I’m still following the division of David W. Baker’s commentary on Leviticus in the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary on Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Today’s passage equates to Leviticus 5:14-26 in the Hebrew text, and the Hebrew text is indeed better divided than the English or the LXX.
While the section is indeed properly grouped together, the priests have snuck in a pretty major doctrine into the passage. The first part deals with violation of holy things (through 5:19), along with the possibility that one has done so but doesn’t know. I think there’s good reason to believe, with Milgrom and others, that this also involves that horrible sense of guilt that has no known source; one feels that one has done something very wrong, but can’t be sure. The early part of this passage provides an opportunity to deal with that guilt. One can pity the bank account of someone who had a guilt complex, however!
Some call this a guilt offering. I prefer “reparation” offering, again following a number of commentators. The offering accompanies a reparation. It is this reparation portion that presumably connects the violation of sacred things at the end of chapter 5 with the violation of one’s neighbor at the beginning of chapter 6.
I recall quite vividly how I encountered this chapter when reading Leviticus with Milgrom’s AB commentary. I read the passage ahead in Hebrew before reading the commentary and so I had studied through the previous chapters and noted the sacrifices for inadvertent sins, but no sacrifices for intentional sins. There was no statement that these sins were intentional, but it’s hard to imagine finding someone’s property and then lying about it as “inadvertent.”
Baker notes this, but the best discussion comes from Milgrom (373-378) in a section titled “The Priestly Doctrine of Repentance.” In his words, “…The Priestly authors took a postulate of their own tradition, that God mitigates punishment for unintentional sins, and empowered it with a new doctrine, that the voluntary repentance of a deliberate crime transforms the crime itself into an involuntary act.” NISB emphasizes the voluntary part of this repentance, i.e. one must repent without being caught.
The passage also provides the elements of repentance:
- A realization of feeling of guilt; one acknowledges that what was done was a wrong.
- Payment of reparation
- Desire for atonement and sacrifice
These days we frequently forget the first part and often the second. I doubt one gets to #5 without going through those elements.
The OSB notes that the sacrifices here for damage done to another are not gradated, unlike the previous sacrifices. The poor must offer the same thing as the rich. Being poor, they note, does not provide the right to steal (p. 124 on 5:15, 21, 25).
OSB – Orthodox Study Bible
Baker – Leviticus portion written by David H. Baker, of the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary on Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
Chapter 6 deals with sacrifices for sins that appear to be quite deliberate.