PURITY AND UNITY
Truly Lord, your love will never let me go, never let me down, and never let up. I am so very grateful to you.
Read NUMBERS 5
The Purity of the Camp
5 The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Command the Israelites to send away from the camp anyone who has a defiling skin disease[a] or a discharge of any kind, or who is ceremonially unclean because of a dead body. 3 Send away male and female alike; send them outside the camp so they will not defile their camp, where I dwell among them.” 4 The Israelites did so; they sent them outside the camp. They did just as the Lord had instructed Moses.
Restitution for Wrongs
5 The Lord said to Moses, 6 “Say to the Israelites: ‘Any man or woman who wrongs another in any way[b] and so is unfaithful to the Lord is guilty 7 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. 8 But if that person has no close relative to whom restitution can be made for the wrong, the restitution belongs to the Lord and must be given to the priest, along with the ram with which atonement is made for the wrongdoer. 9 All the sacred contributions the Israelites bring to a priest will belong to him. 10 Sacred things belong to their owners, but what they give to the priest will belong to the priest.’”
The Test for an Unfaithful Wife
11 Then the Lord said to Moses, 12 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him 13 so that another man has sexual relations with her, and this is hidden from her husband and her impurity is undetected (since there is no witness against her and she has not been caught in the act), 14 and if feelings of jealousy come over her husband and he suspects his wife and she is impure—or if he is jealous and suspects her even though she is not impure— 15 then he is to take his wife to the priest. He must also take an offering of a tenth of an ephah[c] of barley flour on her behalf. He must not pour olive oil on it or put incense on it, because it is a grain offering for jealousy, a reminder-offering to draw attention to wrongdoing.
16 “‘The priest shall bring her and have her stand before the Lord. 17 Then he shall take some holy water in a clay jar and put some dust from the tabernacle floor into the water. 18 After the priest has had the woman stand before the Lord, he shall loosen her hair and place in her hands the reminder-offering, the grain offering for jealousy, while he himself holds the bitter water that brings a curse. 19 Then the priest shall put the woman under oath and say to her, “If no other man has had sexual relations with you and you have not gone astray and become impure while married to your husband, may this bitter water that brings a curse not harm you. 20 But if you have gone astray while married to your husband and you have made yourself impure by having sexual relations with a man other than your husband”— 21 here the priest is to put the woman under this curse—“may the Lord cause you to become a curse[d] among your people when he makes your womb miscarry and your abdomen swell. 22 May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells or your womb miscarries.”
“‘Then the woman is to say, “Amen. So be it.”
23 “‘The priest is to write these curses on a scroll and then wash them off into the bitter water. 24 He shall make the woman drink the bitter water that brings a curse, and this water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering will enter her. 25 The priest is to take from her hands the grain offering for jealousy, wave it before the Lord and bring it to the altar. 26 The priest is then to take a handful of the grain offering as a memorial[e] offering and burn it on the altar; after that, he is to have the woman drink the water. 27 If she has made herself impure and been unfaithful to her husband, this will be the result: When she is made to drink the water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering, it will enter her, her abdomen will swell and her womb will miscarry, and she will become a curse. 28 If, however, the woman has not made herself impure, but is clean, she will be cleared of guilt and will be able to have children.
29 “‘This, then, is the law of jealousy when a woman goes astray and makes herself impure while married to her husband, 30 or when feelings of jealousy come over a man because he suspects his wife. The priest is to have her stand before the Lord and is to apply this entire law to her. 31 The husband will be innocent of any wrongdoing, but the woman will bear the consequences of her sin.’”
- Numbers 5:2 The Hebrew word for defiling skin disease, traditionally translated “leprosy,” was used for various diseases affecting the skin.
- Numbers 5:6 Or woman who commits any wrong common to mankind
- Numbers 5:15 That is, probably about 3 1/2 pounds or about 1.6 kilograms
- Numbers 5:21 That is, may he cause your name to be used in cursing (see Jer. 29:22); or, may others see that you are cursed; similarly in verse 27.
- Numbers 5:26 Or representative
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Give thanks that we have a faithful, pure, forgiving God.
Ritual and distancing represented one way to protect the people in the presence of a holy God, but impurity could be brought into the camp in other ways: personal defilement, sins against others, and suspicion of a wife’s infidelity. Personal defilement was dealt with by temporary separation outside the camp in accordance with the regulations given in Leviticus.1 Death and disease are not God’s intention for his people. They are part of our living in a fallen world and we have in Scripture both healings and the promise that God’s new world will have none of this. Hebrews tells us that Jesus went outside the camp for us, taking out sicknesses to bring us healing, to make us holy.2
The camp is also defiled by people doing wrong to each other. It is unfaithfulness to the Lord who has made all his redeemed people. Sin is to be confessed and restitution is to be made. Here is restorative justice at work. What if the person has died? The penalty is not waived, but the restitution goes to the priests for their support as they minister. It is the equivalent of giving it to God, but the text makes clear that the priests have it for themselves.
The third case is the most difficult. It uses the same word, ‘unfaithful’, that we had earlier (vs 6,12). Here it is marital discord that brings impurity into the camp. God will judge whether a wife has been unfaithful. The case is in the hands of the priests, not a vengeful husband. An innocent woman is not harmed in any way, but the guilty are revealed. False suspicion is as defiling as sin. Jesus also once gave water to a sinful woman, but with it a new life.3
‘Search me, God … See if there is any offensive way in me’.4
Merciful Lord, I acknowledge that our calling is to demonstrate to others the difference Jesus Christ makes in our lives and relationships. Strengthen me and my church to be faithful to our calling.
1 Eg Lev 13–15 2 Heb 13:12; see also Isa 53 3 John 4:13–26 4 Ps 139:23,24
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