God tries to comfort us when we are in the wilderness. After leaving Egypt, the Jews’ lack of faith caused them to rebel “ten times” against God (Nu. 14:22). Although slow to anger, God eventually judges sin. He banished the Jews to spend 40 years wandering in the desert (Nu. 14:34). But He still loved His people: “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, bring her into the wilderness and will speak kindly to her.” (Hos. 2:14). He wanted to give His people the hope that they could restore fellowship with Him and create a “soothing aroma to the Lord.” (Nu. 15:3, 13; Lev. 1:9; Ex. 29:18). Most of us don’t want to look back once we get out of the wilderness. Yet, God wants you to comfort others with hope that you received in the wilderness (2 Cor. 1:4; Heb. 3:13). Are you sharing your testimony with others?
With the blood of Christ there is no further condemnation. Sin separated the Jews from God (Is. 59:2). To restore their fellowship, He reminded Moses that the first step to atone for sin was to shed the blood of a sacrifice (Nu. 15:3-11). For in the blood is the life of the animal (Lev. 17:11; Heb. 9:22). One life paid the price for another. The sins of the people were cast on to the animal (Lev. 1:4). Yet, with the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., all animal sacrifices came to an end. Today, Jesus’ perfect blood sacrifice atones for our sins (Mk. 14:24; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 1:18-19; 2:24; Isa. 53:4-5, 10, 12). His blood creates a “sweet aroma” to God (Eph. 5:2). When a believer is feeling condemned because of a prior sin, the best news that you can give that person is that there is no condemnation for those who repent and accept Christ: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Ro. 8:1). Are you still condemning yourself of old forgiven sins?
Comfort those with the price of the sacrifice. For the Jews, sacrificing an animal was expensive. Thus, it was a “sacrifice.” For us, because Christ’s sacrifice was perfect, we no longer need sacrifices (Heb. 10:12-14). While the wages are sin are death, He offers the “free gift” of eternal life when you repent (Ro. 6:23). What are you doing to thank Him? (Ro. 12:1).
Make your life a living sacrifice out of gratitude toward God. The grain offering was given out of gratitude for what God had done for His people (Dt. 29:8-11; Lev. 2:1-16). Everything in the Old Testament was a type and shadow of Christ (Heb. 8:4-5; Col. 2:16-17). Paul says to us: “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). “You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.” (1 Cor. 7:23). In lieu of fine flour, a believer can offer his or her life as a “living sacrifice” for Him (Ro. 12:1; 1 Cor. 6:19-20; 7:23). Is your life a living sacrifice for Him?
Give the best of your life to God. The people were told to use “fine flour” to create a grain offering (Nu. 15:4, 6, 9; Lev. 2:1, 7; 8:26; 14:10; 23:17). The same type of offering was to be used at the festival of “first fruits.” (Lev. 23:12). “First” in the Bible can mean preeminent or best. If our lives are a living sacrifice, what would be an example of giving the best you have to God? In the book of Malachi, God condemned the faithless priests of that time who offered blind, lame, and sick animals as sacrifices (Mal. 1:8, 13-14). Are you offering to God the lame portions of your life, two hours on a Sunday? How much time do you spend meditating on God’s Word or praying? Do you look for ways to serve Him?
Let your own will be crushed. Fine flour has to be repeatedly crushed to be refined. God sits as a “refiner and purifier of silver, and He shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.” (Mal. 3:3). He purifies us in the same manner (1 Cor. 3:13-15; 1 Pet. 1:7). When your will has not been crushed, you will frequently act to satisfy your selfish desires. If your are motivated by selfish desires, God does not want your life offerings (Prov. 5:8; Isa. 1:13; Jer. 7:21-24; Amos 5:21-24). Are you letting the Holy Spirit guide your actions?
We cannot draw close without the Spirit. The grain offering needed to be sacrificed with oil (Nu. 15:4; 6, 9; Lev. 2:1-2, 4, 6-7, 15; 8:10-11, 30; 14:18, 29; Ex. 29:1-3). Oil symbolizes the Holy Spirit (1 Sam. 16:13). You cannot draw close to God without the Holy Spirit (Gal. 4:6). Are you praying before you act to make sure the Spirit is leading you?
Disobedience and doubt may hinder your ability to hear the Holy Spirit. In order to let the Holy Spirit direct you, you must make sure that nothing is impairing your ability to hear Him. When you follow the Word out of love, God can clearly hear your prayers (Jam. 5:16). Conversely, when you openly sin, your prayers may be “hindered” (1 Pet. 3:7; Jo. 9:31; Ps. 66:18; Prov. 28:9; Isa. 1:15). The reason for this is that sin cannot be in God’s presence, and He “cannot look on wickedness.” (Hab. 1:13). When you act righteously, your prayers are a sweet aroma to Him (Ps. 141:2; Rev. 5:8; 8:3). Yet, when we are in open rebellion, our prayers are putrid. You can take comfort that, no matter what you do, God will never leave or forsake you (Heb. 13:5; Dt. 31:6). Yet, He is not obligated to act upon your prayers if you are being disobedient. Are you disobedient in any area of your life?
To whom much is given, much is expected. There were three types of sin offerings. Only the first two are mentioned in Numbers 15. These included (1) a bull, (2) a sheep, ox, or goat, and (3) a bird (Nu. 15:3-11; Lev. 1:5-17). The type of animal offered depended upon how much money the person seeking atonement had (Lev. 5:7). In this chapter, the amount of grain, oil, and wine proportionally increased with the more expensive larger animals (Nu. 15:3-11). Believers are to offer their lives as a thank offering (Rom. 12:1). Yet, God does not expect every believer to give in the same way: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.” (Lk. 12:48). Are you giving back in proportion to what you have been given? In addition to money, are you offering your time and your talents to serve God’s kingdom?
Drink in communion with Christ. The Jews also drank a small hin of wine as a drink offering (Nu. 15:5, 7, 10; Lev. 23:13). Jesus is the vine of life that we drink, and the wine symbolizes His blood (Jo. 6:53). God prohibited the people from drinking the blood of any animal (Gen. 9:3-4; Lev. 7:26-27; 17:10). This rule still applies today (Acts 15:19-20; 28-29). The life of the animal is in its blood (Lev. 17:11; Heb. 9:22). The blood was offered as a vicarious substitute for the penalty of death. The blood of Christ is the only symbolic blood that we are still allowed to drink (Jo. 6:54-56). We drink His symbolic blood to remember and give thanks that our sins were transferred to Him through His blood (1 Cor. 11:25). While handing the cup to the disciples, Jesus said: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” (Mk. 14:24). Someone who drinks the symbolic blood of Christ without believing in what He did brings damnation upon that person (Heb. 10:29). When you drink communion, are you giving thanks for what He did?
Drink to purify your life of sin. When the Jews sinned, they faced the prospect of the judgment of their parents being carried down upon their children to even the third and fourth generation (Nu. 14:18). In addition to life being carried through the blood, sin can also be transmitted through the blood from generation to generation. A crack addicted baby is one example of such a curse today. Yet, God can cleanse our innermost sins. He is not just the God of the Spirit. He is also “the God of the flesh.” (Jer. 32:27; Jo. 17:2). Even after being saved, we as part of His holy priesthood must constantly wash our uncleanness (Lev. 22:6; Isa. 1:16; 2 Pet. 2:5, 9). God can wash us of any iniquity or uncleanness (Ps. 51:1-3, 7). When Peter asked Jesus to wash his feet, hands, and head, Jesus responded: “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet.” (Jo. 13:10). Jesus warns that we cannot have any part of Him if we don’t let Him wash us (Jo. 13:8). To be washed, you must also confess your sins. Jesus will them “cleanse [you] from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jo. 1:9; 15:3; 1 Cor. 6:11). Are you repenting of your sins each day?
Offer your life joyfully. Paul at one time compared his life sacrifice to a drink offering: “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. (Phil. 2:17; 2 Tim. 4:6). In this context, wine is a symbol of joy or happiness: “[The Lord] makes ... plants for man to cultivate – bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens the heart of man . . .” (Ps. 104:14(f)). “Go . . . drink your wine with a joyful heart . . .” (Ecc. 9:7). Do people see the joy of the Lord radiating out of your life? Or, is your life offering (the grain offering) filled with complaints and grumbling?
God has one Law for us. God reveals that there is “one law” for the Jews and “alien sojourns.” These were foreigners who decided to become Jewish (Nu. 15:14-16, 29). He revealed to Moses exactly how much flower, oil, or wine went with each type of offering (Nu. 15:3-12). The Jew or converted Jew had no discretion on how to make his or her thank or sin offerings. Today, many believers treat the Bible like an a la cart menu. For example, the Bible tells us not to forsake the gathering of other believers, either in church or in a small study groups (Heb. 10:25). But people ignore such warnings in the Word. If you are disobedient, you won’t lose your salvation. Yet, you may fall out of fellowship when you are disobedient. Is there any area of your life where you are rebelling against God?
Bind your life as a bondservant to God. Paul was a bondservant, a free slave who chose to remain with the Lord out of love (Ro. 1:1). To make a similar covenant vow, God directed that people could do so symbolically by waiving an offering of the completed cake (the completed life offering) before Him (Nu. 15:20; 6:20; 18:11, 18, 26-29; Ex. 29:24, 28; Lev. 7:30, 34; 8:27; 9:21; 10:14, 15; 23:10, 15, 20). The believer was ratifying a covenant between God and mankind. We were once slaves to sin. You should now become a slave to righteousness (Ro. 6:18). Are you living as a slave to righteousness?
Ask God to reveal and cleanse the hidden sins of your heart. God allowed for a sacrifice only for the person who sinned “unintentionally.” (Nu. 15:22-31; Lev. 4:1). Are you praying for God to reveal the hidden sins in your heart? (Ps. 139:1-6; Lk. 8:17). If you have hidden sins in your heart, it will spread like a disease and not stay hidden for long.
For believers in Christ, give thanks that He paid the penalty for breaking the Sabbath. In the Old Testament, the question of whether to follow the Sabbath was not taken lightly. God commanded that those who intentionally violated the Sabbath be put to death: “Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people.” (Ex. 31:14). The penalty of death was further carried out by stoning, the most painful kind possible: “Now while the sons of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering wood on the Sabbath day. . . Then the Lord said to Moses, “The man shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” (Nu. 15:33-36). “My Sabbaths they greatly profaned. Then I resolved to pour out My wrath on them in the wilderness, to annihilate them.” (Ez. 20:13). God even sent the Jews into 70 years of exile in Babylon for failing to observe the Sabbath years to allow the land to rest (2 Chr. 26:20-21). Orthodox Jews therefore still observe the Sabbath by doing no work. Yet, Christ came to fulfill the Law (Matt. 5:17). For believers in Christ, our legal obligations were “nailed to the cross.” (Col. 2:14). Thus, Paul says “[l]et no man judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of . . . the Sabbath days.” (Col. 2:16). These things are the “shadow” of Christ (Col. 2:17; see also Gal. 4:10-11). Thus, the failure to observe any Ten Commandments is no longer a test of salvation (Jo. 3:16; Ro. 10:9-10). How should a believer respond? At first, we should give thanks. If we know that our acts during God’s Sabbath are worthy of death under God’s Law, we should give thanks for the penalty that Christ has saved us from. Yet, if Jesus spared us from the penalty, how should we use our new freedom? If we spend time engaged in selfish pursuits, are we really thankful for what Christ did? If we are free to ignore the Sabbath, can we ignore the other Nine Commandments? If not, why not? To answer these questions, we turn to Jesus.
For believers in Christ, observing the Sabbath should be an act of love, not obligation. There is a difference between what one is legally obligated to do and what one may do as an act of devotion. Jesus warns us: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (Jo. 14:15, 21; 1 Jo. 5:3; 2 Jo. 1:6). “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” (Jo. 15:10). “[I]f you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” (Matt. 19:17). He is the great “I AM” who gave Moses the Ten Commandments (Jo. 8:58; Ex. 3:14). The Jews did not casually mix the words commandments with sayings the way people do in English. Thus, His “commandments” were the Ten Commandments. Whether you keep the Ten Commandments out of love (and not obligation) is also the test regarding whether you “know” Jesus: “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.” (1 Jo. 2:3). Some will come to Jesus boasting of their works or compliance with the law. Yet, if their works or their compliance with the Law was not motivated by a love for Jesus, He will respond “I never knew you.” (Matt. 7:23). In response to a question regarding “which is the great commandment in the Law?” Jesus did not drop His Fourth Commandment. Instead, He included it with the other Nine Commandments as an act of devotion that comes from our love for God, “‘You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 22:35-40; Lk. 10:27; Dt. 6:5). Thus, Jesus never excluded that Fourth Commandment from His statement that if we loved Him we would keep the Commandments (Jo. 15:10). Yet, God does not want your worship if you are burdened by it. The same is true with tithing. He would not want you to observe a Sabbath if it stressed you out or caused you to feel burden, loss, or sorrow. Yet, if you can observe a voluntary Sabbath while feeling joy and devotion toward God, that fulfills “the great and foremost commandment.” (Matt. 22:8). Are you giving Him at least one day a week out of devotion, not obligation?
Keeping a voluntary Sabbath allows God to “refresh” your body. In Moses’ first reading of the Fourth Commandment, he tells us that God created for six days. God then “rested on the seventh day.” As a result, “the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Ex. 20:11; Gen. 2:3). We were created in God’s image (Gen. 1:27). Like God did, we are expected to work hard six days a week as believers (1 Thess. 4:11; 2 Thess. 3:10). Also like God, we too are commanded to rest one day a week. “[F]or in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased from labor, and was refreshed.” (Ex. 31:17). The Sabbath in turn allowed people to “refresh themselves.” (Ex. 23:12). Jesus revealed that He is Lord of the Sabbath (Lk. 6:5). He meant to give our bodies and our minds the rest we need: “Jesus said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. ‘So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mk. 2:27-28). Because of our original sin, all creation is condemned to struggle here on earth (Gen. 3:17; 9:2; Rom. 8:19-22). The Sabbath foreshadows a day when, thanks to Jesus, we will no longer need to tire from the daily struggles of life (Heb. 4:9-10). Some people, however, believe that God is holding back the best in life with restrictions. Yet, countless studies have shown the importance of rest in preventing high blood pressure, weight gain, diabetes, anxiety, and other disorders. As Christians have chosen to ignore the Sabbath, is it any wonder that rates of hearts disease, depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, and stress have risen? If you want God to “refresh” you (Ex. 23:12, 31:17), keep a voluntary Sabbath out of love, not obligation. Because God created you, He can do a better job refreshing you than you can.
Keeping a voluntary Sabbath allows time to worship and study God. In Moses’ second reading of the Ten Commandments, he provides a second rationale for observing the Sabbath. In addition to giving our bodies rest, we are to use the time meditating upon the freedom from bondage that God had given us. “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.” (Dt. 5:16). It is a day for believers to study and learn God’s Word. It was also a day to teach the Word to our children. As an example to us, Jesus taught in the Capernaum synagogue on the Sabbath (Lk. 4:31-43). Do these needs still apply today? Like the Jews, we have also been delivered from bondage. Like the Jews, we need to learn God’s Word. Like the Jews, our children need to learn God’s word. Yet, Jesus freed us from the obligation to do this because He only wants your freely felt devotion: “And when you offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Lord, offer it of your own free will.” (Lev. 22:29) (NKJV). If you find it a burden to read the Bible or to sing, don’t do it. That kind of worship is meaningless to God. Yet, if you are motivated by love and not by obligation, spending at least one day studying the Word and praying will be a “sweet aroma to God.” (Ps. 141:2; Rev. 5:8; 8:3). What are you doing to study His Word and draw close to Him?
Keeping a voluntary Sabbath gives you the opportunity to volunteer and help others. One of Jesus’ most interesting lessons stem from His many miracles and healings that took place on the Sabbath. While it is important that we: (1) rest, (2) study the Word, and (3) worship corporately, we are also commanded to use our time to help others. Consider the times the Pharisees attempted to charge Jesus with breaking the Sabbath. First, the Pharisees accused Him of breaking the Sabbath when He allowed His followers to eat grain in the field when they were hungry (Matt. 12:1-14; Mk. 2:23-28; Lk. 6:1-5). Jesus was merely repeating what David did for his men when they were hungry (1 Sam. 21). The poor were allowed to glean the fields so that they would not go hungry (Ex. 23:10-13; Lev. 19:9-10; 23:22; Dt. 24:19-21). Jesus’ point was that “work” that involved helping the poor or the needy is not just an acceptable use of the Sabbath, it was one of its intended purposes. Second, the Pharisees also sought to charge Jesus when He healed on the Sabbath. These included the man with the withered hand (Matt. 12:9-21; Mk. 3:1-6; Lk. 6:6-11), the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda (Jo. 5:1-18), a woman who suffered from a disease for 18 years (Lk. 13:10-17), and a man swollen with fluids (Lk. 14:1). Jesus compared these acts to freeing a trapped animal on the Sabbath. He again wanted people to understand the work that involves helping others is expected on the Sabbath. The Jews had taken all the joy out of the Sabbath by their oppressive rules and regulations: “I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, they have become a burden to Me; I am weary of bearing them.” (Is. 1:14; Ho. 2:11). His point was not to ignore the Sabbath altogether. Instead, “[t]he righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.” (Prov. 31:9). God repeatedly tells us to practice “justice” for those in need (Prov. 28:5; Jer. 22:3; Eze. 18:21; Zeck. 7:9; Matt. 23:23). Jesus commands that we serve the poor, the sick, and the hungry (Matt. 25:31-46). When we devote our Sabbath to helping the persons in need, we are serving Christ: “I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matt. 25:40). Part of “true religion” also involves helping those in need (Jam 1:27). If we do nothing to help those around us, our faith is “dead” (James 2:17-20). As many can attest, hard work on a day off from work to serve others is more fulfilling than a day spent serving oneself. Without a day off, our busy lives would not give us the chance to help others. Do you use your day off to solely benefit yourself?
Keeping a voluntary Sabbath allows you to receive a double blessing from God. Through your study of God’s Law your sins become known to you (Ro. 3:20). If the Holy Spirit calls you to do that, obey and correct your life accordingly. If you observe the Sabbath as an act of devotion, not obligation, God will reward you. How do we know this? Later in the book of Numbers, the Jews were told to make daily sacrifices or devotionals, our prayers today (Nu. 28:3-8). Yet, on a Sabbath, the daily devotional offerings were doubled, i.e., four lambs instead of two (Nu. 28:9-10). In other words, the Sabbath involved double the normal daily worship. The double worship on the Sabbath was to allow God to provide a double blessing of rest and delight. Among other things, God will “refresh” you (Ex. 32:12). Jesus promises those who are “weary and heavy-laden” rest when they come to Him (Matt. 11:28). God also promises that those who spend the Sabbath seeking after God instead of their own pleasures will find great delight: “Then you will take delight in the Lord, And I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;” (Is. 58:13-14). He also promises to “bless us” if we voluntarily observe the Sabbath: “How blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who takes hold of it; who keeps from profaning the Sabbath, and keeps his hand from doing any evil . . . To them I will give in My house and within My walls a memorial, and a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name which will not be cut off. Also the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to Him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be His servants, everyone who keeps from profaning the Sabbath and holds fast My covenant; even those I will bring to My holy mountain and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar; for My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.” (Is. 56:2, 5-7). The Apostle John, for example, was blessed during his devotion during the Sabbath. He received his end time revelation while “in the Spirit on the day of the Lord.” (Rev. 1:10). If you don’t spend a Sabbath reading the Word, how can God reveal His truths to you? Are you weary, heavy-laden, and in need of rest from your struggles? Are you missing out on this double blessing?
Let the Holy Spirit help you remember that you are set apart. God had people circumcise their foreskins and then their hearts as their symbol of identity with Him (Dt. 10:16; 30:6). Yet, He had Jews wear distinctive clothes to remind them that they were set apart for Him. The Jews had to wear rectangle shaped garments with tassels (Nu. 15:38). The tassels were blue, the color of heaven, so that their thoughts would dwell on Him (Nu. 15:38). They also symbolized having the Law tied to each part of our lives. Jesus later referred to these tassels when He criticized those who wore extra long tassels simply to be noticed (Matt. 23:5). The woman who touched Jesus on his garment to be healed also grabbed Jesus’ tassel (Mk. 5:28; Lk. 8:44). The Jews also did others things to separate themselves from the world and to dwell on God. For example, they were told not to mix fabrics (Lev. 19:9). They also could not cut the “corners” of their heads or their beards in mourning “for the dead.” (Lev. 19:27-28; 21:4-5; Dt. 14:1-2). Orthodox Jews today also wear a yarmulke to remind themselves of God. Instead of tassels, Jesus left us the Holy Spirit to remind us at all times that we are tied to God and set apart for Him (Jo. 14:16-17, 26). You should never do pious things merely to look holy to others. One example might include wearing a cross to be noticed (Matt. 23:5). Without tassels, others should still know that you are a light of the world by your conduct. What are you doing to separate yourself from the world and focused on Christ?
By a holy example to others. Through Aaron, God told the Jews to make a distinction between the “holy and profane” and the “unclean and clean.” (Lev. 10:10). Christians are also told to be holy (1 Pet. 2:9). “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” (Matt. 5:14). Are you a light for Christ to others?