Chapters 28 and 29 are effectively the Hebrew calendar of public sacrifices. There are many different kinds of calendar years in every society.
- In the US and Canada we have the secular calendar year, the school year, the fiscal year, and others.
- In Israel we have the secular calendar year, the ritual calendar year, the tithing calendar year, and others.
What this chapter embellishes more than establishes is the religious ritual calendar year. I say embellishes because most of what we read here between Exodus and Leviticus has already been laid down as Law.
However, this section in chapters 28 and 29 tailors the rituals to the coming time when Israel would be celebrating these sacrifices and feasts in their land. Therefore they would have all the foods, animals, wine and such available to perform those rituals on a regular basis properly.
Sacrifice is at the heart of worship. Let me repeat that: SACRIFICE is at the heart of all biblically based worship. The Torah sacrifices are pictures and patterns that were to be taken literally and performed precisely, yet they are also prophetic of a time when Messiah would come to fulfill the purpose of those sacrifices.
Modern Christians have no understanding of biblical sacrifice. Part of that is because the Bible doesn’t bother to explain the significance and meaning of each of the many kinds and categories of sacrifices that are so carefully laid out in the Law of Moses.
To the people of Moses’ era and for a thousand years after him, the significance was self-evident. Those worshippers who brought the sacrifices, and those priests who officiated over the sacrifices, comprehended well both the broad picture of appeasing a God who was offended by the sin of His people; and they understood the detailed nuances of the many kinds of rituals that the Lord says are indispensable in His economy.
The DOING of the sacrificial rituals automatically brought with it the understanding of WHY those rituals were needed. The followers of the Torah understood how expensive and bloody and painful atonement is.
- They understood that there are different levels of offending YHWH.
- They understood that there are some sins that cannot be atoned for with a substitute.
- They understood that sin and holiness are organically connected and multi-faceted.
- They knew that you could not separate your life from your faith; that they could not behave one way six days of the week, and another on Sabbath.
The idea that you would have one set of morals and ethics in business, another set in your home and yet another set at the synagogue was unknown to them.
LET’S READ NUMBERS CHAPTER 28
Before we study Chapter 28 verse-by-verse, I would like, to sum up, the sacrificial rituals and celebrations that the Law prescribes.
There are four main categories of sacrifices ordained in the Torah:
- The burnt offering, the’Olah;
- The purification offering, the Hatta’at;
- The reparation or guilt offering, the ‘Asham; and
- The peace offering, the Shelamim.
It is the specific protocol of the ritual and the kinds of animals that are prescribed that defines and differentiates these offerings from one another.
But there was one common cord that connected each of these categories of sacrifice: a worshipper would present the specified animal, lay hands on the animal, and then kill and butcher it according to set procedure.
After that, the priest would sprinkle some of the blood of that animal on the grand Bronze Altar, and then some or all of the animal would be burnt upon the altar. All sacrifices were to be burned up, so all sacrifices could be said to be burnt offerings.
The disposition of the flesh of the animal played a significant role in the characteristics of each kind of sacrifice.
- The ‘Olah required that the entire animal was burnt upon the altar fire; therefore no one was permitted to eat any part of that kind of sacrifice.
- The Hatta’at and the Asham sacrifices allowed some of the animal to be used for food by the Temple priests.
- The Shelamim permitted specified parts of the animal to be burnt upon the Altar, other parts to be given as food to the priests, and usually the largest portion to the ordinary worshipper who brought the animal.
The ‘Olah was performed daily and routinely; it was the most often performed of all the sacrifices. It was the king of the sacrifices and considered the most important. The Hatta’at occurred often and was usually associated with the ending of a long-term time of being unclean for one reason or another.
The ‘Asham was not nearly so often as the previous two and was set apart as special because it was part of the atonement process for one who committed a particularly serious sin such as blasphemy or adultery.
The Shelamim occurred frequently; it was often used at the completion of a vow. Sometimes this sacrifice is called a “free-will” sacrifice because one who only wanted to honor the Lord for almost any reason could bring a Shelamim sacrifice at his or her volition. That the worshipper got to keep a goodly portion of the meat had much to do with the high rate of its use.
By law animals used for food were to be slaughtered at the Temple. By practicality, only the wealthy enjoyed meat on a regular basis. So an ordinary citizen who wanted meat usually waited for an occasion where a peace offering, a Shelamim sacrifice, was called for so he could satisfy both the law and his desire for meat.
The wealthy tended to make MANY Shelamim sacrifices because they wanted meat on the table almost daily. So the rich managed to look quite pious (and thus considered themselves more righteous than the poor) by offering all these peace offerings, even though their motive was a nice juicy lamb chop.
In every one of these sacrifices, the sacrificial animal becomes the substitute for the owner of the animal. That is the animal dies in place of the one who brought it; the animal dies as ransom payment for the sins of the worshipper.
In the ‘Olam offering, the animal is completely burnt up and destroyed; it presents a picture of which each and every person on earth owes to the Lord for our sin. We owe Him our physical and eternal death.
The Hatta’at requires that the blood of the animal be smeared around the Altar. The purpose of that smeared blood is a purifying agent. The Altar and all the ritual places and items become defiled because of the sins of men. The only thing that can purify is blood. Without the constant cleansing of the Temple area, there would be no way that a holy God could live there.
Now, the ‘Asham offering is exciting in that it represents the payment of debt. The blood of the animal, representing the life of the animal, is OWED to God due to the sins of the worshipper. And this is reparation PAID to the Lord for our offense against Him.
The Shelamim, the peace offering, was a “thank you” gift to the Lord. It was commonly presented when the giver was experiencing well-being and wanted to acknowledge that it was Yehoveh (God) who was the source of this well-being; or as the name of the offering implies, that the worshipper was experiencing shalom (well-being).
So as you can see, atonement and sin are large and complex matters. It may seem simple and straightforward to a gentile, in particular, who has no knowledge whatsoever of the sacrificial system. But the death of our Savior as a sacrifice of atonement was not easy.
Our Father didn’t reduce the complexity of sin and atonement when His Son died and then rose from the dead. It has been men’s doctrines that seem to do everything possible to prevent us from even reading about God’s laws and ordinances.
Men’s beliefs that replace Scripture with overly simplistic statements such as “a sin is a sin, it doesn’t matter what it is” (a common belief within the church).
Or that our “sacrifice” is only answering an altar call at a revival or a church service; going forward and saying yes to the call of Yeshua.
Or worse that our deeds and works have nothing to do with anything. Most certainly our deeds and works can never gain us salvation, but our deeds and actions are with equal certainty a measure of our commitment to our Savior and the eternal principles of Yehoveh.
We’ll pick up with chapter 28 in my next blog post.