Bible Commentaries
Numbers 15

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary



(1, 2) And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying . . . —We learn from Deuteronomy 1:46 that the Israelites “abode in Kadesh many days,” and from Deuteronomy 2:1 that afterwards they “turned,” in obedience to the command given in the preceding chapter of this book, and “took their journey into the wilderness by the way of the Red Sea.” It appears, further, from Numbers 20:1 that in the first month of the fortieth year they came again into the desert of Zin, and “abode in Kadesh.” In regard to the transactions recorded in this and in the four following chapters we have no certain chronological data. The fact that additional laws were given during the long period of the wanderings in the wilderness furnished a practical proof of the continuance of the covenant which had been made with Israel at Sinai. Bishop Wordsworth supplies the following answer to the inquiry how the Israelites were able to find a sufficient quantity of cattle and of birds in the wilderness to fulfil the requirements of the Levitical law:—“God,” he writes, “promulgated that law on Mount Sinai in order that it might be observed in Canaan; and when he gave it, the Israelites had not as yet incurred the sentence of exclusion, and they might—and if they had not been disobedient, they would—have been in Canaan within a fortnight of its delivery. The Levitical law was given under the presumption that they would obey Him who gave it, and that they would be soon afterwards in Canaan, when they would be able to comply with that law. (Comp. Deuteronomy 4:14.) But they murmured against God at Kadesh-barnea, and thus they forfeited His favour—they, as it were, excommunicated themselves. They forfeited the privileges of obedience. They had kept one Passover at Mount Sinai, but there is no evidence that they were ever permitted to keep another Passover during the whole term of their wanderings. They themselves felt and acted as men under a ban; they did not even administer circumcision in the wilderness, nor until they were admitted into Canaan under Joshua; then—but not till then—they were again allowed to eat the Passover.” The words which follow were evidently addressed to those of the Israelites who were under twenty years of age at the time of the exodus.

Verse 4

(4) A meat offering of a tenth deal of flour . . . —The meal offering and the drink offering which are here ordered to be brought when a lamb was offered in performance of a vow, or as a free will offering, or at the solemn feasts, are the same as those which were appointed to be offered with the morning and evening lamb. (Exodus 29:38-40.) Meal offerings and drink offerings had already been prescribed in connection with the three great feasts. (Leviticus 23:13; Leviticus 23:18; Leviticus 23:37.)

Verse 8

(8) In performing a vow.—Rather, in making a special vow. (See Numbers 6:2.)

Verse 13

(13) All that are born of the country.—The Targum of Jonathan is, “all that are born in Israel, and not among the people.” It seems clear, however, from Numbers 15:14 that the reference in this verse is to the indigenous Israelites.

Verse 15

(15) One ordinance shall be both for you of the congregation . . . —Literally, As for the congregation, there shall be one ordinance for you and for the stranger that sojourneth. Some render the words thus:—O congregation, one ordinance shall be for you and for the stranger, &c.

Verse 20

(20) Of the first of your dough.—Or, mixed meal. The word arisoth is used only in the plural number, and is found only in Nehemiah 10:37 and Ezekiel 44:30, besides this and the following verse.

Verse 22

(22) And if ye have erred, and not observed.—Rather, And if ye shall err and not observe.

Verse 23

(23) And henceforward.—Rather, and onward, or thenceforward. There is nothing in the word which is here used to denote whether the reference is or is not to legislation of a later date than that at which the words were spoken. The terminus a quo is expressed in the preceding words. Comp. Isaiah 18:2, where the meaning seems to be up to the present time, and Ezekiel 39:22, where the reference is to the indefinite future.

Verse 24

(24) By ignorance.—The word shegagah is used to denote transgressions committed unwittingly in contrast to sins committed presumptuously (Numbers 15:30). (See Leviticus 4:2 and Note.) Provision had already been made in Leviticus 4:0 for sins of commission committed unwittingly by the whole congregation, but no provision appears to have been made for the guilt contracted in the case of sins of omission. It is possible, also, that in this place transgressions committed by an individual, but affecting the whole of the congregation, may be included. In Leviticus 4:14 a young bullock is appointed as a sin offering; in the present case a young bullock is appointed for a burnt offering and a kid of the goats for a sin offering. It must be remembered, moreover, that the commandments delivered in this chapter have express reference to the land of Canaan, whereas many of the commandments previously delivered had already become obligatory.

Verse 25

(25) For it is ignorance.—Rather, for it is a sin of ignorance, or an error. So also at the end of the verse.

Verse 26

(26) Seeing all the people were in ignorance.-Rather, for in regard to all the people, it was done in ignorance, or unwittingly.

Verse 27

(27) And if any soul sin through ignorance.—There is no restriction here, as in Leviticus 4:27, to sins of commission.

Verse 30

(30) That doeth ought presumptuously.—Literally, with a high hand.

Reproacheth the Lord.—Rather, blasphemeth, as in 2 Kings 19:6; 2 Kings 19:22.

Verse 32

(32) And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness . . . —Better, Now the children of Israel were in the wilderness, and they found, &c. It is probable that the incident which is here recorded is designed to illustrate the presumptuous sins which were to be punished by death. The offence may have been committed shortly after the promulgation of the commandments contained in this chapter, but all that is certain is that it was committed “in the wilderness,” i.e., according to Ibn Ezra, in the wilderness of Sinai, but more probably during the period of the wanderings in the wilderness after the arrival at Kadesh. No inference can be drawn from this verse as to the time at which the account was committed to writing. The observance of the Sabbath was obligatory in the wilderness as well as in the land of Canaan (comp. Exodus 16:27-30), and the punishment of death had already been denounced against those who profaned it by doing any work thereon (see Exodus 31:15; Exodus 35:2), but the manner in which death was to be inflicted does not appear to have been hitherto declared. The same verb which is here rendered “declared” occurs in the parallel case of the blasphemer in Leviticus 24:12, where it is rendered “shewed”:—“And they put him in ward, that the mind of the Lord might be shewed them.” The punishment of death had already been denounced against those who cursed father or mother (Leviticus 20:9). It could hardly be thought that a lighter punishment was to be inflicted on one who blasphemed the name of Jehovah, but in that case, as in this, the mode of death does not appear to have been previously enjoined.

Verse 38

(38) That they make them fringes . . . —Better, That they make them tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the tassel of the corner (i.e., on each tassel) a thread (or cord) of blue. The tassels (zirith) appear to be the same as the gedilim (fringes) of Deuteronomy 22:12. The outer garment of the Jews was a fourcornered cloth, which was also used by the poor as a counterpane (Exodus 22:26-27). It appears to have been commonly used with a hole in the centre, through which the head was put, so that one-half covered the front and the other the back of the body. These tassels, or fringes (LXX. κράσπεδα—craspeda), were enlarged by the Pharisees to exhibit their punctilious fulfilment of the Law (Matt. xiii 5). Great sanctity was attached to these fringes or tassels, and for this cause the woman with the issue of blood desired to touch a kraspedon of our Saviour’s garment (Matthew 9:20).

Verse 39

(39) That ye seek not after your own heart.—Or, That ye go not about, or search not out, &c.

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Numbers 15". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.