If anyone sins, doing any of the things that by the Lord’s commandments ought not to be done, though he did not know it, then realizes his guilt, he shall bear his iniquity. He shall bring to the priest a ram without blemish out of the flock, or its equivalent for a guilt offering, and the priest shall make atonement for him for the mistake that he made unintentionally, and he shall be forgiven. It is a guilt offering; he has indeed incurred guilt before the Lord. Leviticus 5:17-19 ESV
Who can discern his errors?
Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Psalm 119:12-14 ESV
Among the Yali people of what used to be Irian Jaya, before many of them became Christians, there were a number of sacred taboos. One was that no woman or girl could enter a sacred place or learn about sacred things. One day a little girl of the Yali named Nindik went into a sacred place without knowing what it was or that it was wrong. The law was harsh, and there was nothing the people could do even though they felt sad. They had to put the little girl to death.
The Yali people had a dim understanding of something that is true. There is a holy God, and it is possible to sin against him even without realizing it. In fact, everyone does that all the time. Even when we don’t know what we are doing, it is still a sin. God had some strict laws for the people of Israel so they would learn about his holiness and realize how serious sin is, even sin that they didn’t know they were doing. But God also had a remedy for people who sinned when they didn’t mean to. They could bring God a guilt offering, and when the priest offered the guilt offering they would be forgiven.
The guilt offering pointed ahead to Jesus, the promised Savior, who would give his life on the cross to take away all our guilt, even for sins we don’t realize we’ve done. We don’t ever have to worry that God will punish us if we can’t remember what we’ve done, or if we don’t understand all our sins. God understands, and for Jesus’ sake he forgives us. Jesus was put to death so that we could live forever with God, knowing his love and forgiveness every day.
Dear Jesus, thank you for taking away all my guilt and fear when you died on the cross for me. Amen.
Richardson, Don Lords of the Earth: An Incredible but True Story from the Stone-Age Hell of Papua’s Jungle Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2008.