Study Notes

Numbers 15:1-16:50

15:1-2 When You Enter

The children of Israel had gotten to the border of the promised land. It was time to enter in and take hold of it. But in fear and doubt, the people insisted on spies going in. When the spies came back, they said, "Look, the fruit of the land is huge, but the people of the land are even bigger!"

The people fearfully and faithlessly said,

Num. 14:2-4 ..."Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! And why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?" So they said to one another, "Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt."

God judged them for this sin of faithless fear. He said, "It's going to happen just like you said - you will die in this wilderness over the next 40 years. But your children will enter into the promised land."

The people were greatly saddened - they repented of their faithlessness, but unfortunately, their newfound faith was not faith in God, but rather faith in their own faith! In spite of Moses' warnings, they entered the land and went to do battle with the Amelekites and the Canaanites. But God was not with them, and many of them were killed. We talked last week about the folly of having faith in your faith, rather than faith in God. No matter how much faith you have, you will never force God to do something against His will or against His Word.

But now the Lord says, "Moses, tell the Israelites, WHEN you enter the land..." Their foolishness had not destroyed God's plan or His promise. The people would still enter the land, in spite of this crushing defeat.

(15:3-21) Offerings

Then God goes on to describe the various offerings that the people are to offer when they do enter the land - burnt offerings, freewill offerings, grain offerings, etc.

While these verse do contain some additional information, for the most part we covered these in detail back in the beginning studies of Leviticus.

15:22-29 Sinning Unintentionally

God here specifically says that if you accidentally didn't observe a commandment regarding these sacrifices, He made provision for that sin - you could offer this offering to make atonement.

15:30-31 Sinning Defiantly

But for a person who willfully, defiantly, and rebelliously sinned, there was no provision made. The word translated "defiantly" means "with a high hand." The people had gone out with a high hand in Exodus

Exod. 14:8 And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and he chased after the sons of Israel as the sons of Israel were going out boldly.

That word "boldly" is the same phrase, "with a high hand." So what does it mean to have a high hand? Raising your fist in the air - being defiant, angry, basically thumbing your nose at someone. So if someone sinned in that manner against God's commandments, that person would be completely cut off from his people - killed for their sin.

15:32-36 A Man Gathering Wood On The Sabbath

At first, this seems like a terribly harsh punishment for picking up sticks on a certain day of the week. But when we read it in context with the previous ten verses, we understand.

God had said loud and clear,

Exod. 31:15 'For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the LORD; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall surely be put to death."

This man gathering the wood knew that. If not, he would've been allowed to make atonement for it. But he willfully, disobediently, rebelliously, shook his fist at God's Word and God Himself, and worked on the sabbath day. He was collecting wood with a high hand, as it were.

This inevitably brings up questions about Christians and the sabbath.

Exod. 31:12-17 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, "But as for you, speak to the sons of Israel, saying, 'You shall surely observe My sabbaths; for {this} is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you. Therefore you are to observe the sabbath, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the LORD; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall surely be put to death. So the sons of Israel shall observe the sabbath, to celebrate the sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant.' It is a sign between Me and the sons of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased {from labor,} and was refreshed."

Their observance of it is a sign that the Israelis are God's chosen people. It was not a sign for others to see, but for themselves to be reminded that the Lord had set them apart.

Does this law apply to Christians? Well, certainly, we need a day of rest every week. But because we are not Jews, this specific day does not apply to us - it is not a sign between the church and the Lord, but the Jews and the Lord. Paul wrote in Romans 14,

Rom. 14:4-6 Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One man regards one day above another, another regards every day {alike.} Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.

And to the Colossians, he wrote,

Col. 2:16-17 Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day - things which are a {mere} shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.

Don't let anyone judge you on the fact that you are mowing your lawn on Saturday, or worse yet, that you go to a church on Sunday instead of Saturday. They are free to worship on Saturday if they wish - as a matter of fact, that turns into a blessing for us, having now rented the 7th Day Adventist church building for Sunday services!

However, as you defend your rights as a Christian not to observe the Sabbath, remember that God created your body on a seven day cycle which must include one day of rest.

15:37-41 Tassels On The Corners Of Their Garments

God now directs the people to make tassels on the corners of their garments (with one blue cord) to remind them of all the commandments of the Lord. Even the Israeli flag contains two stripes of blue as a reminder.

But unfortunately, like so many of the commandments, over time the people turned it into at best mindless ritual, and at worst prideful self-exaltation. Remember Jesus' accusation against the scribes and Pharisees:

Matt. 23:5 "...They do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries, and lengthen the tassels {of their garments.}

Today's version is the WWJD bracelet. Originally conceived as a reminder for the wearer to ask themselves in every situation, "What Would Jesus Do," it has plummeted down to the ranks of Christian fashion statement, for many, it is a mindless display by people who take no thought as to their actions.

16:1-3 Korah's Rebellion

KO-rakh, Daw-THAWN, and Ab-ee-RAWM, along with 250 leaders of Israel, rose up against Moses' authority. They said, "The Lord is among us all. He's called all of us holy. Why do you get to be the big cheese around here?"

16:4-7 Moses' Response

C. H. Mackintosh writes, "It is always a most critical moment in the history of an assembly when a spirit of disaffection displays itself, for if it be not met in the right way, the most disastrous consequences are sure to follow."

Moses could have run away. He could have called those on his side to arms and killed the men. He could have split the congregation. But Moses was a humble man, and a prayerful man. Instead of getting in Korah's face, he fell on his face.

It's a fact of life - whenever you have sinners gathering together, you're going to end up having problems. Some people will be whiners and complainers, some people will be divisive and rebellious. It is so important for the congregation's spiritual leadership to deal with the situation in a godly manner.

Moses entrusted himself to the Lord saying, "Tomorrow, the Lord will demonstrate who's who around here."

He tells them that tomorrow, they are to put fire and incense in their censers - God will demonstrably choose who is holy.

16:8-11 Is It Not Enough?

Remember, as a Levite of the clan of Kohath, Korah was one of the ones who was working in the tent of meeting. He was basically just one step below a priest. But Korah wasn't content with that position - he wanted to be elevated, he wanted to be powerful. This is reminiscent of the Corinthian church. Remember Paul's admonition to them:

1Cor. 12:14-18 For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I am not {a part} of the body," it is not for this reason any the less {a part} of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I am not {a part} of the body," it is not for this reason any the less {a part} of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.

This is very much like the situation we saw with Miriam in chapter 12 - someone who was used by God that wanted a bigger piece of the pie, more power and influence, who didn't like the fact that God had chosen someone else for the "good" job.

That is unfortunately the way people see the visible ministry. The leader of the congregation is perceived as having the good job, being in the popular position. But what many don't see is the tears, the rebellions, the grumblings, the hours of work, and the difficulties.

Miriam and Korah wanted the popularity without the difficulty. Had either of them truly wanted to minister, they could have ministered to millions in the place that God called them to serve.

16:12-15 Dathan And Abiram's Refusal

When Moses called for Dathan and Abiram, they just out and out refused to come. They accuse Moses of leading them into the wilderness, which in fact God did. They accuse Moses of causing their deaths in the wilderness, when in fact it was their own unbelief and sin. They accuse Moses of lording his authority over them when in reality, Moses was the most humble man on the entire earth. Then they accuse Moses of planning to cause them injury for rejecting his authority.

Moses has had just about enough of these false accusations. He prays, "Lord, you know I'm not guilty of any of these accusations. When they offer up their incense tomorrow, don't regard it!"

16:16-22 Moses' Intercession

When the censers are lit, and everyone is in front of the tabernacle, God appears and says, "Moses and Aaron, stand back, 'cause I'm going to burn up the entire congregation." But in keeping with his character, Moses intercedes. He says, "Lord, don't hold everyone responsible for the sins of these men."

16:23-27 Get Back

God tells the people to get away from the dwellings of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, or else they'd be swept away in their sin. This is true today as well. When you go to someone's house for dinner, and they start complaining about this pastor, or that church, or this Sunday School teacher, get out. Because God will judge that, and if you remain and buy into it, you'll be caught in that as well.

16:28-35 Korah's Destruction

God's judgment was swift and obvious. Jude uses Korah as an example of someone who was judged by God for his rebellion against spiritual authority.

Jude 8-11 Yet in the same manner these men, also by dreaming, defile the flesh, and reject authority, and revile angelic majesties. But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, "The Lord rebuke you." But these men revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed. Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah.

Korah's name will eternally be synonymous with rebellion.

16:36-40 Plating The Altar

El-aw-ZAWR, one of the two priests, is directed to hammer down the censers that were used in the rebellion, and then plated the altar of incense with them. Why did God direct this? As a reminder to any who entered the tabernacle to light incense: You must be a priest from the line of Aaron, or else you're gonna be smoked!

16:41-50 The People's Rebellion

Once again, the people blame Moses for what he did not do, and he intercedes for what they do not deserve.

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