Commit a crime, and something dies – at least, it dies if you expect forgiveness from God. Know something that will help others, yet you refuse to speak up? It’s a crime (sin) and to be forgiven, something must die. Make a commitment and then thoughtlessly fail to keep it? Something must die to be forgiven.
No one was exempt from the law – not the king, not the priests, not the common man. Ignorance was no excuse. If you committed sin, and weren’t aware of it, you were still guilty before God.
But who you were did affect the cost of the sacrifice. If you were a priest, you offered a young bull. Significantly, if a whole community sinned, a bull was also to be offered. In other words, the guilt of the Priest was equal to that of the whole community. If a leader sinned, he offered a male goat. If an ordinary individual sinned, his offering was simply a female goat, or, if he was poor, two doves or two pigeons. The higher up the ladder you were, the more elaborate the sacrifice. Greater position requires greater responsibility before God, and the seriousness of sin in positions of leadership is greater than for ordinary people.
Little has changed. God is still serious about how we live and his code of ethics did not “lighten up” with the coming of Jesus. We are responsible for knowing how to live, and guilty for living improperly – whether we are aware or not. Greater position means greater responsibility.
The one thing that has changed is that Jesus, our High Priest, has made atonement for our sins, and he did it not with the sacrifice of an animal, but with the sacrifice of his own life. God takes sin seriously. We should too.