Chapter fifteen is a chapter of grace. During the years of wandering God continued to give his laws to the nation. The fact that the first of these begin with “When you enter the land where you are to live, which I am giving you” (Numbers 15:2) shows that God had not and would not desert his people, and they would eventually take over the land as he had promised.
In Numbers 15:1-16 God reiterated his requirement for making an offering. Regardless of who made the offering (citizen or resident foreigner), the reason for the offering (sin, guilt, burnt, freewill, or votive), or the animal being offered (ox, ram, male lamb, or goat), the people were also to bring both bread and wine with them, representing the richness of the land. Additionally, at each new harvest, the people were to make an offering of thanks to God for his provision (Numbers 15:17-21).
Unintentional sins were also handled graciously by God (Numbers 15:22-29). They still required sacrificial payment when discovered, but God was not overly harsh when people sinned without knowing it. Deliberate, willful sin was different (Numbers 15:30-36). When a person knowingly and willfully violated God’s law, there was no appeal; the law was firm. By way of example, Moses remembered a time that a man willfully broke the law of Sabbath rest. Even though “picking up firewood” was not specifically codified, it was a blatant violation of the clear “no work” regulation, and God sentenced the man to death.
Knowing that we are a forgetful species, God again graciously built into his law methods to help his people remember to keep their focus on him. Simple things like tassels and strings on their clothing – visible to themselves and those around them – would keep God’s law constantly on their minds (Numbers 15:37-41).