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B'Midbar/Numbers 15:13 Every native shall do these things like this to bring a fire offering as a pleasing aroma to the L-rd.
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At first glance, this text - part of the block from 15:1-16 that speaks into the sacrificial ritual required once the Israelites have entered the Land - seems very tied to that place and that time. Since the Romans destroyed the Second Temple in 70 CE, there hasn't been a place where fire offerings may be brought and made and the Christian world sees Yeshua as the fulfillment of animal sacrifices: "He entered once for all into the holy places ... by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption" (Hebrews 9:12, ESV). More than that, by use of the words , native, and , like this, the text seems both excluding and prescriptive. Certainly, the block is introducing for the first time the idea previously only required for some of the festival offerings, that "every animal sacrifice that counts as an offering by fire must be accompanied by a cereal offering if flour and oil and a libation of wine."1 As is so often the case in the Torah, however, further investigation shows that there are lessons to be learned for today.
Jewish commentators - ancient and modern - are almost silent about our text. The Sages of the Talmud use it to prove that while Gentiles themselves are forbidden from bringing the matching libation, or drink offering, alongside their burnt offering, one is nevertheless required to complete the sacrifice (b. T'murah 3a). Gentiles are forbidden from bring drink offerings - a third or a half a hin of wine - because there is no way of being sure that at some point in its provenance wine has not been offered or dedicated to an idol (and then sold by the pagan religious authorities), while an animal offering is safe because an animal can only be offered once. How, then, is the offering to be made?Chizkuni explains that "if a Gentile sends an offering from overseas ... the libation is to be paid for with public funds."
DropCapNevertheless), three points can be drawn from the text. The first starts with the couplet , "every native". The word - from the root , to complete - is most frequently translated 'all', but when used with a singular noun has the meaning of 'each' or 'every'; the latter is the case here where the noun is not only singular but definite, literally "the native". Thomas Dozeman suggests the word only refers to landowners,2 but David Clines is clear that it refers to "a native inhabitant, a citizen of Israel."3 Far from being an exclusive term, this operates in exactly the opposite way: it completely levels the playing field - all offerings by fire, no matter who the giver is or how wealthy they may or may not be, are accompanied by a grain offering and a drink offering of exactly prescribed sizes, no more and no less. As Dennis Cole puts it, "each person in the company of Israel, present and future, was to have equal access to G-d within the prescribed manner of sacrificial worship."4
Our second point is the word-pair - a pleasing aroma. This term appears no less than five times in the block - in verses 3, 7, 10, 13 and 14 - and is meant to symbolise the intent of the one bringing the offering: their desire to offer thanks or to be reconciled to G-d. It first appears in the flood story, when once back on dry land, Noah takes from the clean animals and birds that he has on board the ark and offers burnt offerings toHaShem. The narrator tells us that "The L-RD smelled the pleasing odor, and the L-RD said to Himself: 'Never again will I doom the earth because of man ... nor will I ever again destroy every living being, as I have done. So long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night shall not cease'" (B'resheet 8:21-22, NJPS). This is echoed by Rav Sha'ul, who urges the Ephesians to "be imitators of G-d, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Messiah loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to G-d" (Ephesians 5:1-2, ESV). Yeshua's sacrifice on the cross was a pleasing aroma, bringing reconciliation between man and G-d. Dennis Olson notes that "the theme of the fragrant sacrifice or offering is associated with reconciliation with G-d and with other human beings."5
The third point derives from , "like this" or "like so", which insists that to be complete, all sacrifices must be matched by their appropriate grain and drink offerings. The earlier verses in the block show that the larger the animal being sacrificed, the larger the accompanying offerings must be. Gordon Wenham reports that "early Christian commentators asked what offerings could match Yeshua - as 'the Lamb of G-d who takes away the sin of the world' (John 1:29, Buble(ESV))."6 What would be the appropriate substance and quantity of offering to match Him? Rav Sha'ul refers to himself - "For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come" (2 Timothy 4:6, ESV) and "I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith" (Philippians 2:17, ESV) - as a drink offering with perhaps this 'completion' idea in his mind. He also speaks of the sufferings he has undertaken as part of his ministry - "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Messiah's afflictions for the sake of His body" (Colossians 1:24, ESV) - as completing something that Yeshua started.
How do we apply these ideas to our own lives and relationships? Firstly, the idea of equal access means that no matter who we are, what background we have and how or when we came to know Yeshua, we all have not only equal access but a right of access to the Father through Him. Paul explains that "in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body -- Jews or Greeks, slaves or free -- and all were made to drink of one Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:13, ESV), so that "through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father" (Ephesians 2:18, ESV). This means that "Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God" (Romans 5:2, ESV). All the followers of Yeshua are called to worship the L-rd and give glory to His name - that obligation rests no more and no less heavily on each of us.
Secondly, from the idea of an offering only being complete when all the parts are present and in the correct amount, we learn that our worship and service of G-d is to be wholehearted, deliberate and joyful. Sha'ul tells the Corinthians that "Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7, Buible(ESV)). While he is talking about financial giving, the same criteria applies to other forms of worship and serving: we must plan and choose what is appropriate so that our attitude matches our gift, not from compulsion, peer-pressure or emotional manipulation. Any old stuff that we threw together or grabbed at the last moment will not do. G-d wants to receive what we want to give; that is a pleasing aroma before Him.
Thirdly, and perhaps most challenging, our service and sacrifice is to be a fitting complement to Yeshua's sacrifice for us. Ultimately, this is a path that all Yeshua's disciples must tread, even if only figuratively as we follow our Master: "If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me" (Mark 8:34, ESV). We must see ourselves adding a fit and appropriate sacrifice to match and accompany His great work in the same way, even if not to the same magnitude, as Sha'ul: pouring out our lives as a drink offering in His kingdom. Sometimes that will be direct service of Yeshua Himself, at other times it may be indirect service to Yeshua as we serve our fellow disciples or simply "one of the least of these" (Matthew 25:40, ESV) in His name. Defending the orphans and widows is a constant cry of the prophets and remains close to G-d's heart as we copy Him: "Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in His holy habitation" (Psalm 68:5, ESV).
Moshe tells the people that every gift they bring as a fire offering must be complete and accompanied by the appropriate grain and drink offerings; they are invariable and may not be more or less at the whim or purse of the donor. Willingly offered and representing the donor's heart attitude, they are a pleasing aroma before the L-rd. We as followers of Yeshua are called to no less a level of worship. May the fire offerings of our lives, offered on the altar of service to our King be as pleasing an aroma before Him!
1. - Gordon J. Wenham, Numbers, TOTC, (Nottingham, IVP, 1981), page 143.
2. - Thomas B. Dozeman, "Numbers" in The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary Vol I, edited by Leander E. Keck, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), page 748.
3. - David J. A. Clines (ed.) The Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2009), page 10.
4. - R. Dennis Cole, Numbers The New American Commentary, (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2000), page 247.
5. - Dennis T. Olson, Numbers, Interpretation, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), page 94.
6. - Wenham, page 144.
Further Study: D'varim 10:18; Romans 12:1-2; Colossians 3:11
Application: When did you last consider a fire offering to the L-rd and what you could offer to be a pleasing aroma before Him? Speak to the Great High Priest today and ask for an outpouring of His Spirit in your life to equip you to serve Him rightly and to be a living sacrifice offered in humility before His throne.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2022
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