Numbers 5


‘The LORD said to Moses, “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.” The Israelites did so; they sent them outside the camp. They did just as the LORD had instructed Moses.’ Numbers 5:1-4

The Purity Of The Camp

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.

Restitution For Wrongs

‘The LORD said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘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. 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. All the sacred contributions the Israelites bring to a priest will belong to him. Sacred things belong to their owners, but what they give to the priest will belong to the priest.’” Numbers 5:5-10

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.

The Test For An Unfaithful Wife

‘Then the LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him 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), 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—then he is to take his wife to the priest. He must also take an offering of a tenth of an ephah 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.’ Numbers 5:11-15

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.’

“‘The priest shall bring her and have her stand before the LORD. Then he shall take some holy water in a clay jar and put some dust from the tabernacle floor into the water. 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. 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. 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”—here the priest is to put the woman under this curse—“may the LORD cause you to become a curse among your people when he makes your womb miscarry and your abdomen swell. 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.” “‘The priest is to write these curses on a scroll and then wash them off into the bitter water. 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. The priest is to take from her hands the grain offering for jealousy, wave it before the LORD and bring it to the altar. The priest is then to take a handful of the grain offering as a memorial offering and burn it on the altar; after that, he is to have the woman drink the water. 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. 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. “‘This, then, is the law of jealousy when a woman goes astray and makes herself impure while married to her husband, 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. The husband will be innocent of any wrongdoing, but the woman will bear the consequences of her sin.’” Numbers 5:16-31

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.

Go To Numbers 6