Blaine Robison, M.A.
Delivered 17 March 2018
Sins of Ignorance
if a whole company of Israel goes astray and the matter be concealed
from the eyes of the congregation, and they have done any of the things
which ADONAI said not to be done, and are guilty; 14 when the sin
that they have sinned is known, then the congregation shall offer a
young bull of the herd for a sin offering and bring it before the tent
of meeting. 15 And the elders of the congregation shall lay their
hands on the head of the bull before ADONAI, and the bull shall be slain
before ADONAI." (Lev 4:13-15 mine)
passage is found in Parashah Vayikra [Lev 1:1–5:26], which contains
instructions for five sacrificial offerings by individual Israelites: the
burnt offering, the grain offering, the peace offering, the sin offering and
the guilt offering. Our text concerns the sin offering, particularly in
relation to an offence committed by a group of Israelites.
passage begins with the word "if." God did not mean that He expected the
entire nation or a tribe or a clan to commit a sin together. It means that
even if an error was committed by a group of people then a sin offering was
still required. The sin could not be excused merely because a high number of
people were involved.
Hebrew words occur here, first eidah and then qahal, both of
which can mean congregation. However, in this context neither term refers to
the entire nation. When I first considered this passage I wondered how could
any group of Israelites break one of God's laws and later call it a mistake?
Of course, with over 600 commands in the Torah, it's a lot to keep track of.
Something is bound to slip.
be clear, a sin is a violation of a specific law of God given to Israel and
recorded in Scripture [Rom 3:20; 4:15; 7:7]. A sin may be unintentional or
intentional. Unintentional simply means done without planning ahead, often
acting without thinking, but it might also mean acting in ignorance. A sin
may be doing something prohibited, or failing to do something that is
required. This passage involves the first type. It's important to note that
in the Torah a sin offering only provided atonement for unintentional sin
[Lev 4:2; Heb 9:7].
was it really possible for the Israelites to break a command of God in
ignorance? The laws had been publicly announced, so how could lack of
knowledge be possible? Did God purposely given vague commandments so they
could say, "I didn't know what He meant?" I don't think the generation of
Moses could claim ignorance. However, later generations might claim that
reason, as the Scripture says, "My people are destroyed for a lack of
knowledge" [Hos 4:6]. I suggest that ignorance of God's law is not just lack
of knowledge of a law's existence, but in some cases failing to understand
its application. In the time of Yeshua the Pharisees claimed that the people
were accursed because they did not know Torah [John 7:49]. Well, whose fault
was that? The Pharisees were in charge of the synagogues.
situation as described in the Leviticus passage seems to be a group, perhaps
the leaders of the nation going astray, but the fault is hidden from the
congregation and not immediately brought to light. The Sages applied this
passage to an erroneous decision of the Sanhedrin declaring a prohibited
matter as permissible and the community acting on their instruction [so
7a-b]. Of course, that application was entirely hypothetical. How could
the best legal minds of the nation ever go wrong?
However, the Judean ruling authorities did make one colossal error in regard
to Yeshua. When Yeshua was illegally arrested and tried during Passover,
they charged him with blasphemy, deemed him worthy of death and turned him
over to the Roman authorities for crucifixion. But, for this error Yeshua
became their sin offering. When Yeshua was on the execution stake he prayed
"Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing" [Luke 23:34].
In his second sermon in Jerusalem Kêfa told the people " I know that you
acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did" [Acts 3:17]. Later Sha'ul wrote
to the congregation in Corinth, "none of the rulers of this age understood,
for if they had understood they would not have crucified the Lord of glory"
[1Cor 2:8 mine].
Yeshua's death accomplished immediate atonement for his unlawful execution,
but even greater his death eliminated the need for future sin offerings [Heb
7:27; 10:12; 1Pet 3:18]. Under the Old Covenant there was no atonement for
capital crimes, but under the New Covenant the blood of Yeshua is sufficient
to atone for all sins, regardless of intent [Acts 13:39; Heb 9:15; 1Jn 1:7].
what should we take away from this passage? First, Scripture is the only
plumbline for evaluating our behavior, not tradition or custom. Second, sin
cannot be hidden indefinitely. As the Torah says, "your sin will find you
out" [Num 32:23]. Third, we won't learn to live biblically by watching a TV
show. No, you actually have to read the Bible to learn about the life that
is pleasing to God [Col 1:9-10]. And, as Jim Adler has so often pointed out
pleasing God means a life of love. Fourth, and most importantly, pleasing
the Lord begins with having a relationship with Yeshua through the Holy
Spirit. Head knowledge is no substitute for heart knowledge.
Copyright © 2018 by
Blaine Robison. All rights reserved.