Numbers: The Laws of the Land

Sermon by on August 15, 2007

Numbers 15:1-41

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Wednesday Evening

August 15,
2007

Numbers 15:1-41

“The Laws of the Land”

Dr. J. Ligon
Duncan III

If you have your Bibles I’d invite you to turn with me to
Numbers 15, as we continue to work our way through this great book of Moses and
the story of Israel in the wilderness. We’ve noted for the last several weeks
that Numbers 11-14 pictures Israel grumbling and complaining and murmuring and
rebelling. And in fact, the last time we were together, in Numbers 14, we saw a
cycle of rebellion and intercession and pardon, followed by further rebellion.

In the book of Judges you have the pattern of sin and
then the consequences of sin, and then repentance, and then restoration, and
then the cycle goes over again. But they don’t even get that far in Numbers 14.
It goes from sin to judgment, to intercession, to more sin, to more rebellion in
Numbers 14. And so when we get to Numbers 15, we come to an entirely dissimilar
kind of literature and content. One minute you’re in Numbers 13 in a spy story,
and then in Numbers 14 you’re in this story of judgment because of the unbelief
of the children of Israel at God’s promises about their going into the Promised
Land, and then suddenly in Numbers 15 you’re in laws about offerings. So what’s
up with that? That question ought to be on your mind when you come to Numbers
15.

Many of you are fans of Britain’s infamous comedy
act, Monty Python, and you will remember the famous line that they would employ
between totally unrelated and disjointed skits, and usually John Cleese would
say it. He’d say, “And now for something completely different….” I’m very
tempted to introduce Numbers 15 that way. It almost seems jarringly disjointed
from Numbers 11-14, but of course God always has a purpose with what He puts
where in His word, and there is a tremendous message for us in the placement of
this passage at this point. Right when Israel is at the apex of their failure
and unbelief and sin on the verge of going into the land (and are getting ready
to be sent back into the wilderness for forty years because of their sin),
suddenly God repeats these laws. And if you’ll notice, all these laws are about
the land — about what they’re supposed to do when they’re in the land, even
though for the next forty years they’re not going to be in the land. Even though
they have just sinned a sin that is going to keep them out of the land for forty
years, God is giving them right at this point laws that they are to keep in the
land.

Now this passage gives us four huge messages for
today.
Let me just give you four words to help you keep this in mind.
One is the message of grace. You’re going to see that in the first couple
of verses. Two is there is a very important message in the passage about
worship
. Three, there’s a very important message in this passage about
atonementobedience
.
So grace, worship, atonement, and obedience. Let’s read God’s word together, and
before we do, let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, this is Your word. As we read it,
we pray that you would open our eyes by Your Spirit to behold the wonders of
Your truth and instruction and Law, that we would believe and not grumble and
murmur and rebel. For we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the people of Israel and
say to them, ‘When you come into the land you are to inhabit, which I am giving
you, and you offer to the Lord from the herd or from the flock a food offering
or a burnt offering or a sacrifice, to fulfill a vow or as a freewill offering,
or at your appointed feasts, to make a pleasing aroma to the Lord, then he who
brings his offering shall offer to the Lord a grain offering of a tenth of an
ephah of fine flour, mixed with a quarter of a hin of oil; and you shall offer
with the burnt offering, or for the sacrifice, a quarter of a hin of wine for
the drink offering for each lamb. Or for a ram, you shall offer for a grain
offering two tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with a third of a hin of
oil. And for the drink offering you shall offer a third of a hin of wine, a
pleasing aroma to the Lord. And when you offer a bull as a burnt offering or
sacrifice, to fulfill a vow or for peace offerings to the Lord, then one shall
offer with the bull a grain offering of three tenths of an ephah of fine flour,
mixed with half a hin of oil. And you shall offer for the drink offering half a
hin of wine, as a food offering, a pleasing aroma to the Lord.

“Thus it shall be done for each bull or ram, or for each lamb or
young goat. As many as you offer, so shall you do with each one, as many as
there are. Every native Israelite shall do these things in this way, in offering
a food offering, with a pleasing aroma to the Lord. And if a stranger is
sojourning with you, or anyone is living permanently among you, and he wishes to
offer a food offering, with a pleasing aroma to the Lord, he shall do as you do.
For the assembly, there shall be one statute for you and for the stranger who
sojourns with you, a statute forever throughout your generations. You and the
sojourner shall be alike before the Lord. One law and one rule shall be for you
and for the stranger who sojourns with you.’

“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the people of Israel and
say to them, When you come into the land to which I bring you and when you eat
of the bread of the land, you shall present a contribution to the Lord. Of the
first of your dough you shall present a loaf as a contribution; like a
contribution from the threshing floor, so shall you present it. Some of the
first of your dough you shall give to the Lord as a contribution throughout your
generations.

“‘But if you sin unintentionally, and do not observe all these
commandments that the Lord has spoken to Moses, all that the Lord has commanded
you by Moses, from the day that the Lord gave commandment, and onward throughout
your generations, then if it was done unintentionally without the knowledge of
the congregation, all the congregation shall offer one bull from the herd for a
burnt offering, a pleasing aroma to the Lord, with its grain offering and its
drink offering, according to the rule, and one male goat for a sin offering. And
the priest shall make atonement for all the congregation of the people of
Israel, and they shall be forgiven, because it was a mistake, and they have
brought their offering, a food offering to the Lord, and their sin offering
before the Lord for their mistake. And all the congregation of the people of
Israel shall be forgiven, and the stranger who sojourns among them, because the
whole population was involved in the mistake.

“‘If one person sins unintentionally, he shall offer a female goat a
year old for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement before the Lord
for the person who makes a mistake, when he sins unintentionally, to make
atonement for him, and he shall be forgiven. You shall have one law for him who
does anything unintentionally, for him who is native among the people of Israel
and for the stranger who sojourns among them. But the person who does anything
with a high hand, whether he is native or a sojourner, reviles the Lord, and
that person shall be cut off from among his people. Because he has despised the
word of the Lord and has broken His commandment, that person shall be utterly
but off; his iniquity shall be on him.’

“While the people of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man
gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. And those who found him gathering sticks
brought him to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation. They put him in
custody, because it had not been made clear what should be done to him. And the
Lord said to Moses, ‘The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall
stone him with stones outside the camp.’ And all the congregation brought him
outside the camp and stoned him to death with stones, as the Lord commanded
Moses.

“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Speak to the people of Israel, and tell
them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their
generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner. And it
shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandment of the
Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which
you are inclined to whore after. So you shall remember and do all my
commandments, and be holy to your God. I am the Lord your God, who brought you
out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the Lord your God.’”

Amen. Thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and
inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.

There’s a method to Moses’ madness in the placement
of this passage tonight. One might have expected the consequences of Israel’s
infidelity displayed in Numbers 11, Numbers 12, Numbers 14, to lead to utter
oblivion, to lead to their utter exclusion from the land of promise. But God is
sending a huge message through Moses’ ordering of this passage. God is saying
through Moses, by giving laws about what the children of Israel are to do when
they get to the land that He has promised them, even though it will be forty
years hence, He is sending them the message, ‘I haven’t wavered in My purposes
at all. Steady as she goes. Here’s what you’re going to do when you get into the
promised land, even though you yourselves doubted whether I would ever bring you
to the promised land, let Me let you know as you wander for the next forty years
that I’ve already got it planned out what you’re going to do when you get there;
and here is what it is, set forth in these laws about offerings and about
obedience.’

Well, Moses wants us to appreciate four things in
this passage.
Actually, there are more things in this passage than we could
possibly scrape the surface of tonight, so we’re just going to focus on four of
them. One, God’s unwavering grace; two, the comprehensiveness of our worship;
three, the cost of forgiveness; and, four, the demand of obedience. Grace,
worship, atonement, obedience.

I. Grace.

Moses is teaching us in this passage that the
believer’s life — if I could say this in a little bit of a flowery, poetic way —
the believer’s life is to be lived under the sky of grace. That is, grace is to
be a dominating thing under which the believer lives with a constant inescapable
awareness. The believer’s life is to be lived under the sky of grace. Moses
shows us God’s grace in the very first words of this passage. Moses has just
seen God’s judgment on a generation, the majority of which (and all of the adult
leadership except two young men, Joshua and Caleb) have utterly rejected the
word of God and the promise of God. God justly announced to Moses His plans to
wipe the whole generation of them out and to make Moses a new nation in their
place. And in the very first words of this passage in Numbers 15, Moses shows
that God’s favor to His people and His fidelity to His plans and purposes and
promises is utterly undeserved.

In the wake of this catastrophic rebellion upon the
part of the people of God that has been described in Numbers 13 and 14, we read
the first two verses of Numbers 15: “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to
the people….’” Is that not beautiful, right there? Here is the Lord turning
right back around to this rebellious people, and He is blessing them by doing
what? Speaking to them. Speaking to His people. And what does He speak to them?
“When you come into the land you are to inhabit, which I am giving you….”

It’s kind of amazing, isn’t it? Cataclysm on every
side; four chapters of turmoil, grumbling, murmuring, rebellion, unbelief–utter
turmoil on every side to the point that Moses is ready to die in Numbers 12. He
and Aaron are falling on their faces in Number 14. It is catastrophe all the way
around, but as far as God is concerned nothing has changed in His plans. Steady
as she goes. It’s almost like the Lord, after this mass rebellion, says, ‘OK,
we’ve taken care of that. Now where were we? Oh, yes. Now, when you get into the
land….’ You know, you’re expecting this passage to go behind Numbers 7 where
God’s giving laws, or maybe later on in the book of Numbers. But here right in
the middle of this scene of rebellion, God is saying, ‘Now where were we? Oh,
yes. Now when you get into the land, do this.’

What’s the point? The giving of the laws here
reasserts emphatically that the Lord is going to bring His people into Canaan.
He is not wavering in His purposes. And is that not a picture of God’s
persevering grace, His unwavering grace? The fact that every breath we take,
every moment that we live, we live under God’s unwavering grace.

Almost all the young preachers in here will love the
story (and it happened at least twice in Calvin’s career in Geneva) when he
suffered severe interruptions in his life and ministry. In 1538, on Easter
Sunday, he was booted out of the city of Geneva. And three years later, in
September of 1541, he came back to Geneva, and he climbed up in the pulpit. And
do you know what he said? The first words out of his mouth were, ‘Now, when we
were last together in this book, we were in such-and-such a verse…’ and he
started on the next verse and he started preaching. Many years later, in 1558,
he was preaching through Isaiah and he got very seriously ill. He was out of the
pulpit for a year. And when he got back into the pulpit, his first words were,
‘When we were last together we were in this particular verse’ and he picked up
the very next verse and he started to go. Catastrophic events going on in his
life, but he’s unwavering in persevering, preaching through those books.

It’s the same thing with God. Things are going crazy
in Israel, but His purposes have not changed: ‘Now where were we? Oh, yes. Now
when you get into the land, these are the laws that you are going to obey.’ It
is a picture of God’s persevering grace. We’re to live in light of God’s grace.

II. Worship.

There’s a second thing we learn here, though,
and it’s something that we learn about worship. The believer is to give the
best of everything to God in worship.

There’s a lot of debate amongst commentators about
the specific meaning of the foods that are mentioned here accompanying the
various offerings, and we could get into some fascinating discussions about the
different things that are ordered here in comparison to things that are ordered
elsewhere. But the long and the short of it is if you look at the things which
are to accompany the various offerings, they represent a variety of the foods of
the land which the Lord is giving to the children of Israel. They represent
things that would be a banquet or a feast, and they represent the very finest of
those things. So the idea is that as we come in to the worship of God, we are
bringing the best of all the many things that God has given to us in worship,
and giving them as a sacrifice to the Lord–acknowledging that He gave them in
the first place, that He’s been very generous in His giving, and that He owns
everything that we have. He deserves everything that we have, and so these very
generous gifts of sacrifice that are given back to Him are a picture of the way
we are to give the best of everything to God in worship. The kinds of
offerings that are to be given indicate the importance of worshiping God from
the best of all of life, and in the best of all of life.

Now how do we, as believers in the new covenant who
do not worship through the physical giving of sacrifices, give this kind of way
to the Lord–sacrificially from all of life? Well, the Apostle Paul answers that
question for himself in Philippians 2:17. Take a peek at it sometime. The point
is, however, over and over in the New Testament the sacrificial worship of the
Old Testament is applied to the believer worshiping God in all of life, by
giving all of himself or herself in the service of the Lord. If you took a peek
at Philippians 2:17 later on, you would find out, for instance, that the Apostle
Paul saw his sufferings for the sake of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to
be an act of worship in which he “filled up that which was lacking” in Christ’s
sacrifice. Now of course the Apostle Paul is not calling into question for a
second the fullness or the sufficiency of the atoning death of Jesus Christ.
What he is saying is this: What is left to be added to that sacrifice is not
something which atones for us — because Christ has already atoned for us — but
the way that we add to and join in, in gratitude, to the sacrificial worship of
God is not bringing burnt offerings or food offerings, but it’s giving the whole
of ourselves in all of our life to the worship of God.

How might that happen for you? Well, it might happen
in being willing to let your children go to the mission field…and die on the
mission field. It might be in being ready to sacrifice your career for fidelity
to the Lord, if it comes to that. It might be being ready to die for Christ
yourself. Or, it might just be giving your all in preparation to gather with the
Lord’s people on Sunday. The whole point is that in worship we give all of
ourselves, all of our best, to God in gratitude for what He has given to us. And
the commands in this passage from verses 3-21 about these various offerings that
are to be offered up as a pleasing aroma to the Lord remind us of that.

III. Atonement.

There’s a third thing I want you to see, and you see
this especially in verses 22-31, as we learn something here about atonement. The
believer sees the seriousness of sin in two ways in verses 22-31. The believer
sees the seriousness of sin in atonement (the laws of atonement that are given
there), and of course the believer sees the seriousness of sin in judgment,
especially the illustration of judgment that will come in verses 32-36. All
sin requires atonement
. All sin requires covering, satisfaction,
propitiation, the turning away of God’s deserved judgment. All sin requires
this. In that atonement, that sin is dealt with either through representative
substitutionary satisfaction in which God provides a substitute that bears the
deserved judgment, or that sin is dealt with in personal punishment. Now both of
those things are illustrated in this passage.

The first is illustrated in verses 22-31, where the
laws of atonement are given. The second is graphically illustrated in verses
32-36, when a man receives himself the due penalty for his sin. But the point,
of course, is that sin is never to be taken lightly, and that the costliness of
forgiveness is to be rightly reckoned. And the believer sees the seriousness of
sin, and the costliness of forgiveness both in light of atonement and judgment.
That’s the third thing that we learn in this passage.

IV. Obedience.

But there’s a fourth (and the last) thing that
I want you to see as well, and you see it especially in verses 32-41. This
passage teaches us about obedience.

The believer knows that God takes our holiness
seriously, and two illustrations of that point are given in this section. The
first illustration is given in verses 32-36, with the man who openly, blatantly
breaks God’s Sabbath law in public view in Israel, and who is apprehended and
taken to Moses and Aaron to await judgment. This illustrates the seriousness of
sin and how seriously God takes our holiness. The man eventually receives the
death sentence for his high-handed sin. You remember Moses speaking about the
“high-handed sin” in the previous few verses? Well, this is an illustration of
that kind of high-handed sin. Nobody in Israel could have said ‘You know, did
God say anything about this in the Sabbath Day?’ No, everybody had heard what
God had said to do and not do on the Sabbath Day, and this man just went
blithely ahead and did whatever he wanted to do. And in the face of that
high-handed sin, he received the sharp judgment of the death penalty. God will
judge sin.

It reminds you of another passage, doesn’t it, in the
book of Hebrews. Remember what the author of Hebrews says in Hebrews 10:26-29?

“For if we go on sinning deliberately, after receiving the knowledge of the
truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation
of judgment, and the fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who
has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or
three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by
the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the
covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the spirit of grace?”

It’s virtually a New Testament commentary on this
very passage. What happens to this man? He dies on the account of two witnesses
for a high-handed sin. Though he had been given the privilege of being within
the body of Israel and having the means of grace administered, and the words of
God spoken to him, he flagrantly turned his back and repudiated the commandments
of his God, and upon him fell a just judgment. And, my friends, that same
judgment awaits every unbeliever…every unbeliever. No one can be neutral about
Christ. You either love Him and embrace Him or you spurn Him and you reject Him,
because indifference is rejection.

But of course there’s another picture in this
passage as well, and you see it in verses 37-41. It’s kind of strange, isn’t it?
It’s a requirement that you wear tassels with blue in them on your garments.
What’s going on there?

Well, as you know, in the ancient Near East, blue or
purple was the color of kings and of priests. Even the tabernacle was decorated
with blue or purple, and the high priest was required to wear blue and purple in
his garment. And in requiring all of the people of God to wear these tassels
with the line of blue in them, what are they being reminded? ‘You are a kingdom
of priests. You’re like little tabernacles walking around.’ And what’s in the
tabernacle, friends? The law, right in the heart of the tabernacle. And what’s
in the tabernacle, friends? The Spirit of God, the presence of God. And they’re
to live their lives how? In accordance with God’s word. And those tassels are
to remind them, ‘We’re a kingdom of priests, and we are to live as if we are
little tabernacles walking around, with the law in our hearts and the Spirit of
God present in our hearts writing that law on the tablets of our hearts, so that
we live out the word of God. Because God takes our holiness seriously.’ What
does He say again, in the book of Hebrews?

“…Holiness, without which no one
will see the Lord.”

Oh, there’s so much more that we could learn in this
passage tonight, but Moses has taught us about God’s unwavering grace and about
the comprehensiveness of our worship, and the cost of forgiveness in atonement
and in judgment, and about the demand of obedience. May God grant that we would
believe on Christ for the forgiveness of our sins, and live as a congregation of
priests.

Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your word. Grant
that we would not be merely hearers of it, but doers of Your truth. In Jesus’
name we pray. Amen.

[Congregation sings
The Doxology
.]

Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God our
Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

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