In this chapter, Moses is commanded by God to make sure the camp in which Israel were to live is remain clean and free from any impurities.
We can imagine how important this would be, when we consider just how many Israelites there were living in the camp, some estimate around three million.
There are three specific cases of uncleanliness mentioned, defiling skin, which is probably leprosy, Leviticus 13:3, discharges from infection, Leviticus 15:2, and contact with a dead body, except that of a close relative, Leviticus 21:1.
Anyone, male or female, who fell into these categories was to be put outside the camp until they were ceremonially clean.
Just as we have seen throughout the world, concerning Covid-19, people who had the virus were isolated and quarantined for a certain time.
Those who had become unclean were to be put outside of the camp to isolate and quarantine, in order to prevent a pandemic within the camp. In other words, because God lives in the camp, sin and its effects must be kept separated.
The reason for these measures was to ensure that Israel remain a holy people. Cleanliness and holiness are connected in the sense that if a person violated the laws concerning cleanliness, they would be violating the law of God, and so, be unholy before God.
In these verses, we read that God wants His people to be honest. Restitution is commanded, which implies this is commanded to ensure that peace will remain within Israel.
Here the text deals with someone who was sinning against another, such as with theft, Leviticus 5:14-6:7, or holding back from God anything which belongs to Him, Leviticus 6:1-7.
If something was stolen, twenty per cent was to be added to the value of that which was stolen with the restitution of that which was stolen.
Notice that if the person wanted to right the wrong they had done, they needed to repent. Their repentance was seen in their actions to right the wrong, it is seen in the actual doing of the restitution.
After the restitution was made, there was to be reconciliation with God by the person who made the restitution, this was done by the offering of a ram for atonement.
In Leviticus 5:16, this sacrifice is called the ram of the trespass offering, stressing man’s offence, here it is called the ram of the atonement, stressing God’s alienation.
Because the aim of restitution is to maintain peace, when the Israelites offered a peace offering, the offeror, was to have a piece of the meat returned to them, so that they and their family could have a fellowship meal with the LORD, Leviticus 3.
God not only wanted the camp to be holy and honest, but He also wanted the camp to be free from immortality. Please note these verses aren’t dealing with the case of adultery because the penalty for committing that sin was death, Leviticus 20:10.
Here the text implies if a wife is behaving in such a way which causes any kind of suspicion, but her husband couldn’t prove it, then the husband was to take her to the priest for judgment.
It’s interesting to note that Israel must have obeyed this law because there is no example in Scripture of this actually happening. The point of this law is to prevent any wife from flirting with any other man except her husband.
Coffman, in his commentary, says the following concerning the offering which was to be made.
‘Such meal-offerings were normally offered with oil and frankincense, but these were especially commanded to be omitted here. Why? The usual meal-offering was an occasion of joyful thanksgiving, but this was a different situation. The omission of these symbols of joy and thanksgiving, along with the designation of the water later as bitter water, pinpoints the fact of jealousy itself being an inglorious and bitter business. A tenth of an ephah was about seven pints.’
Barnes, in his commentary, says the following.
‘The offering was to be of the cheapest and coarsest kind, barley, 2 Kings 7:1 / 2 Kings 7:16 / 2 Kings 7:18, representing the abused condition of the suspected woman. It was, like the sin-offering, Leviticus 5:11, to be made without oil and frankincense, the symbols of grace and acceptableness. The woman herself stood with head uncovered, Numbers 5:18, in token of her shame.’
We can only imagine the embarrassment and humiliation the wife had to go through whilst she stood in front of the priest for judgment.
Coffman, in his commentary, says the following concerning the holy water.
‘This is significant as the only use of this expression in the whole Bible. The most likely source of this was the holy laver which would have afforded an abundant water supply for the whole tabernacle. The notion that it came from some holy spring comes from the intention of making this whole chapter as pagan as possible. It is significant that the Septuagint (LXX) has pure running water here.’
Dust is an emblem of a state of condemnation, Genesis 3:14 / Micah 7:17. Notice that the wife’s hair was to be loosened, this implies she is losing her dignity.
If the woman was guilty of infidelity, the drinking of the bitter water would cause serious reactions in her female organs but if she was innocent, the bitter water would cause her to bear children. The wife was then to agree with the curse by saying ‘Amen, so be it’.
Barnes, in his commentary, says the following concerning the drinking of the bitter water.
‘This was symbolised both her full acceptance of the hypothetical curse, Ezekiel 3:1-3 / Jeremiah 15:16 / Revelation 10:9, and its actual operation upon her if she should be guilty, Psalms 109:18.’
When matters of jealousy arose between a husband and a wife, it was possible that the husband was right concerning his suspicions about his wife or he may be wrong because he was simply jealous.
If his wife had been adulterous, which meant her husband’s suspicions were right, then she would bear the consequences of her sin.