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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 15

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-31



Numbers 15:1 to Numbers 20:13

General Remarks on the Sojourn of Israel in Kadesh

Quite in accordance with writing the history of the Theocracy, the account passes over the forty years without giving us any particular account of them, but makes prominent here also only the ingredients that were important to the development of the Theocracy. The first thing of moment is further legislation in reference to sacrifices, in which there plainly crops out an intimation that sacrifices were suspended during the stay in the wilderness. The second is a definite distinction between sins of infirmity and sins of rebellion, an example which led to a severer enforcement of the Sabbath law, and a symbolic enforcement of the legal ordinances in general (Numbers 15:0). Opposed to the enforcement of legal prescriptions appears the rebellion of spiritualism, the idea of the typical universal priesthood asserting itself in a fanatical way, supported by pretensions of the rights of the first-born and of birth-right (Numbers 16:0). In spite of the judicial penalty, the mutinous adhesion to the fanatics that had been destroyed continues, as similar instances of idolizing often recur in ancient and modern history (Chiliasm, Popery, Legitimism, Buonapartism, etc.), and only a new judgment, expiated by a mediation of the ordained priesthood, barely restores the consideration of the latter (Numbers 17:1-13). This restoration is completed by the mysterious history of the blooming of Aaron’s rod (Numbers 17:10-13). Then follows a new confirmation of the rights of the priesthood, founded on its duties, and a further explanation of the relation between priests and Levites (Numbers 18:0). The mighty reign of death in these storms of judgment made necessary a new institution of a simple and universal purification from the uncleanness resulting from contact with dead bodies. This is introduced as sprinkling with holy water, made holy by the ashes of the red heifer (Numbers 19:1-22). The last event of this division no doubt belongs chronologically to the earlier period of the stay in Kadesh, viz., the failure of Moses at the water of strife (Numbers 20:1-13). But the narrator seems to have put the history in this place because he would connect together the deaths of the elect trio, the two brothers and their sister. Miriam dies at Kadesh (Numbers 20:1); Moses along with Aaron receives at Kadesh the notification that he must die before the entrance into Canaan (Numbers 15:12), and Aaron dies a little while after the departure on the new journey (Numbers 15:24).

Kurtz draws a picture of the condition of Israel in this interim of the thirty-eight years that by no means agrees with the facts communicated here (History of the Old Covenant, II., § 42). He uses the title “The period of the thirty-seven years’ ban.” But it has already been remarked that there can be no propriety in calling this period a thirty-seven years’ ban, seeing that unquestionably the legislation of Jehovah continued on during this interim, and that, moreover, the reproach of idolatry that Amos makes against ancient Israel (Amos 5:25 sqq.) does not suit a period when spiritualism flourished even to fanaticism (see also Amos 2:10-11). Beside, how could a people under a ban be fed with manna from heaven? It is true that Kurtz goes on to restrict the idea of a ban; the rejected generation was only excluded from the possession of the land of Canaan. But on the other hand the polemic of Kurtz [ibid. ii. § 41] is effective against the conjectures of Hitzig and Goethe about Israel’s abode in the wilderness. Kurtz also shows that he thinks there is an excess of literal interpretation by what he says in regard to Deuteronomy 8:4; comp. Numbers 29:5; Nehemiah 9:21 [ibid. § 43]: “A whole series of both Jewish and Christian commentators interpret these passages without the least hesitation as meaning that the clothes and shoes of the Israelitish children grew with their growth, and remained for the whole of the forty years not in the least the worse for the wear.” See that author’s discussions of this monstrous literalness, which was shared by Justin Martyr; and also his comments on Ezekiel 20:10-26; Amos 5:25-27.

An ordinance about the future performance of sacrifices. An indirect promise of Canaan and at the same time an indirect postponement of sacrifice

Numbers 15:1-31

1And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, 2Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come into the land of your habitations, which I give unto you, 3And will make an 1offering by fire unto the Lord, a burnt-offering, or a sacrifice in 2performing 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: 4Then shall he that offereth his 3offering unto the Lord bring a 4meat offering of a tenth deal of flour, mingled with the fourth part of a hin of oil. 5And the fourth part of a hin of wine for 5a drink offering shalt thou prepare with the burnt offering or 66sacrifice, for 7one lamb. Or for da ram, thou shalt prepare for a ameat offering two 7tenth deals of flour, mingled with the third part of a hin of oil. And for da drink offering thou shalt offer the third part of a hin of wine, for a sweet savour unto the Lord. 8And when thou preparest a bullock for a burnt offering, or for a sacrifice in 1performing a vow, or peace offerings unto the Lord; 9Then shall he bring with da bullock a cmeat offering of three tenth deals of flour, mingled with half a hin of oil. 10And thou shalt bring for da drink offering half a hin of wine, for an aoffering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the Lord. 11Thus shall it be done for fone bullock, or for fone ram, or for a lamb, or a kid. 12According to the number that ye shall prepare, so shall ye do to every one according to their number. 13All that are 8born of the country shall do these things after this manner, in offering an aoffering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the Lord. 14And if a stranger sojourn with you, or whosoever be among you in your generations, and will offer an aoffering made by 15fire, of a sweet savour unto the Lord; as ye do, so he shall do. 9One 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. 16One law and one 10manner shall be for you, and for the stranger that sojourneth with you.

17And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, 18Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye come into the land whither I bring you, 19Then it shall be, that, when ye eat of the bread of the land, ye shall offer up a heave offering unto the Lord. 20Ye shall offer up a cake of the first of your dough for a heave offering: as ye do the heave offering of the threshingfloor, so shall ye heave it. 21Of the first of your dough ye shall give unto the Lord a heave offering in your generations.

22And if ye 11have erred, and not observed all these commandments, which the 23Lord hath spoken unto Moses, 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; 1224Then it shall be, if aught be committed by ignorance 13without 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 cmeat offering, and his drink offering, according to the 3manner, and one 14kid of the goats for a sin offering. 25And the priest shall make an atonement for all the congregation of the children of Israel, and it shall be forgiven them; for it 15 is ignorance: and they shall bring their offering, aa sacrifice made by fire unto the Lord, and their sin offering before the Lord, for their 16ignorance: 26And it shall be forgiven all the congregation of the children of Israel, and the stranger that sojourneth among them; 17seeing all the people were in ignorance.

27And if any soul sin through ignorance, then he shall bring a she goat of the first year for a sin offering. 28And the priest shall make an atonement for the soul that 18sinneth ignorantly, when he sinneth 19by ignorance before the Lord, to make an atonement for him; and it shall be forgiven him. 29Ye shall have one law for him that 20sinneth pthrough ignorance, both for him that is gborn among the children of Israel, and for the stranger that sojourneth among them.

30But the soul that doeth aught 21presumptuously, whether he be 22born in the land, or a stranger, the same 23reproacheth the Lord; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people. 31Because 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.


[Numbers 15:15. הַקָּהָל is the nominative absolute. “As for the assembly.” Comp. הָאֶזְרָה, Numbers 15:29. “The LXX. and Sam. connect הקהל with what precedes: ‘as ye do so shall the assembly do,’ on which Rosenmueller properly remarks that it presents a hardly intelligible sense.” Maurer—Tr.]


1. Keil remarks with justice in loc. that this modification of the former laws of offerings was designed, in these sad and dreary times, to inspire hope in the new generation which was growing up, and to turn their attention to the promised land. At the same time this modification of the law is plainly a postponement of the developed sacrificial service to the time of the settlement in Canaan. The people could not indeed come by the materials for meat and drink-offerings before they came into the land of Canaan; the heave-offering of the first of the bread pre-supposes a harvest in Canaan. In part the bloody offerings themselves were conditioned by such bloodless adjuncts. Knobel, after his manner, draws the conclusion, that the passage infers, that the entrance into Canaan is now near at hand!

2. First Ordinance. Meat and Drink-offerings, Numbers 15:3-16. The reference here can only be to the two classes of burnt-offerings and sacrifices or peace-offerings, and not to sin-offerings and trespass-offerings, since these were not amended. In contrast with these, as blood-sacrifices, our two varieties are called fire-offerings. The sacrifices separate into their three sub-divisions: the votive offering or offering in time of need; the free-will offering or offering in time of prosperity; and the festal or praise and thank-offering. The quantity of the meal and drink-offering (see on Exod., p. 124 sq.) is increased according to the value of the victim, a lamb or kid, a ram, or a young bullock; likewise according to the number of the victims. The same law applies to strangers uniting in the offerings, both as regards the offerings and the assembling with the congregation, presupposing that they are theocratic strangers. They must join in the celebration of Pentecost, as well as of Easter. The more general regulations on the meal-offering are given in Leviticus.

3. Second Ordinance. The Offering of the Dough and Groats of the New Bread (Numbers 15:18-21). A cake of coarse meal is to be brought (v. Ezekiel 44:30; Nehemiah 10:38). Thus too is the harvest-offering a three-fold one: (1) the first sheaf (Leviticus 23:11); (2) the first dough, made into a cake, according to the present passage; (3) the first bread (Leviticus 23:0.). No form of harvest blessing shall be enjoyed until a thank-offering has been made from it.

4. Third Ordinance. Of the Sin-Offering (Numbers 15:22-29). This supplements Leviticus 4:13-21. In that place, however, it is sins of commission which are considered; here it is sins of omission. The section distinguishes the sins of omission on the part of the whole congregation and those of single individuals. Under the first, cannot be intended apostacies of the whole congregation—that needed to be expiated in an entirely different manner; but the gradually developing distempers of unconscious prostration, or also inflammation, the unconscious falling away from the standard of the Law. The fault is denoted as pardonable by the very circumstance, that, after the beginning of better knowledge, a burnt and meal-offering were to be first presented, and not till then a sin-offering, and that the burnt-offering should consist of a bullock, while the sin-offering was to be only a he-goat. According to Knobel and Keil, indeed, the sin-offering was in this case also to precede. The burnt-offering, says Keil, is as usual mentioned before the chief offering. But this is by no means the case: in Leviticus 15:15; Leviticus 15:30, the sin-offering is mentioned first, and then the burnt-offering; in Leviticus 12:6, on the contrary, the burnt-offering is spoken of first, and afterwards the sin-offering; in Leviticus 16:25, also the burnt-offering is kindled before the sin-offering. Two classes seem to be distinguished here. Between the uncleanness of a pregnant woman and that of the leper, there was also a difference. It is really at first immediately the burnt-offering which is purified, which the people in their ignorance have brought, and thereby mediately the people also. It was as if e.g. a Christian Church, after thus coming to a better mind, were to appoint a fast day over and above their previous sermons. We cannot in any case accept the notion of Keil, that the sin-offerings must in all cases precede because a separation had occurred between the congregation and the Lord. What then does the Catechism of the New Testament teach of pardonable sins embraced in the universal pardon? With this we commend the above distinction to further investigation. The stranger also is included in the forgiveness which was to be attained, whether he have had a particular part in the error or not. Concerning the relation of these offences to the outward ritual as explained by Maimonides, or their explanation by the conduct of the people under bad kings, that Outram suggests, see Keil, in loc., footnote. Within the limits of the aberrations under consideration, however, unconscious deviations must be distinguished from conscious defection. From a single soul only a she-goat is required for a sin-offering; for the Law does not impose any involuntary burnt-offerings upon individuals, except in the case of reception back into the congregation.

5. Fourth Ordinance. The Conscious Sin of Obstinacy toward Jehovah, or, the Sin with Uplifted Hand (Numbers 15:30-31). The antithesis to the foregoing section. Only sins from error (בִּשְׁגָגָה) can be expiated by sin-offerings [vid.Leviticus 4:2); but not the sin (בְּיָד רָמָה) with uplifted hand. Says Keil: “With a high hand, so that he therewith, as it were, lifts up his hand against Jehovah, acts in open rebellion against Him.” The consciously wicked man, as it were, shakes his fist at Heaven, the throne of God. Their iniquity be upon them! That is, they are curse-offerings devoted to death (see Genesis 17:14). The succeeding story immediately serves for illustration; and on that account probably it is placed in connection with this ordinance.


[1]a fire sacrifice.

[2]Heb. separating.




[6]for the.



[9]As regards the assembly, let there be one statute for you and for the stranger.

[10]Or ordinances.

[11]shall err and not observe.


[13]Heb. from the eyes.


[15]was an error.


[17]for it happened to all the people through error.


[19]through error.

[20]Heb. doth.

[21]Heb. with an high hand.



Verses 32-41

The Sabbath-breaker. Re-enforcement of the Law of the Sabbath, and of the Law in General

Numbers 15:32-41

32And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day. 33And they that found him gathering sticks 34brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation. And they 35put him in ward, because it was not 24declared what should be done to him. 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. 36And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as the Lord commanded Moses.

37And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, 38Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them 25fringes in the 26borders of their garments, throughout their generations, and that they put upon the bfringe of the cborders a 27ribband of blue: 39And it shall be unto you for a bfringe, 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: 40That ye may remember, and do all my commandments, and be holy 41unto 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.


This section expressly says that the children of Israel were in the wilderness at the time the event happened, i.e. that it belongs to the sojourn of thirty-eight years in Kadesh. But the story also proves how strictly they insisted on the law of the Sabbath. The dispersion of the tents in the desert could in many ways make the violation of the laws of the Sabbath an easy matter. Notwithstanding, the man was detected that gathered wood (for fagots), and was put in confinement. The story of the Sabbath-breaker is a companion-piece to that of the blasphemer (Leviticus 24:0). It serves as a corroboration of a chief requirement of the law, just as that does. But in this case they were not yet clear about the degree of the punishment. When he was brought before Moses, Aaron and the congregation, that is, the authorities, the college of elders appointed as judges, there was as yet no definition how he should suffer capital punishment. Their not proceeding at once to extremities, to the solemn act of stoning, seems to rest on the consideration that this transgression against the Sabbath might perhaps be a lesser guilt than blasphemy. It characterizes the prudence with which Moses and the college of judges proceed. They put him in confinement (perhaps for a considerable time, וַיַנִּיחוּ). It was not yet expressly determined. פָּרַשׁ is a word which, as in Leviticus 24:12, has a sacred sense, quite in contrast with that by which the Pharisees, at a later period, called themselves. Moses had to seek for the decision of Jehovah. That decision in this case, also, called for stoning outside of the camp, in which the congregation was to participate, because here, too, the whole congregation was involved in the guilt.

[It is a generally accepted view that the incident of the Sabbath-breaker is introduced here as an illustration of presumptuous sin, as Dr. Lange intimates above, § 5. The same connection also offers a natural explanation of the judicial proceeding in the case. It was not determined what one should do to him, is indefinite, and may either refer to the judges, or to the revelation of God in regard to such cases. The latter is the common view. (See in the London Polyglot all interpretations except the LXX. and Vulg. Yet they may not have independent value; but all, in this case, may perhaps only follow the lead of the Aramaic Paraphrase.) But the former seems quite as natural. The phrase וַיַנִּיחוּ אֹתוֹ בַּמִּשְׁמָר וגו seems to say: “They let him rest in custody, for one did not determine what one should do to him.” LXX.: οὐ γὰρ συνέκριναν τί ποιήσωσιν αὐτον. Vulg.: nescientes quid super eo facere deberent. The LXX. and Vulg., in the parallel passage, refer לִפְרשׁ to the same subject, viz. the judges. The context suggests the ground of their indecision. The ordinances just given, including expiations for sins, Numbers 15:1-29, were made for the time “when ye be come into the land which I give unto you,” Numbers 15:2; Numbers 15:18. Regarding presumptuous sins, therefore (Numbers 15:30-31), it might be supposed that the penalty was only to be visited under the same conditions, viz. when they were settled in Canaan. It was likely this that divided the judges. The question was whether under present circumstances such a sinner was to be capitally punished. It had already been declared that death was to be the penalty (Exodus 31:14-15; Exodus 35:2).

Dr. Lange’s notion that the doubt was whether Sabbath-breaking might not be less criminal than blasphemy is quite untenable. The same may be said of the view that he shares with others, viz. that the judges were in doubt about the form of the death-penalty. Stoning was the common way of inflicting death (Exodus 17:4; Numbers 14:10), and had already received divine sanction as the proper mode of doing it in the case of both man and beast (Exodus 19:13; Exodus 21:28). The point of the divine answer to Moses was, that the crime was then and there to be punished by death, as appears from the emphatic words that sum up the transaction: and he died, as the Lord commanded Moses(Numbers 15:36).

This episode begins with the words: And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness. This “is properly introduced here to contrast the ordinance of the Sabbath given some time ago (Exodus 31:14) with the series of ordinances first given in this chapter. The latter were not obligatory until after the settlement in Canaan; the former was obligatory already. Transgression of it was therefore a presumptuous sin, and was punished accordingly.” The Bible Comm. This fact has its importance in determining the place of the law of the Sabbath among the Old Testament ordinances. It was unconditioned, as was also the law against blasphemy. It was in force and enforced when ceremonial laws were not. It was before symbolical ordinances, and it continues after them. Its observance or violation involved all that was vital in religion, for it involved the very question of loyalty to God, as did the law about blasphemy. And it involves the same now.—Tr.]

This occurrence has, as its consequence, an enforcement of the law in an increased degree, and in a symbolical form. But as, at a later period, the Pharisees with their פָּרַשׁ misapplied the law concerning blasphemy and the violation of the Sabbath to the condemnation of Christ, so, too, the following ordinance was made to serve Pharisaic hypocrisy (Matthew 23:5).

Numbers 15:37-41. Henceforth the Israelites were to wear memorials of the law on their garments. The ordinance is supplemented in Deuteronomy 22:12. The zizith (from צִיצ, “ornament, bloom, curl,” to consist, according to Deut., of twisted cords, as גְּרִילִים), as a tassel, is, so to speak, the blossom of the garments. According to Deut., it is fastened at the side of the upper garment, and that with a cord of blue purple. The meaning of it might be, that by the band of fidelity the law should remain for the Israelite a flower of life, an ornament. Thus, then, it was no longer the priestly garments only that had a symbolical meaning, but also the clothing of every Israelite—a contrast with the wearing finery of the fashions, that is made by tailors and women of the poetry of vanity. Still this symbol also was perverted by the later spirit of legalism into a means of self-righteousness. Probably at quite an early period this ornament was supplemented by a particular border or seam on the upper garment (LXX. κράσπεδον). See on Matthew 23:5. The downward look, directed toward these signs of the law, was to counteract the danger of distracted wandering of the senses and of the lust of the eyes. Very significant is the expression: a whoring after the eyes, and spying about according to the heart, the lusts of the heart. In conclusion, the final object of this ordinance is strongly emphasized. They are not, by their hearts’ lusts and the vagaries of their eyes, to be ensnared in idolatrous lust of the world. And they are not thereby to forget that Jehovah is the Redeemer and Lord; as the highest Personality, He is the Protector of their personality which is elevated above the world. The conclusion may be taken to mean: I am your Divinity; ye shall, therefore, make no divinities for yourselves of the things of the world.


The repetition of the law of sacrifice in the wilderness, a kingdom of grace, a sign of promise, a sign of continued training. The difference between sins of infirmity and of outrage with uplifted hand (of wickedness). The Sabbath-breaker. The outward mementoes of the law: their use; their danger (see Matthew 23:0).


[24](Luther: expressed; De Wette, Zunz: decided; Bunsen: no declaration.)




Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Numbers 15". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/numbers-15.html. 1857-84.
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