Today we are going to talk about confession and restitution and we are about to see some progressive revelation, here. The revelation that begins to introduce a principle that might have seemed to be an innovation of the New Testament until we’ve studied Torah; but as it turns out; it is not an NT concept at all.
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Say to the Israelites, ‘When a man or woman commits any of the sins of mankind [against other people], thus breaking faith with the Lord, and that person is guilty, then he shall confess the sin which he has committed, and he shall make restitution for his wrong in full, and add a fifth to it, and give it to [the person] whom he has wronged. But if the man [who was wronged] has no redeemer (relative) to whom the restitution may be made, it is to be given to the Lord for the priest, besides the ram of atonement with which atonement is made for the offender. Also, every contribution pertaining to all the holy gifts of the Israelites which they offer to the priest shall be his. And every man’s holy gifts shall be the priest’s; whatever any man gives the priest, it becomes his.’”
Numbers 5:5-10 (AMP)
We have just read the hypothetical case of a person who has committed some kind of crime or fraud against another person, AND then swore an oath to God that he had NOT done this thing. He lied to those charged with investigating the situation and He lied to God. Up until this point in the Torah lying to God was classified as an intentional sin, and was a type for which atonement was either very expensive or not available at all. But, now, a momentous new dynamic is introduced: confession.
What exactly is a confession?
It is declaring that you did indeed sin against God, and that it was wrong, and that you are repentant about it. In fact, the word used in verse 7 that is almost always translated as “confess” is in Hebrew ve-hitvadu…it literally means, “declare”. So what occurs here is that the man harms his fellow man lies to God about it by swearing an oath that he is innocent, and then later declares the wrong he has done.
Confess is not a mistranslation; but by using something closer to the original meaning, DECLARE, we see of just what the act of confession consists.
Here’s the dynamic of confession: every sin is essentially unforgivable if it is not confessed. To NOT confess is (in the Torah way of thinking) to LIE to God. Lying to God is an intentional and High Handed sin, for which there is no atonement. By confessing you are no longer lying to God but instead agreeing with Him that you have trespassed.
Now the sin can be atoned for. The thing is this: the condition of the heart is a priority even in the sacrificial system. An unrepentant man who offers a sacrifice is NOT forgiven. The sacrificial system was not a forgiveness vending machine. It was only efficacious for the one who confesses and repents.
The specific type of sacrifice dealt with here is the ‘asham’ the reparation offering. It is that kind of sacrifice designed for when a person breaks the law, injures another person (either bodily or materially), and now must pay a price. The price is: complete reparation to the individual harmed PLUS 20%. And the sinner must also bring a prescribed sacrifice to the priest for atonement.
So when a crime is committed against another person the usual procedure is reparation to the injured party, plus a penalty to the injured party, plus a sacrifice of atonement…. an expensive lesson.
Wouldn’t it be nice if that were possible today, in our society?
A person vandalizes a school, they’re caught, and then they must restore the school to its original state AND pay an additional penalty to the school. If they refused they become the property of the school.
Of course, I’m not advocating slavery per se, but is that really any worse than having your life and liberty removed and being put into a cage for months or years? Who benefits from that?
Nobody benefits because actually the innocent PAY for the criminals’ livelihoods while behind bars.
Wouldn’t it be better for the criminal to have to put his life on hold, focus every hour of the day on making the victim whole PLUS a penalty, and then be freed of his obligation?
As it is now we put a criminal in jail and he comes out worse than when he went in. And all the victim usually gets is the satisfaction of knowing that the criminal was punished.
Now on the occasion whereby the injured party was killed as a result, or time had passed and the person died of non-related causes, then the criminal STILL had to pay all the reparation to the injured party’s relatives. If there was no living relative to pay it to then it all went to the priesthood.
This was another innovation quite unique to the Hebrews. In other cultures and societies unclaimed property resulting from law breaking, or reparations for which there was no living relative, all went to the state…the king. Here, by God’s definition, He receives them by means of the priesthood.
From a purely practical standpoint what is happening is that about 600,000 men had been organized into an army, the Israeli army. And if there was constant bickering and using God’s name in vain; and if there was no clear way to make peace with God and have harmony amongst them, the army would disintegrate.
That is why in the NT this same principle is brought forward and used to explain how the Disciples of Jesus are going to be able to function as a community for the Kingdom of God. It is expressed in Matthew in this way:
So if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and while there you remember that your brother has something [such as a grievance or legitimate complaint] against you, leave your offering there at the altar and go. First, make peace with your brother, and then come and present your offering.
Matthew 5:23-24 (AMP)
True unity begins with everybody being right with God and with each other.