I acknowledged my sin to You,
And my iniquity I did not hide;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord”;
And You forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah.
HEB: חוַעֲוֹ֘נִ֤י (ḥaṭ·ṭā·ṯî) / (chatta’ah) = “missing the mark”
NAS: I acknowledged my sin to You,
HEB: וַעֲוֹ֘נִ֤י (wa·‘ă·wō·nî) / (avon) = to bend, twist or distort (as in God’s word)
NAS: And my iniquity I did not hide;
HEB: פְ֭שָׁעַי (p̄ə·šā·‘ay) / (pasha) = “a willful act of disobedience”
NAS: I will confess my transgressions to the LORD;
HEB: וְעֲוֹ֖ן (‘ă·wōn) / (avon) = *see above
NAS: And You forgave the guilt of my sin.
Sin? Transgression? Iniquity? What’s the difference? “Sin is sin is sin is sin,” are things we have heard for years. Yet the question is still demanded from ourselves, given in the text – Why has God chosen to use 3 different words for what many have deemed as the same thing, in just one sentence (a line from the psalmist, in between pauses)?
For the sake of brevity, in what may initially appear as the oversimplification of an argument, let the following be acknowledged as a basis: all acts against the will of God, whether committed in full knowledge or utter ignorance, are to be considered sin. However, distinction is given for the one who sins in willful disobedience and also the one who wishes to take His will, and ‘twist’ the actual determinative meaning and intent. As the serpent said to the woman, “indeed, has God said….?” This would make him (the devil), the original ‘pervert’.
So let us start from the basis of the argument that ‘all acts against the will of God are sin’. If this is the case, how can a sinful act be held against a person who has no knowledge of the Word of God? In Romans 1:20, the apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, establishes his argument on general revelation. This is the inescapable testimony to the knowledge of creation that can be obtained by observing what is around you and being able to discern the demand of a created order. Paul states, “His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse;” (emphasis mine). Thus, ignorance is not an argument for innocence.
Yet there appears to be an even greater sense of accountability to those who not only know they are willfully disobeying God’s will, but even more so for the ones who would ‘twist’ and ‘bend’ the pureness of the intent. This, by definition, is ‘perversion’ of the Word.
Understanding these differences, there would be 2 basic classifications of sins: general sin – anything against the will of God, and transgression – sin that knows better. Iniquity fits under transgression as a sub-point.
But how did mankind come to an understanding of sin in a more specific way than general revelation? It was the literal giving of the Law from the hand of God into the hand of man (When He had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God. Exodus 31:18). Had sin been understood (by mankind) under general revelation to the extent that God intended, He would have no reason to produce hand-written tablets of stone – not once, but twice, since Moses destroyed the first set in a fit of anger.
However, once mankind has been given the Law, now he is particularly accountable to the will of God. But make no mistake, just because one is ignorant of the Law does not mean they are dismissed. As Paul writes in Romans 2:12ff, those who sin against God, with or without the Law, will perish.
So why does God bother with giving us the Law? As with any relationship, a better understanding of one another is always conducive to a fruitful bond. Living by God’s word gives us true life, and most importantly, leads us back home to Him. Yet as we dive deeper and deeper into His Law, we quickly discover that we cannot possibly accomplish the letter (Romans 3:20, “because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin”). This is when the intent begins to shine through. As we see our imperfections under the microscope of the Word and how weak we are in accomplishing even the most basic principles of godly love, we find ourselves in dire straits. The wages of sin is death. If we cannot achieve all of the Law, we sin. Our wage’ then, awaits us on the horizon. It would seem hopeless, if we are left to save ourselves. Then, the Word (the Law) literally puts on flesh (John 1:14), intrudes into this brokenness, and pays our ‘wage’ in punishment. This is where our sin is dealt with. Sins of ignorance; transgressions in full knowledge; and even iniquities where we attempted to distort the will of God are all satisfied between the genuinely repentant heart and the purely efficient sacrifice of the only perfect One.
Lastly, God distinguishes specifically between sins that are; 1) committed intentionally (with knowledge); 2) unintentionally (ignorantly); and 3) defiantly (“with a high hand,” as in ‘fist clenched towards heaven’). Passages from Numbers 15 will best represent these differences (emphasis mine).
1) There are numerous passages that deal with sacrifices (burnt offerings / the cross of Jesus Christ) for sins. These are easily found. Therefore, only the next 2 will be focused on here.
2) 15:22-29; ‘But when you unwittingly fail and do not observe all these commandments, which the Lord has spoken to Moses, even all that the Lord has commanded you through Moses, from the day when the Lord gave commandment and onward throughout your generations, then it shall be, if it is done unintentionally, without the knowledge of the congregation, that all the congregation shall offer one bull for a burnt offering, as a soothing aroma to the Lord, with its grain offering and its drink offering, according to the ordinance, and one male goat for a sin offering. Then the priest shall make atonement for all the congregation of the sons of Israel, and they will be forgiven; for it was an error, and they have brought their offering, an offering by fire to the Lord, and their sin offering before the Lord, for their error. So all the congregation of the sons of Israel will be forgiven, with the alien who sojourns among them, for it happened to all the people through error. ‘Also if one person sins unintentionally, then he shall offer a one year old female goat for a sin offering. The priest shall make atonement before the Lord for the person who goes astray when he sins unintentionally, making atonement for him that he may be forgiven. You shall have one law for him who does anything unintentionally, for him who is native among the sons of Israel and for the alien who sojourns among them.
3) 15:30, 31 But the person who does anything defiantly (‘with a high hand’), whether he is native or an alien, that one is blaspheming the Lord; and that person shall be cut off from among his people. Because he has despised the word of the Lord and has broken His commandment, that person shall be completely cut off; his guilt will be on him.’”
The ‘defiant’ is particularly disturbing when you understand that it is tangible to the biblical definition of being the ‘unforgivable sin’ (Luke 12:10; Jude 12 (doubly dead); 1 John 5:16; Hebrews 6:4-6; 10:26, 27)
By clarifying these distinctions, it is easy to see that there is a greater responsibility and accountability for those who understand the Word. As recorded in James 3:1; Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. How much greater then for those who attempt to deceive not only themselves, but others also, that God’s Word says something other than His original intent.
Keep the Faith,