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God’s Word for You

Numbers 15:22-26 Sins of not knowing

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, September 3, 2021

Offerings for Unintentional Sins

22 When you err unintentionally and do not carry out all these commands, which the LORD has spoken to Moses— 23 everything that the LORD has commanded you through Moses, from the day that the LORD first gave these commands and onward, for your generations to come— 24 if it was done unintentionally, and the community was not aware of it…,

In Leviticus 4, there is a law about the whole community committing an unintentional sin by doing what is forbidden (Leviticus 4:13). For the sake of clarity, I’ll illustrate that by saying that they might, for example, have added osprey to their foods to eat at Passover (the osprey was a forbidden or unclean bird; they were not allowed to eat it). This would be an example of the whole community doing something that they weren’t supposed to do. This was a sin of commission. In that case, the elders of the community had to place their hands on a young bull and confess the sin, and the bull would be sacrificed as a whole burnt offering.

That’s not what is described here. What the Lord is telling Moses about is what to do when the whole community sins by failing to do what was required. For example, I’ll suggest that they might forget to celebrate Passover altogether. Passover was a required festival, commanded by God to be remembered and celebrated every year (Leviticus 23:4-5). If poor leadership or the deaths of all the parents of a community or some other circumstance caused the people to forget about one or more of the Lord’s ordinances, then it was a sin of omission. In this case, there was a slightly different sacrifice to be made.

...the entire community shall offer one young bull as a whole burnt offering, as a pleasing aroma to the LORD, with its grain offering and its drink offering, according to the ordinance, and one male goat as a sin offering. 25 The priest will make atonement for the entire Israelite community, and they will be forgiven, because it was an unintentional error. They are to bring their offering, a gift made by fire to the LORD, and their sin offering before the LORD for their unintentional error. 26 The entire Israelite community and the aliens who reside among them will be forgiven, for all the people were involved in this error unintentionally.

In this case, a bull slaughtered as a whole burnt offering was still required, but there is no mention of the elders confessing over its head. Also, a goat was added as a sin offering, to atone for what was not done.

There is a significant gospel message here from the Lord. The parents of this generation had recently been told that they were all going to die in the desert during the next forty years. This included all of the priests and Levites except for those under twenty. When I think of this and of myself as a parent, my heart groans for those parents and their children. Who among them wouldn’t have asked: “What if I don’t get around to teaching my child every single one of these laws? What if they forget one of God’s commands and sins because I failed in some way? Is there forgiveness for my child?” This was Job’s fear. He was accused of failing as a parent when Bildad said, “When your children sinned, God gave them over to the penalty of their sin” (Job 8:4), so that even Job sometimes doubted, thinking, “However many children the wicked man has, their fate is the sword” (Job 27:14). But when his first children were still living, he did not fail to teach them about the Lord, and he prayed for them (Job 1:5). God’s answer to these fears of the Israelite parents was to assure them: When they become aware of their sins of omission, they can offer to me and I will accept their offering. They can pray and repent, and I will call them back.

This sort of thing happened in the history of Israel, but the most significant example surely must be when King Josiah’s men found “the Book of the Law of the Lord” when they were cleaning out the disused temple. This was in 622 BC. The book was either Deuteronomy or the whole Pentateuch. Based on the information of 2 Kings 22:17 and 2 Chronicles 34:21,25,33 and 35:1, I am inclined to believe the book was the entire Pentateuch, Genesis through Deuteronomy. The young king (he was 26) and his people did not know that the idolatry they were committing was forbidden by God, and idolatry is forbidden throughout the law of Moses and the historical parts of Genesis (Genesis 31:19, 31:34-35). Especially significant was the account of Jacob at Bethel, where Israel told his family: “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves” (Genesis 35:2). When King Josiah found out that the entire nation was sinning, he personally called the people to the Temple and read from the law himself (2 Chronicles 34:30) and called for them to keep the words of the covenant “written in this book” (34:31).

When parents neglect the spiritual welfare of their children, they commit the most dreadful sin a parent can make. Each and every child should regard spiritual wisdom, faith in Christ, as dearly as his or her own sister (Proverbs 7:4). We should look after our faith, but nurture the faith of our loved ones as well. For the parents in the desert, worried about the next generation, the Lord was preaching gospel as well as law, so that these sands were not merely their graves. “The grasslands of the desert would overflow; the hills are clothed with gladness” (Psalm 65:12). God would not abandon them. He was going to look after them in a special way. Pray for your children, and look after their faith. Encourage them with the gospel; teach them about the forgiveness of sins. Don’t be ham-fisted and clumsy with God’s word. Never leave the gospel unspoken, even if you think that threats and the law are more effective. That’s the trick of the Mormons, who threaten one another into looking like fine citizens, but no longer remember Christ and the meaning of the cross. You can’t shoehorn someone into heaven by forcing them to look like a Christian, whether with the laws of the nation or the threats of a parent. Teach your children about Jesus, and the Lord “will make you increase, both you and your children” (Psalm 115:14).

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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