Lesson 64: Numbers 15–19
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“Lesson 64: Numbers 15–19,” Old Testament Seminary Teacher Manual (2014)

“Lesson 64,” Old Testament Seminary Teacher Manual

Lesson 64

Numbers 15–19


After the children of Israel refused to enter the promised land, the Lord reminded them of sacrificial ordinances that would help them receive forgiveness if they repented. He provided further instructions for offering sacrifices and keeping covenants, with provisions for redemption if the people sinned in ignorance. The Lord also said, however, that if people sinned defiantly, their iniquities were upon them and they would be cut off from the Lord’s people. A group of Israelites rebelled against the Lord and were destroyed. Through a miracle, the Lord showed the people whom He had chosen to lead them.

Suggestions for Teaching

Numbers 15

The Lord explains the consequences for ignorant sins and willful rebellion

Read the following scenarios to the class:

  1. A young man who is a recent convert to the Church is driving his car. He becomes upset at another driver and swears. Although he does not take the name of the Lord in vain, he feels an immediate withdrawal of the Spirit.

  2. Just before a young woman begins her application for missionary service, she decides to spend time with friends who are not making good choices. When they offer her an alcoholic drink, she willfully drinks it, believing she can always repent later if she wants to so she can still serve a mission.

  • Do you think the consequences for these two people should be the same or different? Why?

Write the headings Ignorant (Unintentional) and Willful on the board. Explain that Numbers 15 distinguishes between two different attitudes of a transgressor—one who defiantly and willfully sins versus one who sins ignorantly or makes a mistake unintentionally and feels guilty about offending God.

Summarize Numbers 15:1–26 by explaining that the Lord taught the Israelites about repentance and the sacrifices they needed to perform after choosing not to follow Him and refusing to enter the promised land.

The Lord continued to teach the Israelites about those who sinned ignorantly or unintentionally and those who sinned willfully. Invite a student to read Numbers 15:27–29 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what the priest did for someone who sinned ignorantly.

  • How might the priest’s actions be symbolic of what the Savior does for us when we do wrong unintentionally or out of ignorance?

  • What can we learn about the Atonement of Jesus Christ based on the Lord’s instructions in these verses? (Students may identify a variety of principles and doctrines, but be sure to emphasize the following doctrine: If we repent, we can be forgiven of our sins, including those we commit in ignorance, through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Write this doctrine on the board under the heading “Ignorant [Unintentional].”)

Ask students to consider how this truth might comfort someone who has ignorantly sinned. Invite a few students to explain their thoughts to the class.

Invite a student to read Numbers 15:30–31 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what the Lord said would happen to those who willfully break God’s commandments. To help students understand these verses, explain that the word presumptuously implies willfully and knowingly breaking God’s commandments.

  • What do you think it means that the person “despised the word of the Lord”?

  • What did the Lord say would happen to those who willfully broke His commandments?

  • What may the phrase “his iniquity shall be upon him” in verse 31 mean? (He will be accountable for his sins.)

Under the heading “Willful” on the board, write: If we willfully break God’s commandments and do not repent, then …

Invite students to summarize the Lord’s teaching in these verses by completing the statement on the board. They might express this principle the following way: If we willfully break God’s commandments and do not repent, then we must stand accountable before God for those sins. Using students’ words, complete the principle on the board.

  • What do you think it means to be accountable before God?

Invite a student to read aloud the following excerpt from For the Strength of Youth:

“Some people knowingly break God’s commandments, planning to repent later, such as before they go to the temple or serve a mission. Such deliberate sin mocks the Savior’s Atonement” (For the Strength of Youth [booklet, 2011], 29).

  • According to this statement, why is willfully sinning so serious?

Testify that even though we are accountable for our sins, if we repent we can be cleansed through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Encourage students to repent of their sins so they can receive forgiveness.

Summarize Numbers 15:37–41 by explaining that the Lord told the people to make fringes on the borders of their clothing to remind them to follow the commandments in order to remain holy.

Numbers 16–17

The Lord destroys rebellious Israelites and shows Israel whom He has chosen to lead them

Invite students to write a list of popular television shows, movies, songs, and games. After sufficient time, ask them to consider how Satan could use media to influence them.

  • Because media can either uplift us or tear us down spiritually, how can we detect the influences that would weaken us spiritually?

  • How can we avoid such influences when they are embraced by those around us?

Explain that Numbers 16 contains an account of a group of Israelites who willfully sinned by rebelling against Moses and Aaron. This account teaches principles that can help us avoid the influence of those who would seek to entice us to rebel against God. It also teaches principles that can help us know whom the Lord has called to lead His people. Invite students to look for these principles as they study Numbers 16.

Invite a student to read Numbers 16:1–3 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for who rebelled against Moses and Aaron.

  • What does the phrase “famous in the congregation, men of renown” tell you about those who rebelled against Moses?

  • What did these leaders accuse Moses and Aaron of doing? (Placing themselves above the rest of the Israelites.)

Invite a student to read Numbers 16:4–7 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for Moses’s response to the rebellious group.

  • What did Moses tell Korah and his followers?

Explain that a censer was a container for burning incense that the priests carried as they performed certain religious ceremonies in the tabernacle. Moses told Korah and his followers, who were Levites and were not authorized to administer in the high (Melchizedek) priesthood, to bring their censers to the tabernacle the following day. He also told them that the Lord would then show whom He had chosen to be His authorized servant.

Divide the class into small groups and give each group a piece of paper. Ask students to fold the paper into fourths and write each of the following references in a different quadrant: Numbers 16:8–11; Numbers 16:12–15; Numbers 16:16–19; and Numbers 16:20–27. Invite students to read each reference as a group, looking for what happened next in the story. Ask them to write a summary in each quadrant of what happened in the story. After sufficient time, discuss the following questions as a class:

  • According to verse 10, what did Korah and his people seek? (Point out that the Joseph Smith Translation in footnote a clarifies that the word priesthood in this verse is the “high priesthood,” or Melchizedek Priesthood.)

  • What does Dathan and Abiram’s response to Moses in verses 12–14 reveal about them?

  • According to verse 26, why did the Lord tell the people to leave the tents of the wicked and not touch any of their things?

Point out the phrase “depart, I pray you, from the tents of these wicked men” in verse 26.

  • Why is it important for people today to separate themselves from the wicked?

Invite several students to take turns reading aloud from Numbers 16:27–35. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what happened to those who rebelled against Moses.

  • What can we learn from this account about separating ourselves from evil influences? (Students may use different words, but they should identify the following principle: If we separate ourselves from evil influences, then we may avoid the Lord’s judgments that come upon the wicked.)

To help students better understand this principle, discuss the following questions:

  • What are some evil influences in our day that we need to separate ourselves from?

  • How can separating ourselves from evil influences help us to not be enticed to rebel against God?

Ask students to refer to the list of popular media they made earlier. Invite them to review their list and consider whether any of those items invite negative influences. Encourage students to make a plan to separate themselves from these influences and any other evil or negative influence they may encounter.

Summarize Numbers 16:36–50 by explaining that after these wicked men had been destroyed, the Israelites murmured against Moses and Aaron. The Lord sent a plague upon them, and many of them were destroyed.

In Numbers 17:1–4, we see that in order to further show the children of Israel who was called to lead His people, the Lord told Moses to gather a rod (a staff or stick) from each of the twelve tribes of Israel. Draw 12 lines on the board to represent the 12 rods. Explain that Moses placed each rod in the tabernacle overnight.

Invite a student to read Numbers 17:5 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what the Lord said would happen to the rod of the person God had chosen. Invite students to report what they find.

Ask a student to read Numbers 17:6–10 aloud. Invite the class to follow along, looking for what happened to Aaron’s staff. Ask a student to draw what happened to the staff on one of the lines on the board.

  • What do you think is significant or symbolic about Aaron’s staff growing leaves and producing fruit?

  • What can we learn from this miracle? (Students may identify a variety of doctrines and principles, but make sure to help them identify the following truth: The Lord will help us know whom He has called to lead His people.)

  • How have you personally experienced a confirming witness that the Lord’s chosen leaders are called by Him?

Encourage students to seek confirming witnesses from the Lord of those whom He has called to lead His Church.

Numbers 18–19

The Lord establishes the duties of the priests and the Levites and gives directions for sacrifice

Summarize Numbers 18–19 by explaining that the Lord again established the duties of the priests and the Levites and gave them additional directions regarding sacrifices to help them be sanctified or cleansed.

Conclude by sharing your testimony of the truths discussed in the lesson and inviting students to act on impressions they received.

Commentary and Background Information

Numbers 15:27. “If any soul sin through ignorance”

Some may wonder why we need to repent of our unintentional sins. The Lord has said that he “cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance” (D&C 1:31). We also know that “no unclean thing can dwell with God” (1 Nephi 10:21). While unintentionally sinning may not be as serious as willfully breaking God’s commandments, unintentional sins still make us unclean before the Lord. The Lord has in His mercy promised to forgive us of our sins as we repent.

Numbers 15:32–36. Picking up sticks on the Sabbath

“To stone a man for violation of the Sabbath seems a harsh punishment. But in its historical context, two things are significant. Moses had just given the law for willful rebellion against God. Did this man know the law of the Sabbath? Moses had clearly taught earlier that one who violated the Sabbath was to be put to death (see Exodus 31:14–15; 35:2). Obviously, here is an example of one who ‘despised the word of the Lord’ (Numbers 15:31).

“But think for a moment of what had just happened to Israel. They, as a nation, had despised the word of the Lord, first, by refusing to go up against the Canaanites when the Lord had told them to, and second, by going up against them after the Lord had told them not to. Thus Israel had been denied entry into the promised land. Now, an individual despised the word of the Lord and refused to enter the rest required on the Sabbath. Just as Israel was to suffer death in the wilderness for their rebellion, so a rebellious individual must be punished with the same punishment. Otherwise, God would be inconsistent” (Old Testament Student Manual: Genesis–2 Samuel, 3rd ed. [Church Educational System manual, 2003], 206).

Numbers 16:7–10. The role of the Levites

When Korah and his group of followers rebelled against Moses, they claimed that they should have the same authority as Moses and receive the Melchizedek Priesthood (see Numbers 16:10, footnote a). Moses reminded them that they were already blessed as Levites to be able to carry the ark of the covenant and to carry the sacred emblems contained in the tabernacle. However, those who rebelled were not content with these great privileges the Lord had already given them.