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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 15

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Verses 1-12

The Offerings by Fire

Numbers 15 contrasts sharply with the two previous chapters and the next. In it we see events that are full of unbelief and revolt on the part of God’s people. But in this chapter, it seems as if God forgets all that for a moment. He starts with: “When you enter the land”, words that are completely independent of the current situation in which the people find themselves.

The LORD speaks of the entry of the people into the land as if nothing has happened. He doesn’t therefore speak to the unbelieving people, whose bodies will fall in the wilderness, but to a faithful remnant, like Caleb and Joshua. They present, together with the children under the age of twenty, “a remnant according to [God’s] gracious choice” (Romans 11:5). While God will judge the whole people and only a remnant will reach the land, the encouraging words of this chapter are meant for this remnant.

This shows that man’s sin can never overturn God’s counsels. God will always fulfill His plans to a remnant. God is not embarrassed by man’s sin. The large mass is killed in the wilderness, the remnant gets the blessing. He brings this remnant into the peace of His counsel, which was in His heart from eternity, undisturbed by everything that happens in Christianity.

Not least flustered by the unbelief and revolt of His people, God reveals what He intends to do. To know this acting of God is also a consolation for us in the midst of so much apostacy. The reference to entering the land at this time – now that the people have just refused to take possession of it – is a clear encouragement for faith and an assurance of the infallible grace of God.

God therefore has a firm foundation for this action. He has this in the work of the Lord Jesus. He wants to occupy His people, and the faithful in particular, with Him. The sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, described in picture in Numbers 15:1-Nehemiah :, is therefore central. The offerings described here are all offerings to a pleasant fragrance. God wants to occupy our hearts with the most glorious things His people will do in the land: Offering Him offerings. He wants us to penetrate His thoughts for this and for this He shows us these offerings and teaches us lessons.

Much has been said about the offerings themselves in Leviticus. The emphasis here in Numbers is on the accompanying offerings. The three different types of burnt offerings and peace offerings must always be accompanied by a grain offering, a drink offering and a quantity of oil. Depending on the size of the burnt offering and peace offering, the quantity for the grain offering, drink offering and oil is also determined.

The first offering that someone can bring is a lamb (Numbers 15:5), then someone can also bring a ram (Numbers 15:6) and finally someone can bring a bull as the greatest offering (Numbers 15:9). The offerings here go from small to large. In Leviticus it is the other way around. There God begins with the greatest. But in Numbers it is about our practice, how we increasingly penetrate the value of the offering and grow in the knowledge of it:

1. The lamb must be accompanied by a grain offering of one-tenth [of an ephah] of fine flour, one-fourth of a hin of oil and one-fourth of a hin of wine.
2. The ram must be accompanied by a grain offering of two tenths [of an ephah] of fine flour, one-third of a hin of oil and one-third of a hin of wine.
3. The bull must be accompanied by a grain offering of three-tenths [of an ephah] of fine flour, one-half a hin of oil and one-half a hin of wine.

God never wants His people to forget that to blood sacrifices these non-blood sacrifices belong. For us this means that we must never separate the work of the Lord Jesus on the cross from His life as Man on earth, of which the grain offering speaks. God wants us to learn this in Numbers. We must always remember that the work of His Son on the cross is the conclusion of a perfect life on earth. It makes all the difference to God that it is the perfect Man Who has directed His footsteps to the cross. He is that fine flour. As in fine flour everything is perfectly even, without any unevenness, so He has been in His life on earth.

The oil must be mixed with the flour. It speaks of how the Holy Spirit is completely mixed with the life of the Lord Jesus. He has done everything through the power of the Holy Spirit. He has only spoken and acted through Him. We have to learn that in our walk through the wilderness. The more we see of the Lord Jesus in His sacrifice, the greater our understanding of His work on the cross, the more the Holy Spirit will also be able to work in our lives.

The same can be said of the wine. Wine is a picture of joy. The drink offering makes us think of the joy with which the Lord Jesus surrendered Himself. God wants us to remember that too.

Paul has felt something of this. He says to the Philippians that he wants to be “a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service” of their faith (Philippians 2:17). Through his death he wants to give God an extra reason to rejoice at the joy He already enjoys through the sacrifice of the Philippians. It is also a joy for Paul to remember that he gave his whole life to offer others, including the Philippians, as a sacrifice to God (cf. Romans 15:16).

The apostle sees all their faith and service as a sacrifice to God. They present their bodies “a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God” (Romans 12:1). That is the main sacrifice for him. Their faith is active in sacrificing themselves and serving God and others. Paul thinks this is bigger than his life. His martyr’s death will be poured over it like a much smaller drink offering (2 Timothy 4:6).

The greater the sacrifice we bring, that is to say, the greater our understanding is of the work that the Lord Jesus did on the cross, the greater will be our drink offering. Then we will not walk around with sad faces, but with His joy and His mind in our hearts.

Are we alone impressed by the wickedness of the people? Or do we see the glory of the Lord Jesus? That is what God wants to teach us with Numbers 15. He wants us to rise to the level of His thoughts. Then we will not go down in the pain of decay, but will merge into the joy of the work of the Lord Jesus, of which the drink offering speaks.

Verses 13-16

The Alien and the Offering by Fire

When everything is so implicated on the Lord Jesus, the difference between Jew and Gentile disappears for God. That is why we read in these verses that the same applies to an alien as to the born Israelite. The alien also has the privilege of bringing such fire offerings. This means not only that he must do the same as the Israelite, but that he has the same position as the Israelite before the LORD.

The place given to the Gentile here next to the Israelite (Numbers 15:15) is unique in the Old Testament. The distinction is always maintained. And if there is blessing for the Gentiles, it is through Israel, so not on an equal footing. So how is it possible that this is written here? Because, as has been said, God here thinks of the offering of the Lord Jesus. Where He comes to the fore, there can be no difference in God’s actions with man. Jews and Gentiles have both sinned “fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Therefore they both depend on the same grace (Romans 10:11-2 Kings :; Romans 11:32). On the basis of the work of the Lord Jesus, God can deal with Jew and Gentile on the same basis.

Verses 17-21

The Offering by Lifting Up

Again God speaks of the fact that they will come into the land. This is again a consolation for the ‘Calebs’ in the people. A new statute follows. If they enter the land, they may eat from what the land yields. But God also wants to have His share of it. They can give this to Him in the form of lifting up an offering. The offering is an offering that is moved up and down before the LORD. Here it is a cake, prepared from the fruit of the land.

In order to make the barley into flour and the flour into a cake, the Israelite must actively engage in it. This also applies spiritually. There must be a work in our heart, we must be busy with it in our heart if we are to be able to offer something from the Lord Jesus to God. God wants to receive His part first in every processing of it. God wants us to remember that it is He Who gives us the food we can enjoy. In the lifting up of the offering we let Him enjoy it as it were, and He as the first One.

The offering by lifting up of the land speaks of the Lord Jesus as He is now in heaven. God wants us to enter into what the Lord Jesus is now. From everything that we enjoy of the Lord Jesus in our spiritual growth in knowing Him as He is in heaven, God wants to receive an offering from us. We lift it up, to Him, to let Him enjoy what we have enjoyed from the Lord Jesus. In Ezekiel 44 a special blessing is attached to the giving of first fruits (Ezekiel 44:30).

This is not about special occasions, like the feasts of the LORD, but about the ordinary life of every day. God wishes to receive the first fruits of what we enjoy as spiritual food in our daily dealings with Him. He wants us to be the First to share with Him what we have enjoyed. Only then can we pass on what we have seen of the Lord Jesus to others. This can happen, for example, in a conversation, a Bible reading or lecture.

Verses 22-31

Sinning Unintentionally and Defiantly

There is another aspect in connection with the land the LORD confronts His people here with. This concerns the offences which the people will also be able to do in the land. The LORD not only proposes blessing, he also proposes failure. We see this in the letters that speak about the heavenly blessings. There is also spoken about failure in them. This happens if we do not walk with dignity, that is, not in accordance with our position.

It is about inattention, a sin without noticing it. God does not assume that we intentionally sin. A sinner often knows this, but he does not have the strength to resist sin. Yet while he is sinning, he will at the same time hate the sin that has regained power over him. How the believer stands against this unintentional sin hidden from him is beautifully illustrated by David: “Who can discern [his] errors? Acquit me of hidden [faults]“ (Psalms 19:13).

In Leviticus there is also talk of unintentional sinning by the whole church of Israel and the offering to be brought for it (Leviticus 4:13-Ecclesiastes :). There it is about doing something that according to the commandments of the LORD should not be done, while here it is about not doing something that according to the commandments of the LORD should be done. The starting point remains that it happens unintentionally.

Peter’s denial of the Lord is an example of unintentional sin. Peter has come through his self-confidence to a place where he no longer has himself in control. Through fear of man he comes to statements concerning his relationship with the Lord Jesus in which he denies the Lord. But he has not become an adversary of the Lord. A little later he comes to deep repentance (Luke 22:56-1 John :; cf. 1 Timothy 1:13).

Deliberately sinning, that is sinning “defiantly” (Numbers 15:30-Obadiah :), means rebellion against God, consciously going against God, knowingly. There is no forgiveness for this: “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins” (Hebrews 10:26). A person who takes such a similar attitude to God is not too weak to resist sin, but consciously gives in to sin. He realizes what he is doing, knows the consequences, but there is nothing that can stop him.

In Leviticus 4, where unintentional sin is discussed in detail, only a sin offering is mentioned. But here, in Numbers 15, also is talk of a burnt offering, which also is greater than the sin offering. That is because this is about a sin in the land. Being there gives a greater responsibility. If we sin there, we have also endangered the blessings. That is why this is a burnt offering, to remind us once again, as it were, that our blessings are the consequences of the work of the Lord Jesus for God.

Two cases of sinning are proposed in this section: by the church (Numbers 15:22-Ezekiel :) and by the individual (Numbers 15:27-Joel :). We can connect this with the blessings, for there are also blessings in these two forms: there are collective blessings for the church as a whole (Ephesians 3:1-2 Samuel :) and there are personal blessings for each individual believer (Ephesians 1:3-Ruth :). When sin enters, the enjoyment of the blessing disappears, both for the whole and for the individual.

Verses 32-36

The Sabbath Violator

In these verses we receive an example of a willful sin (Numbers 15:30) by someone who despises the word of the LORD (Numbers 15:31). To violate the Sabbath means to violate the peace of God. The sabbath is given by God to man as a blessing. By the sin of man it has become a commandment. Yet God’s intention with the sabbath remains that on that day man may share in His rest, that he then does not have to work.

The sabbath belongs to the first creation. Later God included the sabbath in His law which He gives to His people. Believers of the church are “a new creation” (Galatians 6:15) and “not under law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14). In a literal sense, the sabbath does not apply to them. What they can enjoy is the sabbath rest in a spiritual sense. They may enjoy the sabbatical rest of God that He found in the finished work of His Son. God rests in His Son. That peace is trampled underfoot when we still produce works of the flesh.

Sunday is not the sabbath. By making Sunday a disguised sabbath, that day became a day of commandments and prohibitions in Christianity. It is precisely the people who keep the first day of the week as sabbath who are sabbath violators, for they believe that through works of the law, such as keeping the ‘sabbath’, they are pleasing to God. Then you are not on the basis of grace. Resting in the rest of God means standing in grace. Keeping Sunday as a sabbath is for many not a joy, but a burden, because nothing is allowed. Then the disguised sabbath becomes a yoke.

The sabbath violator collects dead branches. That is a picture of the performance of the works, i.e. works in which there is no life from God. Dead works are works that come forth from our religious flesh (Hebrews 9:14). Evil works come forth from our corrupted flesh (Colossians 1:21). Dead works do not have to be evil, but if they come from an unregenerate heart or are done in the context of a carnal religion, they are dead. In contrast to the dead works is the serving of the living God.

Dead works are works that are the product of a creature that in God’s eye is “dead” in “trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). They do not originate from the source of all true life, that is God Himself. Such works are firewood, only good for the fire. We recognize this in all who place themselves on the basis of works of the law. They place themselves under the curse, “for as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.”” (Galatians 3:10).

The man is not allowed to make fire on the sabbath (Exodus 35:3). Fire gives light and warmth. God wants us to remember that this can only be found in Jesus Christ and not in something a person performs. The face of Moses, shining of the glory of God (Exodus 34:35), is reminiscent of the light to be seen in Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4-Joshua :). This is the only light that may be seen, and not the fire that is made by humans. The face of Jesus Christ shines, not what we accomplish.

The sabbath speaks of God’s peace. In this He wants to let man share. This man is not bothered by this. He gathers wood, he works, to warm himself by its fire. It is a picture of walking in the light of your own fire, your own experience, your own opinions, your own results. It points to collecting religious operations, but it is dead wood, it is dead works. He who willingly and knowingly surrenders to it dies without mercy.

The man is put in custody. Then God is consulted. That is important. The church may only exercise a punishment that is consistent with the offence. God determines the punishment. There are cases of discipline where the church does not know what to do. Then it may be necessary for someone to be “put in custody,” which we can apply by saying to someone that they will not participate in the Lord’s Supper for the time being, until the Lord makes clear what must happen. It is better in such cases to wait and take the place of an ignorant, while in that time of ignorance we trust that the Lord hears and takes care of us.

In this case, God’s judgment is: stone him with stones. The stones are thrown by all the congregation. The application for the church of God in this time is to remove the evil from the midst of the church (1 Corinthians 5:13). That is also a matter of all.

Verses 37-41

The Memorial Tassels

It is possible that God commands the making and wearing of the tassels in response to the history with the sabbath violator. What is written here is a summary of the above. The people have been being occupied with the land. The thought of the land must now characterize every step they take in the wilderness. By seeing the tassel with the cord of blue they will remember all the commandments of the LORD, so as to do them.

In the tassels with the cord of blue we are reminded of heaven. We see in it the picture that heavenly principles have to determine the smallest details in our lives, even those closest to the earth. Then we shall avoid the evil by which we bring God’s judgment upon us.

Memorial tassels or fringes are at the corners of the clothes, at the bottom (Deuteronomy 22:12). The dimensions are not given. The Pharisees make them big. They want to show everyone how they keep God’s commandment. The Lord Jesus reproaches them, because they only show off their piety outwardly, but inwardly are far away from it (Matthew 23:5).

The cord of blue is also seen on the plate of the high priest (Exodus 28:35-Haggai :). That plate is attached to his forehead with a blue purple thread. The plate says “Holy to the LORD”. With this he brings the people in remembrance to God. The head is in the direction of God. The hems with the cord of blue thread are near the earth. They remind us of the walk in the wilderness. One cannot be separated from the other.

The cord of blue reminds us of the task to seek “the things above” (Colossians 3:1). When they look at the tassels, they are reminded of the commandments. Then they will be saved from following their hearts, their feelings and affections, and their eyes, what they see. There is nothing that allows us to walk on earth better than the consciousness that we are of heaven.

The reason for all this is that the LORD has led them out of Egypt and that He is their God. He is “the LORD your God”. Everything is connected with Him, He is the center of everything. For us, who are rescued from the world (Galatians 1:4), all blessings are connected with and summarized in Him Who is in heaven.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Numbers 15". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/numbers-15.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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