I’ve said before that the book of Numbers alternates between history and law. After several chapters of historical narrative — telling the story of the Israelites in the wilderness — there always comes a section of legal instruction, with laws and rules and regulations for the people to follow. And then it goes back to historical narrative again. Throughout Numbers, the book alternates between those two types of literature. And after chapters 20 to 27 which contained narrative, chapters 28 and 29 and 30 contain law. And in the case of chapters 28 and 29, they contain laws about worship. In these two chapters, we have the daily, the weekly, the monthly, and the yearly offerings which they were to bring before the Lord to worship him.
Much of this will be familiar to us by now, because Leviticus chapters 1 to 7, which we studied in 2017, described the different sacrifices they were to offer to the Lord. And Leviticus 23 listed the different festivals they were to keep; and much of what we read there is repeated here. However, those chapters were written shortly after the Israelites left Egypt and while they were still camped at Mount Sinai. Now, forty years later, when they’re about to enter the Promised Land, the Lord took the opportunity once again to remind them of what he required of them in terms of the type and number of sacrifices they were to bring. And while it’s an enormous number of offerings — someone has calculated they were to offer each year 113 bulls, 32 rams, 1086 lambs and more than a ton of flour and a thousand bottles of oil and wine — while it’s an enormous number, this is only the required minimum which they were to offer. The offerings mentioned in this chapter don’t include all the freewill offerings which the people could bring at other times during the year to worship him and to give thanks to him.
The number seven stands out. During the monthly and annual festivals, they were to offer either seven or 14 lambs. The festival of unleavened bread and the feast of tabernacles both lasted for seven days. Every seventh day was the Sabbath on which they had to rest; and there were seven other days during the year on which they could do no work. And the seventh month was a special month, because in the seventh month they had the feast of trumpets and the passover and the feast of tabernacles. It’s possible that the repetition of sevens throughout the year was designed to be a reminder to the people that they were to be a holy people, because just as the Lord had set apart the seventh day from every other day to be a special day, so the Lord had set the Israelites apart from the other nations to be his special people. And so, perhaps all these sevens during the year reminded the people of this.
In verses 3 to 8 we have instructions for the daily sacrifice. Every morning and every evening at twilight they were to offer the Lord a lamb as a burnt offering. While for other offerings, some of the meat from the offering went to the priests for food, the whole of a burnt offering was burned on the altar and none was set aside for the priests. With each lamb, they were to offer a grain offering of flour and oil; and a drink offering.
In verses 9 and 10, we have instructions for the weekly Sabbath offering. Every Sabbath, as well as offering the regular daily offering of two lambs, one in the morning and one in the evening, they were to offer two more lambs with the associated grain and drink offerings.
In verses 11 to 15 we have instructions on the offerings which were to be brought on the first day of every lunar month. So, at each new moon, they had to worship the Lord in this way. As well as the regular daily offerings, they were to bring two bulls and one ram and seven lambs and the associated grain and drinking offerings. Furthermore, they were to offer a goat as a sin offering. The sin or purification offering was for washing away the stain of their sin.
Verses 16 to 25 contain instructions for the Passover which was held on the fourteenth day of the first month and the Feast of Unleavened Bread which started the next day and lasted seven days. During that time, they could only eat bread without yeast in it. Both of these commemorated their exodus from Egypt. For this feast, they were to bring the same offerings as on the first day of the month as well as the regular daily offerings. On the first and last day of this feast, they were not to work.
In verses 26 to 31 we have instructions for the Day of Firstfruits which took place during the Feast of Weeks. This was to celebrate the end of the harvest. It’s also known as Pentecost. On this day, they were to bring the same offerings as on the first day of the month, as well as the regular daily offerings. And, like the Feast of Unleavened Bread, they were to rest from their work.
In verses 1 to 6 of chapter 29 we have the Feast of Trumpets. They were to sound trumpets and rest from their work. As well as the regular daily offerings and offerings for the first day of the month, they were to bring a bull, a ram, seven lambs and a sin or purification offering, as well as the associated grain and drink offerings.
Then we have instructions for the great Day of Atonement, held on the tenth day of the seventh month. It was to be a day of rest and a day of denial, when they denied themselves food. As well as the regular daily offerings, they were to bring the same offerings as on the Feast of Trumpets plus the goat which was offered as a sin offering, the blood of which was sprinkled on the ark of the covenant in the Most Holy Place. The Day of Atonement was the most important day of the year; and the only day when the High Priest could enter the Most Holy Place.
In verses 12 to 38 there are instructions for the Feast of Tabernacles when the people remembered their time in the wilderness when they lived in tents. On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, they were to rest. Then, for seven more days, they were to celebrate the festival. As you see from the passage, every day they had to offer bulls, rams, lambs and goats as well as the regular daily offerings and grain and drink offerings. On the first and last days they weren’t to do any work.
Those are the festivals and the offerings they were to bring each day, each week, each month and each year. The whole of their life was punctuated with worship, which is only fitting because our chief end in life, our purpose in life, is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. These festivals were to be joyful occasions, when the people celebrated the Lord’s goodness and sought his forgiveness for their sins.
And of course, they point to the good news of the gospel. According to verse 8 of chapter 28, the daily offerings — when a lamb was offered every morning and every evening — produced an aroma which was pleasing to the Lord so that the Lord turned from his fierce anger over their sins. In the same way, but only better, the Lord Jesus offered himself as the Lamb of God who takes away our sin. And so, every day, when we confess our sins before the Lord, we know that he is willing to pardon us for the sake of Christ who died for us.
We now observe the weekly Sabbath, not on the seventh day of the week, but on the first day of the week, the day when the Lord Jesus was raised from the dead to live for ever. Every Sunday is, for us, Resurrection Day when we come together in the name of our Risen Saviour to give thanks to God and to look forward to the day when we too will be raised to enjoy everlasting rest in the new creation. For the Israelites, the Sabbath Day of rest followed six days of work. So, they worked and then rested. For us, the Lord’s Day is at the beginning of the week. And so, we’re reminded that first we receive rest for our souls from Christ the Saviour; and then we spend the rest of the week, serving him.
Whereas the pagan nations bowed down and worshipped the moon, the Israelites were taught to worship the Lord who made the moon as well as everything else. And by sending his Son to save us, and his Spirit to enable us to believe, God has further revealed that our God is a Trinity of Three Persons; and he is not only our Creator, but also our Saviour.
The Lord Jesus was crucified at the time of the Feast of Passover, because he is the true Passover Lamb, who died in our place so that we might be set free from our bondage to sin, Satan and death to enjoy everlasting life in the Promised Land above.
Just as the Israelites had to clear out any yeast from their homes and eat only unleavened bread in order to celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread, so believers are instructed to remove sin from our lives. The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 5:
Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
When we believe in the Saviour we begin a new life, just as the Israelites began a new life whenever the Lord took them out of Egypt. And our new life in Christ is meant to be a life without sin in it.
The day of firstfruits points forward to Christ who was the first to rise from the dead. He was the first to rise, but he will not be the last, because when he comes he will raise his people from the grave to live with him for ever and ever in glory. Therefore, the Apostle Paul calls him ‘the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep’.
The Feast of Weeks or Pentecost when the Israelites gathered together to give thanks to the Lord for the harvest was fulfilled by the Great Day of Pentecost when the Risen Saviour poured out his Spirit upon his people. And now he continues to pour out upon his believing people one spiritual blessing after another. The Israelites gave thanks to the Lord for material blessings; we give thanks to him, not only for material blessings, but for all the spiritual blessings which we have received through faith in the Saviour.
It’s possible the feast of trumpets — when trumpets were sounded and the people rested from their work — points forward to the preaching of the gospel, which announces that there is rest for our souls in Jesus Christ. However, the Apostle Paul also writes about how a trumpet blast will announce the resurrection. And so, the trumpet will sound and we will be raised from our graves to enjoy perfect peace and rest in the presence of the Lord for ever.
On the Day of Atonement, the priest sprinkled blood on the altar and on the people to cleanse them from defilement. But we have been cleansed from the guilt of our sins once and for all by the blood of the Lord Jesus, who has now entered heaven on our behalf. One day he will appear again; and when he comes he will lead us into the holy presence of God Almighty.
And the Feast of Booths looked back to the time when the Israelites were a pilgrim people on the way to the Promised Land of Canaan. And believers today are a pilgrim people, because we’ve been delivered from our bondage to sin and Satan and death; and we’re on the way to the heavenly Promised Land. And on the way, we can rely on the Lord to provide for us and to protect us just as he provided for the Israelites and protect them in the wilderness.
Each of these festivals points to the good news of the gospel; and the offerings which the people were commanded to bring speak to us of Christ and his work on the cross. The Israelites had to offer the same sacrifices again and again, because the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sins. They were designed to make do until the day when Christ would offer himself as the once for all, perfect sacrifice to take away our sins forever and to make us holy in the sight of God. That’s why we no longer offer animal sacrifices to God, because Christ’s sacrifice was perfect and complete.
Nevertheless, we’re still commanded to offer to God a sacrifice of praise; and we’re commanded to offer ourselves, not as dead sacrifices on an altar, but as living sacrifices. And so, we’re to devote ourselves every day to doing his will and glorifying his name.