Numbers 15
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

The chapter contains a miscellaneous collection of priestly laws on five different subjects:

(a) Numbers 15:1-16. The proper meal-offerings and libations which should accompany burnt- and peace-offerings.

(b) Numbers 15:17-21. The contribution of the ‘first of ‘arîsôth.’

(c) Numbers 15:22-31. Propitiatory offerings for inadvertent transgressions.

(d) Numbers 15:32-36. The penalty for working on the Sabbath.

(e) Numbers 15:37-41. The tassels to be worn at the corners of garments.

And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
1–16. Meal-offerings and Libations. These are to accompany both private and public sacrifices, and are arranged according to a fixed scale as follows (ephah = c. 1 bushel; hin = c. 1½ gallon):

  Meal.  Oil.  Wine.

With every lamb  1/10 ephah.  ¼ hin.  ¼ hin.

With every ram  2/10 ephah  ⅓ hin.  ⅓ hin.

With every bullock  3/10 ephah.  ½ hin.  ½ hin.

It will be seen that the amount in each case varies according to the size of the animal. Ezekiel, in his ideal arrangements for worship in the restored Jerusalem, has a similar scale (Ezekiel 46:5-7; Ezekiel 46:11; Ezekiel 46:14), but the amounts are larger, they are not graduated so carefully with respect to the size of the animal, and the libation of wine is not included. The present scale appears to be a later modification of Ezekiel’s.

But while the fixing of definite amounts was probably a late development, the practice of offering meal, oil and wine as an accompaniment of sacrifice was ancient. Men offered to their God the same food which they enjoyed at their own table; cf. Jdg 9:9; Jdg 9:13 (oil and wine), 1 Samuel 1:24; 1 Samuel 10:3 (meal and wine), Hosea 9:4 (wine), Micah 6:7 (oil). Leviticus 2 (P ) contains regulations for meal-offerings, without fixed amounts, but with the addition of salt and frankincense.

Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come into the land of your habitations, which I give unto you,
And will make an offering by fire unto the LORD, a burnt offering, or a sacrifice in performing a vow, or in a freewill offering, or in your solemn feasts, to make a sweet savour unto the LORD, of the herd, or of the flock:
3. an offering by fire] A general term covering every kind of offering that was consumed on the altar. The next words define the two species of these offerings with which the section deals, i.e. burnt- and peace-offerings, after which are mentioned the different occasions (private and public) on which the peace-offerings might be presented.

a sacrifice] This, as distinguished from the burnt-offering, means the peace-offering, of which the worshipper and priest partook. See on Numbers 6:14.

a sweet savour] a soothing odour. The expression had its origin in far-off days when the deity was supposed to be soothed or placated by the actual smell of the sacrificial smoke. In Genesis 8:21 (J ), the only Biblical occurrence of the words earlier than Ezekiel, there is a trace of the primitive conception.

Then shall he that offereth his offering unto the LORD bring a meat offering of a tenth deal of flour mingled with the fourth part of an hin of oil.
And the fourth part of an hin of wine for a drink offering shalt thou prepare with the burnt offering or sacrifice, for one lamb.
Or for a ram, thou shalt prepare for a meat offering two tenth deals of flour mingled with the third part of an hin of oil.
And for a drink offering thou shalt offer the third part of an hin of wine, for a sweet savour unto the LORD.
7. the drink-offering] The wine was offered as a libation to God by being poured out. Whether it was poured on the sacrifice, or, as in later times, at the foot of the altar (Sir 50:15), is uncertain,

And when thou preparest a bullock for a burnt offering, or for a sacrifice in performing a vow, or peace offerings unto the LORD:
Then shall he bring with a bullock a meat offering of three tenth deals of flour mingled with half an hin of oil.
And thou shalt bring for a drink offering half an hin of wine, for an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the LORD.
Thus shall it be done for one bullock, or for one ram, or for a lamb, or a kid.
According to the number that ye shall prepare, so shall ye do to every one according to their number.
All that are born of the country shall do these things after this manner, in offering an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the LORD.
13. homeborn] i.e. native Israelites.

And if a stranger sojourn with you, or whosoever be among you in your generations, and will offer an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the LORD; as ye do, so he shall do.
14. a stranger] a sojourner. For this word and the ‘homeborn,’ see on Numbers 9:14.

or whosoever be among you] This appears to mean one who is residing in the land but has not been granted the definite status of a gêr or ‘sojourner.’ Some, with less probability, understand it of a foreigner who is staying temporarily with Israelites.

throughout your generations] i.e. at any future time.

One ordinance shall be both for you of the congregation, and also for the stranger that sojourneth with you, an ordinance for ever in your generations: as ye are, so shall the stranger be before the LORD.
15. For the assembly] As for the assembly. The subst. is (so to speak) a nominative absolute. It is a general term for the whole of the privileged community, consisting of true Israelites and sojourners.

One law and one manner shall be for you, and for the stranger that sojourneth with you.
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
17–21. The offering of ‘the first of ‘arîsôth.’ The law deals with some species of meal-offering. But the meaning of ‘arîsôth (R.V. ‘dough,’ marg. ‘coarse meal’) is obscure. It occurs elsewhere only in Ezekiel 44:30, Nehemiah 10:37. A similar word ‘arsân in Talmudic writings denotes ‘a porridge or paste made from the meal of barley or wheat,’ which was said to be good for invalids and infants.

Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye come into the land whither I bring you,
Then it shall be, that, when ye eat of the bread of the land, ye shall offer up an heave offering unto the LORD.
19. an heave-offering] a contribution. See on Numbers 15:9.

Ye shall offer up a cake of the first of your dough for an heave offering: as ye do the heave offering of the threshingfloor, so shall ye heave it.
20. the first of your dough] The word rç’shîth ‘the first’ need not necessarily mean ‘first-fruits,’ which were offered annually. It may be simply ‘the first part,’ i.e. a small fixed amount, perhaps at the getting in of each fresh supply for the household.

Of the first of your dough ye shall give unto the LORD an heave offering in your generations.
And if ye have erred, and not observed all these commandments, which the LORD hath spoken unto Moses,
22–26. Errors of the whole congregation. No detailed instances are given; but such errors might consist in some mistake or omission in ritual, or some miscarriage of justice discovered too late; or the error might not be traceable, but the occurrence of some public catastrophe or trouble would be assumed to be a divine punishment for a mistake which had been committed.

22–31. Propitiation for inadvertent transgressions—(a) Numbers 15:22-36 committed by the congregation as a whole; (b) Numbers 15:27-29 by individuals. To these is added the provision that deliberate transgressions cannot be atoned for (Numbers 15:30-31). Another set of laws relating to inadvertent transgressions, apparently dating from a different period, is found in Leviticus 4, Leviticus 5; it is more elaborate, dealing with four classes of persons—the high priest, the congregation, a prince, and a private individual.

Even all that the LORD hath commanded you by the hand of Moses, from the day that the LORD commanded Moses, and henceforward among your generations;
Then it shall be, if ought be committed by ignorance without the knowledge of the congregation, that all the congregation shall offer one young bullock for a burnt offering, for a sweet savour unto the LORD, with his meat offering, and his drink offering, according to the manner, and one kid of the goats for a sin offering.
24. The offering is a young bullock for a burnt-offering, together with the proper meal-offering and libation, and a he-goat for a sin offering.

And the priest shall make an atonement for all the congregation of the children of Israel, and it shall be forgiven them; for it is ignorance: and they shall bring their offering, a sacrifice made by fire unto the LORD, and their sin offering before the LORD, for their ignorance:
And it shall be forgiven all the congregation of the children of Israel, and the stranger that sojourneth among them; seeing all the people were in ignorance.
And if any soul sin through ignorance, then he shall bring a she goat of the first year for a sin offering.
27. The offering is a she-goat of one year old for a sin-offering.

27–29. Errors of an individual.

And the priest shall make an atonement for the soul that sinneth ignorantly, when he sinneth by ignorance before the LORD, to make an atonement for him; and it shall be forgiven him.
Ye shall have one law for him that sinneth through ignorance, both for him that is born among the children of Israel, and for the stranger that sojourneth among them.
But the soul that doeth ought presumptuously, whether he be born in the land, or a stranger, the same reproacheth the LORD; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people.
30. with an high hand] with deliberate defiance. In Numbers 33:3, Exodus 14:8 it is used of the bold defiance with which the Israelites marched out of Egypt.

the same blasphemeth the Lord] Jehovah doth he revile. The emphatic position of ‘Jehovah’ lays stress on the enormity of the crime. The ‘reviling’ was not necessarily in speech; actions speak louder than words.

Because he hath despised the word of the LORD, and hath broken his commandment, that soul shall utterly be cut off; his iniquity shall be upon him.
31. his iniquity shall be upon him] with his iniquity upon him. The sinner shall be ‘cut off’ (see on Numbers 9:13) with the burden of his sin still attaching to him, and unatoned for. In the Christian dispensation the one great Sacrifice has procured atonement for all sinners who repent, even though, like the crucified robber, they have sinned with an high hand.

And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day.
32–36. The penalty for breaking the Sabbath. This section was perhaps placed by the compiler next to the preceding because it relates a signal instance of deliberate transgression.

And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation.
And they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done to him.
34. It had been declared in Exodus 31:14 f., Numbers 35:2 (both P ) that Sabbath-breaking must be punished with death, but the method of execution had not been laid down. If, however, the meaning is that they did not know what the man’s punishment should be, the present passage is independent of those in Exodus. The Jews who laid down this law in the period after the exile were sternly acting in accordance with the dictates of their conscience. But (though in early days stern punishments may have been salutary) no Christian is compelled to believe that because the law stands in the Bible it is now in accordance with the mind of God. One effect of Christian civilization has been to confine the death penalty to murderers.

And the LORD said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp.
And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as the LORD commanded Moses.
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
37–41. Tassels to be worn as a reminder of Jehovah’s commandments.

Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of the borders a ribband of blue:
38. that they make them tassels upon the corners of their garments] This is commanded (with different words for ‘tassels’ and ‘garments’) in Deuteronomy 22:12. No statement is there made as to the reason for the observance. It was probably a very ancient custom, dating from a time when such tassels were superstitiously worn as magical charms. Here, however, it has been invested with a higher religious significance. The practice is referred to in the N.T., Matthew 14:36, Mark 6:56 (E.V. ‘border of his garment’); and it continues among the Jews to this day. In the synagogue all males over thirteen years of age wear a special garment called a tallith, which ‘consists of an oblong cloth with a tassel at each corner. The head is passed through a hole in the middle of the cloth, which hangs over the breast and back.’ See art. ‘Fringes’ in Hastings’ DB. ii.

upon the tassel of each corner a thread of violet] in order to fasten it to the garment.

And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the LORD, and do them; and that ye seek not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go a whoring:
39. it shall be unto you for a tassel] The point of this appears to lie in a play on the words ẓîẓîth (‘tassel’) and ẓîẓ1 [Note: Used in Exodus 28:36; Exodus 39:30, Leviticus 8:9 of the diadem (R.V. ‘plate’) on the high priest’s forehead.] ‘a shining thing,’ ‘an ornament.’ The tassels are not to be superstitious charms but striking ornaments, which will constantly catch the wearer’s eye, and act as a religious reminder.

after which ye go a whoring] The Heb. has a participle, not an imperfect as R.V. suggests. The words apparently mean—Ye are still prone to follow the superstitious and illegitimate practices to which your heart and your eyes lead you. It is an obscure sentence, and perhaps something has been lost from the text. But there seems little doubt that the earlier superstitions connected with the tassels are referred to.

That ye may remember, and do all my commandments, and be holy unto your God.
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.
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