In Numbers 15, the LORD gives Moses instructions on how to deal with the unintentional sin of the community, and then proceeds to tell him how to deal with those who sin intentionally:
30 “‘But anyone who sins defiantly, whether native-born or foreigner, blasphemes the Lord and must be cut off from the people of Israel. 31 Because they have despised the Lord’s word and broken his commands, they must surely be cut off; their guilt remains on them.’”
These are some strong words. “Defiantly” definitely connotes that the person knew what they were doing was wrong, and went ahead anyway. Sin is not just a minor ethical boo-boo; it is blasphemy – a dishonoring of God himself. In effect, a way of saying, “God, I know you think this is the way I should go, but I know better. I’m going my own way.” And the sinner has “despised” the LORD’s word – not just forgotten, or overlooked but “despised.”
According to the dictionary, this means: to regard with contempt, distaste, disgust, or disdain; scorn; loathe.
That’s pretty heavy.
If we were to actually treat the physical entity of God’s word (namely, a Bible) with such an attitude in the sight of others, they would probably be horrified. It’s as if we threw our Bible on the ground, or said it was full of ________ (fill in the blank), and chucked it in the trash. We surely wouldn’t do that with a physical Bible, but do we do it with God’s word, his commands?
Do we despise them, ignore them, choose to go our own way? Or more passively, simply not read the Bible, showing that we think it has no practical application to our lives? Neglect is also another way of despising, I think.
Now, in the interests of full disclosure, my own Bible reading has waxed and waned over the years, from hungry, voracious consumption of God’s word, to something bordering on indifference.
But I have never thought that it was to be ignored; and the guilt I felt when I wasn’t reading the Bible was probably a good and helpful guilt, the same way we might feel if we are neglecting our bodies, eating massive amounts of junk food and never exercising. The guilt is there for a purpose – to remind us that there is a better alternative available, and at least part of us (our conscience? our spirit?) knows it.
The word of God reminds us of our boundaries, and when we choose to neglect it, it becomes ever more likely that we will intentionally sin. We have failed to wash our minds in the Word, our thinking has become muddy, and sin does not stand out as it otherwise would.
This is not just something that affects us. It affects the community of faith. The deliberate sinner, according to this passage, is to be cut off from the community, cast out of the family of faith. I would hope that this is primarily a “short, sharp shock/scared straight” approach intended to lead the person to repentance and re-entry, but at the very least, it shows the danger of defiant sin to the community.
Which reveals a myth that we all too easily believe, that sin is just personal. “As long as I do what I do and it doesn’t affect anybody else, then it’s fine.” That’s a lie. Clearly our sin does have an effect on the community. Here are some ways:
– if our sin is observed, it may lead others astray
– if our sin is interpersonal, it can damage others directly
– sin leads to guilt, which leads to feeling distant from God, which leads to us withdrawing from the faith community, which means they are less because we are not there
– sin dulls our ability to hear God (blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God) and so we become less effective tools in the maker’s hands
11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:11-17)
A Prayer: Lord, your Word is a lamp to my feet, a light on my path (Ps 119:105). Let me walk by that light and not depart from it. Let me not stumble in darkness through neglect or defiance. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.