Strength for the Journey: “A Year to Remember” – Numbers 28:16-31

About a year ago, I was searching for some infA Year to Rememberormation to help someone with a loved one that was living in the nightmare of a food disorder. I didn’t have any background in the subject, since “Near East Archaeology” and “Rabbinic Judaism” – the subjects that captured the majority of my education – offered little help on the subject. Searching through the libraries of information, I found a new book, published the month I began my search. Because it was a novel, I found only a little help there, but I recall the book in part because the story line struck me as the right kind of plot for the journey of self-understanding. It is called A Year to Remember by author Shelly Bell. The story was all about a woman named Sara Friedman. The publisher advertised the book this way:

When her younger brother marries on her twenty-ninth birthday, food addict Sara Friedman drunkenly vows to three hundred wedding guests to find and marry her soul mate within the year. After her humiliating toast becomes a YouTube sensation, she permits a national morning show to chronicle her search. With the help of best friend, Missy, she plunges head first into the shallow end of the dating pool. Her journey leads her to question the true meaning of soul mates, as she decides between fulfilling her vow to marry before her thirtieth birthday and following her heart’s desire. But before she can make the biggest decision of her life, Sara must begin to take her first steps toward recovery from her addiction to food.

From the opening, it was way too girly for me, so I didn’t read it – but the title stuck in my mind. We are not going to explore food addictions in this lesson, though the Bible does have words about taking care of the body that Jesus gave us and paid for at the Cross of Calvary. Instead, I want to focus on the title of that novel: “A Year to Remember”.

When God structured the calendar for Israel, He outlined a daily, weekly and monthly calendar of offerings and “appointments”, just as we pointed out in our last lesson. At the same time, He delineated a series of appointed feasts for the annual national observance of His people. Last time we looked at the day, week and month portion found in Numbers 28:1-15. In this lesson we will follow the annual “daytimer” calendar through the twelve months – and even into a thirteenth one periodically added to correct the calendar!

Key Principle: God communicated through the offerings His desire to walk the daily road of life with His people. When a community recognizes the value of following appointed times with God – it secures deep values in the hearts of its people.

God knew what He was doing when He instructed the observance of seven holidays called “Ha Moedim” (or appointments). These weren’t man made remembrances, they were “appointments with God”, directly mandated by God for the people of Israel. Remember: though the Law was not something we as Christians from the nations are called to observe, its principles (given to our older brother Israel), still clearly help us understand our Father’s cares and desires. It is always the principle that should drive our study of the Word – not the prescription – since we aren’t the people to whom the text was written. Each Moed has guiding principles and truths about our Father that are not only worth the time, but were included in His Word to teach us, correct us and comfort us.

There are too many of them for us to do this in ONE LESSON. Instead, let’s break it the way the chapters of Numbers are today. This lesson will be about the SPRING FESTIVALS in Numbers 29:16-31; the next lesson will embrace the Autumn festivals of Numbers 29.

Don’t forget – holidays are about INDIVIDUAL recognition, but also about COMMUNITY and FAMILY observance. They strengthen both – individuals and communities, families, towns and churches. They aren’t just something you do yourself, they are communal efforts. When we as a church acknowledge a special appointment with God, we demonstrate our value system, and help people understand what we truly believe. Let me illustrate how that works in looking back to the history of the Moedim.

The Annual Feast Calendar

The seven feasts are each given specific reference in Leviticus 23 and in Numbers 28-29, and are listed in the order they were celebrated in the calendar year. The spring festivals include the first four mentioned, the autumn festivals are the last three:

Spring Festivals

1. Passover (or Pesach, Nisan 14th, the first day of Unleavened Bread) Lev. 23:4,5; Numbers 28:16.
2. Unleavened Bread (the week of Chag Hamatzot) Lev. 23:6-8; Numbers 28:17-25).
3. First Fruits (or Bukkurim on Nisan 16th, the second day of unleavened bread) Lev. 23:9-14; Numbers 28:26).
4. Weeks (also called Shavuot or Pentecost) Lev. 23:15-22; Numbers 28:26-31).

Autumn Festivals

5. Trumpets (also called Yom T’ruach or Rosh Hashanah) Lev. 23:23-35; Numbers 29:1-6.
6. Day of Atonement (or Yom Kippor) Lev. 23:26-32; Number 29:7-11.
7. Tabernacles (or Sukkot) Lev. 23:34-44; Numbers 29:12-38.

Spring Festivals:

The Principle from Passover:

Numbers 28:16 Then on the fourteenth day of the first month shall be the LORD’S Passover.

There are not many words that describe the occasion in Numbers 28, because it was like describing Christmas to most of you – it was all very well explained elsewhere.

Passover, was the time that recalled in Exodus 12 the move of the hand of God on the firstborn of the Egyptians that did not mark their doorposts or tent posts with the blood of a spotless lamb. The deal was simple: mark the door with blood, and the Lord will turn His face away and not exercise His wrath. It was an important exercise to help Israel clearly understand that God wanted each generation of Israelites to recall the need for individual, personal belief that played out in actions – in order for the people to be saved from the wrath of God that they deserved. Man mutinied against God, and the wrath of God was the consequence. Don’t forget, the wrath of God was His consistency – not just an angry response. It is the “cause and effect” nature of God that has left His fingerprints on our world.

The Hebrew term for “wrath” is from the three letter ALEPH-BET-RESH or A-V-R, the very root word from which the name of the Hebrews comes. They are a symbol of God’s consistency. Here is what He told them to do that first Pesach:

Israel found itself in bondage for ten generations. After serving Egyptian Pharaohs, the cries of the children of Israel went up before the Lord God, and He sent a deliverer to release His captive children. He sent a series of plagues designed to press on fickle Pharaoh as well as teach His people of Himself until God finally pronounced that He would send a plague that would be forever remembered. Exodus 12 records that the power of God would strike down the firstborn of every home in Egypt not protected by the mark of lamb’s blood on the door or tent post.

If we had time, we would follow the progression of the great story of redemption that unfolded. If you mark your Bible and check Exodus 12:3-5, you will see that God gave careful instruction about the preparation of the home before the Lord executed judgment on the Egyptian firstborn. Each man was instructed to take “A LAMB” (12:3) for his house. If “THE LAMB” (12:4) was too much for the small household, the man was to share with his neighbor and not waste. The lamb was to be spotless, sacrificed that its blood may be used as a marker. It was to be killed and personally applied as “YOUR LAMB” (12:5). Individuals would have to use the blood, nothing else would suffice. God set the standard of atonement and the people needed to trust that God would keep His word. They would have to silently wait and trust that the blood was enough to protect them from the judgment of God, when it came.

Don’t get caught up in the tents, the flocks and the Egyptian sand. God made some simple points:

1. God alone sets the standard of what pleases Him. No amount of service in replacement of the lamb would keep people from the wrath of God – period.
2. People needed to personally believe the message of God and follow the instruction of God to be saved from calamity and set free from bondage.
3. God took no time to explain why that payment was suitable – He set a standard of obedience, and did not ask our opinion.

It is so very important that we understand this in a time when our rulers are all chosen by our populace. God is an absolute Sovereign. He has no need to politic to gain our favor. He is God, and His Word is absolute. If we ignore it, we face the penalty, and we have only ourselves to blame.

Don’t die thinking God will put a scale before you and balance your good and evil deeds. That isn’t what He said He would accept. He wants the blood covering of a sacrifice. That is the reason believers celebrate the death of Jesus before the Resurrection of Jesus. God outlined that a lamb had to die, and blood needed to be shed – or that judicial payment for mutiny was not fulfilled. Good people that helped their neighbors and paid their taxes on time died in the wrath of God if they didn’t use the blood covering as He instructed. That should tell us something about our own efforts to please God apart from His standards.

The Principle from the Feast of Unleavened Bread:

Immediately following the Passover, God added to the original holy day a week long observance called the “Feast of Unleavened Bread”. He described it in Numbers 28:17-25. Look at the beginning, and I will summarize the other verses:

Numbers 28:17 On the fifteenth day of this month [shall be] a feast, unleavened bread [shall be] eaten for seven days.

On the first day, verses 18 and 19 describe the burnt offering. Verses 20-22 describe the grain offering measured against the appropriate animal, and verse 23 describes that these offerings are IN ADDITION to the regular daily offerings. Verse 24 reminded the people to do it every day for the whole seven day stretch, and verse 25 told them to take the seventh day off work and meet in worship.

Many believers are familiar with the pictures and stories of leaven in the Bible, but some may not recall the imagery. Leaven was normally prohibited by God in connection with offerings and sacrifices. Lev. 2:11 excluded its use in most of the sacrifices claiming it was a corruption of the sacrifice. God made a standard that leaven was corrupt and unusable in this context – though fermented beverages were allowed. The issue may have been to limit the time and assure freshness in the offering, we simply cannot say. We do know that a festival of one week with unraised bread was a CHANGE from the norm, and many rabbis suggested the symbol would remind them of the journey, where they could not remain in a place for a long time. That sounds right, because the Biblical argument was simply the reminder that between two Sabbath rests, this week long observance was intended to remind them that “the Lord brought the children of Israel out of Egypt” (Ex. 12:17).

From the instruction came the Chametz cleansing that became the background for “Spring cleaning”. Jews remove all leaven from their homes, and destroy it or sell it. It is a fascinating part of Jewish life in Jerusalem. As the feast approaches each year, the message is clear: Get the leaven out. The day after the Passover sacrifice and meal, a week-long festival ensues (Lev. 23:6). Instruction on the festival is given in Exodus 12:15-20 (cp. Lev. 2:11 for leaven) and today supermarkets quarantine all leavened materials and sell them to off shore companies. On my old street in Jerusalem, little piles of dust were burned from the cleaning of my neighbor’s homes.

The principle behind the cleaning out of the leaven was well illustrated by the teaching of an old fisherman. The fisherman took his small boat out to sea early each morning to catch the fish for the market. He moved along the surface of the water with great ease, for the boat was well designed for fishing. On one occasion, the old fisherman took his son with him to the sea. His son was unaccustomed to the boat and began to tip the small craft as he walked around inside it. The older fisherman raised his voice and exclaimed, “Sit down! The boat is fine in the sea, but we don’t want the sea inside the boat!” That same “keep the sea out of the boat” principle is the message of the feast of Unleavened Bread, a message of a clean walk.

What is the deal with keeping leaven out of the house, and out of the bread? The yeasts that were used in making bread came with them out of Egypt. Most people had very few implement to make up a kitchen, but the “starter dough” with its infused leaven was something they took on any journey. There were no fast food restaurants in Sinai, and if they wanted to make any bread by-product, the starter dough was essential. How they used it with manna is not at all clear, but the truth behind the festival was – they were to set aside using leaven – and eat bread WITHOUT IT. In this way, Egypt and its corrupting influence needed to be set aside by the people. The principle of cleansing the house from leaven (chametz cleansing) was an illustration of the need to live a life that was intentional about separation from corruption and sin.

Passover was about God’s provision to save – something theologians called “justification”. Unleavened Bread was all about a man’s work of intentional removal of corrupting influences, termed by theologians as “sanctification”- a term that means “set apart for a specific use, often a holy use.” The usable vessel before God was to be free of leaven, and recall God’s purposes were to make a new and clean people to serve Him.

This concept constantly needs to be reaffirmed, especially in the American “Bible belt”, where cultural Christianity can easily replace an intentional walk of obedience to Jesus Christ. It isn’t enough to go to a Billy Graham Crusade, pray a prayer and walk an aisle. God didn’t just call you from the world so that you could live as you choose and then retire to Heaven when you die. That isn’t a new idea that came with televangelists; it has always been a deception of the enemy. All the way back in the beginning of the church, Paul wrote of this, reminding the early believers in Jesus that God had bigger plans for their lives:

Ephesians 2:1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly [places] in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, [it is] the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

In salvation, a follower of Jesus DOES get the promise of Heaven, but in Ephesians 2, God wanted them to recall that He had a bigger purpose – to create through each of their lives of intentional yielding, a picture of God’s handiwork done in a life interrupted by His grace. The message of the church cannot be ONLY about JUSTIFICATION or it becomes utterly imbalanced. John 3:16 is a wellspring of life – but it is not the only truth in the book. We must not forget the story is not one only of personal benefits apart from personal commitments. That idea may sell well today, but it is only PART of the story of God’s grace. His story was never intended to be a license for selfish living followed by retirement in Heavenly bliss. We are saved by grace, but the reason we are saved is not only for ourselves. We are to become a living display of His workmanship. If that were not true, the Scriptures would be much shorter on instructions of life, and there would be no need to “strive against sin”. Our call is to preach BOTH – God’s undeserved favor that saves, and the intentional active pursuit of our walk with God once He offers us new life.

The Principle in the Feast of First Fruits:

Numbers 28:26 Also on the day of the first fruits, when you present a new grain offering to the LORD.

There is but a small half verse on the Feast of First Fruits in our passage, so we will but mention the principle that is clear if one takes the time to study Leviticus 23:9-14. The Sabbath had given the children of Israel the necessary understanding that a close of cycle and rest was necessary. What the Sabbath did for the end of one’s work, the feast of First Fruits outlined for the “beginnings” of life. The beginning of the harvest was the setting for this important lesson. God wanted the children of Israel to understand that He had provided for them, and they were to respond to His gracious giving. All they possessed was undeserved blessing (Dt. 6), and all they had belonged to God (even their children, see Ex. 13:2).

Frankly, on payday it is easy to think we earned the money, and it is ours. For a farmer, the harvest is the beginning of the payday. Hours of plowing, planting, watering and waiting begin to show FRUIT for the labor, pun intended. THAT was the very time Israel was to make an offering of thanksgiving, an offering of anticipation of continued blessing (“first” fruits implies later fruits), and an offering of acknowledgment.

Yet, tucked within the TIMING of the “Feast of First Fruits” the Apostle Paul also reminded early believers that God had a picture waiting –Jewish believers could clearly see it in the first century – but it may not be as obvious to us today. Tucked between the command for Jews to celebrate Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot (Pentecost) was a “Feast of First Fruits”. This feast involved taking the un-ripened grain THE SUNDAY AFTER PASSOVER and bringing it to the priest at the Tabernacle (and later the Temple) to wave it before the Lord, make a lamb offering. The offering included a meal offering, a wine offering and special dietary commands for the day (Lev. 23:9-14).

The most interesting thing about the Feast of Firstfruits is the fact that it was NOT commanded to be on a counted date, as in the case of Passover – Lev. 23:5. Rather this is the only feast in the chapter to ALWAYS be celebrated on the same day of the week – Sunday! Remarkably, all of the other feasts are all based on a calculated DATE (Lev. 23:4,15,24,27,34). Paul argued in 1 Corinthians 15, the feast for that Sunday following Passover was a “shadow” of Messiah’s resurrection (and eventually OUR resurrection!).

The point of John 20:1 “On the first day of the week” was to REMIND EARLY FOLLOWERS OF THE SPECIAL DAY on which Messiah was raised. It was the Feast of First Fruits! This was the beginning of the “countdown” to Pentecost (Lev. 23:15), but it was much more. This was the day they celebrated the COMING OF A GREAT HARVEST! What a spiritual picture! This was the lesson of Paul to Corinth (1 Cor. 15:20-32), that the resurrection of Jesus was the CLEAR answer to the shadowy symbol of the waving of the sheaf commanded so long before!

Don’t forget that in the Hebrew mind, harvest and judgment were indelibly linked together. One is usually expressed in the terms of the other. This is true in the terms of the prophets as they express God “treading out the grapes of wrath”, in the same way Jesus used it (Mt. 13 “reapers” that were angels). To the Hebrew mind, God does not judge man. Man grows his fruit, and God harvests that which man grows. What YOU sow, YOU reap! It is man’s own doing that causes his rotten fruit in the end. It is this same connection that evoked the link between the Jezreel Valley (the largest growth and harvest area in the country) and the “Valley of Armageddon” (Rev. 16:16- the valley of God’s judgment of the nations).

In the Feast of the First Fruits, God intended that Israel would understand the offering to be about things to come. Paul argued:

• Jesus has been raised! (15:20)
• As a man he conquered death, for the actions of a man brought death! (15:21-22)
• Jesus was raised as the first fruits offering (15:23), then the end comes, eventually destroying even death! (15:24-26)
• God has subjected everything to Him, and will bring it all to pass! (15:27-28)
• If Jesus wasn’t raised, the rest of the harvest could not be certain, and we may be lost! (15:29-32)

The early church celebrated the Sunday of the First Fruits, and began early to understand that this was the great symbolic show that God would bring about our resurrection as sure as the spring harvest follows the winter rains! The resurrected Jesus is the “first fruits” of our own eternal life, and His life is promised to us after our physical death (cp. 1 Cor. 15:35-58)

We are moving quickly, so let’s review:

  • God offered Passover to remind His people that they needed to PERSONALLY APPROPRIATE the means He provided for atonement – and that is true of all of us as well.

  • God told them to “get the leaven out” for a week to remind them that SALVATION belongs to the Lord, but INTENTIONAL LIVING is the domain of God’s people – and that is something we must constantly recall.

  • Tucked in the middle, God gave a promise in the form of another practice called First Fruits – that HE was going to provide something beyond their understanding – the provision of a NEW LIFE through the resurrection of the dead. Physical death isn’t our end. It isn’t even the end of this body. It will be reconstituted for a future – a renewed body based on the current model, but with all the new technology of Heaven.

If I want salvation, I need to listen to what God provided and receive it. If I want to become what He intends, I need to get some things out of my life. If I really listen to Him – He is offering me more than “a saved NOW” – He is offering me “a RISEN THEN”! Death has lost its sting, because it is no longer a mystery, nor a one way door.

Each Spring, there is one more festival that we need to consider…

The Principle in the Shavuot Offerings (Feast of Weeks):

Numbers 28:26b …In your [Feast of] Weeks, you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work. 27 You shall offer a burnt offering for a soothing aroma to the LORD: two young bulls, one ram, seven male lambs one year old; 28 and their grain offering, fine flour mixed with oil: three-tenths [of an] [ephah] for each bull, two-tenths for the one ram, 29 a tenth for each of the seven lambs; 30 [also] one male goat to make atonement for you. 31 Besides the continual burnt offering and its grain offering, you shall present [them] with their drink offerings. They shall be without defect.

In Israel, the summer months are long, hot and dry for most of the land. The spring grass is withered and brown. The flowers that dotted the Galilee landscape give way to the dark rocks and dry weeds that cover every uncultivated field. The time of the long awaited first rains of Autumn usually produce celebration, as children go outside in the rain and dance for joy (even some of us as adults join them)! The rains awaken the land to new life, and the promise of another harvest! The harvest is the life blood of any agricultural people, and the children of Israel awaited the harvest with great anticipation.

Fifty days after the festival of first fruits, the major part (if not all) of the harvest was completed. The festival of Shavuot or “weeks” began. The Greek word for “fifty days” is Pentecost, and the festival received this name in ancient Jewish sources from the Second Temple Period. Regardless of which name was used, the timing of the feast, and the peculiar instructions for the observance of the feast give the clearest indications of the meaning and purpose of this holy festival.

This feast was truly a celebration of the harvest (it is called the “harvest feast”, see Ex. 23:16). It expressed God’s gracious provision to His people for yet another year. In contrast to the feast of “unleavened bread” where all leaven was to be purged from the sacrifice and it was to be clean of fermenting corruption, the feast of weeks includes two loaves of meal baked with leaven (Lev. 23:17). The leaven was prescribed as part of the ceremony, and obedient faithful could do nothing less than obey. Why include the leaven in the loaves? What was God’s intention in this “shadowy symbol”? Why allow a corrupting influence in an observance characterized by His holy worship?

God had a plan… and we are a part of it. Don’t forget, the leaven in the loaves at Shavuot wasn’t the only corruption was found in the festival…there were people there. In addition to understanding the need to intentionally get some things out of our lives, God showed that He was planning to bond people once outside of His family into it. God was going, at the time of Pentecost, to move in people that were once strangers to His promise.

Acts 2:1 reminds us that the Spirit of God came upon the first followers of Jesus at Pentecost. The disciples were gathered together to recall the giving of the Law at Sinai that occurred fifty days after Pesach in Exodus, and the Spirit came upon them and began to write the Law on their hearts. In front of them on the table was a simple symbol – leavened bread. God was forming something that would be a part of His plan – His church. It would not replace Israel, but it would carry the message of His love while a darkness and blindness descended for a time over the Jewish people.

Do you recall that passage in Ephesians 2 were looked at earlier? Keep reading:

Ephesians 2:11 “Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” [which is] performed in the flesh by human hands—12 [remember] that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Thirty-five hundred years ago, God already announced the plan to provide a lamb, require a standard, reveal the new life of resurrection and draw in a second group of people to carry His name that were not one nation – and He did it through a series of feasts.

God communicated through the offerings His desire to walk the daily road of life with His people. When a community recognizes the value of following appointed times with God – it secures deep values in the hearts of its people.

I heard a Pastor make an observation not long ago. He said: “One of the surprising things about the Bible is that it never says that Jesus rushed anywhere. He was busy, but He found time to pray and accomplished discipleship training and WORLD REDEMPTION in three short years. While doing that, he played with children and guiltlessly took an occasional nap during boat rides. He went to weddings and even stuck around at the reception. The Bible doesn’t say, “If you hurry, you can catch up with God.” It says, “Cease striving and know that I am God.” (Psalms 46:10) Jesus’ promise was “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). Time isn’t supposed to be an enemy – just a chance to steward life.”