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Restitution for Sin

Then the Lord spoke to Moses: “Tell the Israelites, ‘When[a] a man or a woman commits any sin that people commit,[b] thereby breaking faith[c] with the Lord, and that person is found guilty,[d] then he must confess[e] his sin that he has committed and must make full reparation,[f] add one-fifth to it, and give it to whomever he wronged.[g]

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  1. Numbers 5:6 sn This type of law is known as casuistic. The law is introduced with “when/if” and then the procedure to be adopted follows it. The type of law was common in the Law Code of Hammurabi.
  2. Numbers 5:6 tn The verse simply says “any sin of a man,” but the genitive could mean that it is any sin that a man would commit (subjective genitive), or one committed against a man (objective genitive). Because of the similarity with Lev 5:22 HT (6:3 ET), the subjective is better. The sin is essentially “missing the mark” which is the standard of the Law of the Lord. The sin is not in this case accidental or inadvertent. It means here simply failing to live up to the standard of the Lord. Since both men and women are mentioned in the preceding clause, the translation uses “people” here.
  3. Numbers 5:6 tn The verb is מַעַל (maʿal), which means to “defraud, violate, trespass against,” or “to deal treacherously, do an act of treachery.” In doing any sin that people do, the guilty have been unfaithful to the Lord, and therefore must bring him a sacrifice.
  4. Numbers 5:6 tn The word used here for this violation is אָשָׁם (ʾasham). It can be translated “guilt, to be guilty”; it can also be used for the reparation offering. The basic assumption here is that the individual is in a state of sin—is guilty. In that state he or she feels remorse for the sin and seeks forgiveness through repentance. See further P. P. Saydon, “Sin Offering and Trespass Offering,” CBQ 8 (1946): 393-98; H. C. Thompson, “The Significance of the Term ʾAsham in the Old Testament,” TGUOS 14 (1953): 20-26.
  5. Numbers 5:7 tn The verb is the Hitpael perfect tense with vav (ו) consecutive from the verb יָדָה (yadah), which in this stem means “acknowledge, confess sin,” but in the Hiphil (primarily) it means “praise, give thanks.” In both cases one is acknowledging something, either the sin, or the person and work of the Lord. Here the verb comes in the apodosis: “when…then he must confess.”
  6. Numbers 5:7 tn The verb is the Hiphil perfect of שׁוּב (shuv, “return”). Here it has the sense of “repay” with the word “reparation” (traditionally rendered “guilt offering,” but now is understood to refer to what was defrauded). The Levitical rulings called for the guilty to restore what was taken, if it could be made right, and pay a fifth more as a surcharge.
  7. Numbers 5:7 tn This is now the third use of אָשָׁם (ʾasham); the first referred to “guilt,” the second to “reparation,” and now “wronged.” The idea of “guilt” lies behind the second two uses as well as the first. In the second “he must repay his guilt” (meaning what he is guilty of); and here it can also mean “the one against whom he is guilty of sinning.”

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