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Deeper Commentary


Num 15:1 Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying-
This may be intentionally positioned here after the tragic record of how Israel didn't want to enter the land and returned in their hearts to Egypt. The regulations here stress that they would enter the land (:2), and when there, would offer freewill offerings (:3). It was to encourage the younger generation, and also to show the faithful few that God's saving purpose would come true. And there would be in Israel people who loved God so much that they made freewill offerings; whereas the people had just been claiming that Yahweh hated them, and they wanted to follow their Egyptian idols back to Egypt. See on :31.

Num 15:2 Speak to the children of Israel, and tell them, ‘When you have come into the land of your habitations, which I give to you-
See on :1. "Habitations" may imply that each family would have their own specific area which they were to possess and inhabit. Just as we each have specific intended futures and roles within the Kingdom of God, both now and eternally. But it is s.w. "sojournings". Even life in Canaan was to be a sojourning, a passing through, because the Kingdom was in view still as the permanent dwelling for God's people. This leads right on from the comment in Num. 14 that the generation over 20 would not enter the land. It could be that now Moses is specifically addressing and encouraging the younger generation. But these laws go on in :24,25 to speak of how forgiveness was possible for the entire body of Israel if sin was committed in ignorance. We wonder whether this was a hint that even then Israel could be forgiven if they recognized they had sinned, and God would have been prepared to accept they had done so "in ignorance" of the real implications. We recall that God graciously excused the murder of His own son as a sin "done in ignorance" (Acts 3:17 "Through ignorance you did it as did also your rulers"). The same word is translated "deceived" in Job 12:16: "The deceived and the deceiver are His". If they recognized that they had been deceived by the 10 spies, could they then have been forgiven? Perhaps recognition of sin means that the sin was previously done in ignorance. The otherwise strange laws inserted into the law of Moses about the "red heifer" offering for all Israel may likewise have been intended as a nudge towards all this. A way was being made for all Israel to be forgiven- and these laws had not previously been given. God led the condemned generation "to see what was in their hearts"- why do that, if they were merely being led to their deaths? Is there not a hint that God was looking at any possible heart change that might enable Him to forgive and eternally save them, even if they had to die in the wilderness? For Moses too couldn't see nor enter the promised land, and yet will be saved. He sinned at Kadesh (Num. 20:1), exactly where Israel did (Num. 13:25). Both Moses and Israel are charged with the sins of "disbelief" (Num. 14:11; 20:12) and "rebellion" (Num. 14:9; 20:24) and are banned from entering the land. But Moses had hope of resurrection to eternal inheritance. "Presumption"(:30) is literally 'with upraised hand'. And this was how Moses had sinned at Kadesh, lifting his hand and then striking the rock. But even that was forgivable in terms of salvation. They were to see in Moses a possible pattern for themselves. The ten unfaithful spies were smitten with death; but the condemned generation were kept alive. Whilst there is life there's hope, and surely man is always capable of repentance whilst still alive. And I suggest God was nudging even that condemned generation towards that. He had sworn they would die in the wilderness, but still they could be resurrected to eternal inheritance of the land if they repented. Moses committed the sin of high handed presumption, literally lifting his hand before striking the rock (see on Nun. 20:11); David likewise committed the sin of presumption by despising God's word in sinning with Bathsheba. But both were still forgiven, although they had to take the consequences in this life. So the sin of presumption can be forgiven, by ceasing to be presumptuous. Just as blasphemy against the Holy Spirit can be forgiven once it stops.

The commands of :3-6 are an expansion upon the laws given in Leviticus. Once in the land, they were to additionally offer grain, oil and wine with their sacrifices. This reinforces what we have read in Num. 14- that the land was "good" and was flowing with blessing of grain, oil and wine. They were therefore reminded that once in the land under the covenant, they would have abundance of these things and would add them to the offerings, further to what had been commanded in Leviticus. They were being focused upon the abundance of the future Kingdom.

"I am giving you... into which I am bringing you" (:17) encouraged them that their wanderings were not aimless, but were part of being brought to the Kingdom. We can take comfort in the counterpart to this in our own wilderness wanderings.

Num 15:3 and will make an offering by fire to Yahweh, a burnt offering, or a sacrifice, to accomplish a vow, or as a freewill offering, or in your set feasts-
See on :1. The Hebrew word here for "freewill" carries the idea of spontaneity. This is the clear implication of its usage in places like Ex. 35:27; 36:3; Jud. 5:2,9; 1 Chron. 29:5,9; 2 Chron. 35:8; Ps. 54:6. There is a strong sense of immediate emotion attached to the word (Hos. 14:4). And there was a major emphasis in the law of Moses upon freewill offerings (Lev. 7:16; 22:18,21,23; 23:38; Num. 15:3; 29:39; Dt. 12:6,17; 16:10; 23:23). The other legal codes of the nations around Israel were all about rituals; whereas Yahweh's law encouraged spontaneous giving as part of the way of Yahweh. For He is not a God of rituals, but of relationship. The way of the Spirit is the same today; spontaneous, emotional, personal response to God's grace, responding to Him on our own initiative and in our own way, in addition to obeying His specific requirements.        

To make a pleasant aroma to Yahweh, of the herd, or of the flock-
"Of the herd" continues the common Mosaic theme, that the animal was not to be raised specially for sacrifice but was to be taken out of the herd, it was one "of" them. This looks ahead to the human nature of the Lord Jesus as one of us, taken "of" the herd of humanity. And all sacrifice is to be from out of our normal lives, making time in lunch breaks to read the Bible and pray, things like that, rather than occasional consciously prepared 'gifts' to God.

Num 15:4 then he who offers his offering shall offer to Yahweh a grain offering of a tenth part of an ephah of fine flour mixed with the fourth part of a hin of oil-
This section seems to be reminding Israel of the need not to forget to offer a grain offering at the same time as a major sacrifice; as if to underline that God is magnified in the little things of life, and these shouldn’t be left outside the sphere of His influence just because we consider we have made a major sacrifice to Him.

Num 15:5 and wine for the drink offering, the fourth part of a hin, you shall prepare with the burnt offering, or for the sacrifice, for each lamb-
Bread (:4) and wine were effectively offered with the lamb. The Lord's choice of symbols for the breaking of bread surely had this in mind. They are but the side offerings, as it were, compared to the lamb. To take bread and wine would beg the question: 'And where is the slain offering?'. And the answer to that at the breaking of bread is 'Here in our midst'.

Meal [bread], wine and oil are associated with what people ate at their own tables: Jud. 9:9, 13 (oil and wine), 1 Sam. 1:24; 10:3 (meal and wine), Hos. 9:4 (wine), Mic. 6:7 (oil). The idea was that in sacrifice, one was at the Lord's table and eating with Him. This is our experience not only at the memorial meeting, but in all experience of sacrifice to Him. We fellowship with Him.

Num 15:6 Or for a ram, you shall prepare for a grain offering two tenth parts of an ephah of fine flour mixed with the third part of a hin of oil-
These commands were for when Israel were in the land, as the amounts of oil and wine required would've been hard to find in the desert. Indeed it is an open question as to whether the laws of sacrifice were kept whilst in the desert. It was by grace that God would have overlooked this. I suggest that it is to this which Am. 5:25 refers, challenging Israel to remember that God had accepted them in the wilderness by grace alone, as they were unable to keep His ideal requirements: "Did you bring Me sacrifices and offerings during the forty years in the wilderness?”.

Num 15:7 and for the drink offering you shall offer the third part of a hin of wine, for a pleasant aroma to Yahweh-
“A pleasant aroma” is a very common phrase. This concept is important to God. It first occurs in Gen. 8:21 where it means that God accepted Noah's sacrifice and vowed that the pole of saving mercy in His character was going to triumph over that of necessary judgment. Under the new covenant, it is persons and not sacrifices or incense which are accepted as a "pleasant aroma" (Ez. 20:41). The word for "pleasant" means strong delight; this is how God's heart can be touched by genuine sacrifice. Those pleasing offerings represented us, the living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1). And so it is applied to us in 2 Cor. 2:15- if we are in Christ, we are counted as a pleasant aroma to God. The offering of ourselves to Him is nothing of itself, but because we are in Christ and counted as Him, we are a delight to God. Hence the colossal importance of being “in Christ”. "Aroma" or "smell" is a form of the Hebrew word ruach, the word for spirit or breath. God discerns the spirit of sacrifices, that was what pleased Him rather than the burning flesh of animals. Our attitude of mind in sacrifice can touch Him. Sacrifice is therefore accepted, Paul says, according to what a person has to give, but the essence is the attitude of mind behind it. We think of the two coins sacrificed by the widow.

Num 15:8 When you prepare a bull for a burnt offering, or for a sacrifice, to accomplish a vow, or for peace offerings to Yahweh-
The sacrifices were to be accompanied by oil, bread [flour] and wine. They were to give to God the same food which they would eat at their own table; oil and wine (Jud. 9:9,13); meal / bread and wine (1 Sam. 1:24; 10:3; wine (Hos. 9:4) and oil (Mic. 6:7). They were to see themselves as eating at His table, sharing a meal with their invisible God. The same idea is behind the Lord's table which we share at the breaking of bread meeting. And this theme was developed at this point, because Israel had just been condemned to 40 years wandering. But God was urgent in His desire to remain in fellowship with them. Permanently depriving a sinner of the Lord's table was not His way at all, indeed the very opposite. See on :12.

Num 15:9 then shall he offer with the bull a grain offering of three tenth parts of an ephah of fine flour mixed with half a hin of oil-
One of the most obvious similarities between the peace offering and the breaking of bread is that they both feature bread and wine, associated with a slain animal in the midst (Num. 15:9,10; 2 Sam. 6:17- 19). And further, both require the eating of the sacrifice by the offerer. The peace offering and Passover (also typical of the memorial meeting) featured the offerer eating the sacrifice "before the Lord". This phrase "before the Lord" is continually emphasized in the records of the peace offerings. I guess we would all admit that our sense of the presence of the Father and Son at our memorial meetings has much room for improvement. We really are "before the Lord" as we sit there. God came unto men when they offered acceptable peace offerings (Ex. 20:24), as He is made known to us through the breaking of bread.

Num 15:10 and you shall offer for the drink offering half a hin of wine, for an offering made by fire, for a pleasant aroma to Yahweh-
This had only previously been required in the specific case of Ex. 29:40 but was now being made applicable to every sacrifice. After the rejection of the people in Num. 14, God wanted them to have this extra feature in relationship with Him. I see it that way, rather than Him as it were punishing them with more legislation. For that was not at all the purpose of any of His Mosaic laws.

Num 15:11 Thus shall it be done for each bull, or for each ram, or for each of the male lambs, or of the young goats-
See on :12. The repetition of "each" stresses that each animal was to be accompanied by the required side offerings.

Num 15:12 According to the number that you shall prepare, so you shall do to each one according to their number-
It was important that each animal sacrifice was individually accompanied by the side plates, as it were, of bread, wine and oil. As explained on :8, each animal was to be seen as a meal enjoyed with God, with the altar as the table at which it was 'eaten'. The way Solomon and others offered vast numbers of animal sacrifices at one go was therefore completely missing the point of personal relationship with God- and reducing it to mere religion. For God wanted individuals to dine with Him, and not rivers of blood flowing from huge numbers of sacrifices, as the prophets make clear. 

Num 15:13 All who are native-born shall do these things in this way, in offering an offering made by fire, for a pleasant aroma to Yahweh-
The reference to "native-born" was again an encouragement to an Israel just rejected from the land that one day, they would be there. And they would have children who were born in that land. Constantly God likewise encourages us, directly and indirectly, that we shall indeed one day inherit the Kingdom.

Num 15:14 If a stranger lives as a foreigner with you, or whoever may be among you throughout your generations, and will offer an offering made by fire, for a pleasant aroma to Yahweh; as you do, so he shall do-
The Law of Moses constantly envisaged that Gentiles would live amongst Israel at all points in their history, "throughout your generations". The intention was that Israel in their land would be the light of the Gentile world around them, and Gentiles would come to that light, and also come to worship Yahweh. Israel's apostacy on one hand and arrogant xenophobia on the other meant that this was never realized. The intention has been deferred and reinterpreted in the later prophecies which speak of Gentiles coming to Zion's light.

Num 15:15 For the assembly, there shall be one statute for you and for the stranger who lives as a foreigner, a statute forever throughout your generations: as you are, so shall the foreigner be before Yahweh-
As explained on :14, the intention was always that Gentiles would come to Israel and live there, and thereby come to Yahweh. They too could be "before Yahweh". This was sadly ignored and misinterpreted by Israel, to the point that notices were erected in the temple effectively warning Gentiles not to come "before Yahweh" on pain of death. There was a riot in Jerusalem just at the thought that Paul might just possibly have brought Gentiles into the temple area "before Yahweh".

Num 15:16 One law and one ordinance shall be for you, and for the stranger who lives as a foreigner with you’-
This is stressed so many times. See on :29. The law of Moses was the contract of the covenant between God and Israel. But the Gentiles were invited to come under that law, indeed it was required of them. This was therefore an open invitation and even requirement that Gentiles enter covenant relationship with Yahweh. God's definition of "Israel" as His people was from the start geared towards inclusiveness of all races- and thereby against all forms of racially based patriotism and xenophobia.

Num 15:17 Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying-
The Law of Moses, like the whole of God’s word, is studded with incidental reminders that truly we shall enter the promised land.

Num 15:18 Speak to the children of Israel, and tell them, ‘When you come into the land to which I bring you-
God had just condemned Israel to 40 years wandering in the desert outside of His land (Num. 14). But right at the start of it, He emphasizes that He is still earnestly operating His program to "bring" them into that land, seeing they of themselves hadn't wished to enter it. And so even when it seems a man way be walking away from the Kingdom, even by his own choice, Yahweh is ever seeking to "bring" him somehow, eventually, back to it. Those who "leave" are still the subjects of His efforts to "bring" them there.

Num 15:19 then it shall be that when you eat of the bread of the land, you shall offer up a wave offering to Yahweh-
Again we note the continual encouragement, after the events of Num. 14, that they would enter the land / Kingdom one day. There is no recorded evidence that Israel ever obeyed what they were commanded here.

Num 15:20 Of the first of your dough you shall offer up a cake for a wave offering: as the wave offering of the threshing floor, so you shall heave it-
The portion to be waved was placed on the priests hands (Ex. 29:25), and then 'waved' or 'swung' towards the altar and then back- not from right to left. The idea was that the offerings were first given to God, recognizing they should be consumed on the altar to God; but then given back to the priest by God. So they ate them having first recognized that their food was really God's, all was of Him, and He had given it back to them to eat. This should be our spirit in partaking of any food, as we are the new priesthood. Our prayers of thanks for daily food should include this feature. All things are God's and anything we 'offer' to Him is only giving Him what He has given to us (1 Chron. 29:14,16). 

Num 15:21 Of the first of your dough you shall give to Yahweh a wave offering throughout your generations-
Cain's sacrifice wasn't accepted because of his lack of faith in the principles of blood offering, and because of his hatred of his brother. For it was not impossible for God to accept non-blood sacrifices (Num. 15:17-21; 18:12,13; Dt. 26:1-4). Cain, the epitome of 'the devil' (Jn. 8:44), was characterized by the attitude that he was not his brother's keeper (Gen. 4:9). But the Lord Jesus perhaps offered a commentary on the incident when he said that our offering can only be accepted if we are first reconciled to our brother (Mt. 5:24). Cain's insistent lack of responsibility for his brother was the real sin, and therefore his sacrifice wasn't accepted by God. He wanted to serve God his own way, disregard his brother, justify his disagreement with him... to be a private person. But this was the basis of his rejection.

Num 15:22 When you shall err, and not observe all these commandments which Yahweh has spoken to Moses,-
At times Moses lost the sense of his own personality, so strong was his inspiration by God: “All these commandments, which the Lord has spoken unto Moses” (Num. 15:22,23); these words were actually said by Moses (:17). Jeremiah spoke “from the mouth of the Lord” and yet the Lord spoke “by the mouth of Jeremiah” (2 Chron. 36:12,22) - this is how close was the relationship between God and the men He spoke through. Their mouth was His mouth, and they were subsumed beneath that awesome reality. Thus John the Baptist described himself as merely "a voice" when he was asked who he was.

Num 15:23 even all that Yahweh has commanded you by Moses, from the day that Yahweh gave commandment, and onward throughout your generations-
There is clearly the recognition here that the law given at Sinai was not as it were set in stone. In an "onward" sense there was to be progressive revelation; and we have an example of this in :34. This flexibility means that we are more open to the idea that finally the entire Law was abrogated in the Lord Jesus; and there were evident variations allowed to it when Israel were in exile. The law was the contract forming the basis of Yahweh's covenant relationship with His people; and yet that contract was clearly flexible. If it could be added to by God, parts could also be ammended. We see this quite early on, for the 'second law' in Deuteronomy, given at the end of the wilderness wanderings, has some amendments to the earlier law given. 

Num 15:24 then it shall be, if it be done unknowingly, without the knowledge of the congregation, that all the congregation shall offer one young bull for a burnt offering, for a pleasant aroma to Yahweh, with the grain offering of it, and the drink offering of it, according to the ordinance, and one male goat for a sin offering-
Sins of ignorance still required atonement. The passage of time doesn’t work a quasi-atonement for our sins; confession of sin and earnest searching of our lives, both past and present, is one of the disciplines which characterize the spiritually healthy believer. It’s likely we will come to the day of judgment with sins of ignorance still counted to us, and yet we believe God will forgive them- hence we ask to be forgiven for such sins which aren’t perceived by us (Ps. 19:12). This means we will be forgiven without repentance. If we look forward to such forgiveness, we should show it to our brethren today, forgiving without demanding their repentance, hoping that they will later on in their journey perceive things more maturely.

Num 15:25 The priest shall make atonement for all the congregation of the children of Israel, and they shall be forgiven; for it was an error, and they have brought their offering, an offering made by fire to Yahweh, and their sin offering before Yahweh, for their error-
James may have sins of ignorance in mind when he says that obeying all the law but breaking just one commandment will lead to condemnation (James 2:10). His argument becomes all the more powerful if he is alluding here, for the point is then made that this holds true even if that one commandment is broken in ignorance. Clearly the only way to justification with God is through faith in the Lord Jesus. 

"All the congregation of the children of Israel" is the very phrase repeatedly used in Num. 13:26; 14:2,5,10,27 of how "all the congregation of the children of Israel" had disbelieved the two spies and preferred to spurn God's Kingdom; and how God's wrath was with "all the congregation of the children of Israel". They were all guilty of the presumptuous sin, but didn't all die. Because they were forgiven. "They shall be forgiven" is literally 'They shall be pardoned'. This is exactly what Moses had achieved in his intercession for the people for their sin of rejecting the promised land. They had been pardoned. The sin had been treated as one of relative "ignorance" or 'deception' [s.w.], in that they had believed the false report of the ten spies. Their presumptuous sin had been to go up into Canaan anyway, unwilling to accept death in the wilderness and future resurrection. Some of them died in that endeavour, but the rest of that generation lived on and died in the desert. But during that time, they had the chance to repent. Whilst there's life there's always hope for repentance, surely. For can a living man be precluded from repentance?

Num 15:26 And all the congregation of the children of Israel shall be forgiven, and the stranger who lives as a foreigner among them; for in respect of all the people it was done unknowingly-
The sin of crucifying the Lord Jesus is very generously presented as a sin of ignorance by the Lord's saying that “they know not what they do”, confirmed by Peter's appeal to repent although “Through ignorance you did it” (Lk. 23:34; Acts 3:17). Repentance was therefore encouraged on the basis of having had sin made known to them. And the offering for that sin had already been made, in the Lord's death. Their sin of [apparent] ignorance was therefore in fact the forgiveness for their sin- if they actualized it by recognition and repentance. 

Num 15:27 If one person sins unknowingly, then he shall offer a female goat of a year old for a sin offering-
The ruler was to offer a male (Lev. 4), but the common person was to offer a female. It may simply be because female animals cost less, and the ruler was to realize that he had greater responsibility in his failure and needed to show this in the kind of sacrifice he made.

Num 15:28 The priest shall make atonement for the soul who errs when he sins unknowingly, to make atonement for him before Yahweh; and he shall be forgiven-
We note that the legislation about the cities of refuge likewise reflected God's special concern about unintentional sin. He recognizes that there are different kinds of sin. And in this we see His sensitivity, for the other legal codes at the time saw everything in black and white terms of obedience or disobedience to legal statutes. The word for "unknowingly" or "unintentionally" is s.w. 'deceived' (Job 12:16). It could be that God also recognizes that some are deceived into sin, and therefore treats those who lead into sin more severely than those who are led into sin. Likewise the New Testament condemns false teachers, but seems to be more acceptive of the falsely taught, the misguided. 

Num 15:29 You shall have one law for him who does anything unknowingly, for him who is native-born among the children of Israel, and for the stranger who lives as a foreigner among them’-
The implication therefore was that any Gentile living in Israel was under the Mosaic law. And that law was the contract forming the basis of the covenant. They were therefore to enter covenant with Yahweh if they lived in Israel. The law continually envisages Gentiles living in Israel, as if they were going to be attracted by Israel and come and live in the land having entered covenant with Yahweh. God's definition of "Israel" as His people was from the start geared towards inclusiveness of all races- and thereby against all forms of racially based patriotism and xenophobia. See on :16.

Num 15:30 ’But the soul who does anything in presumption, whether he is native-born or a foreigner, the same blasphemes Yahweh; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people-
David murdered, committed adultery and even the deadly sin of presumption (2 Sam. 12:9 cp. Num. 15:31). Yet these were overlooked by God as if they were 'surface' sins; the real man David was accepted by God and held up as a wondrous example to all the faithful. Such is His softness towards us, and more essentially, His earnest desire to save men who may not 'make it' on the basis of straight obedience. The context here in the previous chapter is of Israel having been presumptuous in trying to enter Canaan when told they now could not do so (Dt. 1:43). If God is eager to see presumptuous sins as sins of ignorance, so that He might still save al least some... we also should take as generous a view as possible of others' sins.

"Presumption" is literally 'with upraised hand'. The idea is of willful defiance; thus Israel left Egypt with a high hand and therefore the Egyptians pursued them (Ex. 14:8; Num. 33:3). And this was how Moses had sinned at Kadesh, lifting his hand and then striking the rock. But even that was forgivable in terms of salvation. In the next chapter, Num, 16, we will read of Korah and his followers standing proudly before their tents, as if this too was sin with upraised, defiant hand. The book of Numbers features the record of incidents whilst the people were "in the wilderness", and also the giving of extra laws. But those extra laws are to be related to the narrative incidents recorded. Num. 15 follows on from Num. 14, and therefore talks about presumptuous sins. This means to "despise" God's word of promise (:31), and Num. 14 records Israel 'despising' both God and the promised land. Whilst they continued in that, there was no atonement possible. We can conclude that that legislation was given in the context of Israel's presumption in rejecting the Kingdom and calling God a liar. And the implication is that we can all in principle commit that same sin. It is unforgivable insofar as the sin itself means we refuse to believe in God's grace and salvation, and reject it as fake. Whilst that's our position, salvation is impossible- by our own choice. The issue of whether we believe we will be saved therefore assumes critical place in the psychology and worldview of all God's people, at all times. The context continues in Num. 16, where the rebellion of Korah is again a sin of presumption that was met with immediate destruction- just as the ten spies were destroyed. Again we are left with the impression that presumptuous sin leads to immediate destruction. For those left alive, especially the condemned generation in the desert, there was still some potential for repentance, pardon and future salvation through resurrection. 

Num 15:31 Because he has despised the word of Yahweh, and has broken His commandment, that soul shall utterly be cut off; his iniquity shall be on him’-
Being "cut off from Israel" may not mean that the person must be slain. For then the phrase "cut off from the earth" would have been used (as in Prov. 2:22 and often). As noted on :30, David committed this sin but was spared. The idea is that the person who ate leaven (Ex. 12:15) or was not circumcised (Gen. 17:14) was excluded from the community of God's people because they had broken or despised the covenant which made them His people. But there is no record of Israel keeping a list of 'cut off from Israel' Israelites and excluding them from keeping the feasts. So we conclude this means that God would consider such persons as cut off from His people. He would do the cutting off, and not men. In His book, they were "cut off". But there was no legal nor practical mechanism provided to Israel to manage the 'cutting off from Israel' of those who despised the covenant. The cutting off was done in God's eyes, in Heaven's record, and the Israelites were intended to continue to fellowship with such persons at the feasts. This is a strong argument for an open table, and for not seeking to make church excommunication the equivalent of this cutting off of the disobedient from the people of Israel. This explains why being "cut off from Israel" is the punishment stated for doing things which man could not see and judge- secretly breaking the Sabbath (Ex. 31:14), eating peace offerings whilst being unclean (Lev. 7:20- for how were others to know whether someone had touched the unclean, or was experiencing an unclean bodily emission), eating meat with blood still in it (Lev. 17:10,14), not adequately humbling the soul (Lev. 23:29), not keeping Passover (Num. 9:13), being presumptuous (Num. 15:30,31- only God can judge that), not washing after touching a dead body (Num. 19:13,20). This is why Lev. 20:6 makes it explicit that "I [Yahweh personally] will set My face against that person, and will cut him off from among his people". It is Yahweh who does the cutting off and not men (also 1 Sam. 2:33).

"Despised the word" is the term used about David’s sin with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 12:9,10). But God’s grace is such that even in this case, when David deserved to die for knowingly doing wrong, still a way was found for David to live. We are all in essence in the same situation, for our sins are often knowingly done.

As discussed on :1, the immediate context of these commandments is the presumptuous sin of Israel, in turning away from the Kingdom, and then presuming to try to enter it when they had been barred from it. Despising the word of the Lord is alluding to how the faithless spies and their followers did just this in Num 14:36,37.

Num 15:32 While the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day-

The inheritance of the land is elsewhere described as a keeping of a Sabbath rest. The Sabbath was a looking forward to resting from the labour of Egypt in the salvation of the promised land: "You shall remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and Yahweh your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm, therefore Yahweh your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day" (Dt. 5:15). Quite often, inheritance of the land is described as "rest": "You haven’t yet come to the rest and to the inheritance which Yahweh your God gives you... dwell in the land which Yahweh your God causes you to inherit, and He gives you rest" (Dt. 12:9,10). Paul in Hebrews develops this point, based upon the statements in Ps. 95:8-11 that God had sworn that the condemned generation would not enter the "rest" of the promised land. This man who broke the Sabbath rest intentionally therefore becomes similar to those who willfully refused to enter the land, which has just been recorded in Num. 14. He gathered sticks just as the Hebrews gathered straw in Egypt; rather than rest from that labour. And that is the context for these laws.

 As discussed on :1, the context here is Israel's rejection because they had willfully disobeyed Yahweh and blasphemed Him (Num. 14:11). This man was similar, and perhaps that is why his case is recorded here. He is an example of the presumptuous sin just spoken of in :30. The mention that Israel were in the wilderness when this happened may appear to be stating the obvious. But many of the laws, including those so far in this chapter, had been prefaced with the comment that they were to be observed when Israel were in Canaan. Perhaps there was a willful misunderstanding of the Sabbath law as only applicable in Canaan. I say willful misunderstanding, because the man was judged as guilty of the sin of presumption (:30,31). So often, caviling over legalistic interpretation of the law is because we are seeking to simply ignore God's law and go our own way; see on :33.

The only other occurrence of the Hebrew phrase "gathering sticks" is in the description of the widow woman of 1 Kings 17:10. We wonder whether she was doing so on the Sabbath; and yet Elijah was taught that he had to depend upon this for him to have food to remain alive. Just as unclean ravens brought him his food. We are likewise taught the same at times.

The repeated occurrence of the phrase "in the wilderness" in Num. 15:32; 27:3 leads the Rabbis to identify the man who gathered sticks on the Sabbath as Zelophehad, who therefore "died in his own sin", an allusion to Num. 15:31 which uses this term in prefacing the incident of gathering sticks. Although it is then noteworthy that he had apparently faithful daughters. 

Num 15:33 Those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron, and to all the congregation-
Firewood would have been scarce in the wilderness, so this man perhaps found some and wanted to gather it on the Sabbath before anyone else could. The motive for reporting him would therefore have been jealousy and anger, rather than pure concern that the Sabbath had been broken. So often those who report others breaking God's laws have their own agendas.

Num 15:34 They put him in custody, because it had not been declared what should be done to him-
A similar incident was dealt with the same way in Lev. 24:12. As discussed on :23, there was an element of progressive revelation in God's law, and not every situation was legislated for. Probably they realized he deserved the death penalty, but the question may have been how he should be put to death.

Num 15:35 Yahweh said to Moses, The man shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp-
Heb. 13:12 stresses that the Lord Jesus died in the same place, outside the camp of God’s people. Although Jesus never sinned, in His time of dying He so closely identified with condemned sinners that even in our moments of sin He can still identify with us (Gal. 3:13). The people who gathered manna on the Sabbath were not dealt with like this, although it was an equally clear breaking of specific laws. We can only conclude that people may sin in the same external way, but God knows the heart and in this case, the man was guilty of the sin of presumption (:30,31) rather than a lesser level of disobedience. But only God can judge these things. All we see is the external actions and sin. We cannot therefore "judge" because we fail to see the heart behind the wrong action. And clearly God does judge identical actions differently, as we see by comparing this man with those who gathered manna.

The capital punishment for gathering on the Sabbath begs for comparison with the way some tried to gather manna on the Sabbath but were not so harshly punished. Surely the point is, in the context of Num. 15, that he had sinned presumptuously whereas the manna gatherers were merely opportunistic. And possibly hungry. Whereas this man apparently knew that the sabbath was the sign of the covenant (Ex. 31:12) but rejected that covenant. Perhaps this is why the judgment was to be stoned outside of the camp, reflecting his conscious rejection of his place in the camp of God's people.

Num 15:36 All the congregation brought him outside of the camp, and stoned him to death with stones, as Yahweh commanded Moses-
The Lord Jesus suffered and died, shedding the blood of atonement, "outside the camp" (Heb. 13:13). We are bidden go forth to the Lord Jesus "outside the camp", just as those who "sought Yahweh" did when there was no tabernacle (Ex. 33:7). The people watching Moses as he walked out to it, without the camp, therefore looks ahead to a faithless Israel lining the via Dolorossa and watching the Lord walk out to His place of crucifixion. And we are to get behind Him and follow Him there, stepping out from the mass of Israel. As the Lord Jesus suffered "outside the camp", so various parts of the Mosaic sacrifices were to be burnt there (Lev. 4:12,21; 8:17; 9:11; 16:27); and yet it was the blood of those sacrifices which achieved atonement (Heb. 13:11; Num. 19:3,9). "Outside the camp" was the place of excluded, condemned sinners (Lev. 13:46; 24:14; Num. 5:3,4; 15:35,36; 31:13,19), and it was here that the Lord Jesus died, in identification with us. 

Num 15:37 Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying-
The provision for Naziriteship encouraged the average Israelite to enter into the spirit of the High Priest by imposing some of the regulations governing his behaviour upon them. All Israel were bidden make fringes of blue, in conscious imitation of the High Priest to whose spirit they all were intended to attain (Num. 15:38). But we are bidden now "come boldly unto the throne of grace (cp. the mercy seat in the Most Holy)... boldness to enter into the holiest" (Heb. 4:16; 10:19): to do what only the High Priest could do under the Old Covenant.

Num 15:38 Speak to the children of Israel, and tell them that they should make themselves fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put on the fringe of each border a cord of blue-
People touched the hem of Jesus’ garment, the fringes mentioned here, in search of healing (Mt. 9:20; 14:36). By doing so, they were recognizing that their healing was possible because of His righteous obedience to the Father’s commandments. His power to heal has a basis- not merely that He is powerful of Himself, but because of His moral obedience.

Fringes of blue were the sign of royalty. We recall David cutting off the hem of Saul's garment, and Saul's conclusion that this meant that David would replace him as king and his kingship had been cut off by David. The point was that all Israel were kings, they were a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Reminding ourselves of God's Kingship over us in daily life is what qualifies us as His Kings.

Num 15:39 and it shall be to you for a fringe, that you may look on it, and remember all the commandments of Yahweh, and do them; and that you do not follow after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you use to play the prostitute-
If there is an external being who makes us sin, surely he would have been mentioned extensively in the Old Testament? But there is a very profound and significant silence about this. The record of the Judges period, or Israel in the wilderness, show that at those times Israel were sinning a great deal. But God did not warn them about some powerful supernatural being or force which could enter them and make them sin. Instead, He encouraged them to apply themselves to His word, so that they would not fall away to the ways of their own flesh (e.g. Dt. 27:9,10; Josh. 22:5). Num. 15:39 is especially clear about our innate sinful tendencies: "Do not follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to go after wantonly" (Heschel's translation). In some Orthodox Jewish liturgies, this verse is to be repeated twice each day. And so it should be by us all. For this is the heart of the matter, the essence of the believer's struggle against sin within.

AV "That ye seek not after your own heart" uses the same word for "search" as recently used about the spies searching out the land, but with the heart of disbelief. Again we see how the commands here are directly related to the preceding historical narrative. The reason they failed the test of faith was because of lack of daily, moment by moment attention to God's ways and words. For this was what the fringe was intended to teach.

Ecc. 11:9 alludes to Num 15:39: "Rejoice, young man, while you are young, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Follow the inclination of your heart and the desire of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment". The way of the world is to just do whatever our heart tells us, to follow our heart. But the Biblical view of the heart radically clashes with this. We are to control our heart, not do what is intuitive, and allow the heart to be regenerated. But the context of Num. 15 is that we have in that chapter a set of laws relevant to Israel's belief of the ten spies and their rejection of entering the promised land. The spies had judged after the sight of their eyes and followed their heart rather than God's leading. They had "seen" giants and they seemed in their own eyes as grasshoppers compared to them (Num. 13:32,33; 14:33).

Num 15:40 that you may remember and do all My commandments, and be holy to your God-
The Jewish commentator Rashi claims that the numerical value of "fringes" by gematria is 613, the number of Mosaic commandments. So there is an appropriacy in the fringe being intended to help Israel remember all those 613 commandments.

Num 15:41 I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God. I am Yahweh your God-
This reminder was pertinent at the time, for they had just been told to return towards the Red Sea and the border with Egypt (Num. 14:25). They were being reminded that even in what appear to be steps backward, God is still at work to bring us out of Egypt and into His Kingdom. There is perhaps the hint here to the condemned generation that Yahweh still sought to be their God. They would die in the desert, but like Moses, they could be pardoned and resurrected to eternal inheritance of the land, and have Yahweh as their God.