In my last blog post, we began this two-chapter unit of Numbers 28 and 29 that I entitled “The Importance Of The Hebrew Calendar of Public Sacrifices.”
These two chapters are ones that, like the long and complex biblical genealogical and tribal listings, can make our eyes droop and our heads bob as we tried to stay awake and focused on what they say.
But I would suggest that our disinterested and bored reaction is because we see the subject matter as irrelevant to us, meant only for an ancient time, or perhaps practically incomprehensible to our 21st century WESTERN minds.
I emphasize the word “western” because sacrifices and rituals in the service of gods are hardly a thing of bygone eras; they are current and still happen in the bulk of the world amongst most other religions than Judeo-Christian.
The Bible makes sacrifice the center, the focal point, and the heart of proper worship practices.
The Church (rightly) makes Yeshua’s sacrifice the Believers’ focal point of worship; yet when it comes to the subject of our participation in sacrifice and ritual our eyes glaze over, and we don’t even know what those words mean.
Certainly, I’m not suggesting that we should reinstitute animal sacrifice (although the later chapters of Ezekiel make it clear that with the new Temple and the return of Messiah this will happen).
However, I am suggesting that we cannot possibly even begin to grasp the tremendous depth of meaning contained within God’s ordained, Torah-based, authorized sacrificial system unless we acknowledge it as valid, useful and worth understanding.
A Modern Hebrew commentator, W.G. Plaut, said this about the subject of ritual biblical sacrifice:
“What do moderns consider “primitive” about such rituals? Doubtless, pre-biblical origins of sacrifice go back to beliefs that the gods desired food for their consumption. But the Torah itself no longer gives any warrant for the continuation of such beliefs, and Psalm 50 expressly disavows them. Most likely it is the public nature of the ancient slaughtering process that is repellent to current tastes. We prefer to hide the procedure behind the walls of abattoirs where the animals are killed in a fashion no less bloody, but without making it necessary for the consumer to witness the life and death cycle, which goes into his pleasurable nourishment. Moreover, even when we share with others in the eating process, we do not generally experience any of the genuinely worthy emotions, which were usually engendered by the sacrifices of old. In the root meaning of the English word, we do not “sacrifice” (that is, we do not render holy) anything when we eat. This does not mean that our age ought to be ready for any reconsideration of cultic sacrifice. It does suggest that when seen in its own context the biblical order of animal offerings was a genuine form of worship that cannot be quickly dismissed with prejudicial contemporary judgments.”
Some time ago Rabbi Baruch, our dear brother and teacher from Israel, told us that it is his opinion that when the Temple in Jerusalem is rebuilt (which it will be), and when the animal sacrifices begin once again (which they will), that unlike the fairly universal belief among gentile Christians that Yehoveh will view these ritual sacrifices as a slap-in-the-face, and that these sacrifices will probably be a commemoration of what Yeshua has done.
Further, that Christians need not consider these renewed sacrifices as a replacement of the Savior’s atoning blood any more than our celebration of Passover is a substitute for His death.
For us to sip a teaspoon of wine or grape juice and swallow a tiny morsel of unleavened bread and think that through this we have gained a thorough understanding of His unmatched sacrifice (a sacrifice that was prefigured in detail by the Levitical sacrificial system) is a grand and naive miscalculation on our part. And only our diligent study of Torah, led by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, is going to remedy that for us.
Last time I enumerated the four general types of sacrifices:
- The ‘Olah,
- The Hatta’at,
- The ‘Asham and
- The Shelamim.
We’re not going to re-read all of chapter 28 (but we will re-read some of it), so I am going to try to frame for you a little easier means for our modern generation to comprehend the underlying meaning and structure of the Levitical sacrifices and biblical feasts in general.
Chapter 28, verse 1, begins by stating in the strongest possible language that the rituals, sacrifices and feasts that the Lord has ordained are not only to be followed they’re to be accomplished with precision and fully in the manner, time, and quantities He has prescribed.
There are few options, and when there are options, it almost always has to do with making allowances for the poor who might not be able to afford one of the more expensive animals as a sacrifice.
It is the norm for the modern and relaxed Church to make allowance for the poor or the debt-ridden to give NOTHING as an offering of tithes to the Lord; but in the pattern of the sacrificial system, the Lord prescribes that ALL must offer up, even if it is (at times) necessarily small.
Thus as we find Israel standing on the threshold of centuries of promise, as they camp east of the Jordan River and impatient to enter the Promised Land, their first and primary duty is to set-up this Calendar of public worship to the God of Israel. And this is to set up both lines of communication and communion between them and Yehoveh.
In these two chapters we receive an extensive list of occasions on which sacrifices are to be made, and along with it the kind and number of sacrifices. Sacrifices are to be made daily and on Shabbat (the Sabbath), and also, there are 30 days in each year that are marked for special ritual sacrifices.
Jacob Milgrom has done a fantastic job summing up these distinctions, so I’ll just quote him rather than trying to improve upon them:
The offerings are cumulative; that is, the offerings for the Sabbaths and festivals are IN ADDITION to the daily offerings; and the offerings for Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, are IN ADDITION to the daily and New Moon offerings. Hence should the New Year fall on a Sabbath there would be offered all of the following:
- a) The daily offering PLUS,
- b) The Sabbath offering PLUS,
- c) The New Moon offering PLUS,
- d) The New Year offering.
The organizing principle of the calendar is according to descending order of frequency: daily, then Sabbath, and then New Moon. Then the sacrifices for festivals follow in calendar order, BEGINNING with Passover.
All the sacrificial animals mentioned are male animals: bulls, rams, and lambs as burnt offerings (‘Olah offerings) and goats as purification offerings (Hata’at offerings).
The sacrificial order is prescriptive, not descriptive. In actual practice, the purification offering would be sacrificed BEFORE the additional burnt offering.
The number 7 and its multiples (14 being two times 7) are very prominent in the number of animals offered.
In addition to the frequency of the number 7 in what is laid out in Numbers 28 and 29, there are other occurrences of the number 7:
- The seven biblical festivals,
- The seven-day Unleavened Bread and Sukkot festivals,
- The preponderance of festivals that occur in the 7th month,
- The 7 festival days (in addition to Sabbath) on which all work is prohibited.
Even more, we have the bulls required for Sukkot add up to 70 (7 times 10), the number of lambs on Sukkot is seven times 7 times 2, the number of Rams is 14 (7 times 2), and the number of required goats is 7.
The every day offering has always been called, in Hebrew, tamid. The animals were provided by the Priesthood and sacrificed and offered up by the priests as a burnt offering.
The daily offering was performed on the great Bronze Altar at the Tabernacle and later at the Temple every morning and every evening without fail, and it consisted of a lamb plus a grain offering (called a Minchah) and a libation offering of wine.
The Israelites considered the tamid as crucial to their very existence; they believed that as long as the tamid was observed the walls of Jerusalem would stand and that the Lord would protect them.
Let me remind you of something that can get confusing: the most common term for a sacrifice is a “burnt-offering,” but we need to revise that. The problem is that a lot of rather sloppy scholarship has translated the very particular ‘Olah sacrifice as “burnt offering.” But the reality is that there were several kinds of sacrifices, each with its divine purpose and own name, even though EVERY sacrifice gets burned up on the altar.
Thus it is overly simplistic to label every sacrifice as the burnt offering. The daily sacrifice, the tamid, consists of the ‘Olah (the typically misnamed burnt offering) and the Minchah (the grain offering).
Now there is no getting around it that virtually all Bible era cultures sacrificed to gods and as part of that system they sacrificed food to the gods. In the minds and purposes of these mystery religion cultures, the primary aim of the food was to FEED those gods. Thus they typically offered THREE daily sacrifices (primarily breakfast, lunch, and dinner).
But this was NOT the Hebrew view. In fact, it was a nearly opposite view because the Israelite purpose was to offer up animals and grains (food) not as sustenance for their God Yehoveh, but as an acknowledgment that He provides THEM with this food.
Now in verse 7, we get an intriguing instruction concerning the kind of libation offering to Yehoveh. Too often, probably due to the modern understanding of how seriously destructive alcohol can be to the user and the family, the Church denies that wine (which contains alcohol) was prescribed by the Lord for these sacred rituals.
So biblical wine is typically said to be merely grape juice. That is simply not true. Yayin is the official Hebrew word for wine; wine just as we think of wine. Yayin was a relatively low-alcohol wine, used not only for some ritual but also for every day drinking particularly with meals.
However there was a stronger drink called Shekhar, and it was usually used to get tipsy or flat out drunk, but there was some God-authorized ritual use of Shekhar.
In fact, the Hebrew word Shekhar is often (correctly) translated in our Bibles as a”stiff drink.” It could have been any number of alcoholic drink concoctions in which the alcohol level was significantly HIGHER than Yayin (table wine). Sometimes the Shekhar was a strong beer or ale made from grains.
The biblical term “old wine” refers to fermented grapes; wine that has been left to ferment beyond typical (therefore it was older than regular wine) and so it has more alcohol in it. Old wine is Shekhar.
As I just mentioned to you, the libation offering that is to accompany the twice-daily tamid is specified here as Shekhar: not only wine but STRONG wine. It was wine and not beer because nowhere in the Law is anything but grapes used as the source for this type of fermented libation offering, due to the needed symbolism of joy.
Another interesting fact of wine drinking is that it is often said that the priests were not to drink Yayin (table wine) immediately before they began their official time of Temple duty.
In fact, they were NOT prohibited from drinking table wine, they were forbidden to drinking Shekhar, stronger intoxicating drink, during those time periods.
Those Hebrew laymen who have taken the vow of a Nazarite may NOT drink Yayin OR Shekhar. So for a Nazarite, it’s more a matter of being entirely prohibited from partaking of an alcoholic beverage than it is of only drinking wine.
In verse 9 the Sabbath day sacrificial offering is specified: two yearling rams together with the grain sacrifice. And this is in addition to the daily tamid, and in addition to any other occasion that might have fallen on this particular Shabbat.
In verse 11 begins the time of the New Moon, which for the Israelites marked the end of one month and the beginning of the next. It was an important monthly festival celebrated by all the families of Israel, and its importance can be seen by the large number of sacrificial rams that were offered: 7. And this equaled the same number as the most significant of the biblical festivals. The libation offering is wine, regular wine: Yayin.
So, this would be a good time to point out something that I think has great significance. As Rabbi Baruch and Tom Bradford have both lectured on, along with the advent of the next new Temple in Jerusalem, there will be renewed sacrificial worship.
The sacrificial protocol for the renewed system is called out primarily in the book of Ezekiel and is acknowledged by Hebrews and Christians as an end-times and millennial kingdom time frame.
Therefore the question that is usually asked is this: is the renewed sacrificing that is not too far into our future a good thing or a bad thing?
Given the fact that the Ezekiel system begins just before the return of the Messiah, and apparently continues into His new kingdom, the one Christians call the Millennial Kingdom.
We’ve already covered that to some degree, and I agree with Rabbi Baruch that it seems likely that this renewed sacrificial system is going to be viewed by God as a good and required thing.
Now one issue we’ll find with Ezekiel’s future sacrificial protocol is that it is somewhat modified from the one we find in the Torah as one might reasonably expect since the one we’re being instructed on in Torah is pre-Christ, while the one we’re being instructed on in Ezekiel is not only after Yeshua’s death and resurrection but occurs at His return. So circumstances are wildly different particularly in the spiritual side of things.
This shift in details of some elements of the sacrificial system is something we’ve already seen in Torah. While in the Wilderness items like wine, oxen and grain would be difficult to come by (especially in large volume). However once Israel has entered the Land of Canaan and settled there these things will be readily available.
Therefore God has set down pre-conquest sacrificial requirements in Exodus (and to some degree in Leviticus) while Numbers tends to deal mostly with the time after Israel has conquered Canaan.
One of the striking differences between the future Ezekiel system and the Torah system of Moses’ era is that while the priesthood is to supply the daily tamid (morning and evening burnt offerings) in the Torah version of a sacrificial protocol, it is the worshippers who are to provide the tamid in the Ezekiel version.
And while in Numbers 28:15 we see that there is to be a Hatta’at, a purification offering, to go along with the New Moon celebration as well as with all other special occasion sacrifices (except on Sabbath). We find that the Hatta’at is not present at all in Ezekiel’s future sacrificial procedures for these events.
We’re not going to go into all the differences between the sacrificial systems in Torah versus the system in Ezekiel because that is a very deep endeavor that could lock us up for weeks.
However when you see these differences, one can speculate that there is significance in those differences. Some scholars only say that the differences are but error and inconsistency.
But I think it has to do with the far LESSER significance of the priesthood in Ezekiel (during the end-times, 1000 year kingdom times) and the much greater and central importance of the priesthood in Torah. I think it also has to do with the fact that since the advent of Messiah no additional atonement apart from His blood is needed NOR is even possible.
In the Torah system of sacrifice, it was the chief job of the priests to sacrifice as a means of obtaining atonement for Israel. So while the priests’ role in Torah and right on up to Yeshua’s death and resurrection was the indispensable rituals needed for the atonement of the people’s sins. The Ezekiel style of the priesthood is probably more of an ongoing service of commemoration of what God has done, mainly as references Jesus Christ’s sacrifice to bring Salvation.
Let’s move on, but let me say that this last little bit about the differences between Ezekiel and Torah as pertains to sacrificing is Tom Bradford’s opinion and He does NOT hold it up to you as indisputable fact.
Next up in verse 16 are the Passover and Unleavened Bread sacrificial offerings. This matter of Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread can be quite confusing especially for a gentile because it seems that they run together. That they became fused and inseparable was NOT how it was prescribed early in the Torah and only became so out of practicality and Tradition a few years later.
Passover began as a ONE-day festival event. Matzah, or The Feast of Unleavened Bread, is to start the day AFTER Passover and is a continuous 7-day festival.
Since Pesach (Passover) was eventually (by the time of Deuteronomy) fused with Matzah, it is often spoken of today as the 8-day Festival of Passover, or alternately, the eight-day Festival of Matzah.
Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread have become interchangeable terms though it is technically and biblically inaccurate.
In the original ordinances of Passover and separately the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Passover was to occur on the 14th of the month of Nisan, and the seven days of Matzah were to begin on the 15th of Nisan and end on the 21st of Nisan.
Originally Passover was a kind of private family observance; the Passover lamb (or better, Ram) was to be killed, butchered and eaten by individual families at their homes (it was not necessary for a priest to officiate any part of the ritual).
In fact, recall that one of the requirements of the Passover is that the Ram is roasted over a fire as the ONLY approved method of cooking it. Why over a fire? Probably because it was simulating a burnt offering on the Altar: but while most Temple Altar offerings have been entirely burned up with fire, this private in-home Passover Ram sacrifice was cooked with fire and to meant as food for the Israelites.
Notice I said PRIVATE home observance as regards the Passover. What we are studying in chapter 28 and soon 29, are PUBLIC sacrifices; sacrifices that occurred at the Temple and are officiated over by the priests.
On the other hand, the Feast of Matza, as we see here in Numbers, is to have official PUBLIC sacrificial status performed at the Temple by priests. So this meant people had to make a journey, a pilgrimage, to Jerusalem (or in earlier times to the location of the Tabernacle) to comply.
Now because the two feasts became fused into one people brought their Paschal lambs with them to the Temple to be slaughtered by a priest since they had to be there for the Feast of Matza anyway. They killed two birds with one stone.
It’s also not unlike the idea that Christians (gentiles) for hundreds of years have usually preferred to marry in a church. There is utterly NO Bible command that this happens but in our way of thinking it kind of adds a more formal and spiritual element to the wedding to have it in a church building.
It was the same idea with the Passover lamb: it’s not required that it is killed under the supervision of a priest, but it seemed to lend some extraordinary sanctity to the occasion by doing so.
As a result, public ovens for roasting the lambs were eventually placed all over Jerusalem to enable those who brought their lambs there, to bake them and eat them after they were ritually killed at the Temple (again, not a Torah requirement but only a nicety).
Notice also that the importance of the Feast of Unleavened Bread is underscored by requiring the same amount of extraordinary sacrifices on each of the seven days of Matza.
In verse 26 the sacrificial requirements for the Feast of Weeks are laid down. This occasion is today called Shavuot among the Hebrews or Pentecost (a Greek word) among the Christians. This feast comes seven weeks plus one day (50 days) after the Feast of Matza.
As all these festivals are agricultural based, Shavuot was celebrated at the conclusion of the barley harvest, which was also the beginning of the wheat harvest. It was a summer festival that was also a public festival, meaning it required a journey to the Temple, meaning that there were sacrifices that had to be officiated by priests.
Interestingly this is another of those instances where the requirement to make a pilgrimage to the Temple is omitted from the Ezekiel protocol of sacrifice for the end-times and Millennial Kingdom periods probably because of the decreased role and purpose of priests for that age and the reality that Messiah is present on earth.
And just as with on New Moon festivals and each day of the Feast of Matza, the same number of sacrifices was required for Shavuot.