Introduction: What a change in life! Imagine that you had built your hopes and dreams on a new and wonderful land. You planned to have your dream house and your dream farm. Now you know that will never happen because you distrusted God. You will live and die as a nomad in the desert. The good news is that you are no longer a slave. You live in the presence of God. How should you act now? What does God require of you now that you have broken your trust with Him? Let's continue our journey with the Israelites as they turn away from the promised land!
- Unintentional Sins
- Read Numbers 15:27-28 and Matthew 5:27-28. Is sin in the Old Testament like sin in the New Testament?
- Consider these two texts. Numbers tells us that we can sin without even knowing it. Jesus tells us in Matthew that we can sin without even doing it.
- There are many crimes in the United States which require "intent" in order to be a crime. Does Numbers 15:27 tell us that we can sin without intent? (Probably not. No doubt the "unintentional sinner" intended to do the act. The sinner just did not realize it was a sin.)
- Has this ever happened to you - that you sinned because you did not know better? You thought (hoped) it was not sin, but later decided it was? (All of us should desire to know God better. As our understanding of God and of life increase, we realize that some of our past actions and attitudes were wrong.)
- If you are like me, you try to justify your sins. You tell yourself "this is not really sin." Then God does something that gives you a very clear view of your sin. Does this sound familiar?
- Read Numbers 15:29. What does this say about God's attitude towards His law? (God believes in "the rule of law." The law does not change with different people. One law for the rich and famous. Another law for the poor and uneducated. Another law for aliens. Everyone is equal under God's law.)
- Defiant Sins
- Read Numbers 15:30-31. Remember the context of this text: these people just got through defiantly sinning. They held God in contempt, they seriously discussed stoning Moses, and they refused to enter the promised land. Why are they not "cut off?" How can they have any future?
- The Hebrew for "defiantly" should be translated "high hand." Wycliffe's Bible Commentary says, "with a raised, clenched fist." Was Israel's refusal to enter the Promised Land a "clenched fist" refusal? (We just learned that God believes in the "rule of law." We can only conclude that the refusal to enter Canaan, the contempt shown to God, as bad as it was, was not a "clenched fist" sin. It was weakness and stupidity, and not such defiance that it crossed the line.)
- When the text refers to being "cut off" from his people, does that mean being killed? (I don't think so, but this will be far from clear as we continue our study.)
- What do you think is God's purpose in the "cut off?" (Consider the story of the "prodigal son" in Luke 15:11-32. This young man intentionally sinned. He was defiant towards his father's rules. Being "cut off" from family, friends and resources brought him to his senses. He returned to his father who forgave him. I think that is the goal in Numbers.)
- After this discussion, what kinds of sins should concern us? (We learned that we can unintentionally sin, that we can intentionally sin (even without doing the deed) and that we can defiantly sin. Defiant sin gets us "cut off" in the hope we will come to our senses.)
- Should these rules apply to membership in our local church? Should we help each other in our unintentional and intentional sins, but "cut off" those who engage in defiant sin?
- Many Christians live in what I would call a "danger area." They believe they are saved by grace (they are), they believe they cannot earn salvation (right), and although they believe in doing the "right thing," down deep they believe that their actions don't matter. God will forgive them whatever they do. How do you think God views someone who sins, knowing it is wrong, but thinking that God will forgive? Is that defiant sin?
- Sabbath Breaking
- Read Numbers 15:32-34. What is the relationship between what we have just discussed and this concrete example? (The example helps us decide whether the conclusions we just reached are valid. The example and the instructions give us a fuller picture of God's attitude towards sin.)
- In light of the rules we have just discussed, why is it fair to say "it was not clear" what should be done to this Sabbath-breaker? (The intent and attitude are critical to deciding how to deal with sin. The people were not certain of this fellow's intent.)
- What do you think should have been done to this man?
- Read Exodus 31:14-15. What is the established penalty for Sabbath-breaking?
- Did you notice that "cut off" and death are used interchangeably?
- Read Exodus 16:23. Let's put ourselves in the wood gatherer's shoes. Is he sneaking around in the dark gathering wood? (No. He is apparently doing it in broad daylight.)
- What do you think he had in mind for his wood? Was he just tidying up the wilderness? (No doubt his next plan was to build a fire and start cooking his manna - in plain sight of everyone else.)
- Based on these facts, do you think this is unintentional, intentional or defiant sin? (Since this guy was part of the group, it seems impossible that it was unintentional. Given his likely course of action, it seems that this is defiant sin.)
- For many years we would take camping vacations in our motor home. Many times I've built fires on Sabbath so we could sit around the fire. Each time I would think about what the Bible says about Sabbaths and fires. Have I been like this fellow? (I hope not. What was the "work" of the average Israelite? Wasn't it only to gather wood and make food? Since food was provided, I cannot think of much else they could have been doing. No part of my work is to gather wood or build fires. It was pure rest and recreation for me.)
- Read Numbers 15:35-36. What does this tell you about the nature of the man's sin? (That it was defiant. In this case, being "cut off" meant that he was cut off from life.)
- Does this seem a little harsh to you? (The Exodus text we read shows that it was known that death was the penalty. I suspect that this fellow, knowing that they were consigned to the desert, was still in open rebellion against God. "Won't let me into the promised land? I refuse to serve or obey God!")
- Why were all the people part of the execution team? (It helped to make the point about obedience.)
- Is this Jesus? Is this our same God? (Yes. We need to consider both the story of the prodigal and the story of the wood gatherer. We have a God of love and a God of judgment. Saying "I'll willingly sin because I'll be forgiven" is not a good approach.)
- Reminder Notes
- Read Numbers 15:37-41. Do you think this instruction has anything to do with the story of the wood gatherer or the prior instructions? (Yes. God says "I want you to know my laws, I want you to avoid unintentional and intentional sins." God says, "I don't want you to end up like the wood gather.")
- Focus on the phrase in Numbers 15:39 "going after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes." Have you ever said "God made me this way?" "God made me to desire [women/men]?" (The fact that all of us (yes, all of us) desire something that is inconsistent with God's will does not justify a violation of God's law.)
- Should we be attaching notes to our clothes today? If not, what is the modern equivalent of this? (Wearing a cross? Reading the Bible? I doubt that most of the people being addressed were literate. This was a practical substitution for the written text. Notice that God seeks constant reminders of His will.)
- Friend, sin is a serious matter. The people were denied entrance into the promised land because of it. God did not leave them as a result of their contempt of Him, but He did not abandon His high requirement of obedience. Will you determine today to obey God - regardless of what your heart and eyes might want?
- Next week: Power Struggle.