Everything in the camp is organized and arranged. What must now happen is cleansing the camp of evil, that God, in Whom only their power is, may be with them. It is God’s wisdom, the wisdom that is from above and that is first and foremost pure (Jam 3:17), to give His precepts for this. Defilement is to His dishonor and takes away the strength of the journey from the people. Eliphaz knows that, although he applies his statement in Job 22 to Job iniquitously (Job 22:23).
The importance of this chapter is that it shows that the presence of the LORD among His people can never be connected with evil. In Leviticus it is about the priests, they must be pure to be able to perform their service in the sanctuary in the presence of God. Here, in Numbers, it is about the people as the camp where the LORD dwells.
Anything connected with sin must be removed. Sometimes the person must be sent away for this (verses 1-4), sometimes the evil is done away with confession and compensation (verses 5-10), sometimes there is only suspicion and first the guilt or innocence must be determined, after which the LORD’s prescription must be acted upon (verses 11-31).
1 - 4 The Unclean Must Be Sent Away from the Camp
1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Command the sons of Israel that they send away from the camp every leper and everyone having a discharge and everyone who is unclean because of a [dead] person. 3 You shall send away both male and female; you shall send them outside the camp so that they will not defile their camp where I dwell in their midst.” 4 The sons of Israel did so and sent them outside the camp; just as the LORD had spoken to Moses, thus the sons of Israel did.
The command to send away anyone who is unclean applies to the whole of Israel. The whole people are responsible to act with what does not suit God’s presence in their midst. For us, the different forms of defilement are not literal, but spiritual. It is about being influenced by the world, the flesh, sin, things with which God cannot have fellowship. He has judged these things in the Lord Jesus on the cross. That is why we must also judge them.
Three forms of evil are mentioned:
1. leprosy; that is a picture of sin that breaks outwards and is not judged;
2. a discharge; this is a picture of the sin that comes from someone and flows to other people who are also defiled by it;
3. touching a dead person; here sin does not originate from anyone, but is the picture that someone is defiled by touching something that is not in connection with the living God.
The Israelites act with these cases as the LORD has spoken and as it has been made known to them by Moses. We must also act in the same way as God has made known to us in His Word about uncleanness.
The reason for all discipline is that God lives in the midst of the church. Therefore, all evil must be removed. This can happen in self-judgment, that is, when we have sinned, we confess it before the Lord and judge the evil within ourselves (1Cor 11:28-29). If there is no self-judgment, the church has to judge the evil. Then the church must remove the person from among her midst who refuses to judge evil in his life and remove it from his life: “Remove the wicked one from among yourselves” (1Cor 5:13b).
5 - 10 Restitution of Guilt
5 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 6 “Speak to the sons of Israel, ‘When a man or woman commits any of the sins of mankind, acting unfaithfully against the LORD, and that person is guilty, 7 then he shall confess his sins which he has committed, and he shall make restitution in full for his wrong and add to it one-fifth of it, and give [it] to him whom he has wronged. 8 But if the man has no relative to whom restitution may be made for the wrong, the restitution which is made for the wrong [must go] to the LORD for the priest, besides the ram of atonement, by which atonement is made for him. 9 Also every contribution pertaining to all the holy [gifts] of the sons of Israel, which they offer to the priest, shall be his. 10 So every man’s holy [gifts] shall be his; whatever any man gives to the priest, it becomes his.’”
The uncleanness of the previous verses indicates more a state of uncleanness, which can be applied to living in sin. One also becomes unclean by committing a sin once, which can be applied to falling into sin. This is the case “if anyone is caught in any trespass” (Gal 6:1). In that case, cleansing must take place. But not only that. Restitution must also be given to the injured party. See the explanation of the guilt offering in Leviticus 5:14-6:7.
It is not enough for God to pay only the guilt. Something extra must be given to him who is affected. The Lord Jesus did that perfectly. God is dishonored. The Lord Jesus not only removed the guilt, but glorified God above and beyond. Here we find the positive side in dealing with sin. Something emerges that is to the glory of God.
Here something is added to what has already been said about the guilt offering in Leviticus 5-6. A guilt cannot remain outstanding. An outstanding guilt disturbs the fellowship and the peace in the church. In order to prevent this from happening, the guilt must be restituted at all times. If the guilt can no longer be restituted, for example because the injured party has died, the guilty one must go to the family members of the person injured by him. If there are none, he must go to the priest with his confession and his restitution.
The priest is a picture of a spiritually-minded believer to whom a debtor can relieve the burden of his heart, when the one he has aggrieved is no longer there. This is not an easy task for the ‘priest’. Such a believer will therefore receive a special appreciation for this from the Lord and his fellow believers.
11 - 14 A Suspicion of Unfaithfulness
11 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 12 “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘If any man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him, 13 and a man has intercourse with her and it is hidden from the eyes of her husband and she is undetected, although she has defiled herself, and there is no witness against her and she has not been caught in the act, 14 if a spirit of jealousy comes over him and he is jealous of his wife when she has defiled herself, or if a spirit of jealousy comes over him and he is jealous of his wife when she has not defiled herself,
The direct meaning of the part of verses 11-31 puts the importance of the marriage in full light. The slightest suspicion of infidelity is a violation of marriage at its root. The violation of marriage affects society in its foundations. Therefore, there must be clarity about the relationship in marriage when questions arise about faithfulness. Uncertainty must be disposed of. God indicates here the way in which this should be done.
In the unfaithful woman the picture of Israel can be seen as a testimony for God on earth. The same goes for the church that is now God’s testimony on earth. Israel has deviated from God by serving the idols. The church has deviated from God by connecting with the world. Both forms of unfaithfulness are spiritual fornication. Instead of fighting for and with God against the enemies, God’s people have made a covenant with those enemies.
There is also a personal application to be made regarding how everyone’s life is. The question must be asked whether our life is for the Lord or for something or someone else. This is about the assessment of our walk through the wilderness, while God walks with us through the wilderness.
It is based on the jealousy of the man. This should not be seen here as a negative characteristic. This jealousy or suspicion is a justified feeling that belongs to sincere love when the object of that love does not show any love in return. It is even possible that, instead of love in return, unfaithfulness is present, that the expected love goes to someone or something else. This case is presented here as an option.
15 The Grain Offering of Jealousy
15 the man shall then bring his wife to the priest, and shall bring [as] an offering for her one-tenth of an ephah of barley meal; he shall not pour oil on it nor put frankincense on it, for it is a grain offering of jealousy, a grain offering of memorial, a reminder of iniquity.
There may be a suspicion that something is not right in the dedication of a believer or a local church. Those who care about the welfare of the believers will bring the matter to the priest. We can see the priest here as a type of the Lord Jesus. With all our suspicions we can go to Him.
The offering that is brought along also represents the Lord Jesus: a grain offering of barley meal. This offering is the humblest kind of grain offering. It shows the Lord Jesus in His deepest humiliation on earth, in which He was completely faithful to His God. This has become perfectly visible on the cross, where He is made sin. Because this offering is a reminder of iniquity, no oil nor frankincense may be added. God can’t have any pleasure (frankincense) in injustice and the Holy Spirit (oil) is completely alien to it. The Lord is the sacrifice made for our unfaithfulness.
16 - 18 Acts of the Priest
16 ‘Then the priest shall bring her near and have her stand before the LORD, 17 and the priest shall take holy water in an earthenware vessel; and he shall take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put [it] into the water. 18 The priest shall then have the woman stand before the LORD and let [the hair] of the woman’s head go loose, and place the grain offering of memorial in her hands, which is the grain offering of jealousy, and in the hand of the priest is to be the water of bitterness that brings a curse.
The priest then presents the ‘suspect’ before the LORD. Any question of our dedication can only be decided in His presence and not by any ecclesiastical commission.
Then the priest takes holy water, a picture of the Word of God (Eph 5:26). He does that water in an earthenware vessel. The earthenware vessel is a picture of what man is by nature (2Cor 4:7). He also takes dust from the floor of the tabernacle. This represents the power of death in the presence of God. The Lord Jesus was laid by God “in the dust of death” (Psa 22:15b). The dust is what man is and what he becomes when he dies (Gen 3:19). Water and dust represent that God cleanses (water) through judgment.
Then the hair of the woman’s head is let go loose. The woman’s long hair is the symbol of dedication. God expects the woman to wear this symbol (1Cor 11:15). It is not a matter of time or culture. It is hereby released because her dedication is at stake (cf. Lev 13:45). She also receives the grain offering of jealousy on her hands, which here is called “grain offering of memorial”. The believer of whom dedication is questioned must be reminded, it must be remembered to him, Who the Lord Jesus is as the perfect Devotee to God, Who was faithful to death.
Finally, we see that the priest holds in his hand the water made bitter by the dust. The Word of God must be presented to that believer as a Word that judges (Heb 4:12). Then the priest will speak to the woman.
19 - 22 The Priest Shall Have Her Take an Oath
19 The priest shall have her take an oath and shall say to the woman, “If no man has lain with you and if you have not gone astray into uncleanness, [being] under [the authority of] your husband, be immune to this water of bitterness that brings a curse; 20 if you, however, have gone astray, [being] under [the authority of] your husband, and if you have defiled yourself and a man other than your husband has had intercourse with you” 21 (then the priest shall have the woman swear with the oath of the curse, and the priest shall say to the woman), “the LORD make you a curse and an oath among your people by the LORD’s making your thigh waste away and your abdomen swell; 22 and this water that brings a curse shall go into your stomach, and make your abdomen swell and your thigh waste away.” And the woman shall say, “Amen. Amen.”
The priest has to make the woman swear under oath. The water, a picture of the Word of God, will bring to light the truth concerning her unfaithfulness or faithfulness. God will make her thigh waste away and her abdomen swell when she has drunk of that bitter water.
The Word of God will, in case of a secret unfaithfulness of a believer, reveal the features of that unfaithfulness through His Word. Such secretly unfaithful believers serve not Christ, but their own appetite or stomach, which is their god (Rom 16:18; Phil 3:19). Also, the application of the Word in judgment to their walk will make it clear that there is no spiritual power present, of which the wasting away of the thigh is a picture. Such unfaithful believers are spiritually limp, they are unbalanced in their religious life.
In expressing “amen, amen” by the woman we see her cooperation in the investigation (cf. Deu 27:26). She declares that she is aware that she has been placed in the light of God. Those who would like to live a dedicated life will be willing to undergo this investigation.
23 - 24 The Woman Drinks the Bitter Water
23 ‘The priest shall then write these curses on a scroll, and he shall wash them off into the water of bitterness. 24 Then he shall make the woman drink the water of bitterness that brings a curse, so that the water which brings a curse will go into her and [cause] bitterness.
As a sign that the water of judgment cleanses, the priest writes the curses on a scroll and washes them off into the water of bitterness. Then he gives the woman the water of bitterness to drink. The Word is bitter when it has to examine us for possible deviations. This is not a work that gives joy. The Word gives joy when we are allowed to occupy ourselves with the Lord Jesus, not when we have to occupy ourselves with ourselves and with the judgment of our flesh (cf. Rev 10:9; Pro 5:4).
25 - 26 The Memorial Offering of Jealousy
25 The priest shall take the grain offering of jealousy from the woman’s hand, and he shall wave the grain offering before the LORD and bring it to the altar; 26 and the priest shall take a handful of the grain offering as its memorial offering and offer [it] up in smoke on the altar, and afterward he shall make the woman drink the water.
The application of the Word cannot happen separately from the Lord Jesus, presented here in the grain offering of jealousy. The Lord Jesus cannot be seen apart from His full dedication to God. God always wants to be reminded of this. We see this in the picture of the priest who offers a memorial offering as a special form of the grain offering up in smoke on the altar.
27 - 28 When the Water Is Drunk
27 When he has made her drink the water, then it shall come about, if she has defiled herself and has been unfaithful to her husband, that the water which brings a curse will go into her and [cause] bitterness, and her abdomen will swell and her thigh will waste away, and the woman will become a curse among her people. 28 But if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, she will then be free and conceive children.
After drinking the bitter water, the truth about faithfulness or unfaithfulness will become clear. The Word is like the rain that is drunk by the ground, after which what the ground produces will show what kind of soil we are dealing with. The Word always makes it clear whether there is fruit for God or whether it is reprehensible fruit: “For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned” (Heb 6:7-8).
If the investigation shows that she is innocent, this has consequences for her fertility. Life will come forth from her. So it is with every child of God that lives dedicated. The fruit of life will become visible.
29 - 31 This Is the Law of Jealousy
29 ‘This is the law of jealousy: when a wife, [being] under [the authority of] her husband, goes astray and defiles herself, 30 or when a spirit of jealousy comes over a man and he is jealous of his wife, he shall then make the woman stand before the LORD, and the priest shall apply all this law to her. 31 Moreover, the man will be free from guilt, but that woman shall bear her guilt.’”
Israel and the church have both become unfaithful. With regard to the church in Corinth, Paul writes that he is jealous of them with the jealousy of God (2Cor 11:2). He speaks to them about a deviation from Christ. They are no longer fully focused on Him; they are no longer fully dedicated to Him. The serpent, that is Satan, is always out to cool the feelings of love and dedication of the believers for Christ (2Cor 11:3). In cunning he spoils the thoughts, so that they no longer have Christ as an object, but other things or persons.
The church is connected to Christ as a pure virgin (2Cor 11:2). But the church as a whole has not remained faithful. It is presented as a great whore in Revelation 17 (Rev 17:1-5). As far as the final fulfilment is concerned, the time has not yet come, but the traces of the church’s unfaithfulness are deep. But every true believer, as well as every local church, will gladly participate in the investigation to detect any deviation that may prevent them from serving Christ completely dedicated out of love. The sincere praying of the prayer at the end of Psalm 139 is in this context important: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way” (Psa 139:23-24).