Sermon on Numbers 15:1-7

by Pastor Keith Graham

Please read the Scripture passage referenced above, then keep your Bible handy. Thank you!

The 150 inspired Psalms of the holy Bible are the "songs of Zion", the majestically beautiful, poetic worship music of God's people of all ages. They are full of godly wisdom, totally unlike the so-called wisdom of the world, and are the devotional heart of the Bible. You and I should be often reading them, meditating in them, and learning to sing them. Thus we can make melody in our hearts to the Lord (Ephesians 5:19), using words He Himself gave us for that purpose.

In the Psalms, David and the other Psalmists often celebrate God's word as it comes to us in various forms:

Oh, how I love Your Law!
Let mount Zion rejoice, let the daughters of Judah be glad, because of Thy Judgments!
Your Testimonies are my delight and my counsellors!
The Statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart!
The Commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes!

(Please click here to go to Part One of an introductory study on the 119th Psalm. This study opens up the meaning of those various terms: law, statutes, testimonies, etc., which are used extensively in Psalm 119)

When a portion of God's Law such as our text in Numbers 15 is considered, no doubt some are perplexed. What is a hin? What is an ephah? Is the flour or grain being called "meat", or is it being offered with the animal's body? Why is this important? What are these different kinds of sacrifices? Part of the perplexity is the woeful poverty of Bible knowledge so common today. You who read this, "study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that need not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." (2 Timothy 2:15).

Others considering Numbers 15:1-7 may even be tempted to doubt that such a passage is spiritually profitable. How can God Who is pure Spirit enjoy a sweet smell? How can I take delight and joy in this? What reason is there to rejoice and sing like the Psalmists about obscure instructions for the Old Testament animal sacrifices? Has not the animal sacrifice system been abolished by Christ?

Therein is the key to deriving GREAT spiritual profit from our text. When we see Christ in it, then indeed we will cry out, "Oh how I love Thy Law!" The Lord Jesus Christ is indeed the perfect sacrifice for all the sin of all God's covenant people. In Him, the animal sacrifice laws are not abolished, but wonderfully fulfilled! (Cf. Matthew 5:17,18). We must grasp what our heavenly Father is saying in the power of His Spirit about the saving work of His Son, by these words about animal sacrifices! It is when our spiritual dullness is annihilated by a hearty spiritual appetite to know and love Jesus more, that we can discover the Divine richness of such a passage as the one before us in Numbers 15. "For whatsoever things were written aforetime", Paul exhorts, "were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope."

In order to know and love Jesus our Savior more, we must first understand the holiness of God. This is central and fundamental to God's testimony to us through the Levitical (of the tribe of Levi) priesthood and its animal sacrifices.

What is holiness? If something is set apart for a special use, it is sanctified, or made holy. When Jesus instructs disciples to pray, "Father, hallowed be Thy name", He is commanding that we regard the being, power, and authority of the Lord God as sanctified, set apart. The Old Covenant Scriptures often name God the holy One of Israel. It is not without reason that the Spirit of God Himself is called the HOLY Spirit, and the Father and the Son are no less holy. The triune God is infinitely high and exalted above all creatures, spotlessly pure in His righteousness, dwelling in light unapproachable.

The ordinances of which we read in the books of Moses present a thorough, head to toe holiness as the requirement for worshippers of the holy God. HOLINESS TO THE LORD was inscribed on a golden plate on the high priest's crown, and ceremonial blood purification was applied even to high priest Aaron's toe, Leviticus 8:3.

At Psalm 93:5 we read, "Thy testimonies are very sure: holiness becometh thine house, O LORD, for ever." And so the apostle Peter (at 1 Peter 1:16), centuries after the Psalmist wrote, affirms the ongoing requirement for holiness when he quotes Leviticus 11:44, "You shall be holy as I am holy".

The holiness of God makes Him a God to be feared, and rightly so. The holiness which He demands be in His people confronts us with our unholiness. That can lead us to despair, but Christ has come that it might not be so! Our Savior the Lord Jesus has come to make us holy as He is holy! It is when we come to God through Him that we not only are set apart, but begin to learn to love sanctity. Outside of God's holiness, there is no lasting joy, beauty, or any good thing.

At Psalm 29:2 we read, "Give unto the LORD the glory due unto His name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness."

Moses and the Israelites sang of God's holiness after their experience in crossing the Red Sea: Who is like unto thee, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like Thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders? (Exodus 15:11)

There is eternal joy and gladness in the way of holiness. It is only those who insist on being unholy and wicked who never perceive this, and never get beyond seeing holiness as a constricting, loathesome burden - to be avoided at all costs. To their sudden horror when they face their Judge, they will receive what they desire, at incalculable cost: eternal separation from the holy God; everlasting torment in that darkest of places where their flame is not quenched and their worm never dies.

For those who receive with the gift of faith in Christ the accompanying gift of a deepening love for holiness (for such gifts do all who are truly Christ's receive), there is much in which to rejoice with exultation as we open the meaning of this text in Numbers!

The text presents instructions on approaching God with various kinds of offerings: freewill offerings; the sacrifices associated with vows or with Israel's solemn feasts. With the bodies of the animals, quantities ("hins" and "ephahs") of flour, wine, and oil were to be presented on the altar. Altogether, these elements made the sacrifice a "soothing aroma" or a "sweet savour" to the Lord. Let's compare our text with a very important New Testament passage, Hebrews 10:5-10. Speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ, that passage says -

Therefore when He comes into the world, He says, "Sacrifice and offering thou hast not desired, but a body Thou hast prepared for Me; in whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin Thou hast taken no pleasure. Then I said , 'Behold, I come (in the roll of the book it is written of Me,) to do Thy will, O God.' "After saying above, "Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin Thou hast not desired, nor hast Thou taken pleasure in them" (which are offered according to the Law), then He said, "Behold, I have come to do Thy will." He takes away the first, in order to establish the second. By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all."

Let's compare these two passages and "behold" indeed how Scripture sets forth our wonderful Lord's full, rich sacrifice of Himself by the pattern of the Levitical sacrifices. Let's see how His glorious work on the cross - on behalf of helpless, unholy, lost sinners is set forth in its manifold the Gospel is, as it were, proclaimed in advance of Christ's first advent by means of the figures of the Law.

Moses in Numbers writes of the free will offering. The free will offering was made by worshippers out of their love for God according as He had blessed them (Deuteronomy 16:10). It was made by way of a vow to the Lord (Deuteronomy 23:23). This makes us to see Christ's love for His Father and the avowed purposefulness that gripped His heart in His offering Himself. He "set His face as a flint" (Isaiah 50:7, cf. Luke Luke 9:51), with a Divine fervency to do His Father's will. Of all that the Father had given Him, He would lose none. The perfect Son lived to glorify His Father, and the Good Shepherd would lay down His very life for His sheep. Here indeed was a sweet savour, a soothing aroma to God! By this sacrifice alone could the infinite wrath of the Almighty against sinners be turned away! By such a Substitute alone could His Divinely pure justice be fully satisfied!

He accomplished this in His very body, and the flesh of every animal ever slain by Aaron and his priestly descendants on Hebrew altars speaks of that body which had been prepared for the incarnation of the eternal Son of God. "He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed." (1 Peter 2:24). The Lord Jesus Christ was fully God, yet He was also fully human: He had a real body of flesh, with a real nervous system that gave Him the capacity to feel real pain. The "Man of sorrows" had real human emotions as well, and His affliction in that realm of human experience was quite genuine.

Beasts know pain, but they are but brute, unwilling sacrifices. The ram which God gave for an offering to Abraham, instead of his only son Isaac (see Genesis 22), was caught in a thicket and could not escape. The Lord Jesus was bound to the cross by His love, and God the Father did not relent in offering HIS only Son. Acting in that fervency, embodying in perfection the spirit of the freewill offering, Jesus Christ gave His body over to feel excruciating pain, His heart and soul to know the concealing of His Father's face, and the senseless, wicked hatred of the very world He came to save. The eternal God "smelled" this aroma, the sacrifice of Christ, and was fully satisfied!

The wine that was offered with the sacrifices proclaims to us the precious nature of Christ's blood. "You were not redeemed with corruptible things like silver and gold", writes Peter, "but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" (1 Peter 1:19). The animals indeed bled, but God saw fit to ordain that a libation of wine be added to demonstrate the exceeding value of that blood that would be shed on Calvary's cross. This blood, shed once for all, accomplished an everlasting expiation of sin's stains. This blood had the spiritual power to make this sacrifice the sweet savour which the wine offered with animal sacrifices only typified.

Christ commanded that wine and bread be used to observe His death by New Covenant worshippers. Even so, the Old Covenant worshippers were commanded in Numbers 15 to offer fine flour along with the bodies of the animals and the wine. This speaks to us of the works that were done by the One who said He was the Bread from heaven, Who miraculously fed thousands with a few loaves. The work of Jesus Christ culminates in His death and resurrection, but His sinless life of service and His good deeds which were more than can be counted or measured (John 21:25) enter into the totality of His giving Himself up for the salvation of His people. Oh, how unblemished, indeed how utterly perfect is this Sacrifice! Offered with It is the well refined "flour" of a life of perfect love, ground in the gristmill of affliction and tribulation.

Finally, we see that oil was to be offered under the Levitical ordinances. This speaks to us of the Holy Spirit, given to Christ without measure (John 3:34). We see the role of the Spirit in Hebrews 9:13,14 - a passage which well sums up the rich fulness of this Sacrifice, displaying how it is a sweet aroma or savour to God:

"For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify" (make holy) "for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, Who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?"

In the invisible spiritual realm, this is what was taking place when Christ delivered Himself up to the cross: the incarnate Son of God was offering up His perfect humanity, of infinite value due to the Divine dignity of His person. Through the eternal Spirit Who is the Spirit of the eternal Father and the eternal Son, this perfect sacrifice was carried into the very depths of God to fulfill to the uttermost the requirements of Divine holiness: that is, to be a sweet savour to God. Oh the glory, majesty, and wonder of this Divine salvation!

How thankful should we then be!? Or as the Psalmist wrote, "...what shall I render unto the LORD for all his benefits toward me? I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the LORD." (Psalm 116:12,13)

The unending industry of Heaven itself will be that of worshiping this Savior God. The everlasting passion of God's people will be to render thanks to Him. The praise and joy of untold millions, worshiping through untold ages, will not begin to repay Him. The saints will eternally take up that heavenly cup, filled by grace, and drink of it to everlasting ages.

This heavenly, eternal worship begins even here and now for the true Christian, who is dead, with his life hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3). Is your heart drawn out to Him...drawn into that heavenly consideration of His rich, full, sacrifice on your behalf? Is worshiping Him in the beauty of holiness the joy of your heart? Do you long to know how you might show your love and thankfulness to Him more, here and now?

Surely, we can see - in light of the surpassing mercies of God, typified in the Old Covenant animal sacrifices and brought to reality by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ - that expressing our thankfulness by imitating His total giving of Himself is only our "reasonable service of worship", as Paul wrote:

"I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." (Romans 12:1,2)

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