Strength for the Journey: “On Time with God” – Numbers 28:1-15

ArrivalsSitting at an airport terminal, you will see on the board the words “delayed” and “on time”. Depending on what is on the arrival board, you will see reactions by the people reading it. Delays are followed by disgust, while “on time” arrivals bring a smile. We all love saving time, and not sitting around at a busy airport!

I want to ask a very important question that affects all of us, but it may seem to some of you so nerdy that it sounds a bit weird: What is time? We speak of it like it is a commodity, something we can “waste”, something we can “save” or something we can “spend”. We claim that “time is money” as a recognition of its value, with an intense awareness of the limited time a human life spans. We believe that “time works against us” in delay, and that “time heals wounds” in troubled moments. Yet, time isn’t a physical thing, and our expressions don’t seem to do it justice. Whether or not time itself is even “felt” as a sensation or experience has never been truly settled by philosophers and scientists. In its most basic definition, time is a sequence, a “dimension in which events can be ordered from the past through the present into the future.” Someone has said: “Time is what keeps everything from happening at once”. Currently, the international unit of time, the second, is defined in terms of radiation emitted by caesium atoms.

For many of us, it is hooked to the Creation account in Genesis 1:14 and belongs to this universe, but not the metaphysical “angelic” or “Heavenly” realm. In our understanding, it was a device created. Further, the Bible seems clear that God is unaffected by time, and that He is greater than it, suggesting it was a created sequence not inherent in His nature. If our understanding is correct – in eternity I won’t need a watch, because time will lose any significance.

Today there are two prime contrasting philosophical viewpoints on time that you may have encountered in your education.

• One view, named after a brilliant Christian man of science, Sir Isaac Newton, is called “Newtonian time”. This view is that “time is part of the fundamental structure of the universe — a dimension independent of events, in which events occur in sequence”. Newton espoused the view, and many of us bought into it. It views time as a container through which things pass.

• Other philosophers believe time is part of a fundamental intellectual structure (cited together with space and number) within which humans sequence and compare events. It is, essentially, something made up by finite beings to incrementally measure meaning and experience. Philosophers like Immanuel Kant believed it was neither an event nor a thing, and by itself could not be intrinsically measurable nor “travelled”.

In the groups of sciences, time is one of the fundamental physical quantities we measure including things like special qualities (i.e. length, width, height), mass, temperature, velocity, and so forth. Modern scientists are continually asking the philosophical questions about the relationship between space and time, and have many wondered if there is a single continuum called “spacetime”.

This lesson looks at how an infinite God deals with man in time. It makes clear that while we are subject to time, God wants to be included in our every pursuit.

Key Principle: God communicated through the offerings His desire to walk the daily road of life with His people.

The Hebrew Scriptures specifically instructed the observance of seven holidays called “Ha Moedim” (the appointments) and one monthly special remembrance called “Ha Rosh Ha Chodesh”, and a special weekly observance called the “Sabbath” (or “Shabbat”). These special “appointments with God”, unlike other holidays of society, were 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 these principles that should drive our study of the Word in the Torah.

It is easy for us to forget that after ten generations as Egyptian slaves, the ancient Israelites had lost much of their spiritual heritage in bondage, and the Law had as part of its purpose – the restoration of that identity and the forging of the nation in the Sinai wilderness. Hot off the desert sands from their trek out of Egypt, the ancient Hebrews had seen God move miraculously and decisively to set them free from their bondage. They had seen God defeat their foe. They watched in wonder as the mighty arm of the Lord worked in power through their once exiled shepherd prince. Moses, by now in the story, was late in years and yet mighty in faith. He began his own vital and thriving relationship with the God of his fathers some years before, after a “burning bush” encounter in the Midianite desert. Now Moses had thousands of refugee Israelites following him and trusting that his relationship with the God of Abraham would yield their freedom and safety.

To Sinai they went, this rabble of ex-slaves following their shepherd prince. They arrived three months into their rugged journey (Ex. 19:1), pitched their tents beneath the shadow of the mountain that would change their future forever. They arrived uncertain of their fortune, uncertain of their God’s purpose. Only a handful had any real understanding of the God of Abraham. Even their leader had to ask God’s name at the “burning bush”. There, God made clear the standards, values and ethics of this unique nation that was made to show Who He is to the world. He revealed His unique relationship with them. He was making of them a nation to display Himself. He wanted them to go home, but He wanted to go home with them.

Though we are not the same people, we have the same God Who has called us for the same purpose – to go with us in life’s journey and show Himself to others through us.

Step back and see the forest

Before we move forward in understanding the verses of Numbers 28:1-15, we need to look at the larger picture of what we dealing with, because we are “dropping into the middle” of a play already ongoing. Some words of explanation are in order. There are three important concepts to recall when we look at this portion of the Law of Moses:

• First, there are three kinds of Law in the Torah, not one. There is Civil Code (how to get along on the camping trip) given in Exodus and Numbers. There is Constitutional Code (how to set up a nation and what makes a Jew a Jew) in the book of Deuteronomy (which means “second law”). There is Criminal Code found in Leviticus (“you are broken inside, here is how to deal with it”). The third code was temporary and replaced by a singular sacrifice of Messiah – the others are still in effect for those to whom they were given. Jews are still defined by Constitutional Code, and our they are to measure civility within God’s definition. Non-Jewish followers of Jesus today are called to recognize the principles behind the Law, as Jesus showed in Matthew 5-7 – a “principle approach” to the commands.

• Second, the Civil Code of Law is contained in a record of ten chapters in Exodus and Numbers (4 in Exodus: 20-23; and 6 in Numbers: 5, 6, 15 and 28-30).

• Third, the passage we are dealing with is the end of that Civil Code found in Numbers 28 and 29. The final subjects deal with Offerings (the issue of the calendar of offerings and the specific number of animals to be offered) and in Numbers 30 deals with Vows. The Civil Code closes with notes on how God wanted to be included in the time schedule of His people, and how He wanted them to gauge HONESTY and INTEGRITY in relation to vows and promises.

Move in close to observe Numbers 28:1-15

In the next two lessons we will look at how God wanted His people to include Him in every step of their daily lives – all represented in Laws regarding observance of the Calendar. This time we will emphasize the “regular calendar journey”, and next time the “Holy day journey” through the year.

We want to highlight the point of the lesson: God communicated through the offerings His desire to walk the daily road of life with His people.

God wanted the children of Israel to know more of Him than rules, laws, and Divine standards. The Torah was so much more. It was the expression of God’s heart. It was the expression of Who God is. It was the “spiritual training camp manual” for the wilderness journey. It was the guidebook for the ancient Kingdom of Israel. It was the outline of the key life principles that God desired His people to understand.

Start with the Command of God – Do what I told you according to My schedule:

Numbers 28:1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Command the sons of Israel and say to them: ‘You shall be careful to present My offering, My food for My offerings by fire, of a soothing aroma to Me, at their appointed time.’

Let me begin with a simple principle – God must have preeminence in our TIME. Our lives are not designed to have long walks alone and short “camp times” with God.

Let me explain. When I was a young believer, I did not know how to include God in my daily thinking. Before my walk with God began, I didn’t pray, I didn’t read His Word, and I didn’t think I really wanted to do any of that. When I came to Christ, a new life began. I cared about different things. I stopped caring about things that no longer held my attention because they didn’t honor God. I didn’t mean for that to happen – it just did. As time passed, I learned the hard way the difference between “knowing Jesus as my Savior” and “being a Christian” – or follower of Jesus. The early stages of my walk had Jesus in my heart, for sure, but He wasn’t in my DAY or in my CHOICES. Jesus was the object of my worship, when I went to church. He was the God that spoke into my life at CAMP on those occasions when I would be invited to learn more of Him in a concentrated way. Yet, my walk with God looked more like occasional meetings than daily following – and it may be that way for some who are listening to this lesson right now.

Here is the truth: God doesn’t want and occasional spiritual rendezvous of “fling”. He was a daily and intimate relationship. The problem is I had no idea how to make that happen. Enter the truth of Numbers 28. God spelled LOVE from me this way: T-I-M-E. He wanted to be IN my daily life, not a weekend daddy.

Look at what He told Moses to pass to the people in verses one and two: BE CAREFUL to present the foodstuffs of the offerings ON THE TIME SCHEDULE I gave you.

Don’t miss the point. God wasn’t just talking about the fire and the offering. He was telling His people to make sure they were constantly working to be ready for each offering at the appointed time. You cannot offer a one year old spotless lamb if you aren’t raising lambs and keeping track of their age, as well as checking their condition carefully. You cannot offer a burnt offering without the proper collection of wood – and in desert areas that took extra time and energy. Preparation needed to be INTENTIONAL and CONTINUAL.

There is no more direct way I can say this: You and I have as much of God as we choose to have. We have as strong a relationship with Him as we CHOOSE to have. Starve out a relationship by offering it no time or energy and it will languish. God is not trying to be distant from us because He is too busy to hear us; we neglect to recognize our utter need for Him daily, and don’t intentionally put time and effort into growing in our walk. What weakens us is our distraction rooted in our misplaced belief that we can successfully navigate life without Him.

If we were honest, we would admit that most of us are addicted to entertainment, and are constantly distracted by it. We read much that adds little to our understanding, but reinforces our biases. We have been negligent in the feeding of our souls on truly good food, and feeding our Spirit on frequent times of refreshing in and with the Lord.

Daily Oleh, Minchah and Nesek:

Moses relayed God’s desire for three offerings that were to be a daily part of Israel’s journey and settlement in the new land.

28:3 “You shall say to them, ‘This is the offering by fire which you shall offer to the LORD: two male lambs one year old without defect [as] a continual burnt offering every day. 4 You shall offer the one lamb in the morning and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight; 5 also a tenth of an ephah of fine flour for a grain offering, mixed with a fourth of a hin of beaten oil. 6 It is a continual burnt offering which was ordained in Mount Sinai as a soothing aroma, an offering by fire to the LORD. 7 Then the drink offering with it [shall be] a fourth of a hin for each lamb, in the holy place you shall pour out a drink offering of strong drink (shay-kawr’: Intensely alcoholic liquor) to the LORD. 8 The other lamb you shall offer at twilight; as the grain offering of the morning and as its drink offering, you shall offer it, an offering by fire, a soothing aroma to the LORD.

Three types of intermingled offerings are cited in the 28:3-8).

First, there is the Burnt offering (Oleh, see Leviticus 1): Here it is a total of two lambs (28:3), each unblemished and one year old, one in the morning and one at twilight, every day (28:4). Do it without fail, and remember the smell of the fire matters to me (28:6)!

The burnt offering was a completely consumed offering given wholly to the Lord for His enjoyment, with nothing taken for the servants. It reminds us:

1. God knows what He likes, and it isn’t always what we would think. It seems counter-intuitive that God would be soothed by a barbeque smell, but He is.

2. We are not to try to reason the point of His pleasure, we are to accept it and offer it. Our call is not to run God’s desires through some modern grid of pagan morality and judge whether God would have been elected to the board of the ASPCA, it is to find out what God says He desires and give it to Him. A Sovereign isn’t supposed to need to explain His commands to those who serve Him. When we try to put God’s desires through our own grid of pleasure or even acceptable practice – we force the Creator to become subject to the moral conscience of the created. No moral system can be hoisted over the Scriptures to evaluate God’s Word – it stands apart.

Second, there is the inclusion also of the Grain offering (Minchah, see Leviticus 2) – a symbolic offering that reminds us of two very important truths:

1. God wanted them to budget His part of their supplies FIRST. The grain was offered to God before it was ground, much less eaten.

2. God expected them to give whatever was available at that stages of the calendar, as we see when studying Leviticus chapter 2. The text says: Take the lamb, add 2.2 dry liters of finely ground flour and 5.5 liters of olive oil (28:5) – burn it completely. I will like it if it comes from a heart that truly does it to please Me. Otherwise, it will be a useless barbeque.

Simply stated, the Grain offering reminds us there is NO “PUTTING OFF” GOD. We give to Him BEFORE we take for ourselves. We give of what we have NOW, not what we hope to have later. Our God is the “ever present God of NOW”, not the “put-off with promises of tomorrow” kind.

Third, the “Nesek” (from “thing poured”) or libation offering accompanying the other offering (translated the drink offering). Add a libation of 5.5 liquid liters of intensely alcoholic liquor (28:7).

In the Hebrew Scriptures, the libation was offered to represent the labors of the field, like an offering of a glass of your own house made wine from your own vineyard to an honored guest. It added honor, because it was hand-crafted and a part of your own personal labors. It was like offering someone any gift that you hand-crafted to perfection.

This was not simply a common wine (yayin) – it was “strong drink” (sheker) – like a strongly fermented grape brandy with higher alcoholic content likened more to our distilled liquor. The NIV sometimes translates this BEER, but that is an assumption based on the commonality of beer in ancient Egypt from which Israel was departing. Since beer was served uncut with additional water, unlike table wines of the period, some scholars think this was what was considered strong. Others think it was more likely akin to a stronger beverage – or may be uncut wine. It is true that wine was a symbol in Scripture of joy both to God and to man (Jud.9:13, Ps.104:15), and this characterizes the drink offering – but it appears likely this was something stronger, often used in passages alongside the term for wine as a separate product. It was probably used in the Tabernacle and Temple for some cleaning and hygienic affects, and is the same word for the anesthetic that was for those who were suffering or dying (Proverbs 31:6).

Paul referred to his efforts as the drink offering for the Lord through his life poured out for the believers of the early church:

  • Philippians 2:17 But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all.
  • Later he made reference again to it as something that was a completion to his life: 2 Timothy 4:6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.

It seems that Paul understood the all his labor and in ministry was like a carefully prepared and poured libation as he pressed from his body the last bit of effort in sacrificial service to His Master.

The drink offering reminds us that our lives will be poured out, the only questions are WHERE and FOR WHAT PURPOSE. We will ALL use up our body, and we will lose our zest and energy. The question is: “What will be soaked by the pouring of it?

• Will I celebrate my “Candy Crush” level?
• Will I be happy that I spent so much time following friends and “Liking” posts that I had little time and energy for concentrated ministry in some area?
• Will I pour out my life before some techno box of entertainment?

Let me ask you a serious question: “When was the last time Jesus was invited to walk through you channel selection, your DVD collection, your game closet and your playlist and offer His thoughts on what they contained?” I am not legalistically giving you a LIST, I am pointing you to the Lord Who makes the right list. Do we even ask His opinion anymore?

Additional Sabbath Offerings:

God wanted to walk with Israel daily, but He also commanded a weekly special break for a bit more than the everyday.

28:9 Then on the sabbath day two male lambs one year old without defect, and two-tenths [of an] [ephah] of fine flour mixed with oil as a grain offering, and its drink offering: 10 [This is] the burnt offering of every Sabbath in addition to the continual burnt offering and its drink offering.

There is to be an additional offering on Sabbath – two extra lambs, each with 4.4 extra liters of flour, along with an extra drink offering (28:9-10).

The Sabbath (whether in Exodus 20, Leviticus 23 or Numbers 28) was given to show three truths:

• God had specifically marked one day in seven for man to stop his work, and spend that day in a unique “rest celebration” of his Creator. Obedience was clear and so was disobedience. God was either in charge of the people, or He was not – and it was clear by how they responded to His command.

I admit that I weary of all the “reasoned arguments” against doing clear things God told us to do. I sit with people who try to explain why their abuse of their body with drugs isn’t so bad, or the sexual encounters were so understandable in light of our culture. When the smoke clears at the judgment of all the tactics and distractions of our rationalizations, we will be left to clearly gaze on our true reasons for disobedience – it is rebellion, plain and simple. We want to do what we want to do, but we are embarrassed by the bare-knuckled truth, so we rationalize away disobedience.

• God was not short on His instruction TO STOP OUR PURSUIT TO PROGRESS in such things as making money for the Sabbath (which means “rest“). Instructions can be found in Exodus 35, Lev. 25, Num. 15 and Dt. 15:32-35. It was as much an issue of TRUST that stopping labor wouldn’t cause us to LOSE GROUND, but actually help us do what we do better.

Have you ever been so intent on completing a project that you burned the midnight oil until you weren’t really producing anything of value? Time off with God was meant to rejuvenate. One other thing – it forced people to budget time. If manna was available six days, then preparation for Sabbath included working to gather for both the sixth and the seventh day.

When we give God what He commands we don’t LOSE, we LEARN. That is easily illustrated in giving of our FUNDS to the Lord. Before we were regular in our giving, we didn’t know how we could be. The call to give regularly and systematically helped us to budget our funds – just the way Israel was called to budget their time in preparing for and keeping the Sabbath.

• God outlined that both man and work animals would rest from their labor, and that this observance would be a memorial (Hebrew: Zakar, see Exodus 20:8) that would be kept distinct or “holy” from other days. God did not reveal the Sabbath simply to celebrate His rest, but to teach us something important about OUR NEEDS! The Sabbath was specified to be time of identification (Ex. 31:12-17).

The Sabbath was to signify the unique covenant God had made with the children of Israel (Ex. 31:12-17) and is the reason we don’t celebrate it – we aren’t them, and they aren’t us. The weekly celebration was to be a memory device so that the children of Israel would not forget the God of their fathers as they had in the bondage of Egypt. God was concerned that the success of the Israelites would take a more significant toll on their memory than slavery had before (Dt. 6).

At the same time, the Sabbatical principle was further underscored by the overall cycle of “sevens” God built within the calendar of the people. Time to learn and worship was essential. A time of reflection and anticipation was healthy. The Sabbath was truly made “for the man”!

Here is the problem with the way many of us look at REST: The most dangerous time may not be in the midst of the battle, but in the times of ease. If we forget our disciplines in the lazy days of summer, with little care for our armor and our prayer, we will find ourselves ill-equipped when the arrows fly. It is important to rest body, mind and spirit – but rest taken away from the source of our strength will not help us – it will deplete us. Take your rest while recalling His Words constantly, and sharing your thoughts with him repeatedly – and it will be rest indeed.

Additional Rosh Chodesh Offerings:

The passage of our study ends with a brief word about the additional offerings for the new month:

28:11 Then at the beginning of each of your months you shall present a burnt offering to the LORD: two bulls and one ram, seven male lambs one year old without defect; 12 and three-tenths [of an] [ephah] of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering, for each bull; and two-tenths of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering, for the one ram; 13 and a tenth [of an] [ephah] of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering for each lamb, for a burnt offering of a soothing aroma, an offering by fire to the LORD. 14 Their drink offerings shall be half a hin of wine for a bull and a third of a hin for the ram and a fourth of a hin for a lamb; this is the burnt offering of each month throughout the months of the year. 15 And one male goat for a sin offering to the LORD; it shall be offered with its drink offering in addition to the continual burnt offering.

The start of the month also had additional offerings:

• An additional burnt offering of two bulls, (28:11) was mixed with 6.6 liters of fine flour – the grain offering accompanying each bull.

• One ram was offered with 2.2 liters of flour as well as each of the seven lambs.

• Libations totaling more than 53 of our bottles of wine were poured with each offering each month in addition to the normal daily allotments.

If the truth were told, some Israelites were probably adding the whole list of offerings up in their heads, and were wondering about the HIGH COST of following the God of Abraham. Don’t be squeamish, you would too if it was coming from your herd, or your bank account. God wasn’t being stingy – He provided all the animals, wine and grain to begin with! He wanted them to really understand:

God communicated through the offerings His desire to walk the daily road of life with His people.

As we close this lesson, let me ask you something. “Why are we so stingy with God?” Why is it that we react inside against giving Him the time, talent and treasure of our life? I suspect the reasons are several, but let me take a stab at an answer: We don’t see the benefit of giving Him anything more than we have to. Rather than pour out our lives for Him last week, many of us poured them out for ourselves.

God wants to come along this week. He wants you to intentionally think through your week, and live it with Him and for Him. Are you ready?