“And you shall offer a burnt offering, a food offering, with a pleasing aroma to the Lord, thirteen bulls from the herd, two rams, fourteen male lambs a year old; they shall be without blemish;” Numbers 29:13 ESV
There’s something in Numbers 28-30 to offend just about everybody. Animal rights activists won’t like all the sacrifices. Workaholics won’t like all the talk about Sabbath rest. And egalitarians REALLY won’t like the implication that a woman’s vows could be overturned by her husband or father.
Most of the discomfort comes from reading these chapters with our own cultural lenses on. But when we look at them through a different lens, there are actually some beautiful truths in these passages. In Part 2, I’ll talk about the bit about not taking a woman’s vow not being binding. But first, can we talk about all those sacrifices?
So many sacrifices. Two lambs every day (Numbers 28:1-8). Two more lambs every week on the Sabbath (28:9-10). Then, for each of the first six annual feasts, a ram, a lamb, and seven bulls. If you’re keeping track, every year the Levites slaughtered six rams, forty two bulls, and eight hundred and forty male lambs.
If you were bothered before by the body count of daily sacrifices on the altar, then the Feast of Booths (Numbers 29:12-39) must have sent you over the edge. In all, seventy bulls are sacrificed during the seven feast days, as well as fourteen rams, seven goats, and 98 lambs.
Curiously, this feast has a bonus day. Note verses 35-38:
35 “On the eighth day you shall have a solemn assembly. You shall not do any ordinary work, 36 but you shall offer a burnt offering, a food offering, with a pleasing aroma to the Lord: one bull, one ram, seven male lambs a year old without blemish, 37 and the grain offering and the drink offerings for the bull, for the ram, and for the lambs, in the prescribed quantities; 38 also one male goat for a sin offering; besides the regular burnt offering and its grain offering and its drink offering. (Numbers 29:35-38)
Why a bonus day? Hold that thought. For now, just imagine how physically exhausted the priests must have been at the end of the Feast of Booths. And as someone who gets queasy watching Gray’s Anatomy, I’m really, really glad I’m not a Levite.
In fact, the only thing I would want to be less than a Levite in ancient Israel is a male lamb.
Why seventy bulls? Well, remember a couple of weeks ago when we talked about how the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) was the only one of the Jewish feasts that the Gentiles were welcomed to? (See Day 051: A Feast for The Rest of Us ) Zechariah 14:16 says,
Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD Almighty, and to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles.
In Genesis 10:1-32, we read what is called the Table of Nations– a listing of all the nations of the earth after the flood. Wanna guess how many there are?
Seventy. How many bulls are sacrificed? Seventy.
We also see the Feast of Booths show up in the New Testament. John 7 tells us that Jesus went up to Jerusalem for this feast. And in verse 37, we read that,
37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
In other words, after the seventieth bull was sacrificed, and the sins of all seventy nations on earth were atoned for, Jesus stands up and cries out, “All who are thirsty, come to the water.”
Today, there are far more than seventy nations. In 2023 there are 195 countries recognized by the UN. And depending on how you define your terms, there are anywhere from 11,000 to 24,000 distinct people groups in the world.
Which brings me back to the Feast of Booths. Remember the bonus day?On the eighth day of the seven day feast, seven more lambs were offered. Plus one more ram, one more goat, and one more bull.
I think that eighth day represented all the nations that were to come. The Feast of Sukkot was the one that all nations were invited to celebrate. That seventy-first bull was for nations like mine, which would not exist for another four thousand years.
But hear this: when the last bull was sacrificed, there was yet one more sacrifice to be made. Jesus is the end of the sacrificial system. Jesus said that rivers of living water would flow from Him. What flowed from the Temple altar were rivers of blood from insufficient sacrifices. When Jesus shed His blood, He became the once and for all sacrifice for the sins of every nation, tribe and tongue. Every people group. For as many as would receive Him.