an unintentional wrong against the holy things. Now he was expected to bring a ram and pay the priests in the treasury department 120% of what he had failed to pay the first time.

What is restitution? When we have wronged someone, especially in regard to their personal property, we should repay what we have taken or destroyed plus an additional percent. In the law the amount to be paid back was often 120% of the original value, and sometimes more.

These would be unintentional if the loss was due to carelessness or happenstance. Suppose a man borrowed a neighbor’s male goat to breed with his female goats. If anything happened to that male goat while it was in his care, he had to pay reparation in the amount of 120%, plus sacrifice a ram. In our day, if we borrow a tool and it gets left outside and gets ruined, we should not just take it back and say, “I’m sorry.” We should buy the guy a new one of slightly better quality.

However, some of the examples of this offense given in the Law do not seem to be unintentional. Thus this offering covered three types of offenses – unintentional sins against God’s holy things, unintentional sins against the possessions of others, and purposeful sins against the possessions of others. All of these required reparation/restitution.

Lessons from the Guilt Offering

1. An offense against a fellow man is an offense against God.

It is not enough to say “I’m sorry” to others, God was offended too.

2 It is costly to get ahead at the expense of others.

If you think you will get ahead by exploiting others, think again. In God’s economy it will end up costing you more.

3.  Be careful with other peoples’ stuff.

Carelessness cost them a ram, plus 120% of the value of the item that was ruined due to carelessness.

4.   Restitution helps maintain trust in relationships.

Wow, God knew what He was doing! Since many of these sacrifices don’t make sense to us, we assume there is nothing for us to learn from them. But if people practiced restitution it would heal wounds and restore trust that had been broken. Restitution is more than acknowledging “I was wrong,” it is a way of saying, “I wish to restore our relationship and regain your trust.”

5.   We would do well to revive the practice of restitution.

Though it is not required of us today by our laws, or by any explicit teaching of the New Covenant, we should pay back with restitution if we err against someone.

120% extra is good – it does not make the other person feel uncomfortable, but it will show you are serious. It is a principle of the Former Covenant, and the principle still applies. Reviving the practice of restitution would be a good start toward regaining that ability to restore relationships without the involvement of people outside of the conflict. It’s not about the money, it’s about acknowledging that I did wrong, and that my actions hurt the relationship and that the relationship is valuable to me.

We should not demand restitution of others. We should be hard on ourselves and forgiving of others. Focus on what you need to do for others, not what others need to do for you.

6. Commit yourself to keeping God’s holy things holy

Identify the things in your life that are “God’s Holy things.” These could include your tithe, a certain amount of your time, the practice of daily Bible reading and prayer, etc. Determine to be extra careful to keep them set apart for God.

7. Take care of past offenses

Ask God to help you remember if there is anyone you have wronged and to whom you should pay restitution (even if it is an old offense).

If they have forgotten, it will help your relationship.

If they have not forgotten, it will definitely help your relationship.

It’s the right thing to do.

8. In the future, stay alert to offenses against others, and deal with them immediately. In the future, stay alert to the need for restitution, and take care of it immediately.

The next lesson in the full series on covenants is General information about the Burnt Offering.

The next lesson in Why Is That in the Bible? is: General information about the Burnt Offering