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B'Midbar/Numbers 15:29 ... there shall be one instruction for you, for the one who acts unintentionally.
This verse comes in the middle of a block of five verses dealing with people who sin. The first two (27-28) discuss someone who sins inadvertently, using very similar words to Vayikra 4:27-31. The last two (30-31) apply where sin is committed intentionally. This middle verse acts as a pivot, linking the two cases together by the common theme that the same rules being given in the section apply with equal certainty whether the offender - deliberate or accidental - is a native Israelite, one of the Children of Israel, or a stranger or an alien who is simply living within the community of Israel.
The ger - foreign resident, sojourner, alien - occupied the position of "protected stranger" among the people of Israel. In exchange for a certain loyalty to their hosts1 and being bound by some of their laws2, they were formally protected against oppression or exploitation. Although they could not own land, so were usually artisans or day-labourers, some did amass considerable wealth so that they might have large households and be the owners of slaves. On the other hand, many were poor and bracketed with the Israelite poor as recipients of welfare such as the gleanings of the orchards, harvesting the corners of the fields or the forgotten sheaf.
The rabbis held that the ger was subject to the negative commands - prohibitive: you shall not ... - but not the positive commands - perfomative: you shall ... - although there are some obvious exceptions. The ger is not obligated to keep the festivals, although he may not work on days of rest; he may voluntarily eat the Passover, but only if circumcised; he may participate in the cult, to worship the G-d of Israel, provided that he follows the same rules as the Israelites. Scholars suggest that this pattern is concerned with maintaining purity in the Land. Both Israel and the gerim live in the Land and so must work together to avoid impurity, while Israel alone is G-d's chosen people so have specific obligations of relationship and conduct before the nations.
At the same time, this command must be seen in context: the injunction for "one law" given here in this block of verses applies to sin committed accidentally or deliberately; it cannot be extended to suggest that all the Torah is applicable to either gerim or believers in Yeshua. On the contrary, the balance of the Torah and the way in which other texts are worded makes it clear that while some commandments have a "whole community" application, the majority of the Torah's legislation is a requirement only for Israel although the gerim may participate in many other activities unless prohibited. The instructions for dwelling in a sukkah during the Feast of Tabernacles, for example, "You shall live in booths for seven days; all the native-born in Israel shall live in booths" (Vayikra 23:42, NASB), is specifically given to native-born Israelites and presumably excludes gerim and even proselytes.
On the other hand, it can be seen thatHaShem's attitude to sin is always consistent, no matter who is responsible or how it is carried out; sin is still sin and always causes a breach of relationship. The Scriptures are adamant that sin is a universal condition; during his prayer at the dedicating of the temple, Solomon says of Israel, "If they sin against you - for there is no one who does not sin ..." (1 Kings 8:46, ESV) and the book of Qohelet extends that to all people, "Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins" (Ecclesiastes7:20, NASB). Rav Sha'ul repeats this for a Gentile audience: "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of G-d" (Romans 3:23, NIV). Whilst Augustine's 4th century CE formulation of the Doctrine of Original Sin - that every person is actually born or created a sinner - is rightly to be rejected, it is certainly true that every man, woman and child on this earth has an unwavering tendency towards sin and that however well people may learn to control their behaviour as they reach adulthood (or later), there is absolutely no question but that everyone has some events in their past that they know to be wrong and of which they are not proud.
Similarly, HaShem's response to sin is always consistent: "If an individual sins by mistake, he is to offer a female goat in its first year as a sin offering. The cohen will make atonement before ADONAI for the person who makes a mistake by sinning inadvertently; he will make atonement for him, and he will be forgiven - no matter whether he is a citizen of Isra'el or a foreigner living with them" (B'Midbar 15:27-29, CJB); a sacrifice is required and the priest makes atonement. The act of sacrificing of a life makes the sinner aware of the cost of sin, while the blood provides the covering or atonement "For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement" (Vayikra 17:11, NASB).
Since the Hurban - the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE - Judaism has been unable to bring sacrifices for sin; there is no temple, no altar and no ritually pure priesthood. Instead, relying on verses such as "What does the L-RD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your G-d?" (Micah 6:8, NASB) and "I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of G-d rather than burnt offerings" (Hosea 6:6, NASB), the early rabbis reformulated the sin offerings as a combination of repentance, prayer and charity. Repentance is recognising, regretting and turning away from sin; prayer is communicating your sorrow to G-d and asking for forgiveness; charity is a token sacrifice - usually money - given to the poor, humbling yourself by giving something of substance away to another. The rabbis argue that since G-d had allowed the temple to be removed, He must have been prepared to accept an alternative to sacrifice in its place. In the 12th century,Maimonides went as far as teaching that G-d always thought sacrifice inferior to prayer and philosophical meditation, but allowed it as a temporary concession to the Israelites until He had been able to wean them away from the practices of the other nations.
By contrast, followers of Yeshua have held that He Himself made the one complete sin offering for all time, validating all the blood sacrifices offered by the Israelites and making forgiveness available to all who ask and believe in Him. Yeshua is both the sacrifice and the priest bringing the sacrifice to G-d, since He offered Himself. Both require faith: in the case of the ancient Israelites, that a simple animal sacrifice would be "enough" to cover their sins and that G-d would forgive them; for believers in Yeshua, that the atonement made on the cross was really available simply by asking. In both cases, the church and the rabbis insist that true repentance and, if appropriate, suitable restitution should be made. The writer to the Hebrews explains that the blood sacrifices, although providing a covering for sin - until Yeshua came - were only temporary: "For the Law ... can never by the same sacrifices year by year, which they offer continually, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins" (Hebrews 10:1-4, NASB). Instead, Yeshua, "having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of G-d, waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified" (vv. 12-14, NASB).
In exactly the same way as the Torah provided one rule for all who sinned, whether Israelite or ger in the Land, now G-d's salvation in Yeshua - the forgiveness of sins in His name and relationship with G-d - is available to Jew or Gentile alike; it is the only way to receive forgiveness, as Peter and John explained before the Sanhedrin: "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12, NASB). Rav Sha'ul therefore emphasises that the gospel: "is the power of G-d for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek" (Romans 1:16, NASB). Just in case anyone missed that, he summarises in the middle of the next chapter, "There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to every man who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with G-d" (2:9-11, NASB).
1 - For example, see B'resheet 21:22-24 where Avraham swears an oath not to act falsely against Abimelech, in whose land he was sojourning.
2 - See the block of verses leading up to Vayikra 24:22 where a series of both religious and damages laws are made binding upon citizens and non-citizens alike.
Further Study: Vayikra 16:29-31; Romans 3:29-30
Application: Where do you stand with regard to your sin? Whether Jew or Gentile, have you accepted G-d's only solution to the problem? Believe it and accept it - it is there for you. Today!
© Jonathan Allen, 2010
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