Reminders from God

Text Numbers 15:1-31 Time 01/07/12 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church

When we come to Numbers Chapter 15 it is a little bit like the calm after the storm. Chapters 13 and 14 are all action leading up to the announcement that Israel will spend 40 years in the desert. How do you follow that? Some think that you cannot and there is no logic between Chapter 14 and the laws found in Chapter 15. Others argue that in fact the very thing the Israelites needed at this point was a series of reminders of things that they were clearly in danger of forgetting and that we too are always in danger of forgetting. I want us to look just at verses 1-31 today then and see that there are three or four reminders here altogether. We will look at the closing verses on another occasion. So we say

1. Hear this reminder from God about his promises for all
Yes, this generation is not going to enter Canaan but it does not mean that God has abandoned his project. No, the very next thing God tells Moses to say to the people begins (2) After you enter the land I am giving you as a home … They will go in – not these people but their children after them, without doubt. God's Word can never fail. His will is bound to prevail. Let's never forget that. He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion … The gates of hell cannot prevail against the church.
The very description of how they are to add grain and drink offerings to their meat sacrifices also acts as reminder of the way forgiveness is found through the atonement that God provides. When they (3) present to the LORD food offerings from the herd or the flock they are an aroma pleasing to the LORD - whether burnt offerings or sacrifices, for special vows or freewill offerings or festival offerings. We do not have to worry, thankfully, about the specific mix of flour and oil or the wine necessary for the different offerings (which increases in proportion to the value of the animal) – but we do note that each is to be offered as an aroma pleasing to the LORD. The Lord is pleased with such offerings as they point us to the coming death of Christ who died to atone for the sins of his people.
The other thing to note in verses 1-16 is the way it says first in verse 13 that Everyone who is native-born must do these things in this way when they present a food offering as an aroma pleasing to the LORD and then in verses 14-16 that For the generations to come, whenever a foreigner (a permanent resident) or anyone else living among you (a temporary resident) presents a food offering as an aroma pleasing to the LORD, they must do exactly as you do. The community is to have the same rules for you and for the foreigner residing among you; this is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. You and the foreigner shall be the same before the LORD: The same laws and regulations will apply both to you and to the foreigner residing among you. This pattern is found throughout the chapter. It points us forward to these glorious New Testament times when indeed it does make no difference whether you are a Jew or a Gentile. The promise is for anyone, Jew or Gentile or whatever his background. Let's not forget that.

2. Hear this reminder from God about his provision
The next thing we read is in verses 17-21. This time God tells Moses to tell the Israelites When you enter the land to which I am taking you and you eat the food of the land, present a portion as an offering to the LORD. Present a loaf from the first of your ground meal and present it as an offering from the threshing floor. This law of firstfruits was also to be practised when they would finally enter the Promised Land. It would serve to remind them that it was God who had provided for them. Jewish tradition says that this was not a one off thing or an annual thing but was to be practised with every batch of baking.

Now we are not bound by the specific rules laid down here but the principles stand.

1. The portion presenting principle
They were to give part of what God had given to them back to him. We also should give – not just our money but our time and talent too.
2. The priority principle
The loaf was to be made from the first of your ground meal. It was not to be an afterthought. We too need to get that clear. It is on the first day we worship and on the first day we give. Similarly we should decide what to give to God first before anything else.
3. The provision principle
The fact that it is God who provides looms large here. He is the one who gives to us all we have. Hence we pray that he will give us our daily bread.
4. The posterity principle
21 Throughout the generations to come you are to give this offering to the LORD from the first of your ground meal. They were to continue to give down the ages. We too ought to be encouraging our children in this way.
Let us remember then that God provides for us and lets give him thanks.

3. Hear this reminder from God about his pardon and preservation
We come next to verses 22-29 which deal with unintentional failure to keep any of these commands the LORD gave Moses - any of the LORD's commands to you through him, from the day the LORD gave them and continuing through the generations to come.
First, we learn what the community is to do if they sin (24) without the community being aware of it, then the whole community is to offer a young bull for a burnt offering as an aroma pleasing to the LORD, along with its prescribed grain offering and drink offering, and a male goat for a sin offering. In this way (25) The priest is to make atonement for the whole Israelite community, and they will be forgiven, for it was not intentional and they have presented to the LORD for their wrong a food offering and a sin offering. Such an act will guarantee that (26) The whole Israelite community and the foreigners residing among them will be forgiven ….
On the other hand (27) if just one person sins unintentionally, that person must bring a year-old female goat for a sin offering. The priest is to make atonement before the LORD for the one who erred by sinning unintentionally, and when atonement has been made, that person will be forgiven. To sum up (29) One and the same law applies to everyone who sins unintentionally, whether a native-born Israelite or a foreigner residing among you.
I suppose it is no surprise that sometimes the community or an individual made a mistake with one or other of the multitude of rules that they needed to keep. We too can find it easy to sin sometimes without even trying. There are people who think that ignorance is an excuse for sin. If you do not know a thing is wrong then surely you can't be in trouble for breaking that law. The problem with that as far as criminal law is concerned is that everyone would claim they didn't know if they thought they could get off.
No, the truth is that ignorance is a mitigating factor. Obviously there is a difference between someone who, say, deliberately trespasses in a field and someone who does it out of ignorance. However, even sins committed unintentionally are still sins and need to be dealt with. Perhaps the outstanding Old Testament example is Uzzah who tried to steady the ark of God in David's time. Like all sins there needs to be atonement for an unintentional sin. Here a way of atonement is provided and it leads to forgiveness. In these New Testament days we know that the atonement we need is found in Christ and that is the way to forgiveness. Let us remember that this is the way to be pardoned and preserved.

4. Hear this reminder from God about his perfection
What follows the instructions about unintentional sins is the instructions about intentional sins in verses 30 and 31. It is very brief. But anyone who sins defiantly, (with a high hand it is literally) whether native-born or foreigner, blasphemes the LORD and must be cut off from the people of Israel. Because they have despised the LORD's word and broken his commands, they must surely be cut off; their guilt remains on them.
In ancient Israel if anyone deliberately sinned against God then there was no remedy. There could be no forgiveness. Such sinning is blasphemy against the Lord and shows a person has despised the LORD's word and broken his commands. The law reminds us of God's holiness and perfection.
The obvious question arises as to what an intentional sin under the new covenant deserves. Is there forgiveness for such sins. I think the eighteenth century Anglican preacher Charles Simeon captures the truth well when he says “True it is, that under the gospel we have a sacrifice for presumptuous sins as well as others: but if the gospel be the object of our contemptuous disregard, we cannot possibly be saved, but must perish under a most accumulated condemnation.” In Hebrews 10:28-31 it says Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, It is mine to avenge; I will repay, and again, The Lord will judge his people. It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
God is a forgiving God but he is a holy God too and we cannot trifle with him. We must endeavour always to be holy. We must accept his gospel an believe it. There is no other way to be saved.