Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
When I was just starting to read the Word of God, I prayed for the Holy Spirit to teach me about all the “white spaces” in my Bible. See, I highlight everything (pending it’s not too big) that is covered in the sermons I watch, and I trust that as servants of God, the pastors are teaching me what the Holy Spirit taught them. But there’s a lot of stuff that doesn’t get covered in sermons (due to time constraints, the fact that the Bible is so big, and who knows what other reasons). At the same time though, Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” That is to say: the whole Bible is useful. So to this end I asked the Holy Spirit to teach me about the stuff the pastors weren’t focusing on in order to get a fuller Biblical experience every day between sermons and reading. This means that often the Holy Spirit will teach me things from areas of Scripture that we’d rather skip over while reading- like today’s topic: laws on sacrifices. There’s a lot of talk these days about the “Prosperity Gospel,” and I can understand where many Christians can get upset because about a year or two after coming to Jesus you can feel a little had. “That evangelist told me that with Jesus I just had to claim that new car and it’d be mine…so where is it?” Having said that though, have you ever heard about the “Prosperity Law”? I have found (through the Holy Spirit’s guidance) that the books of Law written by Moses are way more than sets of rules and regulations, but you have to look through all that official-sounding stuff to get to the full meanings. Today specifically, I want us to wade through God’s unreasonable sacrificial requirements.
Wait, unreasonable? Oh yeah, have you ever read all of the required sacrifices in the Old Testament? It’s totally unreasonable by any calculation. Let’s start with the daily sacrifices, Scripture records,
The Lord said to Moses, “Give this command to the Israelites and say to them: ‘See that you present to me at the appointed time the food for my offerings made by fire, as an aroma pleasing to me.’ Say to them: ‘This is the offering made by fire that you are to present to the Lord: two lambs a year old without defect, as a regular burnt offering each day’” (Numbers 28:1-3).
Seems simple enough, right? Ok, next is the offering for the Sabbath day every week,
On the Sabbath day, make an offering of two lambs a year old without defect, together with its drink offering and a grain offering of two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil. This is the burnt offering for every Sabbath, in addition to the regular burnt offering and its drink offerings (Numbers 28:9-10).
So the Israelites were required as a people to offer two lambs a day every day and four on Saturday to the Lord to be sacrificed and burned. But there’s more. The passage continues, “On the first of every month, present to the Lord a burnt offering of two young bulls, one ram and seven male lambs a year old all without defect” (Numbers 28:11). So aside from the daily and weekly offerings, there’s also a monthly offering. Oh, and we can’t forget about Passover,
On the fourteenth day of the first month the Lord’s Passover is to be held. On the fifteenth day of this month there is to be a festival; for seven days eat bread made without yeast. On the first day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. Present to the Lord an offering made by fire, a burnt offering of two young bulls, one ram and seven male lambs a year old, all without defect (Numbers 28: 16-19).
Since we’re talking about Passover, we may as well mention the Feast of Weeks,
On the day of first fruits, when you present to the Lord an offering of new grain during the Feast of Weeks, hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. Present a burnt offering of two young bulls, one ram and seven male lambs a year old as an aroma pleasing to the Lord (Numbers 28:26-27).
There’s also the Feast of Trumpets and its sacrifices,
On the first day of the seventh month hold a sacred assembly and o no regular work. It is a day for you to sound the trumpets. As an aroma pleasing to the Lord, prepare a burnt offering of one young bull, one ram and seven male lambs a year old, all without defect (Numbers 29:1-2).
And who can forget about the Day of Atonement (at least that’s how it’s labeled in my NIV bible)? Certainly not God; because he says,
On the tenth day of this seventh month hold a sacred assembly. You must deny yourselves and do not work. Present as an aroma pleasing to the Lord a burnt offering of one young bull, one ram and seven male lambs a year old, all without defect (Numbers 29:7-8).
Holy wow, that’s a lot of sacrifices! But we’re not done yet; I just wanted to give you a couple lines to catch your breath before we hit the big one, ‘Tabernacles. The Feast of Tabernacles is a special event in which the Israelites are supposed to feast, sacrifice, worship, and live in tents or booths for a little more than a week. They have a special requirement for sacrifices every day (none of this weak first-day-sacrifice-only stuff for ‘Tabernacles). Day one:
On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. Celebrate a festival to the Lord for seven days. Present an offering made by fire as an aroma pleasing to the Lord, a burnt offering of thirteen young bulls, two rams and fourteen male lambs a year old, all without defect (Numbers 29:12-13).
Day two: “On the second day prepare twelve young bulls, two rams and fourteen male lambs a year old, all without defect” (Numbers 29:17). Day three: “On the third day prepare eleven bulls, two rams and fourteen male lambs a year old, all without defect” (Numbers 29:20). Day four: “On the fourth day prepare ten bulls, two rams and fourteen male lambs a year old, all without defect” (Numbers 29:23). Are you noticing a pattern yet? They are counting down the bulls. Day five: “On the fifth day prepare nine bulls, two rams and fourteen male lambs a year old, all without defect” (Numbers 29:26). Day six: “On the sixth day prepare eight bulls, two rams and fourteen male lambs a year old, all without defect” (Numbers 29:29). You think this is hard to read, just think about having to type it up. Day seven: “On the seventh day prepare seven bulls, two rams and fourteen male lambs a year old, all without defect” (Numbers 29:32). Day eight:
On the eighth day hold an assembly and do no regular work. Present an offering made by fire as an aroma pleasing to the Lord, a burnt offering of one bull, one ram and seven male lambs a year old, all without defect (Numbers 29:35-36).
Phew, that’s a lot of sacrifices! BUT THERE’S MORE! Along with all of these things we read, “Besides the regular burnt offerings with its drink offering, one male goat is to be presented to the Lord as a sin offering” (Numbers 28:15 [and Numbers 28:22, 30; 29:5, 11, 19, 22, 25, 28, 31, 34, 38]). So God made sure to mention at the end of every sacrifice requirement that not only were the people expected to still do the daily sacrifice along with the special sacrifice, but also throw in a goat too for good measure. Beyond all of this, the Lord continues,
In addition to what you vow and your freewill offerings, prepare these for the Lord at your appointed feasts: your burnt offerings, grain offerings, drink offerings and fellowship offerings (Numbers 29:39).
This means that aside from all of the official sacrifices just mentioned, the Israelites couldn’t forget about the sacrifices they were required to do for other reasons, like offerings for sin, freewill offerings, or sacrifices connected to vows, because as the writer of Hebrews 9:22 reminds us, “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” Now I don’t know about the people of Israel, but I’m sinning every day in some way or another (blast you James 4:17! [“Anyone then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.”]), so I’d be sacrificing aplenty just to keep right with the Lord. BUT THERE ARE MORE SACRIFICES THAT GOD DEMANDS! You see, Passover has more sacrifices than are listed in Numbers. We read, “Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household” (Exodus 12:3). So aside from everything else, each family is required to kill one lamb for Passover.
Did you get out your calculator yet? If not, that’s ok, because I did. I used the calendar I know, even though the Israelites had a different one. I suspect though that since the seasons fall as they do, the numbers aren’t too far off. Ok, two lambs a day, every day comes out to 730 a year. Add to this 104 for two more lambs every week. Next are the monthly offerings (this is probably the least accurate math because I don’t’ think the early Israelites had a 12-month calendar) coming to a yearly total of 24 young bulls, 12 rams, and 84 male lambs all a year old. Passover brings with it two more young bulls, one ram, seven male lambs a year old, and one male goat. For the Feast of Weeks the sacrifice is two young bulls, one ram, seven male lambs a year old, and one male goat. For the Feast of Trumpets there was an expected sacrifice of one young bull, one ram, seven male lambs a year old, and one male goat. This sounds kind of like “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” The Day of Atonement is the same, sporting one young bull, one ram, seven male lambs a year old, and one male goat. The Sacrifice-Fest known as the Feast of Tabernacles boasts 71 young bulls, 15 rams, 105 male lambs a year old, and 8 male goats. So our totals come to: 1051 lambs, 101 young bulls, 31 rams, and 12 goats. That’s a grand total of 1,195 dead farm animals. And those are only the ones that are officially required. I wouldn’t even know how to calculate the Passover lamb or the sins of the people found in Leviticus 5:27-28,
If a member of the community sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord’s commands, he is guilty. When he is made aware of the sin he committed, he must bring as his offering for the sin he committed a female goat without defect.
There’s a whole bunch more of these random sin offerings in Leviticus for priests, leaders, and special sins as well. Oh and we shouldn’t forget about fellowship offerings either. Basically it stands that if an Israelite wasn’t sacrificing, they were probably doing something wrong. In addition to all of these animal sacrifices, the Israelites were supposed to also be bringing grain and drink offerings as well (I just left out those verses so as not to copy all of chapters 28 and 29 of Numbers).
So what’s the big lesson in all of this? Well, the Holy Spirit showed me that through all of these ridiculous and pretty unreasonable requirements that the Lord was actually making a promise to his people. You see, God doesn’t command anything we can’t do (and before you say it, yes, keeping the whole Law is impossible. That is why the sacrifice system was put into effect in the first place). Therefore, by commanding all of this constant slaughter, the Lord was actually promising the people that they’d have the means with which to constantly slaughter farm animals. Now maybe the numbers don’t seem that impressive to you, but consider this: God expect most of these sacrifices to be on animals around a year or so old. What’s that, a small percentage of the available population? Then many of the sacrifices had gender requirements- an even smaller percentage. And on top of that, every sacrifice had to be from an animal without defect (including spots and things like that) so the Israelites were expect to kill a huge number of animals from a very small percentage of their flock and herd populations. Not to mention that when these laws were laid down, the Israelites were still in the desert, which is not really the ideal place to be raising flocks and herds. All in all, through what seems like an insane list of death, God was actually promising to bless the Israelites with great prosperity so that they actually could keep his commands. Now the Israelites sacrificed animals, but for us, Jesus- God in the flesh- was sacrificed. The Bible helps us to understand the magnitude of what Jesus did for us by saying in Hebrews 9:13-14,
The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
Through the sacrificial system, the Israelites were cleansed outwardly, but through Jesus we are totally purified. What the Israelites had out there in the desert was only a fraction of what we’re offered through the sacrifice of Jesus. The writer of Hebrews goes on,
Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:
“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
But a body you prepared for me;
With burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased.
Then I said, ‘Here I am- it is written about me in the scroll-
I have come to do your will, O God.’”
First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them” (although the law required them to be made). Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy though the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (Hebrews 10:5-10).
And so if what was given to them was only a small fraction of what we’re given, then consider the promise. If God promised them great wealth, enough to sacrifice daily tons of animals, then what about us with our God-sized sacrifice? Surely the whole world is opened up to the believer in Christ! But not only the whole world, but heaven itself! Through his sacrifice on a cross, Jesus opened the doors of heaven for a believer permanently, purifying one in Christ from his or hers past, present, and future sins in one God-sized shot. For we read,
The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:
“This is the covenant I will make with them
After that time, says the Lord.
I will put my laws in their hearts,
And I will write them on their minds.”
Then he adds:
“Their sins and lawless acts
I will remember no more.”
And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 10:15-18).
Unlike the Israelites, we don’t have to kill and burn the blessings that our Heavenly Father showers on us. Instead, we are allowed to enjoy the life we’re given, look forward to an eternity in heaven, and enjoy a fellowship with God through Jesus that everyone except Adam, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus himself could have only dreamed of.
Rock on God!