Book of Numbers Chapter Fifteen Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
Verses 1-3: "Now the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 'Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, 'When you enter the land where you are to live, which I am giving you, 3 then make an offering by fire to the Lord, a burnt offering or a sacrifice to fulfill a special vow, or as a freewill offering or in your appointed times, to make a soothing aroma to the Lord, from the herd or from the flock.'" Some time, perhaps not very much time, passed between Numbers Chapter 14 and this chapter. The Amalekites and Canaanites had attacked, Israel was defeated and it was learned that the nation in its present form would not enter the land. A new generation would do it, but not this one. Right now it was business as usual, for the Lord continued to speak through Moses, but God's promises were for other people at another time.
As we saw in Chapters 13 and 14, Israeli spies went into the land of Canaan, and most of them were frightened by what they saw. A couple of them, Joshua and Caleb, believed that the Lord who sent them would bring them victory in that land, but the fear of the other ten became like a disease, infecting Israel with terror. Their unbelief would arise again in the future, and so the Lord stopped that generation from entering the land. The purpose of Israel still remained—these were real people just like we are, but they also were a parable that faith in the Lord is God's plan for humanity. The sacrifices in Scripture, such as those in this chapter, pointed ahead to "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). And note that the sacrificial animals of this chapter fulfilled a great purpose and their lives were not in vain—in them we see God's then future gift of the Savior, the Sacrifice who takes away your sins and mine.
Verses 4-10: "The one who presents his offering shall present to the Lord a grain offering of one-tenth of an ephah of fine flour mixed with one-fourth of a hin of oil, 5 and you shall prepare wine for the drink offering, one-fourth of a hin, with the burnt offering or for the sacrifice, for each lamb. 6 Or for a ram you shall prepare as a grain offering two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with one-third of a hin of oil; 7 and for the drink offering you shall offer one-third of a hin of wine as a soothing aroma to the Lord. 8 When you prepare a bull as a burnt offering or a sacrifice, to fulfill a special vow, or for peace offerings to the Lord, 9 then you shall offer with the bull a grain offering of three-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with one-half a hin of oil; 10 and you shall offer as the drink offering one-half a hin of wine as an offering by fire, as a soothing aroma to the Lord." The words here may seem repetitious, but they have great purpose—Israel was slow to learn like we are—flour and grain was to be offered so that, in the future when Jesus shouted in the Temple, "I am the bread of life" (John 6:48), we would understand that He was what the grain offerings in Numbers and the "manna" of Exodus 15:16 were all about. The oil pointed to the Holy Spirit (Zechariah 4:2-6), and the wine pictured the blood of Jesus, shed for you and me. As Paul later said, "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, it is not the communion of the body of Christ?" (1 Corinthians 10:16). Israel needed parables to understand and so do we.
Verses 11-16: "'Thus it shall be done for each ox, or for each ram, or for each of the male lambs, or of the goats. 12 According to the number that you prepare, so you shall do for everyone according to their number. 13 All who are native shall do these things in this manner, in presenting an offering by fire, as a soothing aroma to the Lord. 14 If an alien sojourns with you, or one who may be among you throughout your generations, and he wishes to make an offering by fire, as a soothing aroma to the Lord, just as you do so he shall do. 15 As for the assembly, there shall be one statute for you and for the alien who sojourns with you, a perpetual statute throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the alien be before the Lord. 16 There is to be one law and one ordinance for you and for the alien who sojourns with you.'" Notice that God has one way for everyone in humanity, and He wants all to be saved out of this sinful world, as revealed to the Apostle Peter: "He is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). Jesus cried out in John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth, and the life"—He truly is the Way, making us alive to God the Father through simple faith in the Lord, God's blessed Sacrifice for all who will trust in Him.
Verses 17-21: "Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 18 'Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, 'When you enter the land where I bring you, 19 then it shall be, that when you eat of the food of the land, you shall lift up an offering to the Lord. 20 Of the first of your dough you shall lift up a cake as an offering; as the offering of the threshing floor, so you shall lift it up. 21 From the first of your dough you shall give to the Lord an offering throughout your generations." The Lord, through Moses, was speaking to people who very recently learned they would not live to see the promised land, and yet they were being told what offering they were to give when the nation entered that land. How could that be? The answer is in Numbers 14:29-31, where God had revealed to the nation that only two men out of all those who were twenty years old and up, would enter Canaan to offer the "cake" of these verses. Israel would enter, but not the current generation. And as we have seen previously, when we thank God for what we have, such as our food, it is because He has rendered us able to acquire it. We earn money, buy food and think we have provided it, but it is the Lord who has given us the mind, body and skills that empower us sufficiently to earn the money and obtain the food. Offering thanks is like these verses—we acknowledge that the Lord gives us—everything.
Verses 22-29 recognize that we are prone to sin through inadvertence: "But when you unwittingly fail and do not observe all these commandments, which the Lord has spoken to Moses, 23 even all that the Lord has commanded you through Moses, from the day when the Lord gave commandment and onward throughout your generations, 24 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. 25 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. 26 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. 27 Also if one person sins unintentionally, then he shall offer a one year old female goat for a sin offering. 28 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. 29 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." We didn't understand fully, but we were swept up in the moment, we did it, and it is sin. What can we do? First of all, we recognize that the Offering for sin needed for our failures was and is Jesus Christ, who "appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself" (Hebrews 9:26). The Sacrifice has been given, which is eternally effective for our inadvertent sins as we live out 1 John 1:9, which reveals, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." He was sacrificed, He paid the price, and God's grace operative through faith results in forgiveness. And this is for everyone; for those we know and also for those we might think of as outsiders. Christ died for everyone, all the sins of this ungodly world (Romans 5:6-8). He is the Sacrifice for you and me.
Verses 30-36: "But the person who does anything defiantly, whether he is native or an alien, that one is blaspheming the Lord; and that person shall be cut off from among his people. 31 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.' 32 Now while the sons of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering wood on the sabbath day. 33 Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation; 34 and they put him in custody because it had not been declared what should be done to him. 35 Then the Lord said to Moses, 'The man shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.' 36 So all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death with stones, just as the Lord had commanded Moses." The person who knows what the Lord wants, but then sins inadvertently can be forgiven. But what about the one who fully knows what is required, but DELIBERATELY disobeys in a kind of "In Your Face," brazen manner and will not repent? What about that one? A perfect example in Scripture is the devil himself. There is no remedy for him because he KNOWS that the Lord is True, but willingly rejects Him, misleading others in the process. Those who will not repent, and trust in the Lord are to be cast "into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41). It's time to confess our sins to the Lord and trust in Him. The alternative is—unthinkable.
Verses 37-41: "The Lord also spoke to Moses, saying, 38 'Speak to the sons of Israel, and tell them that they shall make for themselves tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and that they shall put on the tassel of each corner a cord of blue. 39 It shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, so as to do them and not follow after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you played the harlot, 40 so that you may remember to do all My commandments and be holy to your God. 41 I am the Lord your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt to be your God; I am the Lord your God.'" We who have been rescued and forgiven are to be different, living lives that honor our Lord. Being different is difficult for us because, even in clothing and manner of speech, people everywhere tend to copy others. On my jacket, I wear the image of a shepherd's crook given to me during a pastor's and pastor's wives conference some years ago. When asked about it, as I was the other morning during a prayer breakfast, I reply that it reminds me of who I am supposed to be—one of the shepherds assigned by the Great Shepherd to watch over and help His sheep. The Lord Himself has been sacrificed for us, and we are to be willing, as He leads, to be different in ways that will help others trust in Him.
Father, I am Yours. Please forgive my unrighteous thoughts, words and acts. I trust in Your Son, the Sacrifice I so desperately need, and choose to live the life You have for me. In Jesus Name. Amen.