Where sacrifices and offerings were concerned, there was a difference between sins against God and sins against other human beings. When an Israelite sinned against God, he presented a sin offering. If he sinned against a fellow man, he presented a guilt offering called the asham, an offering of compensation or restitution. This offering forgave theft, false oaths, extortion, or lying. The asham was presented to God, but its purpose was to remove guilt associated with the mistreatment or sin against another person. God required restitution for a sin or trespass against a fellow human (see Exod. 22:3, 5-6).
The Old Testament word restitution (see Exod. 22:3) is shalam (not shalom) and means to “make amends, to finish, or to make good again.” Making restitution involves making wrongs right in relationships with others. Other offerings, such as the fellowship or peace offerings, were voluntary offerings presented to God in appreciation for His goodness.
Under the New Covenant, our spiritual blessings can be placed on “hold” if we walk in disobedience to God’s Word by holding grudges and harboring unforgiveness in our hearts toward our fellow man. When believers walk contrary to the truth, God can and will restrain the fullness of His blessings from their lives until they repent and turn from their disobedience. Jesus said it this way:
“Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” (Matt. 5:23-24)
In western culture, we think of an altar as a wooden structure at the front of a church and the word gift as a monetary offering. In Christ’s day, the altar was the brass altar at the temple, and the gift comes from a Greek word used for sacrifice. In the Matthew 5 reference above, Christ was referring to the guilt offering when a person has wronged another; the Savior revealed that God would not accept this offering at the altar unless the offender made amends with his offended brother. To Christ, the spiritual attitude of the heart was more important than the public presentation of the sacrifice. James also indicated that believers should “confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed” (James 5:16).