Troublesome Topic: Wait! So Which Sacrifice Was for Deliberate Sins?

Lesson 16 of 21

Which sacrifice is for sinning knowingly, with intent, or even in rebellion and defiance? If someone was guilty of lying, adultery, lust, murder, anger, idolatry, gossip, disrespecting parents, etc., which sacrifice should be offered? Which sacrifice was intended to provide atonement for such sins?

Let’s do a quick review.

The sin offering was only for unintentional sins, which makes up wonder why it was called the “sin offering.”

The guilt offering was for sins that required payment of restitution, be it unintentional sins against God’s holy things, or sins against the possessions of other people. The latter could be done knowingly or unknowingly. The important thing about the guilt offering was that it had to be offered whenever restitution needed to be paid.

What about the burnt offering? Likewise, it was not for specific, deliberate sins committed by an individual. The closest it came was the six times in the Bible when a burnt offering was offered, the biblical text says it was “to atone for his sin” or “to atone for him.” However, these were probably not what you think. Three of them were for unintentional sins, and three had to do with cleansing from a skin disorder (see my study on The Treatment of Lepers Part One and The Treatment of Lepers Part two. For the full list of the uses of the burnt offering, see my lesson called Something Strange about the Burnt Offering. The point here is that the burnt offering was never clearly indicated as the sacrifice for deliberate sins!

Let’s Look at the 77 Uses of the Word “Atonement” in the Old Testament

I began to wonder if I was missing something or if I needed to look at this from another angle. So, to confirm what I was seeing about no sacrifice being available for willful sinning, I made a spreadsheet about the uses of the word “atonement” in the Old Testament. My findings did indeed confirm that no sacrifice for willful sinning was available.

The word “atonement” is used 77 times in the Old Testament according to Strong’s concordance of the King James Version. The most common usage (35 times) was for general atonement such as for the entire nation, or for the sins of an individual in general without mentioning specific sins. In other words, it was about a sinful condition, rather than a specific act of sin.

The second most common usage (17 times) of the word “atonement” was for unintentional sins (here we go again!).

 The word “atonement” is used 8 times for atonement of inanimate objects, such as the altar or the Most Holy Place.

Did you realize that the altar and the Holy of Holies needed to be atoned for?  They did not do anything wrong. We need to realize that our understanding of “atonement” is too narrow because we think only in terms of guilt. In contrast God used atonement to prepare us to be in his presence or to prepare things and people to be useful tools in His hands.

“Atonement” was used 5 times for ordination, consecration or purification of something or someone (such as the priests), 4 times for skin conditions, 2 times for bodily discharge, and 2 times for bleeding.

Of the 77 uses of “atonement” in the Old Testament, only 7 of them have any connection at all to sinful acts that were committed knowingly, defiantly, with intent. Three of those were for sins that required restitution which had to be accompanied by a guilt offering.

The other four were indeed cases of known, purposeful, deliberate sins. But in each of those situations, atonement came through some other means, not through an animal sacrifice. I will treat those four examples in a separate lesson because it is worthwhile to look at each of them rather than simply list them. See Examples of Atonement Without Blood Sacrifices.

If you are like me you are wondering, “Where does it talk about atonement for purposeful sinning, sins done deliberately, boldly, with full knowledge?” Here is the key passage in the Torah that addresses defiant sinning: Numbers 15:30-31 (immediately following a passage about unintentional sins). It says:

Numbers 15:30


But the soul which acts with a raised fist,

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whether a native born or a foreigner, that one has shown contempt

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for YHVH

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(read Adonai); that one must be cut off from among his people.


In contrast to unintentional sins, the individual who acts in defiance and rebellion against God, whether he is an Israelite or a foreigner, that person has defied the authority and power of THE ETERNAL AND PERSONAL GOD; that person must be expelled from the community.

Numbers 15:31


Because he has despised

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the word of YHVH (read Adonai) and has broken His commandment, he shall be cut off, yes that person shall be cut off;

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his guilt will be upon him.

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Because he has raised his head defiantly against the word of THE ETERNAL AND PERSONAL GOD and considered it to be worthless and despicable, and he has violated God’s commandment, that person must be expelled in such a way as to result in being completely cut off from any contact with the community; his guilt will remain on him, [it will never be removed].

“Which sacrifice was for willful sinning?” The shocking truth is that there was NO Old Testament sacrifice for the atonement of willful sins! Only punishment!

Many years later, but still under the Former Covenant, God  expressed the same idea through Ezekiel when He said, “The person who sins shall die” (Ez 18:4 & 20).

When a person committed a willful act of sin, all he could do was throw himself on the mercies of God. That seems to have been the only “answer” that the Old Testament system had to offer for willful sins. The news here is that God is merciful!

Does that blow you away? Haven’t we always assumed that the sacrifices of the Former Covenant were intended to address willful sinning?  It is almost incomprehensible to us that there would be such a big hole in the sacrificial system of the Old Testament.

I struggled to find a way to describe how big this hole was, but I finally came up with this illustration. Imagine creeping slowly along in rush-hour traffic and then you see a hole big enough to drive your gymnasium through it! That would be a big hole. But that is the size of hole we are talking about here.

We have always been taught that the sacrifices of the Old Testament were intended to be a representation of what Jesus would later do. But that is not fully accurate. The biggest part of what Jesus did was something that the sacrificial system of the Former Covenant did not even try to do for it was incapable of achieving. Jesus can and does forgive willful, rebellious sinning, as long as the repentance is genuine.

Jesus filled that hole!

Why Did God Design the Law with a Big Hole in it?

God designed the Old Testament sacrificial system with a big hole in it, and He did so for the following purposes:

1.  To show the inadequacy of the sacrifices of the Former Covenant.

Hebrews 10:4


For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to remove sins.


For it was impossible for the former system of sacrifices to truly take away sins.

If the inadequacy of bulls, goats and lambs was obvious, the people would be looking for a “real sacrifice.”

God planned the Former Covenant so it would cause anticipation for a real spiritual solution.

2.  To show the seriousness of rebellious and defiant sins.

If willful sinning is met with death, that would do a good job of communicating how serious it is. Since there was no sacrifice designed for specific, willful sins, the righteous people of that era were probably more careful to stay away from such sins than we are.

3.  To magnify and amplify God’s great grace.

In the Former Covenant the only remedy for defiant sinning was to throw oneself on the mercy of God. Now God has shown us the full extent of His mercy and grace through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus. When God’s actual sacrifice for all sin came on the scene, it was obvious that God is an infinitely gracious and merciful God.

We deserve death but God grants us a second chance at life, and He does this many times over. Under the Former Covenant there was nothing prescribed for defiant sinning except punishment, but under the New Covenant, God does indeed forgive all kinds of sins, even blatant and defiant sins, once we repent. God is a merciful God! His high standards are matched only by His great mercy!

4. To create expectation for something better (Ps 5:19 & Is 43:19). The Law hinted that atonement was possible, but it did not go all the way; it left people yearning for something more.


Mercy after deliberate sinning was available in the era of the Law, but it did not come through the sacrifices; it came only through repentance and pleading.

The next lesson in the mid and short series on Covenants is Life Lessons from the Burnt Offering

The next lesson in the full series on Covenants is Examples of Atonement Without Blood Sacrifices

The next lesson for Why Is That in the Bible? is: Tithing Taught Faith and Trust



I have rendered these two words “with raised fist” because that is exactly what they mean. Some translations say “defiantly,” and some say “high-handed,” which is OK, but “with raised fist” produces a more powerful image in the mind. It is a picture of someone saying, “I know this is wrong but I’m going to do it anyway.” It is a person who thumbs his nose at God and refuses to submit to God’s authority.


The word I have rendered as “shown contempt” can also be translated as “blasphemes, reviles.”


YHVH was the most honored, most sacred name for God that the Jews employed. It was so sacred that they never said the name out loud. They always substituted the name Adonai when they read the Scriptures out loud. It is this name, the most holy name of God, that the person was choosing to defy and show contempt for.


The word I have rendered as “despised” in the translation column can also mean “to raise the head defiantly, or to look down on someone, to find someone or something despicable, contemptuous, vile, worthless or disdainful.” As you can see, it is a very strong word.


The verb for “cut off” is used twice in a row in slightly different forms in the Hebrew. It was a form of emphasis, but it sounds strange in English without something added. It is also difficult to convey the power of the double use in English. The most literal way I can express it is “in order to be cut off, he shall be cut off.” I think the purpose was to show strong action and then the completeness of the results, as I have tried to express in the paraphrase column.


The phrase “his guilt will be on him,” is much more devastating than it sounds. It meant that the person’s guilt remained on him without being removed, and because he was cut off from the community, with its tabernacle, priesthood and sacrifices, there was no hope of that guilt ever being removed.