Have you ever sinned and thought to yourself, “I didn’t mean to do that! That was an accident!” Surprisingly, the Bible actually speaks on this subject. Leviticus 4:1–5:13 talks about unintentional sins (as well as intentional ones) and makes divisions of penalties and responses accordingly. Apparently, this was an issue that even the Israelites all those hundreds of years ago struggled with too!
So let us look at each type of sin individually today before then making some conclusions and applications. The first sin addressed is the unintentional sin. Leviticus 4:2 states that the first of the sin offerings was to be conducted “if anyone sins unintentionally in any of the Lord’s commandments about things not to be done, and does any one of them.” But what exactly does “unintentional” mean? The English term can be misleading as it suggests sins committed by mistake. However, the term basically means “to go astray, to err”. In context, the term gives the sense of someone struggling, of someone who either lacks the discipline, the fortitude or the know-how to keep all the commands at all times. The direct link between sinning unintentionally and not observing all the commandments of the Lord is also supported in other Old Testament passages like Numbers 15:22, but here also the defining mark of an “unintentional sin” is that it is not done in defiance. In other words, this person is not intentionally trying to rebel against God. Nevertheless, sin was committed.
From this context, it is easy to understand what an “intentional sin” is. Consider once again Numbers 15, but this time verses 30 and 31. Here it states: “But the person who does anything with a high hand, whether he is a native or a sojourner, reviles the Lord, and that person shall be cut off from among his people. Because he has despised the word of the Lord and his broken his commandment…” The original term in these verses actually translates “to lift one’s hand in the air”, thereby suggesting a premeditated sin. In this situation no sin offering would make atonement for this kind of sin because it amounted to blaspheming the LORD (“reviles”; Numbers 15:30) and despising the LORD’s word (Numbers 15:30).
In essence, there was only one type of sin that the priest could offer sin offerings for and that was on account of people who were unintentionally sinning. These were people who were seeking to love the Lord their God with all their heart, mind and strength, but were still failing miserably. The Lord, in response, tells them that He sees them, He knows them and is loving and gracious to forgive them as long as they continue to strive after Him. What a beautiful picture of grace! And indeed a picture that is still as true today as it was back then. We, who are believers, still sin though hard as we may try not to. But God, in His mercy, tells us over and over that, “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). So why not come to God today and confess your accidents, admit your struggles, and repent of your sinful habits? Don’t be too proud. Our loving Father is waiting for you.