Numbers 15 & 16: A Reminder and a Rebellion


An audio file of this teaching can be found here.

After the two preceding chapters and the lack of faith displayed by the ten spies resulting in a wandering generation who would never see the Promised Land, Numbers 15 offers a break in the narrative and a reminder to the people of Israel.

The regulations recorded in chapter 15 must be for the new, younger generation (14:31), who were under twenty years of age at this point. And it is significant that the burden of this chapter may be said to be with two matters: sins of ignorance on the one hand, and sins of presumption on the other. This theme directly connects it to the previous chapter. Sins of ignorance are pardoned, while sins of presumption are punished. Israel’s sin at Kadesh was one of presumption— “with a high hand,” as the Hebrew word is literally translated, and the people were punished and excluded forever from entering the land. The chapter therefore stands as a thoughtful commentary on the serious of a life of sin.

Chapter 15 opens with a reminder of several sacrifices first described in the book of Leviticus and repeated here to show the Lord’s deep care and concern for his people. He’s not broken with them after their unbelief in chapter 14. Quite the contrary, He’s helping them to learn and grow as they battle the wilderness and rear the next generation who will inherit the Promised Land.

The chapter goes on to address unintentional as well as presumptive sin. Concerning unintentional sin, we see God’s provision for mistakes as well as a glimpse of the significance of the Jesus and the Cross. Pastor Jon Courson wrote, “The sins we commit ignorantly or in stupidity are paid for, washed away completely by the sacrifice of the Burnt Offering who took the heat on the altar of Calvary, by the Sin Offering who shed His blood for you and me.”[1]

Presumptuous sin, however, was not to be tolerated among the people of Israel. The commands given here ensured that any flagrant flaunting of public morality would not be rewarded. Speaking on these verses Dr. Charles Stanley wrote, “All sin separates us from God, but some sins bring a harsher judgment than others. Presumptuous sins—brazen, knowing, defiant, arrogant, premeditated sins—carry a heavy penalty. Only fools plan to sin and ask forgiveness later.”[2]

The Bible then gives the people a stark example of presumptuous sin as well as a way for them to be reminded that they were His people. The children of Israel were to have borders of blue on their hems so that when they looked down at their feet as they trudged through the wilderness, they would see a dusty border of blue, reminding them of their higher calling, their grand destination.

The historical narrative is resumed in chapter 16. What is recorded here is a rebellion against Moses and Aaron by Korah, Dathan, and Abiram and it seems to continue the topic of presumptuous sin, rooted in ingratitude. These three men, and their followers, were not thankful for the work God gave them to do (Korah and his relatives were tasked with carrying the most precious elements of the Tabernacle) and Moses rebukes their pride and self-seeking challenge.

However, his rebuke is established in God’s approval, not mans. Moses doesn’t argue or humanly fight back. Instead, he left the situation to God.

In the end, God judges the rebels and they, and their families are destroyed.

Some Observations:

  • We cannot delay God’s purposes. We can delay God’s blessings in our lives for forty minutes, or forty hours, forty days or forty years, but God’s ultimate plan will succeed. We may miss blessings; but He will not be thwarted.
  • We are all different from one another, and meant to be so. We have all different gifts and abilities, and we must be intent on doing to the best of our ability what God has given us to do. The gifts that men have are gifts, and not to be taken pride in, or used for personal advancement, but for the good of the body, the church.
  • We need to separate ourselves from divisive persons. Stay away from divisive, argumentative, contentious people not just in church, but everywhere. A divisive, contentious person will influence you, and you do not want to be consumed in their negative attitude.


[1] Jon Courson, Jon Courson’s Application Commentary: Volume 1, Old Testament, (Genesis–Job), Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006, Logos Software Edition

[2] Stanley, Charles F. The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version. Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles, 2005, Logos Software Edition


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