Studies in Numbers, I Faithfulness, B The Centrality, 1 The Cleansing, Text: 5:1-6:27

Studies in Numbers, I Faithfulness, B The Centrality, 1 The Cleansing, Text: 5:1-6:27


In Leviticus 19:1 & 2 we read, The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy. We have seen the warnings about preserving the sanctity of God’s house, and the measures taken to insure its protection. Now we see that the people living around that house, the encampment, are also to be holy, as Leviticus 19 tells us. There is a series of laws and commandments in chapters 5 and 6 regarding the purification of the people. We shall look at these in turn and see that the holiness of the people meant an avoidance of disease, division,  defilement and devaluation.


Verses 1-4 deal with the plague of the Old Testament, leprosy. Instances of leprosy were recorded as long ago as 1500 BC in Egypt. In ancient and Biblical times it was regarded as the curse of God and therefore the victim’s of this disease were segregated from the community as pariahs. Leprosy or Hanson’s disease, as it is better called, is almost universal and particularly afflicts what we call third world countries. It is an infectious disease and the victim’s are usually quarantined, mostly in leper colonies. The passage mentions other infectious eruptions, The Lord said to Moses, “Command the Israelites to send away from the camp anyone who has an infectious 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 this; they sent them outside the camp. They did just as the Lord had instructed Moses. It might surprise you to know that the common flu is much more easily transmitted than leprosy. In leprosy the bacteria must enter through an open wound in your body. Merely coughing, sneezing, or even touching will not transmit leprosy. Christian missions the world over have engaged in an unconsciously heroic effort to meet this desperate human need, and have stimulated national efforts to combat the disease. We should not suppose that this passage is merely hygienic in its intent.  It is made part of the sacred law in order to enforce the conviction that the judgment of God enters into the whole of life, follows men wherever they go, decides as to their state with relation to Him hour by hour, almost moment by moment. The ceremonial law was a constant and strenuous lesson in regard to the omnipresence of God, and the oversight of human affairs by Him. It created a conscience of God’s existence, His control, His superintendence of each life. And of course it mightily proclaimed the utter holiness of God and his separation from sinful men. God was separate from all distortion, wasting, and decay. It’s not that the lepers had sinned, but that the existence of disease and death is proof that all men are sinners and under condemnation.


The next thing that purity demands is the avoidance of division, that is, disagreements that separate us from our neighbor. Thus we read in verses 5-10, The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘When a man or woman wrongs another in any way and so is unfaithful to the Lord, that person is guilty and must confess the sin he has committed. He must make full restitution for his wrong, add one fifth to it and give it all to the person he has 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 him. All the sacred contributions the Israelites bring to a priest will belong to him. Each man’s sacred gifts are his own, but what he gives to the priest will belong to the priest.’ ” It seems fairly clear from the context that the sin against the neighbor here involves loss of property because restitution is in view. The this thought is confirmed by an almost identical passage in Leviticus 6:1-4, The Lord said to Moses: “If anyone sins and is unfaithful to the Lord by deceiving a neighbor about something entrusted to them or left in their care or about something stolen, or if they cheat their neighbor, or if they find lost property and lie about it, or if they swear falsely about any such sin that people may commit— when they sin in any of these ways and realize their guilt, they must return what they have stolen or taken by extortion, or what was entrusted to them, or the lost property they found. The focus of this section is on honesty and how dishonesty destroys the community where God was dwelling. The same is true of the church today where God is dwelling. In Ephesians 4 Paul is teaching about unity in the Body of Christ and he says, Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.


In verses 11-31 there is a strange ritual described which may be problematic in your thinking. First of all it sounds like a witch trial in the middle ages. Secondly it appears to be demeaning of women. I may not be able to fully convince you, but I shall try to eliminate these reservations. First let us view the description,  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 by sleeping with another man, 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 oil on it or put incense on it, because it is a grain offering for jealousy, a reminder offering to draw attention to guilt. 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 slept 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 defiled yourself by sleeping with a man other than your husband”— here the priest is to put the woman under this curse of the oath—“may the Lord cause your people to curse and denounce you when he causes your thigh to waste away and your abdomen to swell. May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells and your thigh wastes away.” 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 have the woman drink the bitter water that brings a curse, and this water will enter her and cause bitter suffering. 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 defiled herself and been unfaithful to her husband, then when she is made to drink the water that brings a curse, it will go into her and cause bitter suffering; her abdomen will swell and her thigh waste away, and she will become accursed among her people. If, however, the woman has not defiled herself and is free from impurity, 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 defiles herself 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.’ As to the criticism that this is akin to witch trials, that simply ignores the fact that this is not an example of a human institution. Men have used many diabolic tricks to victimize various segments of society. Have you read about false prophets and divinations, and enchantments? These are strictly forbidden in the Bible, but what we have here is a divinely ordained and controlled method of exposing adultery. Now the second question is more difficult because it would seem that the woman is singled out and her husband is not. However, we must place this in its cultural context. In the ancient world of the Old Testament it was customary to treat women as little better than slaves. This was wrong, but the practice outlined here, the ordeal of the water of jealousy, must have saved many an innocent life from wreck. In one sense it was part of a system designed to maintain a high standard of morality, and in that system it had a place which at the time could not be filled in any other way. The reason was that under the existing system men could divorce their wives unilaterally and for what we would consider to be a minor fault, flaw or crime such as spoiling the dinner, conversing with another man, or almost anything that was repulsive to the husband. The same is true today in majority Muslim nations. What this ceremony does is protect the wife from false accusations by the husband. If the woman is innocent she has nothing to fear, indeed, the ceremony will become her vindication. The rationale behind this is that in dealing with a stubborn, sinful, hardhearted people, God had to teach them step  by step. Jesus Himself says as much in Matthew 19:3-9, where we read, Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”  “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. i tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”


Chapter 6 is dedicated entirely to the description of people called Nazarites. If you wanted to describe them in a single word, the word would be “separated.” They are separated by a variety of things, but the most important fact about them is not what they are separated from. In other words, they are people who do not devalue their  relationship with God as many do. The recognize what is most precious in life. They give up material comforts and advantages voluntarily in order to serve the Lord. We read about them: The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man or woman wants to make a special vow, a vow of separation to the Lord as a Nazirite, he must abstain from wine and other fermented drink and must not drink vinegar made from wine or from other fermented drink. He must not drink grape juice or eat grapes or raisins. As long as he is a Nazirite, he must not eat anything that comes from the grapevine, not even the seeds or skins. “ ‘During the entire period of his vow of separation no razor may be used on his head. He must be holy until the period of his separation to the Lord is over; he must let the hair of his head grow long. Throughout the period of his separation to the Lord he must not go near a dead body. Even if his own father or mother or brother or sister dies, he must not make himself ceremonially unclean on account of them, because the symbol of his separation to God is on his head. Throughout the period of his separation he is consecrated to the Lord. “ ‘If someone dies suddenly in his presence, thus defiling the hair he has dedicated, he must shave his head on the day of his cleansing—the seventh day. 10 Then on the eighth day he must bring two doves or two young pigeons to the priest at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. 11 The priest is to offer one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering to make atonement for him because he sinned by being in the presence of the dead body. That same day he is to consecrate his head. He must dedicate himself to the Lord for the period of his separation and must bring a year-old male lamb as a guilt offering. The previous days do not count, because he became defiled during his separation. “ ‘Now this is the law for the Nazirite when the period of his separation is over. He is to be brought to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. There he is to present his offerings to the Lord: a year-old male lamb without defect for a burnt offering, a year-old ewe lamb without defect for a sin offering, a ram without defect for a fellowship offering, together with their grain offerings and drink offerings, and a basket of bread made without yeast—cakes made of fine flour mixed with oil, and wafers spread with oil. “ ‘The priest is to present them before the Lord and make the sin offering and the burnt offering. He is to present the basket of unleavened bread and is to sacrifice the ram as a fellowship offering to the Lord, together with its grain offering and drink offering. “ ‘Then at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, the Nazirite must shave off the hair that he dedicated. He is to take the hair and put it in the fire that is under the sacrifice of the fellowship offering. “ ‘After the Nazirite has shaved off the hair of his dedication, the priest is to place in his hands a boiled shoulder of the ram, and a cake and a wafer from the basket, both made without yeast. The priest shall then wave them before the Lord as a wave offering; they are holy and belong to the priest, together with the breast that was waved and the thigh that was presented. After that, the Nazirite may drink wine. “ ‘This is the law of the Nazirite who vows his offering to the Lord in accordance with his separation, in addition to whatever else he can afford. He must fulfill the vow he has made, according to the law of the Nazirite.’ ” Those desiring the presence of God in their lives had three rules. First they were to strenuously avoid any contact with wine or strong drink. We read in Acts 2 that on the day of Pentecost they were all filled with the Holy Ghost and a little later that some of the people began to mock them saying they were filled with new wine; in other words they were under a strong influence. Wine and the fruit of the vine speaks of influence. When it says that the Nazarite took a vow upon him to separate himself unto God it meant that he was not going to allow any influence but that of the Holy Ghost upon his life.’ It says in Ephesians 5:18 And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the spirit. In the second place the Nazarite left his hair grow long and did not cut it. In Scripture it was a mark of shame and reproach for a man to grow long hair as Paul says in I Corinthians 11:14 & 15, Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? What we have lost in the church in this hour has nothing to do  with haircuts but rather it is a reproach for being different by separated unto God through the cross. This open shame was a public testimony of consecration to all. Finally, the Nazarite was to avoid all contact with the dead even in the death of those near and dear to him. Things of this world will bring death to your soul; will breed death in your prayer life and death to your consecration. Things which you watch, you speak, you hear; you know what things bring death to your spiritual life but the Nazarite remnant says “We shall not touch any dead thing. No death is going to touch us. I have been born for a life of consecration. I am going to walk in the life of God. I want a flowing of the River of the life of God within me.” Consecration is the place of True Life. Chapter 6 closes in verses 22-27 with the priestly blessing which we often repeat today. The Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.’ So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.” At first blush we may wonder what this has to do with the Nazarite vows. Formally, nothing. However, as the Nazarite was separated unto the Lord, so was the nation Israel separated unto the Lord. This blessing enforces that when God says that He has put His Name upon them. Of all nations they alone belonged to the Lord as His people, His flock, His possession. In a very real sense we are all Nazarites, separated unto God. That does not mean we follow these rules, but it does mean that we follow the spiritual symbolism of them and that we are filled with the Spirit, that we bear the reproach of Christ, and that we value the right things in life.