Troublesome Topic: The Sin Offering Was Not What I Expected

Lesson 10 of 21

The sin offering is described primarily in Lev 4:1-5:13 and 6:24-30.

What Did the Name of the Offering Mean?

The word used for this sacrifice is often translated “sin,” but it actually meant “to miss.” It has been accurately rendered by various people as “to miss the mark, to make a mistake, to commit an error, to miss the way, to miss the goal, to miss anything.”

So what should we call this offering? I don’t find the term “sin offering” to be helpful; the “I missed” offering, would be accurate to the Hebrew, but the “oops” offering fits better in modern American English. I think I like the “oops” offering best.

What Was Sacrificed and What Did it Symbolize?

It was supposed to be either a cow or bull, a goat or a lamb.

In this case, it was only the blood and the fat that were utilized. The rest of the animal was burned outside the camp.

Blood represented life. The life of the individual was transferred to the animal. So it was symbolically the life of the individual being given for this sacrifice.

The fatty parts of the animal were cut out and burned on the altar as in the case of the peace/fellowship offering. It had the same two possible meanings as explained with the peace/fellowship offering. It was either a commitment to refuse to allow the luxuries of life to steal one’s heart, or it was a sign of the on-fire passion that one had (or was rekindling) toward God.

How Was it Offered?

The “oops” offering was different from the other offerings. Also, the rules were different for different people according to the level of spiritual authority each one exercised.

Leviticus chapter 4 starts with what it looked like when the priest (the High Priest) needed to offer this sacrifice because he had committed an unintentional offense. His situation included the most details; the regulations concerning other people were simplified variations of the same.

First the right hand of the offender was placed on the head of the animal to transfer guilt onto the animal. Then its throat was cut and the blood was collected in a large bowl. When basically all the blood was out of the animal, the priest who had offended God used his finger to sprinkle the blood seven times in front of the curtain of the Holy of Holies. This was different than other sacrifices because usually the blood was sprinkled on the sides of the altar. Then some of the blood was placed on the horns of the altar. The rest was poured out around the base of the altar. The rest of the animal was taken outside the camp to a place that was clean and there it was burned.

Let’s look at the unique elements of this ritual.

1. Some of the blood was sprinkled seven times on the floor in front of the curtain that separated the Holy place from the Holy of Holies.

2. Some of the blood was placed on the tips of the horns of the altar.

3. The rest of the blood was poured out at the base of the altar.

4. The animal’s carcass was taken outside the camp and burned in a clean place.

Let’s start with #4. The animal was a type of animal that was considered common and clean. It was made clean and holy by virtue of being chosen for this sacrifice. But when it had the guilt of the man transferred to it, it became common and unclean. But it was still used in the offering for atonement. Yet now it was a dead, bloodless carcass. For all these differing reasons it could not remain in the camp, but neither could it be tossed like garbage upon the ash heap. It had to be burned and the burning of it had to happen outside the camp, but in a clean place.

Numbers 1, 2 & 3 above are interesting, and it is a challenge to decipher what they taught. That is especially true of #1 because in no other place do we see the sprinkling of blood before the curtain.

I will spare you the long discussions and numerous options offered for these differences.

Here is what I consider the best explanation, it comes from Leviticus 8 which is part of the description about the dedication of the tabernacle, and Leviticus 16 which is about the Day of Atonement. What do those two things have to do with the “oops” offering? The ancient Jews were taught to look for patterns in how God had worked or what God was doing. If a pattern could be found, it would often shed light on the present situation and help them understand it

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Leviticus 8:15


Then he killed it (the bull). Then MOSHEH

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took the blood and with his finger put [some] on the horns of the altar all around and purified the altar; then he poured out the blood at the base of the altar and consecrated it to make atonement for it.


Then THE RESCUED ONE killed the bull. After that he took his finger and put some of the blood on the horns of the altar which were on the four corners of the altar, and in this way he purified the altar; then he poured out the rest of the blood at the base of the altar and in this way he consecrated the altar and made atonement for it.

Leviticus 16:14


Then he (AARON) shall take the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the face of (the East side of) that which covers,

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and he shall sprinkle the blood seven times with his finger before the thing that covers.


The ENLIGHTENED TEACHER must take some of the blood of the bull and with his finger, sprinkle it on the East side, i.e. on the front of, the thing that cover’s sins and also covers the special articles of testimony [which were placed inside the ark], and he must also sprinkle it seven times with his finger on the floor in front of

the thing that covers sins and also covers the special articles of testimony [which were placed inside the ark].

During the dedication of the tabernacle and on the Day of Atonement there were elements that were the same as or similar to those used for the “oops” offering. These similarities helped them understand the lessons being taught through the “oops” offering.

When the blood of the “oops” offering was placed on the horns of the altar it was a reminder to God and to the offending person that the altar had already been purified during the dedication ceremony and was thus a source of atonement, forgiveness, and spiritual strength (horns shewed strength).

The blood of the “oops” offering was poured out at the base of the altar to remind both God and men that the altar had already been atoned for during the dedication of the tabernacle.

But wait, there was no corollary for the blood being sprinkled seven times in front of the curtain that divided the holy place from the Holy of Holies. It was not about the floor outside the curtain; it was about what happened once a year inside the curtain.

When the blood was sprinkled before the curtain which isolates the Holy of Holies, it was a reminder to God and to the priest that sacrificial blood had already been sprinkled on the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat on the Day of Atonement. That meant that mankind was (in a way) accepted into that area that was closest to God, except for the small detail that man would die if He got that close to God because God is pure holiness and we are weak, defiled, corrupt, and naturally deficient of holiness. So acceptance was offered, but protection was also offered because man was not ready to enter the very presence of God and live through the experience. That is the reason the blood was sprinkled in a place that was totally unique in the sacrificial system (in front of the curtain). That curtain saved the priest’s life.

The unintentional “sin” that required the “oops” offering was not extremely serious, so it appears that the person who had committed the offense was mostly in need of some reminders. God’s offer of acceptance still stood; nothing had changed that. But the one bringing this offering needed to be more vigilant and more careful next time in order to not slip into more serious offenses.

When Was it Offered?

The “oops” offering was used when someone had committed an unintentional sin or had unwittingly hindered their relationship with God. “Unintentional sins” means offenses committed “without intent,” done “in ignorance, unwittingly, involuntarily, or by neglect.”

In the rather lengthy passage (48 verses) from Leviticus 4:1 through 5:13, the first line of each paragraph (vv. 1, 13, 22, 27) consistently makes clear that this offering was for unintentional sins, not for defiant sins.

Numbers 15:22-29 is another section dedicated to the issue of unintentional sins and it clearly states that this offering was to be offered in the case of unintentional sins.

SUMMARY: The “oops” offering was only for unintentional sins, not defiant sins.

I believe this offering showed the following truths:

1) The worshipper was accepted at the closest place to God’s presence,

2) the worshipper had access to the strength of God’s redemptive power (the horns)

3) the worshipper had access to the altar of sacrifice for atonement from unintentional sins.

The next lesson in the full series on covenants is Why Did God Hold Them Guilty for Unintentional Sins?

The next lesson in Why Is That in the Bible? is: The Guilt offering Was Not What I Expected



Here I am using Leviticus chapters 8 and 16 to explain something in chapter 4. That is not a problem because chronology was not very important to people of ancient times, so we cannot be sure which regulations of the Law were given first, second, third, etc. Also, even if chapter 4 was given first, after the other sections were provided, the pattern would have become obvious.


Moses was his Egyptian name; Mosheh was his Hebrew name. Mosheh means “drawn out” because he was drawn out of the Nile by Pharaoh’s daughter. Through this act of drawing him out she “rescued” him from death. Hence, I have rendered his name in the paraphrase column as “Rescued” because the Hebrew text actually uses the name Mosheh, not Moses.

He was given a name by his parents when he was 8 days old, and he did not get rescued from the Nile until he was 3 months old. So he already had a Hebrew name, but we don’t know what it was. The name Mosheh is the Hebrew form of the verb “to draw out, to rescue, to deliver” and it sounds similar to the Egyptian word “mose” that means “son” or “is born.” Notice the last part of the name Thutmose/Tutmoses which probably meant “son of Tut” or some say it meant “son of the god Toth.” So after the basket-baby was drawn out of the Nile, he was given a name by the princess which probably included the name of an Egyptian god, and like Thutmose probably meant “son of the of god _____.” It appears that his Hebrew name was changed at some point after he was drawn out because it fit who he was, and because they did not like his full Egyptian name.


Here again I need to change a mental image you have in your mind. The ark of the covenant with its golden cherubim and golden top (cover) was not shiny, it was smattered with drops of blood. Each year on the Day of Atonement, the priest added a few more drops of blood.