Numbers: The Offerings of the Seventh Month

Sermon by on February 13, 2008

Numbers 29:1-40

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Wednesday Evening

February 13,
2008


Numbers 29:1-40

Numbers — With
God in the Wilderness:


“The Offerings of the Seventh Month”

Dr. J. Ligon
Duncan III

If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with
me to Numbers 29. We’re making our way closer and closer to the end of this
great book, part of the Law of Moses, the first five books of the Bible. The
Pentateuch is the technical name for those books; or, as the Hebrews called
them, the Torah, the law of God, the instruction of the living God. Last
week we started into a section of this book which contained detailed listings of
the requirements of the priests in the various laws of sacrifices, and that
really continues in the passage we’re going to study tonight.

Many things come to mind to explain what is going on
here. The children of Israel are not yet in the land of Canaan. They’re not yet
in the Promised Land, they’re out in Midian. They’re getting ready to make their
final approach into the land. There will be many battles to be fought before
they are resting in their land. What in the world is the Lord stopping here in
the middle of this wandering story to tell them what their church calendar is
going to be like when they get in? When they’re going to be celebrating this,
when they’re going to be celebrating that?

Well, there are a lot of things going on there.
One thing surely is this: God is reminding His children again that they are
going to be in the Promised Land.
He’s promised that they’re going to be
there. They’re not there yet, but He’s so committed to making sure that they get
there that He wants to tell them what the calendar of their church year is going
to be like when they get there. And so here, before the children of Israel are
yet in the Promised Land, they’re already being told what they’re going to be
celebrating in praise and worship of the living God, at what time of the year.
There’s not only instruction about the weekly sacrifices and the monthly
sacrifices, but there are instructions here about the sacrifices that occur at
the time of the Jewish New Year, and the sacrifices that occur at the time of
Pentecost, and the various feasts of Israel are being described in this passage.

Of course, in the passage before us tonight it
especially deals with the sacrifices that are associated with the Feast of
Trumpets, which was in the time of Aviv, or of Nissan, as it was
called after the time of the captivity, in which the Day of Atonement occurs and
the head of the year, and all of these things very significant in the Jewish
ecclesiastical calendar. And there is a great deal of instruction in the passage
we’re going to read tonight about the Feast of Tabernacles, and that’s
significant because the Feast of Tabernacles itself was going to celebrate the
beginning of the wilderness wanderings of Israel! And where are they? They’re in
the wilderness! And God is telling them about a ceremony, a ritual, a feast that
they are going to observe every year to remind themselves of what they’re still
in the middle of as Moses records this in Numbers. So it’s a very interesting
passage that we’re going to be looking at tonight.

Before we read God’s word, let’s pray and ask for His
help and blessing as we hear it and heed it.

Heavenly Father, this is Your word. You have
reminded us over and over in this book that no matter how “first glance obscure”
a passage may be, that in every word of Your word there is a word of nourishment
for Your people. So again tonight nourish us by Your word. We’ll give You all
the praise, all the credit, all the glory, all the honor for it. In Jesus’ name.
Amen.

Hear the word of God in Numbers 29:

“‘On the first day of the seventh month you shall have a holy convocation. You
shall not do any ordinary work. It is a day for you to blow the trumpets, and
you shall offer a burnt offering, for a pleasing aroma to the Lord: one bull
from the herd, one ram, seven male lambs a year old without blemish; also their
grain offering of fine flour mixed with oil, three tenths of an ephah for the
bull, two tenths for the ram, and one tenth for each of the seven lambs; with
one male goat for a sin offering, to make atonement for you; besides the burnt
offering of the new moon, and its grain offering, and the regular burnt offering
and its grain offering, and their drink offering, according to the rule for
them, for a pleasing aroma, a food offering to the Lord.

“On the tenth day of this seventh month you shall have a holy
convocation and afflict yourselves. You shall do no work, but you shall offer a
burnt offering to the Lord, a pleasing aroma: one bull from the herd, one ram,
seven male lambs a year old: see that they are without blemish. And their grain
offering shall be of fine flour mixed with oil, three tenths of an ephah for the
bull, two tenths for the one ram, a tenth for each of the seven lambs: also one
male goat for a sin offering, besides the sin offering of atonement, and the
regular burnt offering and its grain offering, and their drink offerings.

“On the fifteenth day of the seventh month you shall have a holy
convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work, and you shall keep a feast to
the Lord seven days. And you shall offer a burnt offering, a food offering, with
a pleasing aroma to the Lord, thirteen bulls from the herd, two rams, fourteen
male lambs a year old; they shall be without blemish; and their grain offering
of fine flour mixed with oil, three tenths of an ephah for each of the thirteen
bulls, two tenths for each of the two rams, and a tenth for each of the fourteen
lambs; also one male goat for a sin offering, besides the regular burnt
offering, its grain offering and its drink offering.

“On the second day twelve bulls from the herd, two rams, fourteen
male lambs a year old without blemish, with the grain offering and the drink
offerings for the bulls, for the rams, and for the lambs, in the prescribed
quantities; also one male goat for a sin offering, besides the regular burnt
offering and its grain offering, and their drink offerings.

“On the third day eleven bulls, two rams, fourteen male lambs a year
old without blemish, with the grain offering and the drink offerings for the
bulls, for the rams, and for the lambs, in the prescribed quantities; also one
male goat for a sin offering, besides the regular burnt offering and its grain
offering and its drink offering.

“On the fourth day ten bulls, two rams, fourteen male lambs a year
old without blemish, with the grain offering and the drink offerings for the
bulls, for the rams, and for the lambs, in the prescribed quantities; also one
male goat for a sin offering, besides the regular burnt offering, its grain
offering and its drink offering.

“On the fifth day nine bulls, two rams, fourteen male lambs a year
old without blemish, with the grain offering and the drink offerings for the
bulls, for the rams, and for the lambs, in the prescribed quantities; also one
male goat for a sin offering; besides the regular burnt offering and its grain
offering and its drink offering.

“On the sixth day eight bulls, two rams, fourteen male lambs a year
old without blemish, with the grain offering and the drink offerings for the
bulls, for the rams, and for the lambs, in the prescribed quantities; also one
male goat for a sin offering; besides the regular burnt offering and its grain
offering and its drink offering.

“On the seventh day seven bulls, two rams, fourteen male lambs a
year old without blemish, with the grain offering and the drink offerings for
the bulls, for the rams, and for the lambs, in the prescribed quantities; also
one male goat for a sin offering; besides the regular burnt offering and its
grain offering and its drink offering.

“On the eighth day you shall have a solemn assembly. You shall not
do any ordinary work, but you shall offer a burnt offering, a food offering,
with a pleasing aroma to the Lord: one bull, one ram, seven male lambs a year
old without blemish, and the grain offering and the drink offerings for the
bull, for the ram, and for the lambs, in the prescribed quantities; also one
male goat for a sin offering; besides the regular burnt offering and its grain
offering and its drink offering.

“These you shall offer to the Lord at your appointed feasts, in
addition to your vow offerings and your freewill offerings, for your burnt
offerings, and for your grain offerings, and for your drink offerings, and for
your peace offerings.’

“So Moses told the people of Israel everything just as the Lord had
commanded Moses.”

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired,
inerrant and profitable word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.

There were more sacred assemblies in the seventh
month of Israel’s calendar year, which was the beginning month of their
ecclesiastical year… there were more sacred ceremonies in that month than any
other month of the year. It was the month that had been the beginning of the
deliverance of Israel out of Egypt
, the initial start of the wilderness
journey. And it was reckoned as the beginning of months in all ecclesiastical
computations in Israel. It was the month where Moses had ordained for the civil
jubilees to be celebrated, when freedom was being declared to captives and to
land. It was a time of vacation. It was between harvest time and seed time.
Harvest was over, and the time to get back out into the fields and start sowing
the seed had not yet begun. But it was most significant because of the history
that it recorded. Yes, it was a harvest festival, but more importantly than
that, it was the anniversary of the beginnings of the wandering in the
wilderness which marked both the liberation from Egypt and the entering into of
the Promised Land.

And there are many, many lessons in this passage. We
won’t be able to do justice to it tonight, but let me draw your attention to
four things in particular.

I. God is more important than
your work or your time.

The first thing that we learn in this great
passage in Numbers 29 is that God is more important than your work, and God is
more important than your time.
Have you calculated how much time in this
month of Aviv, the seventh month later called the month of Nissan…have you
calculated how much time they would have spent in fulfilling these feasts to the
Lord? There wouldn’t have been much time for anything else! And a huge message
is being sent: God is more important than work; He’s more important than your
time — in fact, all time belongs to Him; and He is to be woven into the fabric
of our calendar, and He is to take priority over our work.

Now I am fully aware that this feast time makes sense
in an agricultural society in which after the time of harvest and before the
time of seed sowing the farmer has less to do than any other time of the year.
And I fully appreciate that many pagan agricultural societies have these kinds
of festivals. And I fully appreciate that one motive of God’s appointing these
festivals for Israel in this time frame is precisely so that they don’t get
involved in the pagan festivals going on around them (which were also often
wrapped up into the worship of false gods), and that He is directing their
attention to the true God.

Nevertheless, the chapter before chapter 29 not only
speaks of the festivals that are going to be held during the seventh month,
which is between harvest and seed time, but speaks to the various weekly and
monthly Sabbaths that are to be observed, so that in chapters 28 and 29 we have
a grand demonstration of a God who weaves Himself into the time frame of the
whole of Israel’s year; that He is to be worshiped in the framework of all of
their time, and that He is more important than their work.

Boy, is that a message that we need to hear today!
Agricultural societies at least had this going for them: there was a natural
rhythm that helped them take a break every once in a while. There was only so
much that could be done in certain parts of the year. It is not so today. Today
if you want to, and if you are physically capable of it, you can work 24 hours a
day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, 365 days a year. You can work all the
time.

J.C. Ryle once said, “There are but a few steps down
from no Sabbath to no God.” Do you know what he means by that? That if there is
not a regular pattern in which you are devoting yourself in worship and praise
with the whole of who you are to the living God, He will cease to be a living
reality in your life. You will have moved from no day of worship to the true
God, to no God.

And you see what Israel is having done here in the
very schedule of their yearly calendar? God has woven himself into that
schedule, and alongside of all the weekly Sabbaths, He has woven in these other
ceremonies and festivals to remind them that He is more important than their
work and more important than their time. And that is a truth that is just as
real for us today as believers.

Even though we don’t have anything corresponding
to their harvest festivals, we do have something corresponding to their weekly
Sabbaths.
We call it the Lord’s Day. And on that day as we gather and
worship the living God morning and evening, we declare to the world, to the
families, to our friends, and to ourselves: God is more important than our work,
and He’s more important than our time.

Do you realize you’re sending that message to young
people? If young people come into the meeting house and sit through a sermon and
they don’t understand anything that is said, and they hear songs sung that they
don’t understand a word of, yet nevertheless do you know what young people are
able to look around and see? They are able to look around and see adults through
their actions declaring that God is more important than anything in this world.
And by the grace of God they will not miss that message if we’re here, if we’re
gathering on the Lord’s Day to worship the living God. That’s what we’re doing
on the Lord’s Day. We’re declaring that God is more important than our work and
more important than our time.

II. Your worship requires
sacrifice, because you are a sinner.

There’s a second message that we see in this
passage, and that message is simply this: Your worship requires sacrifice,
because you’re a sinner. Did you see how many times in the Feast of Tabernacles
that the phrase was repeated about the “male goat for a sin offering”? And in
fact, the instructions about the burnt offering pertain to this as well. Over
and over in the repeated language of this passage it is emphasized that in
worship we are declaring God to be more important than anything in this
world–more important than our work, more important than our time. But we can’t
actually enter into that worship without sacrifice, because we’re sinners. And
so the very act of worshiping God for the Israelite required that the Israelite
acknowledge that he or she is a sinner.

Now we’ve got something that parallels that at First
Presbyterian Church. It’s called “the first question of membership.” Do you know
what the first question of membership at First Pres is?

“Do you acknowledge yourself to be a sinner in the sight of God, justly
deserving His displeasure, and without hope except in His sovereign mercy?”

And what I love to tell our young people is this:
that that means that you can’t be a member of First Presbyterian Church if
you’re good. We don’t allow good people to join First Presbyterian Church. We
only allow sinners to join First Presbyterian Church, because the very
requisite for worshiping the true God aright is that you acknowledge that you
are in need of His saving grace because you’re a sinner
.

And the very sacrificial system of Israel was
designed to reinforce that truth, that their worship required sacrifice because
they were sinners. And our worship requires sacrifice because we are sinners.
This is huge, especially in our culture.

I think I shared with you the remarkable statement
that our friend Al Mohler, who was here with us not long ago, shared with us as
we gathered for the Gospel Conference in 2006, when he said,

“In our culture, most people think that their problems derive from something
that has been done to them, that their big problems in life result from
something that has been done to them. That is, something from the outside of
them has done something to them, and that is the origin of their problem. And
the solution to that problem is to do something inside of themselves in order to
cope with what has been done to them from the outside.”

And he went on to say that makes it really hard for
them to understand the gospel, because the gospel disagrees 180 degrees with
both that diagnosis and that prescription. The gospel says your problem is
not outside of you,
your problem is inside of you; and the answer is not
inside of you, the answer is outside of you.

So whereas the world says there is an alien problem
and there is an inner solution, the gospel says, no, there is an inner
problem and there is an alien solution: the alien righteousness of Christ
imputed to you.

And the whole sacrificial system–isn’t it
glorious?–is designed to make sure that Israel gets that! The problem is you,
it’s your sin. The answer is not you, the answer is something else. The answer
is a sacrifice. And that’s just woven in the fabric of how Israel thinks,
because of the sacrificial system. And it’s woven into how we ought to think as
Christians because every Lord’s Day one of the things that we do is — what? We
confess our sins. And we joyfully announce that the Lord Jesus Christ is the
only mediator, He is the only one who can bring about our reconciliation with
the heavenly Father and can bring about the forgiveness of our sins. And it’s
woven into the fabric of what we do every Lord’s Day. And there’s a reason for
it, and we see that even in the passage tonight. Worship requires sacrifice
because we’re sinners.

III. God is in charge of how He
is to be worshiped.

Third, very quickly. One thing that’s so obvious in
this passage with all its detail and all of its repetition is this: God is in
charge of how He is to be worshiped.

God is in charge of how He is to be worshiped. One of
the ways that I learned that my mother was in charge when I was growing up is
that she would repeat several times the instructions that she had given to me
that I was to follow in fulfilling certain tasks that were part of my weekly
chores. And she demonstrated her authority and sovereignty over me by feeling
free to mention two, three, or seven times exactly what it was that I was going
to do.

Now how many times do we have to be told in this
passage that at the time of the offering of the thirteen bulls that there were
to be three tenths of an ephah for each bull, two tenths for the rams, and one
tenth for the lambs? But it’s repeated over and over and over again. And what
message is sent? God is in charge of how we worship. He’s the one who is in
charge here, and He doesn’t just say it once. He says it twice, and He says it
again, and then He starts saying, ‘Yeah, and you remember the prescribed
quantities that I gave you earlier in the chapter. You do it this way.’ God is
in charge of how we worship.

And why is that important? It’s important because of
the previous point. It’s important because of point two. Everything that God
has appointed in worship is designed to work deep into our hearts a truth about
Him, about ourselves, about Christ, and about salvation
that He does not
want us to miss. And therefore, it is vital that we
worship the way that God says.
We worship by His word. We read His
word, we proclaim His word, we sing His word, we pray His word. We see His word
publicly manifested in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. And all
of these things teach us who God is, what our need is, what the answer to our
need is, who Christ is, how we are saved. Over and over and over in God’s word
He teaches us these things, and that’s why it’s so important that we worship the
way that God has said in His word. And that’s why it is so important that God is
in charge of how He is to be worshiped.

IV. Perfect fulfillment.

One last thing: Does it blow you away when you get
to Hebrews 9 and 10?
I really wish that I could read the whole of those two
chapters for you tonight. Doesn’t it blow you away when you get to Hebrews 9 and
10 how the author of Hebrews quietly steps up to the microphone of his little
church in Palestine [I’m speaking anachronistically…it was 2,000 years ago]…He
quietly steps up to the microphone of his little congregation in Palestine, and
he clears his throat and he says, “Ahem…None of all those sacrifices forgave one
single sin. None of all those sacrifices forgave even the part of one single
sin.” In one sentence he says it. Do you remember what he says? “For the blood
of bulls and goats cannot forgive sins….” And therefore these sacrifices,
because they accomplish nothing by way of our forgiveness, pointed to the one
sacrifice that did.

Think of it, friends. All the sacrifices that the
Jewish priesthood ever offered resulted in the forgiveness of no sins. But
the one sacrifice offered by the Lord Jesus Christ resulted in the forgiveness
of all the sins of all those who believe on God’s word for salvation who have
ever lived.
And that’s what Hebrews 9 and 10 is about.

As we read about these
sacrifices in intricate detail, in mind-numbing repetition, we’re being pointed
to “the one sacrifice which was once for all,” the author of Hebrews says–the
Lord Jesus Christ
.

Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your word. Thank
You for the sacrificial worship of the Old Testament, but most of all for who it
pointed to. We pray in His 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.

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