Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
There follow here three special examples of sin on the part of the common Israelite, all sins of omission and rashness of a lighter kind than the cases mentioned in Lev 4:27.; in which, therefore, if the person for whom expiation was to be made was in needy circumstances, instead of a goat or ewe-sheep, a pair of doves could be received as a sacrificial gift, or, in cases of still greater poverty, the tenth of an ephah of fine flour. The following were the cases. The first (Lev 5:1), when any one had heard the voice of an oath (an oath spoken aloud) and was a witness, i.e., was in a condition to give evidence, whether he had seen what took place or had learned it, that is to say, had come to the knowledge of it in some other way. In this case, if he did not make it known, he was to bear his offence, i.e., to bear the guilt, which he had contracted by omitting to make it known, with all its consequences. אלה does not mean a curse in general, but an oath, as an imprecation upon one's self (= the "oath of cursing" in Num 5:21); and the sin referred to did not consist in the fact that a person heard a curse, imprecation, or blasphemy, and gave no evidence of it (for neither the expression "and is a witness," nor the words "hath seen or known of it," are in harmony with this), but in the fact that one who knew of another's crime, whether he had seen it, or had come to the certain knowledge of it in any other way, and was therefore qualified to appear in court as a witness for the conviction of the criminal, neglected to do so, and did not state what he had seen or learned, when he heard the solemn adjuration of the judge at the public investigation of the crime, by which all persons present, who knew anything of the matter, were urged to come forward as witnesses (vid., Oehler in Herzog's Cycl.). עון נשׁא, to bear the offence or sin, i.e., to take away and endure its consequences (see Gen 4:13), whether they consisted in chastisements and judgments, by which God punished the sin (Lev 7:18; Lev 17:16; Lev 19:17), such as diseases or distress (Num 5:31; Num 14:33-34), childlessness (Lev 20:20), death (Lev 22:9), or extermination (Lev 19:8; Lev 20:17; Lev 9:13), or in punishment inflicted by men (Lev 24:15), or whether they could be expiated by sin-offerings (as in this passage and Lev 5:17) and other kinds of atonement. In this sense חמא נשׂא is also sometimes used (see at Lev 19:17).
The second was, if any one had touched the carcase of an unclean beast, or cattle, or creeping thing, or the uncleanness of a man of any kind whatever ("with regard to all his uncleanness, with which he defiles himself," i.e., any kind of defilement to which a man is exposed), and "it is hidden from him," sc., the uncleanness or defilement; that is to say, if he had unconsciously defiled himself by touching unclean objects, and had consequently neglected the purification prescribed for such cases. In this case, if he found it out afterwards, he had contracted guilt which needed expiation.
The third was, if any one should "swear to prate with the lips," i.e., swear in idle, empty words of the lips, - "to do good or evil," i.e., that he would do anything whatever (Num 24:13; Isa 41:23), - "with regard to all that he speaks idly with an oath," i.e., if it related to something which a man had affirmed with an oath in thoughtless conversation, - "and it is hidden from him," i.e., if he did not reflect that he might commit sin by such thoughtless swearing, and if he perceived it afterwards and discovered his sin, and had incurred guilt with regard to one of the things which he had thoughtlessly sworn.
If any one therefore (the three cases enumerated are comprehended under the one expression כי והיה, for the purpose of introducing the apodosis) had contracted guilt with reference to one of these (the things named in Lev 5:1-4), and confessed in what he had sinned, he was to offer as his guilt (trespass) to the Lord, for the sin which he had sinned, a female from the flock-for a sin-offering, that the priest might make atonement for him on account of his sin. אשׁם (Lev 5:6) does not mean either guilt-offering or debitum (Knobel), but culpa, delictum, reatus, as in Lev 5:7 : "as his guilt," i.e., for the expiation of his guilt, which he had brought upon himself.
"But if his hand does not reach what is sufficient for a sheep," i.e., if he could not afford enough to sacrifice a sheep ("his hand" is put for what his hand acquires), he was to bring two turtle-doves or two young pigeons, one for the sin-offering, the other for the burnt-offering. The pigeon intended for the sin, i.e., for the sin-offering, he was to bring first of all to the priest, who was to offer it in the following manner. The head was to be pinched off from opposite to its neck, i.e., in the nape just below the head, though without entirely severing it, that is to say, it was to be pinched off sufficiently to kill the bird and allow the blood to flow out. He was then to sprinkle of the blood upon the wall of the altar, which could be effected by swinging the bleeding pigeon, and to squeeze out the rest of the blood against the wall of the altar, because it was a sin-offering; for in the burnt-offering he let all the blood flow out against the wall of the altar (Lev 1:15). What more was done with the pigeon is not stated. Hence it cannot be decided with certainty, whether, after the crop and its contents were removed and thrown upon the ash-heap, the whole of the bird was burned upon the altar, or whether it fell to the priest, as the Mishnah affirms (Seb. vi. 4), so that none of it was placed upon the altar. One circumstance which seems to favour the statement in the Talmud is the fact, that in the sin-offering of pigeons, a second pigeon was to be offered as a burnt-offering, and, according to Lev 5:10, for the purpose of making an atonement; probably for no other purpose than to burn it upon the altar, as the dove of the sin-offering was not burned, and the sacrifice was incomplete without some offering upon the altar. In the case of sin-offerings of quadrupeds, the fat portions were laid upon the altar, and the flesh could be eaten by the priest by virtue of his office; but in that of pigeons, it was not possible to separate fat portions from the flesh for the purpose of burning upon the altar by themselves, and it would not do to divide the bird in half, and let one half be burned and the other eaten by the priest, as this would have associated the idea of halfness or incompleteness with the sacrifice. A second pigeon was therefore to be sacrificed as a burnt-offering, כּמּשׂפּט, according to the right laid down in Lev 1:14., that the priest might make atonement for the offerer on account of his sin, whereas in the sin-offering of a quadruped one sacrificial animal was sufficient to complete the expiation.
(Note: From the instructions to offer two pigeons in order to obtain expiation, it is perfectly evident that the eating of the flesh of the sin-offering on the part of the priest formed an essential part of the act of expiation, and was not merely a kind of honourable tribute, which God awarded to His servants who officiated at the sacrifice.)
But if any one could not afford even two pigeons, he was to offer the tenth of an ephah of fine flour as a sin-offering. ידו תּשּׂיג for ידו תּגּיע (Lev 5:7): his hand reaches to anything, is able to raise it, or with an accusative, obtains, gets anything (used in the same sense in Lev 14:30, Lev 14:31), or else absolutely, acquires, or gets rich (Lev 25:26, Lev 25:47). But it was to be offered without oil and incense, because it was a sin-offering, that is to say, "because it was not to have the character of a minchah" (Oehler). But the reason why it was not to have this character was, that only those who were in a state of grace could offer a minchah, and not a man who had fallen from grace through sin. As such a man could not offer to the Lord the fruits of the Spirit of God and of prayer, he was not allowed to add oil and incense, as symbols of the Spirit and praise of God, to the sacrifice with which he sought the forgiveness of sin. The priest was to take a handful of the meal offered, and burn it upon the altar as a memorial, and thus make atonement for the sinner on account of his sin. - On "his handful" and "a memorial" (Azcarah), see Lev 2:2. "In one of these" (Lev 5:13 as in Lev 5:5): cf. Lev 4:2. "And let it (the remainder of the meal offered) belong to the priest like the meat-offering:" i.e., as being most holy (Lev 2:3).
(Note: In the original the division of verses in the Hebrew text is followed; but we have thought it better to keep to the arrangement adopted in our English version. - Tr.)
The Trespass-Offerings. - These were presented for special sins, by which a person had contracted guilt, and therefore they are not included in the general festal sacrifices. Three kinds of offences are mentioned in this section as requiring trespass-offerings. The first is, "if a soul commit a breach of trust, and sin in going wrong in the holy gifts of Jehovah." מעל, lit., to cover, hence מעיל the cloak, over-coat, signifies to act secretly, unfaithfully, especially against Jehovah, either by falling away from Him into idolatry, by which the fitting honour was withheld from Jehovah (Lev 26:40; Deu 32:51; Jos 22:16), or by infringing upon His rights, abstracting something that rightfully belonged to Him. Thus in Jos 7:1; Jos 22:20, it is applied to fraud in relation to that which had been put under the ban; and in Num 5:12, Num 5:27,it is also applied to a married woman's unfaithfulness to her husband: so that sin was called מעל, when regarded as a violation of existing rights. "The holy things of Jehovah" were the holy gifts, sacrifices, first-fruits, tithes, etc., which were to be offered to Jehovah, and were assigned by Him to the priests for their revenue (see Lev 21:22). חטא with מן is constructio praegnans: to sin in anything by taking away from Jehovah that which belonged to Him. בּשׁגגה, in error (see Lev 4:2): i.e., in a forgetful or negligent way. Whoever sinned in this way was to offer to the Lord as his guilt (see Lev 5:6) a ram from the flock without blemish for a trespass-offering (lit., guilt-offering), according to the estimate of Moses, whose place was afterwards taken by the officiating priest (Lev 27:12; Num 18:16). שׁקלים כּסף "money of shekels," i.e., several shekels in amount, which Abenezra and others have explained, no doubt correctly, as meaning that the ram was to be worth more than one shekel, two shekels at least. The expression is probably kept indefinite, for the purpose of leaving some margin for the valuation, so that there might be a certain proportion between the value of the ram and the magnitude of the trespass committed (see Oehler ut sup. p. 645). "In the holy shekel:" see Exo 30:13. At the same time, the culprit was to make compensation for the fraud committed in the holy thing, and add a fifth (of the value) over, as in the case of the redemption of the first-born, of the vegetable tithe, or of what had been vowed to God (Lev 27:27, Lev 27:31, and Lev 27:13, Lev 27:15, Lev 27:19). The ceremony to be observed in the offering of the ram is described in Lev 7:1. It was the same as that of the sin-offerings, whose blood was not brought into the holy place, except with regard to the sprinkling of the blood, and in this the trespass-offering resembled the burnt-offerings and peace-offerings.
The second case (Lev 5:17-19), from its very position between the other two, which both refer to the violation of rights, must belong to the same category; although the sin is introduced with the formula used in Lev 4:27 in connection with those sins which were to be expiated by a sin-offering. But the violation of right can only have consisted in an invasion of Jehovah's rights with regard to Israel, and not, as Knobel supposes, in an invasion of the rights of private Israelites, as distinguished from the priests; an antithesis of which there is not the slightest indication. This is evident from the fact, that the case before us is linked on to the previous one without anything intervening; whereas the next case, which treats of the violation of the rights of a neighbour, is separated by a special introductory formula. The expression, "and wist it not," refers to ignorance of the sin, and not of the divine commands; as may be clearly seen from Lev 5:18 : "the priest shall make an atonement for him concerning his error, which he committed without knowing it." The trespass-offering was the same as in the former case, and was also to be valued by the priest; but no compensation is mentioned, probably because the violation of right, which consisted in the transgression of one of the commands of God, was of such a kind as not to allow of material compensation. The third case (Lev 6:1-7) is distinguished from the other two by a new introductory formula. The sin and unfaithfulness to Jehovah are manifested in this case in a violation of the rights of a neighbour. "If a man deny to his neighbour (כּחשׁ with a double ב obj., to deny a thing to a person) a pikkadon (i.e., a deposit, a thing entrusted to him to keep, Gen 41:36), or יד תּשׂוּמת, "a thing placed in his hand" (handed over to him as a pledge) "or גּזל, a thing robbed" (i.e., the property of a neighbour unjustly appropriated, whether a well, a field, or cattle, Gen 21:25; Mic 2:2; Job 24:2), "or if he have oppressed his neighbour" (i.e., forced something from him or withheld it unjustly, Lev 19:13; Deu 24:14; Jos 12:8; Mal 3:5), "or have found a lost thing and denies it, and thereby swears to his lie" (i.e., rests his oath upon a lie), "on account of one of all that a man is accustomed to do to sin therewith:" the false swearing here refers not merely to a denial of what is found, but to all the crimes mentioned, which originated in avarice and selfishness, but through the false swearing became frauds against Jehovah, adding guilt towards God to the injustice done to the neighbour, and requiring, therefore, not only that a material restitution should be made to the neighbour, but that compensation should be made to God as well. Whatever had been robbed, or taken by force, or entrusted or found, and anything about which a man had sworn falsely (Lev 6:4, Lev 6:5), was to be restored "according to its sum" (cf. Exo 30:12; Num 1:2, etc.), i.e., in its full value; beside which, he was to "add its fifths" (on the plural, see Ges. 87, 2; Ew. 186 e), i.e., in every one of the things abstracted or withheld unjustly the fifth part of the value was to be added to the full amount (as in Lev 5:16). "To him to whom it (belongs), shall he give it" אשׁמתו בּיום: in the day when he makes atonement for his trespass, i.e., offers his trespass-offering. The trespass (guilt) against Jehovah was to be taken away by the trespass-offering according to the valuation of the priest, as in Lev 5:15, Lev 5:16, and Lev 5:18, that he might receive expiation and forgiveness on account of what he had done.
If now, in order to obtain a clear view of the much canvassed difference between the sin-offerings and trespass-offerings,
(Note: For the different views, see Bhr's Symbolik; Winer's bibl. R. W.; Kurtz on Sacrificial Worship; Riehm, theol. Stud. und Krit. 1854, pp. 93ff.; Rinck, id. 1855, p. 369; Oehler in Herzog's Cycl.)
we look at once at the other cases, for which trespass-offerings were commanded in the law; we find in Num 5:5-8 not only a trespass against Jehovah, but an unjust withdrawal of the property of a neighbour, clearly mentioned as a crime, for which material compensation was to be made with the addition of a fifth of its value, just as in Lev 5:2-7 of the present chapter. So also the guilt of a man who had lain with the slave of another (Lev 19:20-22) did not come into the ordinary category of adultery, but into that of an unjust invasion of the domain of another's property; though in this case, as the crime could not be estimated in money, instead of material compensation being made, a civil punishment (viz., bodily scourging) was to be inflicted; and for the same reason nothing is said about the valuation of the sacrificial ram. Lastly, in the trespass-offerings for the cleansing of a leper (Lev 14:12.), or of a Nazarite who had been defiled by a corpse (Num 6:12), it is true we cannot show in what definite way the rights of Jehovah were violated (see the explanation of these passages), but the sacrifices themselves served to procure the restoration of the persons in question to certain covenant rights which they had lost; so that even here the trespass-offering, for which moreover only a male sheep was demanded, was to be regarded as a compensation or equivalent for the rights to be restored. From all these cases it is perfectly evident, that the idea of satisfaction for a right, which had been violated but was about to be restored or recovered, lay at the foundation of the trespass-offering,
(Note: Even in the case of the trespass-offering, which those who had taken heathen wives offered at Ezra's instigation (Ezr 10:18.), it had reference to a trespass (cf. vv. 2 and 10), an act of unfaithfulness to Jehovah, which demanded satisfaction. And so again the Philistines (Sa1 6:3.), when presenting gifts as a trespass-offering for Jehovah, rendered satisfaction for the robbery committed upon Him by the removal of the ark of the covenant.)
and the ritual also points to this. The animal sacrificed was always a ram, except in the cases mentioned in Lev 14:12. and Num 6:12. This fact alone clearly distinguishes the trespass-offerings from the sin-offerings, for which all kinds of sacrifices were offered from an ox to a pigeon, the choice of the animal being regulated by the position of the sinner and the magnitude of his sin. But they are distinguished still more by the fact, that in the case of all the sin-offerings the blood was to be put upon the horns of the altar, or even taken into the sanctuary itself, whereas the blood of the trespass-offerings, like that of the burnt and peace-offerings, was merely swung against the wall of the altar (Lev 7:2). Lastly, they were also distinguished by the fact, that in the trespass-offering the ram was in most instances to be valued by the priest, not for the purpose of determining its actual value, which could not vary very materially in rams of the same kind, but to fix upon it symbolically the value of the trespass for which compensation was required. Hence there can be no doubt, that as the idea of the expiation of sin, which was embodied in the sprinkling of the blood, was most prominent in the sin-offering; so the idea of satisfaction for the restoration of rights that had been violated or disturbed came into the foreground in the trespass-offering. This satisfaction was to be actually made, wherever the guilt admitted of a material valuation, by means of payment or penance; and in addition to this, the animal was raised by the priestly valuation into the authorized bearer of the satisfaction to be rendered to the rights of God, through the sacrifice of which the culprit could obtain the expiation of his guilt.