God’s Word for You
Numbers 15:8-16 Fellowship then and now
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, September 1, 2021
8 If you are offering a young bull as a burnt offering or a sacrifice, which is to fulfill a vow or to be a fellowship offering to the Lord, 9 you are to present along with the young bull six quarts of fine flour mixed with two quarts of oil as a grain offering, 10 and you will present two quarts of wine as the drink offering, as a gift of food with a pleasing aroma to the LORD. 11 This is to be provided for each offering from the cattle, rams, lambs, or goats. 12 You are to supply these offerings for each sacrifice you prepare.
With a bull, the amounts of extra side dishes increases and the wine is doubled, but we should take time to look at the expression, “a pleasing aroma to the Lord.” The first time this pleasing aroma is mentioned is not when Cain and Abel made their first offerings of animal or grain (Genesis 4:3-4), nor when Seth and his son Enosh began to preach about God and call on the name of the Lord (preaching and praying in public, Genesis 4:26), but later, when Noah sacrificed burnt offerings to the Lord after the flood (Genesis 8:20-21). There, as here, the Lord smelled “the pleasing aroma.” What does that mean? “Pleasing” in each case is the word nihoah, “quieting, soothing.” Luther calls it “the odor of rest” (LW 2:116), and we remember that the verbal form of this word is also Noah’s name, which means “to comfort, rest” (Genesis 5:29). When a burnt offering was made to atone for sin or to thank and praise God when he had ended a punishment (such as the great flood), the very act of the worship leader whetting his knife for the sacrifice showed the obedient devotion of one of God’s people, and the Lord’s wrath, his righteous anger, was calmed and soothed. Why? Luther: “He sees this one priest girding himself for sacrifice, in order to manifest some evidence of thankfulness and to indicate by a public act that he is not ungodly but has a God and fears him; for it is with these matters that sacrifices are actually concerned” (LW 2:117). It is not the act of the sacrifice that God loves, but the faith behind it that is pleasing.
13 Everyone who is native-born is to do these things in this way when presenting a gift of food with a pleasing aroma to the LORD. 14 For your generations to come, if an alien resides with you or someone else settles among you, and he wants to present a gift offered by fire, with a pleasing aroma to the LORD, he is to do just as you do. 15 In the assembly there will be a single regulation for you and for the resident alien, a permanent regulation for your generations to come. You and the alien will be the same before the LORD. 16 There will be a single law and a single ordinance for you and the alien residing with you.
This point is especially important: the sacrifices were the same whether the believer was an Israelite or a new convert from some other religion where sacrifices were different. The Lord’s sacrifices were similar to the animal sacrifices of other races like the Moabites (Numbers 25:1), “goat idols” and other things (Leviticus 17:5), but the Lord’s people were not to make those sacrifices nor eat that food. “When they prostitute themselves to their gods,” the Lord warned, “and sacrifice to them, they will invite you to eat their sacrifices” (Exodus 34:15). But God’s people are to have “no other gods” (the First Commandment, Exodus 20:3). The sacrifices of the heathen, like those of Cain or Saul, are nothing but a waste of grain or an animal’s life since they are done without faith, and God does not notice them. When the heart has no faith, the hands labor in vain.
This, then, is God’s demand for fellowship. Fellowship means that worshipers agree precisely and point-by-point with regard to who God is and how we are saved. We see this is Elijah’s meeting with the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:22-40). If there was no difference in their gods, why did God accept Elijah’s bull and not the bull offered to Baal? If there is a path to heaven and salvation apart from Christ, why did Jesus say, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)? Even the Bard recognizes that plain, ordinary Christians do not pray to the gods of Greece or Rome, but quotes their simple faith: “Heaven forgive my sins at the day of judgment!” (Merry Wives of Windsor III,3). But fellowship is not simply a matter of agreeing on certain basic items. The Bible never mentions or describes different levels of fellowship. Either we are in fellowship, or we are not. Whether we worship together, or pray together, or take communion together, or do church work together (planting missions, etc.), complete unity on the basis of God’s word must be the necessary bond. This is why God commands the foreigners and aliens in this passage to conform to Israel’s worship. There is no compromise that is proposed; no meeting halfway, no “honoring our traditions as well as theirs.” Paul cries out: “What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?” (2 Corinthians 6:15). The alien, the new member, puts away their old beliefs and embraces the true God of Israel, or his prayers will not be heard and his sins will not be forgiven.
Demanding that the alien or foreigner conformed to Israel’s worship gave the Israelites the chance to proclaim God and his promises to newcomers. We have the same opportunity when a new member comes to us and wonders why we ask them not to take the Lord’s Supper just yet. We want to share our faith. Is it possible that their former church did not teach and preach all the doctrines of the Bible and its full message of Christ’s redemption? Since they wonder about our fellowship, then we can say that it’s not only possible, it’s absolutely certain that they did not. Yet we are not here to judge faith, but to nurture it. “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’” (Psalm 122:1). Who is it that we pray to? “Our help is in the name of the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 124:8). Ask anything in the name of Jesus, and Jesus himself says: “Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete” (John 16:24).
Pastor Timothy Smith