This [is] the dedication of the altar on the day of its anointing, from the princes of Israel. – B’Midbar/Numbers 7:84
These words introduce a short block of verses providing a summary of the offerings given over twelve days by the tribal leaders of Israel for the dedication and consecration of the Tabernacle. Over the course of twelve days – for the tribe of Levi does not bring offerings and the two tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh stand in place of Joseph – twelve princes or chieftains each representing their tribes bring identical offerings to contribute to the dedication or consecration of the altar. The Torah duly lists each chieftain’s name and tribal affiliation, followed by the same exact offerings: a meal or grain offering, contained in a silver bowl and a silver basin, incense in a gold ladle, and a total of twenty one animals comprising a burnt offering, a sin offering and a peace offering. The summary verses then total up the whole offering: twelve silver bowls, twelve silver basins, twelve golden ladles, etc. Rabbi Hirsch comments that “This recapitulation and summing up expresses the complete equality and harmonious agreement of the princes of Israel in the position of each one of the tribes they represented towards the common Sanctuary and its holy objects.”
The word chanukat is the construct form of the fs noun chanukah, meaning dedication or consecration from the root chankh, to instruct, initiate, consecrate or dedicate (Davidson). Jacob Milgrom suggests it should be translated as “the initiation offering”, because these offerings were the first made on the altar and brought it into service as a place of sacrifice rather than as simply a piece of furniture in the Tabernacle. The Ramban explains why all these different components made up each prince’s offering: “the chieftains dedicated the altar with all the things that would subsequently be offered on it. That is why they brought meal offerings, incense, burnt offerings, sin offerings and peace offerings. Although not normally permitted together, they were allowed on this occasion to offer a complete set of types of offering.” He goes on to point out that the process of dedicating the altar was repeated by Solomon for the first Jerusalem temple – “King Solomon offered as sacrifices 22000 oxen and 120000 sheep; thus the king and all the people dedicated the House of G-d” (2 Chronicles 7:5, JPS) – by the men of the Great Assembly for the second temple in Jerusalem – “The Israelites, the priests, and the Levites, and all the other exiles celebrated the dedication of the House of G-d with joy. And they sacrificed for the dedication of this House of G-d one hundred bulls, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs, and twelve goats as a purification offering for all of Israel, according to the number of the tribes of Israel” (Ezra 6:16, JPS) – and will be repeated again for the third temple in the messianic era – “Every day, for seven days, you shall present a goat of sin offering, as well as a bull of the herd and a ram of the flock; you shall present unblemished ones. Seven days they shall purge the altar and cleanse it; thus shall it be consecrated” (Ezek. 43:26-27, JPS).
Comparing this dedication with that of the first temple in Jerusalem, the Sforno admits that “behold, the dedication of the altar at that time was, in general, a very small event compared to the dedication of the First Temple with its many vessels, its riches and abundance of sacrifices”, but points to the following verse – “When Moses went into the Tent of Meeting to speak with Him, he would hear the Voice addressing him from above the cover that was on top of the Ark” (B’Midbar 7:89, JPS) – to claim that it is just as significant as the dedication of the Jerusalem temple. Here, HaShem spoke to Moshe, fire came from the altar and the people saw the pillar of fire and cloud; when Solomon dedicated the Temple, “fire descended from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the L-RD filled the House. The priests could not enter the House of the L-RD, for the glory of the L-RD filled the House of the L-RD” (2 Chronicles 7:1-2, JPS).
Rashi picks up on the phrase “on the day of its anointing” and talks about the sequencing of the events in the past twelve days. “This does not teach,” he says, “that the altar was anointed by day, as opposed to by night, rather that on the day it was anointed, a prince brought an offering.” The Rashbam adds, “Once it was anointed, they began the process of dedicating it.” On the first day (of the sequence) the altar was anointed, then, on that and successive days, it was initiated in its function as an altar by the repeated offerings of the princes, each tribe playing an equal and identical part in the process. This signified that each tribe would have equal access to the altar through the intermediary of the priests. Milgrom completes this thought by noting that the last verse of the block ends with a similar phrase “after its anointing” – that serves with our text as the opening and closing frame for the totals. All Israel, every individual within Israel, could obtain atonement for sin, could bring burnt offerings in worship or bring peace offerings to thank HaShem for His blessings; no-one was excluded or limited. HaShem is available to all His people.
This illustrates an important principle: that HaShem has no favourites and provides for all of His people, regardless of their position or status. We see it in the provision of the manna in the desert. Although some Israelites gathered lots and others gathered little, the Torah reports that “when they measured it by the omer, he who had gathered much had no excess, and he who had gathered little had no deficiency: they had gathered as much as they needed to eat” (Shemot 16:18, JPS). But what about the obvious difference between rich and poor, between those who live in luxury and those who live in poverty? That is when they are providing for themselves, not the supernatural provision that G-d provides. Although it sometimes seems hard to say, the blessings we recite after meals encapsulate the principle: “Because of His continual great goodness, we have never lacked food, nor may we ever lack it, for the sake of His great name. For He is G-d who feeds and sustains all, does good to all and prepares food for all creatures He has created.” Man often gets in the way, but G-d provides enough to go round.
The early church lived that out in Jerusalem: “There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need” (Acts 4:34-35, ESV). The imperfect tense of the verbs used in the text – selling, bringing – suggest that this provision happened gradually over time, as people and the community had need.1 The provision probably came from the upper and middle classes of society (perhaps around 15 percent of the total population) who had wealth and riches and could give from their surplus. This shows how Yeshua’s words to the disciples worked in practice: “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of G-d and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:31-33, ESV).
Writing to the community in Philippi from prison, Rav Sha’ul can say, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need” (Philippians 4:11-12, NASB). Even in prison, or out on mission trips, Sha’ul is not in want, for G-d provides for him. In times of physical shortage – and Sha’ul does not deny these or try to hide them – G-d provides for him in other ways and keeps him alive so that he can continue to share the gospel everywhere he goes.
But relationship with G-d is more than food and physical provision, important though that may seem to us. It is about equality of access to Himself. Yeshua’s famous words – “G-d so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NASB) – contain a key word: ‘whoever’. Sha’ul tells the believers in Rome that the gospel is “the power of G-d for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16, NASB). No-one is beyond the reach of the gospel; it is available for all. And once in the kingdom, although believers have different roles and responsibilities depending on gender, ethnicity and class, we all stand on the same foundation before our Father: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Messiah Yeshua” (Galatians 3:28, NASB). In the kingdom of G-d, the King has accepted responsibility for all His subjects – and that includes you!
1. – Darrell Bock, Acts, ECNT, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007), 215
Further Study: 2 Corinthians 8:9-15; 1 Timothy 6:6-8; Hebrews 13:5-6
Application: Do you worry that you are not as good as some other believers, or are not even worthy to become a believer in Yeshua? Are you uncertain that G-d will provide for you as He seems to provide for others? Today is the day to recognise your freedom and equality in Yeshua – G-d will provide and in Yeshua, “all the promises of G-d are ‘yes’ and ‘Amen'” (2 Corinthians 1:20).