1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “If anyone sins and commits a breach of faith against the Lord by deceiving his neighbor in a matter of deposit or security, or through robbery, or if he has oppressed his neighbor 3 or has found something lost and lied about it, swearing falsely—in any of all the things that people do and sin thereby— 4 if he has sinned and has realized his guilt and will restore what he took by robbery or what he got by oppression or the deposit that was committed to him or the lost thing that he found 5 or anything about which he has sworn falsely, he shall restore it in full and shall add a fifth to it, and give it to him to whom it belongs on the day he realizes his guilt. 6 And he shall bring to the priest as his compensation to the Lord a ram without blemish out of the flock, or its equivalent, for a guilt offering. 7 And the priest shall make atonement for him before the Lord, and he shall be forgiven for any of the things that one may do and thereby become guilty.” – Leviticus 6:1-7 ESV
God continues to delineate the specific kinds of sins that require a guilt offering. In this case, He addresses the sin of theft and any acts of deception associated with the commission of the crime. It’s important to note that God considers these sins committed against another individual to have been committed against Him as well. The eighth commandment clearly prohibited stealing, so when someone stole from a fellow Israelite, they were also sinning against God Himself by breaking one of the commands found in the Decalogue.
We tend to think of stealing as a blatant act of robbery where someone takes an item that belongs to another. People could steal another person’s property, such as a sheep or goat, or they could break into their home and take an item of value. But God includes acts of deception that include fraud or failure to keep a financial commitment. God mentions something held in trust or a pledge. This would have covered the case of someone refusing to return an item that had been entrusted to their possession by a neighbor or friend. It was like a form of deposit. According to McClintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia, surety was “some form of עָרִב, arb, to barter, and especially to deposit a pledge, either in money, goods, or in part payment, as security for a bargain; ἔγγυος.”
To defraud someone of their deposit was the same as theft in the eyes of God. Refusing to return a pledge after a deal was consummated was a violation of the eighth commandment. The guilty party was taking something that was not rightfully theirs to keep. And their refusal to return the money or possession involved lying and deception.
God also included another form of theft. If a person found someone’s lost property or possession and refused to return it, they too were guilty of theft. And if they covered up their act with lies or denials, they only complicated the matter. In all of these cases, God required a guilt offering. But there was a further requirement of restitution and an additional penalty of a 20 percent tax on the value of the stolen goods. And it appears that these things had to take place before the required sacrifice could be offered and atonement received. God expected the guilty party to make things right with their offended neighbor.
Jesus dealt with something similar when giving His sermon on the mount.
“So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.” – Matthew 5:23-24 NLT
It was wrong for a person to seek forgiveness from God before they had made proper amends with the one they had defrauded or stolen from. Full restitution was required before any sacrifices could be made. Forgiveness of the sin could not precede reparations for the damages done. Once the guilty party became aware of his crime, he was expected to make things right with the offended party that very same day. And his restitution was to be immediately followed by his presentation of the guilt offering: “a ram without blemish out of the flock, or its equivalent” (Leviticus 6:6 NLT).
Since these sins involved crimes committed against another, they required confession and proper compensation. There had to be an admission of guilt and a willingness to make amends before the sinner could expect to have his damaged relationship with God restored. But once he had done the right thing, he was free to present his guilt offering at the Tabernacle,, and he was assured of receiving forgiveness from the Lord.
“Through this process, the priest will purify you before the Lord, making you right with him, and you will be forgiven for any of these sins you have committed.” – Leviticus 6:7 NLT
Ultimately, all sin is an offense against a holy and righteous God. But many of our sins are horizontal in nature, involving transgressions against others. Six of the ten commandments deal with sins committed against others. God knew that His chosen people were going to have a difficult time maintaining a proper sense of community. Greed, lust, envy, and jealousy would prove to be constant temptations for the people of Israel, and they would result in everything from lying and deception to fraud, theft, and even adultery. They were inevitable and unavoidable. So, God instituted a guilt offering to cover these kinds of sins. And because God thought ahead, the Israelites were guaranteed the blessing of His forgiveness even when they lived in disobedience to His commands. God would graciously restore them to a right relationship with Himself, but He would also see to it that they were restored to a right relationship with one another. This is why when the Pharisees asked Jesus what was the greatest of all of God’s commandments, He replied:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 22:37-40 ESV
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.