Right at the beginning of chapter 5 we continue the theme of supreme holiness. This helps me remember that chapter and verse separations are not part of the original scriptures. For me, sometimes using verse and chapter markings can hinder my Bible study because I can see them as walls dividing different ideas or topics instead of a continuation of an idea. That being said, we see God’s holiness carry over from chapter 4 to chapter 5. He wants His people to be so holy that He doesn’t even want unclean people in the camp. Of course, this could have medical benefits as well, which I think is another reason God instructed His people to leave the camp if they are unclean (verses 1-4).
In verse 6 there is something that grabs my attention. The NASB translation says, “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”. The word unfaithful is מַעַל (maal) in Hebrew. It is the same word that is used to talk about unfaithfulness in marriage. You will notice that the rest of the chapter deals with unfaithfulness in marriage. I think it is intriguing how God sees sin and idolatry as unfaithfulness in the same way that people see unfaithfulness within marriage. In fact, this is the premise of the entire book of Hosea. God uses the authentic metaphor of an adulteress wife to show how Israel acts towards Him. In God’s eyes, sin and marital unfaithfulness are one and the same.
Speaking of marital unfaithfulness, the majority of chapter 5 deals with an interesting situation that may arise in the lives of the Israelites. We are presented with a situation where there is a jealous man who thinks that his wife might have been unfaithful in their marriage, but there is no proof. No one saw her with another man; there is just suspicion. Now I think it is important to understand the world in which the Israelites live. Surrounding the time the law was given to the Israelites, there were other nations with other laws to deal with similar situations. Here is what the code of Hammurabi says about a woman accused of adultery, “If a man’s wife should have a finger pointed against her in accusation involving another male, although she has not been seized lying with another male, she shall submit to the divine River god for her husband.” This divine River god test pretty much consisted of her husband making her jump into a raging river and if she survived then the “god” ruled that she was innocent and if she died then she was guilty and her judgment was given to her. Keep this in mind as we go through Numbers 5.
If a Jewish man had suspicion that his wife was unfaithful, he didn’t throw her in a river to see what happened. Instead, he had to go to the tabernacle and see a priest. The couple would bring barley meal as a memorial offering and then the priest would set out the rules for the test that was to come. Essentially, the woman agreed to drink some water mixed with a little bit of dust and ink. A little bit of dust and ink isn’t going to have major adverse health effects unless there actually is some divine judgment involved in the situation. However, jumping in a raging river has been known to kill people even if they weren’t unfaithful in their marriage. This test takes the judgment out of man’s hands and squarely puts it in the hands of God to make the call. I know it doesn’t look like it at first, but this dust and ink water test is a major step forward for women in ancient history. No longer can a man choose to beat his wife or throw her in a river based on his suspicion. He must do the very public act of taking her to the tabernacle and allowing God to make a judgment. If you notice in verse 28, she is free if the judgment doesn’t come over her. This means the man can no longer bring this charge against her. Women weren’t treated this well in any other society on earth during this time in history. The Bible puts men and women on equal playing fields in value. God makes sure that His people cannot take advantage of women the same way other nations do.
Many people want to point a finger at the Bible and say that it’s misogynistic and oppressive to women. However, God’s law ensured that women were taken care of and given the same value as men. God doesn’t hate women; He made both men and women in His image. I think there are two major points we can pull out of Numbers 5. First, God sees sin as a spouse sees marital unfaithfulness and second, God values both men and women the same. God put into effect laws that protected both His holiness and the holiness of His people and He made sure the men of His people couldn’t abuse the women who are also made in His image. This is a true gift of the Bible. In every page, in every sentence, we see the heart of God coming alive to us. Even in obscure laws about obscure situations, we see God’s heart for His people.
Now let’s take a look at Chapter 6. The majority of this chapter is dedicated to explaining the Nazarite vow. A Nazarite vow is a special vow that a person can take to dedicate themselves to God. Notably, Samson partook in a Nazarite vow which is why he lost his strength after his hair was cut. A part of the promise to Samson was to keep his vow with God and once he broke that vow, his strength left him. If you wish to take a Nazarite vow, remember the wise words of Ecclesiastes 5:5, “It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it.” The Nazarite vow is so intense it even bars contact with dead relatives which would make a person unclean. Yes, if you were in a Nazarite vow and a close relative died, you wouldn’t be allowed to attend their funeral without breaking your vow. This is how serious the Nazarite vow is.
The last few verses of chapter 6 are an interesting section usually referred to as the Aaronic blessing (Aaronic referring to Aaron, the brother of Moses). The words of the Aaronic blessing are beautiful and tender. God asks for Aaron to make known how much God cares for His people. In these words we see God’s heart. Later, there is a great promise that proclaims “they shall invoke my name on the sons of Israel, and I then will bless them”. Ultimately, God wants us to call out to Him in all seasons. When we see Israel go off track in the Old Testament, God desires for them to return to Him so that He can return to blessing them. We see this in Matthew 7:11 as we are reminded that God is our Father. “So if you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” Don’t these words resonate so well with what we see in Numbers 6?! Our God doesn’t change – He still loves us and wants to bless us. If God didn’t change in the 1,400 years between the writing of Numbers and the words of Jesus, then surely He hasn’t changed between the time of Jesus and our time now. If you are a child of God today, God wants to bless you and wants to take care of you. Take peace and find rest in this truth.
Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Numbers+5-6&version=NIV
Tomorrow’s Bible reading will be Numbers 7 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan (1) (1)