Numbers 15 Study Notes


15:1-41 This chapter consists of three units that address important matters issuing from the rebellious acts in chaps. 11-14: land, sinfulness, and the need to remember God and his revelation.

15:2 When you enter the land clearly implies that God would bring the second generation into the land he had promised Abraham and Moses.

15:3-13 A fire offering presented in celebration stands in contrast to the destructive fire of God depicted in 11:1-4. The book of Leviticus focuses on the animal sacrifices and the manner in which they were offered, while Nm 15 and 28-29 emphasize the produce of the land—grain, oil, and wine—that the Lord would provide for faithful Israel. The consecration offering described in Lv 1 in which the entire offering was consumed by fire on the altar is the burnt offering. This form of dedication typically followed the sin offering that was given to restore one’s relationship with God through atonement and purification. The sacrifice, to fulfill a vow and the fellowship offering were forms of communion offering, designed to celebrate the relationship with God among the community of faith. Out of those blessings the people would bring offerings from the produce of the land in celebration of the Lord’s goodness and miraculous works in history, commemorated in the appointed festivals: Passover, Pentecost, and Shelters. Numbers 15:1-21 complements Lv 1-3 with details about the amounts and proportions of grain, oil, and wine that were supplements to the normal offerings.

15:14-16 Sacrificial requirements were the same for native Israelites and foreign residents who wanted to identify with the Israelite faith and submit to the authority of the Torah. Faith for Israel was not limited to the descendants of the sons of Jacob. This issue complements the “mixed crowd” who departed Egypt with them (Ex 12:38), and it also follows the tradition of Nm 9:14 with regard to the alien who resides with you celebrating Passover; see vv. 29-30.

15:17-21 The first batch of dough, a form of firstfruits offering, was dedicated to the Lord in celebration of the abundant produce from the land. During the harvest of barley and wheat in the spring—the season of Passover, Unleavened Bread, and Pentecost—the firstfruit grain offering was presented to God. Even the mundane daily practice of kneading dough for making bread was to be a time of worship and celebration of God’s goodness (1Co 10:31). According to Nm 18:11-16, all firstfruits and products offered in devotion to the Lord were given to the priests to support their services to the community.

15:22-23 Unintentional sins included matters in which the individual or community acted unknowingly in breaking a legal stipulation or in failing to perform certain ritual requirements.

15:24-29 If someone or a group of people sinned unintentionally without the community’s awareness, the priest was obligated to make a sin offering and a burnt offering on behalf of the entire congregation. The requirement for an individual was a year-old female goat for such offenses. Leviticus 4:1-5:19 provides several examples of these unintentional sins.

15:30-31 In the textual backdrop of Israel’s rejection of God and the promised land, the matter of willful defiance of God’s word is raised. When a person acted defiantly in breaking the covenant relationship, that person blasphemed the Lord and defamed his righteous reputation. The penalty was either capital punishment or permanent banishment from the community of faith.

15:32-36 The defiant breaking of the law of God is exemplified by an Israelite who performed work on the Sabbath. . . . Gathering wood would have been included, but Ex 35:3 specifically mentions lighting a fire. The Sabbath was a sign of the Mosaic covenant, so the breaking of it would mean the rejection of the covenant relationship with God. Permitting such behavior would be dangerous to the whole people, especially at this critical juncture in Israelite history.

15:37-39 The instructions in this verse were about the outward symbol for reminding the people of their covenant faith—the blue corded tassels attached to the corners of their garments (Dt 22:12). This practice was followed in the time of Jesus and remains a tradition among orthodox Jews today.

15:40 The words this way you will remember and obey all my commands provide a parallel to the phraseology of chaps. 1-10: that the people or Moses did according to all that the Lord commanded.

15:41 The declaration I am the Lord your God resonates with covenant overtones, calling to mind the initial words of Moses’s encounter with God in Ex 6:2-8 and the introduction to the Ten Commandments in Ex 20:2.