In this paper we shall consider Repetitions, Regulations and Reminders, ch. 15; Rebellion and Retribution, ch. 16; Recognition and Responsibility of priesthood, ch. 17 and 18; and Removal of Impurity, ch. 19.
Chapter 14 reflects man’s failure, “doubtless ye shall not come into the land”, v. 30, but chapter 15 recounts God’s faithfulness, “When ye be come into the land”, 15. 2, 18, a further demonstration of God’s mercy and grace, for “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound”, Rom. 5. 20. Vows, free-will offerings and sacrifices occupy the first part of the chapter, Num. 15. 3-13, such repetitions serving to remind them that, though in the wilderness, they were expected to live as those whose heritage and privileges belonged to the land of promise. Repetition is in itself no bad thing as every teacher knows; God’s repetitions are never “vain”, neither are His rules unnecessary.
The law of the stranger, vv. 14-16, displays the sovereign mercy of the Lord for “as ye are, so shall the stranger be before the Lord”, v. 15. All men are equal before God, and “the gifts and calling of God are without repentance … that he might have mercy upon all”, Rom. 11. 29-32. A distinction between deliberate and unintentional sins is now defined, Num. 15. 22-31, but it is clearly declared that the claims of God cannot be overlooked. Grace has made provision for the sins of ignorance, but holiness demands that such sins be judged and confessed. Christ’s death has fully atoned for sin and God is satisfied, but sin cannot be excused on the grounds of ignorance. The true safeguard against such sins is the prayerful study of God’s Word and against presumptuous sins, being in subjection to His Word, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee”, Psa. 119. 11. The sabbath-breaker, Num. 15. 32-36, had committed wilful and deliberate sin against the divine command, and his judgment was inevitable and final, that of death by stoning. It is no small thing deliberately to ignore the clear command of the Lord.
The “law of fringes” required that a cord of blue be worn on the garment, so that the Israelite “may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them”, v. 39. The heavenly colour would constantly remind them of divine government, but sadly that which God intended to be a memorial “sign” became in later years an outward adornment of sinful pride, Matt. 23. 5. It is possible that much which passes for spiritual worship is nothing more than ritualistic pride.
The rebellion of Korah and his confederates might have seemed both plausible and popular, a plea for equal rights, as they addressed Moses and Aaron saying, “Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them”, vv. 1-3. Since Moses and Aaron were there by divine appointment, the complaint was in fact against the Lord, in whose hands they chose to leave the matter, vv. 4-7. The real purpose of Korah’s rebellion was his desire for the priesthood, v. 10, an office vested by the Lord in Aaron and his family. It is surely best to leave men of envious ambition in the Lord’s hands, assured that He will deal with them in His own time and in His own perfect way.
The Pit. Moses, convinced that the matter was one between the rebels and God, requested Him to act in no uncertain way, vv. 28-30. The judgment was swift and complete, for “all that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods … went down into the pit, and the earth closed upon them”, vv. 31-34. This was followed by “a fire from the Lord, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense”, v.35. It is surely a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, Heb. 10. 31.
The Plague. One might have expected that such scenes would have silenced for ever any further discontent and rebellion, but it was not so. Even “on the morrow” all the congregation murmured against Moses and Aaron, accusing them of killing the people of the Lord, v. 41. Such is the depravity of the human heart. Only through the office of his priesthood did Aaron stand “between the dead and the living”, v. 48, and the people were spared and the plague stayed. One greater than Aaron stands now in the presence of God, “able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them”, Heb. 7. 25.
Aaron’s Rod. The final demonstration and evidence of priestly privilege was to be seen in a rod capable of bearing fruit. This was intended to silence once for all the murmurings of the people against Aaron, vv. 1-6. The rod of Aaron for the house of Levi budded, blossomed and bore fruit; the rest of the rods remained lifeless. It was not Moses’ rod which blossomed, for that was the rod of authority and power. C. H. Mackintosh writes, “the rod of authority could take away the murmurers but the rod of grace could take away the murmurs”. Aaron’s rod was returned to the sanctuary to be kept as a sign for the rebels, vv. 10, 11; for priests and people must learn that there was nothing inherent in Aaron to perform his priestly duties, but that all was of God. On a previous occasion there had been presumption to enter the sanctuary, but now the people cower in fear before it, saying, “Behold, we die, we perish, we all perish”. The carnal mind, as always, fails to grasp the true nature and purpose of God’s dealings with His people.
ch. 18. In order to prevent further profanation of the sanctuary, responsibility was given “as a service of gift”, v. 7, to Aaron and his sons, while the Levites were given as a gift to Aaron to work in the court of the tabernacle, though they were not allowed into the holy place. Together they engaged in the service of the Lord, each in his appointed sphere. “Joined” to Aaron, v. 2, the Levites were joined one to another, as in like matters believers are “workers together with him … in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God”, 2 Cor. 6. 1, 3. Though Levites had no inheritance in the land of promise, by way of compensation they received tithes, and they in turn gave a tithe to the priests, Num. 18. 26. Those who are called and separated to the Lord’s service are taught to depend upon Him, “I am thy part and thine inheritance”, v. 20, for the Lord sends no one into warfare at his own charges, 1 Cor. 9. 7-14.
Water of Separation. This was a special provision for those defiled by contact with a dead body, and this emphasized the need for constant cleansing. As the camp moved from place to place, the usual ceremonial rites were not available, but there was to be no excuse for a postponement of such cleansing. The slaying of the red heifer outside the camp and its burning with cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet wool mixed with water, provided such a means. The writer to the Hebrews draws the parallel between the sacrifice of the heifer, whose ashes were sanctified to the purifying of the flesh, and that of Christ, who offered Himself without spot to God to purge the conscience from dead works to serve the living God, Heb. 9. 13, 14; 13. 11, 12. The sacrifice of Christ does not merely cleanse the body from ceremonial uncleanness, but lifts the load of guilt from the conscience.
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