‘If you sin unintentionally, and do not observe all these commandments which the Lord has spoken to Moses— all that the Lord has commanded you by the hand of Moses, from the day the Lord gave commandment and onward throughout your generations— then it will be, if it is unintentionally committed, without the knowledge of the congregation, that the whole congregation shall offer one young bull as a burnt offering, as a sweet aroma to the Lord, with its grain offering and its drink offering, according to the ordinance, and one kid of the goats as a sin offering.”
Unintentional sin is sin committed simply because we’re sinners. The term “sin” is an interesting word. It actually means “to miss the mark.” The sport of archery is a good illustration of missing the mark. A few years ago, I took a group of high School students to a summer camp where, along with Bible studies and worship, they had a number of activities that would teach spiritual lessons. I decided to join a few of the young men as they were learning how to handle a bow and arrow. I watched as they pulled back on the bow and released the arrow. With all of their might, they were trying to hit the bull’s eye, but they missed. So, I decided to try my hand at it. I aimed, pulled back the bow, and shot the arrow clear over the target and into the hillside; the students all laughed at my terrible marksmanship. I was able to teach them a lesson on sin. I missed completely, some of them missed slightly, but we all missed. None of us were perfect, and all of us came up short. This is a good illustration of unintentional sin; attempting to do the right thing, but failing. Here, God tells the people who are seeking Him, they can offer a sin offering that would cover unintentional sin.
Let’s jump down to verse 15:30 in Numbers.
“But the person who does anything presumptuously, whether he is native-born or a stranger, that one brings reproach on the Lord, and he shall be cut off from among his people.”
The word “presumptuously” could be translated “defiantly.” Some versions read, “with a high hand.” We have an illustration of defiance, or presumption in Exodus 14:8. God brought plagues upon Egypt, one after another, each plague being more severe than the last, until finally, the first born of every family is put to death. At that point, Pharaoh finally allows Israel to leave. The Egyptians were so glad to get rid of Israel, they gave them gifts. “Here, take my wallet, my car keys, whatever you want just please, get outta here!” But after they traveled a short distance out of Egypt, Pharaoh changed his mind, and sent his army after Israel. It’s in that scene we pick up in Exodus 14:8,
“And the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued the children of Israel; and the children of Israel went out with boldness.”
In the King James version it reads, “went out with a high hand.” The Children of Israel looked back at Pharaoh, and Egypt, with disdain or even contempt. As if to say, “We were in subjection to you? We were your slaves?“ That word “boldness” is the same word translated, “presumptuous” in Numbers, Chapter 15. In other words, presumptuous sin, is sin committed when a person looks down at the Lord, as if to say, “I’m not going to be in subjection to you. I’m not going to do what you say. I don’t have to live in accordance with your Word.” It’s an attitude of contempt toward the Lord. That is the kind of sin he warns them about. He goes on to tell them there are two results that stem from that kind of sin, Numbers 15:30,
“. . . that one brings reproach on the LORD, . . .”
The person who sins defiantly brings reproach on the Lord. That is not said about unintentional sin. When you and I have the target in view, we’re seeking the Lord, but we miss the mark, it is unintentional. Often times, we feel like we’ve ruined our witness, and brought reproach upon the Lord. We feel like those who we have been praying for, and witnessing to, will never come to the Lord because of our failures. There is no hope for them, we have brought reproach on the name of the Lord. However, he didn’t say that about unintentional sin. He does say it about defiant sin. When we sin defiantly, when we look down and say, “I don’t care, I’m going to sin no matter what God says.” That’s when the name of the Lord is blasphemed. That is when our witness it truly weakened.
But there is a second result revealed in verse 30:
“. . .and he shall be cut off from among his people.”
The term “cut off”, is a term that we’ve seen a lot. In this particular case, it says that he will die. What is the by-product of sin with a high hand? Presumptuous sin? It’s death. We forget that. We listen so often to the enemy, as he dangles the carrot in front of us, and says, “If you eat this, then you will find life.” God says, “No, when you go after that, it can only produce death.” Jesus said, “if you save your life you will lose it, but if you lose your life for my sake, you will find life.” (Luke 9:24)
Verse 31 gives insight regarding why people sin presumptuously. Why we often look down upon the Lord with a high hand as if to say, “I’m not going obey You, Lord.” Look at verse 31:
“Because he has despised the word of the Lord, and has broken His commandment, that person shall be completely cut off; his guilt shall be upon him.”
They sinned presumptuously because they despised His Word. Our view of the Word of God, and its place in our life, will determine our view of the Lord. These guys despised the Word of God, and that gave rise to lifting a high hand against the Lord, and doing whatever they desired. They looked at the promises of the Word and said, “I don’t care what that says.” They looked at the warnings of the Word and said, “I don’t care, I’m going to do what I want to do.” They despised the Word of the Lord.
It would be good at this point to remember the prayer of David in Psalm 19:13, “Lord keep your servant from presumptuous sins.”