Today’s reading: Numbers 7.
This chapter is the longest in the first five books of the Bible, and though it seems tedious there are still gems to be mined here. As the final touches were made to the tabernacle, the twelve tribes gave gifts to be used in the services there, and each tribe gave the exact same gifts.
The one who brought his offering on the first day was Nahshon son of Amminadab of the tribe of Judah. His offering was one silver plate weighing a hundred and thirty shekels and one silver sprinkling bowl weighing seventy shekels, both according to the sanctuary shekel, each filled with the finest flour mixed with olive oil as a grain offering; one gold dish weighing ten shekels, filled with incense; one young bull, one ram and one male lamb a year old for a burnt offering; one male goat for a sin offering; and two oxen, five rams, five male goats and five male lambs a year old to be sacrificed as a fellowship offering. Numbers 7:12-17
Let’s use these gifts as a reminder of the kinds of offerings made at the tabernacle. You can read about these offerings in more detail in Leviticus 2-8.
The Grain Offering. Flour mixed with oil was cooked into bread. A portion of the bread was burned on the altar as a memorial, asking God to remember in order to bless the one offering the gift. It was given in recognition of God’s goodness and provision, and as an expression of devotion.
The Burnt Offering. A male bull, ram, or bird were the usual offerings. The entire animal except for the skin was burned on the altar. It was given to atone for the general category of unintentional sins (not specific sins known to the giver). Burning the entire animal signified the complete surrender and devotion of the one making the offering.
The Sin Offering. A male goat was offered for the sins of a leader in Israel. This was the most important offering a person could make, seeking redemption for his entire person from the defilement of his sins. The choice fatty portions were burned as an offering to God.
The Fellowship Offering. Also known as the peace offering. An animal without defect was sacrificed, the fatty portions were burned as an offering to God, and the remainder of the animal was eaten as a shared meal. It was a voluntary act of worship and thanksgiving. The shared meal symbolized fellowship with God.
After the gifts were given and recorded, and all the preparations to sanctify the temple were completed, Moses entered the holy place and communicated with God.
When Moses entered the tent of meeting to speak with the Lord, he heard the voice speaking to him from between the two cherubim above the atonement cover on the ark of the covenant law. In this way the Lord spoke to him. Numbers 7:89
The offerings and sacrifices sanctified the temple and were part of a process that prepared a holy place where our Holy God could safely meet with people that were usually less than holy. The preparations made fellowship and communication with God possible. But what about you and me? Believers are now the temple filled with God’s Holy Spirit. Do we need to make offerings or sacrifices in order to prepare to meet with God? Jesus has made the ultimate sacrifice for us, and therefore no animal blood sprinkled or fat burned on an altar will bring us closer to God. Yet the results of the ancient sacrifices are still our goal: devotion, complete surrender, forgiveness, fellowship. Surely these qualities still have the power to open our ears to God. As for the sacrifices, even the psalmists recognized that something greater was available to bring us before God.
Sacrifice and offering You did not desire; you have opened up my ears to listen. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required. Then I said, “Behold, I have come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me, I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your law is within my inward parts.” Psalm 40:6-8
Proverbs records the following wisdom:
To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice. Proverbs 21:3
The prophets revealed the same conclusion about God’s wishes.
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. Hosea 6:6
Jesus commented on our tendency to observe the letter of the law without keeping its spirit:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.” Matthew 23:23
Practical James offered this advice:
Draw near to God and He will draw near to you Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. James 4:8
Our sacrifices are no longer the fat and blood of animals, but instead the confessions of a contrite heart and the offering of thanks for forgiveness. We begin by learning about God in his word, and knowing him we delight in him. Our delight drives us to draw near to him, to obey him, and to desire the same things he does: mercy, justice, faithfulness, and devotion. In this way we now prepare ourselves to hear God.
Image by batigolix on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0