The Trespass Offering

The explanation of the sin offering has been brought to completion. The offering next in order and the one to which attention is now to be directed is the trespass offering. In the original the name found for this offering is the word asham, the primary meaning of which is guilt. In its nature and design it was nearly identical to the sin offering, as is evident from the description of it given in Lev. 5:14; 6:7 and especially from the statement in chap. 7:7, “As the sin offering is, so is the trespass offering: there is one law for them.” “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, If a soul commit a trespass, and sin through ignorance, in the holy things of the Lord; then he shall bring for his trespass unto the Lord a ram without blemish out of the flocks, with thy estimation by shekels of silver, after the shekel of the sanctuary, for a trespass offering; and he shall make amends for the harm that he hath done in the holy thing, and shall add the fifth part thereunto, and give it unto the priest; and the priest shall make an atonement for him with the ram of the trespass offering, and it shall be forgiven him,” Chap. 5:14-17.

“And if a soul sin and commit any of these things which are forbidden to be done by the commandments of the Lord; though he wist it not, yet he is guilty and shall bear his iniquity. And he shall bring a ram without blemish out of the flock, with thy estimation, for a trespass offering unto the priest: and the priest shall make an atonement for him concerning his ignorance wherein he erred and wist it not, and it shall be forgiven him. It is a trespass offering: he hath certainly trespassed against the Lord,” 5:18, 19.

“And the Lord spake unto Moses saying, If a soul sin, and commit a trespass against the Lord, and lie unto his neighbor in that which was delivered unto him to keep, or in fellowship, or in a thing taken away by violence, or hath deceived his neighbor; or have found that which was lost, and lieth concerning it, and sweareth falsely; in any of all these that a man doeth, sinning therein: then it shall be, because he hath sinned and is guilty, that he shall restore that which he took violently away, or the thing which he hath deceitfully gotten, or that was delivered him to keep, or the lost thing which he found, or all that about which he hath sworn falsely; he shall even restore it in the principle, and shall add the fifth more thereto, and give it unto him to whom it appertaineth, in the day of his trespass offering. And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the Lord, a ram without blemish out of the flock, with thy estimation, for a trespass offering unto the priest: and the priest shall make an atonement for him before the Lord: and it shall be forgiven him for any thing of all that he hath done in trespassing therein,” Chap. 6:1-7.

“When a man or woman shall commit any sin that men commit, to do a trespass against the Lord, and that person be guilty; then they shall confess their sin which they have done: and he shall recompense his guilt (asham) with the principle thereof, and add to the fifth part thereof, and give it unto him to whom he has become guilty. But if the man have no kinsmen to recompense the guilt (asham) unto, let the guilt (asham) be recompensed unto the Lord, to the priest, besides the ram of the atonement, whereby an atonement shall be made unto him,” Num. 5:5-8.

Many Bible students have found it difficult for themselves to precisely state how this guilt or trespass offering, as to its nature and design, differed from the sin offering. Gesenius, in that paragraph of his lexicon in which he gives the sense and meaning of the word Asham, says that the exact point of distinction between the kind of sins to be expiated by the one offering and the kind to be expiated by the other has hitherto been sought in vain. What may have been the cause of this failure to detect this difference and this distinction? According to Fairbairn, it was the mistake of supposing that the description of the trespass offering begins with the first verse of chapter 5. Now to suppose this is indeed plainly a mistake. The description of this latter offering begins not with chapter 5, but with the 14th verse of this chapter. The section beginning with chapter 5 and continuing through verse 13 concerns the sin offering. There is conclusive evidence of this. In 6 of the 13 verses of this section the offering is mentioned by name and the name employed in each instance is “sin offering.” This section then belongs not to what follows but to what immediately precedes. And what precedes is what constitutes the principle section of the description of the sin offering. In this disputed section provision is made for a cheaper kind of sin offering—for an offering (of fine flour) that the circumstances of the poorest among the Israelites would allow them to bring.

That the sin and trespass offering were two distinct offerings is a contention firmly substantiated by the circumstance that the requirements for each differed. The sin offering had to be a female from the flock, a lamb or kid of the goats on ordinary occasions, while on the great day of atonement the animals for the altar were to be a bullock for the high priest and a goat for the congregation. The trespass offering, on the other hand, called for a ram. There are still other differences to be noticed. The blood of the sin offering was put upon the horns of the altar and what remained of it was poured out at the altar’s base. As to the blood of the trespass offering, all of it was poured out at the base of the altar and thus not put upon its horns, nor carried into the holy places of the sanctuary. And when, on the more solemn and public occasions, it was required that a whole series of offerings be brought, the trespass offering was not of the required series. The conclusion is warranted therefore that this offering, as compared with the others, was of an inferior kind. And, finally, there was also a difference between the kind of sins that called for the sin offering and the kind to which the trespass offering had respect. What this difference was is clearly enough indicated by statements made in respect to sins expiated by the trespass offering—statements that read, “And he shall make amends for the harm that he has done in the holy thing. . . . Then it shall be, because he hath sinned, and is guilty, that he shall restore that which he took violently away, or the thing that he hath deceitfully gotten, or that which was delivered him to keep, or the lost thing which he found, or all that about which he hath sworn falsely; he shall even restore it in principal, and shall add the fifth part more thereunto,” Chap. 5:15; 6:4-5. “And he shall recompense the guilt with the principal thereof, and add to the fifth part thereof, and give it unto him to whom he has become guilty,” Num. 5:7. Thus the sins that required the trespass offering were sins the resulting harm of which the offender could make amends for and the guilt of which could be recompensed. The sins to which the sin offering had respect were not of this kind. They were not sins the guilt of which could be compensated.

Now this class of sins (the class that could be compensated and for which the trespass offering had been instituted) permitted of being divided into two groups. To the first group belonged the sins committed directly against Jehovah, while the other was comprised of sins that directly concerned the offender’s neighbor. Just what sins they were that formed this first group may be known from Scripture itself. According to Lev. 5:14, they were trespassers “in the holy things of the Lord.” The text reads, “If a soul commit a trespass in the holy things of the Lord;”. . . . Now according to Deut. 26:12, 18, “the holy things” of the Lord that the trespass offering concerned, were the first fruits and the tithes. In this passage statements occur that clearly show this, “When thou hast made an end of tithing all the tithes of thine increase. . . . When thou shalt say before the Lord thy God, I have brought away the hallowed things out of mine house. . . .” In this scripture, the “tithes” and the “hallowed things” appear as being one and the same.

Thus the sins expiated by the trespass offering were firstly those that consisted in the unconscious transgression of the laws that concerned the sacred dues. Now there are several such dues to be mentioned.

  1. The firstborn of the herd and flock—after having been properly sacrificed, such were to be eaten by those presenting them to Jehovah, and shared with the dependent members of the community and especially with the Levites. Deut. 14:23-27; 15:19-22.
  2. The first fruits—Each year every Israelite shall put the first-fruits of his ground in a basket and bring them to the sanctuary. After the priest has placed them before the altar, the offerer shall recount how Jehovah has cared for and led His race, delivering it from the bondage of Egypt and giving it the fertile land of Canaan. Having thus expressed his appreciation of Jehovah’s care, he and his family shall joyfully eat the first-fruits, sharing them with the Levites and the resident aliens. In addition to the first fruits of the grain, wine and oil, every Israelite shall bring to Jehovah the first fleece of the sheep shearing. All the fruit which a tree bears on its fourth year shall be presented to Jehovah. At harvest time a sheaf of the first fruits shall be waved by the priest to Jehovah. The first of the grain of the threshing floor and a cake made of the first coarse flour ground in the mill shall also be presented to Jehovah, Deut. 26:1-11; 18:4; Lev. 23:10, 11; Num. 15:18-21; Lev. 2:14-16.
  3. Tithes—The Israelites shall bring a tithe of all the products of their fields and vineyards to Jehovah at the sanctuary two out of every three years and there eat it, sharing it with the dependents in the community; but the tithes of the third year shall be stored up in the different towns for the use of the Levites and the needy. Each Israelite after setting aside the triennial tithe shall solemnly swear before Jehovah that he has withheld nothing of that which was due. A tenth not only of the products of the land and trees but also of the herd and flock shall be given to Jehovah. Any man attempting to substitute an inferior for a good animal shall forfeit both to Jehovah, together with the right of redeeming them. Otherwise, if a man desires to purchase back any part of the tithe which he owes, he shall pay its value and one-fifth in addition, Deut. 14:22-29; 26:12-15; Lev. 27:30-33.

The Levites, whose income is the tithes of the people, shall likewise turn over as their offering the choicest tenth of the same to the priests, Num. 18:26- 32.

  1. Poll-Tax—Every male Israelite, twenty or more years old shall pay, whether he be rich or poor, an annual poll-tax of half a temple shekel (about 35 cents). The income from this source shall be devoted to the support of the service of the sanctuary, Ex. 30:12-16.

Besides these dues, there are to be mentioned the voluntary offerings, the things vowed, and the spoils of war.

  1. Voluntary Offerings—Of the abundance of their fruits and of the products of the vine shall the Israelites give to Jehovah. When they go to worship him at the sanctuaries they shall never fail to bring some offering, Ex. 34:20; 22:19.

At the three great annual feasts every male Israelite shall bring to Jehovah at the central sanctuary voluntary offerings in proportion as he has been prospered and is able. These shall be eaten by the offerers and their households, Deut. 16:10-17; 12:5-8.

  1. Things Vowed—No one is obliged to make a vow; but, when he has, he must not be remiss in performing it, for negligence in so doing is a sin against Jehovah and will incur the divine displeasure. Deut. 23:21-23, 18; 12:10-26.
  2. Spoils of War—One one-thousandth of all the spoils of war were to be given to priests and the same amount to the Levites as a special gift to Jehovah. Num. 31:25-54.

These are the laws that the trespass offering first of all concerned. But this offering might be brought only if the transgression was the result of ignorance or oversight. It thus might not be brought if the transgression had been deliberate and intentional, the issue of a heart willfully disobedient. Here also the presumptuous sin cried for the immediate death of the offender. And it is not difficult to understand why it should. Israel was a people that has been delivered by Jehovah from the bondage of Egypt. The land of Canaan further was Jehovah’s rest which He had prepared and entered with His people. He therefore, as redeemer-God, was the supreme Lord of this land and of its redeemed inhabitants—the people of Israel. That there now might be in Israel a perpetual memorial of Jehovah’s past accomplishment and tangible evidence of His supreme Lordship, he commanded His people to separate unto him the tithes and first fruits of all their earthy gain and, after having placed them before His altar, to declare while still standing in His presence:


“A Syrian ready to perish was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there with a few, and became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous:

“And the Egyptians evil entreated us, and afflicted us with a hard bondage:

“And when we cried unto the Lord of our fathers, the Lord heard our voice and looked upon our afflictions, and our labour, and our oppression:

“And the Lord brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great terribleness, and with signs and with wonders:

“And he hath brought us into this place, and hath given us this land, even a land that floweth with milk and honey:

“And now, behold, I have brought the first-fruits of the land, which thou, O Lord, hast given me,” Deut 26:5-10.


Thus the Israelite, who purposely held back his first fruits, willfully neglected to come forward with the memorial of his (typical) deliverance and with the evidence of Jehovah’s supreme Lordship. Such a one, therefore, through his act of disobedience denied his own (typical) deliverance, rejected and disowned Jehovah as his redeemer-God, usurped God’s place in His own house to place in the service of self what belonged to God and what he, the Israelite, might therefore will to hold only as a trust. For it is to be considered that the first fruits and the tithes were representative of the entire harvest, so that through his willfully withholding these offerings, the offender declared that the supreme owner of all the yield of his land was not Jehovah but himself.

But there is more to say on this. These first fruits were also the sign of the first fruits of the Spirit of Christ, the earthy token of the sacrifice of the praise of that body, that self of his, that the believer presents to God a living, holy, and acceptable sacrifice. Thus those first fruits were at once a sign of heavenly realities, of the gifts of the Spirit that believers in this life receive out of Christ’s fullness. Wrote the apostle, “but ourselves also which have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption. . . .” Rom. 8:23. Now, as these first fruits of the Spirit are part and parcel of the man endowed with them, offering these fruits must consist in the believer offering his very self, in his yielding himself to God in a heartfelt service. Now of this spiritual act of dedication, the Israelite’s presenting his material gifts to the Lord was the sign. And if he was a believer, this act of his at once betokened his dedication of self to the service of his God.

It is plain therefore, that the Israelite who willfully withheld either the whole or a part of his first fruits, not only deliberately refused to bring forward the memorial of Israel’s deliverance and the evidence of the supreme Lordship of Jehovah but also refused to bring into being the very signs of the things heavenly. He was thus a man who, through his willful negligence, declared that he could rightfully and with impunity withhold his very self from the God Who had (symbolically) delivered him and in Whose house he dwelt as God’s creature.

But this is not all. The first fruits and the tithes were almost the sole source of support of the priests and the Levites by whom the service at the sanctuary was performed and of the stranger, the fatherless and the widow in the land. We learn this from Deut. 26:12. The passage reads, “When thou hast made an end of tithing all the tithes of thine increase the third year, the year of tithing, and hast given it unto the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that they may eat within thy gates and be filled,” And that the Israelite might always recoil from yielding to the sinful inclination of diminishing his tithes, the Lord placed him under the necessity of saying before His face, when an end of tithing had been made, “I have brought away the hallowed things out of mine house, and also have given them unto the Levite, and unto the stranger, to the fatherless, and to the widow, according to all Thy commandments which thou hast commanded me: I have not transgressed thy commandments, neither have I forgotten them: I have not eaten thereof in my mourning, neither have I taken away ought thereof for any unclean use, nor given ought thereof for the dead: but I have hearkened unto the voice of the Lord my God, and have done according to all that thou hast commanded me. Look down from thy holy habitation from heaven, and bless thy people Israel, and the land which thou hast given us, as thou swarest unto our fathers, a land that floweth with milk and honey” Deut. 26:13-15.

Thus the Israelite who knowingly diminished his tithes was one who said in his heart, “As for me, the indigent in the land and the ministers of Jehovah may starve and the service at the sanctuary may disappear from the face of the earth.” And what greatly aggravated his sin is that with the knowledge in his soul of willfully having defrauded Jehovah he would solemnly declare before the face of the Lord that he had brought away God’s “holy things” out of his house.

In the light of the above observations, it cannot be thought strange that the sin of taking away from these sacred dues called for the instant death of the offender. For such a one there was no sacrifice.

So, then, only he who unintentionally, by mistake or oversight, had withheld from Jehovah His just due, might bring the trespass offering. And this offering he had to bring. For “though he wist it not,” that is, though he without his knowledge had sinned in “the holy things of God,” “yet he is guilty, and shall bear his iniquity.” Thus his ignorance did not excuse him. “He hath certainly trespassed against the Lord” Lev. 5:17-19.

But more was required of him than this. Even before the priest was allowed to make atonement for him in respect to his sin, he was obliged to “make amends for the harm that he had done in the holy thing,and to “add the fifth part thereto, and give it unto the priest.” The clause “and shall add a fifth part thereto” proves conclusively that the offenses under consideration did actually consist in the offender having taken from the first fruits or from the tithes. There is also other evidence of this, found in the 15th verse of chap. 5, a verse that reads (in the original), “If a soul commit a trespass, and sin through ignorance, taking or diminishing from the holy things. . . If these had been diminished, unwittingly and thus not deliberately, the offender had to give whatever he had withheld and in addition a fifth part thereof. It was in this addition that the penalty was proportioned to the offence. The reparation having been made, then, with the ram “the priest shall make an atonement.”

Thus taking from the sacred dues, was a sin so serious that, if committed intentionally, it could not even be atoned (symbolically). It shows that here again we have to do with a sin that if intentional and persisted in, was one inconsistent with grace. For the above-cited reasons, no Israelite, with the love of God in his heart, could persistently walk in this sin. Even if unintentionally committed, the sin had to be atoned and the offender found himself under the necessity of making amends in a manner just described. That amends had to be made even before the sin might be atoned, had its reason. The offender had to provide the priest with some evidence that he had unintentionally defrauded Jehovah and that he was truly sorry for his carelessness. And this evidence consisted in his making amends for the harm that he had done.

What now has all this to say to us? It, of course, will not do to say that these requirements, as they concerned a service that has vanished away because of its having waxed old, may be altogether ignored by us. All scripture, thus also the ceremonial law, “is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” With what reproof, correction and instruction, then, do these requirements come to New Testament believers? What is their power to bind the conscience even in this day? Let us see. The statement that believers are still in duty bound to support by their material gifts the ministry of the word is one that certainly needs no proof. But the question whether our offering has the significance that it formerly had, must, of course, be answered in the negative. In presenting their material gifts unto the Lord, believers of this day do not bring forward the memorial of their deliverance from a typical bondage as did the believers of the Old Covenant when they offered. Neither must it be said that they give to the church and to the poor with a view to keeping alive the memory of their deliverance from their spiritual bondage. Were this true, the action would partake of the character of a sacrament. And as to the contention that these material contributions are to be regarded as special signs or symbols of the fruits of righteousness that believers bear—this contention, too, is wrong. This, to be sure, is not denying that in a general sense the earthy is a symbol of the heavenly.

If these observations are correct, and they are this, it follows that our contributions are no “holy things of the Lord” in the same sense that Israel’s first fruits and tithes were this. These gifts, on account of their being what they were, first fruits and tithes, that is, tenths (ten is a symbolical number signifying completeness) witnessed to the truth that the people of Israel were a people delivered from (a typical-symbolical) bondage, that the land in which this people resided was Jehovah’s, that thus this people, together with the entire yield of the soil of this land, belonged exclusively to Him. This was the speech of which their tithing was the expression. Offering the first fruits and tithing were very plainly typical-symbolical institutions that, together with the ceremonies of the law, vanished away.

Herewith the question has been answered whether the Church of God still finds itself under the necessity of tithing. It does not. Yet, as a method of giving, tithing is to be recommended. Only, what must be realized is that giving the tenths has now no more significance than the giving of the elevenths or the twelfths. For the ceremonies of the law have come to an end. God must now be served in spirit and in truth. Thus, the sacrifices that believers now bring are spiritual, those of praise. The gift is their living, holy body that they present unto God, and this body is now the memorial of their spiritual redemption. The apostles in their epistles everywhere emphasize this. “By him therefore,” wrote the apostle to the Hebrews, “let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name.” And the apostle Peter tells the (spiritual) strangers scattered abroad that “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.”

The matter then is this: In the Old Dispensation all was type and symbol: the deliverance from the bondage of Egypt, Canaan and its redeemed residents, the sanctuary and the sacrifices, the tithes and the first fruits together with the people’s voluntary offerings. But the true deliverance is from a bondage that is spiritual. The true sanctuary is the church. The true sacrifice is Christ. And the memorial and evidence of the believer’s redemption are the good works in which he is empowered to walk.

It is then the sanctified self that believers now place upon God’s altar. But this self necessarily includes their entire earthy substance, all their material gain. For this gain is God’s. It is a gain that He bestows in His love. It is an earthy reward that comes to them in conjunction with the exercise of sanctified powers and talents of which not they but Christ’s God is the Creator and Sustainer. And though the land in which they live is not a Canaan, the earth and the fullness thereof is as truly God’s as was Canaan. And it is with the yield of this earth that the Lord sustains the lower nature of His people in order that, as so sustained, they may work His works. How can Christ’s God possess His people and not their material substance, if this substance, too, is His creature? And did not Christ, through His suffering and death redeem His people, certainly, but with them the entire cosmos? So He did. The earth and the fullness therefore is rightfully His. And the wicked, by whom this earth is now being corrupted, must therefore be destroyed. The earth is not theirs but Christ’s. And for this truth, believers must witness. And their witnessing must consist in their yielding their very selves to Christ and in their serving Him with all their earthy substance. And this by God’s mercy, they do. And loving the kingdom causes, they freely and gladly give of their substance to the support thereof, as the Lord blessed them. But he who willfully diminishes these gifts, deliberately takes from that which should go to the support of the ministry of the word, commits a grave sin. Such a one, as well as that disobedient Israelite of old, sets himself up as supreme Lord over self and his substance. And he, too, through his willful negligence declares that as for him the service of God may perish from the earth.

But this is not enough said. Certain it is that the memorial of the believer’s redemption and actual liberation from the bondage of sin, is now the spiritual fruit that he as a good tree bears, but so bears that men see his good works and glorify God. Now a good work can be seen only when God’s love in the believer is allowed to express itself in deeds of mercy. The believer must do good if he is to be seen as a monument of Christ’s accomplishment in him. “But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased,” Heb. 13:15.

The conclusion to which we are driven is that the act of willfully withholding or diminishing the gifts that should go to the support of the ministry and of the poor is still a great sin. Can this sin, if deliberately done, be forgiven? As has been shown (in former articles), in the Old Dispensation it could not be symbolically atoned for and forgiven. But from this it does not follow, as has also been explained, that this sin and the class of (symbolically) unpardonable sins to which it belonged, could and cannot be truly forgiven. If repented of, it will be. And it will be repented of, if the offender be truly a believer. For what man with the love of God in his heart can deliberately and persistently walk in this sin? What truly Christian man can shut up his bowels from the poor and destitute brethren and from the ministry of the word? Says the apostle John in his first epistle, “But whoso has this world’s goods, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” I John 3:17. And if he who has offended in this respect, truly repents of his sin, will he not want to make amends for the harm he has done, as far as he is able? Will he not, as well as the offender of old, have to do this, if he would be forgiven?