Numbers 15:32
And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks on the sabbath day.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(32) And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness . . . —Better, Now the children of Israel were in the wilderness, and they found, &c. It is probable that the incident which is here recorded is designed to illustrate the presumptuous sins which were to be punished by death. The offence may have been committed shortly after the promulgation of the commandments contained in this chapter, but all that is certain is that it was committed “in the wilderness,” i.e., according to Ibn Ezra, in the wilderness of Sinai, but more probably during the period of the wanderings in the wilderness after the arrival at Kadesh. No inference can be drawn from this verse as to the time at which the account was committed to writing. The observance of the Sabbath was obligatory in the wilderness as well as in the land of Canaan (comp. Exodus 16:27-30), and the punishment of death had already been denounced against those who profaned it by doing any work thereon (see Exodus 31:15; Exodus 35:2), but the manner in which death was to be inflicted does not appear to have been hitherto declared. The same verb which is here rendered “declared” occurs in the parallel case of the blasphemer in Leviticus 24:12, where it is rendered “shewed”:—“And they put him in ward, that the mind of the Lord might be shewed them.” The punishment of death had already been denounced against those who cursed father or mother (Leviticus 20:9). It could hardly be thought that a lighter punishment was to be inflicted on one who blasphemed the name of Jehovah, but in that case, as in this, the mode of death does not appear to have been previously enjoined.

Numbers 15:32. A man gathered sticks on the sabbath day — This seems to be mentioned here as an instance of sinning presumptuously; and accordingly it is so understood by the Jews. The law of the sabbath was plain and positive, and this transgression of it must therefore have been a known and wilful sin. And from the connection of this verse with the former it may be justly inferred that this man had sinned with a high hand, despising the word of the Lord, and the authority of his law.15:30-36 Those are to be reckoned presumptuous sinners, who sin designedly against God's will and glory. Sins thus committed are exceedingly sinful. He that thus breaks the commandment reproaches the Lord. He also despises the word of the Lord. Presumptuous sinners despise it, thinking themselves too great, too good, and too wise, to be ruled by it. A particular instance of presumption in the sin of sabbath-breaking is related. The offence was gathering sticks on the sabbath day, to make a fire, whereas the people were to bake and seethe what they had occasion for, the day before, Ex 16:23. This was done as an affront both to the law and to the Lawgiver. God is jealous for the honour of his sabbaths, and will not hold him guiltless who profanes them, whatever men may do. God intended this punishment for a warning to all, to make conscience of keeping holy the sabbath. And we may be assured that no command was ever given for the punishment of sin, which, at the judgment day, shall not prove to have come from perfect love and justice. The right of God to a day of devotion to himself, will be disputed and denied only by such as listen to the pride and unbelief of their hearts, rather than to the teaching of the Spirit of truth and life. Wherein consists the difference between him who was detected gathering sticks in the wilderness on the day of God, and the man who turns his back upon the blessings of sabbath appointments, and the promises of sabbath mercies, to use his time, his cares, and his soul, in heaping up riches; and waste his hours, his property, and his strength in sinful pleasure? Wealth may come by the unhallowed effort, but it will not come alone; it will have its awful reward. Sinful pursuits lead to ruin.Moses mentions here, as is his wont (compare Leviticus 24:10-16), the first open transgression and its punishment in order to exemplify the laws which he is laying down. The offence of Sabbath-breaking was one for which there could be no excuse. This law at least might be observed even in the wilderness. Transgression of it was therefore a presumptuous sin, and was punished accordingly. 32-34. a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day—This incident is evidently narrated as an instance of presumptuous sin. The mere gathering of sticks was not a sinful act and might be necessary for fuel to warm him or to make ready his food. But its being done on the Sabbath altered the entire character of the action. The law of the Sabbath being a plain and positive commandment, this transgression of it was a known and wilful sin, and it was marked by several aggravations. For the deed was done with unblushing boldness in broad daylight, in open defiance of the divine authority—in flagrant inconsistency with His religious connection with Israel, as the covenant-people of God; and it was an application to improper purposes of time, which God had consecrated to Himself and the solemn duties of religion. The offender was brought before the rulers, who, on hearing the painful report, were at a loss to determine what ought to be done. That they should have felt any embarrassment in such a case may seem surprising, in the face of the sabbath law (Ex 31:14). Their difficulty probably arose from this being the first public offense of the kind which had occurred; and the appeal might be made to remove all ground of complaint—to produce a more striking effect, so that the fate of this criminal might be a beacon to warn all Israelites in the future. This seems to be added as an example of a presumptuous sin; for as the law of the sabbath was plain and positive, so this transgression of it must needs be a known and wilful sin. And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness,.... According to Aben Ezra, in the wilderness of Sinai; for it is a common notion of the Jews, that though this fact is recorded here, yet was committed the first year the Israelites came out of Egypt, quickly after the giving the law of the sabbath: hence Jarchi remarks, that the Scripture speaks of this to the reproach of the Israelites, that they kept only the first sabbath, and on the second this man came and profaned it; but it seems rather to be in the wilderness of Paran where this fact was committed, after the business of the spies and the discomfiture of Israel, and the above laws were given; and stands here in its proper place as an instance of a presumptuous sinner, cut off from his people, according to the above law, which it immediately follows:

they found a man that gathered sticks on the sabbath day; plucking them up by the roots, as the Targum of Jonathan, as stubble and the like; for the word signifies gathering straw or stubble, or such like light things, as Ben Melech observes, and binding them in bundles for fuel; and this was done on the sabbath day, by which it appears that that was to be kept in the wilderness, though the laws before mentioned concerning sacrifices, and the cake of the first dough, were not to be put in execution until Israel came into the land of Canaan; and according to the Targum of Jonathan this man was of the house of Joseph, and in the Talmud (y) it is expressly said that he was Zelophehad, who was a descendant of Joseph.

(y) T. Bab. Sabbat, fol. 96. 2.

And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
32–36. The penalty for breaking the Sabbath. This section was perhaps placed by the compiler next to the preceding because it relates a signal instance of deliberate transgression.Verse 32. - And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness. It is maintained by some that these words were intended to mark the contrast between the previous laws, which were only to be observed when the people came into their own land, and the law of the sabbath, which was strictly enforced during the period of wandering. There is no doubt that such a distinction existed in fact, but there is no reason to find the intentional assertion of it in this expression. The simpler and more natural, and therefore more probable, explanation is, that the incident was recorded after the people had left the wilderness. At the same time, there is nothing unreasonable in ascribing the narrative to Moses himself if we suppose him to have written it at the end of his life, when the people were encamped in the steppes of Moab. It seems probable that the record of the incident was inserted here as an example of a "presumptuous" sin, and of its punishment. A man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day. This was clearly presumptuous, because the prohibition to do any work for oneself on the sabbath had been made so clear, and was so constantly forced upon their attention by the failure of the manna on that day, that ignorance could not possibly be pleaded here. This law was to apply not only to the children of Israel, but also to the stranger among them, "for (sc., it has happened) to the whole nation in mistake." As the sin extended to the whole nation, in which the foreigners were also included, the atonement was also to apply to the whole.
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