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God’s Word for You

Numbers 15:1-7 Mercy and sacrifice

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, August 31, 2021

In chapter 15, Moses appears to leave the historical account behind in order to present additional laws, which some people might think would belong better in Exodus or Leviticus. However, commentators who scratch their heads over this seem to have failed to learn an important life lesson. A parent may need to scold or discipline the children while getting everyone ready to take a trip to grandma’s house, but that doesn’t stop all the preparations from happening. A sniffling child still needs to pack their suitcase, find their favorite blanket and stuffed toys, coloring books and other paraphernalia, and we still need to eat lunch, load the car, and get going while there’s still daylight. So although the Lord had imposed a serious disciplinary sentence on Israel, they were still on the way to Canaan, even though there was going to be a forty-year detour. That’s right: Even though there was weeping and grieving and a terrible battle that the Israelites lost, they were still headed, in the end, for Canaan. That means that this chapter, and chapters 18-19 which are like it, are applications of the gospel as well as chapters filled with laws.

Supplementary Offerings
15 The LORD told Moses 2 to speak to the Israelites and tell them this:

We do not know when this message came, but we can take Moses’ order of things at face value. After the judgment at Kadesh and the disastrous rout from Seir to Hormah, this was the next time that God spoke to the people. It might have been as much as thirty years or more later, but I don’t think so. My opinion as a parent is that the Lord would have spoken again after not much time, a day or two at most, to let the people know that they were not forsaken, that they were still his people and he was still their God. David said, “His anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). The adults were not going to enter the land, but their children certainly would. That was worth rejoicing about. “He was merciful, he forgave their iniquities and did not destroy them. Time after time he restrained his anger and did not stir up his full wrath. He remembered that they were but flesh, a passing breeze that does not return” (Psalm 78:38-39).

When you come into the land where you will live, the land which I am giving to you, 3 and you make an offering by fire to the LORD from the herd or the flock, to make a pleasing aroma to the LORD (whether it is a burnt offering or a sacrifice, whether it is to fulfill a vow or as a voluntary offering or at your appointed festivals), 4 the person who presents his offering is to present to the LORD two quarts of fine flour mixed with a quart of oil as a grain offering. 5 For each lamb, for the burnt offering or the sacrifice, you are to supply a quart of wine as the drink offering.

The basic nature of offerings is given here in a familiar simplified group: “burnt offering… a vow… a voluntary offering,” see also Leviticus 22:18 ). The Lord directs the people’s attention to the sacrifices they will offer when they arrive in Canaan. They would be different from the festival sacrifices they were making now. God gave them a set of recipes for what would accompany the basic animal sacrifices. We see that the grain offering was to be “two quarts of fine flour mixed with a quart of oil,” and that for a sacrificed lamb, this was to be accompanied by a quart of wine. There is only one mention of wine in Leviticus (23:13), but wine will be mentioned several more times here in Numbers. It would be difficult but not impossible for the Israelites to make wine here in the desert, but these regulations were for later, when they entered the land. Notice that God was promising them such an abundance of flour, oil, and wine, that the large amounts mentioned here would be no burden to the people at all. This is a gospel promise; a reminder of the bounty God would give to them.

6 With a ram you are to supply four quarts of fine flour mixed with a quart and a half of oil as a grain offering, 7 and you will also present a quart of wine as the drink offering, a pleasing aroma to the LORD.

Along with a ram (rather than a lamb) the amount of flour was doubled, and the oil was increased as well. The amount of wine remained the same. The priest took a handful of the flour and burned it along with the portion of the animal that was burned. I won’t speak with authority about the oil except to point out that flour mixed with oil of any kind would burn better, faster and cleaner than dry flour by itself. The wine would have been poured out (at least some of it) along with the animal’s blood at the base of the altar (Exodus 29:12). The flour was to be the best ground flour that they could produce.

In general, these sacrifices were, as Professor Chytraeus says, “a training ground in obedience owed to God” (On Sacrifice, 1569 [translation 1962] p. 43). This was not a complex ceremonial dance, a feat or labor of Hercules, or a costly and strenuous journey that had to be made with prescribed prayers on each step of some obscure temple. This was a simple animal sacrifice, something that all of Israel’s neighbors performed to their false gods, simply regulated in certain ways by God as the way he wanted sacrifices to be made. The point was that blood atones for sin (Hebrews 13:11), but God did not want blood shed in just any manner. His commands and regulations were not a burden. This was his way of making it clear that these were his sacrifices that pointed to Christ. For us, he might have said something equally ordinary but regarding worship we know. He might have said, “When your family goes to sit in the pew in worship, the husband and father shall lead them to their place, but then he shall wait until the whole family sits, and then he will sit down last, at the end, because I the Lord your God and Father am always leading you and watching over you.” Or, “When you tie your shoes for worship, tie them in a double bow to remind yourselves of such-and-such.” Of course, God does just the opposite with us. He gives us freedom, which confuses some and frustrates others. But we must remember that at the heart of worship, Old Testament sacrifice or New Testament preaching of law and gospel, there is always Christ. Jesus Christ is our Savior from sin. Let us keep that firmly fixed in our hearts and minds, as we stand or sit in awe of our gracious, compassionate, loving God. He alone gives what Shakespeare called “That mercy which true prayer ought to have” (Richard II V:3). He is “the all-embracing Mercy, the ever-open-door” (Today Your Mercy Calls Us, Christian Worship 339:4). And that mercy of his endures forever.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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