Introduction. Here, God instructed the priests on various rules to ensure the physical and spiritual purity of His people. Today, any believer in Jesus is part of His royal priesthood: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;” (1 Pet. 2:9). Although the application of these rules have changed in the modern era, this chapter provides principles that you can follow to keep yourself pure and to help others become and then remain pure for Jesus.
1.) The Bride of Christ Must Be Free of Sin. Nu. 5:1-4.
Rules regarding people with leprosy and communicable diseases. “Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 ‘Command the sons of Israel that they send away from the camp everyone with leprosy, everyone having a discharge, and everyone who is unclean because of contact with a dead person. 3 You shall send away both male and female; you shall send them outside the camp so that they do not defile their camp where I dwell in their midst.’ 4 And the sons of Israel did so and sent them outside the camp; just as the Lord had spoken to Moses, that is what the sons of Israel did.” (Nu. 5:1-4).
Leper yelling “unclean, unclean” (Image credit)1
(1) Diseases like leprosy are caused by sin. God commanded that the priests take a leper, those with “discharge” (i.e., venereal diseases), and those exposed to a rotting corpse outside of the camp where God’s people dwelt (Nu. 5:1-2). He did not want those with diseases to “defile” the camp (Nu. 5:3). Disease and sin are related. Sin caused disease to come into the world (Gen. 3:17; 9:2; Ro. 8:19-22). Leprosy is a symbol of both sin and God’s punishment of sin. For example, He infected Miriam with leprosy as a punishment for her sin when she rebelled against Moses’ leadership (Nu. 12:10). As another example, He infected King Uzziah with leprosy when he tried to take on the dual roles of King and High Priest, roles which God had separated (2 Chr. 26:19-21).
(2) Leprosy and sin have to be quarantined. In the ancient world, there was no cure for leprosy. Lepers had to be separated from society or the disease would spread (Lev. 13:4, 6). Before the Western world found a cure for this disease, it also placed persons infected with leprosy on islands or isolated locations where they could not inflict others. For example, the United States once turned the Hawaiian island of Molokai into a leper colony. Like leprosy, God also ordered people who intentionally sinned to be “cut off” from the community of believers because of the risks they posed to others (e.g., Ex. 30:38).
(3) When unchecked, leprosy and sin both spread quickly. Leprosy and yeast (both symbols of sin) are two of the fastest spreading microorganisms. Like leprosy, sin also spreads quickly if left unchecked: “Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.” (Jam. 1:15). “They conceive mischief and bring forth iniquity, and their mind prepares deception.” (Job 15:35). “Behold, he travails with wickedness, and he conceives mischief and brings forth falsehood.” (Ps. 7:14). God provides examples of how quickly sin spreads later in the book of Numbers. For example, upon hearing the bad report from 10 spies about the “giants” in Canaan, “all” the congregation cried and wept the entire night (Nu. 14:1). The nation was so motivated by fear that they even tried to appoint a leader to bring them back their prior bondage in Egypt (Nu. 14:2-4). As another example, Korah’s rebellion against Moses started with a few men and then grew to include 250 “men of renown” (Nu. 16:2). It then grew to include 14,700 sympathizers, all of whom God judged (Nu. 16:49). Likewise, when the Jews reached the edge of the Promised Land, a few men began to engage in the sin of temple prostitution. Their sin spread quickly within the tribes. Ultimately, God judged at least 24,000 men (Nu. 25:9). Thus, sin cannot be ignored within your body, your mind, or the Church.
(4) Leprosy and sin cause the victim to lose feeling. Leprosy kills the nerve endings in the infected skin. Appendages fall off because the victim cannot feel when he or she is causing damage to a finger or toe. Sin also causes the victim to become numb to the pain he or she is causing: “being darkened in their understanding . . . they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.” (Eph. 4:18-19). “by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron,” (1 Tim. 4:2). Feeling pain is important. For example, pain receptors keep your body from making an injury worse. Your pain receptors tell your hand to remove it from a hot stove before it gets burned. Like leprosy, unchecked sin can hinder the ability of the Holy Spirit to convict you of your sin.
(5) Leprosy and sin both lead to death. A victim of leprosy will eventually die if untreated. Like leprosy, sin also leads to death when it is not treated: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Ro. 6:23).
(6) Leprosy and sin have the same cure. Because leprosy is both caused by original sin and is a symbol of sin, both leprosy and sin have a common cure: “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed.” (Is. 53:4-5; 1 Pet. 2:24). Jesus’ first recorded miracle was healing a leper (Matt. 8:2-3). Everything Jesus did was for a reason. This includes the order of His miracles. He was symbolically showing that He has the ability to cure the disease of sin.
Jesus healing the lepers (image credit)2
(7) Leprosy and sin both require someone to diagnose the problem. With Leprosy (now called Hansen’s disease (1873)), a doctor diagnoses and treats it with antibiotics. The priests diagnosed leprosy. Today, every believer is part of God’s holy priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5, 9; Rev. 1:6). As part of God’s holy priesthood, you have a duty to direct a sinner to the cure.
The confession of sin and restitution. “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 sin which he has committed, and he shall make restitution in full for his wrong and add to it a fifth of it, and give it to him whom he has wronged. 8 But if the person has no redeemer 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 person’s holy gifts shall be his; whatever anyone gives to the priest, it becomes his.’” (Nu. 5:5-10).
(1) Repentance - God will forgive the repentant sinner. Satan will frequently attack a repentant sinner by calling him a hypocrite and telling him that he is unfit for service. Yet, there is no sin that is too great for God to forgive when you repent (1 Jo. 1:9). After you repent, you should not feel condemned by your prior sins (Rom. 8:1). Your sins are no worse than the 12 men who founded the tribes of Israel. Your sins are no worse than Paul, who murdered Christians. If God was willing to accept the sacrifice of animals to atone for the sins of the Jews, you have no reason to doubt that the death of His own son would be enough to atone for your sins (Heb. 9:14). Is there any hidden sin that you are holding onto that you have not repented of?
(2) Restitution - A repentant sinner must also restore his or her victims. If you steal from someone and then realize your sin and repent, God still expects you to make your victim whole by returning the money (Nu. 5:7). This is called restitution. Before you come to the altar, Jesus says that you must first set things right with the person you have wronged (Matt. 5:23-24). If the sin was against God, like withholding tithes (Mal. 3:8), or if the victim was dead with no relatives, the trespass offering was in the form of a ram and 20% restitution payment to God (Nu. 5:8; Lev. 5:15-16). Ignorance of the sin or what the law required was no excuse (Lev. 5:17). If you were to think of every time you received a dollar and failed to pay a tithe, imagine how large your ledger must now be with the 20% penalty added to it?
Jesus was the ram offering to pay for our sins. The first time a ram was offered was when Abraham was about to offer Isaac, and God instead provided a ram: “Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son.” (Gen. 22:13). The ram caught in the thicket of thorns foreshadows Jesus. He wore a crown of thorns (Jo. 19:5). He was offered as our substitute “guilt” or trespass offering against God. “But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; by His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities.” (Is. 53:10-11). Have you given thanks that Jesus has paid for your robberies against God plus interest?
(3) Transformation - A repentant sinner is a new creation with a debt of gratitude. There can be no forgiveness without the shedding of blood (Lev. 17:11; Heb. 9:22). In addition to being the ram of the guilt offering, Jesus was the lamb without defect who fulfilled all the sin offerings for us (Isa. 53:7; Jo. 1:29; Heb. 10:12-14; 1 Pet. 1:18-19). If you recognize that Christ paid your debt, you can show your gratitude by making yourself a “living sacrifice” to Him (Ro. 12:1). If God has transformed you, you should also not allow any provision for your old sinful self (Rom. 13:14). If you are continuing to sin, how grateful are you for what Christ did for you on the cross?
Rules of allegations of adultery. “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 sexual relations with her and it is hidden from the eyes of her husband and she remains undiscovered, although she has defiled herself, and there is no witness against her and she has not been caught in the act, 14 if an attitude of jealousy comes over him and he is jealous of his wife when she has defiled herself, or if an attitude of jealousy comes over him and he is jealous of his wife when she has not defiled herself, 15 the man shall then bring his wife to the priest, and shall bring as an offering for her a tenth of an ephah of barley meal; he shall not pour oil on it nor put frankincense on it, because it is a grain offering of jealousy, a grain offering of reminder, a reminder of wrongdoing. 16 ‘Then the priest shall bring her forward and have her stand before the Lord, 17 and the priest shall take holy water in an earthenware container; and he shall take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it in the water. 18 The priest shall then have the woman stand before the Lord and let down the hair of the woman’s head, and place the grain offering of reminder in her hands, that is, the grain offering of jealousy; and in the hand of the priest is to be the water of bitterness that brings a curse. 19 And the priest shall have her take an oath and shall say to the woman, ‘If no man has had sexual relations with you and if you have not gone astray into uncleanness, as you are under the authority of your husband, be immune to this water of bitterness that brings a curse; 20 if, however, you have gone astray, though under the authority of your husband, and if you have defiled yourself and a man other than your husband has had sexual 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), “may the Lord make you a curse and an oath among your people by the Lord’s making your thigh shriveled and your belly swollen; 22 and this water that brings a curse shall go into your stomach, to make your belly swell up and your thigh shrivel.’ And the woman shall say, ‘Amen, Amen.”’ (Nu. 5:11-22).
Rules regarding cleansing of jealousy. “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. 25 And 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 reminder offering and offer it up in smoke on the altar, and afterward he shall make the woman drink the water. 27 When he has made her drink the water, then it will 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 [t]and cause bitterness, and her belly will swell up and her thigh will shrivel, and the woman will become a curse among her people. 28 But if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, she will be immune and conceive children. 29 ‘This is the law of jealousy: when a wife, who is under the authority of her husband, goes astray and defiles herself, 30 or when an attitude of jealousy comes over a man and he is jealous of his wife, he shall then have the woman stand before the Lord, and the priest shall apply all of this law to her. 31 The man, moreover, will be free of guilt, but that woman shall bear the consequences of her guilt.’” (Nu. 5:23-31).
(1) Jesus wants to spare His bride (the Church) from the penalty of adultery. The Bible prohibits adultery for both men and women (Lev. 18:20; Ex. 20:17). Jesus also reveals that the mere act of lusting after another is an act of adultery (Matt. 5:28). All are guilty of this (Ro. 3:20). For someone caught in the act of adultery, the penalty under God’s law was death by stoning (Lev. 20:10; Dt. 17:5; 22:24). Yet, Jesus did not punish the prostitute when others wanted to stone her (Jo. 8:5-7). He instead instructed her to sin no more (Jo. 8:11). Thankfully, God is slow to anger (Ex. 34:6; Nu. 14:18; Neh. 9:17; Ps. 86:15; 103:8; 145:8). When a couple is engaged in adultery, He knows it at the moment the thought first enters the sinner’s head. From Jesus’ example, the repentance of the sinner is His primary goal (Lk. 5:32; 15:7). Is there any sin in your heart that you need to repent of?
(2) Jesus wants to help you to remain pure to allow you to marry Him. A high priest had a tough marriage standard. He could only marry a virgin of his own people (Lev. 21:13-14). If he did not do so, he would “profane” his offspring (Lev. 21:14). Jesus is our High Priest (Heb. 8:1). We are also the adopted sons of God the Father (Ro. 8:15, 23). As High Priest, Jesus will one day marry the Church to form a bond of spiritual intimacy (Rev. 19:7-8; 21:1-9). Through His blood, you are pure to marry Him (2 Cor. 11:2; Rev. 14:4). Are you abstaining from the sinful things of this world? If not, you are committing spiritual adultery against Jesus.
The bridge of Christ (Image credit)4
(3) Our God is jealous to protect you. Adultery could only be punished with two actual witnesses, something unlikely to happen unless both confessed (Dt. 19:15; Matt. 18:16; 2 Cor. 13:1). When adultery is only suspected, a spirit of “jealousy” can overcome a suspicious spouse (Nu. 6:14). Although the text here applies this test for a man, the best Old Testament example of a person being punished by a jealous spouse was Joseph when he was falsely accused of being with Potepher’s wife (Gen. 39:20). In the New Testament, a different Joseph did not subject Mary to this test as he could have done when he discovered that she was pregnant. Instead, before an angel spoke with him, he was going to send Mary away (Matt. 1:19). God is “jealous” to protect the purity of His future bride (Dt. 4:24; 5:9; 6:15; 32:16; Jos. 24:19; Nah. 1:2). Does He have any reason to be jealous or believe that you have been spiritually unfaithful to Him?
(1) Openness: Are you willing to allow God to show you what is within your heart? The Oath to God with Loose Hair (Nu. 5:18-21). A spouse could only ask that a person be tested for adultery if there was reasonable suspicion. The priest administered the test, but it was God who would show someone’s guilt or innocence. Most importantly, the participant needed to be willing to allow the test to be done. This was symbolized by the oath. The loose hair symbolized an openness where one’s defenses are let down. The woman affirmed that she had not been with another man and was under her husband’s authority (Nu. 5:19). We are under the authority of our future husband Christ. Like the priest, God tests us (Jer. 17:10; Ps. 11:5). When He tests you, He shows you where your heart is evil (Jer. 17:9). After David committed adultery and then murder to cover it up, he invited God to test him to show him where his heart remained evil (Ps. 139:23). Are you asking God to show you your hidden sins? If you say to God that there is no need for Him to test you because you have no sin, God reveals that the truth is not within you (1 Jo. 1:8). Do you think God prefers the sinner who is willing to let God show him or her their sins or the self-righteous person who claims he or she has none?
(2) The Holy Spirit: Are you leading a Spirit-filled life? The Barley Bread Without Oil (Nu. 5:15). This test involved barley instead of wheat bread. No oil was used. Oil in the Bible symbolizes the Holy Spirit (1 Sam. 16:13). Barley was the wheat that came from the first of three seasonal harvests. Each of the three harvests represents a stage in a believer’s walk with God: (1) barley = justification, (2) wheat = sanctification, and (3) fruit = glorification. Barley was offered during the Feast of First Fruits (Lev. 23:9-14). This corresponded with Christ’s resurrection and symbolized the offering of a new believer (1 Cor. 15:20). Wheat, by contrast, was offered on the Festival of Weeks (Lev. 23:15-22). This was the same date as Pentecost (Acts 2:3). Thus, this corresponded with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus fed the masses of followers, he used “five barley loaves.” (Jo. 6:9). When they were filled, He said unto His disciples, “Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.” (Jo. 6:12). These believers, even if not strong in their walk, overcame death. But they were not yet set apart from the world. Are you living both in the world and of the world, like the masses do? Is your life filled and guided by the Holy Spirit? Is the fruit of the Holy Spirit clear for others to see around you? Or, are the decisions in your life all guided by the flesh?
(3) Prayer: Does your prayer life leave much to be desired? No Frankincense (Nu. 5:15). The priests used frankincense for their grain offerings (Lev. 2:2). They also used pure frankincense for the altar of incense. Incense when burned creates smoke that is a sweet aroma to God (Lev. 24:7; Ex. 30:22-37). Because it was valuable, it was brought along with gold to Jesus by the wise men upon His birth (Mat. 2:11). The sweet aroma today that we create for God is our prayer: “And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel's hand.” (Rev. 8:4). Thus, frankincense symbolizes prayer. Are you creating a sweet aroma for God in your life?
(5) The Word: Do you wash the sins with the world with the Word? A clay pot filled with holy water and the holy word (Nu. 5:17). “We are the clay, and [God] [is] our potter.” (Is. 64:8). Jesus was the Word who became flesh (Jo. 1:14). The dissolved ink from the scroll symbolized His Word within us (Nu. 5:23). Water symbolized cleansing to obtain purity (Lev. 15:31). For example, the priests washed: (1) the “entrails” and the legs of a sacrifice (Lev. 1:9); (2) themselves before service (Lev. 8:6); (3) a healed leper (Lev. 14:5:8, 9); and (4) a fellow priest contaminated by death (Nu. 11:12). Jesus offered that if anyone came to Him and drank what He offered (the dissolved Word), that person would have “streams of living water flow from deep within” (Jo. 7:37-38). At His death, He poured out both blood and living water (Jo. 19:34; 1 Jo. 5:6). If we are justified by His blood, His water sanctifies us (Eph. 5:26). Thus, “[l]et us draw near . . . having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Heb. 10:22). The pure water to wash our bodies comes from confession of sin (1 Jo. 1:9). Indeed, when John the Baptist preached, he stated that baptism was for repentance (Matt. 3:11; Mk. 1:4; Acts 19:4). Today, you wash by reading the Word: “so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,” (Eph. 5:26). Are you reading the Word to clean yourself of the filth of this world? If so, are you bathing daily, weekly, or even less frequently?
(6) The Flesh: Are you drawn to the things of the world instead of the things of God? Earth dust in the clay pot, causing a swelling abdomen and wasting thighs (Nu. 5:17-22). As stated above, we are the clay pots that God made (Is. 64:8). The dust added to the water symbolized the things of this world. It was also a symbol of death (Ps. 23:15). The stomach is where your food goes. It symbolizes what you crave. The thigh of the animal symbolized its strength in the context of a fellowship offering. By eating these portions of the animal in fellowship with God, the priest was acknowledging that his strength comes from God, and he was giving his strength to God (Lev. 7:31-34; 8:26; 9:21). When you accept Christ, your old desires of the flesh should fade away: “knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin;” (Ro. 6:6; Eph. 4:22; Col. 3:9). When you are tested by the things of the world around you, do you crave them, like the women with the swelling abdomen? (1 Jo. 2:15-17). If so, you have fallen into spiritual adultery.
(7) Your Fruit: Are you bearing fruit for God or are you a curse to His people? (Nu. 5:27-28). Jesus said that you would know someone by their fruits: “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?” (Matt. 7:16, 20). Here, someone who passed the test bears fruit by bearing offspring. If this story speaks to you in your spiritual relationship with God, the offspring must be spiritual as well. Are you bearing offspring in the Lord? Have you led someone to the holy water of Christ? Alternatively, are your fruits a curse to God’s people? If your fruits are only for your enjoyment, do you think they are of much use to God?