Numbers 15 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

Numbers 15
Pulpit Commentary
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Verse 1. - The Lord spake unto Moses. It must have been during the years of wandering, but within those limits it is impossible even to conjecture the probable date. There is no external evidence, and the internal evidence is wholly indecisive. Neither can it be reasonably maintained that these regulations were designed to revive the hope and sustain the faith of the rising generation. Incidentally they may have had some effect in that way, but it is evident that the primary object of their promulgation was simply to supply certain defects and omissions in the Levitical legislation. Why that legislation should have had the fragmentary and unfinished character which it so evidently bears, requiring to be supplemented, here by an isolated commandment, and there by oral tradition, is an interesting and difficult question; but there can be no doubt as to the fact, and it is superfluous to look any further for the reason of the enactments here following.
Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come into the land of your habitations, which I give unto you,
Verse 2. - When ye be come into the land. The same formula is used in Leviticus 23:10 concerning the wave-sheaf. It is only remarkable here because it tacitly assumes -

(1) that the burnt offerings and sacrifices mentioned would not be offered any more in the wilderness;

(2) that the nation to which it was spoken would surely enter into Canaan at last.
And will make an offering by fire unto the LORD, a burnt offering, or a sacrifice in performing a vow, or in a freewill offering, or in your solemn feasts, to make a sweet savour unto the LORD, of the herd, or of the flock:
Verse 3. - A burnt offering, or a sacrifice, i.e., a whole burnt offering, or a slain offering. There should be a comma after the word "sacrifice." In performing a vow, or in a free-will offering, or in your solemn feasts. The burnt offering, or slain offering, might be offered in either of these three ways, in addition to the more ordinary sacrifices which do not come into question here.
Then shall he that offereth his offering unto the LORD bring a meat offering of a tenth deal of flour mingled with the fourth part of an hin of oil.
Verse 4. - A meat offering. See on Leviticus 2. The command to add the meat offering in every such case had not been given before, but it had apparently been the practice (see Leviticus 23:18) in accordance with the law of the daily sacrifice given in Exodus 29:40, 41.
And the fourth part of an hin of wine for a drink offering shalt thou prepare with the burnt offering or sacrifice, for one lamb.
Verse 5. - A drink offering. This is nowhere separately treated of in Leviticus, but it is mentioned along with the meat offering in the passages just referred to. Libations are amongst the simplest and most universal of offerings to the unseen powers. For one lamb. כֶבֶשׂ, lamb or kid.
Or for a ram, thou shalt prepare for a meat offering two tenth deals of flour mingled with the third part of an hin of oil.
Verse 6. - Or for a ram. The meat and drink offerings were to be proportionate in amount to the size of the victim.
And for a drink offering thou shalt offer the third part of an hin of wine, for a sweet savour unto the LORD.
And when thou preparest a bullock for a burnt offering, or for a sacrifice in performing a vow, or peace offerings unto the LORD:
Verse 8. - Peace offerings. The sacrifices made of free-will, or made on solemn feast-days, would commonly be peace offerings (see on Leviticus 7).
Then shall he bring with a bullock a meat offering of three tenth deals of flour mingled with half an hin of oil.
Verse 9. - Then shall he bring. The rapid interchange of the second and third persons in these verses is awkward and perplexing. No doubt it is due to some sufficiently simple cause in the inditing of the original record, but we arc not in a position even to guess at its nature. Meanwhile the broken construction remains as a witness to the faithfulness with which the record has been handed down.
And thou shalt bring for a drink offering half an hin of wine, for an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the LORD.
Thus shall it be done for one bullock, or for one ram, or for a lamb, or a kid.
According to the number that ye shall prepare, so shall ye do to every one according to their number.
Verse 12. - According to the number. The strict proportion of the meat and drink offerings was to be carried out with respect to the numbers, as well as the individual value, of the sacrifices.
All that are born of the country shall do these things after this manner, in offering an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the LORD.
Verse 13. - All that are born of the country. כָּל־הָאֶזְרָח, all the native born. Septuagint, πᾶς ὁ αὐτόχθων. The phrase is used no doubt from the point of view of a resident in Canaan; but it was only to such residents that these ordinances applied. Those things. The regulations just mentioned.
And if a stranger sojourn with you, or whosoever be among you in your generations, and will offer an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the LORD; as ye do, so he shall do.
Verse 14. - A stranger. Septuagint, προσήλυτος.
One ordinance shall be both for you of the congregation, and also for the stranger that sojourneth with you, an ordinance for ever in your generations: as ye are, so shall the stranger be before the LORD.
Verse 15. - One ordinance shall be both for you of the congregation, &c. Rather, "As for the congregation (הַקָּהָל construed absolutely), one law for you, and for the stranger that sojourneth, an eternal ordinance for your generations; as with you so shall it be with the stranger before the Lord."
One law and one manner shall be for you, and for the stranger that sojourneth with you.
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Verse 17. - And the Lord spake unto Moses. Whether on the same or on some other occasion we cannot tell. The two enactments have the same supplemental and (humanly speaking) trivial character.
Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye come into the land whither I bring you,
Then it shall be, that, when ye eat of the bread of the land, ye shall offer up an heave offering unto the LORD.
Verse 19. - When ye eat of the bread of the land. A thing which the younger Israelites, few of whom had ever tasted bread, must have eagerly looked forward to (see on Joshua 5:11, 12). An heave offering. See on Exodus 29:27; Leviticus 7:14. The dedication of first-fruits had been ordered in general terms in Exodus 22:29; Exodus 23:19.
Ye shall offer up a cake of the first of your dough for an heave offering: as ye do the heave offering of the threshingfloor, so shall ye heave it.
Verse 20. - A cake of the first of your dough. עַרִסֹת, only used here and in the two passages which refer to this enactment (Nehemiah 10:87; Ezekiel 44:30). It probably means whole meal coarsely ground, the first preparation of the new corn available for baking and eating. Septuagint has ἀπαρχὴ φυράματος, an expression used by St. Paul in Romans 11:16. As... the heave offering of the threshing floor, so shall ye heave it, i.e., the offering of bread from the home was to be made in addition to the offering of ears or grains from the threshing-floor, and in the same manner. No doubt this latter offering was a very ancient (Genesis 4:3) and general one, but it is not clearly described in the Law (see, however, Leviticus 2:14; Leviticus 23:10). All these heave offerings were the perquisite of the priest.
Of the first of your dough ye shall give unto the LORD an heave offering in your generations.
And if ye have erred, and not observed all these commandments, which the LORD hath spoken unto Moses,
Verse 22. - And if ye have erred. The absence of the usual formula, "and the Lord spake unto Moses," is singular, because what follows has reference not to the enactment just made, but to the whole Law. Perhaps it is a part of the thoroughly unscientific and inartificial character of the Mosaic legislation that a principle of extreme importance and wide application is appended to an insignificant matter of ceremonial. Provision is here made for the forgiveness of sins due to ignorance and oversight - a provision which was sorely needed, considering the great complexity of the Law, and the bad training they had for the accurate observance of it (Deuteronomy 12:8). A similar provision had been made in Leviticus 4. The two, however, differ, inasmuch as this contemplates sins of commission, while this contemplates sins of omission.
Even all that the LORD hath commanded you by the hand of Moses, from the day that the LORD commanded Moses, and henceforward among your generations;
Verse 23. - From the day that the Lord commanded... and henceforward among your generations. Or, "thenceforward according to your generations." These words are obscure, because they point apparently to a much larger lapse of time since the first giving of the Law than had really occurred. It may be that they include the possibility of fresh revelations of the Divine will in the time to come.
Then it shall be, if ought be committed by ignorance without the knowledge of the congregation, that all the congregation shall offer one young bullock for a burnt offering, for a sweet savour unto the LORD, with his meat offering, and his drink offering, according to the manner, and one kid of the goats for a sin offering.
Verse 24. - If ought be committed. Rather, "if it be committed," i.e., the non-observance of "all these commandments." It cannot, however, be necessary to suppose that a falling away from the whole body of the Mosaic legislation is here intended; such an apostasy could not happen by oversight, and if it did, the remedy provided would seem much too slight for the occasion. The analogy of the provision which follows (verse 27), and of the parallel provisions in Leviticus 4:2, 13, points clearly to the neglect of any one of the Divine commandments. One young bullock for a burnt offering. In the case of a sin of commission done ignorantly, the bullock was treated as a sin offering (Leviticus 4:14, 20), for in that case the expiation of guilt incurred is the prominent point in the atonement; in this case it is the necessity of a fresh self-dedication to the Lord. According to the manner, כַּמִּשְׁפָט, according to the ordinance given above. One kid of the goats for a sin offering. This was no doubt offered first, because expiation must precede self-oblation, but the bullock is mentioned first as forming the principal part of the sacrifice. The kid was probably treated according to the regulations of Leviticus 4:14, sq.
And the priest shall make an atonement for all the congregation of the children of Israel, and it shall be forgiven them; for it is ignorance: and they shall bring their offering, a sacrifice made by fire unto the LORD, and their sin offering before the LORD, for their ignorance:
And it shall be forgiven all the congregation of the children of Israel, and the stranger that sojourneth among them; seeing all the people were in ignorance.
Verse 26. - Seeing all the people were in ignorance. Literally, "because (sc. it happened) to the whole nation in ignorance." As the stranger was counted as of the nation for religious purposes, he shared both in its sin and in its forgiveness. There is no record of this atonement ever having been made, although there was abundant occasion for it; it may well be that it was intended only to stand on record against the Jews, and to point them to the one true expiation for their national as well as for their particular transgressions.
And if any soul sin through ignorance, then he shall bring a she goat of the first year for a sin offering.
Verse 27. - And if any soul sin through ignorance. No doubt by way of omission, as in the preceding case, and thus this regulation will be distinguished from that in Leviticus 4:27. In either case the ritual is apparently intended to be the same, although not so fully described here. In verse 29 the benefit of the ordinance is extended to strangers; this was natural in a law which directly contemplates the residence of Israel in their permanent home.
And the priest shall make an atonement for the soul that sinneth ignorantly, when he sinneth by ignorance before the LORD, to make an atonement for him; and it shall be forgiven him.
Ye shall have one law for him that sinneth through ignorance, both for him that is born among the children of Israel, and for the stranger that sojourneth among them.
But the soul that doeth ought presumptuously, whether he be born in the land, or a stranger, the same reproacheth the LORD; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people.
Verse 30. - The soul that doeth... presumptuously. Literally, "with a high hand," i.e., defiantly. A similar phrase is used of God himself (Exodus 13:9). The same reproacheth the Lord, מְגַדֵּפ, revileth. Septuagint, παροξυνεῖ In Ezekiel 20:27 it is translated "blasphemeth." Perhaps "affronteth" would be better. He that deliberately broke the commandment of the Lord avowed him. self his open enemy, and, as it were, challenged him to single combat. Cut off. See Genesis 17:14.
Because he hath despised the word of the LORD, and hath broken his commandment, that soul shall utterly be cut off; his iniquity shall be upon him.
Verse 31. - His iniquity... upon him. עַונָה בָהּ, "its crime upon it," i.e., the sin of that soul must come upon it in punishment.

CHAPTER 15:32-36 THE SABBATH-BREAKER (verses 32-36).
And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day.
Verse 32. - And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness. It is maintained by some that these words were intended to mark the contrast between the previous laws, which were only to be observed when the people came into their own land, and the law of the sabbath, which was strictly enforced during the period of wandering. There is no doubt that such a distinction existed in fact, but there is no reason to find the intentional assertion of it in this expression. The simpler and more natural, and therefore more probable, explanation is, that the incident was recorded after the people had left the wilderness. At the same time, there is nothing unreasonable in ascribing the narrative to Moses himself if we suppose him to have written it at the end of his life, when the people were encamped in the steppes of Moab. It seems probable that the record of the incident was inserted here as an example of a "presumptuous" sin, and of its punishment. A man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day. This was clearly presumptuous, because the prohibition to do any work for oneself on the sabbath had been made so clear, and was so constantly forced upon their attention by the failure of the manna on that day, that ignorance could not possibly be pleaded here.
And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation.
Verse 33. - Unto all the congregation, i.e., unto the council of elders, who were the congregation by representation (see on Exodus 18:25, 26).
And they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done to him.
Verse 34. - They put him in ward, (cf. Leviticus 24:12), because it was not declared what should be done to him. This is perplexing, because the punishment of death had been decreed in Exodus 31:14, 15, and Exodus 35:2. It seems an evasion to say that although death had been decreed, the mode of death had not been fixed; for

(1) it was clearly part of the Divine answer that the offence was really capital (see verse 35 a), and

(2) it was understood that in such cases death was to be inflicted by stoning (see Leviticus 20:2; Leviticus 24:14; Joshua 7:25; in the last case the command was to bum the delinquents with fire, yet it was rightly taken for granted that they were to be stoned to death first). There are only two explanations which are satisfactory because they are honest.

1. The incident may possibly have occurred between the first institution of the sabbath (Exodus 16:23, 29) and the decree of death to those that broke it. There is nothing in the record as it stands here to contradict such an assumption.

2. It is more likely that it occurred after the departure from Sinai, and that the hesitation in dealing with the criminal was duo not to any real uncertainty as to the law, but to unwillingness to inflict so extreme and so (apparently) disproportioned a punishment for such an offence without a further appeal. If it be said that such unwillingness to carry out a plain command would have been sinful, it is sufficient to answer that Moses and Aaron and the elders were human beings, and must have shrunk from visiting with a cruel death the trivial breach of a purely arbitrary commandment.
And the LORD said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp.
Verse 35. - Without the camp. That it might not be defiled (cf. Acts 7:58, and Hebrews 13:12).
And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as the LORD commanded Moses.
Verse 36. - And he died. He was killed not for what he did, but for doing it presumptuously, in deliberate defiance of what he knew to be the will of God. If the covenant relation was to be maintained between God and Israel, the observance of the sabbath, which was an integral part of that covenant, must be enforced, and he who willfully violated it must be cut off; and this consideration was of exceptional force in this case, as the first which had occurred, and as the one, therefore, which would govern all the rest (cf. Acts 5:5, 10). On the punishment of stoning see Leviticus 20:2; Leviticus 24:14; Acts 7:58.

CHAPTER 15:37-41 THE LAW OF TASSELS (verses 37-41).
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of the borders a ribband of blue:
Verse 38. - Bid them that they make them fringes. צִיצִת, probably tassels. It seems to signify something flower-like and bright, like the blooms on a shrub; the word צִיצ. is applied to the shining plate of gold upon Aaron's head-band (Exodus 28:36). In Jeremiah 48:9 it seems to mean a wing, and in Ezekiel 8:3 צִיצִת is a lock of hair. The exact meaning must be gathered from the context, and on the whole that suggests a tassel rather than a fringe. The word גְּדִלִיס, used in the parallel passage Deuteronomy 22:12, seems to have this meaning. The Septuagint renders it by κράσπιδα, which is adopted in the Gospels (see on Matthew 23:5). In the borders of their garments. Literally, "on the wings," ἐπὶ τὰ πτερύγια. The outer garment (בֶּגֶד here, כְּסוּת in Deuteronomy 22:12) was worn like a plaid, so folded that the four corners were dependent, and on each of these corners was to be hung a tassel. It was also used as a coverlet by the poor (Exodus 22:27). That they put upon the fringe of the borders a ribband of blue. Rather, "that they put a string (or thread) of hyacinth-blue upon the tassel of the wing." Septuagint, κλῶσμα ὑακίνθινον. This may have been a blue string with which to fasten the tassel to the corner of the garment, as if it were the stalk on which this flower grew; or it may have been a prominent blue thread in the tassel itself. The later Jews seem to have understood it in this sense, and concerned themselves greatly with the symbolical arrangements of the blue and other threads, and the method in which they were knotted together, so as to set forth the whole law with all its several commandments. The later Jews, however, have always contrived, with all their minute observance, to break the plain letter of the law: thus the modern talith is an under, and not an upper, garment.
And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the LORD, and do them; and that ye seek not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go a whoring:
Verse 39. - That ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments. It was indeed a minute and apparently trivial distinction, and yet such an one as would most surely strike the eye, and through the eye the mind. It was like the facings on a uniform which recall the fame and exploits of a famous regiment. The tasseled Hebrew was a marked man in other eyes, and in his own; he could not pass himself off as one of the heathen; he was perpetually reminded of the special relation in which he stood to the Lord, whose livery (so to speak) - or, to use another simile, whose colours - he wore. No doubt the sky-blue string or thread which was so prominent was meant to remind him of heaven, and of the God of heaven. And that ye seek not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go a whoring. The office of the tassels was to promote a recollected spirit. As it was, their fickle minds were always ready to stray away towards any heathen follies which their restless eyes might light upon. The trivial but striking peculiarity of their dress should recall them to the thought that they were a peculiar people, holy to the Lord.
That ye may remember, and do all my commandments, and be holy unto your God.
I am the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the LORD your God.
Verse 41. - I am the Lord your God. This intensely solemn formula, here twice repeated, may serve to show how intimately the smallest observances of the Law were connected with the profoundest and most comforting of spiritual truths, if only observed in faith and true obedience. The whole of religion, theoretical and practical, lay in those words, and that whole was hung upon a tassel. It is further to be noted that this precept was given during the years of exile, and probably given as one which they could keep, and which would be helpful to them, at a time when almost all other distinctive observances were suspended.

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