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Bible: What Does Numbers 15-16 Teach Us About Holiness and the Consequences of Rebellion?

Updated on September 15, 2016

Living Under the Ceremonial Law

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Holiness: A Requirement of the Redeemed

Yahweh introduces more instruction about certain laws as Israel prepares to enter Canaan (vv. 1-2).

The first law reiterates the procedures to follow when offering various sacrifices (v. 3).

With these offerings the worshiper must also bring a grain offering and a drink offering; a bull requires that a worshiper sacrifice more grain and wine than does either a ram, a lamb, or a goat (vv. 4-11).

[The offering measurements for each animal follow: bull (3/10 ephah-grain; 1/2 hin (?) wine) [vv. 8-10]; ram (1/5 ephah; 1/3 hin) [vv. 6-7]; lamb or goat (1/10 ephah; 1/4 hin) [vv. 4-5).

In each case, the amount of oil mixed with the grain is the same amount of the drink offering of wine (vv. 4-7, 9-10)].

These requirements do not vary according to the natural origin of the worshiper; whether native-born Israelite or stranger, each must follow the same ordinance (vv. 11-16).

Israel must also give a heave offering of the first of the ground meal through their generations (vv. 17-21).

[Why did Moses place this particular offering here in the text?]

The next law deals with the procedures surrounding unintentional sin (vv. 22-29).

If all the people commit unintentional sin, all the people must contribute one bull as a burnt offering (with its accompanying grain and drink sacrifices) and one goat as a sin offering to make atonement (vv. 22-26; cf. Lev. 4:13ff).

[Does this mean each family must contribute a bull, or each must pay something toward the cost of sacrifice?]

An individual who sins in this manner—whether native-born or stranger—must bring a yearling female goat as a sin offering (vv. 27-29; cf. Lev. 4:27-31).

Presumptuous Sins


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Sinning "With a High Hand"

For presumptuous sins, however, no sacrifice suffices; the sinner must suffer capital punishment (vv. 30-31).

[“Presumptuous” means defiantly, or literally, “with a high hand.”]

Moses records a specific incident in which a man deliberately broke the Sabbath by gathering sticks (v. 32).

After having arrested and detained him, Israel, at the LORD’s command, stones him to death (vv. 33-36).

[Might also the people who attacked the hill people in the previous chapter have committed a presumptuous sin?]

To help Israel observe all of His commandments, Yahweh instructs them to make tassels with blue threads on the corners of their garments to serve as mnemonic devices to do His will.

Perhaps as they walk, they will notice the blue thread, and it will remind them that Yahweh requires holy conduct from redeemed people (vv. 37-41).

Moses, God's Appointed Leader

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Korah: The Consequences of Rebellion

Numbers 16

Two hundred fifty representatives of the congregation—well-known leaders such as Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and On—contend with Moses and Aaron, arguing that the latter have exalted themselves over everyone else (vv. 1-3).

Again, Moses responds in fear of seeing God’s wrath fall upon them (v. 4), but then informs Korah and others that on the morrow the LORD will settle the issue of who is especially set aside for His use (v. 5).

At that time, they should burn incense before the LORD; the test will show that they (the rebels) are the ones “taking too much upon themselves” (vv. 6-7).

[This incident appears to be a major example of presumptuous sin.]

Korah's Demise

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Moses desires to answer the Levites’ charges, addressing Korah first.

His comments show Korah’s discontentment with his role in the theocracy; he covets the more prestigious work: the priesthood.

Moses seeks to convince him that God has greatly privileged him to have his present position, and that he has no cause to complain against lowly Aaron (vv. 8-11).

When he attempts to speak with Dathan and Abiram, they refuse his invitation and, using his own expression (“Is it a small thing. . .”), accuse him of lording it over them and reneging on his promise to give them an inheritance (vv. 12-14).

After expressing his anger (and hurt) before God (v. 15), Moses again tells Korah and his company to bring their censers to the door of the tabernacle of meeting for the LORD’s examination (vv. 16-18).

As Korah and a great multitude stand there, Yahweh’s glory appears (v. 19).

God intends to consume His adversaries (vv. 20-21), but Moses and Aaron again intercede for the whole congregation (v. 22).

When Yahweh warns these followers through Moses that they must get away from their evil leaders lest His “new creation” [an earthquake?] destroy them (vv. 23-26), they obey His word (v. 27).

The LORD causes an earth fissure—prophesied by Moses—to swallow up Korah, his household, and all his disciples (vv. 28-33).

[Moses emphasizes his “apostleship”; he has not done any work of his own will.

The fulfillment of this prophecy proves that God had appointed and sent him (vv. 28-30)].

Understandably, “all Israel” fears for their lives and flees; God’s consuming fire, meanwhile, destroys the incense-burning two hundred fifty (vv. 34-35).

Punishment for Presumption and Rebellion


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At the LORD’s direction Eleazar recovers the holy, bronze censers from the blaze, and hammers them into plates to be used as an altar covering; these plates will serve to remind Israel that only sons of Aaron, not outsiders, may offer incense before the LORD (vv. 36-40).

Again, amazingly, the uncomprehending congregation complains against Moses and Aaron, thinking that they (and not God) had killed “the people of the LORD” (v. 41).

Yahweh’s glory appears to this crowd near the tent of meeting (v. 42), and He warns Moses of certain judgment (vv. 43-45).

This time Moses realizes that he cannot postpone God’s wrath any longer, for a plague had begun.

Therefore, he instructs Aaron to make atonement for the people who remain (vv. 46-47).

The plague ceases, but not until the LORD had reduced the congregation by fourteen thousand seven hundred (including those who died in the Korah incident) [vv. 48-49].

Having carried out his role, Aaron returns to Moses at the tent of meeting (v. 50).

© 2014 glynch1

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