OUR RESPONSE TO GOD’S DISCIPLINE WILL CONFIRM US IN HOLINESS AS WE:
– REJOICE (PLEASE) THE LORD
– RESPECT THE LORD
– REMEMBER THE LORD
This passage of detailed instructions about various offerings and sacrifices may seem out of place in the narrative of the wilderness wanderings of God’s chosen nation. But actually it is the appropriate follow-up to the disappointment of spiritual failure and severe discipline that causes the nation to enter into a 38 year delay of wandering in the desert before entering the Promised Land. God has not written off His people or abandoned His promises. All of the instructions in this chapter anticipate the blessings of entering Canaan. God’s discipline is intended to strengthen the covenant relationship.
Gordon Wenham: More striking is the careful arrangement of this group of laws. As is typical of the cultic laws in Leviticus, this chapter falls neatly into three sections, each beginning with The Lord said to Moses, ‘Say to the people of Israel’ (1f., 17f., 37f.), usually moving on to mention the land (2, 18), then a command to do or make something (Hebrew ʿāśâ, 3, 22ff., 28ff.) and concluding with the great formula recalling Israel’s salvation from Egypt and her call to holiness (41; cf. Lev. 19:36f.; 20:26; 22:31–33; 23:43; 25:55).
It therefore seems likely that these laws have been placed here as a deliberate comment on the preceding narrative. The people have questioned the basic purpose of their journey, and in judgment God has declared the adults will die out in the wilderness. After a break of forty years their children will enter the promised land of Canaan. Chapter 14 closes with a defeat by the Canaanites at Hormah. A question mark hangs over the whole enterprise.
Dennis Cole: Each of the offerings sections functions within the sequential outline to focus the reader and hearer on the proper relationship between God and humanity in the context of the preceding material of the given cycle. . .
Like many sections of the Torah, this chapter contains a key word that provides a unifying element to the entire chapter, namely the verb ʿāsāh, meaning “to make” or “to perform.” After the introduction in vv. 1–2, the Israelites were instructed to make various fire offerings to the Lord, and the verb is used eleven times in vv. 3–16 in delineating the sacrificial elements or in describing the process by which they were offered. It does not occur in the section dealing with the presentation of the first fruits of the dough (vv. 17–21), though in the following expansion of laws related to inadvertent and defiant sins (vv. 22–36) the term is employed six times. In the final section (vv. 37–41) the Israelites were instructed concerning the “making” of the garment tassels as a covenant reminder.
J. Ligon Duncan: 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.
Robert Rayburn: These regulations further indicate that the principles of life in the covenant Yahweh has made with his people have not changed. Sacrifice is still an essential instrument of maintaining the covenant relationship and moral and ritual purity are still required of God’s people.
Timothy Ashley: The whole of ch. 15 is best seen as a response to the rebellion of chs. 13–14. At the end of those chapters the future of the people is in doubt, the whole people has been disobedient to Yahweh; an entire generation will die in the wilderness as a payment for sin. Ch. 15 begins with a word of hope to the new generation: When you come into your dwelling land … (v. 2; cf. v. 18). What follows is for the new generation in the new land. Furthermore it is still Yahweh who speaks. God is still determined to bring them into the land (v. 2b). The whole chapter shows that fullness of life is still to be had by exact obedience to Yahweh’s word. When the people come into the land of Canaan they will have enough agricultural abundance to afford these offerings of fine flour, oil, and wine for every appropriate sacrifice.
I. (:1-16) REJOICE (PLEASE) THE LORD – OFFERING SACRIFICES OF COVENANT-BASED WORSHIP
“Now the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
‘Speak to the sons of Israel, and say to them,’”
Dennis Cole: The first section (vv. 1–21) delineates the various offerings to be presented to the Lord when the covenant people enter the Promised Land rejected in the previous chapter. By way of divine directive, the rejection of the land by the majority of the spies and the people will be surmounted. God will bring them into the land of promise (15:2–3, 18–19) in spite of their rebellious rejection of that gracious gift, and he will bless them so abundantly that they will in turn bring multitudinous sacrifices and offerings with which to honor and worship him. The accompaniment of animal sacrifices with grain and oil offerings, plus the wine libations, were quite appropriate considering the previous setting of the land exploration. The scouts examined the quality of the agricultural produce of the land and even brought back a spectacular sample from the vineyard. The vineyard was often a symbol of God’s richest blessing upon the land. The offerings from the grain fields were to be of the first fruits, the earliest and choicest of the crops the Lord bestowed. The issue behind the singular requirements for the bringing of these offerings by either a native Israelite or a resident alien (vv. 13–16) may be presented at this point in the context of the mixed multitude or rabble who instigated the uprising over food supply (11:4).
Constable: The Israelites were to accompany every burnt offering and every peace offering with a meal offering and a drink offering of wine. The amounts of meal and wine varied, and these variations are clear in the text. An ephah was about half a bushel, and a hin was about a gallon. Since grapes were large and abundant in Canaan (cf. Numbers 13:23), wine played a significant part in Israel’s offerings. This offering expressed gratitude for the grapes of the land. The priests poured drink offerings out; they did not drink them.
Eugene Merrill: These burnt and freewill offerings were not sin or guilt offerings, since their form and content were invariable (Lev. 4:1-6:7); these were votive, fellowship, and thank or praise offerings (Lev. 1-3).
Ronald Allen: they relate more to the desire of the Hebrew believer for spontaneous, grateful response to the wonder of knowing God.
A. (:2-3) Offerings by Fire Commanded
1. (:2) Anticipating Fulfilment of the Land Promise
“When you enter the land where you are to live, which I am giving you,”
Despite all of the grumbling and disbelief and rebellion, the Lord wanted to reassure His people of His covenant commitment to eventually bring them into the Promised Land.
2. (:3) Approaching God Via Various Sweet Savor Sacrifices
“then make an offering by fire to the LORD, a burnt offering or a sacrifice to fulfill a special vow, or as a freewill offering or in your appointed times, to make a soothing aroma to the LORD, from the herd or from the flock.”
Gordon Wenham: These laws reassert very emphatically that the Lord will bring his people into Canaan. They both explicitly look forward to this time (2, 18) and implicitly, by specifying that large amounts of flour, oil and wine must accompany animal sacrifice, guarantee Israel’s entry into the land. If God insists that these things be offered, it is a pledge that Israel will eventually reach the land where they are freely available. These regulations also re-emphasize the role of sacrifice as the divinely appointed means of upholding the covenant and the importance of fulfilling the commandments. Though God’s ultimate purposes will not be thwarted by disobedience, the individual and the congregation will still be judged for deliberate sin or even inadvertent mistakes that are not atoned for by sacrifice. This chapter, then, epitomizes and comments on some of the themes that dominate the book of Leviticus. Israel is to show forth her election by faithfully observing the moral and ritual law: in so doing they will become a truly holy people, and in a full sense the Lord will be their God (40f.). Their unbelief that was focused in the spy story did not nullify these covenant promises. Whole-hearted repentance and the offering of sacrifice can restore them to a position where they can fully experience God’s blessing.
Warren Wiersbe: The phrase “to make a sweet savor [aroma] unto the Lord” is found five times in this paragraph (vv. 3, 7, 10, 13 14) and means “an aroma pleasing to the Lord.” The five basic Mosaic offerings were the burnt offering, meal offering, peace offering, sin offering, and trespass offering (Lev. 1-7). The first three were “sweet savor” sacrifices, designed to please the Lord, but the sin offering and the trespass offering were not “sweet savor” because they dealt with guilt and sin, and there’s nothing pleasing to God about sin.
The burnt offering typified the worshiper’s complete devotion to God, for the animal was totally consumed on the altar. The mean (grain) offering spoke of the worshiper’s dedication of his labor to the Lord, and the peace (trespass) offering represented joyful fellowship and thanksgiving to God for His blessings.
B. (:4-7) Offerings Accompanied by Grain and Wine
“And the one who presents his offering shall present to the LORD a grain offering of one-tenth of an ephah of fine flour mixed with one-fourth of a hin of oil, 5 and you shall prepare wine for the libation, one-fourth of a hin, with the burnt offering or for the sacrifice, for each lamb. 6 ‘Or for a ram you shall prepare as a grain offering two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with one-third of a hin of oil; 7 and for the libation you shall offer one-third of a hin of wine as a soothing aroma to the LORD.”
Ronald Allen: The provision of “fine flour” (solet, v.4) speaks of luxurious food rather than ordinary flour. This type of flour was used in dainty cooking (Ezek 16:13), at the table of the king (1 Kings 4:22), for honored guests (Gen 18:6), and in the worship of God. Hence, the attitude toward the flour was the same as toward the animals one might bring to the worship of God; only the best was good enough, for the gift was to the Lord. We suspect that the oil and wine used in these offerings were similarly selected from choice, not common, stocks.
Warren Wiersbe: Christians today see in the fine flour a picture of Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life (John 6), who offered Himself to God for us “as a sweet-smelling aroma” (Eph. 5:2). The flour also acknowledges God as the generous source of all our food. The oil is a symbol of the Holy Spirit (Zech. 4), and the wine reminds us of the joy of the Lord (Ps. 104:15). It pleases the heart of God when His people spontaneously thank Him for the material and spiritual blessings that He sends so faithfully and bountifully.
C. (:8-13) Offerings Further Regulated by the Lord
1. (:8-12) Proportions for the Sacrificial Regulations Specified
“And when you prepare a bull as a burnt offering or a sacrifice, to fulfill a special vow, or for peace offerings to the LORD, 9 then you shall offer with the bull a grain offering of three-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with one-half a hin of oil; 10 and you shall offer as the libation one-half a hin of wine as an offering by fire, as a soothing aroma to the LORD. 11 ‘Thus it shall be done for each ox, or for each ram, or for each of the male lambs, or of the goats. According to the number that you prepare, so you shall do for everyone according to their number.”
2. (:13) Purpose of Following the Sacrificial Regulations
“All who are native shall do these things in this manner,
in presenting an offering by fire, as a soothing aroma to the LORD.”
D. (:14-16) Same Standard for the Native Israelite and for the Foreigner
“And if an alien sojourns with you, or one who may be among you throughout your generations, and he wishes to make an offering by fire, as a soothing aroma to the LORD, just as you do, so he shall do. 15 As for the assembly, there shall be one statute for you and for the alien who sojourns with you, a perpetual statute throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the alien be before the LORD. 16 There is to be one law and one ordinance for you and for the alien who sojourns with you.”
Dennis Cole: The proper extension of justice and righteousness to the resident alien was an important element of Israel’s existence as a unique people of God and of their calling to be a source of blessing and light to the world (Gen 12:3; Isa 42:6; 49:6). A variety of non-Israelites had come out from the bondage of Egypt with the descendants of the sons of Jacob, and though some of them (among the “rabble,” Num 11:4) had helped instigate the rebellious murmuring concerning their food supply, the opportunity for repentance under the umbrella of the covenant relationship would always be there. After all, there were no “native-Israelites”—that is, those born in the land—when God delivered his people from bondage and oppression. So the door was always to be open to proselytes who would desire to identify with Israel, their faith, and their God.
II. (:17-36) RESPECT THE LORD – SHOWING OUR DEDICATION AND OBEDIENCE
“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
‘Speak to the sons of Israel, and say to them,’”
A. (:18-21) Respect the Lord by Your Gratitude and Loyalty – Bring Him Your Best — Dedication
1. (:18-19) Our Offerings Reflect Our Gratitude for God’s Faithfulness
“When you enter the land where I bring you, 19 then it shall be, that when you eat of the food of the land, you shall lift up an offering to the LORD.”
2. (:20-21) Our Offerings Reflect Our Loyalty for God’s Priority in Our Life
“Of the first of your dough you shall lift up a cake as an offering; as the offering of the threshing floor, so you shall lift it up. 21 From the first of your dough you shall give to the LORD an offering throughout your generations.”
B. (:22-36) Respect the Lord by Taking Sin Seriously – Purification Offering – Obedience
1. (:22-29) Obedience — Dealing with Inadvertent Sins
Dennis Cole: The second section (vv. 22–36) contains rules pertaining to purification rituals in the context of unintentional sins and the ultimate punishment for intentional or defiant sins. This material is presented in response to the defiance of the people, especially the ten unfaithful scouts. They provide the means for symbolically addressing the issue of failing to follow God’s instruction. Unintentional sins require restitution or reparation offerings, but flagrant, overt rebellion against God carries dire consequences, even death. Hence, in vv. 32–36 an example of intentional sin and its consequences is recounted. Since the Sabbath was a sign of the covenant relationship between God and man, the inclusion here is emphatic in light of the breach of the covenant in the immediate context. In the larger context this section would remind the people of the consequences of rebellion against the covenant commandments, namely judgment and loss of the land. For generations to come they would hear the story of the loss of a whole generation of their forefathers because of rebellion and sin. The abuse of the Sabbath would be decried throughout the history of Israel, especially by the latter prophets such as Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. At the end of the history of the Southern Kingdom of Judah, Jeremiah would prophesy the destruction of Jerusalem because of the breaking of the Sabbath.
a. (:22-23) Nature and Scope of Inadvertent Sins
1) Nature of Inadvertent Sins
“But when you unwittingly fail”
Ronald Allen: God made high demands and expected compliance, but he also provided avenues for redress when one did not comply fully. Therefore we conclude that in the Torah God speaks in grace; in the most exacting law there is mercy, and in all of the Torah the intention is to know him and to relate to him.
2) Scope of Responsibility of Obedience
“and do not observe all these commandments, which the LORD has spoken to Moses, 23 even all that the LORD has commanded you through Moses, from the day when the LORD gave commandment and onward throughout your generations,”
Robert Rayburn: Now, two different types of unintentional sins are mentioned: those committed by the community as a whole, and those committed by individuals. In each case forgiveness and purification are possible through the faithful use of the sacrificial system.
b. (:24-26) Inadvertent Sins Committed by the Community
1) (:24) Response of the Community
“then it shall be, if it is done unintentionally, without the knowledge of the congregation, that all the congregation shall offer one bull for a burnt offering, as a soothing aroma to the LORD, with its grain offering, and its libation, according to the ordinance, and one male goat for a sin offering.”
2) (:25-26) Response of the Priest
“Then the priest shall make atonement for all the congregation of the sons of Israel, and they shall be forgiven; for it was an error, and they have brought their offering, an offering by fire to the LORD, and their sin offering before the LORD, for their error. 26 So all the congregation of the sons of Israel will be forgiven, with the alien who sojourns among them, for it happened to all the people through error.”
c. (:27-28) Inadvertent Sins Committed by the Individual
1) (:27) Response of the Individual
“Also if one person sins unintentionally,
then he shall offer a one year old female goat for a sin offering.”
2) (:28) Response of the Priest
“And the priest shall make atonement before the LORD for the person who goes astray when he sins unintentionally,
making atonement for him that he may be forgiven.”
d. (:29) Same Standard for Native Israelite and for the Foreigner
“You shall have one law for him who does anything unintentionally,
for him who is native among the sons of Israel
and for the alien who sojourns among them.”
3. (:30-36) Obedience — Dealing with Intentional Sins of Defiance
a. (:30-31) Points of Emphasis
1) Defiant Attitude
“But the person who does anything defiantly,”
2) Impartial Standards
“whether he is native or an alien,”
3) Disrespect towards God
“that one is blaspheming the LORD;”
4) Excommunication from the Community
“and that person shall be cut off from among his people.”
5) Rebellion as the Root Sin
“Because he has despised the word of the LORD
and has broken His commandment,”
6) Punishment Proscribed
“that person shall be completely cut off;”
7) Condemnation without Forgiveness
“his guilt shall be on him.”
R. K. Harrison: Blatant defiance of the revealed truths of the Sinaitic covenant constituted a direct, conscious repudiation of the God of that covenant, the penalty for which was to be “cut off,” i.e., removed from membership in the community by being executed (Lev. 24:11-16). This penalty also applied to the resident alien as well as to the native Israelite.
b. (:32-36) Case Example of Intentional Violation of the Sabbath
1) (:32-34) Capture of the Offender
a) (:32) Offense
“Now while the sons of Israel were in the wilderness,
they found a man gathering wood on the sabbath day.”
b) (:33) Accountability
“And those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron, and to all the congregation;”
c) (:34) Imprisonment
“and they put him in custody because it had not been declared what should be done to him.”
Constable: This incident illustrates the fate of the Israelite or foreigner in Israel who deliberately violated the law of Sabbath observance. It clarifies the meaning of defiant sin as well as what it means to be “cut off from among his people” (Numbers 15:30-31). Violation of this law drew the death penalty (Exodus 31:14-15; Exodus 35:2). It is like the “unforgivable sin” in the New Testament in that there was no forgiveness of it. [Note: Mark Rooker, Leviticus, p55.] God revealed on this occasion that such an offender was to die by stoning (cf. Leviticus 20:2). Whereas Moses had previously recorded the penalty, he had not explained the method of execution (Numbers 15:34). Other occasions on which Moses had to ask God for guidance in difficult cases appear in Numbers 9:7-8; Numbers 27:1-11; and Leviticus 24:10-23.
2) (:35-36) Execution of the Offender
“Then the LORD said to Moses”
a) (:35) Death by Stoning Proscribed
“The man shall surely be put to death;
all the congregation shall stone him with stones
outside the camp.”
Iain Duguid: There is no such thing as a trivial sin. Some sins may seem less severe than others. It may look on the surface as if swearing and coveting are less serious than murder and adultery. But the heart attitude is what counts. All sin is, on one level or another, an expression of cosmic rebellion against our Creator. It is a more or less deliberate turning of our backs on the one who made us for fellowship with him. That is why the wages of all sin is death, as Romans 6:23 reminds us. If we turn our backs on God in sin, it is fitting that he should turn his back on us. That is what we deserve every time we sin, and if he carries out that sentence upon us, it will mean our eternal death. All sin is therefore serious, but defiant sin is especially so. If we willfully and persistently turn our backs on God, how shall the relationship be restored? How can there be anything in store other than the death we have chosen for ourselves?
b) (:36) Death by Stoning Carried Out
“So all the congregation brought him outside the camp, and stoned him to death with stones,
just as the LORD had commanded Moses.”
Ronald Allen: We may add a comment on “Christian sabbath keeping.” The Sabbath was the seal of God’s covenant with Israel; as a distinctly Israelite institution, we speak in an oxymoron if we describe Sunday, the Lord’s Day, as a “Christian sabbath.” If we really believed that Sunday is the “Sabbath,” then not only would we need to transform it to a day of rest (rather than the frenetic activities that mark most church-going families on this day!); but we would logically have to consider the application of the seriousness of this pericope for infraction. For Sabbath breaking in this story is a blatant revolt against God that is deserving of death!
III. (:37-41) REMEMBER THE LORD AND HIS COMMANDS – RESPOND TO HIS ROYAL RULE WITH A COMMITMENT TO HOLINESS AND APPRECIATION FOR REDEMPTION
“The LORD also spoke to Moses, saying,
‘Speak to the sons of Israel,’”
Dennis Cole: The chapter concludes (vv. 37–41) with instructions regarding the tasseled garments that were to be worn as a reminder of the covenant stipulations, whereby they might live in an obedient, faithful relationship to the God of the covenant. They set forth a means (garment fringes) for having a constant physical reminder of the special relationship between God and his people so they might not defy him as the generation represented by the ten timid spies had done. In Deuteronomy that outward sign of the covenant between God and man was the wearing of phylacteries bound to the forehead and forearm, which were symbols of their subservience in the covenant relationship to God. The epilogue to the chapter presents the great covenant proclamation of Yahweh as the Sovereign Lord, who delivered his people from slavery and oppression. The people must acknowledge him as their rightful King by being obedient to his commands.
Constable: The Israelite was to fasten the tassel to the garment with a blue thread, or it had to contain a blue thread. The blue color, as noted in our study of the tabernacle coverings, probably symbolized heavenly origin and royalty. Thus God apparently wanted the blue thread to remind the Israelites of their holy calling as a kingdom of priests. These tassels reminded the Israelites of their privileged position in the world and their noble and holy calling.
The tassels were clearly a visual aid for the Israelites and probably produced a conditioned response in the minds of pious Jews (cf. Deuteronomy 6:6-9). They did not bring to mind any one commandment but reminded the observer that he should observe all of God’s laws. He was distinct by virtue of his calling, as was the garment he observed. Perhaps God also chose the outer garment because the Israelites were as His outer garment by which the world recognized Him. His people were to be an adornment to Him (cf. Titus 2:10). Thus God specified something that would warn His people before they sinned; He did not just specify punishment after they sinned.
A. (:38-40) Visual Aid to Encourage Obedience = Blue Tassels on Hems of Garments
1. (:38) Sewing of the Blue Tassels on the Garments
“and tell them that they shall make for themselves tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and that they shall put on the tassel of each corner a cord of blue.”
Eugene Merrill: These tassels (cf. Deut. 22:12) would serve as visual aids to help them remember to obey all His commands.
Timothy Ashley: the color blue marked something as important. It is likely that it was the mark of royalty. The king of Israel was Yahweh. The color blue therefore marked that which belonged especially to him. One showed divine ownership by fulfilling the role of “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exod. 19:6). Holiness of life was the hallmark of Yahweh’s person (“be holy as I am holy,” Lev. 11:44, etc.).
2. (:39-40) Significance of the Blue Tassels
“And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, so as to do them and not follow after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you played the harlot, in order that you may remember to do all My commandments, and be holy to your God.”
Iain Duguid: In particular, the tassels served as a reminder of two things. In the first place, they reminded the Israelites who they were by God’s overwhelming grace. They were the people of the Lord, the people he had redeemed from Egypt. He had redeemed them so that they might have an ongoing relationship with him: neither the power of Egypt nor their stubborn, defiant rebellion could compromise that purpose (v. 41). Secondly, though, it reminded the Israelites of the obligations that went with their calling. They were redeemed from Egypt to be a holy nation and a royal priesthood. God brought them out of bondage so that they might obey his commands and be consecrated to their God, instead of going after the lusts of their own hearts and eyes (vv. 39, 40).
In some ways, with this combined emphasis on their privilege and responsibility, the requirement to wear the tassels sums up the thrust of the whole chapter. God redeemed Israel by his grace for relationship with him; yet that did not now leave them free to do whatever they wanted to do. Such “freedom” would actually merely be a different kind of bondage, prostituting themselves to their own lusts (v. 39). A relationship with God by grace does not eliminate the need for obedience but rather forms the foundation for it. The God who commands us is the same God who first delivered us from bondage; so we know that his purposes in commanding us are good. In fact, he delivered us from our former bondage to sin so we could experience the true freedom that comes as we obey his commandments and law. His law turns out to be the path to true liberty.
B. (:41) Vocal Testimony of God’s Role as Redeemer
“I am the LORD your God
who brought you out from the land of Egypt to be your God;
I am the LORD your God.”
Ronald Allen: The pericope – and the chapter – ends on a high note of the self-revelation of the Lord and his declaration of purpose for his people. The words “I am the Lord your God” (repeated) have about them the sound of a litany, a recitation of faith. The demands that God made on his people came from his right of redemption. By his act of deliverance, Yahweh speaks with the demands of his character. Further, the chapter begins and concludes with the continuing promise of God to bring his people into the land. He is still at work in the process of completing their redemption from Egypt. The command to turn back to the desert (14:25) is for a lengthy detour, not an abandonment of the journey itself.