Understanding that posting this on the internet puts me at risk of being accused of plagiarism of myself, I thought I would share this short essay I wrote for my Leviticus class forum for this week. I titled it “Confession as Creation Restoration”:
Leviticus 4-5 provide the antidote for Genesis 4-11, or at least the preventative measures to take in order to keep Israel from devolving in that manner ever again. As Cain killed Abel, and Abel’s life-blood cried out from the ground to God, the giver of life, he denied involvement. He refused to confess, following in the pattern his parents laid forth in Genesis 3. And much like the (unconfessed) sin of Adam and Eve led to the breaking of the “very good” creation that God had made, Cain’s (unconfessed) sin led to the erosion of all of mankind. One could imagine the Priestly writers reflecting on Genesis 4-11 when collecting the ritual sacrifices of Leviticus 4-5. Sin, when unconfessed and unattended to leads to destruction, not only of individuals but of whole societies. “Brothers and sisters must care for one another, for if one stumbles, the whole community staggers as a result” (Balentine, 55).
Leviticus 4 starts off by implying that the sin of the high priest brings guilt on the whole of Israel, as do sins that the community commit unintentionally. The text speaks here of unintentional sins and their power to harm the community as a whole. But even more, as Milgrom points out, they contaminate the tabernacle itself. He says that the altar is contaminated by the sin of the people and is need of purification, noting that the blood “is not smeared on the offerer; it is smeared, rather, on the altar” (Milgrom, 31). The implication here is that sin somehow damages the ability of the people to continue to enter into the presence of the holy God. God’s tangible presence on earth is at stake when sins, even unintended ones, go unchecked and unaccounted for. And forgiveness “will be” given by God when the offering of purification is given. God’s desire for community with his people is so strong that he provides a way for that community to be restored to Him. That’s beautiful.
Another key to these offerings, outlined in Leviticus 5, is the role of confession in restoration or reparation. First, the guilty party must confess their unintentional sin to the one they have offended. Only then can they make a sacrifice for reparation with God. “The forgiveness they seek from God cannot be secured until they have made right the wrongs they have committed against people” (Balentine, 50). This is another indication that community is not only a matter of God with man, but also man with man. Balentine notes later, “Without confession, sin seeks the camouflage of secrecy, the status remains quo, and brokenness continues to diminish the ‘very good’ world God has created” (57). Thus, again, confession is the method for restoring creation, reversing the pattern outlined in Genesis 4-11.
“In the priestly world, sin is a real and tangible burden; the hope for forgiveness is abiding and yearns for an equally real and tangible sign that it is obtainable” (Balentine, 57). What this statement implies is that the sacrifices for purification and reparation represent the hope that God will indeed respond to our acknowledgement that sin is destructive and will work to restore not only us, but creation. To offer a sacrifice without also seeking reconciliation with the offended party makes it simply an empty ritual, much like seeking reconciliation without the sacrifice takes God out of the equation. This is not just an Old Testament idea. James, John, and Jesus all talk about confession as a means for restoration in the New Testament. In this way, when we confess our sins, or in other words seek restoration with the one whom we have sinned against, God will also act in kind and forgive us. We need to redeem the lost art of confessing to one another in order to fully grasp the idea that “justice is the prerequisite” of forgiveness (Balentine, 59).
Hopefully, the time-stamp of this post will keep me out of trouble. Hope your thoughts were provoked as much as mine.