A Time of Preparation…the People Numbered Numbers 1-10:10, cont’d.
Numbers 5-10:10 The Purification of the People
The passage.—Instructions concerning defense were followed by practical suggestions for everyday living. Personal hygiene was important. The people were concentrated in a small geographical area. Those whose bodily impurities threatened the physical health of the camp must be separated from the people. Moses specified three—lepers, those having bodily discharges, and any who have had contact with a dead person (vv. 1–4).
Personal property must also be protected. Close living conditions made it difficult to secure one’s possessions. A 20 percent penalty was invoked upon anyone who was found guilty of theft. In addition, he must also make atonement with God by bringing offering to the priests.
Wood, F. M. (1972). Numbers. In H. F. Paschall & H. H. Hobbs (Eds.), The teacher’s Bible commentary (p. 96). Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers.
Numbers 5:1-4-By separating themselves from people who were unclean…such as a person with leprosy.
Numbers 5:5-10-By paying restitution when they have sinned.
Numbers 5:11-31-By maintaining faithful marriage relationships.
These verses describe the ”law of jealousy,” whereby a woman suspected of marital unfaithfulness had to be brought to the priest for trial before the Lord (v. 16), who alone could reveal the truth of the matter. The ritual of verse 23 symbolically transferred the written word of the curse to the water. Verse 27 may indicate a miscarriage (waste away literally means ”fall”; see Job 3:16, where a similar Hebrew word refers to untimely birth). The practice here prescribed, apparently used only in the wilderness, prevented jealousy and suspicion from corrupting family and community life. God must have miraculously controlled results whenever this test was used.
The Ryrie Study Bible, 5:11-31 footnote, p. 214
5:11–15. In the covenant community of Israel adultery, like ceremonial uncleanness and trespass against one’s brother or sister (v. 6), was symptomatic of unfaithfulness to the Lord. It therefore could not be tolerated as either a breach of the relationship of husband and wife (Ex. 20:14) or as the expression of covenant infidelity (Ezek. 16). If a man suspected his wife of adultery he was to take her before the priest whether he had proof or not (Num. 5:11–15). Since adultery also was a sin against God the appropriate offering of barley flour was to be taken to the priest and offered before the Lord. The purpose of the offering was to draw attention to guilt (v. 15). (How this was done is explained in vv. 18, 25–26.)
5:16–18. To start the ritual for ascertaining guilt the priest presented the woman before the Lord (i.e., before the tabernacle), took water specially blessed or set apart for such cases, and mixed it with dust from the tabernacle floor. He then loosened the woman’s hair and placed the barley offering in her hands … while he held the water jar in his hands. Though the scene so far suggests the magical procedures of pagan trials by ordeal, magic itself is expressly forbidden in the Old Testament (e.g., Deut. 18:9–13). So this ordeal ritual must be understood in terms of the symbolical value of its elements. The barley represents the offering appropriate to judgment, especially since it was not to be mixed with oil or incense (Num. 5:15; cf. Lev. 2:1–2; 5:11–13). The water mixed with dust was holy (Num. 5:17) because it was in a holy vessel (perhaps the bronze basin, Ex. 30:18). The dissolving of the dust in the water may well relate to the eating of dust by the serpent, who had been cursed by the Lord in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:14). If the accused woman proved to be guilty she, like the serpent, could expect the curse of God as well. The loosening of her hair, while not a token of her immorality (since that had not been proved), nevertheless reflects the seriousness of the accusation and the presumptive guilt attested by the husband’s “feelings of jealousy” (Num. 5:14).
5:19–31. When all was ready, the priest told the woman she would not be cursed if she were innocent but would be cursed if guilty. She was to reply, So be it. If she was guiltless no ill effect (harm) would follow her drinking of the bitter water, the water mixed with dust. If she was guilty, on the other hand, her guilt would be manifest by the wasting away of her thigh and the swelling of her abdomen. This curse clearly refers to some physical disorder which would render the woman sterile (vv. 27–28). After the woman had taken the oath (v. 22), the ink with which the curses were written was rinsed off the scroll and into the jar of dust and water (v. 23). That is, the woman must now symbolically “eat her words.” She then was to drink the potion while the priest offered the barley to the Lord (vv. 24–26). If guilty, she suffered the penalty of the curse. If innocent, she came through unharmed with her child-bearing capacity intact (vv. 27–28). In either case the husband was absolved of guilt for if the wife was innocent he had acted only because he had been affected by a feeling of jealousy over which he had no control (vv. 29–31).
The physical manifestations of guilt were not inherent in the properties of the liquid mixture itself or, as stated earlier, could they be attributed to magic. More likely it was a matter of a psychosomatic reaction caused by genuine guilt or innocence, a reaction prompted by one’s conscience and the convicting work of the Holy Spirit.
Merrill, E. H. (1985). Numbers. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, pp. 221–222). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, Logos Bible Software
Numbers 6:1-21-By taking a Nazarite vow.
6:1-8 A Nazarite (from a verb meaning ”two separate or abstain”) was a layperson of either sex who was bound by a vow of consecration to God’s service for a specific period of time or in some cases for life…He could drink no fruit of divine (vv. 3-4), could not cut his hair (v. 5), and could not defile himself by going near a dead person (vv, 6-7). These outwards signs served as a public testimony of his dedication to God. Examples of NASA rights were Sampson, Judg. 13; Samuel, 1 Sam. 1:9-11; John the Baptist, Luke 1:15, 80; and Paul, Acts 18:18.
The Ryrie Study Bible, 6:1-8 footnote, p. 216
Numbers 6:22-27-By the blessing of Aaron on the people.
Prayer: Lord, while we are not called upon to take a Nazarite vow…we are called upon to be a separated and holy people. Help me to be holy…in thought and deed. Fill my mind with godly thoughts. Let me see all of life from Your perspective and to have the mind of Christ.