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God’s Word for You

Numbers 29:12-16, etc., A countdown of grace

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, January 11, 2022

The Festival of Shelters (Tabernacles)

12 On the fifteenth day of the seventh month you shall have a holy convocation. You are not to do any of your regular work. You shall celebrate a pilgrimage festival to the Lord for seven days. 13 You are to present a whole burnt offering, an offering made by fire, with a pleasing aroma to the Lord: thirteen young bulls, two rams, fourteen one-year-old male lambs—all without defect— 14 along with their grain offering, fine flour mixed with oil: six quarts for each of the thirteen bulls, four quarts for each of the two rams, 15 and two quarts for each of the fourteen lambs; 16 also present one male goat for a sin offering, in addition to the regular burnt offering with its grain and drink offerings.

The harvest festival happened each year in the Hebrew seventh month, late September or early October. It was a week of celebration, and it was intended to be the last festival of the year (Leviticus 23:36). Much later, in the days following the Babylonian captivity, another holiday was proclaimed in the 12th month (Purim) to celebrate the deliverance of God’s people in Babylon from a conspiracy to destroy them in the days of Queen Esther (Esther 9:17,28).

The six paragraphs that follow here in Numbers 29 are identical with verses 13b-16. The number of young bulls offered is changed each time, so that each day the number is one fewer, but the number of the rest of the offerings remains consistent. On the first day, thirteen young bulls were offered, but then this pattern is followed:

17 On the second day you are to present twelve bulls…
20 On the third day you are to present eleven bulls…
23 On the fourth day you are to present ten bulls…
26 On the fifth day you are to present nine bulls…
29 On the sixth day you are to present eight bulls…
32 On the seventh day you are to present seven bulls…

The result is that, in all, 70 young bulls are offered during this weeklong celebration, but the Lord has elegantly arranged the mathematics so that only seven are offered on the final day, and this number is increased, working backwards, so that each day there is a countdown to the holy number 7 being offered. The number 7 is symbolic either for holiness or as a kind of superlative throughout the Scriptures (I touched on this previously in conjunction with Balaam’s first oracle). For holiness, see Judges 16:13; 1 Kings 18:43; 2 Kings 5:10; Job 42:8; Zechariah 3:9, 4:10; Revelation 1:4b, 2:1, 3:1, 5:1, 8:2, etc. As a superlative, see Judges 16:7,8; Ruth 4:15; 1 Samuel 2:5; Psalm 119:164; Proverbs 24:16; Matthew 18:21 (cp. Matthew 18:22!); Luke 11:26.

In this celebration, the people camped out in huts or shelters (KJV “tabernacles,” NIV “booths”) for a week (Leviticus 23:42). This was to be an annual reminder of the sojourn of the exodus, when God led the people out of Egypt. The countdown of the animals aided in the celebration and also emphasized God’s holiness and providence.

a, The festival as a whole was a harvest festival, and highlighted the blessings of God and his abundance poured out on his faithful people. From Solomon’s perspective, the king could rejoice as God blessed his people, for “the mountains will bring prosperity to the people, the hills the fruits of righteousness” (Psalm 72:3). From David’s perspective, every believer could rejoice because “the grasslands and the desert overflow; the hills are clothed in gladness. The meadows are covered with flocks and the valleys are mantled with grain” (Psalm 65:12-13). A later king, Hezekiah, found another harvest blessing in the arrival of snow as a trusted ambassador: “Like the coolness of snow at harvest time is a trustworthy messenger to those who send him; he refreshes the spirit of his masters” (Proverbs 25:13).

b, As described above, the offering of seventy bulls in all was an act of holiness and complete dedication, combining the number 7 (holiness) with the number 10 (completeness). The presentation of these seventy in a countdown (13+12+11+10+9+8+7=70) also provided the idea of a countdown to the whole festival, with the arrival of the last day to be one of special significance.

c, The countdown presents a total of 98 lambs offered successively apart from the regular morning and evening sacrifices—fourteen lambs each day. This offering of dedication shows, with simple arithmetic, the equation (holy+holy) x holy. This is not a mystical number, nor fantastic, but displays God’s holiness and man’s dedication while he is within the people of God. In a simple message, each Israelite was made aware of his place under God’s grace.

d, The countdown presents a total of fourteen rams, two each day. Here is holiness doubled: God’s holiness and the holiness of his obedient people, covered by his forgiveness and protection.

e, The countdown presents one goat, a sin offering, each day. The singularity of the daily sin offering was a sermon on the uniqueness of Christ’s one sacrifice for sin, once for all (Hebrews 10:2).

f, The countdown was a reminder that the exodus lasted a specific amount of time, and came to an end just when God said it would (Numbers 14:34) and not a day longer.

g, The countdown also served as a reminder that although we do not know the number of our days on earth, God knows, and our time of grace also falls within God’s grace, concern, care, compassion, and love. “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life” (Psalm 23:6).

h, The countdown also served as a reminder that man cannot know the number of days or years left for the world to stand, but God knows this. “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36; Mark 13:32). Despite this uncertainty, we know that we are safely in the hands of our loving God and that we live in his grace.

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 visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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