God’s Word for You
Numbers 7:10-83 The dedication
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, July 13, 2021
10 The tribal chiefs also brought offerings for the dedication of the altar on the day that it was anointed. The tribal chiefs brought their offerings before the altar. 11 The LORD said to Moses, “Each day one tribal chief will bring his offering for the dedication of the altar.”
Each day for twelve days, the chief of each tribe in turn brought forward offerings of grain, incense, silver and gold dishes, three animals for a burnt offering (dedication to God), a goat for a sin offering (to atone for sin and point ahead to the sacrifice of the Son of God for the sins of all mankind), and a rather large fellowship offering consisting of seventeen animals. Since each of the twelve days’ offerings were identical apart from the name of the tribal chiefs, we will just read the first offering, brought by Nahshon of Judah (who was in the line of the Savior, Matthew 1:4; Luke 3:32).
12 On the first day, the one who brought his offering was Nahshon son of Amminadab from the tribe of Judah. 13 His offering was one silver dish weighing one hundred thirty shekels, one silver sprinkling basin weighing seventy shekels according to the sanctuary shekel, both full of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering; 14 one small gold bowl weighing ten shekels, filled with incense; 15 one young bull, one ram, one year-old male lamb for a whole burnt offering; 16 one male goat for a sin offering; 17 and for the sacrifice of the fellowship offering: two head of cattle, five rams, five male breeding goats, and five one-year-old male lambs. This was the offering of Nahshon son of Amminadab.
Here’s the math on shekels: A shekel weighs about 11.4 grams. So the 130-shekel gold plate weighed 3¼ pounds, and the 70-shekel silver plate weighed 1¾ pounds. They were probably about the same size, one made of gold and the other made of silver, since gold has a density of a little over 19 g/cm³, and silver about 10.5 g/cm³. Since the gold dish is about twice the weight of the silver, they would have been physically about the same diameter and width. The little golden incense bowl would have weighed about 4 ounces.
The bull, ram, and yearling lamb were the burnt offering. This group is a little different from the burnt offering required for the ordination of the priests (a bull and two rams, Exodus 29:1-3). The goat for a sin offering was the same offering made on the Day of Atonement for the sins of the nation (Leviticus 16:9). These animals were destroyed in the fire of the altar. The other animals (two head of cattle and fifteen males from the flocks: rams, goats and lambs) were fellowship offerings. Their meat served the Levites and priests at the dedication for that day.
There is a curiosity about this text (verses 12-83, which consists of the same six verses repeated twelve times) that I would like to share. In a Hebrew manuscript I am also following during this series (14th century, Cambridge Add. 652), the scribe faithfully wrote out all of the consonants of these verses, but he quickly gave up on re-writing the vowels and most of the accent marks (in Hebrew, vowels are written as dots or other marks above or below the other letters, and the accent marks mix in among the vowels). This leaves the text of these two pages with a curious, open quality, a “you know how this goes” or “etc.,” feel. This is one of the clues that tells me that this particular manuscript was not meant for reading in worship, but was a private text for study or reading at home. The copies of Numbers that were meant for worship always have even “the least stroke of a pen” in place (Matthew 5:18).
These offerings were brought faithfully, tribe by tribe, ox by ox, ram by ram, dish by dish, into the tabernacle area and presented to the priests. There was probably a quick ceremony for the dishes, but the sacrifices would have taken a great deal of time. How quickly can twenty-one animals be slaughtered and butchered, burned, roasted and boiled? Even if the smaller animals were sacrificed together, the larger animals would have taken quite a bit of time.
Each day the offerings were brought again. Each day the slaughter. Each day the gold and silver dishes. Each day. Each day for twelve days.
Think of this as if it would have been you or your father or grandfather bringing the offering for your tribe. First the burnt offerings were made: This was for dedication and devotion, complete devotion, to God. Then a sin offering, just as when in worship we begin in God’s name, sing a hymn, and then confess our sins and hear the absolution from the minister. Forgiveness comes right away, or else someone may have a sin bothering their conscience that gnaws at them and they can’t concentrate on the message of the lessons, or the hymns, or the sermon. Then the other offerings: the fellowship offerings. These were a way of thanking God, which is the purpose of our offerings even today.
Some churches are so large that they need to have two or three or more services in order to accommodate their people (parking and pews are the problem). Israel had the same trouble, so the dedication service was repeated twelve times, once for each tribe. This was the way they praised God, thanked him and remembered him (1 Chronicles 16:4). You hear it in their language of worship: “I will sacrifice a thank offering to you and call on the name of the Lord” (Psalm 116:17). “I will sacrifice fat animals to you and an offering of rams; I will offer bulls and goats” (Psalm 66:15). “I will sacrifice a freewill offering to you; I will praise your name, O LORD, for it is good” (Psalm 54:6). The greatest blessing we receive from worship is the assurance that our sins are forgiven. This was the whole purpose of the tabernacle: to point ahead to forgiveness through Christ alone. Today we have a richer message because Christ has now come. The need for all of the animal blood is past; it was done away with by the blood of Christ. Luther compares this blessing with the blessings of the Patriarchs: Which would be better, to be Isaac blessed by the very hand of Abraham, or to sit in church and hear the absolution from the pastor on a Sunday morning? “To pronounce absolution, to administer the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and to proclaim the forgiveness of sins from the Gospel is something far greater” (LW 5:141-142). Speaking forgiveness to a worried sinner is telling them, “Set aside your worry. I’m giving you power over the devil and over your own grave. No matter what death you will die of, Christ will keep you from perishing.” God’s holy word offers and gives life in heaven through faith in Jesus. Whatever offering or sacrifice you make for God today, be sure it is only given in thanks for what he has already done. The sinner merits nothing but death and damnation, but Christ and his merit gives the free gift of everlasting life.
Pastor Timothy Smith