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Why is a ram without blemish used for the guilt offering?

N.B: Unlike the bulls, goats and lambs used for sin offerings, the ram is not required to be young only that it be without blemish.

Lev 6:6 (KJV) And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the LORD, a ram without blemish out of the flock, with thy estimation, for a trespass offering, unto the priest:

Why not use a bull or goat to atone for the sin of trespass? Why is the ram required to the exclusion of other animals for this offering?

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  • Young bulls are used to atone for sins, kids are used to atone for sins too. lambs could also be used. But why are rams specifically required to atone for trespasses
    – user20490
    Aug 19, 2017 at 22:52

5 Answers 5

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I believe the offering of an unblemished Ram in this verse is primarily an economic prescription rather than a spiritual symbol. The Ram in verse 6 is not offered for just any and every trespass but for a particular category of trespass in which fraud is perpetrated against one's neighbor. This is a fraud that harms the neighbor's material possession rather than his moral integrity.

If a soul sin, and commit a trespass against the LORD, and lie unto his neighbour in that which was delivered him to keep, or in fellowship, or in a thing taken away by violence, or hath deceived his neighbour; Or have found that which was lost, and lieth concerning it, and sweareth falsely; in any of all these that a man doeth, sinning therein: Then it shall be, because he hath sinned, and is guilty, that he shall restore that which he took violently away, or the thing which he hath deceitfully gotten, or that which was delivered him to keep, or the lost thing which he found, Or all that about which he hath sworn falsely; he shall even restore it in the principal, and shall add the fifth part more thereto, and give it unto him to whom it appertaineth, in the day of his trespass offering. - Leviticus 6:2-5

Restoration is to include either the item (or items) in question or their monetary equivalent plus 20 percent. The corresponding offering to the Lord for this category of trespass is a "ram without blemish". This is something of significant value to the offender as flocks of sheep were often the sole source of wealth:

We must keep in mind the predominant form of wealth in the culture in view. It is not any animal from the flock but it is an unblemished animal, one of outward physical perfection and therefore worth more to it's owner.

As a Ram it is one of the few adult males in the flock and therefore largely responsible for insemination of Ewes and propagation of the flock (wealth) into the future.

It is an unblemished Ram, one who is most likely to pass on attributes of physical perfection to the flock it sires, thereby increasing value and wealth.

The trespass in view is one of deliberate, calculated monetary harm to one's neighbor; it is a terrible crime. The necessary act of repentance is one of full restitution plus 20 % to the victim and an offering to the Lord of great personal worth.

In like fashion, the Ram was used in ceremonies of consecration and dedication because it was an item of great economic worth to the worshiper, befitting the nature of the ceremony.

The love of money is a root of all manner of evil and God is just: If you sow economic harm you will reap the same.

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I'm not aware of any verse that says "I am prescribing a ram rather than a pigeon or ox because..." so my answer is speculative. However, it seems that the basic answer is that the apology/atonement is intended to reflect the severity of the offense.

First of all, it is important to realize what an atonement was intended to do. It was not a "payment" for sin nor was it a punishment. Neither did it effect forgiveness. It was an apology. Not a "defense" as in the greek apologia but rather an expression of remorse and an appeal for mercy.

Since the offense is a matter of property and deception it is significant enough to warrant an a larger animal rather than a couple of dove but not so much as to require a hundred bulls. If you forgot your wife's anniversary you might be expected to send flowers but if you forgot to pick her up when she was leaving the hospital with your new baby you might need to kill a cow. Just sayin'.

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  • I appreciate your answer. But everything in the Bible has a reason. Peace offerings involve sacrificing lambs. The lamb is harmless and meek, so it is used for the peace offering.
    – user20490
    Aug 19, 2017 at 23:21
  • The goat is stiff-necked so it is used for the sin offering
    – user20490
    Aug 19, 2017 at 23:22
  • The bull is proud, stubborn and aggressive so it is used for sin offerings that affect the people. i.e. either when a priest sins, thus bringing guilt on the people or when the people sin.
    – user20490
    Aug 19, 2017 at 23:23
  • So why is the ram used for only guilt offerings. God's choice of the ram involves more than it's size. It must have a symbolic meaning to the tent dwelling peoples of those times. Else God could have simply allowed them to use any clean animal for these different sacrifices. But He was specific for a reason. That's what my question is about.
    – user20490
    Aug 19, 2017 at 23:25
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    Hello @Ruminator -- I hate to pile on in this sea of comments, but the ram was not for atonement (only goats and bullocks were for atonement). The ram was used for consecration (like Aaron's sons), for burnt offerings (dedication), and for trespass offerings.
    – Robert
    Aug 2, 2022 at 5:47
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I wouldn't focus just on the use of the ram in trespass offerings but look at its use in the overall system as well as elsewhere in the Bible.

"ram" also means "leader" in addition to the animal.

E.g. senses from the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament[1]:

       45d      אַיִל (ʾayil) I, ram.
       45e      אַיִל (ʾayil) II, door post, jambs, pilaster.
       45f      אַיִל (ʾayil) III, leader.
       45g      אַיִל (ʾayil) IV, terebinth.

This perhaps dates to when Aries, the successor of Taurus, was the main constellation of the zodiac. Many of the Babylonian gods have rams as their animal (but most have the bull).

Thus "ram" has both linguistic and cultural associations with rulership, authority, etc.

The ram (also not young) was used in the consecration of the priests (Ex 29.15-18), committing them to God's service. Not the purification of the high priest, which was a "young bullock" (Lev 4:3).

The ram was also used in the burnt offering, representing total dedication to God.

Thus it has the idea of obedience to the ruler, and this explains why a ram appeared to substitute for Isaac in Gen 22.12-13:

And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.

And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.

So in Genesis an association between obedience (fearing God) and the ram, in line with the ram as the ruler.

Thus you would not need a young animal, as youth denotes innocence. Innocence is something you'd want for a purification offering, but not for an offering in which you are trying to make restitution. For that, you need obedience, so not having a blemish is required but youth is not.


[1]Herbert Wolf, “45 אול,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 20.

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The Ram is explicitly used for a peace offering following the consecration/initiation of the Tabernacle and the priests (Leviticus 8) in Leviticus 9:2-4, (Hanuk - Hanukkah).

2 ... Take for yourself a calf, a bull, for a sin offering, and a ram for a burnt offering, both without blemish, and bring them near before Yahweh. 3 Then to the sons of Israel you shall speak, saying, ‘Take a male goat for a sin offering, and a calf and a lamb, both one year old, without blemish, for a burnt offering, 4 and an ox and a ram for peace offerings, to sacrifice before Yahweh, and a grain offering mixed with oil; for today Yahweh will appear to you.’

Yahweh commands the sacrifice of each primary substitutionary animal here, so that His glory may appear - which occurs once Aaron made the offerings. A distinction not considered in the discussion heretofore is the relative age of the sacrificial animals. In this passage, the distinction is more obvious.

For the sin offering, a goat, (age irrelevant), is required.

For the burnt offering, the sacrifice requires a calf and a lamb, (both one year). After it was older than one year, a lamb ceased being a lamb and would be called a sheep. The additional highlight of the requirement they are without blemish is not superfluous, despite the fact that all of the sacrificial animals would have been without blemish. This is an intentional highlight that sets the burnt offering sacrifice apart from the others as requiring note of its purity.

For the peace offering an ox and a ram are required. These also have (no age requirement).

While this does not clarify the distinction of symbolism for a ram in the sacrificial system, the fact that a ram would have always been of an age that corresponds representatively past innocence - ergo accountable in the corollary of a fulfilled Law once the Messiah came, gave me enough pause to share these thoughts in this thread.

I was also searching for a better understanding of the specific meaning behind why God directed specific animals for use in each sacrifice. Because as user20490 stated on Aug 19, 2017, God is "specific for a reason."

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    – agarza
    Dec 8, 2023 at 14:50
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The “ram” to ancient Hebrews would have the spiritual meaning of whatever the characteristics of the animal were relative to the given context. Jesus, an ancient Hebrew, refers to the rams and the sheep in one of His parables, indicating that a ram symbolizes stubbornness, pride, independence, being your own leader; being self-willed and not meek as sheep, who follow the shepherd and are therefore humble and submissive (Matthew 25:31-46). In Daniel, rams represented nations, which are self-governing. So, the first part of that verse is about giving up your self-willed nature. In other words, it means: “to have a spirit of rebellion.” This is in contrast to sheep, which means: “to have a spirit of obedience.

The second part is that it is without blemish. It means to give up your ways, your greatest investments of effort in selfish labor; to cease from your own works in the pride of rebellion to God. Why? Because a “blemished” sacrifice of pride is insincere submission: there is still something there that is attempting to be withheld from God. In other words, feigned repentance and deceitful obedience only serve the aims of oneself. At the time, to give up one of your rams, which were your possessions, and to give up the highest quality of your flock was to sacrifice your own pride in owning something under your name which you felt exalted it: it’s an act of humility.

Such things were commanded of the Hebrews to train their very base and physically-minded ways of thinking into spiritual ways of thinking. Someone who was not a very abstract thinker at the time might not understand the command “have a spirit of obedience in humility,” but they certainly knew what it felt like to give up one of their treasured possessions, which is where their heart was, to God—if their treasure showed where their heart was, and they were in rebellion, then the forced act which contradicted that rebellion would be humbling: it was an outward act which shaped their inward being (Matthew 6:21). The animal is the thing being given up, and represents the nature or kind of spirit of the person which is being sacrificed in exchange for a redeemed spirit, hence why it is a sacrifice. The Apostles apparently knew this kind of interpretation of the Law also (see 1 Timothy 5:17-18, 1 Corinthians 9:9-10).

The third is that youth represents innocence. Because you are not required to give a young ram, it does not matter for how long you have been in rebellion to God, or about whether or not your submission is innocent—aware or not, with whatever motive or self-judgment, come for forgiveness. Rebellion, young or old, needs to be given up to God, regardless of the circumstances. The sin of rebellion is not due to the actions of an individual—it is only given a justification for being there, but the culprit is the temptation to covet one’s own possessions (material or immaterial) having been given into.

So, a person will submit to Jesus as Lord in obedience and humility, whether the sin was committed from willingness and full knowledge or whether fallen into through innocence, having repented of their sin in a sincere heart and thereby deed (they will give their personal “ram without blemish,” regardless of how deep in sin they are), and Jesus will mediate for the person on their behalf, having already atoned for them by His blood, and the Father will accept this offering: and God will faithfully forgive the person of their sin by whatever means they need forgiveness through, whatever the sin. Our forgiveness is not about our standing with God in God’s eyes once purchased by the blood of Jesus, but about our own hardness of heart and disconnection from God, and about not reaping the payment of death. In other words, it’s a model of the New Covenant and an instruction on how to repent of pride and submit to God (John 5:46).

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