Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

Numbers 15

Verse 25

Numbers 15:25

Sin-offering . . . for their ignorance.

Pardon of unknown sins through Christ

1. Because of our ignorance we are not fully aware of our sins of ignorance. Yet they are many, in the form both of commission and omission. We may be doing in all sincerity, as a service to God, that which He has not commanded and can never accept.

2. The Lord knows these sins of ignorance every one. This may well alarm us, since in justice He will require these trespasses at our hand; but, again, faith spies comfort in this fact, for the Lord will see to it that stains unseen by us shall yet be washed away. He sees the sin that He may cease to see it by casting it behind His back.

3. Our great comfort is that Jesus, the true Priest, has made atonement for all the congregation of Israel. That atonement secures the pardon of unknown sins. His precious blood cleanses us from all sin. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Verse 30-31

Numbers 15:30-31

The soul that doeth aught presumptuously.

The definition and danger of presumptuous sins

I. The definition. We take, first, the case of an individual who sins against the positive remonstrances of his conscience; and we say that he sins presumptuously. We have all, at one time or another, withstood the clearest and most decisive suggestions of conscience. We have all proved the power of inclination, when it has come up in a pleasing shape, to bear down a consciousness of what is right, whether by an invention of some ingenious subterfuge, or by some weapons of unblushing hardihood. We could give no better definition of conscience than that it is evidently the vicegerent of Deity. And what then is presumption? Where shall it be found, if we describe not as presumptuous the conduct of the man who walks one way whilst the voice of the internal monitor summons him to walk another? Let us advance to other instances. The guilt of a sin is in a great degree to be estimated by the strength of the temptation which solicits its performance. But if you take the generality of men, you will find they scarcely need any temptation at all to induce them to sin. They may be said to give the devil no trouble, but to strike their colours without firing a shot: a breath of air will make them swerve from allegiance. There must be presumption, and that too of an enormity not easily measured, in conduct which is marked on one side with such contempt of God that men will obey His despisers even without strong inducement; and on the other, such neglect of the soul, that they surrender it without requiring anything in exchange. Now let us glance at the third sort of presumptuous sins. If I wantonly expose myself to temptation, then, though I may afterwards struggle hard before I yield, I shall sin presumptuously. It were better to see Christians--especially young ones--so distrustful of themselves that they might pass for timid, than so overweening of their own strength as to thrust themselves into danger. Take a still more general case--where a man goes on sinning, calculating either that it will be time enough by and by to repent, or that God will prove at last too merciful to execute His threatenings--most assuredly that man sins presumptuously. If he reckon on uncovenanted mercies, what is this but presumption?

II. But wherein, you will now ask, lies the peculiar guilt and danger of presumptuous sins? Why should David pray so earnestly to be kept from them? Why should our text be so emphatic in its condemnation? We will just take in succession several cases of presumptuous sins, and endeavour to answer the question in each. If, in the first place, it be sinning presumptuously to sin against conscience and conviction, there must be special guilt when a man does a thing in spite of the warnings of the delegate of God; he strips himself of every excuse of ignorance or inadvertence; and hence a special guilt. But conscience also will grow less sensitive, in proportion as it be less heeded. If, again, it be sinning presumptuously to sin on slight temptation, surely there must be peculiar guilt, inasmuch as there must be a readiness, nay, even an eagerness, to fail in spiritual matters. He is indeed guilty who is flung in wrestling with a giant, forasmuch as God is ready to give strength in proportion to the opponent; but what shall we say of him who is flung in wrestling with a dwarf? Then is there not peculiar danger and peculiar guilt in sinning on slight temptation, inasmuch as a man grows confirmed in habits of sin? For the moment sin becomes habitual, the breaking loose from it becomes miraculous. If you take our third class of presumptuous sins--sins, the result of temptation that we have ourselves sought, or at least not avoided, who sees not the guilt, who perceives not the danger? Christ would not throw Himself from the pinnacle of the temple, because it was unlawful to tempt the Lord. Yet we do that from which the Mediator indignantly recoiled, when we enter into scenes, or mingle with companies which we know likely to minister incentives to passions, or oppose hindrances to piety. Such is the guilt: and the danger is that of growing familiar with vice after having been vanquished by it. Mixed with the world, let the world once seduce you, and the world will appear to you not half so formidable as before, and not half so pernicious. Thus sinning presumptuously, through presumptuously exposing yourselves, you will be more and more inclined to continue the exposure, and the presumption, as it were, will propagate itself; and your danger will be that of growing apathy: issuing, at last, in total apostacy. Again, there is one other class. If I continue sinning in the vain hope that there will be time hereafter for repentance, or because I calculate that God will be too merciful to punish, I incur a special guilt, inasmuch as I trifle with the Almighty, or mock the Almighty; and I run a special risk as I deal with possibilities as though they were certainties, or stake on a minute chance the results of a long hereafter. So that, surveying successively the several descriptions of presumptuous sins, we bring out in each case the same result; and we are forced to pronounce that he who sins presumptuously--whether the presumption consist in withstanding conscience, or in yielding to slight temptation, or in seeking peril, or in reckoning on future repentance or future mercy--he who sins presumptuously, deserves, and may expect to have it said of him, “The soul that reproacheth the Lord, shall be out off from among His people.” (H. Melvill, B. D.)

Presumption

I. What presumption includes. It signifies--

1. Boldness in evil. Sinning without fear. Hardihood, recklessness.

2. Arrogance in evil. Setting ourselves up against God. Pride of heart and spirit and tongue (Psalms 73:6; Psalms 9:2; Acts 2:18).

3. Irreverence towards God. All profanity. As in the case of Pharaoh, “Who is the Lord?” &c.

4. Confidence of escape from the threatenings of God. Not dreading nor caring for consequences, &c.

II. The chief causes of presumption.

1. Spiritual ignorance. Ignorance of self and God. It is the offspring of darkness.

2. Recklessness and inconsideration.

3. Confirmed unbelief, giving no credit to the Word.

4. Hardness of heart. This is both a cause and a result.

III. The terrible results of presumptuousness.

1. God, defied, will vindicate His authority. He cannot let it pass. His majesty and law concerned, &c.

2. Threatening despised, He will terribly execute. Not one jot fail. There may be delay, longsuffering, but the execution of vengeance is certain.

3. Mercy despised will involve in fearful retribution. Hear God (Proverbs 1:24; Psalms 2:4, &c.). The instances of this, how numerous. The old world, Pharaoh, Sodom, &c., nations of Canaan, Jerusalem (see Luke 19:41-44).

Application--

1. How needful is consideration.

2. Repentance, how imperative.

3. To seek mercy. The gospel publishes it in Christ, and offers it to every sinner. (J. Burns, D. D.)

Sins dangerous and deadly

I. that there are degrees in sin. People sometimes say, as an excuse for their sin, that as they have gone wrong they might as wall suffer for much as for little. No! it is false. With every sin the man gets worse; sinfulness increases. Sins of ignorance through trifling may grow to be those of presumption.

II. That while all sins are dangerous, some are deadly. The text shows that all sin is dangerous by the fact that an atonement had to be made for sins of ignorance; none could be forgiven without. While ignorance may excuse, nothing can justify any sin.

1. That God is merciful. He sent His Son to die that He might put away sin, and restore us unto Himself.

2. That there is a limit to His mercy. What cost Him so much He will let no one despise. (D. Lloyd.)

Progress of presumption

Presumption never stops in its first attempt. If Caesar comes once to pass the Rubicon, he will be sure to march farther on, even till he enters the very bowels of Rome, and break open the Capitol itself. He that wades so far as to wet and foul himself, cares not how much he trashes farther. (R. South, D. D.)

Presumption punished

A young man who had inherited an estate from an uncle was exhorted to seek Christ, and said that he would do so as soon as he had paid off the debts which encumbered the estate. “Young man,” said the pastor, “beware: you may never see that day: whilst you are gaining the world you may lose your soul.” The young heir said, “I’ll run the risk.” He went into the woods and was engaged in felling a tree, when a falling limb caused his instant death within a few hours of his bold presumption.

Verses 32-36

Numbers 15:32-36

A man that gathered sticks upon the Sabbath.

Gathering sticks on the Sabbath

An Oriental legend tells us that, while Solomon was once on his way to visit the Queen of Sheba, he came to a valley in which dwelt a peculiar tribe of monkeys. Upon asking about their history, be was informed that they were the descendants of a colony of Jews, who settling in that region years before, had, by habitual neglect of the Sabbath, gradually degenerated to the condition of brutes. The story is, of course, a mere fable, but the moral is worth remembering. The ceremonial part of the Sabbath is done away, so that greater liberty is allowed to us than was given to the Jews. Works of necessity and mercy take precedence even of the regularly appointed duties of the day (Hosea 6:6). The moral part is, however, as strongly in force as ever. To have the mind exercised on spiritual subjects, and occupied in advancing the interests of our souls, is an imperative duty. To be guilty of a wilful profanation of the Lord’s day is--

I. An unreasonable sin. A young man, well off in the world, and an elderly man of business, were riding in a railway carriage together, between London and a country town, when the question of Sunday amusements came up. “I maintain that Sunday ought to be a general holiday,” said the younger, in a tone which betokened assurance and presumption, “and the people ought not to be kept out of such places as the Zoological Gardens and the Crystal Palace grounds. I would have Sunday used for recreation.” “Recreation!” answered the elder, gravely, “yes, that is the very word. The Sabbath is meant for recreation, and if people were recreated, they would want very little of the so-called recreation which they now make so much of.” The conversation on that subject dropped.

II. A presumptuous sin. The man who was so signally punished, for merely gathering a few sticks on the Sabbath, might have argued that he could only be charged with a very small breach of the Divine law, and that the bundle of faggots was really necessary for his comfort. Such flimsy excuses would be of no avail. His conduct was a decided act of rebellion against God, and he was, in fact, accusing Him with being a hard master, who did not deserve to be obeyed. Those who believe in taking God at His word, cannot doubt that any wilful neglect of His commandments is always followed, sooner or later, by loss! A thrifty merchant remarked to his physician, “Had it not been for the rest which I have enjoyed on the Lord’s Day, I should long ago have been a maniac!” Many are the instances of those who have dug their own graves, because they had no Sundays. (J. N. Norton, D. D.)

Obedience tested in the little

This incident has often been quoted as an instance of extreme and intolerable severity, and has been cited against those whose reading of the Scriptures leads them to propose to keep the Sabbath day. The mocker has found quite a little treasure here. The poor man was gathering sticks on the Sabbath day, and he had to forfeit his life for the violation of the law. Had the text read--And a certain man was found in the wilderness openly blaspheming God, and he was stoned to death--we should have had some sense of rest and harmony in the mind : the balance would seem to be complete. But that is the very sophism that is ruining us. We do not see the reality of the case. We think of huge sins; there are none. We think of little sins; there are none. It is the spot that is ruin; it is the one little thing that spoils the universe. Obedience can only be tested by so-called little things. Where one man is called to be a hero on some great scale, ten thousand men are called to be courteous, gentle, patient; where one has the opportunity of being great on the battle-field of a death-bed, all have opportunity of being good in hopefulness, charity, forgiveness, and every grace that belongs to the Cross of Christ; where one has the opportunity of joining a great procession, ten thousand have the opportunity of assisting the aged, helping the blind, speaking a word for the speechless, and putting a donation into the hand of honest poverty. Let us realise the truth of the doctrine that we are not called upon to display our obedience upon a gigantic scale within the theatre of the universe and under the observation of angels--but to go out into the field and work with bent back and willing hands and glad hearts, doing life’s simple duty under Heaven’s inspiration and encouragement. The man who gathered sticks on the Sabbath day might have been quite a great man on festival occasions when all Israel had to be dressed in its best; he might have been one of the foremost of the show. You discover what men are by their secret deeds, by what they do when they suppose nobody is looking, by what they are about when they are suddenly pounced upon. (J. Parker, D. D.)

The Sabbath-breaker and his doom

I. The sin.

1. The transgression of a moral law, which was enforced by the most solemn commands and by the severest penalty.

2. The transgression of this law wilfully.

II. The arrest. The offender was seized in the act of transgression, and taken before the judicial authorities.

III. The consultation. The direction of the Lord is sought as to the mode by which the sentence of death is to be executed upon him.

IV. The sentence. This was determined by the Lord. The transgressor must be put to death (Exodus 31:14-15); he must be put to death by stoning (Numbers 15:35).

V. The execution. “And all the congregation brought him without,” &c. (Numbers 15:36). The people were the executioners. This would increase the force of the warning which the event gave to the nation.

Conclusion:

1. The moral element in the law of the Sabbath is of perpetual obligation. We still rest for body and mind; we still need worship for the spirit.

2. The neglecters of religious duties and privileges will do well to take warning. If any man fails to observe religiously the Lord’s day, he does so at his own loss and peril. (W. Jones.)

Punishment of Sabbath-breaking

1. The perpetration of one particular presumptuous sin, together with its circumstances, as what, where, when, and how. The fact was seemingly but a small matter, namely, gathering a few sticks, &c., and possibly he might pretend some necessity or conveniency to himself thereby, &c., but because really it was done with an high hand, in contempt of God and His law, and a profaning of His holy Sabbath.

2. The punishment for this perpetrated fact of profaning the Sabbath, wherein--

For though the matter of the fact was twice doomed with death (Exodus 31:14; Exodus 35:2), yet was it not declared what manner of death such a sinner should die. Therefore God is consulted about this, who expressly declareth it (Numbers 15:35). Besides, though the law be in the rigour of it a killing letter, yet might it admit of some favourable construction from necessity, &c., which might make the offender capable of pardon. So Moses did not rashly doom him; nor ought magistrates be hasty in matters of life and death, as in other cases of an inferior nature. They ought to be wary: God and His Word ought to be consulted.

Verses 38-40

Numbers 15:38-40

Put upon the fringe . . . a ribband of blue.

The law of the fringe and ribband

Provision had been just now made by the law for the pardon of sins of ignorance and infirmity, now here is an expedient provided for the preventing of such sins. They are ordered to make fringes upon the borders of their garments, which were to be memorandums to them of their duty, that they might not sin through forgetfulness.

1. The sign appointed is a fringe of silk, or thread, or worsted, or the garment itself ravelled at the bottom, and a blue ribband bound on the top of it to keep it tight (Numbers 15:38). The Jews being a peculiar people, they were thus distinguished from their neighbours in their dress, as well as in their diet; and taught by such little instances of singularity, not to be conformed to the way of the heathen in greater things. Thus likewise they proclaimed themselves Jews wherever they were, as those that were not ashamed of God and His law.

2. The intention of it was to remind them that they were a peculiar people. They were not appointed for the trimming and adorning of their clothes, but to “stir up their pure minds by way of remembrance” (2 Peter 3:1). That they might look upon the fringe, and remember the commandments. Many look upon their ornaments to feed their pride, but they must look upon these ornaments to awaken their consciences to a sense of their duty, that their religion might constantly beset them, and they might carry it about with them, as they did their clothes, wherever they went. It was intended particularly to be a preservation from idolatry, That ye “seek not after your own heart,” and your own eyes, in your religious worship. Yet it may extend also to the whole conversation; for nothing is more contrary to God’s honour and our own true interest than to walk in the way of our heart, and in the sight of our eyes; for the imagination of the heart is evil, and so is the lust of the eyes. (Matthew Henry, D. D.)

The ribband of blue

The chief use of clothing is defence against the chills and variations of the weather; two subordinate uses are for the promotion of beauty, and for distinction of office. We can be at no loss to perceive that there are mental uses corresponding to the above which require for the soul spiritual clothing. The soul has its summer and its winter, and all the varieties of a mental year. There are seasons of hopefulness and brilliancy in which we have all the elasticity and promise of spring; there are states of peaceful warmth, of continued serene happiness; “the soul’s calm sunshine and the heartfelt joy” which bespeak the spirit’s summer; but there are likewise periods of decreasing warmth, of incipient depressions, and coolnesses to what has formerly yielded the highest pleasure; until at length we arrive at states of painful cold, the joylessness, the hopelessness, and the sadness, which ate the characteristics of the winter of the soul. In this wintry state storms of distressing fears and darkening doubts will rush upon the soul. Strong delusions that we may believe a lie, will, like fierce tempests, howl about us. Thrice happy are they who remember that the Divine Word will be a blessing in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, in summer and in winter; but they should also bear in mind, that to be a protection in all seasons the Divine mercy has provided us with spiritual clothing. The doctrines of religion, when intelligently adopted and adapted to our particular states, serve this important purpose. And when those doctrines are, as they ought to be, full, comprehensive, and complete, applying themselves to all the departments of human affection, thought, and life, they make a complete dress. We are, then, to speak to the Israelites who are typified by those of our text, the spiritual Israelites; and say first that they clothe themselves with genuine doctrines of Divine truth, with the garments of salvation, and next, that they especially make them fringes in the borders of their garments. After we have meditated upon the doctrines of religion, and seen their fitness to our own states of mind and heart, thus clothed ourselves in them, the next part of our duty is to bring them into life. Many there are who put on religion as a dress for the head, and even also for the breast, but do not bring it down to the feet. But we are to make a border for our garments, and the border must be a fringe. The distinctive feature of a fringe is, that the material of which it is composed is divided into small portions firmly united at the upper part, but hanging with separate forms of beauty at the lower. The idea suggested by this is, that religion must be employed in all the small affairs of daily life as well as on great occasions; the lowest part of our spiritual dress must be a fringe. We are, however, not only commanded to have a fringe to our garments, but to have upon the fringe a ribband of blue. And this leads us to consider the correspondence of colours. Natural colours, we know, originate in natural light. They are the separation of the beauties which are bound up in the sunbeam, and their reflection to the human eye. There is a trinity of fundamental colours, red, blue, and yellow. From the blending of these in varied proportions all others are made. Red, the colour of fire, is the symbol of the truths of love, the fire of the soul. Blue, the colour of the azure depths of the sky, is symbolic of the deep things of the Spirit of God, on which faith delights to gaze. Yellow is the hue of truth which applies to outward life, and in combination with blue it makes green, which corresponds to truth in the letter of the Word, made simple to the common eye of mankind. Blue gives a sense of clearness and depth, in which it surpasses all other hues. Blue, then, is the colour which represents the spirit of the Holy Word, the depths of heavenly wisdom. There is, however, cold blue, as it has more of white in it, and warm blue, as it derives a certain hue from red. There has also been some difficulty in determining the exact shade meant by Techeleth, the Hebrew name for this colour. But from a full consideration of this subject we are satisfied it was the name for blue tinged with red, from violet to purple. And this very strikingly brings out the Divine lesson by correspondence. While the blue indicates that in our demeanour in life we should be correct, in harmony with the spirit of truth, the red hue indicates that all our truth ought to be softened and warmed by love. “Speak the truth in love,” said the apostle, and to remind them of this duty God commanded the ribband of warm blue to be worn upon the fringe of their garments by the sons of Israel. It is religion in life that is observed by and is attractive to good men. When it not only enlightens the head and rules the heart, but comes down to the skirt of the garment, infusing justice, kindness, and courtesy in every act and word, then it has an eloquence which will inspire many a well-disposed heart to say, “We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you. Let your good works and your good words so shine before men, that they may glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (J. Bayley, Ph. D.)

The ordinance of the fringes: gracious reminders of Divine commands

I. The proneness of man to forget the commandments of the Lord. This tendency arises from--

1. The sinfulness of human nature.

2. The worldly spirit which so largely prevails in human society.

II. The arrangements which God has made to remind man of his commandments.

1. The means which God employs to remind us of His commandments.

2. The design of God in reminding us of His commandments. “That ye wander not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go a whoring; that ye may remember and do all My commandments, and be holy unto your God.” Recollection of the will of God must be followed by obedience to that will, or it will be worse than useless.

III. The grounds upon which God requires from us this recollection of and obedience to His commands.

1. His personal relation to us.

2. His gracious doings for us. (W. Jones.)

Remembrancers

How wonderful is what we call association! I hang some thought upon an object, and say, “Whenever I come hither, ring for me as a bell of joy”; and upon another I fasten an experience, saying to it, “Toll to me of sadness”; and to another, “Give forth some bold, inspiring strain”; and to another, “Speak to me always of hope.” And, thereafter, each thing, true to its nature, whether it be tree, or place, or rock, or house, or that which is therein, never forgets its lesson. Yea, and when we forget, they make us to remember, singing to us the notes which we had taught them. Thus the heart, though it may not dismember itself, to give a soul to the material world, has yet a power half to create in physical things a soul in each for itself. So its life is written out, and it keeps a journal upon trees, upon hills, upon the face of heaven. Is it not for this, then, that in turn God has used every object in nature, every event in life, every function of society, every affection and endearment of human love, yea, and things that are not, the very silences of the world, and memories that are but disembodied events, to represent to us by association His nature and affections? Thus the heaven and the earth do speak of God, and the great natural world is but another Bible, which clasps and binds the written one; for nature and grace are one. Grace is the heart of the flower, and nature but its surrounding petals. (H. W. Beecher.)

Association

Thus a house becomes sacred. Every room has a thousand memories. Every door and window is clustered with associations. And when, after long years, we go back to the house of our infancy, faces look out upon us, and an invisible multitude stand in gate and portal to welcome us, and we hear airy voices speaking again the old words of our childhood. (H. W. Beecher.)

Verse 41

Numbers 15:41

I am the Lord your God.

Everlasting relationship

Can anything be more blessed to God’s people than the assurance of the everlasting relationship existing between Himself and them? This everlasting relationship is a hiding-place, refuge, and defence in this desert land; a safe retreat, where the soul may obtain repose, satisfaction, in trying moments.

I. To say that eternal relationship leads to licentiousness, and induces a disregard to all moral and social duties, is the same as to say, that to bring any individual into the clear, bright light of the sun will cause a pebble to become a stumbling-block unto him. Here is a threefold assertion of relationship in my text, which relationship now is but rarely understood, still less enjoyed, and often reviled. But, now, notice the nature of this relationship. It is a relationship of a father, a Brother, a Comforter, a Guide, a Preceptor. It is a relationship of King and subject, Parent and child, Husband and wife, Friend and friend.

II. The deliverance effected as a proof of this relationship. The proof is that He brought His people out of Egypt. “Oh!” says one timid soul, “but I do not belong to Him. I do not think the Lord speaks to me.” Well, I do not desire you to make the assertion, unless God has brought you from Egypt. But mock not His love, deny not His grace, insult not His Spirit by questioning the relationship if He has rescued you from the bondage of sin, Satan, and self, the world, and the devil. He has delivered you on purpose to be your God, openly and avowedly.

III. The claim of God is upon us, for devotedness to His glory and activity in His cause. He has brought you out for His own use; and He has a right to all the ardour of your spirit, all the activity of your life, all the affections of your soul. Remember, you are not your own, but bought with a price; therefore glorify God with your body and spirit, which are His. Oh! what ties bind us to devotedness to His name--ties of blood, ties of love, ties of grace. As a King, He created me His subject; as a Deliverer, He brought me to liberty; as my God, He allied me to Himself in everlasting relationship. And if all these ties fail to produce the effect of consecration of heart, and soul, and life to Him, I have one more tie left--namely, the constraint of love. (J. Irons.)
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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Numbers 15". The Biblical Illustrator. https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/numbers-15.html. 1905-1909. New York.