Leviticus 4:13
And if the whole congregation of Israel sin through ignorance, and the thing be hid from the eyes of the assembly, and they have done somewhat against any of the commandments of the LORD concerning things which should not be done, and are guilty;
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(13) And if the whole congregation.—As the whole Church, in its corporate body, is no more exempt from human frailty than its highest spiritual chief, the law now prescribes the sin offering for the congregation (Leviticus 4:13-21). The case here assumed is that of the whole congregation having ignorantly committed some act which at the time of its committal they believed to be lawful, but which they afterwards discovered to be sinful. The two terms respectively rendered in the Authorised Version by congregation and assembly denote the same body of people, and are used interchangeably, so that the same congregation or assembly which inadvertently committed the sin afterwards recognised it. (Comp. Numbers 15:24-26.) An instance of such a national and congregational sin is recorded in 1Samuel 14:32, where we are told that the Israelites, after smiting the Philistines, “flew upon the spoil, and took sheep, and oxen, and calves, and slew them on the ground, and the people did eat them with the blood.” According to the ancient interpretation, however, which obtained at the time of Christ, “the whole congregation of Israel” and “the assembly” here spoken of denote the great Sanhedrin, the representatives of the people, who, through error, might proclaim a decree calculated to mislead the nation, thus accounting for the apparent discrepancy between this passage and Numbers 15:22-26.

Leviticus 4:13-14. The whole congregation — The body of the people, or the greater part of them, their rulers concurring with them. A bullock — But if the sin of the congregation was only the omission of some ceremonial duty, a kid of the goats was to be offered, Numbers 15:24.

4:13-21 If the leaders of the people, through mistake, caused them to err, an offering must be brought, that wrath might not come upon the whole congregation. When sacrifices were offered, the persons, on whose behalf they were devoted, were to lay their hands on the heads of the victims, and to confess their sins. The elders were to do so, when the sacrifices were offered for the whole congregation. The load of sin was supposed then to be borne by the guiltless animal. When the offering is completed, it is said, atonement is made, and the sin shall be forgiven. The saving of churches and kingdoms from ruin, is owing to the satisfaction and mediation of Christ.Congregation ... assembly - Each of the Hebrew words signifies the people in a collected body. It does not appear that there is any difference between them in the connection in which they are here used. 13-21. if the whole congregation of Israel sin through ignorance—In consequence of some culpable neglect or misapprehension of the law, the people might contract national guilt, and then national expiation was necessary. The same sacrifice was to be offered as in the former case, but with this difference in the ceremonial, that the elders or heads of the tribes, as representing the people and being the principal aggressors in misleading the congregation, laid their hands on the head of the victim. The priest then took the blood into the holy place, where, after dipping his finger in it seven times, he sprinkled the drops seven times before the veil. This done, he returned to the court of the priests, and ascending the altar, put some portion upon its horns; then he poured it out at the foot of the altar. The fat was the only part of the animal which was offered on the altar; for the carcass, with its appurtenances and offals, was carried without the camp, into the place where the ashes were deposited, and there consumed with fire. The whole congregation; the body of the people, or the greater part of them, their rulers concurring with them.

And if the whole congregation of Israel sin through ignorance,.... That is, all Israel, or the greatest part of them, as Gersom interprets it, through the ignorant teaching of the judges, who by their instruction cause the people to err, and commit sins of ignorance, as Baal Hatturim on the place observes, and Maimonides elsewhere (g); wherefore Jarchi, and some others, by the congregation of Israel understand the sanhedrim, or the bench of judges, consisting of seventy one. Ainsworth remarks on the words, that the church may err:

and the thing be hid from the eyes of the assembly; congregation or church, so that they do not know that it is a sin which they have committed:

and they have done somewhat against any of the commandments of the Lord, concerning things which should not be done; transgressed negative precepts:

and are guilty; of sin, though as yet they know it not.

(g) Hilchot Shegagot, c. 12. sect. 1.

And if the {f} whole congregation of Israel sin through ignorance, and the thing be hid from the eyes of the assembly, and they have done somewhat against any of the commandments of the LORD concerning things which should not be done, and are guilty;

(f) The multitude does not excuse the sin, but if all have sinned, they must all be punished.

13–21. The Sin-Offering for the congregation, a bullock

Verses 13-21. - The case of the whole congregation. A nation may become guilty of national sin in different ways, according to its political constitution: most directly, by the action of a popular Legislature passing a decree such as that of the Athenian assembly, condemning the whole of the Mitylenean people to death (Thucyd., 3:36), or by approving an act of sacrilege (Malachi 3:9); indirectly, by any complicity in or condoning of a sin done in its name by its rulers. The ritual of the sin offering is the same as in the case of the high priest. The elders of the congregation (according to the Targum of Jonathan, twelve in number), acting for the nation, lay their hands on the victim's head, and the high priest, as before, presents the blood, by sprinkling it seven times before the Lord, even before the vail; and putting some of the blood upon the horns of the altar which is before the Lord, that is in the tabernacle of the congregation. It is added that he shall thus make an atonement, or covering of sin, for them, and it shall be forgiven them. Leviticus 4:13Sin of the whole congregation. - This is still further defined, as consisting in the fact that the thing was hid (נעלּם)

(Note: In the correct editions נעלּם has dagesh both here and in Leviticus 5:2, Leviticus 5:4, as Delitzsch informs me, according to an old rule in pointing, which required that every consonant which followed a syllable terminating with a guttural should be pointed with dagesh, if the guttural was to be read with a quiescent sheva and not with chateph. This is the case in ויּאסּר in Genesis 46:29; Exodus 14:6, תּעלּים in Psalm 10:1, and other words in the critical edition of the Psalter which has been carefully revised by Bהr according to the Masora, and published with an introduction by Delitzsch. In other passages, such as בּכל־לּבּי Psalm 9:2, על־לּשׁנו Psalm 15:3, etc., the dagesh is introduced to prevent the second letter from being lost in the preceding one through the rapidity of reading. - Ewald's conjectures and remarks about this "dagesh, which is found in certain MSS," is a proof that he was not acquainted with this rule which the Masora recognises.)

from the eyes of the congregation, i.e., that it was a sin which was not known to be such, an act which really violated a commandment of God, though it was not looked upon as sin. Every transgression of a divine command, whether it took place consciously or unconsciously, brought guilt, and demanded a sin-offering for its expiation; and this was to be presented as soon as the sin was known. The sin-offering, which the elders had to offer in the name of the congregation, was to consist of a young ox, and was to be treated like that of the high priest (Leviticus 4:14-23 compared with Leviticus 4:3-12), inasmuch as "the whole congregation" included the priesthood, or at any rate was on an equality with the priesthood by virtue of its calling in relation to the Lord. חטא with על signifies to incur guilt upon (on the foundation of) sin (Leviticus 5:5, etc.); it is usually construed with an accusative (Leviticus 4:3, Leviticus 4:28; Leviticus 5:6, Leviticus 5:10, etc.), or with בּ, to sin with a sin (Leviticus 4:23; Genesis 42:22). The subject of ושׁחט (Leviticus 4:15) is one of the elders. "The bullock for a sin-offering:" sc., the one which the anointed priest offered for his sin, or as it is briefly and clearly designated in Leviticus 4:21, "the former bullock" (Leviticus 4:12).

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