Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Occurrences During the Thirty-Seven Years of Wandering in the Wilderness - Numbers 15-19
After the unhappy issue of the attempt to penetrate into Canaan, in opposition to the will of God and the advice of Moses, the Israelites remained "many days" in Kadesh, as the Lord did not hearken to their lamentations concerning the defeat which they had suffered at the hands of the Canaanites and Amalekites. Then they turned, and took their journey, as the Lord had commanded (Num 14:25), into the wilderness, in the direction towards the Red Sea (Deu 1:45; Deu 2:1); and in the first month of the fortieth year they came again into the desert of Zin, to Kadesh (Num 20:1). All that we know respecting this journeying from Kadesh into the wilderness in the direction towards the Red Sea, and up to the time of their return to the desert of Zin, is limited to a number of names of places of encampment given in the list of journeying stages in Num 33:19-30, out of which, as the situation of the majority of them is altogether unknown, or at all events has not yet been determined, no connected account of the journeys of Israel during this interval of thirty-seven years can possibly be drawn. The most important event related in connection with this period is the rebellion of the company of Korah against Moses and Aaron, and the re-establishment of the Aaronic priesthood and confirmation of their rights, which this occasioned (chs. 16-18). This rebellion probably occurred in the first portion of the period in question. In addition to this there are only a few laws recorded, which were issued during this long time of punishment, and furnished a practical proof of the continuance of the covenant which the Lord had made with the nation of Israel at Sinai. There was nothing more to record in connection with these thirty-seven years, which formed the second stage in the guidance of Israel through the desert. For, as Baumgarten has well observed, "the fighting men of Israel had fallen under the judgment of Jehovah, and the sacred history, therefore, was no longer concerned with them; whilst the youth, in whom the life and hope of Israel were preserved, had as yet no history at all." Consequently we have no reason to complain, as Ewald does (Gesch. ii. pp. 241, 242), that "the great interval of forty years remains a perfect void;" and still less occasion to dispose of the gap, as this scholar has done, by supposing that the last historian left out a great deal from the history of the forty years' wanderings. The supposed "void" was completely filled up by the gradual dying out of the generation which had been rejected by God.
Regulations concerning Sacrifices. - Vv. 1-16. For the purpose of reviving the hopes of the new generation that was growing up, and directing their minds to the promised land, during the mournful and barren time when judgment was being executed upon the race that had been condemned, Jehovah communicated various laws through Moses concerning the presentation of sacrifices in the land that He would give them (Num 15:1 and Num 15:2), whereby the former laws of sacrifice were supplemented and completed. The first of these laws had reference to the connection between meat-offerings and drink-offerings on the one hand, and burnt-offerings and slain-offerings on the other.
In the land of Canaan, every burnt and slain-offering, whether prepared in fulfilment of a vow, or spontaneously, or on feast-days (cf. Lev 7:16; Lev 22:18, and Lev 23:38), was to be associated with a meat-offering of fine flour mixed with oil, and a drink-offering of wine, - the quantity to be regulated according to the kind of animal that was slain in sacrifice. (See Lev 23:18, where this connection is already mentioned in the case of the festal sacrifices.) For a lamb (כּבשׂ, i.e., either sheep or goat, cf. Num 15:11), they were to take the tenth of an ephah of fine flour, mixed with the quarter of a hin of oil and the quarter of a hin of wine, as a drink-offering. In Num 15:5, the construction changes from the third to the second person. עשׂה, to prepare, as in Exo 29:38.
For a ram, they were to take two tenths of fine flour, with the third of a hin of oil and the third of a hin of wine.
For an ox, three tenths of fine flour, with half a hin of oil and half a hin of wine. The הקריב (3rd person) in Num 15:9, between תּעשׂה in Num 15:8, and תּקריב in Num 15:10, is certainly striking and unusual, but no so offensive as to render it necessary to alter it into ותּקריב.
The quantities mentioned were to be offered with every ox, or ram, or lamb, of either sheep or goat, and therefore the number of the appointed quantities of meat and drink-offerings was to correspond to the number of sacrificial animals.
These rules were to apply not only to the sacrifices of those that were born in Israel, but also to those of the strangers living among them. By "these things," in Num 15:13, we are to understand the meat and drink-offerings already appointed.
"As for the assembly, there shall be one law for the Israelite and the stranger,...an eternal ordinance...before Jehovah." הקּהל, which is construed absolutely, refers to the assembling of the nation before Jehovah, or to the congregation viewed in its attitude with regard to God.
A second law (Num 15:17-21) appoints, on the ground of the general regulations in Exo 22:28 and Exo 23:19, the presentation of a heave-offering from the bread which they would eat in the land of Canaan, viz., a first-fruit of groat-meal (עריסת ראשׁית) baked as cake (חלּה). Arisoth, which is only used in connection with the gift of first-fruits, in Eze 44:30; Neh 10:38, and the passage before us, signifies most probably groats, or meal coarsely bruised, like the talmudical ערסן, contusum, mola, far, and indeed far hordei. This cake of the groats of first-fruits they were to offer "as a heave-offering of the threshing-floor," i.e., as a heave-offering of the bruised corn, in the same manner as this (therefore, in addition to it, and along with it); and that "according to your generations" (see Exo 12:14), that is to say, for all time, to consecrate a gift of first-fruits to the Lord, not only of the grains of corn, but also of the bread made from the corn, and "to cause a blessing to rest upon his house" (Eze 44:30). Like all the gifts of first-fruits, this cake also fell to the portion of the priests (see Ezek. and Neh. ut sup.).
To these there are added, in Num 15:22, Num 15:31, laws relating to sin-offerings, the first of which, in Num 15:22-26, is distinguished from the case referred to in Lev 4:13-21, by the fact that the sin is not described here, as it is there, as "doing one of the commandments of Jehovah which ought not to be done," but as "not doing all that Jehovah had spoken through Moses." Consequently, the allusion here is not to sins of commission, but to sins of omission, not following the law of God, "even (as is afterwards explained in Num 15:23) all that the Lord hath commanded you by the hand of Moses from the day that the Lord hath commanded, and thenceforward according to your generations," i.e., since the first beginning of the giving of the law, and during the whole of the time following (Knobel). These words apparently point to a complete falling away of the congregation from the whole of the law. Only the further stipulation in Num 15:24, "if it occur away from the eyes of the congregation through error" (in oversight), cannot be easily reconciled with this, as it seems hardly conceivable that an apostasy from the entire law should have remained hidden from the congregation. This "not doing all the commandments of Jehovah," of which the congregation is supposed to incur the guilt without perceiving it, might consist either in the fact that, in particular instances, whether from oversight or negligence, the whole congregation omitted to fulfil the commandments of God, i.e., certain precepts of the law, sc., in the fact that they neglected the true and proper fulfilment of the whole law, either, as Outram supposes, "by retaining to a certain extent the national rites, and following the worship of the true God, and yet at the same time acting unconsciously in opposition to the law, through having been led astray by some common errors;" or by allowing the evil example of godless rulers to seduce them to neglect their religious duties, or to adopt and join in certain customs and usages of the heathen, which appeared to be reconcilable with the law of Jehovah, though they really led to contempt and neglect of the commandments of the Lord.
(Note: Maimonides (see Outram, ex veterum sententia) understands this law as relating to extraneous worship; and Outram himself refers to the times of the wicked kings, "when the people neglected their hereditary rites, and, forgetting the sacred laws, fell by a common sin into the observance of the religious rites of other nations." Undoubtedly, we have historical ground in Ch2 29:21., and Ezr 8:35, for this interpretation of our law, but further allusions are not excluded in consequence. We cannot agree with Baumgarten, therefore, in restricting the difference between Lev 4:13. and the passage before us to the fact, that the former supposes the transgression of one particular commandment on the part of the whole congregation, whilst the latter (Num 15:22, Num 15:23) refers to a continued lawless condition on the part of Israel.)
But as a disregard or neglect of the commandments of God had to be expiated, a burnt-offering was to be added to the sin-offering, that the separation of the congregation from the Lord, which had arisen from the sin of omission, might be entirely removed. The apodosis commences with והיה in Num 15:24, but is interrupted by מעי אם, and resumed again with ועשׂוּ, "it shall be, if...the whole congregation shall prepare," etc. The burnt-offering, being the principal sacrifice, is mentioned as usual before the sin-offering, although, when presented, it followed the latter, on account of its being necessary that the sin should be expiated before the congregation could sanctify its life and efforts afresh to the Lord in the burnt-offering. "One kid of the goats:" see Lev 4:23. כּמּשׂפּט (as in Lev 5:10; Lev 9:16, etc.) refers to the right established in Num 15:8, Num 15:9, concerning the combination of the meat and drink-offering with the burnt-offering. The sin-offering was to be treated according to the rule laid down in Lev 4:14.
This law was to apply not only to the children of Israel, but also to the stranger among them, "for (sc., it has happened) to the whole nation in mistake." As the sin extended to the whole nation, in which the foreigners were also included, the atonement was also to apply to the whole.
In the same way, again, there was one law for the native and the stranger, in relation to sins of omission on the part of single individuals. The law laid doon in Lev 5:6 (cf. Lev 4:27.) for the Israelites, is repeated here in Num 15:27, Num 15:28, and in Num 15:28 it is raised into general validity for foreigners also. In Num 15:29, האזרח is written absolutely for לאזרח.
But it was only sins committed by mistake (see at Lev 4:2) that could be expiated by sin-offerings. Whoever, on the other hand, whether a native or a foreigner, committed a sin "with a high hand," - i.e., so that he raised his hand, as it were, against Jehovah, or acted in open rebellion against Him, - blasphemed God, and was to be cut off (see Gen 17:14); for he had despised the word of Jehovah, and broken His commandment, and was to atone for it with his life. בהּ עונה, "its crime upon it;" i.e., it shall come upon such a soul in the punishment which it shall endure.
The History of the Sabbath-Breaker is no doubt inserted here as a practical illustration of sinning "with a high hand." It shows, too, at the same time, how the nation, as a whole, was impressed with the inviolable sanctity of the Lord's day. From the words with which it is introduced, "and the children of Israel were in the wilderness," all that can be gathered is, that the occurrence took place at the time when Israel was condemned to wander about in the wilderness for forty years. They found a man gathering sticks in the desert on the Sabbath, and brought him as an open transgressor of the law of the Sabbath before Moses and Aaron and the whole congregation, i.e., the college of elders, as the judicial authorities of the congregation (Exo 18:25.). They kept him in custody, like the blasphemer in Lev 24:12, because it had not yet been determined what was to be done to him. It is true that it had already been laid down in Exo 31:14-15, and Exo 35:2, that any breach of the law of the Sabbath should be punished by death and extermination, but the mode had not yet been prescribed. This was done now, and Jehovah commanded stoning (see Lev 20:2), which was executed upon the criminal without delay.
(cf. Deu 22:12). The command to wear Tassels on the Edge of the Upper Garment appears to have been occasioned by the incident just described. The Israelites were to wear ציצת, tassels, on the wings of their upper garments, or, according to Deu 22:12, at the four corners of the upper garment. כּסוּת, the covering in which a man wraps himself, synonymous with בּגד, was the upper garment, consisting of a four-cornered cloth or piece of stuff, which was thrown over the body-coat (see my Bibl. Archol. ii. pp. 36, 37), and is not to be referred, as Schultz supposes, to the bed-coverings also, although this garment was actually used as a counterpane by the poor (see Exo 22:25-26). "And upon the tassel of the wing they shall put a string of hyacinth-blue," namely, to fasten the tassel to the edge of the garment. ציצת (fem., from ציץ, the glittering, the bloom or flower) signifies something flowery or bloom-like, and is used in Eze 8:3 for a lock of hair; here it is applied to a tassel, as being made of twisted threads: lxx κράσπεδα; Mat 23:5, "borders." The size of these tassels is not prescribed. The Pharisees liked to make them large, to exhibit openly their punctilious fulfilment of the law. For the Rabbinical directions how to make them, see Carpzov. apparat. pp. 197ff.; and Bodenschatz, kirchliche Verfassung der heutigen Juden, iv. pp. 11ff.
"And it shall be to you for a tassel," i.e., the fastening of the tassel with the dark blue thread to the corners of your garments shall be to you a tassel, "that ye, when ye see it, may remember all the commandments of Jehovah, and do them; and ye shall not stray after your hearts and your eyes, after which ye go a whoring." The zizith on the sky-blue thread was to serve as a memorial sign to the Israelites, to remind them of the commandments of God, that they might have them constantly before their eyes and follow them, and not direct their heart and eyes to the things of this world, which turn away from the word of God, and lead astray to idolatry (cf. Pro 4:25-26). Another reason for these instructions, as is afterwards added in Num 15:40, was to remind Israel of all the commandments of the Lord, that they might do them and be holy to their God, and sanctify their daily life to Him who had brought them out of Egypt, to be their God, i.e., to show Himself as God to them.