I. Note from Joshua 20:3

The entire sacrificial system was geared toward those who sinned out of ignorance or passion. NIDOTTE, vol. 2, p. 94, states,

"The concept of 'unintentionally' or 'inadvertently' (Lev. 4:2) is both strategic and problematic (cf. Jos. 4:13,22,27; 5:15,18; 22:14; Num. 15:22,24-29). Because of it some scholars have concluded that the sin offering only treated inadvertent sin, that is, sins that were committed by mistake or sins which were done not knowing that the particular act was sinful (see Milgrom, AB, 1991, pp. 228-29). However, the word 'unintentionally' means basically 'in error' (the vb. means to commit an error, go astray). Although it can also mean that the error was unintentional or inadvertent (see e.g., Num. 35:11,15,22-23; Josh. 20:3,9), this is not necessarily the case (see I Sam. 26:21; Eccl. 5:6)."

There was no sacrifice for high-handed, defiant, premeditated, or known sin (e.g., Ps. 51:17). This concept of intentionality (BDB 993) is referred to in Lev. 4:2,22,27; 5:15; 22:14; Num. 4:42; 15:27-31; and 19:4.

The sacrificial system had both a ritual component and a faith/repentant component. They were both crucial. The how, when and where of sacrificial ritual cannot be efficacious without a heartfelt, personal faith/repentant relationship with God (see similar concept in "circumcise your heart," Deut. 10:16, Jer. 4:4).

This is a good place to point out that the commandment "You shall not murder" (cf. Exod. 20:13; Deut. 5:17) does not mean "kill" (KJV), but do not commit "non-legal, premeditated murder" (BDB 953, cf. Exod. 21:12-14). There was legal premeditated killing.

  1. blood avenger
  2. holy war
  3. judicial sentences

II. Note from Deut. 4:42 - "unintentionally"

The negated term (BDB 395, KB 228) refers to the accidental death of a fellow Israelite accidentally, without premeditation or prejudice. We would call it manslaughter.

The lack of evil motive is the key element. It becomes the theological heart of the sacrificial system. Any sin committed intentionally had no sacrifice available (cf. Exod. 21:12-14; Lev. 4:2,22,27; 5:15-18; 22:14; Num. 15:27,30; Deut. 17:12-13; Josh. 20:1-6). Even the national sacrifice by the High Priest on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16) did not cover premeditated sin (cf. Ps: 51:14-17)! Are you not glad we are under the NT sacrifice of Jesus?!

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