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During the feast of Tabernacles there seems to be a gradual decrease of the number of bulls offered from the first day to the last.What is of note is that only the bulls offered decrees in number whilst the other animals remain the same throughout.

Numbers 29:12 NASB

12 ‘Then on the fifteenth day of the seventh month you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work, and you shall observe a feast to the Lord for seven days. 13 You shall present a burnt offering, an offering by fire as a soothing aroma to the Lord: thirteen bulls, two rams, fourteen male lambs one year old, which are without defect

17 ‘Then on the second day: twelve bulls, two rams, fourteen male lambs one year old without defect;

20 ‘Then on the third day: eleven bulls, two rams, fourteen male lambs one year old without defect;

23 ‘Then on the fourth day: ten bulls, two rams, fourteen male lambs one year old without defect;

26 ‘Then on the fifth day: nine bulls, two rams, fourteen male lambs one year old without defect;

29 ‘Then on the sixth day: eight bulls, two rams, fourteen male lambs one year old without defect;

32 ‘Then on the seventh day: seven bulls, two rams, fourteen male lambs one year old without defect;

In the other seven day festival(Unleaveaned bread) the animals offered throughout the festival remain the same up to the last day.

What was the significance of the decrease in this particular festival?

3 Answers 3

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According to Jewish tradition, the total number of bull sacrifices were 70 (13+12+11+10+9+8+7) to represent the 70 nations of the world - beyond Israel, and to protect those nations. Sukkot is also called the Feast of the Nations, when other nations would be welcomed. Traditional belief is that 35 of them represented the nations of Ishmael, and 35 represented the nations of Esau. (1) (2)

But, traditions of the Jews should not replace scripture. Reasoning from YHWH's word is always best. The number 70 has significance from Gen. 46:8-27, and Ex. 1:1-5.

"26 All the souls that came with Jacob into Egypt, which came out of his loins, besides Jacob's sons' wives, all the souls were threescore and six;

27 And the sons of Joseph, which were born him in Egypt, were two souls: all the souls of the house of Jacob, which came into Egypt, were threescore and ten." (Gen. 46:26-27, KJV)

"5 And all the souls that came out of the loins of Jacob were seventy souls: for Joseph was in Egypt already." (Ex. 1:5, KJV)

Jacob's family went into Egypt as 70 souls. Sukkot is commonly called "the festival", but also called the time of our joy. It commemorated the exodus from Egypt when the people lived in tents in the desert wilderness. The booths were a remembrance of the original huts. They were to rejoice in their release for those 7 days (Lev. 23:40). Jacob's children were going home.

Notes:

1) One such explanation is found here

2) Another traditional explanation here

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  • Great and Judaically accurate answer. Another question that should be addressed is where the number 70 comes from. If you count the number of Jacob's family, even including Joseph and his two sons, you only get 69, not 70, souls. Rashi's commentary on that sentence quotes midrash Rabbah, which says that the 70th soul was Yocheved, Moses's mother who was born as they entered the gates of Egypt.
    – Rabbi K
    Aug 14, 2019 at 0:01
  • Thanks for the detailed and clear answer. Is there a significance for why were sacrificed 13+12+11+...+9+8+7 bulls instead of 10+10+10+...+10?
    – shamisen
    Aug 16, 2019 at 13:31
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    There does not seem to be any indication in either Jewish tradition, nor in the scriptures themselves for the countdown sequence. IMO, it is a countdown to perfection... the #7, that reaches the total of 70. As Christ fulfilled a great many of sevens (Rev. 1:4, 12, 16, etc.), then it stresses the perfect completed sacrifice in Christ. But, that is just my opinion.
    – Gina
    Aug 16, 2019 at 15:09
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70 is a significant number and we have good answers above. But why the decreasing numbers? One possibility for the decrease relates to the spiritual significance of the feasts, all of which typify Christ to be partaken of by man. Passover, Christ our redeemer, Unleavened Bread, Christ our new Life, First Fruits, Christ our resurrected and Ascended Head, Pentecost, Christ outpoured as the Spirit to produce His Body, Trumpets, Christ returns in glory, Atonement, Judgement Seat of Christ, Tabernacles, Christ reigning on earth with His overcomers for 1000 years. Christ's reigning on earth will be the restoration of the earth, filling the earth with His glory and kingdom. It will immediately follow the destruction of God's poured out wrath we see in Revelation. The earth's restoration will proceed for 1000 years. The burnt offerings, even all the offerings, typify different aspects of Christ partaken of by man for God's enjoyment. With the damaged earth, I suppose we will need more of Christ at the beginning of the 1000 years due to the extreme damage--13 bulls at the beginning. 13 is not a good number in the bible (12 seems to be the most positive number, with an eternal completion implied, while 7 denoting a completion in one age). 13 gradually counts down to 7. Christ the burnt offering is Christ as the absolute one for God, whom we will need to apply to restore the earth as God's kingdom. As the earth restores, less is needed. Of course we don't count down to zero (meaning we don't need Christ anymore), but rather to 7. In God's economy, Christ is always the center and focus, for all eternity.

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    Mar 8, 2023 at 14:00
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It seems to me that the decrease in numbers is a countdown towards the seventh day after the seventh day of offering; that is, a notional "fourteenth day" of offering.

On the first day of offering, there are thirteen days remaining in that fortnight, and they offer thirteen bulls. And so on, until they reach the seventh day of offering, when there are seven days remaining in the fortnight, and they offer seven bulls. Although they don't make any offerings in that second week, the existence of the second week is sufficiently in their minds to control the number of animals being sacrificed.

Then, presumably, somebody noticed that this would reach the symbolic number 70, which reinforced the significance.

Incidentally, my undersanding of 70, as a symbolic number, is that it multiplies "7", the number associated with God, by "10", the number of completeness or "the whole world". I think this works for most occasions when the number is used. The 70 elders who see God (Exodus ch24 v1). The complete period of time chosen by God (Jeremiah ch29 v10, Daniel ch9 v24). Indicating God's work for the whole world (Luke ch10 v1 and the number of translators of the Septuagint).

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