February 6, 2008
Numbers — With God in the Wilderness:
“The Laws of Offerings”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Numbers 28, as we continue our way through this great book. A couple of weeks ago, we were looking at the long list of names of the heads of families of the tribes of Israel recorded in the census in Numbers 26, and we noted that among other things the names and numbers were listed there for the purpose of land inheritance. Even though the children of Israel weren’t yet in the Promised Land, but were in fact camped outside of the Promised Land in Midian getting ready to go into the final battles that would lead them into the possession of the Promised Land, already God was getting an indication by His own direct command of the size of Israel for the apportionment of that land.
It was another way yet again that God would impress upon His people that He was going to fulfill the promise that He had made to Abraham four hundred and thirty-something years before: He was going to give them a land flowing with milk and honey. And even though He had made that promise — and forty years beforehand the people of God had doubted whether He could fulfill it — He had marched them all the way through the wilderness, He had been with them every step of the way, He had guarded them against their enemies, and now He was going to take them into the land. And He was making preparation to give a just apportionment of that land to His people once they were in it.
Then we studied that strange passage in Numbers 27:1-11 about the daughters of Zelophahad, and we encountered (in that seemingly obscure passage pertaining to, of all things, Mosaic inheritance law…land inheritance law) a story about unmarried daughters who, under Mosaic Law to this point, were not covered in the provision for land inheritance. If there were no sons in a family, then the land of that family passed on directly either to a brother or to an uncle, and then on to the next nearest male kin of the land holder. And these daughters of Zelophahad come to Moses, and they say, ‘Moses, we’d like you to consider our situation. If the land is given to the next male kin of our father’s family, then our father’s name will disappear. We want you to consider allowing us to inherit, and we trust the Lord to give the right answer.’ And so Moses inquires of the Lord, and the Lord says something extraordinary. Do you remember what He says in Numbers 27? I don’t think there is a passage like this anywhere else in the Bible. The Lord responds, “The daughters of Zelophahad are right.” And the Lord God changes the inheritance law of Israel. Not because the daughters of Zelophahad came and said, ‘Look, even the pagan cultures around us allow unmarried daughters to inherit.’ They didn’t appeal to the culture around them. They appealed to the justice and the kindness of the living God, and the living God showed His justice and kindness in response to their obedient trusting, coming to the mediator, Moses. And so they were given the inheritance coming so their father’s name would continue on in the land. It’s really an amazing passage.
And then, if it can get any more amazing than that, in the very next passage, in Numbers 27:12-23, we found out that though all of those heads of families are going to inherit land in Israel, and even the unmarried daughters of Zelophahad are going to inherit land in Israel, Moses is not going to inherit land in Canaan. In fact, Moses isn’t going to go into the land of Canaan at all, because Moses had been disrespectful to the Lord God in front of all of Israel at the waters of Meribah. And God in His just judgment told Moses that he could look at the land. He could see it, but he was not going to enter it. He was going to be gathered to his fathers just like Aaron before the children of Israel entered into the land. It’s quite an extraordinary passage, this section that we’ve been studying.
Well, tonight we come to a section of laws. And I think one of the very reasons that we come to a passage like Numbers 28, with a series of seemingly obscure laws about offerings and sacrifices, and scratch our heads, is that we don’t understand the centrality of worship in God’s plan.
As we look at this passage, let me give you a little bit of outlining to help you follow along. In the first two verses of Numbers 28, an overarching statement is made by God pertaining to all the various appointed offerings, and then in verses 3-8, the daily offerings are described. In verses 9-10, the weekly offerings are described. In verses 11-15, the special offerings of food and drink are described that take place monthly. And then in verses 16 to the end of the chapter, the yearly offering or sacrifice that occurs in the Passover, the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, is described. And so various time-sequence related offerings or sacrifices are described in this passage.
Now this is not unusual in Leviticus or Numbers. We’ve encountered already in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers passages like this describing the offerings of Israel. What is interesting about this passage is it is directed toward the priests, as to their duties in administering these various sacrifices. So let’s pray before we read God’s word, and ask for Him to help us hear it and benefit from it. Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, we thank You for this Your word, and even as we come to a passage again in this great book which is seemingly obscure, we ask that You would open our eyes to understand it, to behold it in a way that we hadn’t before. And that You would cause us to bless You, and that You would cause us to believe in Your word, and that You would cause us to trust in Christ. We ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Hear the word of God.
“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Command the people of Israel and say to them, ‘My offering, my food for my food offerings, my pleasing aroma, you shall be careful to offer to Me at its appointed time.’ And you shall say to them, This is the food offering that you shall offer to the Lord: two male lambs a year old without blemish, day by day, as a regular offering. The one lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight; also a tenth of an ephah of fine flour for a grain offering, mixed with a quarter of a hin of beaten oil. It is a regular burnt offering, which was ordained at Mount Sinai for a pleasing aroma, a food offering to the Lord. Its drink offering shall be a quarter of a hin for each lamb. In the Holy Place you shall pour out a drink offering of strong drink to the Lord. The other lamb you shall offer at twilight. Like the grain offering of the morning, and like its drink offering, you shall offer it as a food offering, with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.
“On the Sabbath day, two male lambs a year old without blemish, and two tenths of an ephah of fine flour for a grain offering, mixed with oil and its drink offering: this is the burnt offering of every Sabbath, besides the regular burnt offering and its drink offering.
“At the beginnings of your months, you shall offer a burnt offering to the Lord: two bulls from the herd, one ram, seven male lambs a year old without blemish; also three tenths of an ephah of fine flour for a grain offering, mixed with oil, for each bull, and two tenths of fine flour for a grain offering, mixed with oil, for the one ram; and a tenth of fine flour mixed with oil as a grain offering for every lamb; for a burnt offering with a pleasing aroma, a food offering to the Lord. Their drink offerings shall be half a hin of wine for a bull, a third of a hin for a ram, and a quarter of a hin for a lamb. This is the burnt offering of each month throughout the months of the year. Also one male goat for a sin offering to the Lord; it shall be offered besides the regular burnt offering and its drink offering.
“On the fourteenth day of the first month is the Lord’s Passover, and on the fifteenth day of this month is a feast. Seven days shall unleavened bread be eaten. On the first day there shall be a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work, but offer a food offering, a burnt offering to the Lord: two bulls from the herd, one ram, and seven male lambs a year old; see that they are without blemish; also their grain offering of fine flour mixed with oil; three tenths of an ephah shall you offer for a bull, and two tenths for a ram; a tenth shall you offer for each of the seven lambs; also one male goat for a sin offering, to make atonement for you. You shall offer these besides the burnt offering of the morning, which is for a regular burnt offering. In the same way you shall offer daily, for seven days, the food of a food offering, with a pleasing aroma to the Lord. It shall be offered besides the regular burnt offering and its drink offering. And on the seventh day you shall have a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work.
“On the day of the firstfruits, when you offer a grain offering of new grain to the Lord at your Feast of Weeks, you shall have a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work, but offer a burnt offering, with a pleasing aroma to the Lord: two bulls from the herd, one ram, seven male lambs, a year old; also their grain offering of fine flour mixed with oil, three tenths of an ephah for each bull, two tenths for one ram, a tenth for each of the seven lambs; with one male goat, to make atonement for you. Besides the regular burnt offering and its grain offering, you shall offer them and their drink offering. See that they are without blemish.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
Now these instructions about offerings, similar to instructions that we have encountered in Exodus, Leviticus, and previously in Numbers — like in Numbers 15 — are given to us for a reason. The children of Israel are in Midian. For the first time in their existence (and you’re going to see this in Numbers 31), they’re going to have enough cattle at their disposal to be able to offer these offerings. The Lord himself had to provide the offering for Israel to offer to Him, and after they defeat the Midianites, they are going to have cattle galore. They’re on the verge of entering into the land, and this system of sacrificial offerings could only be fully carried out when the children of Israel were stationery, no longer nomadic in the wilderness where they didn’t have at their disposal these kinds of animals and herds and conditions. And so the Lord here naturally and logically, in Numbers 28, is preparing the children of Israel to occupy the land.
There are many great lessons in this passage. You can hear them echoing in repeated phrases. We could meditate the whole night long on the significance of the phrase, “a pleasing aroma to the Lord.” We could meditate on the fact that the daily offerings were to be offered — when? In the morning and in the evening…morning and twilight. We could meditate upon the call for the Sabbath rest and the holy convocation, the cessation of work. There are so many things in this passage that we could fruitfully and profitably meditate upon.
But I want to draw your attention to three things, and let me summarize the outline of the message tonight with three words–Worship, Sacrifice, and Jesus. Because this great passage that we have just read teaches us about worship, sacrifice, and Jesus. How was it that the children of Israel were going to go into this land, a land filled with pagans (Canaanites), beset on every side by false belief, by false religion, by unethical practice, by superstitious ways, and retain the mind of God? Continue in the pursuit of the one true God? Still seek fellowship with the one true God?
The answer in one word is: Worship. Worship is designed by God not only to be an act of the highest privilege in which His people entered into communion with Him, but worship was designed to save Israel from the world. And so it was perfectly logical for God to pause as Israel was on the verge of going into the land of Canaan and to say to the priests again, ‘Now remember: the daily, and the weekly, and the monthly, and the yearly cycles of worship and offering and sacrifice are absolutely vital for My people, for it is through worship that I will create them as a people. It is through worship that they will experience communion with Me. It is through worship that they will be protected from the world.’ And you ask me how are all these sacrifices and offerings and such going to protect Israel from the world. Well, think about it.
First of all, in all of these details — all of these details which are required for the children of Israel to approach the living God — what message comes through loud and clear? Well, one message is surely this: God is so important that all of these various minute and expensive details are worth our attending to, because He is more important than anything in this world.
Think of the other message that comes through. The other message is ‘Boy! God must really care about His worship, because He’s given all of these details.’ And He’s not said to you, ‘Israel, you just figure out how you want to worship Me. Any way that you want to worship Me is fine.’ No. He said, ‘Israel, you approach Me only in this way.’ And again, by this the significance of God is emphasized.
And of course the reason that’s so important is, as we’ve said over and over in our study of Exodus and Leviticus and Numbers, that how you worship ends up determining who you are worshiping. If you get to design the way you worship God, you will eventually worship a God of your own design. But if you worship God in the way that God has appointed for you to worship, you will worship the only true God — who appoints the way of worshiping the true God.
And so again in the very act of worship, the children of Israel have to learn to do what? To defer to God. ‘Lord, we just want to do Your will. You tell us what to do, and we’ll do it.’ So their worship is a response to divine revelation.
Now what does all this do? It protects Israel from the world around them, because the world around them was busily worshiping God, but they weren’t worshiping the right God, and they weren’t worshiping God in the right way, and their lives bore the marks of it. So God’s plan to save Israel from the world is through worship.
Please understand that: that every time we gather together under God’s word and read the Bible, and pray the Bible, and preach the Bible, and sing the Bible, and see the sacraments administered as visible words, God is creating us. He is making us into His people. He is, in the very act of worshiping Him, solidifying in our hearts allegiance to Him. He is forming in our minds what He is like. He is teaching us to view Him as He is, not according to our own opinions or perspectives. He is teaching us that He defines himself to us. We don’t learn what He’s like from the world, and He’s making us distinct from that world. That’s exactly what’s going on here, and this is why it’s so important that again Moses will pause and repeat, by God’s instruction, the rules about the offerings of sacrifices in Israel.
Worship was designed to save Israel from the world. And again, these minute instructions about worship show its importance, and they remind us of the function that it had amongst the people of God in the old covenant.
Secondly, if there is one hallmark in this passage about true worship in Israel, it can be summed up in the word sacrifice. Sacrifice is repeatedly featured in this list of rules about the offerings, because sacrifice is at the very heart of true worship.
Did you count up what this would mean that Israel would offer every year? Totally apart from the special offerings? Did you count it up? OK, if you didn’t, let me tell you what it is: 113 bulls every year; 32 rams every year; 1,086 lambs every year; more than a ton of flour; and more than 1,000 bottles of oil and wine. And these are just the regular offerings. These are not the special offerings. These are not the discretionary voluntary offerings. These are not the special family sin offerings. These are just the regular offerings — 113 bulls, 32 rams, 1,086 lambs, a ton of flour, 1,000 bottles of oil and wine. Over and over and over it is driven home that at the heart of Israel’s worship is going to be what? Sacrifice. At the heart of Israel’s worship is going to be atonement. It’s absolutely essential to Israel’s worship.
What does Israel learn from this? Well, Israel learns, for instance, we’re alive because of sacrifice. We deserve to be judged, but God has accepted a sacrifice in our place. Just as He spared Isaac and substituted that ram in the thicket, so He has spared us. Just as that lamb was slaughtered on the night of Passover, and the angel of death passed over us because of the blood shed from that lamb smeared on the doorposts and lentils of our houses, so also in these sacrifices we are spared. We’re alive because of sacrifice. And the children of Israel could say, ‘You know what? We’re in the land because of sacrifice. We deserve — all of us — we deserve all of us to be dead out there in the wilderness, dead out there in the desert. But because of sacrifice, we’re alive and we’re in the land. We’re recipients of God’s promises because of the sacrifices. We wouldn’t be alive to receive God’s promises were it not for the sacrifices. We’re forgiven because of these sacrifices.’
Notice how over and over God presses home that sacrifice is at the heart of true worship. Why? Because the children of Israel would have to recognize that sacrifice reminds us that something’s wrong. It reminds us that there’s something wrong. You wouldn’t sacrifice if everything was right. There’s something wrong. And the something that’s wrong is us: we’re sinners, and we’re trying to commune in worship with the holy God. And we can’t do that apart from sacrifice, and it reminds us that there’s nothing we can do to restore that fellowship. Only God can appoint and provide something to restore that fellowship.
It’s so interesting, isn’t it, that God not only commands the sacrifices to be given, but He will eventually provide for Israel the animals that will be required to offer these sacrifices. He had to give them both the instruction for the sacrifices and the animals for the sacrifices. They couldn’t produce that on their own. They were totally dependent upon God. And so the children of Israel not only learned that there’s something wrong — their sin — and it requires a sacrifice, but that God provides the sacrifice. He provides the way that they can come back into His fellowship. So Israel learns a huge lesson from this: that communion with God requires the shedding of blood in a sacrifice for atonement for sin.
But there’s one more thing that this passage teaches us. It not only teaches us about worship; it not only teaches us about sacrifice; it teaches us about Jesus. Because in these very instructions — did you catch them? — in these very instructions, Israel was also learning another message, and that was that these animal sacrifices by themselves just won’t do. Because guess what? We can offer them today, and they need to be offered again tomorrow. And we can offer them this week, and they need to be offered again next week. And we can offer them this month, and they have to be offered again next month. And we can offer them this year, and they have to be offered again next year.
In fact, the author of Hebrews, in Hebrews 10:1-4, tells us that the people of God learned from the repetition of these sacrifices day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, that the blood of bulls and goats cannot forgive sins. And therefore, they pointed to the only sacrifice that can.
That’s why when John sees Jesus coming he says, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who comes to take away the sin of the world.” That is why every believer’s heart ought to fill up to overflowing in gratitude, because now suddenly all of those offerings which were ineffective in cleansing the conscience of the offerer, in forgiving the sin of the one who participated in the sacrifice…all of those come to fruition in the one whose death brought about the forgiveness of sins.
That’s why it’s so beautiful…the phrase that’s repeated in the book of Hebrews that “once for all” He made sacrifice for sin. And consequently, no sacrifice remains that needs to be offered, because He has in himself provided the final, the real, the only sacrifice that’s acceptable to the living God. No, even the very repetition of sacrifices in this passage and others like it in the laws of Moses point us to the ineffectiveness and the shadowy prefiguring nature of these sacrifices that point to the real, the only, the one sacrifice that’s offered in Jesus Christ.
This passage teaches us about worship, and it teaches about sacrifice as at the very heart of worship. And then it reminds us that the reason there is no bloody altar in this building, and the reason that there is no weekly sacrifice offered in this building Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day as we gather together is because one offering has already been made that has covered the sins of men and women and boys and girls from every tribe and tongue and people and nation–a multitude that no man can number – of all those who trust in Jesus Christ, and they are completely forgiven.
And so sacrifice is at the heart of our worship too, even though there is no blood administered Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day here. Because the blood has already been shed in Jesus Christ, and His sacrifice is why we are able to commune with the living God tonight…next Lord’s Day…and forever.
Our Lord and our God, we thank You for pausing to record again the laws of the offerings of the sacrifices that Israel would have to give to You. We thank You for the lessons of this passage, though we’ve only scratched the surface. We pray that we would rely only upon the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that we would presume to bring no other sacrifice: not what our hands have done, O Lord, but only what Christ has done. He has provided the basis of our everlasting communion with You. Grant that we would receive and trust in Him alone. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Would you stand for God’s blessing.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.