In Summary: Numbers 29 runs us through more of the ceremonies of the people of Israel. It is certainly tempting to skip on through this and get to the “good stuff” like David and Goliath or, better yet, Lazarus, Jesus, and Resurrections! I think we should be cautious about doing that, though. There are some valuable lessons here.
First, we see a holy convocation for the first day of the seventh month. While we allocate days a little differently, 12 months were in the year as the Jews accounted time then as well.(See In Nerdiness) This makes the seventh month the middle of the year. Take time out, halfway through, to worship. Not a bad idea, is it? It’s actually what we do in many cases, this Sunday’s upcoming SuperBowl is no exception. Halfway through the game, we’ll worship the American gods of rock, roll, and party.
Second, we see the Day of Atonement. This is the big day, for on this day the major sacrifice for unknown sin and community sin was offered (see Leviticus 16 or here). No work is to be done, no food consumed. It is a time of recognition of sin. As I cannot say enough about the importance of this day in Old Testament theology, I’ll say no more.
Third, we see the Feast of Tabernacles. This is a great festival for the people, because it reminds them of where they came from, and what their people had been through. Imagine if we made Congress and the President camp out every winter at Valley Forge. In authentic tents/huts like the Continental Army. How differently would we see our government behave?
How differently would we behave if we had to? If we took the time to remember the blood and sweat that brought many of our families to freedom in this country?
What if we combined that with the trials and tribulations it took to preserve the Word of God for us as Christians? Take a read through some church history and see how much power attempted to suppress common people holding the Word of God. Live through that, or relive it. And this says nothing of reconsidering what it took for Jesus to go to the Cross.
In Focus: I think we should take a moment and dwell on the command to do “no work” that recurs in this chapter (29:1, 7,12). That’s three days in a month, in addition to the normal Sabbath-keeping. True, some translations render this as “no ordinary work.” However, we should note two things:
1. We should hold back from the stresses of this world to worship God. Take time.
2. We should not consider gathering with believers to celebrate God’s forgiveness, deliverance, and mercy as work.
In Practice: I want to challenge you to three things in light of this passage:
1. Grab a notebook or a piece of paper and write down five major things God has pulled your family through. If you’ve got them in your lifetime, great! If not, go back. One of mine is this: Granny Hibbard told my father that she would not approve of him becoming a helicopter pilot when he got out of college in 1969. Dad joined the Army to do something else dangerous, and then found himself learning about missiles in Oklahoma. Then, in a funny twist, he went to seminary, graduated, and became an Air Force Navigator. Guess what? God pulled our family through that, and it included moving us from the lifestyle of my grandparents who were struggling to escape coal mining poverty.
What are yours?
2. Take time off and worship God. If you must, take it in small bits across the week. Put the phone down. Turn off the TV. Worship. Sing, read the Word, pray. Do it with those who know your struggles best.
Who would you worship with?
3. Offer something of value to help others know God better. It could be your time. It could be your efforts. It could be your money. Your talents. Whatever it may be, find it and offer it to the fullest.
What can you bring?
In Nerdiness: The first nerdiness note is this: the Jewish calendar was based on lunar months. Lunar months do not line up with solar years perfectly, so you occasionally have to rebalance. It looks like one of the main methods was adding a “leap month” at times to push seasons back in line. (If you don’t have a Bible reference book, check here http://www.jewfaq.org/calendar.htm for some extended information.) You may wonder how a culture could live like this, but you must understand that agrarian life is based on seasons and weather, not calendar pages. You plant when it is the right time to plant, you shear when the sheep are full—not plant on March 15 and sheer on September 30. In fact, that was, as I understand it, one of the problems for family farmers financially for a long time: bankers like calendars and due dates. Corn likes sunshine and rain, and it gets ready when it’s ready—not always per the mortgage agreement.
The second nerdiness note is this:I think there’s a complexity of economics necessary to make the festival system work. I cannot quite nail it all down right now, but that just seems the case. You need too many different items. It may be a pointer that “ancient” should not be assumed to be “backwards” in our thinking.