But the soul that does ought presumptuously, whether he be born in the land, or a stranger, the same reproaches the LORD…
Disobedience to the commands of God is ranged under two classes. First, that which has just been considered, disobedience through ignorance; secondly, disobedience from presumption, a bold, conscious, reckless defiance of God and following out of the promptings of self. God indicates that such conduct must be met in a corresponding way. "That soul shall be cut off from among his people, utterly cut off." Notice that while God supposed the case of the whole people sinning ignorantly, he does not make a similar supposition with regard to presumptuous sin. Unanimity in an open and deliberate defiance of God seems to be impossible. It is only too possible, however, that single men should be guilty in this matter, and an illustration of presumptuous sin, from actual life, immediately follows. The people were to be left without excuse for saying that they were in any doubt as to this dangerous sin. Where death was the punishment, the offence could not be too clearly indicated. Let us consider then the doom of the presumptuous sinner, as illustrated by that of the Sabbath-breaker.
I. THE COMMANDMENT WITH RESPECT TO THE SABBATH HAD BEEN PUT IN PECULIAR PROMINENCE. It stands among those ten solemn announcements of God's will, with respect to which we may say that all other commandments existed for them. Surely to sin against any of these was to sin presumptuously. It is reckoned the business of all men to know all the laws under which they live - ignorance is not allowed for a plea, - but with respect to the ten commandments, special means had been taken to impress them on the minds and memories of the people. Even before the fourth commandment had been formally announced, the double provision of manna on the sixth day had helped to give a peculiar significance to the seventh. So it may be said, if we are disobedient in respect of those requirements mentioned repeatedly and held out prominently by Christ and his apostles, we are sinning presumptuously. Who can deny that continued unbelief in the face of pressing requirements for faith is a presumptuous sin? Who can deny that where love and unselfish service are kept back from God and men there is presumptuous sin? Such sins persisted in, against all light, instruction, warning, and appeal, will end in a cutting off from the people, a terrible exclusion from all those gracious rewards which come to the faithful and obedient. Presumptuous sins strike at the very foundation of the throne of God.
II. THERE WAS EVERYTHING TO CALL THE ATTENTION OF THIS TRANSGRESSOR IN THE FACT THAT OTHERS WERE KEEPING THE SABBATH. None could come into the Israelite camp and mistake the Sabbath for some other day, just as none could enter an English town on the day of rest and mistake it for a working day. When the man went out gathering sticks, there was something fresh at every step he took to remind him that he was transgressing a commandment of God; a dozen steps from his own door was enough for this. He went into sin with his eyes open and his selfish will determined to disobey God. Thus also there is presumptuous sin in despising those requirements of Christ which are not only plainly and repeatedly stated by him and his apostles, but carded out, from a sincere heart, in the daily practice of many who rejoice to call themselves his servants. Every Christian who by his life and the results of it shows that in his judgment certain requirements of Christ are all important, becomes thereby a witness to convict others of presumptuous sin. To act on the principle that faith in Christ is not absolutely necessary to salvation, righteousness, and eternal life, is to run counter to the life and emphatic confession of many in all generations of the Christian era. Every life in which Christ is manifested ruling and guiding is a fresh repetition of his great requirements, a fresh evidence of presumptuous sin on the part of those who neglect these requirements.
III. THE SIN APPEARS ALL THE GREATER FROM THE ACT ITSELF BEING SO TRIFLING. The first thought of many on reading the narrative may be, "What severity for such a little offense!" But the more it is looked at the greater the offence appears. There would have been more to say for the man if the temptation had come from some great thing. If a fortune or a kingdom had been in question, then there would have been some plausibly sufficient motive for a great transgression; but to break such a commandment, to run counter to the conduct of the whole camp for a handful of sticks, does it not show how proud-hearted the man was, how utterly careless of all and any of God's regulations? Such a man would have turned to idolatry and profanity on the one hand, or to theft and even murder on the other, at very slight provocation. It was a little thing for Esau to crave a mess of pottage, but it deservedly lost him his birthright when he valued it so little. Thus have men sinned against their Saviour for the paltriest trifles. Peter moves our sympathy when he denies Jesus, for life is dear when closely threatened, and we consider ourselves lest we also he tempted; but when Judas sells his master, and such a master, for thirty pieces of silver, how abominable the act appears! Yet men are constantly turning from Jesus on considerations as paltry and sordid. They will not be religious, because such continual carefulness is required in little things. This man sinned a great and daring sin against God; he was dragged in shame before the whole congregation, and then stoned outside the camp. And what had he by way of set-off? A few sticks. If it was a little thing to do, it was just as little a thing to be left undone. Small as it was, it showed the state of the man's heart, that corroding and hopeless leprosy within, which left no other course but to cut him off from the people.
IV. THUS WE ARRIVE AT THE FULL MEASURE OF THE MAN'S INSULT TO THE MAJESTY OF GOD. We see in what way he reproaches the Lord and despises his word. If this man had gone before Moses, when with the tables in his hands he came fresh from Sinai, and if he had heaped contumely on the messenger, and spat upon the tables, he could not have done more then to show contempt than he did by the gathering of those few sticks on the day which God had claimed for his own. Human governments, with all their imperfections, look upon deliberate defiance of their authority as a thing to be punished severely; what, then, must be done where there is a deliberate defiance of the authority of God? A terrible doom awaits those who despise and ridicule God's ordinances of right and wrong. Though it may not be swift and sudden, it will assuredly be certain and complete. Those who mourn their inability to keep the law of God are separated in his sight from those who contemn that law, far as the east is from the west. Be it ours to feel with David, "rivers of waters run down my eyes, because they keep not thy law" (Psalm 119:136), and not as the fool who says in his heart, There is no God (Psalm 53:1; Psalm 19:12-14). - Y.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.