Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
(1, 2) And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying . . . —We learn from Deuteronomy 1:46 that the Israelites “abode in Kadesh many days,” and from Deuteronomy 2:1 that afterwards they “turned,” in obedience to the command given in the preceding chapter of this book, and “took their journey into the wilderness by the way of the Red Sea.” It appears, further, from Numbers 20:1 that in the first month of the fortieth year they came again into the desert of Zin, and “abode in Kadesh.” In regard to the transactions recorded in this and in the four following chapters we have no certain chronological data. The fact that additional laws were given during the long period of the wanderings in the wilderness furnished a practical proof of the continuance of the covenant which had been made with Israel at Sinai. Bishop Wordsworth supplies the following answer to the inquiry how the Israelites were able to find a sufficient quantity of cattle and of birds in the wilderness to fulfil the requirements of the Levitical law:—“God,” he writes, “promulgated that law on Mount Sinai in order that it might be observed in Canaan; and when he gave it, the Israelites had not as yet incurred the sentence of exclusion, and they might—and if they had not been disobedient, they would—have been in Canaan within a fortnight of its delivery. The Levitical law was given under the presumption that they would obey Him who gave it, and that they would be soon afterwards in Canaan, when they would be able to comply with that law. (Comp. Deuteronomy 4:14.) But they murmured against God at Kadesh-barnea, and thus they forfeited His favour—they, as it were, excommunicated themselves. They forfeited the privileges of obedience. They had kept one Passover at Mount Sinai, but there is no evidence that they were ever permitted to keep another Passover during the whole term of their wanderings. They themselves felt and acted as men under a ban; they did not even administer circumcision in the wilderness, nor until they were admitted into Canaan under Joshua; then—but not till then—they were again allowed to eat the Passover.” The words which follow were evidently addressed to those of the Israelites who were under twenty years of age at the time of the exodus.
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
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.(4) A meat offering of a tenth deal of flour . . . —The meal offering and the drink offering which are here ordered to be brought when a lamb was offered in performance of a vow, or as a free will offering, or at the solemn feasts, are the same as those which were appointed to be offered with the morning and evening lamb. (Exodus 29:38-40.) Meal offerings and drink offerings had already been prescribed in connection with the three great feasts. (Leviticus 23:13; Leviticus 23:18; Leviticus 23:37.)
And when thou preparest a bullock for a burnt offering, or for a sacrifice in performing a vow, or peace offerings unto the LORD:(8) In performing a vow.—Rather, in making a special vow. (See Numbers 6:2.)
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) All that are born of the country.—The Targum of Jonathan is, “all that are born in Israel, and not among the people.” It seems clear, however, from Numbers 15:14 that the reference in this verse is to the indigenous Israelites.
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) One ordinance shall be both for you of the congregation . . . —Literally, As for the congregation, there shall be one ordinance for you and for the stranger that sojourneth. Some render the words thus:—O congregation, one ordinance shall be for you and for the stranger, &c.
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) Of the first of your dough.—Or, mixed meal. The word arisoth is used only in the plural number, and is found only in Nehemiah 10:37 and Ezekiel 44:30, besides this and the following verse.
And if ye have erred, and not observed all these commandments, which the LORD hath spoken unto Moses,(22) And if ye have erred, and not observed.—Rather, And if ye shall err and not observe.
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;(23) And henceforward.—Rather, and onward, or thenceforward. There is nothing in the word which is here used to denote whether the reference is or is not to legislation of a later date than that at which the words were spoken. The terminus a quo is expressed in the preceding words. Comp. Isaiah 18:2, where the meaning seems to be up to the present time, and Ezekiel 39:22, where the reference is to the indefinite future.
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) By ignorance.—The word shegagah is used to denote transgressions committed unwittingly in contrast to sins committed presumptuously (Numbers 15:30). (See Leviticus 4:2 and Note.) Provision had already been made in Leviticus 4 for sins of commission committed unwittingly by the whole congregation, but no provision appears to have been made for the guilt contracted in the case of sins of omission. It is possible, also, that in this place transgressions committed by an individual, but affecting the whole of the congregation, may be included. In Leviticus 4:14 a young bullock is appointed as a sin offering; in the present case a young bullock is appointed for a burnt offering and a kid of the goats for a sin offering. It must be remembered, moreover, that the commandments delivered in this chapter have express reference to the land of Canaan, whereas many of the commandments previously delivered had already become obligatory.
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:(25) For it is ignorance.—Rather, for it is a sin of ignorance, or an error. So also at the end of the verse.
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.(26) Seeing all the people were in ignorance.-Rather, for in regard to all the people, it was done in ignorance, or unwittingly.
And if any soul sin through ignorance, then he shall bring a she goat of the first year for a sin offering.(27) And if any soul sin through ignorance.—There is no restriction here, as in Leviticus 4:27, to sins of commission.
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) That doeth ought presumptuously.—Literally, with a high hand.
And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day.(32) And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness . . . —Better, Now the children of Israel were in the wilderness, and they found, &c. It is probable that the incident which is here recorded is designed to illustrate the presumptuous sins which were to be punished by death. The offence may have been committed shortly after the promulgation of the commandments contained in this chapter, but all that is certain is that it was committed “in the wilderness,” i.e., according to Ibn Ezra, in the wilderness of Sinai, but more probably during the period of the wanderings in the wilderness after the arrival at Kadesh. No inference can be drawn from this verse as to the time at which the account was committed to writing. The observance of the Sabbath was obligatory in the wilderness as well as in the land of Canaan (comp. Exodus 16:27-30), and the punishment of death had already been denounced against those who profaned it by doing any work thereon (see Exodus 31:15; Exodus 35:2), but the manner in which death was to be inflicted does not appear to have been hitherto declared. The same verb which is here rendered “declared” occurs in the parallel case of the blasphemer in Leviticus 24:12, where it is rendered “shewed”:—“And they put him in ward, that the mind of the Lord might be shewed them.” The punishment of death had already been denounced against those who cursed father or mother (Leviticus 20:9). It could hardly be thought that a lighter punishment was to be inflicted on one who blasphemed the name of Jehovah, but in that case, as in this, the mode of death does not appear to have been previously enjoined.
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 fringes . . . —Better, That they make them tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the tassel of the corner (i.e., on each tassel) a thread (or cord) of blue. The tassels (zirith) appear to be the same as the gedilim (fringes) of Deuteronomy 22:12. The outer garment of the Jews was a fourcornered cloth, which was also used by the poor as a counterpane (Exodus 22:26-27). It appears to have been commonly used with a hole in the centre, through which the head was put, so that one-half covered the front and the other the back of the body. These tassels, or fringes (LXX. κράσπεδα—craspeda), were enlarged by the Pharisees to exhibit their punctilious fulfilment of the Law (Matt. xiii 5). Great sanctity was attached to these fringes or tassels, and for this cause the woman with the issue of blood desired to touch a kraspedon of our Saviour’s garment (Matthew 9:20).
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) That ye seek not after your own heart.—Or, That ye go not about, or search not out, &c.