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CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
In this and the next four chapters we have a narrative of certain occurrences and enactments during the penal wandering in the desert, which lasted for nearly thirty-eight years. The relation of these chapters to the history is well expressed by Keil and Del. in this note: “After the unhappy issue of the attempt to penetrate into Canaan, in opposition to the will of God and the advice of Moses, the Israelites remained ‘many days’ in Kadesh, as the Lord did not hearken to their lamentations concerning the defeat which they had suffered at the hands of the Canaanites and Amalekites. Then they turned, and took their journey, as the Lord had commanded (Numbers 14:25), into the wilderness, in the direction towards the Red Sea (Deuteronomy 1:45; Deuteronomy 2:1); and in the first month of the fortieth year they came again into the desert of Zin, to Kadesh (Numbers 20:1). All that we know respecting this journeying from Kadesh into the wilderness in the direction towards the Red Sea, and up to the time of their return to the desert of Zin, is limited to a number of names of places of encampment given in the list of journeying stages in Numbers 33:19-30, out of which, as the situation of the majority of them is altogether unknown, or at all events has not yet been determined, no connected account of the journeys of Israel during this interval of thirty-seven years can possibly be drawn. The most important event related in connection with this period is the rebellion of the company of Korah against Moses and Aaron, and the re-establishment of the Aaronic priesthood and confirmation of their rights, which this occasioned (chaps. 16–18). The rebellion probably occurred in the first portion of the period in question. In addition to this there are only a few laws recorded, which were issued during this long time of punishment, and furnished a practical proof of the continuance of the covenant which the Lord had made with the nation of Israel at Sinai. There was nothing more to record in connection with these thirty-seven years, which formed the second stage in the guidance of Israel through the desert. For, as Baumgarten has well observed, the fighting men of Israel had fallen under the judgment of Jehovah, and the sacred history, therefore, was no longer concerned with them; whilst the youth, in whom the life and hope of Israel were preserved, had as yet no history at all.”
In this chapter certain regulations concerning certain offerings and observances are laid down.
Numbers 15:4. On the meat offering comp. Leviticus 2:0
Numbers 15:14. A stranger. “There were two sorts of strangers among the Israelites; some that entirely embraced and professed the Jewish religion, into which they were admitted by circumcision, &c; others that lived among them by permission, having renounced all idolatry, but did not submit to their whole religion. The former sort are understood to be meant here.—Bp. Patrick.
Numbers 15:15. One ordinance, &c. Keil and Del. translate: “ ‘As for the assembly, there shall be one law for the Israelite and the stranger, … an eternal ordinance.… before Jehovah.’ הַקָּהָל, which is construed absolutely, refers to the assembling of the nation before Jehovah, or to the congregation viewed in its attitude with regard to God.”
As ye are, so shall the stranger be, &c. “The meaning is, ‘as with you, so shall it be with the stranger,’ &c.”—Speaker’s Comm.
Numbers 15:17-21. The ordinances here prescribed are based upon the general principle stated in Exodus 22:29; Exodus 23:19.
Numbers 15:20. Dough. עֲרִיסת, is only used in Nehemiah 10:37; Ezekiel 44:30, and in both places the reference is to this ordinance. Keil and Del. say that the word “signifies most probably groats, or meal coarsely bruised.” Fuerst, however, regards the old interpretation, dough or mixed dough, as the more probable.
Numbers 15:24. By ignorance without the knowledge, &c. Lit., as in margin, “By ignorance from the eyes of,” &c. Keil and Del.: “If it occur away from the eyes of the congregation through error.”
According to the manner. Margin: “According to the ordinance.” H. E. J. Howard: “According to the appointment.”
Numbers 15:26. Seeing all the people were in ignorance. Keil and Del.: “ ‘For’ (so it has happened) ‘to the whole nation in mistake.’ ” Howard: “For to all the people (it was) unintentional.”
Numbers 15:30. Presumptuously. Margin: “With an high hand.” Fuerst: “With a raised hand;” raised “as a sign of presumption.”
Reproacheth the Lord. Translate, “Blasphemeth the Lord.” Keil and Del.: “Whoever committeth a sin ‘with a high hand,’—i.e., so that he raised his hand, as it were, against Jehovah, or acted in open rebellion against Him,—blasphemed God, and was to be cut off (see Genesis 17:14); for he had despised the word of Jehovah, and broken His commandment, and was to atone for it with his life.”
Numbers 15:31. His iniquity shall be upon him. Howard: “Its sin (is) in it.” Keil and Del.: “ ‘Its crime upon it;’ i.e., it shall come upon such a soul in the punishment which it shall endure.”
Numbers 15:34. Because it was not declared? &c. It had already been determined that Sabbath-breaking should be punished by death (Exodus 31:14-15); but the mode of death was not declared.
Numbers 15:35. The man shall be surely put to death. “For as no fire was to be made throughout their habitations on a Sabbath day (Exodus 35:2-3), gathering sticks for such a purpose was a work that was a violation of the Sabbath, punishable with death.”—Dr. Gill.
Numbers 15:38. The outer garment of the Hebrews was a quadrangular piece of cloth. They are here commanded to wear fringes or tassels at the corners of this garment, and to fasten the tassels to the edge of the garment by a riband or thread of a deep blue colour. This riband or thread of blue was designed to remind them of the commandments of the Lord, and of their obligation to keep them.
Numbers 15:39. That ye seek not. Speaker’s Comm.: “That ye wander not.” Keil and Del.: “And ye shall not stray after,” &c.
PROPRIETY IN WORSHIP
In this paragraph we have certain instructions as to the offering of sacrifices, when the people had entered into the Promised Land. These instructions are supplementary to the laws concerning sacrifices which had already been promulgated. Let us consider—
I. The gracious intimation.
“When ye be come into the land of your habitations, which I give unto you.”
We know not at what time during their long wanderings, these directions were given unto them; but the place which they occupy in the history is significant and suggestive. Immediately after the record of the sentence of death in the wilderness, which was passed upon the generation of rebels, these instructions are inserted which graciously intimate that another generation should possess the good land. This intimation was eminently calculated to promote their—
1. Encouragement. It assures them that, notwithstanding the sin of the parents, their children should not be disinherited; and this assurance would be to them a pledge of the renewal of the favour of God to them. These would animate and cheer them in their tedious wanderings in the desert.
2. Instruction. Here they are taught that, notwithstanding all the unfaithfulness and rebellion of man, God “abideth faithful: He cannot deny Himself.” We may by our sin exclude ourselves from the enjoyment of the privileges promised to the people of God; but we cannot prevent the fulfilment of those promises, or frustrate the Divine purposes. “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure.”
II. The directions concerning the worship of God. (Numbers 15:3-12).
1. The perpetual obligation of worship is here implied. These instructions concerning worship are spoken of as “an ordinance for ever in your generations.”
(1) Man’s need of worship is permanent. Human nature can never outgrow its need of worship. The higher man rises in the scale of being, the more reverently he adores the Holy One.
(2) God’s worthiness to receive worship is permanent. He is eternally and unchangeably the Supremely and Infinitely Perfect, the Supremely and Infinitely Beautiful. Hence the perpetual obligation of worship.
2. That man must approach God through sacrifice is also implied in the text. Man’s consciousness of sin is the reason of this need. Feeling our guiltiness, we are afraid to approach unto the Being of perfect holiness against whom we have sinned. We draw near to God through the mediation of Jesus Christ, the great Sin Offering (John 14:6). He removes our suspicious concerning God, and banishes our guilty fears, and brings us near to Him. “God hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ,” &c. (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). But the chief teaching of these directions is this—
3. In the offerings which we present to God, proper proportions should be observed. These proportions are stated in the text. “If the sacrifice was a lamb or a kid, then the meat offering must be a tenth-deal of flour, that is an omer, which contained about five pints; this must be mingled with oil, the fourth part of a hin (a hin contained about five quarts), and the drink offering must be the same quantity of wine, about a quart and half a pint,” (Numbers 15:3-5). If it was a ram, the meat offering was doubled, two tenth-deals of flour, about five quarts, and a third part of a hin of oil (which was to them as butter is to us) mingled with it; and the same quantity of wine for a drink offering (Numbers 15:6-7.) If the sacrifice was a bullock, the meat-offering was to be trebled, three omers, with five pints of oil, and the same quantity of wine for a drink-offering (Numbers 15:8-10). And thus for each sacrifice, whether offered by a particular person or at the common charge.” The principle seems to be this, that there should be order and congruity in the services which we offer to God; everything connected with the worship of God should be appropriate and harmonious. This principle may be applied to
(1) The edifices for Divine worship, (a).
(2) The exercises of Divine worship, (b).
(3) The great sacrifice for us and our offerings to God. “God gave His only begotten Son.” “He spared not His Own Son, but delivered Him up for us all.” Then we should give ourselves unreservedly to Him. Comp. Romans 12:1.
III. The pleasure of God in the worship of His people.
Five times in this paragraph we meet with the words, “A sweet savour unto the Lord” (Numbers 15:3; Numbers 15:7; Numbers 15:10; Numbers 15:13-14). The words express the pleasure which God takes in the true worship of His people. For what reasons does God delight in His people’s worship?
1. Because the feelings which find expression in true worship are good and beautiful. The sin-offering was designed to express the penitence, the meat-offering the gratitude, and the burnt-offering the self-consecration of the worshippers; and penitence, gratitude, and consecration of self to God are good and becoming in us, beneficial to us, and well-pleasing to God.
2. Because worship is essential to the education and progress of His creatures. Without worship the noblest capacities and faculties of our nature remain undeveloped. Gratitude, humility, admiration, adoration, aspiration, these are worship; and without these our spirits cannot grow, cannot even live in any worthy sense. True worship transforms the worshipper into the image of the object worshipped. Hence the worship of the Lord God exalts, purifies, enriches, strengthens the worshipper. “It is good to give thanks unto the Lord,” &c. (c)
3. Because these sacrifices were types of the perfect Sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The sacrifices offered under the ceremonial law pointed onward to Christ Jesus, and found their consummation in His glorious self-sacrifice. In the sublime self-devotion of that sacrifice, in the unspeakable love which it so eloquently expresses, and in the hearty obedience even unto death, we have the highest worship. As Thomas Carlyle says, “O brother, if this is not ‘worship,’ then I say, the more pity for worship; for this is the noblest thing yet discovered under God’s sky.” For these reasons the offerings of His people are “a sweet savour unto the Lord,” and in their worship He takes delight.
IV. The directions concerning the stranger sojourning with the Israelites.
“All that are born of the country shall do these things after this manner,” &c. (Numbers 15:13-16). Before the Lord and in the exercises of worship, the Israelite had no advantage over the stranger; there was one law for both, and one ordinance. This arrangement would tend—
1. To check exclusiveness and pride among the Israelites. It was eminently calculated to suppress the risings of spiritual pride and pride of race to which they were so prone (John 8:33; John 8:39).
2. To encourage the Israelites in the humane treatment of foreigners. They are here taught that if the foreigner were willing to adopt their religion, they were to receive him with kindness, &c.
3. To encourage the Gentiles to unite in the worship and service of the Lord God.
4. To foreshadow the universality of the Christian Church. Comp. John 3:14-17; Acts 10:34-35; Acts 17:26-28; Galatians 3:7-9; Galatians 3:14; Galatians 3:22; Galatians 3:26-29; Revelation 22:17.
(a) Excess of material circumstance in spiritual worship, whether of architectural adornment, ritual ceremony, musical elaboration, or even intellectual fastidiousness, is as injurious to it as is over-cumbrous machinery in manufacture, excess of ceremonial in social life, superfluous raiment to personal activity, or gaudy ornamentation to personal grace. It is both injurious to life and offensive to taste. But equally so, on the other hand, is penuriousness and nakedness. If we may not overlay spiritual life, neither may we denude it. The true law of life is that its energies be developed in all the force and with all the beauty of which they are capable, and that it worship with such cultured adornment as in the highest degree may appeal to and express its own spiritual emotions. This is the simple law and the sufficient test of all artistic appliances. Is any particular culture conducive to the worshipping heart of the congregation? If not, and still more if it be injurious to it, then no matter how beautiful in itself it may be—how conducive to the profit and joy of other congregations—however sanctioned by history and contemporary use—let it be rejected, and, if needful, let it be dealt with as the serpent of brass which Hezekiah destroyed and pronounced to be “Nehushtan.”—H. Allon, D.D.
(b) In the Temple service there was not only the Holy Sacrifice and the fragrant incense, but the golden altar, and the richly-robed priest—not only the holy song, but the rich poetry of David’s psalms, and the cultured music of the sons of Asaph and Korah. In every allusion of the psalmists, as well as in every record of the historian, we feel the implications of an earnest reverential manner. What special spirituality can there be in the pious doggrel of hymns, or in the rude incongruities of tunes? Why should it be necessary to abjure all culture and excruciate all taste, in order that piety may have its supreme enjoyment? It is true that worship does not consist in artistic song, but neither does it in inharmonious doggrel. While the essence of all worship must ever lie in the true and fervent expression of spiritual feeling, the reverence which constitutes the perfection of such feeling demands that worship be clothed with every beauty that can adorn, with every appliance that can enhance it, so that in God’s sanctuary there may be beauty as well as strength; for beauty is the comely costume of strength. Strength bedizened is not beauty, neither is strength denuded, but strength clothed in rich but yet unobtrusive garments. It is surely a careless if not a scornful disparagement of the service of the Church, to be contented with rude, inharmonious song in it, while we bestow upon our drawing-room song and our music-hall concerts our highest artistic culture and care. No genuine piety can excuse negligence; by its very negligence it will testify to its own defects. Everything pertaining to worship should surely indicate a reverent solicitude to bring to God the best that we can proffer—an offering perfect in every appliance that can give emphasis to its adoration; intensify its rapture, or beautify its love. Hence the devoutest worshippers will provide for their praise hymns of the highest poetry, and music of the richest harmony.—Ibid.
(c) He who worships the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, must, in all the qualities of his soul, in all the relations of his life, be a better man than the atheist, than the man who denios the existence of God. The man who worships a stone is a better man than he who worships nothing. The man who falls down before carven wood, or worships the beasts of the field, is a grander nature than he who never bows his head in prayer, and never lifts up his heart in aspiration and religious desire. The tendency of worship is to elevate our nature. He who worships sincerely, however ignorantly, is the better for his worship; he is enlarged in his nature, his outlook upon things is widened, he is led away from self-trust, and is taught to depend upon a power, not lower, but higher, and in his estimation better, than his own.—Joseph Parker, D.D.
The worship of praise is the supreme act of intercourse between God and the creature. We gather into it all the elements of our complex nature, our intellect, conscience, religious emotion and physical faculty,—and engage them in a great religious service; and thus we realize the noblest fellowship with the Creator that is possible to a creature. In other ways also we have fellowship with God: in prayer, when we come to Him to ask the supply of our need; in meditation, when we muse upon His excellencies, or rest in the quiet assurance of His love; and in service, when we enter into His purposes, and as “workers together with God” consecrate ourselves to the accomplishment of them; but in praise, our fellowship with God is far higher than in any other; the personal want that prompts prayer is forgotten; the anxious thought that ponders Divine mysteries is banished; the strenuous toil that wearies even the consecrated hand is suspended; and we lift up the face of our worship to the light and glory of God’s great love. Absorbed and blessed in the sense of His Divine excellencies, we stand before Him as the angels do; our reverence and love are quickened into adoring rapture, and we utter our reverent estimate of what He is, in the largest and most rapturous words that we can find? Such worship God graciously accepts; all natures that love crave love, and the loving God supremely craves the lore of His creatures. Else would our worship be chilled and driven back into our own hearts. We speak to Him our admiration and praise because He graciously listens to it and joyously accepts it. We look up with gladness into the face of our Father in Heaven, because He responds to our loving rapture with His,—His Divine heart answers the love of our poor human hearts,—“God is love,” and He seeketh loving souls to worship Him,—H. Allon, D.D.
AIMS AT PERFECTION
Here we have the doctrine enforced, that what is done should be well done.
I. Attention to the greater does not excuse neglect of the less (Matthew 23:23; Luke 11:42).
II. Obedience in the greater matters tested, as to sincerity, by obedience in the lesser details of ceremonial observance (Matthew 25:21; Luke 16:10.)
III. The offering up of the great sacrifice for sin does not liberate us from the duty of offering, on our part, the lesser sacrifice of faith, &c. (2 Corinthians 5:15; Romans 12:1.)
IV. The offering of the less manifests our appreciation of the greater.—Biblical Museum.
THE OFFERING OF THE FIRST OF THE DOUGH
We have here an application of the law of the firstfruits, which is laid down in Exodus 22:29; Exodus 23:19. Other applications of the law we find in Leviticus 2:12-14; Leviticus 23:10-11; Leviticus 23:14; Leviticus 23:17. At a later period other directions were given concerning the observance of this law (Deuteronomy 26:1-11).
The command here is that of the first dough made of the first corn that was threshed, winnowed, and ground, they were to take to the priest a cake as a heave-offering unto the Lord. The size of the cake is not specified, but was left to the generosity of the offerer. In this offering we have—
I. An expression of gratitude.
In presenting the firstfruits to the Lord the Israelites acknowledged that they owed everything to Him. Very clearly this is brought out in the confession of the offerer of the basket of firstfruits (Deuteronomy 26:1-11). The offering was an expression of gratitude to Him for His bounty and beneficence. All the good that we possess we have received from Him. “He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things.” “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above,” &c. We have received countless and priceless benefits from Him. Seeing that all good comes from God two conclusions are irresistible:
1. That all good should be accepted and enjoyed gratefully. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.” “What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits toward me?” Very great should be our gratitude to Him. (a)
2. That all good should be employed in accordance with His holy will. We must guard against the abuse of any of His gifts; for He will require of us an account of them. Gratitude for our blessings urges us to use them in such a way as shall please Him—to use them for His glory.
II. An acknowledgment of dependence.
In offering the first of their dough after they entered the Promised Land they confessed their continued dependence upon Him. Very clearly and impressively Moses enjoined upon the Israelites that they should reverently remember the Lord their God, and humbly acknowledge their dependence upon Him after they entered the good Land (Deuteronomy 8:10-20). We too are constantly dependent upon God for all things. He is the one great Fountain of all physical, mental, and spiritual good. “All our springs are in Him.” (b) Seeing that we are thus absolutely dependent, it becometh us to be—
1. Humble. “What hast thou that thou didst not receive?” &c. “Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith?” &c. (c)
2. Prayerful. Surely it behoves us to acknowledge our dependence, and seek support “Give us this day our daily bread;” “Uphold me with Thy free Spirit;” Leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation;”—such petitions are ever appropriate on the lips of dependent creatures.
III. A consecration of common things.
To the offerer of the basket of first-fruits all his goods were sacred; all were blessed to him (Deuteronomy 26:11; and comp. Ezekiel 44:30; 1 Timothy 4:4-5). Blessings are most enjoyed by us when we receive them with gratitude, and with practical acknowledgment of our obligation to God for them. The practical recognition of God’s goodness to us in the mercies of every-day life, by heartily contributing to the cause of God amongst men, sanctifies all our mercies. So St. Paul affirms in the Epistle to the Romans (Numbers 11:16), referring to this offering of the first dough, “If the firstfruit be holy, so also is the lump.” After the cake of the first of their dough was offered unto the Lord the whole mass was consecrated to the use of man. (d)
IV. A provision for the maintenance of the ministry and of the worship of God.
This offering of the first of the dough, being an heave-offering, was the perquisite of the priests. Comp. Numbers 21:24; Nehemiah 10:37. The meat offerings were designed by the Lord to be means of maintaining His service and His servants.
(For remarks and illustrations on this topic see pp. 84–86).
(a) A gentleman of very considerable fortune, but a stranger to both personal and family religion, one evening took a solitary walk through part of his grounds. He happened to come near a mean hut, where a poor man lived with a numerous family, who earned their bread by daily labour. He heard a continued and pretty loud voice. Not knowing what it was, curiosity prompted him to listen. The man, who was piously disposed, happened to be at prayer with his family. So soon as he could distinguish the words, he heard him giving thanks, with great affection, to God, for the goodness of His providence, in giving them food to eat and raiment to put on, and in supplying them with what was necessary and comfortable in the present life. He was immediately struck with astonishment and confusion and said to himself, “Does this poor man, who has nothing but the meanest fare, and that purchased by severe labour, give thanks to God for His goodness to himself and family; and I, who enjoy ease and honour, and everything that is pleasant and desirable, have hardly ever bent my knee, or made any acknowledgment to my Maker and Preserver!” It pleased God to make this providential occurrence the means of bringing him to a real and lasting sense of religion.—The Sunday School Teachers’ Treasury.
(b) We stand to God is the relation of dependents. That is our actual position in life. “What hast thou that thou hast not received?” Let a man begin his studies there, and he will become correspondingly reverent. Have you genius? Who lighted the lamp? Have you health? Who gave you your constitution? Do you find the earth productive? “Yes.” Who made it productive? “I did. I till it, I supply all the elements of nourishment needful; I did.” Did you? Can you make it rain? Can you make the sun shine? Come, I will set you a little task, mighty man, potentate! This: Change the quarter of the wind! Now, come, that is a very little thing for a great man like you. “Well,” you say, “that is the sort of thing that I really cannot do.” Then, clear a fog off the hill. You can do that. Look what a port you have, and what infinite impudence. Come, clear a fog! Where would your tilling, and your manuring, and your subsoiling, and your harrowing and rolling all be, and what would they come to, if God were to say to the wind, “Never leave the east;” if God were to say to the clouds, “Stand still;” if God were to say to the sun, “Don’t shew thyself for a year”? All these things shew us that we are, notwithstanding our resources, which are undoubtedly numerous and great, dependents.—Joseph Parker, D.D.
(c) How often have we aimed at building for ourselves tabernacles of remembrance and of rest, and we have gazed joyfully as it progressed to completion, and then the breath of the Lord has blown upon it, and it has been scattered, and we have been turned adrift and shelterless; and, lo! dwellings already provided for us, of firmer materials and of more excellent beauty, upon which we bestowed no labour nor thought. And so it is with all the matters of human glory. The strong man rejoiceth in his strength, and magnifieth himself in the might of his arms, but the Lord hath made him strong; the wise man glorieth himself in his intellect, but the clear perception, and the brilliant fancy, and the fluent utterance, these are God’s gifts; the rich man rejoiceth in his riches, but the prudence to plan, and the sagacity to foresee, and the industry to gather, these are the bestowments of God.
Ah! why will men sacrifice to their own net, and burn incense to their own drag, when they have absolutely nothing which they have not received; and when every gift “cometh from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning”? And in the realm of morals, and in the spiritual life, our feebleness is the same. A conscience void of offence, a good report of those that are without, a heavenly purpose or a holy resolve, the inner purification or the comely outgrowth of a beneficent life—we are poor to compass them. We acquire them only by our dependence upon God. Have you learned this lesson, this deep hard lesson of humility? Forty years’ sins you have committed! have they humbled you in the presence of God? Forty years’ chastenings have corrected you! have they humbled your pride or fretted you into greater audacity of rebellion? Forty years’ mercies have blessed you! have they excited your gratitude or inflated your vanity? Brethren, we must be humbled if we would be happy. It was in the valley of Humiliation you remember, that the lad that had the herb heart’s-ease in his bosom kept his serene and his rejoicing home.—W. M. Punshon, LL.D.
(d) Between the element of evil and the Christian elements there can be but one relation—that of war and struggle. They are antagonistic—the strength of the one is the weakness of the other. The evil must be wrestled with and overcome and exterminated, if it is to be well with the religious life. There is no such opposition between the Christian and the non-Christian elements of our existence. They become assimilated; the Christian absorbs the non-Christian elements of good. The ordinary duties of life—the every day virtues which form so large a portion of our being—have thus a Christian direction given them; they are elevated to a higher region than that which they naturally occupy. They become idealized; for just as the poetical spirit elevates and idealizes the most ordinary scenes, so does the religious spirit elevate and idealize the most ordinary ongoings of life. Religion is like poetry, an elevation and consecration of common things. You have seen a landscape which, while under the shadow, looked cold and bleak and forbidding, burst forth into life and beauty when the sun’s rays fell upon it; so are the most ordinary affairs—the weary plodding, the dreary sameness, the dull routine—of our daily existence irradiated with a Divine glory by the light which comes from God.—C. K. Watt, M.A.
SINS OF OMISSION AND IGNORANCE
This paragraph suggests the following observations:—
I. Omissions of duty are accounted sinful by God.
“If ye have erred, and not observed all these commandments, which the Lord hath spoken unto Moses,” &c. We sin not only when we break the commandments of God, but also when we fail to keep any of them. How many are our sins of omission! We are conscious of very many. And how many are there which have eluded our observation, and are known only to God! “Sins of commission,” says Bulwer Lytton, “may not, perhaps, shock the retrospect of conscience. Large and obtrusive to view, we have confessed, mourned, repented, possibly atoned them. Sins of omission, so veiled amidst our hourly emotions—blent, confused, unseen in the conventional routine of existence;—Alas! could these suddenly emerge from their shadow, group together in serried mass and accusing order, would not the best of us then start in dismay, and would not the proudest humble himself at the Throne of Mercy!” (a)
II. Omissions of duty, even when arising from ignorance, are accounted sinful by God.
“If ought be committed by ignorance without the knowledge of the congregation,” &c. (Numbers 15:24). “And if any soul sin through ignorance,” &c. (Numbers 15:27). So David prays, “Who can understand his errors? Cleanse Thou me from secret faults.” The reference is to unintentional sins; to sins not only unobserved by men, but not even known to the person himself at the time; unintentional sins of omission. (b) But let it be noticed in this Connection, that—
1. Ignorance of the Divine requirements is itself sinful in the case of most persons. If a person can ascertain the will of God concerning him, he is bound to do so. That will is revealed to us in Nature and in the Bible: it is proclaimed and expounded regularly and freely and frequently by Christian teachers and preachers. We may know it if we will; we ought to know it. Spiritual ignorance is frequently not a misfortune, but a sin; not to be pitied, but to be condemned. (c)
2. It is to be feared that in many cases where ignorance is urged as an excuse for sin, the real cause is indifference. When men make no effort to know the will of God, and are but little concerned to do it, it is not ingenuous on their part to plead ignorance as an excuse for their sins.
III. A whole nation may be guilty of sins of omission and ignorance as well as an individual.
The legislation laid down in Numbers 15:22-26, is with a view to the whole nation being guilty of such sins. “This ‘not doing all the commandments of Jehovah,’ of which the congregation is supposed to incur the guilt without perceiving it, might consist either in the fact that, in particular instances, whether from oversight or negligence, the whole congregation omitted to fulfil the commandments of God, i.e. certain precepts of the law, sc. in the fact that they neglected the true and proper fulfilment of the whole law, either, as Outram supposes, ‘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,’ or by allowing the evil example of godless rulers to seduce them to neglect their religious duties, or to adopt and join in certain customs and usages of the heathen, which appeared to be reconcilable with the law of Jehovah, though they really led to contempt and neglect of the commandments of the Lord.”—Keil and Del. As illustrations of the sins here legislated, for Outram refers to the apostate kings, “when the people neglected their hereditary rites, and, forgetting the sacred laws, fell by a common sin into the observance of the religious rites of other nations.” This view is confirmed by the offerings which Hezekiah made as an atonement for the sins of his father’s reign (2 Chronicles 29:21-36); and by the offerings made by the Israelites upon their return from their captivity (Ezra 8:35).
It is, alas! not difficult to discover sins which may be truly called national even in our own enlightened country and age; but it would be difficult honestly to allege that they are sins of ignorance. Is not drunkenness a national sin? Are we as a nation guiltless in relation to the opium traffic? Are there not other sins of which this British nation is greatly guilty?
IV. Sins of omission and ignorance may be forgiven.
There is a sin for which there is no forgiveness; but sins of ignorance and omission may be forgiven upon certain conditions. Our Lord pleaded that His crucifiers might be forgiven because of their ignorance of the true character of their deed (Luke 23:34). And St. Paul writes, “I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.”
1. In every case sacrifice was a condition of forgiveness. When the congregation or the individual became aware of the sinfulness of their omissions, they were to offer a sin-offering as an acknowledgment of guilt and a condition of forgiveness. Whether the case were that of the whole congregation, or one member of the congregation; whether the individual were an Israelite, or a foreigner, sacrifice must be offered when the sin became known. The great truth here set forth is that the sinner needs atonement. Every sin tends to estrange the sinner from God. We are forgiven through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which strikingly exhibits the heinousness of sin, God’s abhorrence of it also, and His infinite love for the sinner (d). Our need of the merit of the Saviour’s sacrifice, and the aid of His intercession, is continual.
2. The extent of the sacrifice required varied in different cases. When the sin was national, “all the congregation shall offer one young bullock for a burnt-offering, for a sweet savour unto the Lord, with his meat-offering, according to the ordinance, and one kid of the goats for a sin offering;” but when the sin was personal, “then he shall bring a she-goat of the first year for a sin-offering.” The law of proportion is observed in the sacrifices which God demands. His requirements are ever “reasonable.” Comp. Romans 12:1.
1. Let us heartily loathe sin, whether of omission or commission (Jeremiah 44:4).
2. Let us faithfully examine ourselves in the light of God’s holy Word. Let no sin hide itself from our view, if we can prevent it (2 Corinthians 13:5).
3. Let us earnestly seek forgiveness for all sins through the mediation of Jesus Christ our Lord (Ephesians 1:7; 1 John 1:9).
(a) Omissions cannot be trivial, if we only reflect what an influence they would have upon an ordinary commonwealth, if they were perpetrated there as they are in God’s commonwealth. Think a minute, if one person has a right to omit his duty, another has, and all have. Then the watchman would omit to guard the house, the policeman would omit to arrest the thief, the judge would omit to sentence the offender, the sheriff would omit to punish the culprit, the government would omit to carry out its laws; then every occupation would cease, and the world would die of stagnation; the merchant would omit to attend to his calling, the husbandman would omit to plough the land: where would the commonwealth be? The kingdom would be out of joint; the machine would break down, for no cog of the wheels would act upon its fellow. How would societies of men exist at all? And surely if this is not to be tolerated in a society of men, much less in that great commonwealth of which God is the King, in which angels and glorified spirits are the peers, and all creatures citizens! How can the Lord tolerate that here there should be an omission, and there an omission, in defiance of His authority? As the Judge of all the earth, He must bring down His strong right band upon these omissions, and crush out for ever the spirit that would thus revolt against His will.—C. H. Spurgeon.
(b) The perfection and spirituality of God’s law render it almost impossible for a fallen son of Adam ever to know all the innumerable instances of his transgressing it. Add to which, that false principles and inveterate prejudices make us regard many things as innocent, and some things as laudable, which, in the eye of Heaven, are far otherwise. Self-examination is a duty which few practise as they ought to do: and he who practises it best will always have reason to conclude his particular confession with this general petition, “Cleanse Thou me from secret faults.”—George Horns.
Many books have a few lines of errata at the end, but our errata might well be as large as the volume if we could but have sense enough to see them. Augustine wrote in his older days a series of Retractations; ours might make a library if we had enough grace to be convinced of our mistakes, and to confess them. If we had eyes like those of God we should think very differently of ourselves. The transgressions which we see and confess are but like the farmer’s small samples which he brings to market, when he has left his granary full at home.—C. H. Spurgeon.
(c) The things revealed belong to us and our children to do them; and to be ignorant of any of these is a sin in the sight of God. We have the light of the truth shining in our faces, but we shut our eyes against it, lest it should shine in our hearts. We have the Word, we may read it, or hear it read, we have it preached, and other means of knowledge offered to us, therefore all such are left without excuse. It shall not excuse a subject when he hath broken some penal statute, to say, “Alas! I knew not the law, I was utterly ignorant of it, I never heard in all my life of any such matter.” For the law is passed, printed, and published, and thou must take knowledge of it. Every man at his own peril must look to it, and if he run in danger of it, it is his own fault: so we may say of the law of God. He hath set it forth to the view of all, and all must make inquiry after it at their uttermost peril,—Attersoll.
(d) Sinners are saved not simply because so much pain and grief have been endured in their stead, but because Christ has performed a great spiritual work on their behalf, and has performed it in the full foresight of all the suffering that would be inseparable from His so doing. It is monstrous to suppose that the Deity could be pleased with mere suffering. It is the spiritual essence in the Atonement that makes it to be what it is to us. It may be accepted as certain, that in the gift of the Son of God we have the brightest manifestation of the love of the Father; and that in the willing humiliation and grief of the Redeemer we have the tenderest revelation of pity towards the evil and unthankful, and at the same time the noblest act of worship ever rendered to the good and the holy. In this sense, it is truly by the sorrows, the death, the cross of Christ that we have salvation. It has been His will to become thus acquainted with grief, and to die—to die the death of the cross—that we might he saved.—Robert Vaughan, D.D.
THE NATURE AND PUNISHMENT OF PRESUMPTUOUS SINS
A very marked difference is recognised between sins of omission and ignorance and sins of presumption; the heinousness of the latter is much greater than of the former. “All unrighteousness is sin;” and all sin is essentially evil; but all sins are not alike evil; the evil of some sins is greater than the evil of others. Moreover the guilt of the same sin may differ greatly when committed by different persons under different circumstances and influences, and with different motives. Attersoll says truly, “There is great difference in the manner of sinning; some sin ignorantly, some willingly (Psalms 19:12-13; 1 Timothy 1:13). Some are principal and ringleaders in the sin, others are only accessories; some are only in thought, others in deed; some offend of malice, some offend of weakness; some commit sin, others, besides this, have pleasure in them that do them (Romans 1:32).” (a) We have now to consider the worst of sins. Notice:—
I. The nature of presumptuous sins.
“But the soul that doeth ought presumptuously,” &c. The marginal rendering, which is correct, gives us an insight into the nature of these sins. “The soul that doeth with an high hand.” To sin “with a high hand” is to sin in a daring spirit and defying manner. Comp. Job 15:25. Presumptuous sins are here represented as involving—
1. Positive breach of the law of God. “He hath broken His commandment.” Very great is the difference between sins of omission unwittingly committed, and sins of commission wilfully committed. The guilt of the latter is very dark.
2. Contempt of the word of God. “He hath despised the word of the Lord.” He despised God’s word of command by disregarding its authority; His word of promise by disregarding its encouragements to obedience; and His word of threatening by setting at nought its design and power to deter from sin.
3. Blasphemy against God Himself. “The same reproacheth” (revileth, or blasphemeth) “the Lord.” “Yes, reproacheth Him: reproacheth His omniscience as if He did not know; reproacheth His holiness as if He did not care; reproacheth His truth as if, having spoken, yet He would not do it; reproacheth His power as if His arm were shortened, and He could not strike! Are we prepared for this cluster of impieties? ‘Lord, keep back Thy servant from presumptuous sins.’ ” (b)
II. The punishment of presumptuous sins.
1. Death. “That soul shall be cut off from among his people; … that soul shall utterly be cut off.” We conclude that these words point to the punishment of death, and not simply to exclusion from the political and religious privileges of the nation, because of—
(1) The solemn force and emphasis of the words themselves; and
(2) The illustration of the operation of the law given in the next paragraph (Numbers 15:32-36). Presumptuous sinners were put to death, in some instances by public execution, and in others by the immediate judgment of God. Persistence in sin leads to worse than bodily death. “The soul that sinneth it shall die.” “Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” (c)
2. Confirmed sinfulness. “His iniquity shall be upon him.” The natural tendency of wilful and daring sin is to harden the heart in its rebellion against God beyond all hope of repentance. Comp. Hebrews 10:26-29. (d)
1. As the guilt of sin differs so also does the punishment. Comp. Matthew 11:22-24; Matthew 23:14; Luke 12:47-48; Hebrews 10:28-29.
2. Let those who have already advanced far in sin turn from their evil ways ere it be too late. You cannot remain stationary. You must either turn from sin to the Saviour, or go on in sin until you become a daring and defiant and hopeless rebel against God. Be warned in time.
3. If we would keep clear of presumptuous sins let us guard against sins of every kind and degree. “Cultivate a holy shrinking from sin in its most unobserved beginnings, and in its least degrees. Sensitiveness to the smallest degree of offending is the true and only security of the Christian. Sin shall never have dominion over him who resists the first putting on of its chains.”
(a) Two persons may commit the same identical crime, yet the guilt may be inconceivably greater in the one case than the other. The one may have had no instruction—no benefit from parental culture—no faithful warnings and admonitions—no holy example to direct and regulate—no warning to restrain—no encouragement to animate in the right path. The other may have been surrounded by all the helps and inducements to right consideration—to holy fear—to correct conduct; and therefore his sin is marked with a far higher degree of aggravation than the other; and thus, in the sight of God, the judge on the bench often may be far more guilty than the criminal at the bar.—Joseph Fletcher, D D.
(b) The final stage of presumptuous sinning is reached when, to the clearest knowledge of the greatness of our sin, and to the most elaborate and carefully-contrived schemes for effecting it, there is added the resoluteness of obstinacy—a dogged and persevering stubbornness in getting our own way, even though, in addition to all the remonstrances of conscience and the Holy Spirit of God, all the aspects of God’s Providence are against us—frowning us back every step we take. A striking illustration of this form of presumption we have in the history of Balaam. We see there a man intent on a scheme for his own aggrandisement. God opposed that scheme. The man keeps tampering with his conscience to get leave to do a wrong thing, till at last God in anger gives him leave. But no sooner does this bad man set out than the frown of God meets him. A mysterious power drives him back. His foot is crushed. His ass falls. Before his opened eyes stands the angel of God, telling him his way is a perverse way, and yet, after a few hollow professions of contrition, he determines to go on. So it is that the transgressor “holdeth fast his iniquity,” and will not let it go. He would break a lance even with an angel in the path of the vineyards. Oh! how often does God make it difficult for us to find opportunities for our besetting sin. The farther we go the more we find our way hedged up with thorns. The difficulties grow upon us like a waking nightmare. And yet with a madness that knows no control, and a hardihood that braves all consequences, we rush upon the thick bosses of the Almighty, and, in an attitude of defiant presumption, stretch out our hands against God.—Daniel Moore, M.A.
(c) The tale of the goblet which the genius of a heathen fashioned was true, and taught a moral of which many a death-bed furnishes the melancholy illustration. Having made the model of a serpent, he fixed it in the bottom of the cup. Coiled for the spring, a pair of gleaming eyes in its head, and in its open mouth fangs raised to strike, it lay beneath the ruby wine. Nor did he who raised the golden cup to quench his thirst, and quaff the delicious draught, suspect what lay below, till, as he reached the dregs, that dreadful head rose up, and glistened before his eyes. So, when life’s cup is nearly emptied, and sin’s last pleasure quaffed, and unwilling lips are draining the bitter dregs, shall rise the ghastly terrors of remorse and death and judgment upon the despairing soul. Be assured, a serpent lurks at the bottom of guilt’s sweetest pleasure.—Thomas Guthrie, D.D.
(d) There is a gravitating power about sins of presumption from which the soul rarely ever rises. Every wilful sin hardens the heart and renders it less accessible to converting influences than it was before. One conquest over the conscience makes way for another, and that for a third, till at length this inward monitor becomes “seared as with a hot iron,” It has neither voice to speak, nor authority to restrain, nor sensibility to feel. Sceptreless, deaf, stifled, gagged, it dies and makes no sign. Thus evil men and wilful sinners wax worse and worse; because the habit of presumptuous sinning, of tampering with conscience, and resisting the Holy Ghost, forecloses against them all the means of their ever getting better.… From transgression to transgression, from lower depth to lower depth, neither heaven nor earth, neither angels nor men have it in charge to interfere—“Ephraim is joined to his idols: let him alone.”—Daniel Moore, M.A.
SINS DANGEROUS AND SINS DEADLY
(Numbers 15:27; Numbers 15:30)
In the text God seeks to impress on all that no sin can be trifled with, because every sin must be atoned for, and then to warn that constant trifling with sin must harden the soul and place it beyond the limits of pardon. The text suggests two thoughts—
I. That there are degrees in sin.
The Lord distinguishes here between sins of ignorance, which might be atoned for, and sins of presumption, for which there could be no atonement. There are degrees in guilt. The same act of sin in two different persons, or in the same person at different times, varies as to guilt. Take any sin—the mere deed is the same in the professing Christian and the man that has been brought up in ignorance and vice, but the degrees of guilt are very different. Guilt is not to be measured by the mere act of the sin; but by the mind that gives birth to it, by the circumstances under which it is done, by the results which follow, &c.
Sins of ignorance are those which are not intentional and deliberate; those resulting from human frailty and thoughtlessness, from lack of watchfulness or courage, &c.
Presumptuous sins are those committed “with a high hand,” deliberately, daringly, against light and conviction and the known commands of God.
Between these two God made a distinction. He did not and could not deal with them alike. He weighs actions; He estimates conduct. His knowledge, wisdom and justice are such that He cannot err, and that no one shall be wronged. There are then degrees in sin; and it is of the utmost importance for all to know and realise this. It will act as a great check on sin. People sometimes say, as an excuse for their sin, that as they have gone wrong they might as well suffer for much as for little. No! it is false. With every sin the man gets worse; sinfulness increases. Sin grows; there is development in it. Every step in sin is a step into greater danger, and leaves less hope of reclamation. Sins of ignorance through trifling and neglect 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. In sinning we trifle with our best interests, and expose ourselves to the greatest danger. While ignorance may excuse, nothing can justify any sin. The text further tells us of sins for which the doer was cut off from among the people. These sins were murder, adultery, swearing, Sabbath breaking, et al. For these there was no pardon. Why? Not because God was not merciful enough to forgive; but because the sinner knew these things to be wrong, and did them in defiance of God. The text gives the reason, “The same reproacheth the Lord,” treats Him with contempt and scorn, and despises His law. And when man gets into that state penitence is impossible, and that being so God will not and cannot forgive. The New Testament teaches the same. We find there that sin was so dangerous as to need the sacrifice of Christ, and it tells us of “a sin which is unto death,” and of “the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, which shall not be forgiven unto men.” We think that this is not any one sin so much as a state of mind that opposes God,—a malicious contempt and wilful rejection of the Gospel. For such the Bible tells us there is no hope; that the “day of grace has closed with them before the day of life.” How is this? Not because God is not ready to pardon, or the sin too great to be forgiven. There is no sin beyond the merits of Christ’s atonement. His blood “cleanseth from all sin.” Why, then? The reason is in the man himself. God forgives only the penitent; it would be neither right nor safe to forgive without penitence. But this man is impenitent; he resists and hates God; he “reproacheth the Lord.” To such a man pardon becomes impossible because penitence has become impossible. God leaves him! What a doom! Let hearers of the Gospel think of it. This doom is possible; and it is possible only in Christian lands, &c. Learn:—
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. Let the sinning one take care. The door of mercy will be closed, and it may be against him.
Are you afraid that you have committed the “sin unto death”? The fear proves that, so far, you have not. If there is pain in the injured limb, it is certain that mortification has not set in; &c. Hasten to Christ at once, while there is hope. Out of Him man is ever in danger.—David Lloyd.
We desire to warn you against presumption. The Psalmist prays to be cleansed from secret faults, and kept back from presumptuous sins. Our text and the context indicate the heinousness and fearful consequences of this kind of evil. Yet we fear that sins of this kind are awfully prevalent. Let us notice—
I. What presumption includes. It signifies—
1. Boldness in evil. Sinning without fear. Hardihood, daring, 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. Blasphemies of the Divine name, &c. All cursing and defying God. As in the case of Pharaoh:—“Who is the Lord?” &c.
4. Confidence of escape from the threatenings of God. This is one of the chief elements of presumption. Not dreading nor caring for consequences, &c.
II. The chief causes of presumption.
1. Spiritual ignorance. Blindness of mind, &c. Ignorance of self and God. It is the offspring of darkness.
2. Recklessness and inconsideration.
Do not reflect. Do not consider the claims of God or man. The grandeur of Jehovah, and the guilty worm. The holy law, and man’s criminality.
3. Confirmed unbelief, giving no credit to the Word. Its revelations, of threatenings, &c.
4. Hardness of heart. This is both a cause and a result. It makes men presumptuous. Presumption increases it.
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, waiting, 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).
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.—Jabez Burns, D.D.
THE SIN AND PUNISHMENT OF THE SABBATH-BREAKER
This event is recorded here as an illustration of presumptuous sin and its punishment. Notice:—
I. The sin committed.
This man violated the law of the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8-11) by gathering sticks on that day. Looking at the mere act it seems a very small sin indeed, and the punishment seems utterly disproportioned to the sin; but in estimating the moral quality of an action much has to be taken into account in addition to the mere act. Thus in the present case, in order to form a correct judgment it is necessary to consider—
1. The solemn urgency with which the violated command is enforced in the Sacred Scriptures. See Exodus 16:22-30; Exodus 20:8-11; Exodus 31:13-17; Exodus 35:1-3; Leviticus 23:3; Leviticus 26:2; Deuteronomy 5:12-15. The first incontrovertible institution of the Sabbath amongst the Israelites is recorded in Exodus 16:23-29. Shortly afterwards, at the giving of the Law, “it was re-enacted in the Fourth Commandment, which,” as Mr. Garden points out, “gave it a rank above that of an ordinary law, making it one of the signs of the Covenant. As such it remained together with the Passover, the two forming the most solemn and distinctive features of Hebrew religious life. Its neglect or profanation ranked foremost among national sins; the renewed observance of it was sure to accompany national reformation.” The importance attached to the keeping of the Sabbath in subsequent times appears from Isaiah 58:13-14; Jeremiah 17:21-27; Ezekiel 20:12-24; Nehemiah 10:31; Nehemiah 13:15-22.
2. The relation of the violated command to the Lord God.
(1) The day was consecrated to God; it was dedicated to His honour; its violation, therefore, involved reproach to Him. “The holy Sabbath unto the Lord;” “the Sabbath of rest holy to the Lord;” “the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God;” thus the observance of the day is bound up with His honour.
(2) The day was a memorial of their emancipation from Egypt; its violation, therefore, involved ingratitude to God, their Emancipator (Deuteronomy 5:15). So that he who wilfully broke the Sabbath reproached the Lord.
3. The beneficence of the violated command. The beneficent character of the institution is unmistakably clear in the version of it given in Deuteronomy 5:12-15. Its design and tendency are to promote human well-being, by securing to man a regularly recurring season of bodily rest and opportunity of spiritual culture. The day of rest has been well compared to “the green oasis, the little grassy meadow in the wilderness, where after the week-days’ journey the pilgrim halts for refreshment and repose; where he rests beneath the shade of the lofty palm trees, and dips his vessel in the waters of the calm, clear stream, and recovers his strength to go forth again upon his pilgrimage in the desert with renewed vigour and cheerfulness.”
4. The wilfulness of the violation of the command. This man certainly knew the law; the manner in which the manna was bestowed was a regular reminder of it; he could not have been ignorant of the penalty of breaking the law (Exodus 31:14-15); yet he breaks it. He sins knowingly, wilfully, “with a high hand;” and in accordance with the law which he had broken, he is put to death for his sin. So we see that his sin was not a small or slight one, but one of great heinousness.
II. The punishment inflicted upon the sinner.
He was stoned to death. Three points deserve notice:—
1. The case was dealt with in an orderly and becoming manner. The man was taken in the very act of gathering sticks, he was then brought before Moses and Aaron and the whole congregation, i.e., “the college of elders, as the judicial authorities of the congregation” (Exodus 18:25-26). Death had been assigned as the penalty of the transgression (Exodus 31:14-15; Exodus 35:2); but it had not been determined by what mode the transgressor should be put to death; he was therefore kept in custody until the next day, in order that Moses might consult the Lord on that point. Comp. Leviticus 24:12. There was nothing rash or disorderly in the procedure in the case.
2. The punishment was ordered by God. “And the Lord said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death;” &c. Both the penalty itself and the mode of inflicting it were declared by the Lord to Moses.
3. The punishment was calculated to deter others from the sin. This was probably the design in calling upon the people to stone him: “All the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp. And all the congregation brought him,” &c. This would be likely to impress them deeply with the enormity of the sin and the severity of the punishment, and to awaken within them a wholesome fear of the offence.
1. Here is solemn warning to those who attend to moral duties, but neglect religion. There are some who strive to obey the commands of the second table of the Law, but disregard those of the first. The violations of the commands of the first table are directly against God Himself, and they will not go unpunished. The man who neglects worship dwarfs and degrades his own soul, &c.
2. The essential element in the law of the Sabbath is of perpetual obligation. Several non-essentials have been altered, or have passed away; e.g., instead of observing the seventh, we observe the first day of the week; instead of reckoning the day from sunset to sunset, we reckon it from midnight to midnight; and many things as to the mode of its observance have passed away. But the spirit and substance of the law is as binding now as ever it was. Worship for the soul and rest for the body are two of the deepest needs of man. The institution of the Sabbath is designed to meet these needs. “The Sabbath was made for man,” and man cannot do without it. “Eternal as the constitution of the soul of man, is the necessity for the existence of a day of rest.” The proportion also, one day in seven, is of perpetual obligation. “One day in ten, prescribed by revolutionary France, was actually pronounced by physiologists insufficient.” No man can set at nought this ordinance of God without inflicting upon himself sore loss and injury.
Whatever Divine commands Moses gave the Israelites, he communicated to them their grounds. When he gave them the law of the Jewish Sabbath he gave them along with it its basis, that is, the revelation of God’s Sabbath. At the time of the Israelitish captivity in Egypt we find not a trace of the Sabbath. It was a new thing when Moses gave it by God’s command as a law unto the Israelites; and he made it the seal of a covenant which marked them out from other nations. On what did it rest? It rested upon something greater than mere human will, or even Divine will, and that something was an eternal necessity of man’s nature, derived from a similar necessity in the nature of his Maker. And this is the only ground on which our obligation to keep the Sabbath day can rest. We cannot place it on the ground of the Mosaic law.
We have abrogated almost all that belonged to the Sabbath day. We have taken away “every manner of work.” We have changed many other important particulars. From sunset to sunset we have altered to from midnight to midnight. And then instead of “the seventh day,” we have left only this “one day in seven;” and the sceptical mind requires some proof of the moral obligation of keeping one day without work when we have admitted all the rest of the covenant to be ceremonial. We must take higher ground, and tell the doubter that there is an eternal necessity for the recurring Sabbath. It is just on this, only on this perpetual necessity of a Sabbath, that our observance of the Sabbath must be founded, in this requirement of physical rest by our nature, in the fact also that it is only by means of these stated returns of particular seasons that man can, in rest from temporal concerns, fix his attention on his Maker.
There is a further necessity for a similar outward form in the mode of worship on the Sabbath, which illustrates the primal necessity of having a day set apart. Thoughtful men have often asked why they cannot go out and have their worship in the great temple of the universe. The man who argues so knows not his own nature. There is a temple of God’s universe, and those who deny it forget a grand spiritual truth; but the feeling gained in this temple of God is one thing, that gained in the church of God is another. We may in like manner worship God all the week, but the emotion of worship on the Sabbath when we lay aside work is different from the emotions felt towards God in the midst of work.—F. W. Robertson, M.A.
Although I think that the whole law is done away with, so far as it is the law given on Mount Sinai, yet as far as it is the law of the Spirit I hold it to be all binding; and believing that our need of a Lord’s-day is as great as ever it was, and that, therefore, its observance is God’s will, and is likely as far as we can see, to be so to the end of time, I should think it mischievous to weaken the respect paid to it.—Dr. Arnold.
Religion has been the basis, the mother, the nurse of the English day of rest. It has sprung out of deep convictions of the sacredness of life, the holiness of law, the certainty of judgment, and the prospect of heaven.… The English Sunday will not be preserved without the continued operation of this religious principle. The love of money will be stronger than the love of rest. Competition can wage successful battles with anything short of conscience; God knows that it often avails to conquer this. But religious convictions are stronger, more widely spread, more deeply penetrating than any notion of conventional right, than any laws of a shallow expediency. If you try, if the nation tries, if a few noisy talkers try, to found the sanctity of the Sabbath on the advantage of recreation,—rational or irrational,—there will be very soon an end of its sacredness altogether. Let Sunday become the day on which ordinary travelling for recreation takes place,—and it will occupy tens of thousands of hands, who will find that day, as many do on the continent of Europe, the hardest and most laborious of the seven. Let recreation and amusement be the main reasons upon which you ask for the preservation of this day of rest, and you will have it invaded at every point. Let us be distinctly forewarned, that if the great use of a Sunday is a holiday; if we have no deeper reason than the relaxation of our physical energies; no other attraction than that which music, or fresh air, or public amusement may afford; we are destroying the great safeguard of the day, we are running in danger of being robbed altogether of a sacred and invaluable right. To reduce our English Sunday to the level of a Continental or pleasure-taking Sunday, would be to deprive the people of England of their birthright, to hand labour, more than ever, into the power of capital, and to open the door along which all kinds of toil must, as in other countries, infallibly follow.…
In the name of your own rights, by reason of your own need, out of regard to the obvious necessities of the case, and in view of the experience of all Europe, beware how you trifle with the conscience, the religious spirit, the Christian consecration, the holy safeguards, of what, even in spite of yourselves, is blessing you.—H. R. Reynolds, D.D.
Experience tells us, after a trial, that those Sundays are the happiest, the purest, the most rich in blessing, in which the spiritual part has been most attended to;—those in which the business letter was put aside till evening, and the profane literature not opened, and the ordinary occupations entirely suspended;—those in which as in the temple of Solomon, the sound of the earthly hammer has not been heard in the temple of the soul: for this is, in fact, the very distinction between the spirit of the Jewish Sabbath and the spirit of the Christian Lord’s-day. The one is chiefly for the body—“Thou shalt do no manner of work.” The other is principally for the soul—“I was in the spirit on the Lord’s-day.”—F. W. Robertson, M.A.
THE SABBATH-BREAKER AND HIS DOOM
Here is another arrangement for the exposition of this paragraph:—
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.
1. The moral element in the Law of the Sabbath is of perpetual obligation. We still need 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.
THE ORDINANCE OF THE FRINGES: GRACIOUS REMINDERS OR DIVINE COMMANDS
(Numbers 15:37; Numbers 15:41)
In previous paragraphs we have had legislation concerning sins of ignorance and of presumption; in this paragraph we have an institution designed to prevent sins of ignorance—sins committed unwittingly—by keeping before the eyes of the people reminders of the commands of God, and of their duty in relation to them. The Israelites are commanded to wear fringes or tassels, &c. (See Explanatory Notes on Numbers 15:38). This institution is not binding upon us, but it contains important instruction for us. Consider—
I. The proneness of man to forget “the commandments of the Lord.”
This is clearly implied in this ordinance. The counteraction of this proneness is the design of the ordinance. This tendency to lose sight of the commands of God arises from—
1. The sinfulness of human nature. Unless we are renewed by the Spirit of God we naturally “wander after our own heart and our own eyes.” The commandments of the Lord are opposed to many of the desires and purposes of the human heart; and we are not anxious to bear in mind that which clashes with our wishes, and rebukes us for much of our life and conduct. Men do not remember the commands of God because they do not want to remember them. Comp. Psalms 77:10-11; Psalms 106:13; Romans 1:28.
2. The wordly spirit which so largely prevails in human society. In the conduct of trade, as a rule we fear, men do not ask if their practices accord with the laws of God, but if they accord with the usages of trade or profession. In social relations to a very large extent men are not governed by the commands of God, but by the requirements of the society in which they move. The first and the supreme inquiry is not. Is this right? but, Is this expedient? or, popular? or, Will it pay?
In this way “the commandments of the Lord” are overlooked, or cast aside. “Our memories,” says Trapp, “are like strainers, nets, grates, that let the pure water run away, but retain mud, trash, &c. It is with us as with those in Psalms 106:13, ‘they soon forgat His works,’ &c., and therefore we have need of all good helps.”
II. The arrangements which God has made to remind man of His commandments.
“Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes,” &c. These fringes “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.… If they were tempted to sin, the fringe would be a monitor to them not to break God’s commandments; if a duty was forgotten to be done in its season, the fringe would remind them of it.” Notice—
1. The means which God employs to remind us of His commandments.
(1) The Bible. In this He not only reveals His will concerning us, but illustrates and enforces it in various ways so that we might not forget it.
(2) The Holy Spirit. He influences our spirits; speaks in us by means of conscience, &c.
(3) Holy examples. In these the will of God is “drawn out in living characters.”
(4) Warning examples of the evil consequences of overlooking His commands. These witness to us that it is perilous to forget the Divine will, and admonish us against doing so. (a)
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. The grand end of God’s dealings with us is that we may be holy unto Him. He seeks to bind us to Himself in hearty loyalty. (b)
III. The grounds upon which God requires from us this recollection of, and obedience to His commands.
“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.” Here are two reasons for His claims upon us:
1. His personal relation to us. He is the Lord our God. He alone is the rightful Sovereign of our being. He is our Creator, the Supremely Great, the Supremely Good, and His claim upon our loyal obedience is incontrovertible.
2. His gracious doings for us. “I brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God.” What has He not done for us? He has redeemed us from a captivity immeasurably worse than that of Israel in Egypt; and that at an immense cost (1 Peter 1:18-19). He sustains us in being, enriches our life with many blessings, and opens out to us the most inviting and inspiring prospects. We cannot overlook His claims upon us without base ingratitude.
Be it ours with diligence and prayerfulness to endeavour to do all God’s commandments, and to be holy unto Him. (c)
(a) The gracious provisions of the Christian dispensation do not encourage, but discourage sinning.… We often sin through ignorance—the Christian dispensation enlightens us as to sin; shows us what God thinks of our transgressions; what God feels about them; what an evil and a bitter thing it is to sin against God. We sin through carelessness—the Christian dispensation makes us serious concerning sin. Who can look at the cross of Christ, and believe that He who is suspended on that cross is dying there on account of sin, and not be serious about sin? We sin through moral deadness—the Christian dispensation inspires us with life. It is a ministration by which the living God seeks to restore life to us. We sin on sometimes through despair—the Christian dispensation fills us with hope. Men say sometimes, when they have soak very low, It is of no use trying to rise up out of this horrible pit, and to extricate myself from this miry clay. But, looking at redemption, we see that no man need ever sin through despair; on the contrary the Christian dispensation fills us with hope. We sin often through feverishness and through restlessness of spirit—the Christian dispensation imparts peace, restores quiet to our distracted nature, and keeps the heart and mind in that holy quiet. We sin through weakness—the Christian dispensation imparts power. We sin by the force of evil motives—the Christian dispensation changes our motives; so that if any man be in Christ he is a now creature; out things have passed away, and all things have become new. The Christian dispensation does not encourage sin, but discourages it.—Samuel Martin.
(b) Throughout the Old Testament the holiness of God is made a sufficient, yea, the highest reason, why those who recognised this fact and this perfection of His nature should be holy too. God had revealed His holiness to Israel; and He wished them to consider it the “beauty” of His nature.… We have the sublime, the supernatural spectacle of an obscure tribe of men, who recognised no other God than their “Holy One,” who were distinguished from all other nations by being separated from sin, and who felt that nothing short of holiness befitted “the house of their God.” “The High and Lofty One who inhabited eternity” bore in their creed a mighty name: it was no other than this, “Holy;” and no worship could be acceptable in His sight, no rites could lift the soul heavenwards, which were not holy. As their God was distinguished from all other gods by the dazzling holiness of His nature, so they were to be distinguished from all other people by their purity, their moral excellence, their resemblance to Him. The new relation in which they found that they were standing to the Holy God, the obligations under which He had placed them, the gratitude that He could claim from their hearts, the attraction of His love, the human cords, the loving hands by which He drew them to Himself, all insisted upon their holiness; and so we find it written in the Law of Moses, “I am the Lord your God; therefore shall ye sanctify yourselves;” and, “Ye shall be holy, for I am holy;” “I am the Lord your God, that brought you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God; ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” And again, “Sanctify yourselves, and be ye holy, for I am the Lord your God, and ye shall keep My statutes and do them; I am the Lord that doth sanctify you.” Again we find it written, “Ye shall be holy unto Me, for I the Lord am holy, and have severed you from other people, that ye should be Mine.” Israel was taught to “Give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness,” to “Glory in His holy name, to exalt the Lord God, and worship at His holy hill,” because “The Lord God was holy.” The Psalmist and the prophets, like the pillars in the temple of their God, all palpitate with the light of His holiness, and are moved with the voice of the seraphs’ song; they are dark with this excessive brightness, and by the holy service that they rendered shed on mankind the luminous principle, that the holiness of God is the chief reason for the holiness of man.—H. R. Reynolds, D.D.
(c) Much of the beauty of holiness lies in little things. Microscopic holiness is the perfection of excellence: if a life will bear examination in each hour of it, it is pure indeed. Those who are not careful about their words, and even their thoughts, will soon grow careless concerning their more notable actions. Those who tolerate sin in what they think to be little things, will soon indulge it in greater matters. To live by the day and to watch each step, is the true pilgrimage method. More lies in the careful noting of every single act than careless minds can well imagine. Be this then your prayer: “Lord, direct my morning thoughts, that the step out of my chamber into the world may be taken in Thy fear. At my table keep me in Thy presence; behind my counter, or in my field, or wherever else I may be, suffer me not to grieve Thy Spirit by any evil; and when I come to lie down at night, let the action (which seemeth so indifferent) of casting myself upon my pillow, be performed with a heart that loveth Thee; so that I shall be prepared to be with Thee, if wakeful during the night.” This brief prayer, “Order my steps,” teaches us attention to the minutiæ of life; may we have grace to learn the lesson.—C. H. Spurgeon.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Numbers 15". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20