Chapter 7 (Guilt or Trespass Offering) pages 134-146
In this chapter, North has chosen to take the third of the three guilt offerings mentioned within Lev 5:14-6:7 and comment on it separately. This is not a problem, but the reader needs to understand that this offering is the third aspect of the one guilt offering and isn’t a distinct offering that stands in its own right. What applies to the first two offerings (such as the valuation of the ram according to ‘the shekel of the sanctuary’) may equally well apply here.
North is spot on when he opens the chapter (page 134) with
‘...theft is a transgression against God. God is here identified as the primary victim of crime...’
going on to quote Lev 6:2 where we read that the following list of deliberate sins is headed not by the phrase
‘an offence against his neighbour’
‘a breach of faith against YHWH’
As North will go on to point out (page 139)
‘The property owner is inescapably God’s steward because God owns everything...(Ps 50:10)’
to which we could add the testimony of 24:1 which states that
‘The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein’
By the right of bringing in to existence all things by the word of command (Genesis chapter 1 relates how all that we now see around us was brought into existence and ordered by God speaking it in to being - the first verse, though not specifically stating that the substances came in to existence by the Word of God, should be taken this way when the testimony of Heb 11:3 is read), God must own all things - but He gives over the entire Creation to the control and sovereignty of man (Gen 1:26) even though restrictions are placed upon that rule through disobedience (Gen 3:17-18).
What man now ‘owns’ is no more than what God allows him to have - and that possession of part of the Creation comes with necessary conditions that the material assets will be used with moral correctness and as the Lord should require even to the point of giving the possessions away or having them destroyed (as in the case of the Levitical sacrifices).
North is quite correct in identifying that all crime is primarily an offence against God’s ownership of Creation - theft must therefore be a denial (these are my words) of the Genesis account of the beginning and formulation of the universe.
But North’s further statement (page 134 - my italics) that
‘It is therefore not sufficient for a thief to make restitution to his earthly victim; he must also make restitution to God’
is incorrect. Atonement must be made before God to restore the relationship that the offender had with God before his action, but restitution is being made only by restoring the monetary value of the object to the victim who is the representative of God for the object taken. In this way, restitution is being made to God by the payment that is being made to the victim and the offering of sacrifice is an atoning sacrifice as it states in the Levitical commands (Lev 5:16,18, 6:7).
Besides, the sacrifice of Lev 5:17-19 would also have to be considered to be a restitutionary payment - the phraseology is the same - even though no object has been taken unlawfully and there is no offence that can be valued in monetary terms.
Preparing the reader to follow a lengthy discussion concerning civil trials and sacred oaths, North comments (page 135) that
‘The text identifies the presence of a false oath in conjunction with crimes against property [this may or may not be correct. The phrase ‘...swearing falsely’ (Lev 6:3) could be seen to apply to the entire list of crimes mentioned preceding it, though ‘...through robbery...’ (v.2) reads as if a straightforward theft of an object with no oathed denial is being specified - I tend to agree with Wenham’s comments here, though, which links the ‘swearing falsely’ with all the offences - there had to be an oath sworn before this action of restitution and sacrifice could take place]. The question is: Was the false oath the basis of the 20 per cent penalty payment? I argue in this chapter that it was not...’
Well, quite obviously, the basis of the 20% penalty is, firstly, the theft and then, secondly, the value of the property stolen. It doesn’t take a genius to work this out and, as I have previously stated, a percentage penalty can only be calculated when an offence can be assessed in monetary terms - an oath has no monetary value and has not caused God to be ‘out of pocket’.
North concludes the reasoning with the sentence (my italics)
‘The false oath made mandatory the animal sacrifice, but the theft itself, confessed prior to the trial, was what invoked the 20 percent penalty’
Suddenly the ‘trial’ is introduced. There is good reason for this - North sees the ‘swearing falsely’ of the Levitical passage to imply that a hearing has taken place at which the guilty party has taken an oath in which he declares his innocence or, ‘lying to his neighbour directly’ (page 136) presumably prior to the court hearing.
‘Oaths’ were used frequently outside any ‘court of law’ that may or may not have been in existent at that point in Israelite history (and the ‘type’ of ‘court of law’ was very different to our present day structure - for instance, no jury!). Both Jacob (Gen 31:53b) and Laban (31:53a) swore an oath to finalise a covenant agreement in the same manner as Abraham and Abimelech did (Gen 21:31) - see also Num 30:2.
The principle that the oath taught was that what the ‘swearer’ said was true - either that the agreement would be performed or that the testimony was an honest representation of the facts. It does not have to find usage solely in a ‘court of law’.
Having said that, there’s mention within Scripture of a time when an oath would have been used in something resembling a ‘hearing’ (Ex 22:10-11) but here the person who takes the oath is believed and no further investigations are made - the oath was considered to be proof enough of the accused’s innocence (presumably because the oath called down some curse upon themselves should they be lying).
If we’re correct in seeing a reference to a trial in the Levitical passage (and I go along with that) then North’s ‘confessed prior to the trial’ is incorrect because the procedure outlined in Leviticus is solely for use after the ‘hearing’ has concluded - or, at least, after the oath has been taken.
North will go on to assume that ‘swearing falsely’ (v.3,5) is indicative of a witness’s pledge that is uttered before evidence is given in today’s court of Law (his dialogue being found on pages 142-3 which mention the present day procedure of swearing on the Bible [or simply ‘affirming’] and equating this with the oath of Lev 6:1-7 - indicating to me that I’m not being unfair to North - he may think otherwise).
But North’s equating of the present day swearing in of witnesses with what took place in Israelite society is not a close parallel. In Israel, it was an oath which affirmed that he had told the truth not that he was going to.
But, more than this, if we can take the oath that a wife had to take when she was accused of adultery by her husband (Num 5:19-22) as being representative of the kind of oath an accused person had to take, then it was rather less pleasant than the ‘so help me God’ of today’s declaration.
One scenario that does not appear to have been dealt with by North - and which is not dealt with by Scripture, either - is what would have happened if the offender had admitted his crime before he had taken an oath? Would the Lord still have required a restitutionary payment to the victim of 120%? Would the Lord still have required the sacrifice of atonement?
The question of restitution in this circumstance doesn’t appear to be conclusively proven - but, in the light of no evidence to the contrary, I’d assume that the answer must be ‘yes’. The second question, if I read North right, would get a different answer from the both of us. I would say ‘yes’ because I see the atoning sacrifice as necessary for restoring the covenant relationship that the theft has broken (transgression of the eighth commandment) - North, on the other hand, equates the sacrifice with the oath (as above) and I would expect him to answer ‘no’.
However, he seems to go for both options in his conclusion. He first states (page 145) that
‘...early confession [pre-court hearing is the context] does not remove the requirement to make a trespass offering’
and then goes on to say (page 146 - my italics) that
‘In Mosaic Israel, if he had also lied to the court regarding his theft, he had to offer the sacrifice of a ram’
where the sacrifice seems only necessary had the offender lied to the court after having taken the oath. Perhaps one of these should be read a different way? Unfortunately, the context doesn’t help...
North states (page 138) that
‘The 20 percent penalty payment constituted a double tithe’
and then goes on to explain why, with reasoning that doesn’t show why we should consider the penalty as being a double tithe rather than, as the Bible says, ‘one fifth’. His reasoning that equates restitution of 20% with infringements of Levitical or holy property fails to go on to show why restitution should be twice the compulsory tithe - or why these occasions are evidence of the reason for the ‘double tithe’ when all self-confessed restitution was subject to the same 20% rate (taking the infringements of Lev 6:2-5 as the example - North has previously stated [page 135] that it was ‘...the theft itself...[that] invoked the 20 percent penalty and, therefore, it was not a ‘holy’ infringement as defined).
The point that ‘one fifth’ should actually be read as ‘double tithe’ needs to be proven.
North makes the statement (page 139) that
‘In the same sense that every man is a priest through Adam, every man is a Levite through Adam. He is designated guardian of God’s property: a Levitical function’
But, in what way is every man a priest ‘through Adam’? That God had planned that the Israelites were to be a nation of priests before the Lord is certain (Ex 19:6) but that they failed to become this through disobedience is also certain, God choosing the tribe of Levi to stand in their place (Ex 32:25-29). Besides, if Israel were called to be a nation of priests, what was so special about that if the entire world were already considered to be priests ‘through Adam’?
Perhaps we should, rather, attempt to see how Adam is considered to be a priest? But the Scriptures are remarkably silent about any priesthood that Adam functioned in. It seems that, in North’s way of looking at things, because Adam had guardianship of God’s Creation, this proves that he’s a Levite. But this is true only inasmuch as I could be considered to be a woman if I do a task that she does as well...or perhaps I’m a shepherd because I feed sheep? Or a taximan because I drive a car and give people lifts?
Using one function of a priest as a comparison does not prove identity only similarity. The Levites were intermediaries who stood in the gap between God and man - which man did Adam intercede for? He may have had direct access to God’s presence before the Fall but the complete function of the priest and Levite is lacking because a priest or Levite is only necessary when sin limits access and an intermediary is required.
That North believes that Adam functioned as a priest before the Fall is indicated by his later comment (page 139) that
‘His profane, sacrilegious act of priestly defiance - eating a prohibited communion meal in the presence of an invading serpent - took place later...’
Even this sentence provides us with problems. This is the first time that I’ve ever heard eating a piece of fruit described as a ‘communion meal’. Perhaps a ‘communion snack’ might be better? Simply ‘Snack’ would be about the best description of all.
North is seeing in the disobedient act of Adam and Eve something that isn’t there. Adam isn’t defiantly breaking his priestly function because he hasn’t got one - and there’s no communion meal in question here because that concept had not yet been introduced into the world. Both communion meal and priestly office only exist within a world that has ‘sin’ because both labels assume that a union must be made (or which has been made - as in case of believer’s communion) where one did not exist before - both imply that sin has broken a relationship when viewed in religious terms and that was not the case until after the Fall.
The most that can be said of Adam is that he had similarities to both the office of a priest and a Levite and that each individual man had these similarities - but to say that Adam and men are Levites and priests is incorrect.
Apparently, Christ’s example of interceding on behalf of His followers (Rom 8:34 - as cited by North on page 139-40) is the reason why the following characteristics should be seen in the present day court system. He writes
‘All court expenses should be borne by the civil government...the loser should pay for the legal fees of the winner. If a poor man is too fearful to prosecute on this basis, fearing bankruptcy, the State may do so in his name if he approves, granting him post-trial immunity [though I have no idea what this ‘immunity’ might be - North’s text doesn’t elucidate]. But then the State must provide the equivalent of vouchers for both sides’ legal costs [vouchers? I’m not at all sure whether North means little chitties that can be waved in the air (like book tokens?) or whether his word is used to denote an agreement]. It covers the legal fees for both sides, but only to a limit’
And all this from Romans 8:34! Though this legal system may seem reasonable (and I have no real opinion on this matter as it occurs within the culture of today), I can’t help but stand amazed at the depth of teaching concerning reform to the legal system that comes from a simple verse which talks about Christ interceding on behalf of His followers.
If North had presented his opinion on the matter, all well and good. But when it’s proclaimed as coming directly from Scripture then I believe that it should be stated in the Scripture in unambiguous terms.
In North’s understanding of the balance between Church and State in the context of the civil court hearing, he sees the Church as being responsible for the structure and content of the oath that’s used by the witnesses, plaintiff and defendant (though the civil court actually determines what can be regarded as the oath at the final draft) and also the recipients of a payment of the equivalent of the value of the Levitical ram of the guilt offering by the defendant who swears the oath but who’s declared guilty - or who confesses his sin after having sworn and given false testimony.
He notes (page 144) that
‘[The local civil government] must identify those congregations that are confessionally orthodox and therefore eligible to receive the trespass offering’
but the worrying aspect of this is that the secular State is being given jurisdiction over the definition of what defines orthodoxy and, having the power, according to North (page 144), to proclaim those members of associations considered unorthodox as not having
‘...the legal status of citizens’
I can’t help but see a return to the persecution that surrounded the Church of Christ by the State and established orthodox (as proclaimed by the State) church which has often been a feature of British society throughout its long history. What North actually proposes in his ‘court room’ set up is dangerous to say the least - besides which, the set up in Ancient Israel didn’t work in the same way.
At first, Moses sat to judge Israel. But then (Ex 18:13-27, Deut 1:16), able men were appointed to judge cases when the burden had become too great for him (through the suggestion of his father-in-law), it being established in the Law at a later date what to do when they entered the Land (Deut 16:18-20, 17:8-13).
Here we read of simplicity in the judicial system that cost very little to maintain - I’m presuming that the main cost was solely the welfare of the judge who may not have had any time to pursue a profession or trade. The dispute was brought before the judge who heard both sides (without representatives, it appears) and who finally decided righteously after he’d weighed all the evidence.
Nowhere do we read of the interplay required between ‘State’ and ‘Church’, between ‘civil authority’ and ‘priestly ministry’. Why? Because the State was part of the Church - the Israelites were expected to be followers of YHWH and therefore His representatives in office. There should never have been a need to dichotomise the two arenas.
It’s North’s belief (as I understand it) that at some future time, the Church will rule over the nations before Jesus returns. If that is the case, then the distinction between Church and State will be gradually dissolved, God’s Kingdom being seen to be established as one unit that all is subjected to, rather than have separate entities which submit themselves to one another.
It’s surely significant that, during the period of the monarchy, when the State had come into existence and was ruling in civil matters over the people, Isaiah prophesied with God’s voice (Is 1:26 - my italics) saying
‘And I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counsellors as at the beginning. Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city’
In such a set up that God mentions that He will return them to, there was no recognised State (even though a monarchy was provided for in the Law - Deut 17:14-20) and the nation looked to God as their Sovereign with the priesthood, the judges and the Law governing their behaviour.
Whether this could realistically work within today’s society or not is another matter but it would be dependent upon a very large proportion of the population becoming ‘God-fearing’ in practice rather than in name only as they are now.
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