Text: Num. 28–30 (Ps 49)
Observe: The Lord speaks to Moses regarding special additions to their daily burnt offerings, a “pleasing aroma” that speaks their obedience in sacrificing, and God’s joyous response.
And, festivals -- oh, my! There is no grim joylessness in the Lord, though out of love He does not skimp in His demands on His beloved, wayward people. In the regular and special offerings from the people through the priest to the Lord, there is indeed a sense of the festive – five annual celebrations, joyful or solemn.
Vows made by men or women were considered binding. Because women were under the protection of father or husband, there were parameters for her vows, which could be agreed to or annulled by her relatives.
Interpret: (In the Hebrew Bible, Numbers is “Bemidvar” – “in the wilderness”.) Israel wanders in the Sinai desert for what turns out to be 40 years. Yet, the Lord is always with them, His presence in cloud and fire as He leads and protects, in the words He speaks through Moses and His presence in the Tabernacle, the ultimate separate space.
Five festivals and their required sacrifices are described in detail:
Passover (Pesach) -- Festival of Unleavened Bread, (15th of the first month (Nisim): seven days of joy as the Israelites recall their salvation from slavery, where yeast is forbidden, recalling their haste in leaving Egypt.
Harvest, or Firstfruits, (Yom haBakkurim or Reshit haKatzir): the last day of Passover when sheaves from the first of the barley crop are presented to the Lord. Five days later comes …
Weeks (Shavuot), 50 days after Pesach, (around the 6th of Shivan), the end of the wheat harvest.
Shelters or Tabernacles (Sukkot), in the seventh month, Tishrei: recalls the temporary shelters of tents (sukkah) that the Israelites lived in after fleeing Egypt. It celebrates the grape, fig and olive harvests.
Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah = ‘head of the year’), usually the seventh month (Num. 10:10) the Jewish New Year. A ram’s horn (shofar) is blown to signal beginnings, and festivals.
Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), also in month of Tishrei. See Lev. 16.
Vows made to the Lord (Num. 30) indicate the seriousness of a man’s or woman’s commitment to obey God; the thread running through Numbers is ‘holiness’. Vows were not to be taken lightly nor broken at whim. A woman’s decision to take a vow “to humble herself” (Num. 30:13) could be agreed to or annulled by father or husband. The point is, a man or a woman must keep the vow until the period of setting apart is over. Or they can become permanent vows. We glimpse relationships between spouses or father and daughter in Israelite life.
Apply: We have much to celebrate in our relationship with the Lord, with the knowledge that Jesus is the centre of all our special and ordinary times.
We are free to make carefully considered vows to the Lord. Our priests and deacon made vows at their ordination; a couple vows at their wedding. We think of what we can do through Lent and consider this a kind of vow but we must realize that God takes us at our word, and to make a promise to Him and then break it on a whim is wrong. Best not to do anything if we’re not serious about what we’ve promised.
Ask: Have there been times when I’ve treated my promises to God lightly? What does that say about the quality of my relationship with Him? It’s Lent; how can I renew my determination to stick to these 40 days of practising self-denial? Does this only mean “giving up” –coffee, sweets? How can I practice the presence of God?
Sunday is a time of festival in a way, to thank God and recall His blessings and faithfulness. What can I do to celebrate His mercies? How can I make an ordinary day into festival despite present difficulties, a truly joy-filled time because God made it for His purposes and our joy?
Pray: Lord God, we thank you for how you love us, how seriously you take us in our relationship with You. Grant us a deep awareness of Your presence that goes with us, and let Your Spirit and Your Word dwell in us richly as we come to know You more and more.
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In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.