Daily Thoughts from Numbers: God Provides Atonement

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Command the people of Israel and say to them, ‘My offering, my food for my food offerings, my pleasing aroma, you shall be careful to offer to me at its appointed time.’ And you shall say to them, This is the food offering that you shall offer to the LORD: two male lambs a year old without blemish, day by day, as a regular offering. The one lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight; also a tenth of an ephah of fine flour for a grain offering, mixed with a quarter of a hin of beaten oil. It is a regular burnt offering, which was ordained at Mount Sinai for a pleasing aroma, a food offering to the LORD. Its drink offering shall be a quarter of a hin for each lamb. In the Holy Place you shall pour out a drink offering of strong drink to the LORD. The other lamb you shall offer at twilight. Like the grain offering of the morning, and like its drink offering, you shall offer it as a food offering, with a pleasing aroma to the LORD.

“On the Sabbath day, two male lambs a year old without blemish, and two tenths of an ephah of fine flour for a grain offering, mixed with oil, and its drink offering: this is the burnt offering of every Sabbath, besides the regular burnt offering and its drink offering.

“At the beginnings of your months, you shall offer a burnt offering to the LORD: two bulls from the herd, one ram, seven male lambs a year old without blemish; also three tenths of an ephah of fine flour for a grain offering, mixed with oil, for each bull, and two tenths of fine flour for a grain offering, mixed with oil, for the one ram; and a tenth of fine flour mixed with oil as a grain offering for every lamb; for a burnt offering with a pleasing aroma, a food offering to the LORD. Their drink offerings shall be half a hin of wine for a bull, a third of a hin for a ram, and a quarter of a hin for a lamb. This is the burnt offering of each month throughout the months of the year. Also one male goat for a sin offering to the LORD; it shall be offered besides the regular burnt offering and its drink offering.  Also one male goat for a sin offering to the LORD; it shall be offered besides the regular burnt offering and its drink offering.

“On the fourteenth day of the first month is the LORD’s Passover, and on the fifteenth day of this month is a feast. Seven days shall unleavened bread be eaten. On the first day there shall be a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work, but offer a food offering, a burnt offering to the LORD: two bulls from the herd, one ram, and seven male lambs a year old; see that they are without blemish; also their grain offering of fine flour mixed with oil; three tenths of an ephah shall you offer for a bull, and two tenths for a ram; a tenth shall you offer for each of the seven lambs; also one male goat for a sin offering, to make atonement for you. You shall offer these besides the burnt offering of the morning, which is for a regular burnt offering. In the same way you shall offer daily, for seven days, the food of a food offering, with a pleasing aroma to the LORD. It shall be offered besides the regular burnt offering and its drink offering. And on the seventh day you shall have a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work.

“On the day of the firstfruits, when you offer a grain offering of new grain to the LORD at your Feast of Weeks, you shall have a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work, but offer a burnt offering, with a pleasing aroma to the LORD: two bulls from the herd, one ram, seven male lambs a year old; also their grain offering of fine flour mixed with oil, three tenths of an ephah for each bull, two tenths for one ram, a tenth for each of the seven lambs; with one male goat, to make atonement for you. Besides the regular burnt offering and its grain offering, you shall offer them and their drink offering. See that they are without blemish.  (Numbers 28, 29 ESV)

When they conquer the land there will be requirements for daily offerings/sacrifices, weekly ones on the Sabbath, monthly ones on the first of the month, and additional ones on holy days like Passover and the Feast of Weeks.  The holy days also serve as Sabbaths with no work being done, except by the priests and Levites who are offering the sacrifices.

The sheer number of animals, grain and wine that must be offered is an indication of the prosperity Yahweh is going to give Israel in the land.  The necessity of the offerings is an indicator that Yahweh is a holy God and despite our rebellious hearts has made a way for us to have relationship with Him.  He wants relationship with us.  He won’t compromise on our attitudes and behavior, but He wants us to know Him and have an intimate relationship with Him.  This can only be accomplished through atonement and He provides the atonement.  What an anticipation of Jesus’ sacrifice!

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Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Making You Clean

Now the LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, “This is the statute of the law that the LORD has commanded: Tell the people of Israel to bring you a red heifer without defect, in which there is no blemish, and on which a yoke has never come. And you shall give it to Eleazar the priest, and it shall be taken outside the camp and slaughtered before him. And Eleazar the priest shall take some of its blood with his finger, and sprinkle some of its blood toward the front of the tent of meeting seven times. And the heifer shall be burned in his sight. Its skin, its flesh, and its blood, with its dung, shall be burned. And the priest shall take cedarwood and hyssop and scarlet yarn, and throw them into the fire burning the heifer. Then the priest shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp. But the priest shall be unclean until evening. The one who burns the heifer shall wash his clothes in water and bathe his body in water and shall be unclean until evening. And a man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer and deposit them outside the camp in a clean place. And they shall be kept for the water for impurity for the congregation of the people of Israel; it is a sin offering. And the one who gathers the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening. And this shall be a perpetual statute for the people of Israel, and for the stranger who sojourns among them.  

  “Whoever touches the dead body of any person shall be unclean seven days. He shall cleanse himself with the water on the third day and on the seventh day, and so be clean. But if he does not cleanse himself on the third day and on the seventh day, he will not become clean. Whoever touches a dead person, the body of anyone who has died, and does not cleanse himself, defiles the tabernacle of the LORD, and that person shall be cut off from Israel; because the water for impurity was not thrown on him, he shall be unclean. His uncleanness is still on him.

   “This is the law when someone dies in a tent: everyone who comes into the tent and everyone who is in the tent shall be unclean seven days. And every open vessel that has no cover fastened on it is unclean. Whoever in the open field touches someone who was killed with a sword or who died naturally, or touches a human bone or a grave, shall be unclean seven days. For the unclean they shall take some ashes of the burnt sin offering, and fresh water shall be added in a vessel. Then a clean person shall take hyssop and dip it in the water and sprinkle it on the tent and on all the furnishings and on the persons who were there and on whoever touched the bone, or the slain or the dead or the grave.  And the clean person shall sprinkle it on the unclean on the third day and on the seventh day. Thus on the seventh day he shall cleanse him, and he shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water, and at evening he shall be clean.

   “If the man who is unclean does not cleanse himself, that person shall be cut off from the midst of the assembly, since he has defiled the sanctuary of the LORD. Because the water for impurity has not been thrown on him, he is unclean. And it shall be a statute forever for them. The one who sprinkles the water for impurity shall wash his clothes, and the one who touches the water for impurity shall be unclean until evening. And whatever the unclean person touches shall be unclean, and anyone who touches it shall be unclean until evening.”  (Numbers 19:1-22 ESV)

Your father was one of those who refused to enter Canaan when Yahweh brought your people to its doorstep and now, with him, you are wandering around in the wilderness until this generation dies off.  Your father has just died in his tent.  Despite your grief you must deal with the fact that this has made the tent and all those in it unclean and incapable of approaching the Tabernacle for worship.  You must seek out someone who is clean (not ritually impure) to fetch water and ashes from the sacrificed heifer to sprinkle you and the tent on the third and seventh days after you became unclean.

You are re-enacting the reality that nothing is more important than being ritually pure before Yahweh and able to enter into His presence.  And the only way to be pure is through the sacrificial death of another, in this case the heifer.  But perhaps you are grieving so much that you don’t have it within you to seek out the cleansing water and ashes.  Maybe another who loves you does this for you and in seven days you are cleansed.

Why did we come to see that a relationship with God was more important than anything else?  Did someone help us?

Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Iniquity and the Sanctuary

So the LORD said to Aaron, “You and your sons and your father’s house with you shall bear iniquity connected with the sanctuary, and you and your sons with you shall bear iniquity connected with your priesthood. And with you bring your brothers also, the tribe of Levi, the tribe of your father, that they may join you and minister to you while you and your sons with you are before the tent of the testimony. They shall keep guard over you and over the whole tent, but shall not come near to the vessels of the sanctuary or to the altar lest they, and you, die. They shall join you and keep guard over the tent of meeting for all the service of the tent, and no outsider shall come near you. And you shall keep guard over the sanctuary and over the altar, that there may never again be wrath on the people of Israel. And behold, I have taken your brothers the Levites from among the people of Israel. They are a gift to you, given to the LORD, to do the service of the tent of meeting. And you and your sons with you shall guard your priesthood for all that concerns the altar and that is within the veil; and you shall serve. I give your priesthood as a gift, and any outsider who comes near shall be put to death.”  (Numbers 18:1-7 ESV)

There is danger associated with the presence of God.  For sinful people to have no mediator between them and God leads to God’s wrath being poured out on sinners.  There is danger for the priests and Levites, if they do not adequately guard the tabernacle where God’s presence dwells.  If they allow a breach of the holy place they too will die.

God is teaching Israel and us that there must be someone who can make atonement for us in order for us to escape His wrath.  He will not turn a blind eye to sin, no matter how much He loves us.  But that same love has provided Jesus as our priest and mediator, satisfying the just demands of a holy God by taking our guilt on himself and dying in our place.

Jesus’ priesthood, however, is not the gift of Aaron’s priesthood but the gift of the priesthood of Melchizedek (Hebrews 7).  Yahweh promised that David’s descendant, the Messiah, would be a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.  The author of Hebrews argues persuasively that this demonstrates Jesus’ superior priesthood.  God has made a way through Jesus that means we will never face the death penalty.  A way into the holy of holies has been achieved through Jesus’ sacrifice.

Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Devoted

And the LORD spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, saying, “List the sons of Levi, by fathers’ houses and by clans; every male from a month old and upward you shall list.” So Moses listed them according to the word of the LORD, as he was commanded. And these were the sons of Levi by their names: Gershon and Kohath and Merari….

And the guard duty of the sons of Gershon in the tent of meeting involved the tabernacle, the tent with its covering, the screen for the entrance of the tent of meeting, the hangings of the court, the screen for the door of the court that is around the tabernacle and the altar, and its cords; all the service connected with these…

The clans of the sons of Kohath were to camp on the south side of the tabernacle…And their guard duty involved the ark, the table, the lampstand, the altars, the vessels of the sanctuary with which the priests minister, and the screen; all the service connected with these.

And the appointed guard duty of the sons of Merari involved the frames of the tabernacle, the bars, the pillars, the bases, and all their accessories; all the service connected with these….

Those who were to camp before the tabernacle on the east, before the tent of meeting toward the sunrise, were Moses and Aaron and his sons, guarding the sanctuary itself, to protect the people of Israel.  And any outsider who came near was to be put to death.  All those listed among the Levites, who Moses and Aaron listed at the commandment of the Lord, by clans, all the males from a month old and upward, were 22,000.

And the Lord said to Moses, “List all the firstborn males of the people of Israel, from a month old and upward, taking the number of their names.  And you shall take the Levites for me – I am the Lord – instead of all the firstborn among the people of Israel, and the cattle of the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the cattle of the people of Israel.”

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “I am the Lord.  And as the redemption price for the 273 of the firstborn of the people of Israel, over and above the number of the male Levites, you shall take five shekels per head; and give the money to Aaron and his sons as the redemption price for those who are over.”  So Moses took the redemption money from those we were over and above those redeemed by the Levites.  (Numbers 3:14-51, ESV)

Yahweh breaks down the responsibilities for care of the tabernacle between the three clans of Levi, each one taking a portion of the tent that they were responsible for setting up, taking down and transporting when God said it was time to move.  Aaron and his sons guarded the entrance.

Then God has Moses number all the Levites and their cattle so they can substitute for all the firstborn sons of Israel and the firstborn of their cattle.  But there are not enough Levites in all to cover the number of all the Israelite firstborns from the other tribes.  So the difference is paid to Aaron with the redemption price for the 273 extra firstborns in Israel.

As Israel’s firstborn belong specially to Yahweh, devoted to His service, so Jesus, the ultimate “Firstborn” is devoted to the Father’s service.  His service is to pay the redemption price for all of God’s people.  The overage has been covered.  What we could not cover to redeem ourselves He has covered with his eternal and inestimable sacrifice.

Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: Fair Warning

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:26-31, ESV)

Doesn’t everyone sin deliberately?  I don’t steal something from a neighbor and later say, “Oops, I didn’t mean to steal that.”  But that is not what our author means in this passage.  He has already talked about how sacrifice was for “unintentional” sin (Hebrews 9:7).  This is contrasted with “high-handed” sins in the Old Testament for which there is no sacrifice provided.  The sense is sins that are committed with a deliberate defiance of God and His laws.  This depicts a hardened heart like our author describes in chapter 6.

Chapter 6 shows the person who tastes of the heavenly gift, shares in the Holy Spirit’s affect upon the congregation, sees the miracles of the age to come and defiantly declares that Jesus is not the Savior, that his sacrifice did not avail for us, and in this particular case for this congregation, that Jesus is not sufficient reason to keep to Christianity.  It is impossible, our author says, to renew such a person to repentance.  This is the unpardonable sin Jesus talked about with the Pharisees, where they saw his miracles and could not deny them but attributed them to Satan.

If the author’s readers are going to reject Jesus’ better way into the heavenly tabernacle as a better priest of a better covenant, they are defiantly rejecting God’s new covenant and there is no sacrifice for defiant sin.  If there is no sacrifice, there is only fiery judgment for trampling underfoot the Son of God and treating his sacrifice as unholy.  God will not spare that person.  The true believer will never go here.

You and I sin, and we should not, and we know we should not and that it is a way of dishonoring God.  But that is not “deliberate” or “high-handed” sinning, the kind that says I will not have God or anyone telling me what to do.  The high-handed sinner raises his fist to God and refuses to acknowledge God’s sovereignty over him.  If you, like possibly some of the Hebrews, are willing to say that Jesus’ sacrifice means nothing and that your old way of life was perfectly fine, you are in danger of falling into God’s hands for payment.  Not good!  This passage stands as your warning from God.

Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: The Sitting Priest

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,

“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord:  I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,”

then he adds,

“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. (Hebrews 10:11-18, ESV)

Psalm 110 promised that the priest after the order of Melchizedek would sit down at the right hand of God.  And Jeremiah prophesied in the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31ff) that God would put his laws in our hearts and remember our sins no more.  But in the old system of the law the priest stood daily and offered the same animal sacrifices that cannot take away sin.  No sitting and no lasting forgiveness.

Jesus, on the other hand, is the sitting priest, the one whose sacrifice of himself has forever satisfied the just demands of God who made him a priest forever.  He has perfected for all time those who are being made holy.  We are both totally forgiven and thus holy before God and being made holy.  We have a standing of completion or perfection with God and we have a process of being sanctified.  It is the once-for-all sacrifice of the Son that has made this possible.

You and I should trust God when He says we are forgiven by Jesus’ single offering.  Why would you not, unless you still feel, arrogantly, that you must do something to contribute to your redemption.  I’m sorry, sir, I’m sorry, ma’am, but you have nothing to offer to God that could in any way contribute to your redemption.  If you don’t accept that you’ll never be redeemed.

Yes, we know that there is still work to be done in us.  We are being sanctified.  But that process springs forth from the hand of the one who perfected us for all time.  Don’t confuse the two.  Yes, be sensitive to sin in your life.  But don’t think that beating yourself up or doubling down on your efforts to improve is what is needed to perfect yourself.  The sitting priest Jesus has done all that heavy lifting.

Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: Living in the Shadows

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,

“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.  Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”

When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:1-10, ESV)

If you were king David and you had come near to being extinguished in war only to find the God you trusted and worshiped bring you an astonishing victory, it would have been most appropriate for you to bring a sacrifice, a freewill offering, to Yahweh and invite others to a banquet to give testimony to God’s deliverance.  David did this often.

But in Psalm 40, which our author quotes here, David does something different.  Not that he won’t bring a sacrifice, but he teaches something most important, that God’s greatest desire is doing His will.  If I bring a sacrifice but don’t have a heart of worship God will not be pleased.  David has come to do God’s will as it is written in the law.

The author of Hebrews quotes this passage because he has already deduced from the annual ceremony of the Day of Atonement and the use of animals as sacrifices that this is not God’s permanent means of providing cleansing from a consciousness of sins.  Otherwise they would not have to be offered over and over.  And it should be self-evident that animals cannot be adequate substitutes for humans.

Jesus as Messiah is the fulfillment of David’s kingship.  He is the ultimate “David” who has come to do God’s will.  His body is that ultimate sacrifice that God desires.  This congregation that is considering leaving Christ is leaving the fulfillment, the true reality, for its shadow.  They’re going back to what has been done away with and leaving the good things the law anticipated.

What about you?  Have you experienced just how good and real life in Jesus Christ is?  Or are you still living in the shadows?