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!

  1. Unintentional Sins

    1. Read Numbers 15:27-28 and Matthew 5:27-28. Is sin in the
      Old Testament like sin in the New Testament?

      1. 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.

      2. 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.)

        1. 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.)

        2. 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

    2. 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.)

  2. Defiant Sins

    1. 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?

      1. 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.)

      2. 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.)

        1. 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.)

    2. 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.)

      1. 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?

    3. 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?

  3. Sabbath Breaking

    1. 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.)

    2. 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.)

      1. What do you think should have been done to this man?

      2. Read Exodus 31:14-15. What is the established
        penalty for Sabbath-breaking?

        1. Did you notice that “cut off” and death are
          used interchangeably?

      3. 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.)

        1. 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.)

      4. 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.)

      5. 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.)

    3. 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

      1. 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!”)

      2. Why were all the people part of the execution team?
        (It helped to make the point about obedience.)

      3. 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.)

  4. Reminder Notes

    1. 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.”)

    2. 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.)

    3. 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.)

    4. 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?

  5. Next week: Power Struggle.