Understanding the Repetition in Numbers

Bible Study with Jairus – Numbers 29

Significance in Repetition

A woman in our Bible study had a question in regards to why there are so many repetitions, especially with the number of calves, rams, as well as the number of matching grain offerings and other sacrifices. Seeing as the Bible is very concise, such repetition must have spiritual significance. I believe that these repetitions have deeper significance. The repetition of these sacrifices in chapters 28 and 29 illustrates a progressive change, which is a process from quantitative change to qualitative change. When we continue to add up the number of sacrifices (which indicates our spiritual practice and dedication), it will eventually bring about a qualitative change and thus bring about the completion of God’s will. In the spiritual sense, the different arrangements of these festivals and sacrifices are the timelines set by God for the body of Christ to continue to mature. Jewish festivals are the prophetic foreshadowing of God’s will and time for the body of Christ to reach maturity.

In order for us to have a better understanding of the repetitive and cumbersome numbers in chapter 29, we must pay attention to a spiritual principle, which is to distinguish between what changes and what is constant.  The Bible has a spiritual principle that what remains unchanged is God’s nature, and what changes is God’s leading. When we read the Bible, it helps to receive insight from gifted teachers of the Word to better understand God’s character. We also need to seek the help of the Holy Spirit and the prophets in order to discover the living guidance of God.

The Nature of God

God’s nature is unchangeable regardless of the history of heaven and earth because Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).  Jesus Christ is the complete manifestation of God; hence God is also eternal and unchanging. However, when reading the Bible, it appears that God changes often. Some truths were revealed one way in the Old Testament, but they are interpreted differently when the Lord Jesus Christ comes. For example, the Jews insist that no work can be done on the Sabbath, but Jesus heals the sick on the Sabbath. Why is that so? God’s character or nature did not change. It is God’s mercy that allows Jesus Christ to heal people on the Sabbath. Being merciful is God’s nature or disposition. However, since Jesus came, God’s leading or guidance changed because the Sabbath belongs to the law, and the law was meant to teach the children of Israel. This was the type of discipline needed by the Israelites when they were only children (Galatians 3:24). The law was intended to introduce Christ because the fulfillment of the law is Christ (Romans 10:4). When Christ came, there was no longer a need to be strict about the Sabbath. God’s compassion did not change, but God’s guidance has changed in different ages. 

Changes in Repetitions

Let’s take a look at the cumbersome numbers and repetitions in Numbers 29 with this principle in mind and see which ones are unchanged and which ones are changed.

What remains constant is that no matter how many bulls, rams, or male lambs were offered, the number of grain offerings associated with each sacrifice remains the same. For example, if you offer a bull calf, the amount of fine flour mixed with oil you have to offer as a grain offering is three-tenths of an ephah (Numbers 29:3). If you offer a ram, the fine flour mixed with oil you have to offer is two-tenths of an ephah, and a one-year-old male lamb is one-tenth of an ephah. In other words, the amount of fine flour required decreased with the size of the sacrifice (from largest to smallest, bull calves, and rams, one-year-old Lambs). This did not change. It is also recorded in Numbers 28.14, “Their drink offerings shall be half a hin of wine for a bull, a third of a hin for a ram, and a quarter of a hin for a lamb.” It can be seen that the amount of wine that is required for different sacrifices remains consistent.  Numbers 28:5 also mentions that for a one-year-old male lamb, a quarter of a hin of oil mixed with fine flour is also used as a grain offering. However, the amount of oil used in the relatively large sacrifices such as rams and calves is not mentioned. We can assume that some of them also increase correspondingly and are proportional to the size of the sacrifice. Another constant is that if another male goat is to be offered as a sin offering, this is another thing that doesn’t change. This is the same in the spring festivals such as the Passover, Festival of Unleavened Bread, Fesitval of Firstfruits, and Pentecost. It is also the same in the fall festivals such as the Festival of Trumpets, Day of Atonement, and Festival of Tabernacles.

So what changes? The number of bull calves, rams, and one-year-old male lambs changed with different festivals. The quantities changed. Although the fine flour and wine offered by each sacrifice remained the same, the total quantity of fine flour and wine for grain sacrifice increased. In addition, the sacrifice of a male goat as a sin offering per worship remains unchanged. However, if the number of days of worship increases, the total number of male goats also increases. For example, suppose the Festival of Tabernacles is held for seven consecutive days (Numbers 29:12), and one male goat is offered as a sin offering every day. In that case, the total number of male goats becomes seven.

Increasing Sacrifices

The number of sacrifices steadily increased since chapter 28. This increase symbolizes that if we spend extra time in communion and prayer with God, we offer more spiritual sacrifices (represented by the sacrifices of cattle and sheep), which will create a more intimate relationship with God.

Numbers 28 begins with the daily sacrifice of a burnt offering of a one-year-old male lamb in the morning and evening. Every Sabbath has to have a sacrifice in addition to the daily burnt sacrifice. This principle applies to all subsequent festivals where sacrifices are offered in addition to the daily sacrifices in the morning and evening. Two extra male lambs are offered every Sabbath. At the beginning of every new month, on the seventh day of the Passover, on the seventh day of the month, on the Festival of Trumpets, and on the Day of Atonement, two bull calves, one ram, and seven one-year-old male lambs are offered. Moreover, in all of the following festivals beginning at the start of each new month, a male goat is added as a sin offering. This includes the Festival of Tabernacles. However, on the previous days and for every Sabbath sacrifice, no male goat is presented as a sin offering.

We could say that, in principle, the number of sacrifices increased according to the order of the festivals. However, this does not mean that there are no twists and turns.  For example, on Passover, a total of fourteen bull calves, seven rams, and forty-nine male lambs were offered for seven consecutive days. And in the latter days of the seventh festival, the Festival of Trumpets, and the Day of Atonement, the sacrifice returned to a bull calf, a ram, and seven one-year-old male lambs. However, at the Festival of Tabernacles, the number of sacrifices increased dramatically. The Festival of Tabernacles was also a seven-day festival. On the first day, there were 13 bull calves, two rams, and 14 one-year-old male lambs. The number of rams and the number of one-year-old male lambs were the same every day during these seven days. However, the bull calves decreased every day. Starting from the first day to the seventh day, there were 13, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7, and 1, respectively. Hence, the total number of bull calves in seven days was 71, the number of rams was 14, and the number of one-year-old male lambs was 98. So many sacrifices were offered during this festival!

Symbolic sacrifices

In the New Testament, it says that our sacrifices are our praise and prayer (Hebrews 13:15), which is symbolized by the sacrifices of cattle and sheep in the Old Testament. The more spiritual sacrifices we offer to God, the greater our intimacy with Him will be. This festival was set up for the Israelites by God, and the number of sacrifices offered was prophetic indicators. The more sacrifices we offer, the more mature we become spiritually. When the Israelites of the Old Testament continued to offer more sacrifices along with the changes of the festivals throughout the year, their actions pleased God.

In the New Testament, this is a spiritual representation. It is a picture of the spiritual maturity of the body of Christ. It can also symbolize the spiritual growth of individual believers. For example, at the beginning of a believer’s spiritual journey, they may offer very few sacrifices. They may not attend church much, give little tithes, do only a little ministry work for the Lord and pray infrequently. However, as they grow spiritually, they may attend church more, give more tithes, pray more and become more involved in ministry. As their spiritual life matures, they offer more spiritual sacrifices to God. These sacrifices may be offered through praying, serving, evangelizing, bearing fruit, or shepherding the church as well as many other areas. The body of Christ is made up of a group of believers, and as it grows spiritually, the more sacrifices they offer to God as a whole. One day, when the body of Christ is fully mature, she will present herself to God as a flawless bride. This is the greatest dedication and spiritual sacrifice.

Decreasing Sacrifices

During our study, we noticed that there was a small decline in the number of sacrifices on the Festival of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement and a large increase during the Festival of Tabernacles at the beginning of Numbers chapter 29. Why was there a temporary decline and then an increase afterward? My guess is that it is a sign that the church will also experience a decrease, weakness, and then revival. Our experience as Christians can be similar in comparison. When we first believed in God, we may have been very fervent for Him. However, our passion for God may slowly fade when we face the temptations of the world and cause us to leave our first love. Hence we need to continue to repent and deepen our dedication to the Lord so that we can always live in the fellowship and love of God. In other words, the growth of a believer’s spiritual life is often not a straight line but a process of arduous repetition and fluctuation.

A man in our Bible study asked why the sacrifices for the last eight days of the Festival of Tabernacles decreased every day. I replied that sacrifices are means, and worshiping God is an end, so that is the result. Over the years, many people have focused on the means or the process but ignored the results or the end. For example, fasting and prayer are means. The Pharisees fasted and prayed but were criticized by the Lord because they exalted these means and did not get actual results. David also said at the beginning of Psalm 51 that God would not delight in sacrifice; otherwise, he would offer it. Later on, David also said that God does not despise a broken spirit and a contrite heart. This was the spiritual sacrifice. In the end, David said that he would offer sacrifices in Jerusalem. When we have a contrite heart in addition to sacrifices, it is the unity of our outward form and inward content.

Freedom in Christ

Israel had already offered more than seventy bulls at this time for the Festival of Tabernacles and could not offer them endlessly. At the same time, the purpose of sacrifice is to form a habit, just like our various spiritual practices in the New Testament. The goal is for us to establish a spiritual habit. After we have established strong spiritual discipline, we can experience freedom in the Holy Spirit.

There is a quote by Confucious that creates a good picture to explain our Christian experience of spiritual freedom. Confucius said, “ At fifteen, I had made up my mind to give myself up to serious studies. At thirty, I had formed my opinions and judgments. At forty, I had no more doubts. At fifty, I understood the truth in religion. At sixty, I could understand whatever I heard without exertion. At seventy, I could follow whatever my heart desired without transgressing the law.”[1]

This means that by the time he reached 70 years old, he would be free from the outward rules. Even though in Chinese culture, we did not have the law of the Old Testament like the Jews, a lot of Biblical wisdom can be found in the writings of Confucius. To mature in living in the Spirit, as Romans 8 talks about, we must build up healthy spiritual habits and continue to exercise these habits as Confucius did. If we keep exercising our spiritual muscles, we will eventually be set free from the law be able to overcome in Christ. This is what Paul talked about in Romans 8.

When I first became a believer, I read three chapters of the Old Testament and one chapter of the New Testament every day according to the teachings of the Local Church Movement so that I could finish reading the Bible once a year. In addition, I read Witness Lee’s Life Study every day so that I could complete all of the 1,984 lessons in five years. I persevered and continued to read according to this schedule. My wife saw me reading like this every day, and yet after reading, my spiritual life did not change much. Seeing that I didn’t have any revelation when I read the Bible, she joked, saying, “An apprentice monk reciting scriptures/saying what one does not mean.” This is a famous saying among Buddhists to make fun of monks who are not very gifted and devoted to the study. What she meant was that I was simply reading for the sake of reading. Her comments didn’t bother me, and I continued to persevere and read the New Testament and the Old Testament once a year and insisted on finishing all of the Life Study messages within five years. I also read other spiritual articles on a regular basis.

One day when I was leading our Bible study, my wife was surprised to find that the Holy Spirit often spoke revelation from the Bible through me. She asked me why the Holy Spirit spoke through me so often. I told her it was because I persevered and continued reading the Bible and other spiritual articles and offered my sacrifices every day. Hence day by day, I accumulated quantitative changes, and after some time, a qualitative change occurred. This is a spiritual principle. Anyone who perseveres as I did will experience qualitative change because God takes delight in those who persevere. God will reward us in His timing. The result of my perseverance was that when the time came, the Holy Spirit started to give me revelation through my accumulation of reading.

Spiritual Exercises

A woman in our Bible study said that her daughter was anxious about her exams, so we talked about how to help her handle her anxiety. I told her that everyone experiences anxiety, but the key is to learn spiritual exercises such as calling on the name of the Lord and exercise finding peace by living in the Spirit. Anxiety is a sign that we are not communing with God. Communion with God brings peace, and we need to try our best to enter that rest. Isaiah 30:15 says, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”

When I was in the Local Church Movement, I was taught to call on the name of the Lord. This teaching encouraged us to call or meditate on the Lord’s name every morning for at least half an hour.  In addition to the morning, we should call on the name of the Lord loudly in any environment because the Bible tells us that whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13). I often practice this. For over ten years, I tried my best to persevere and call on the name of the Lord every morning and pray for more than half an hour. I even practiced calling on the name of the Lord frequently throughout the day. I used to worry about things quite often. However, when I would feel anxiety coming over me, I would stop everything and call on the Lord’s name for ten minutes or more. I found that this was an excellent way to live in the Spirit and be free from all the worries. The Bible tells us, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”. (Philippians 4:6:7).

Calling on the Lord’s name is the easiest way to pray because the name of the Lord is Amen (Revelation 3:14), which is also the Word of God. In the beginning, the Lord was the Word of God. (John 1:1). When I kept practicing like this every day, I kept accumulating quantitative changes. Slowly, a qualitative change occurred within me, and I now live in joy and peace instead of anxiety and fear. The woman’s daughter I mentioned previously was still worried. Aside from the pressure of the external environment, she lacked spiritual training. When we offer sacrifices every day, such as calling on the name of the Lord and Praying, it pleases God. On the other hand, by strengthening our spiritual muscles, we can overcome anxiety by resisting the enemy’s attacks. Our spiritual life can be symbolized like the male lamb, growing into a ram and finally growing into a bull calf, just like those 71 bull calves on the Festival of Tabernacles.

Growing in Maturity

Whether it’s praying, reading scriptures, waiting on the Lord, or other spiritual exercises, it takes time for them to accumulate.  Our maturity will grow as we continue practicing these things.

A prophetess named Donna Rigney shared that she often played worship music in the morning and waited on God. After she had entered into the Spirit, God would give her all kinds of experiences where she encountered Him. The Lord Jesus often appeared to her, took her to visit different places in heaven, and told her many things about the future. When a host interviewed her, he asked her how long would it take before someone could have this type of experience. She said that when she first started, she would have to wait for a long time. However, after she had practiced for quite some time, sometimes she would enter into a spiritual experience of encountering God as soon as she sat down. From this, we can see that even the experience of entering the Spirit takes a long time of practicing, and quantitative changes will bring about qualitative changes. In my experience, this was true in the matter of calling on the name of the Lord. When I first practiced this, it took me more than half an hour to enter into the peace of God. But since I have practiced for so long, now I can instantly enter into the peace of God if I call on the name of the Lord when I have trouble.

I started actively pursuing the gift of prophesy in 2015 and began to have prophetic dreams. Whenever I dreamt in the night, no matter how late it was, I would immediately record them at the expense of my sleep. Every night before I went to bed, I prayed that God would speak to me through dreams.  I practiced this for several years and recorded many dreams and visions. I wrote them down and sent them to some publications that spread prophets’ words through media publications. They did not publish the articles at first. However, I persisted in writing and submitting articles, and finally, they published some of my testimonies and dreams. Over the past few years, I have been actively trying to serve the Lord in various ways, especially in mainstream Christian churches in the United States, but the door has never been opened. However, I persevered in writing and translating my Bible studies as well as my dreams and visions. Slowly God opened a door for me. A man who attends our Bible Study commented that from his observation, it was a qualitative breakthrough that I was able to publish articles in these publications.

I have cited a few personal examples above in an attempt to illustrate that any spiritual exercise requires time and repetition to build a habit and sufficient strength. Just like when we are working out, when we continue to train our muscles, they will become stronger and even have muscle memory. Strong muscles help us have a strong body. Similarly, Christians also need to see the spiritual reality behind the representation of Jewish festivals and various sacrifices. That is, we must build good spiritual habits, exercise our spiritual muscles, and build up our spiritual muscle memory through repeated practice. Whenever we face worries and fears, we can exercise our spiritual muscles and faith to resist all the attacks of the enemy. When we keep practicing, our spiritual lives will gradually mature. As the body of Christ practices in this way, her stature will grow and mature into Christ, who is the Head. (Ephesians 4:15).

[1] http://www.myreading.cn/index.php/post/665.html