The chapter begins with a command for purifying the camp by ensuring that anyone who was ceremonially unclean was to be separated from the camp.
The Condition of our Heart
Numbers 5:2-3 “Command the Israelites to send away from the camp anyone who has a defiling skin disease or a discharge of any kind, or who is ceremonially unclean because of a dead body. Send away male and female alike; send them outside the camp so they will not defile their camp, where I dwell among them.”
According to the Mosaic law, a person that become ceremonially unclean was separated from worship in God’s temple, and any person or thing they touched was made unclean as well.
In Leviticus 20:26 we read God say, “You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.”
Leviticus 10:10 says “You must distinguish between what is holy and what is common, between what is ceremonially unclean and what is clean.”
Understanding these aspects were important for God’s people in maintaining their relationship with a Holy God. It was also a stark reminder of the holiness of God and in contrast, the people’s sinful nature. It served as a very visceral reminder of one’s spiritual standing before God.
1 Corinthians 6:11 says “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
When Jesus touched the leper to heal him (Mathew 8) or when the woman with the issue of the blood (Luke 8) touched his cloak and got healed, Jesus did not become unclean. Our sins are washed away, and we are made clean because Christ gave His own body as a sacrifice and washed away our iniquity.
Through the blood of Jesus, we are made clean, and although we do not have to follow these rituals to remain clean, we still are sinful creatures, and our hearts are not without sin. These commands for purity within the camp where God resided, remind us to be mindful of our spiritual state, the sin in our hearts, so as not to be irreverent in our worship and take for granted His grace.
In Mathew 15:8-9 we read Jesus rebuke the Pharisees, “These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.”. In how we live and worship, may we not miss the heart of Jesus when we call ourselves His followers.
Numbers 5:6-7 “Any man or woman who wrongs another in any way and so is unfaithful to the Lord is guilty and must confess the sin they have committed. They must make full restitution for the wrong they have done, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the person they have wronged.”
We now see the Lord addressing restitution for wrongs done to another. I was struck by this verse because it tells us that wrongful steps towards another is being unfaithful to God. It gives a deeper understanding of the connection between the two greatest commandments, to love God and love one another. When we fail to love another made in the image of God, we fail to love God by being unfaithful to Him. Because the choice to be faithful will not place self before God and give in to the desire for self-interest and wrong someone.
Faithfulness is a fruit of the Spirit, the closer we walk to the Lord, the more strengthened we get when faced with a choice that can take us down a faithful or unfaithful one.
A Jealous mind
The rest of Numbers 5, verses 13-31 deal with the issue of a test for a suspicion of an unfaithful wife and can be read here.
A quick summary – If a man suspects his wife has been unfaithful to him and if a feeling of jealousy comes over him whether she is innocent or has been unfaithful, then the man is to bring his wife to the priest. The husband is also to bring a grain offering along. The priest then brings the wife forward before the Lord and gives her holy water mixed with dust from the tabernacle floor, “bitter water that brings a curse.” She will be unaffected by this bitter water if she is innocent of the accusations. But if she is guilty, “the water that brings a curse will enter her to cause bitter suffering; her belly will swell, and her womb will shrivel. She will become a curse among her people.”
Reading this section at first made me think of where the test for the suspecting wife of her probably unfaithful husband is. But as we try and understand the reason for the law, we get to see God’s heart.
In the context of the times then, a husband was understood to have full authority over his wife and, if accused of adultery, would have been well within his rights to divorce her without cause and in some cases even put her to death. It was as simple as blaming the woman for being unfaithful – they didn’t need proof of it, just a suspicion.
God commanded that the priest be called in to mediate. The accuser with all the authority over the woman could not decide the consequences for himself. He had to submit to God through the priest who stood in protection of his wife and determined her guilt or innocence by a process before God, not by simple suspicion or accusation.
So now, rather than reading this passage and feel that the women were unjustly pointed out to go through this ordeal, we begin to see God intervene and bring about a change. The priest is commanded to step into an unjust situation and stay the hand of jealousy. And the meting out of Justice was ultimately in the hands of God.
Just as the priest stands as a mediator, this also points to the one who mediates for us, our great High Priest, Jesus Christ.
1 Timothy 2:5 “For there is one God and one mediator between God and man, Christ Jesus”
In John 8:1-11, we see a one-sided accusation of a woman in adultery brought to Jesus, this was not a case of suspicion as she was caught in the act and according to the law she was to be stoned to death. But how does Jesus respond? He mediates for her not only in front of her accusers but also before God forgiving her sins.
Lord, you word is rich with revelation of your heart and character. As we spend time in your word, may your Spirit lead and guide us to understand more about you. Amen.