Leviticus Chapters 5-7: Fixing Damage from Financial Abuse
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Welcome to PRS.work, a video series that helps us hear the Bible together at work. In this video you'll hear a brief introduction, a Psalm read as an opening prayer, a long passage from the Bible, and a commentary about what this means for work, workers, and the workplace. When the video ends you can discuss how this applies to your work.
Today’s public reading of scripture comes from the third book of the Bible, Leviticus. It’s set at the foot of Mt. Sinai when God invited Israel into a covenant relationship right after their exodus from slavery. They rebelled and broke that covenant. Leviticus is about God graciously providing a way for sinful, corrupt people to live in his holy presence.
Since God is set apart as the creator and the author of life, then the space around God is holy. It is full of goodness, life, purity, and justice. If Israel, who is unjust and sinful, wants to live in God’s holy presence, its people need also to become holy. Leviticus deals with the atoning or covering of their sin.
Leviticus explores the five main types of ritual sacrifices that Israel was to perform. Two of them offer back to God a thank you by providing symbolic tokens of what God first gave them. The other three were different ways of saying sorry to God. An Israelite would offer up the lifeblood of an animal while confessing that his sin has created more evil and death in God’s world. Instead of destroying the person, God wants to forgive him. The animal symbolically dies in his place and atones or covers his sin. Through these rituals, Israelites were reminded of God’s grace, justice, and the seriousness of their evil and its consequences.
Before reading along to a dramatic recording of Leviticus chapters 5-7, we will open with Psalm 49 in prayer.
To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of the sons of Korah.
Hear this, all peoples;
Give ear, all inhabitants of the world,
2 Both low and high,
Rich and poor together.
3 My mouth shall speak wisdom,
And the meditation of my heart shall give understanding.
4 I will incline my ear to a proverb;
I will disclose my dark saying on the harp.
5 Why should I fear in the days of evil,
When the iniquity at my heels surrounds me?
6 Those who trust in their wealth
And boast in the multitude of their riches,
7 None of them can by any means redeem his brother,
Nor give to God a ransom for him—
8 For the redemption of their souls is costly,
And it shall cease forever—
9 That he should continue to live eternally,
And not see the Pit.
10 For he sees wise men die;
Likewise the fool and the senseless person perish,
And leave their wealth to others.
11 Their inner thought is that their houses will last forever,
Their dwelling places to all generations;
They call their lands after their own names.
12 Nevertheless man, though in honor, does not remain;
He is like the beasts that perish.
13 This is the way of those who are foolish,
And of their posterity who approve their sayings. Selah
14 Like sheep they are laid in the grave;
Death shall feed on them;
The upright shall have dominion over them in the morning;
And their beauty shall be consumed in the grave, far from their dwelling.
15 But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave,
For He shall receive me. Selah
16 Do not be afraid when one becomes rich,
When the glory of his house is increased;
17 For when he dies he shall carry nothing away;
His glory shall not descend after him.
18 Though while he lives he blesses himself
(For men will praise you when you do well for yourself),
19 He shall go to the generation of his fathers;
They shall never see light.
20 A man who is in honor, yet does not understand,
Is like the beasts that perish.
‘If a person sins in hearing the utterance of an oath, and is a witness, whether he has seen or known of the matter—if he does not tell it, he bears guilt.
2 ‘Or if a person touches any unclean thing, whether it is the carcass of an unclean beast, or the carcass of unclean livestock, or the carcass of unclean creeping things, and he is unaware of it, he also shall be unclean and guilty. 3 Or if he touches human uncleanness—whatever uncleanness with which a man may be defiled, and he is unaware of it—when he realizes it, then he shall be guilty.
4 ‘Or if a person swears, speaking thoughtlessly with his lips to do evil or to do good, whatever it is that a man may pronounce by an oath, and he is unaware of it—when he realizes it, then he shall be guilty in any of these matters.
5 ‘And it shall be, when he is guilty in any of these matters, that he shall confess that he has sinned in that thing; 6 and he shall bring his trespass offering to the Lord for his sin which he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a kid of the goats as a sin offering. So the priest shall make atonement for him concerning his sin.
7 ‘If he is not able to bring a lamb, then he shall bring to the Lord, for his trespass which he has committed, two turtledoves or two young pigeons: one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering. 8 And he shall bring them to the priest, who shall offer that which is for the sin offering first, and wring off its head from its neck, but shall not divide it completely. 9 Then he shall sprinkle some of the blood of the sin offering on the side of the altar, and the rest of the blood shall be drained out at the base of the altar. It is a sin offering. 10 And he shall offer the second as a burnt offering according to the prescribed manner. So the priest shall make atonement on his behalf for his sin which he has committed, and it shall be forgiven him.
11 ‘But if he is not able to bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons, then he who sinned shall bring for his offering one-tenth of an ephah of fine flour as a sin offering. He shall put no oil on it, nor shall he put frankincense on it, for it is a sin offering. 12 Then he shall bring it to the priest, and the priest shall take his handful of it as a memorial portion, and burn it on the altar according to the offerings made by fire to the Lord. It is a sin offering. 13 The priest shall make atonement for him, for his sin that he has committed in any of these matters; and it shall be forgiven him. The rest shall be the priest’s as a grain offering.’ ”
14 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 15 “If a person commits a trespass, and sins unintentionally in regard to the holy things of the Lord, then he shall bring to the Lord as his trespass offering a ram without blemish from the flocks, with your valuation in shekels of silver according to the shekel of the sanctuary, as a trespass offering. 16 And he shall make restitution for the harm that he has done in regard to the holy thing, and shall add one-fifth to it and give it to the priest. So the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the trespass offering, and it shall be forgiven him.
17 “If a person sins, and commits any of these things which are forbidden to be done by the commandments of the Lord, though he does not know it, yet he is guilty and shall bear his iniquity. 18 And he shall bring to the priest a ram without blemish from the flock, with your valuation, as a trespass offering. So the priest shall make atonement for him regarding his ignorance in which he erred and did not know it, and it shall be forgiven him. 19 It is a trespass offering; he has certainly trespassed against the Lord.”
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2 “If a person sins and commits a trespass against the Lord by lying to his neighbor about what was delivered to him for safekeeping, or about a pledge, or about a robbery, or if he has extorted from his neighbor, 3 or if he has found what was lost and lies concerning it, and swears falsely—in any one of these things that a man may do in which he sins: 4 then it shall be, because he has sinned and is guilty, that he shall restore what he has stolen, or the thing which he has extorted, or what was delivered to him for safekeeping, or the lost thing which he found, 5 or all that about which he has sworn falsely. He shall restore its full value, add one-fifth more to it, and give it to whomever it belongs, on the day of his trespass offering. 6 And he shall bring his trespass offering to the Lord, a ram without blemish from the flock, with your valuation, as a trespass offering, to the priest. 7 So the priest shall make atonement for him before the Lord, and he shall be forgiven for any one of these things that he may have done in which he trespasses.”
8 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 9 “Command Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘This is the law of the burnt offering: The burnt offering shall be on the hearth upon the altar all night until morning, and the fire of the altar shall be kept burning on it. 10 And the priest shall put on his linen garment, and his linen trousers he shall put on his body, and take up the ashes of the burnt offering which the fire has consumed on the altar, and he shall put them beside the altar. 11 Then he shall take off his garments, put on other garments, and carry the ashes outside the camp to a clean place. 12 And the fire on the altar shall be kept burning on it; it shall not be put out. And the priest shall burn wood on it every morning, and lay the burnt offering in order on it; and he shall burn on it the fat of the peace offerings. 13 A fire shall always be burning on the altar; it shall never go out.
14 ‘This is the law of the grain offering: The sons of Aaron shall offer it on the altar before the Lord. 15 He shall take from it his handful of the fine flour of the grain offering, with its oil, and all the frankincense which is on the grain offering, and shall burn it on the altar for a sweet aroma, as a memorial to the Lord. 16 And the remainder of it Aaron and his sons shall eat; with unleavened bread it shall be eaten in a holy place; in the court of the tabernacle of meeting they shall eat it. 17 It shall not be baked with leaven. I have given it as their portion of My offerings made by fire; it is most holy, like the sin offering and the trespass offering. 18 All the males among the children of Aaron may eat it. It shall be a statute forever in your generations concerning the offerings made by fire to the Lord. Everyone who touches them must be holy.’ ”
19 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 20 “This is the offering of Aaron and his sons, which they shall offer to the Lord, beginning on the day when he is anointed: one-tenth of an ephah of fine flour as a daily grain offering, half of it in the morning and half of it at night. 21 It shall be made in a pan with oil. When it is mixed, you shall bring it in. The baked pieces of the grain offering you shall offer for a sweet aroma to the Lord. 22 The priest from among his sons, who is anointed in his place, shall offer it. It is a statute forever to the Lord. It shall be wholly burned. 23 For every grain offering for the priest shall be wholly burned. It shall not be eaten.”
24 Also the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 25 “Speak to Aaron and to his sons, saying, ‘This is the law of the sin offering: In the place where the burnt offering is killed, the sin offering shall be killed before the Lord. It is most holy. 26 The priest who offers it for sin shall eat it. In a holy place it shall be eaten, in the court of the tabernacle of meeting. 27 Everyone who touches its flesh must be holy. And when its blood is sprinkled on any garment, you shall wash that on which it was sprinkled, in a holy place. 28 But the earthen vessel in which it is boiled shall be broken. And if it is boiled in a bronze pot, it shall be both scoured and rinsed in water. 29 All the males among the priests may eat it. It is most holy. 30 But no sin offering from which any of the blood is brought into the tabernacle of meeting, to make atonement in the holy place, shall be eaten. It shall be burned in the fire.
‘Likewise this is the law of the trespass offering (it is most holy): 2 In the place where they kill the burnt offering they shall kill the trespass offering. And its blood he shall sprinkle all around on the altar. 3 And he shall offer from it all its fat. The fat tail and the fat that covers the entrails, 4 the two kidneys and the fat that is on them by the flanks, and the fatty lobe attached to the liver above the kidneys, he shall remove; 5 and the priest shall burn them on the altar as an offering made by fire to the Lord. It is a trespass offering. 6 Every male among the priests may eat it. It shall be eaten in a holy place. It is most holy. 7 The trespass offering is like the sin offering; there is one law for them both: the priest who makes atonement with it shall have it. 8 And the priest who offers anyone’s burnt offering, that priest shall have for himself the skin of the burnt offering which he has offered. 9 Also every grain offering that is baked in the oven and all that is prepared in the covered pan, or in a pan, shall be the priest’s who offers it. 10 Every grain offering, whether mixed with oil or dry, shall belong to all the sons of Aaron, to one as much as the other.
11 ‘This is the law of the sacrifice of peace offerings which he shall offer to the Lord: 12 If he offers it for a thanksgiving, then he shall offer, with the sacrifice of thanksgiving, unleavened cakes mixed with oil, unleavened wafers anointed with oil, or cakes of blended flour mixed with oil. 13 Besides the cakes, as his offering he shall offer leavened bread with the sacrifice of thanksgiving of his peace offering. 14 And from it he shall offer one cake from each offering as a heave offering to the Lord. It shall belong to the priest who sprinkles the blood of the peace offering.
15 ‘The flesh of the sacrifice of his peace offering for thanksgiving shall be eaten the same day it is offered. He shall not leave any of it until morning. 16 But if the sacrifice of his offering is a vow or a voluntary offering, it shall be eaten the same day that he offers his sacrifice; but on the next day the remainder of it also may be eaten; 17 the remainder of the flesh of the sacrifice on the third day must be burned with fire. 18 And if any of the flesh of the sacrifice of his peace offering is eaten at all on the third day, it shall not be accepted, nor shall it be imputed to him; it shall be an abomination to him who offers it, and the person who eats of it shall bear guilt.
19 ‘The flesh that touches any unclean thing shall not be eaten. It shall be burned with fire. And as for the clean flesh, all who are clean may eat of it. 20 But the person who eats the flesh of the sacrifice of the peace offering that belongs to the Lord, while he is unclean, that person shall be cut off from his people. 21 Moreover the person who touches any unclean thing, such as human uncleanness, an unclean animal, or any abominable unclean thing, and who eats the flesh of the sacrifice of the peace offering that belongs to the Lord, that person shall be cut off from his people.’ ”
22 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 23 “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘You shall not eat any fat, of ox or sheep or goat. 24 And the fat of an animal that dies naturally, and the fat of what is torn by wild beasts, may be used in any other way; but you shall by no means eat it. 25 For whoever eats the fat of the animal of which men offer an offering made by fire to the Lord, the person who eats it shall be cut off from his people. 26 Moreover you shall not eat any blood in any of your dwellings, whether of bird or beast. 27 Whoever eats any blood, that person shall be cut off from his people.’ ”
28 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 29 “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘He who offers the sacrifice of his peace offering to the Lord shall bring his offering to the Lord from the sacrifice of his peace offering. 30 His own hands shall bring the offerings made by fire to the Lord. The fat with the breast he shall bring, that the breast may be waved as a wave offering before the Lord. 31 And the priest shall burn the fat on the altar, but the breast shall be Aaron’s and his sons’. 32 Also the right thigh you shall give to the priest as a heave offering from the sacrifices of your peace offerings. 33 He among the sons of Aaron, who offers the blood of the peace offering and the fat, shall have the right thigh for his part. 34 For the breast of the wave offering and the thigh of the heave offering I have taken from the children of Israel, from the sacrifices of their peace offerings, and I have given them to Aaron the priest and to his sons from the children of Israel by a statute forever.’ ”
35 This is the consecrated portion for Aaron and his sons, from the offerings made by fire to the Lord, on the day when Moses presented them to minister to the Lord as priests. 36 The Lord commanded this to be given to them by the children of Israel, on the day that He anointed them, by a statute forever throughout their generations.
37 This is the law of the burnt offering, the grain offering, the sin offering, the trespass offering, the consecrations, and the sacrifice of the peace offering, 38 which the Lord commanded Moses on Mount Sinai, on the day when He commanded the children of Israel to offer their offerings to the Lord in the Wilderness of Sinai.
Pause for Reflection
Now we'll take a moment to reflect silently on what we have just read and heard in Scripture.
Fixing Damage from Financial Abuse
From the Theology of Work Bible Commentary on Leviticus
The book of Leviticus contains regulations for Israel’s sacrificial system. We should not assume that this material is empty liturgy irrelevant to the world of work. Instead, we must look at the way the people of Israel coped with their collective problems in order to explore how we, as people in Christ, may cope with ours.
The purpose of sacrifice in Leviticus was not merely to remedy occasional lapses of purity. The Hebrew verb for “offering” a sacrifice means literally to “bring (it) near.” Bringing a sacrifice near to the sanctuary brought the worshipper near to God. The worshipper’s individual degree of misbehavior was not the main issue. The pollution caused by impurity was a consequence for the entire community. The guilty community included both the few people who had sinned and the silent majority that had allowed the wicked to flourish in their midst. The people as a whole bore collective responsibility for corrupting society and thus giving God legitimate reason to leave his sanctuary.
The guilt offering (also known as the reparation offering) is particularly relevant to the world of work. According to Leviticus 6:2-3, God required offerings whenever a person deceived another about a deposit, committed robbery or fraud, lied about lost property that had been found, or swore falsely. The guilt offering was not a fine imposed by a court of law, but a reparation offered by perpetrators who got away with the offense, but who then later felt guilty.
Such sins would often have been committed in the context of commerce or other work. The guilt offering calls for the remorseful sinner to return what was wrongfully taken plus 20 percent. Only after settling the matter financially on a human level may the sinner receive forgiveness from God by presenting an animal to the priest for sacrifice.
Israel’s sacrificial guidelines offers several lessons for us today on fixing the damage from financial abuse.
The first is that mere apology is not enough to right the wrong. Neither is full restoration of what was taken. Something akin to today’s concept of punitive damages must be added. But with guilt offerings—unlike court-ordered punitive damages—offenders willingly take on a share of the harm themselves.
Going above and beyond mere restoration to do all that is required to right a wrong is not only good for the person offended, it is also good for the offender. The guilt offering recognized the torment that seizes the conscience of someone who becomes aware of their crime and its damaging effects on another person. It provides a way for the guilty party to deal fully with the matter, bringing closure and peace. This process expresses God’s mercy to both the victim and the perpetrator. For the guilty party, their guilt need not fester or erupt into more serious offenses. For the victim, or his or her family, it extinguishes the need to take matters into their own hands and seek vengeful restitution.
Nothing in Jesus’ atoning work on the cross releases the people of God today from the need for making restitution. Jesus taught his disciples, “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).
The guilt offering is a potent reminder that God does not exercise his right of forgiveness at the expense of people harmed by our misdeeds. He does not offer us psychological release from our guilt as a cheap substitute for making right the damage and hurt we have caused. If we have abused others financially, drawing near to God requires a sacrifice.