There’s an interesting observation to be made in Numbers 29. Here, we find instructions for three religious festivals that the Israelites were to observe in the seventh month. Actually, this was a very practical thing, because this was the time of year between harvest and seed-time, so it was the perfect opportunity for the people to slow down and attend to worship.
The three festivals in the seventh month were The Feast of Trumpets, The Day of Atonement, and The Feast of Tabernacles. The Feast of Trumpets seemed to be an announcement of the beginning of the worship that lasted for nearly a whole month. Then came The Day of Atonement — the most important spiritual day of the year for an Israelite. This was the only day of the year when the High Priest could enter the Most Holy Place and perform the sacrifices that would remove the collective sin from the Israelite community. Immediately following The Day of Atonement came The Feast of Tabernacles — an eight-day celebration of joyful worship that marked the beginning of a new year for Israel — both agriculturally and spiritually.
Here’s what I found very interesting about all of this. In our sinful human condition, I think we associate sacrifice with guilt. Would you agree? This was certainly the case when it came to the sanctuary system. There were lots of prescribed sacrifices designed to deal with the guilt and shame of the Israelites’ sin. With all of this, it was probably easy to jump to the conclusion that the sacrifices were meant to appease an offended God. This was most certainly true in the heathen nations; they did outrageous things — even sacrificing their own children — in an attempt to win the favor of the gods.
Even now, when we feel guilty or ashamed, I think our thoughts tend toward sacrifice. We want to do something to show God how sorry we are. Perhaps we subconsciously think our sacrifices will also win a bit of His favor (as if we don’t already have it). Bottom line: we think of sacrifice as a means of finding forgiveness.
That’s why it’s so interesting to me that — of all these festivals — the one which required the most sacrifices was not the one where the Israelites were repenting, but the one where they were celebrating. That’s right. The Feast of Tabernacles — Israel’s version of a county fair — required nineteen times the amount of animal sacrifices as The Day of Atonement. That was astonishing to me. I mean, The Day of Atonement removed a year’s worth of sin from the Israelite community. That should take a lot of sacrifices, right?
But the reality is, there were many more sacrifices involved in the new year’s celebration known as The Feast of Tabernacles. Why? Well, I suppose there could be many reasons, but here’s what I think is one of the most significant: God wants us to know that happiness is the by-product of sacrifice. Happiness isn’t something you can buy; it’s not even something you can chase after and grasp. It only comes as a by-product of self-sacrifice.*
That’s why Paul said, "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith — who for the joy set before Him endured the cross." (Heb 12:2) When Jesus contemplated coming to this earth, He didn’t see misery, suffering, and death. He didn’t see the cross, the thorns, and the scourging. He saw His children. He saw the crown. He saw the joy.
It is no coincidence that the time when the Israelites were asked to sacrifice the most to the Lord was a time of celebration and rejoicing. God was hoping to help them understand that the more we sacrifice, the more joy we will have. You can’t find happiness by chasing after it — it’s a by-product of sacrifice. That’s why God is the happiest person in the universe!
*Happiness might also be the by-product of looking at the picture of that little girl. Is she adorable or what?!