Today is the 35th Sabbath of the annual Torah cycle. The Torah reading is Shelah Lekha, Send for yourself, Num 13:1-15:41.
This parashah’s paragraph divisions are posted here. The paragraph divisions help reveal the chiastic structure.
1a) Num 13:1-14:10 p, The twelve spies bring back an evil report;
1b) Num 14:11-25 p, The generation who has tested the LORD ten times will not enter the Land;
1c) Num 14:26-45 p, Those who were numbered will fall in the wilderness 40 years;
1d) Num 15:1-16 p, Voluntary offerings for the native and the stranger:
— 1) Num 15:1-12, Voluntary burnt offerings of those who have not sinned;
— 2) Num 15:13-16 p, One torah for the native and the stranger;
central axis) Num 15:17-21 s, Firstfruits heave offering when Israel enters the Land;
2d) Num 15:22-29, Sin offerings for the native and the stranger:
— 1) Num 15:22-28, Sin offerings for those who have sinned unintentionally;
— 2) Num 15:29, One torah for the native and the stranger;
2c) Num 15:30-31 s+p, There is no sin offering for the one who sins presumptuously, but he shall be cut off;
2b) Num 15:32-36 p, Man who sinned presumptuously in gathering sticks on the Sabbath stoned to death;
2a) Num 15:37-41 p, Remember and do not despise the commandments of the Lord (law concerning tzitzit).
In order to understand why this parashah forms this chiastic structure, we have to understand the back half of the structure, and the distinction between the unintentional and the presumptuous sin.
The Lord seems to be saying that certain sins will not be forgiven, which goes against what we have all been taught about the New Testament. But I believe this is another instance, as in most places in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers where someone dies as a result of sin, of the Spirit preaching the gospel of grace in Messiah Yeshua from Torah — because in the New Testament, it clearly teaches that the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23)! If death was not the result of sin, then there would be no need of a Savior! Paul got this idea from the foundation of Torah!
The one who sins presumptuously is the one who despises the word of the Lord:
Num 15:27-31 p
1a) Num 15:27-28, Unintentional sin may be atoned for and it shall be forgiven;
1b) Num 15:29, There shall be one law both for the native and the stranger;
central axis) Num 15:30a, But the person who does anything presumptuously;
2b) Num 15:30b, Whether he is native born or a stranger;
2a) Num 15:30c-31 p, He has brought reproach upon the Lord + despised His Word, he shall be cut off, his guilt shall be upon him.
1a) Num 15:30a, Presumptuous sin brings reproach upon the Lord;
1b) Num 15:30b, He shall be cut off from among his people;
central axis) Num 15:31a, Because he has despised the word of the Lord and broken His commandment;
2b) Num 15:31b, That person shall be completely cut off;
2a) Num 15:31c, His guilt shall be upon him.
If we despise the written Commandments we are also despising the Living Word made flesh! The man who rejects God’s Word also rejects Messiah Yeshua and also rejects salvation by grace through faith. His presumptuous sin is coming from a heart that reproaches the Lord and despises His word. He shall die (be cut off) and his guilt shall be upon him.
But for the one who does not haughtily make a practice of disobedience, but who reverences the Lord and who respects both the written Commandment and the Living Word, who has a circumcised heart toward YHVH in other words, that man avails himself of the offering for sin (Messiah Yeshua) and atonement shall be made for him, and his sin shall be forgiven.
Now this very interesting section on voluntary offerings (which can only be brought by the man who has not sinned) and sin offerings (which must be brought by the man who has sinned unintentionally, i.e., mistakenly, without haughty malice or contempt for the Lord or His Word) is followed by the man who was found gathering sticks on the Sabbath day and stoned. Why was this man not allowed to bring a sin offering, and atonement made for him, and his sin forgiven? Because he did not sin unintentionally, he sinned presumptuously.
Num 15:32-36 p
1a) Num 15:32, A man gathered sticks on the Sabbath day (he sinned presumptuously and despised the word of the Lord);
1b) Num 15:33, They brought the man to Moses and Aaron, and to all the congregation;
1c) Num 15:34, It had not been explained what should be done to him;
central axis) Num 15:35, The Lord said to Moses, “The man must be put to death;”
2c) Num 15:36a, So as the Lord commanded Moses;
2b) Num 15:36b, The congregation brought the man outside the camp;
2a) Num 15:36c, The man was stoned with stones, and he died (he was cut off from among his people).
I think the man had the attitude, that since he was going to die in the wilderness anyway and not enter the Promised Land, of “Forget You, God, and forget Your Commandments! Here is what I think of Your commandments — I am going to go out and intentionally labor on the Sabbath (I am going to thumb my nose at You!), because I am mad at You and Your ‘unjust’ decision to keep us in this wilderness.” The circumcised heart toward YHVH does not have that attitude.
Then the end of the parashah is the first appearance of the Law of the Tzitzit:
Num 15:37-41 p
1a) Num 15:37-38b, The children of Israel shall make tassels with a blue thread for the corners of their garments;
1b) Num 15:39a, That you may look on the tassel to remember and do all the commandments of the Lord;
central axis) Num 15:39b, That you do not follow the harlotry of your own heart and eyes;
2b) Num 15:40, That you may remember and do all My commandments, and be holy for your God;
2a) Num 15:41, I am the Lord who brought you out of Egypt to be your God, I am the Lord your God.
Tassels were worn by other cultures in the ancient world besides the Hebrew culture. This interesting archaeological discovery reveals that the colors of the thread in the tassels identified which master the wearer served or to which tribe the wearer belonged. So 1a, put a blue thread in your tassel, pairs with 2a, I am the Lord your God, because the blue thread identifies the child of Israel as belonging to the Lord God as Master. He is God and Master therefore He has the right to give commands; the child of Israel is of the family of God and has the responsibility to remember and do his Father’s commands.
Now we can understand the pairs in the larger structure better:
In 1a, Israel was commanded to enter the Land, but ten of the twelve spies did not remember the Word of the Lord (I will surely bring you in) to obey it, but despised the Word of the Lord (we are not able to go in, we will be consumed). In 2a, the Lord commands those who are His to put the symbol of His authority on their garments, t0 remember and not despise His Word so that they may in the future obey it.
In 1b, the generation who tested the Lord ten times is cut off from the Land. They will die in the wilderness. In 2b, the man who sinned presumptuously by gathering sticks on the Sabbath, was cut off from Israel, and died outside the camp.
In 1c, the Lord will no more ignore the complaints and testings of Israel, but those who were numbered will wander 4o years and fall in the wilderness. In 2c, there is no sin offering or forgiveness for the one who sins presumptuously, but they will be cut off.
The d pair is obvious and without it acting as a beacon the rest of the structure could not be uncovered.
Now why is the reminder of firstfruits the central axis? This reveals the Lord’s heart of grace! The congregation had just received the bad news that they were not going to enter the Land. The Lord follows this by instructions concerning the harvest and produce of the Land when Israel enters in to it! It is Torah’s way of extending hope in the promise, that though delayed, Israel WILL enter her Land!
And I also see the central axis of Firstfruits as a prophecy of Messiah Yeshua as the Firstfruits of the resurrection from the dead.