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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 15

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary




CHAPTERS 15-19. [Time, thirty-seven and a half years.]

Only a very few glimpses are afforded of the history of the next thirty-seven years; but, few though they be, they throw interesting light on the wilderness life. Such is the account of the blasphemy of THE NAME by a Hebrew-Egyptian, and the case of sabbath-breaking, and the capital punishment which was inflicted in each case. This sufficiently proves that, though under the divine ban, the nation had not thrown off the divine law. The sad history of the rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram indicates that the great revolution which had substituted the priesthood of Aaron and the services of the Levites for those of the firstborn sons had not been effected without opposition. The triumph of the new constitution, at the cost of nearly 15,000 smitten by the divinely sent plague, so firmly established the rights of the tribe of Levi that they were ever after unchallenged.


“For the purpose of reviving the hopes of the new generation that was growing up, and directing their minds to the promised land during the mournful and barren time when judgment was being executed upon the race that had been condemned, Jehovah communicated various laws through Moses concerning the presentation of sacrifices in the land that he should give them, whereby the former laws of sacrifice were supplemented and completed.” Keil.

This accounts for the sudden transition from the history at a point of intense interest to the details of legislation. For, as Baumgarten well remarks, “the fighting men of Israel had fallen under the judgment of Jehovah, and the sacred history, therefore, was no longer concerned with them; while the youth, in whom the life and hope of Israel were preserved, had as yet no history at all.” For the bearing of this intermingling of the narrative with the giving of laws on the authenticity of the record, see Introduction, (1.)


(1.) In The Symbology of the Mosaic Cultus, by Dr. Baehr, a work of profound and varied merit, it is much to be lamented that some points which are vital to orthodoxy, and especially dear to the evangelical Church, have been so erroneously treated. He denies that the bloody offerings in the atonement are a substitute for penalty, notwithstanding the literal meaning of the word, (see Numbers 15:25, note,) the solemn rite of the imposition of hands upon the head of the victim, transferring the sin of the offerer, (Leviticus 1:4, note,) the explicit declaration in the locus classicus of the atonement “for your souls,” (Leviticus 17:11, see note,) and especially the concurrent interpretation of the vast majority of bothJewish and Christian scholars. According to Baehr the offerer formally relinquishes his ownership of the victim, and in the presentation of its blood or life indicates that his natural or selfish life is given away or dies. And this symbolical character merely he would in like manner attribute to the sacrifice of Christ. To sustain this theory Baehr elaborates a long argument to show that the Mosaic offerings had no regard to moral evil or sin, but only to ceremonial defilement. To this we answer in brief: (1.) That the very name of the SIN offering, chattath, properly sin, points very directly and distinctly to its design. (2.) The distinction between moral transgressions and ceremonial offences, or “violations of the positive-religious law,” was entirely unknown to the Hebrews. We are able, in the light of the Gospel, to eliminate the transient and national from the permanent and universal in Mosaism, but the Israelites could make no such distinction. To him not only were theft and idolatry immoralities, but also image worship, neglect of circumcision, and eating swine’s flesh. (3.) In this chapter, (Numbers 15:22-24,) the canon of the sin offering, it is stated with great distinctness that for the undesigned transgressions of “any one of the commands which Jehovah spake to Moses, even all that Jehovah hath commanded,” the atonement by means of the sin offering was both available and necessary. See Leviticus 4:0, notes. (4.) The asham, or trespass offering, expressly relates to offences of a purely moral nature, such as the embezzlement of another’s property, the denying of a thing found by lying and false swearing. Leviticus 6:1-7, notes. Fallacious, indeed, is the argument advanced by Baehr in support of his restrictive view. He urges the circumstance that both the selection of the animal and the divers applications of the blood depended not on the magnitude of the sin, but on the ceremonial standing of the offerer. See Leviticus 4:3; Leviticus 4:14; Leviticus 4:23; Leviticus 4:28; Leviticus 4:32, and concluding note, (4.) “From this results,” says Baehr, “the important conclusion: If the theocratic standing of an individual was the determining rule for the sin offering, then must the sin have a theocratic character; that is, it must be a violation not of the universal, moral laws, but of the positive-religious law which was given to the people of Israel.” From the same premises we may justly infer that if the sin makes no difference, but only the person sinning, it follows that this offering was of universal application and available to all except presumptuous sins. Baehr’s restriction of the sacrifices to outward observances, excluding immoralities, is a grave error.

(2.) That the expiatory sacrifices of the Old Testament were in their nature vicarious is shown by the following considerations: (1.) The idea of the substitution of a sacrificed animal for the guilty prevailed in all ancient nations. (2.) In some instances among the Jews the death of men was considered vicarious; (2 Samuel 12:14; 2 Samuel 24:10-17; Isaiah 53:4; Daniel 11:35;) allied to this is a substitution by means of animals. (3.) The altar ritual favours this view; only in the expiatory sacrifices is the animal unclean. Exodus 29:14; Leviticus 4:11-12; Leviticus 4:21; Leviticus 6:27-28; Leviticus 16:28. The remains were burned without the camp because “it is a sin-offering.” (4.) Substitution may be inferred from Leviticus 17:14, where the blood is called an atonement, “because the life is in the blood.” (5.) In Deuteronomy 21:1-9, the guilt is chargeable upon the whole people, if it be not known who slew the man; and by the washing of the hands the guilt is transferred to the sacrifice. (6.) The noun כפר , kopher, ransom, or price of expiation, would lead us to infer that the verb כפר , kipper, expiate, includes the idea of substitution. (7.) The solemn rites of the yearly day of atonement, in which one goat was killed as a sin offering and the other was sent away into the wilderness, teach substitution most impressively. Leviticus 16:0, notes.

Verses 1-29


The chief peculiarity of this supplement is, that it is not to be obligatory in the wilderness, but in the land of your habitations, that is, Canaan. It consists in the association of the meat offering and drink offering with the burnt offering, with a specification of the amount of oil and wine to be used with the various animal sacrifices. It also shows the ground on which rests the previously instituted heave offering of the first ripe fruits.

Exodus 22:29; Exodus 23:19; Leviticus 23:11. Then follows an extension of the sin offering beyond a sin of commission committed inadvertently, to a sin of omission in not observing “all those commandments which Jehovah had spoken through Moses.”

Verse 3

3. And will make an offering There are two theories respecting the origin of sacrifices: (1.) An express command of God, and (2.) The promptings of the soul under its sense of dependence and guilt. On this question Moses is entirely silent. A command to offer sacrifices may have been given, though it is not recorded. Moses was evidently studious of brevity, omitting the prophecy of Enoch, the preaching of Noah, and the vexation of Lot’s spirit in view of the iniquities of Sodom. But it must be confessed that in this verse and in Leviticus 1:2, the traditional sacrifices seem to be spoken of as optional and not required. If this be true, it argues that sacrifices are not essentially at variance with the laws of our moral nature, and that worship can be paid by sacrificing whatever each one holds most precious. Similar views are entertained by the rabbins. Chrysostom affirms that Abel was persuaded to offer true sacrifices, not as being taught by any one, not from obedience to any express statute, but by the dictates of reason and conscience. These remarks do not apply to the law-created sin offerings and trespass offerings. See Isaiah 1:12, and Introduction to Leviticus, (2.)

Burnt offering See Leviticus 1:3; Leviticus 6:9, notes.

A vow… free-will offering See Leviticus 27:2; Leviticus 22:18; Leviticus 7:11; Leviticus 7:16, notes.

Sweet savour See Leviticus 1:9, note.

Herd… flock See Leviticus 1:2, note.

Verse 4

4. Meat offering Rather, bread offering. See Leviticus 2:1, note.

A tenth deal See Leviticus 23:13, note.

Hin of oil See Leviticus 19:36; Leviticus 23:13, notes. Oil is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. Leviticus 2:1, note; Zechariah 4:2-12; Matthew 25:8, note; Acts 10:38; Hebrews 1:9.

Verse 5

5. Wine for a drink offering This was not to be drunken by the priest, but a part of it was to be poured out. See 2 Timothy 4:6, note on σπενδομαι , “I am already poured,” as a drink offering. According to Deuteronomy 14:23-27, a part of the wine was to be drank by the offerer and his family after he had presented his peace offering and partaken of the meat, (bread,) when he appeared before the Lord with his household, accepted through the atonement then made, and therefore entitled to share in the blessings so procured. Hence the inference that bread and wine were, even under Mosaism, the joyous emblems of conscious salvation through the atonement. Wine is a symbol of joy.

Verse 8

8. Peace offerings See Leviticus 3:1; Leviticus 7:11-21, notes. 9-12.

According to the number The purpose of this statute is to define the proportion of the meat and drink offering to the nature and number of the animals offered as peace offerings.

Verses 13-16

13-16. These rules apply to the sacrifices of aliens living in the Holy Land as well as to the native-born Israelite.

These things The meat and drink offerings.

A stranger Septuagint, proselyte. The position of the Israelites as a distinct nation under special divine protection powerfully attracted the neighbouring peoples. Hence the law provides for their incorporation into Israel. Circumcision was the condition of any fellowship with the proselyte or stranger, as rendered in the Authorized Version. He is required to keep the sabbath, to be present at the passover, the feast of weeks, of tabernacles, and the day of atonement, to observe the laws of prohibited marriages, to abstain from blood, from Molech worship, and blasphemy. But he could not hold land (see Leviticus 25:23, note) nor intermarry with the descendants of Aaron. See Leviticus 21:14, note. The instances of wholesale proselytism are the Shechemites, Kenites, Gibeonites, Cherethites, Pelethites, and Nethenim. Instances of individuals are Doeg, the Edomite; Uriah, the Hittite; Araunah, the Jebusite; and two in the face of an express prohibition Zelek, the Ammonite, and Ithmah, the Moabite. Deuteronomy 23:3. Later rabbins regarded the following classes unfit for admission within the covenant: (1.) Love-proselytes, drawn by the hope of gaining the beloved one; (2.) Man-for-woman or woman-for-man proselytes, where either follows the religion of the other as a matter of convenience; (3.) Esther-proselytes, to escape danger; (4.) King’s-table-proselytes, mere office-seekers; (5.) Lion-proselytes, persons impelled by a superstitious dread of some divine judgment, as were the Samaritans. 2 Kings 17:26. See Leviticus 23:22, note.

Before the Lord Equal in religious privileges.

Verse 19

19. Heave offering Heb, t’roomah, a gift taken from a whole, which one brings to God. It may consist of meat, sin, trespass, or thank offerings; of the firstborn; tithes; prisoners taken in war, (Numbers 31:28-29;) gold and silver; or, as here, of firstfruits. It is rendered offering twenty-five times, heave offering twenty-four times, oblation eighteen times, heave shoulder thrice, and gift once. See Leviticus 7:14, note.

Verse 20

20. The first of your dough This command is not addressed to the nation as in the case of “the sheaf of the firstfruits,” (see Leviticus 23:10, note,) but to every private family, and the Jews consider a woman as very culpable who neglects it. They interpret the command as requiring not merely a portion of the first dough made from the new harvest, but a portion of every bread-making through the year, whenever the lump of dough exceeds the bulk of forty eggs. This sacred portion was given to the priests or Levites in order to sanctify the rest. In the absence of any of these it was thrown into the fire. Paul refers to this usage in Romans 11:16. See note. Its symbolism is thus explained: “The cake signified in mystery the congregation of Israel, called the firstfruits of the world; which, when it is put into the oven that burneth with the fire of the blessed God, it is necessary to separate therefrom a cake, that it be not partaker of severe judgment; and therefore is a blessing reserved in the world.” Rabbi Menahem. A still wider mystical import is found in the sons of God by adoption, who “are a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” James 1:18.

Verse 22

22. If ye have erred This refers not to individual sins of ignorance, (see Leviticus 4:2, note,) but to the whole congregation.

Not observed The particular delinquency is the inadvertent omission of a Mosaic precept. “This was a striking feature of the present enactment, that it tended to make the whole community feel itself charged with the responsibility of the conduct of each of its members.” Bush.

Verse 24

24. Without the knowledge Hebrew, away from the eyes of the congregation. How the whole nation could be ignorantly delinquent it is difficult to discover. Outram supposes that it was done “by retaining to a certain extent the national rites, and following the worship of the true God, and yet at the same time acting unconsciously in opposition to the law through having been led astray by some common errors.” Others explain it as the neglect of religious duties through the example of godless rulers who adopted pagan customs apparently reconcilable with Mosaism but really repugnant to its spirit.

For a burnt offering This is mentioned first, since it is the principal sacrifice. But in the order of time the sin offering was first offered, since sin must be expiated before the sinner can consecrate himself wholly, and be entirely sanctified. In this comment Keil concurs, forgetful of his declaration elsewhere that there is no prescribed order when two or more sacrifices were offered together. See Introd. to Leviticus (5.)

Sin offering In Mosaism the killing of the animal is by the offerer and not by the priest, unless he be the offerer. Comp. Leviticus 1:5; Leviticus 4:3-4. If the slaughter were really an act of atonement it would probably take place on the altar itself, and not by its side. “The priestly function begins not with the shedding but with the use of the blood.” Oehler. “The blood (of Christ) itself, not the shedding of the blood, is the ransom, the price of eternal redemption.” Bengel. See Leviticus iv, notes.

Verse 25

25. An atonement “In all our inquiries into the various senses wherein this term is used, and into the significance of the different ceremonies connected with the act of atonement, the fundamental meaning, to cover or conceal, must be kept in mind.” Suskind. The word occurs in its proper sense only in Genesis 6:14. In Piel usage has affixed to it the meaning “to atone.” Atonement, therefore, must be equivalent to the covering up or concealing of that which God cannot allow to appear in his presence. It is a constructive disappearance or annihilation. Thus in Jeremiah 18:23, forgiveness of sin and blotting it out are convertible expressions. With the rabbins, “to atone” means to deny existence to to deem as not being. That which creates estrangement between God and the sinner is in effect annihilated. “We cannot reasonably say that in this case the divine punitive justice terminates in nothing; on the contrary, that justice is honoured when the offerer declares that he is destitute of a covering before the holy God, and thereby acknowledges him as one who, though sinning in weakness, is exposed to the divine judgment.” Oehler. The common objection that the soul, or life, of the sacrificial animal, laden with the curse of the sinner, might not be laid upon the holy altar as his substitute is effectually answered by the consideration that through death, the wages of sin, the blood is to be viewed as pure and free from guilt. See Leviticus 1:4; Leviticus 4:20; Leviticus 12:7, notes.

For it is ignorance R.V., “error.” See Leviticus 4:2, and the concluding notes to the same chapter; also Hebrews 9:7, note.

Verses 27-29

27-29. If any soul sin The law laid down in Leviticus 4:27; Leviticus 5:6, is here repeated, and extended to proselytes or strangers. See Numbers 15:14, note.

Verse 30

30. Presumptuously Literally, with upraised hand, that is, knowingly, defiantly, wilfully and maliciously. Deliberate and audacious violation of the law of Jehovah cannot be forgiven as a sin of inadvertence, because he is the theocratic head of the nation, and such sin is of the nature of treason and rebellion. This reason is expressed in the following words the same reproacheth the Lord. No government can long abide the contempt of its subjects. Those manifestly guilty of such contempt could not, through the sacrificial atonement, be restored to communion with Israel without putting the theocratic-civil interest in imminent peril. Hence their exclusion from the theocratic expiation was essential to the permanency of the Hebrew commonwealth, which, without this, would be exposed to the workings of malice, licentiousness, and to inevitable failure.

Verses 30-36


The tender regard of Mosaism for the inadvertent sinner ought to have a safeguard against abuse. There must be a clearly defined limit beyond which the plea of ignorance cannot be made, or all law becomes a nullity.

Verse 31

31. Utterly be cut off See Leviticus 7:20, note. This excision from the living is a foreshadowing of the capital punishment of all who have rejected Jesus Christ, the Son of God and King of angels and men. See Matthew 25:46, note.

His iniquity The punishment of his iniquity shall be upon him.

Verse 32

32. While… in the wilderness This is one of Colenso’s texts for disproving the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. But his argument is not conclusive, since Moses was with Israel several months after leaving the wilderness in Edom and on the plains of Moab. Deuteronomy 32:48. See map.

A man that gathered sticks It is evident from the mention of this violation of the sabbath in immediate connexion with the foregoing high-handed sin that it is intended as an instance of this kind of offence. It was a man and not a child. In the sabbatic stillness of the camp he could not have been ignorant of the sacredness of the day. The act was not one of mercy or of necessity, such as the case of hunger, (Luke 6:1-4,) but of gross impiety against the supreme moral Governor and of rebellion against the theocratic King. The sabbath being a positive as well as a moral institution is well adapted to call out that opposition to God’s authority which regards his commands as unreasonable, and hostile to human happiness. No other one of the precepts or prohibitions of the decalogue affords so high a test of obedience to Jehovah’s authority, from the fact that the moral element in it which finds a response in the conscience and reason of men is not observable, being overshadowed by the positive element the divine authority.

Verse 33

33. Brought him unto Moses They were shocked at wickedness so defiant of public sentiment and of Jehovah. Like good citizens they secured his arrest, lest the example might spread as a contagion.

Verse 34

34. In ward In custody as a prisoner.

It was not declared The boundary line between remissible and irremissible sins is too narrow for the unaided eye of man to discover, hence God’s verdict is sought.

Verse 35

35. All the congregation Only where the executive is sustained by a high tone of public sentiment can all kinds of vice be punished. This is especially true of sabbath desecration and drunkenness.

Verse 36

36. Stoned him See Leviticus 24:14, note.

Verses 37-41

MNEMONIC FRINGES, Numbers 15:37-41.

In condescension to the infirmity of the memory God appoints a token or memorial of all his statutes to be worn upon the person as a constant reminder.

Verse 38

38. Fringes The Hebrew tzeetzeeth, fringe or tassel, is used only in this statute and in Ezekiel 8:3, where it is rendered “a lock of mine head.” The fringe was not originated by this law, but it existed before as the ordinary mode of finishing the robe, the ends of the woof being left to preserve the cloth from raveling, the riband of blue, (or cord, improperly lace, Exodus 28:28; Exodus 28:37 thread, Judges 16:9 bracelets, ( cord, R.V.,) Genesis 38:18; Genesis 38:25 and wire, (of gold,) Exodus 39:3 or rather dark violet, being added to strengthen the border. The outer robe, a quadrangular piece of cloth, was so worn that two of the corners hung down in front ornamented with this dark violet thread. To this fringe the Jews subsequently attached great sanctity, and the Pharisees enlarged it and the thread to an undue width, (Matthew 23:5, note,) as an indication of their greater respect for the precepts of the law of Moses. The impress of consecration to the holy God was stamped on the life of the Israelite in ordinances extending to the most minute things, that he might always realize the voice of Jehovah, saying, “Be ye holy, for I am holy.” These tassels were to remind him every moment to think on all his commands, and not to be guided by the imaginations of his heart and the lust of his eyes. Stier, in his comment on Christ’s summary of the law, as comprised in love, (Matthew 22:40,) interprets the riband of blue as a type of love, and the fringes as the separate precepts scattered through the law and the prophets.

Verse 39

39. Look upon it, and remember There is nothing in a fringe resembling a precept; but when the former has been appointed to represent the latter the sign always suggests the thing signified, according to the laws of association which control the succession of ideas. Thus would Israel be deterred from lapsing into idolatry, which is here styled going a whoring, or spiritual fornication. See Numbers 14:33, note.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Numbers 15". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/numbers-15.html. 1874-1909.
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