Numbers 5 Commentary: Purity in the Camp.
The LORD orders Moses to expel any individual who is ritually unclean from the community of God’s people. Now we fully understand the reason – it’s because the LORD is present among the people. He detests sickness of this kind. Man was made in God’s image but now this disease is truly a misrepresentation of God’s glory. It is representing the otherness that is detestable before the LORD. This LORD here is very different from the LORD of the New Testament who didn’t expel lepers but bent backwards and healed them. Isn’t there something in the contrast that reminds us of the declaration below?
The Lord then passed in front of him and called out, “I, the Lord, am a God who is full of compassion and pity, who is not easily angered and who shows great love and faithfulness. I keep my promise for thousands of generations and forgive evil and sin; but I will not fail to punish children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation for the sins of their parents.” Exodus 34:6-7 Good News Translation.
We have a repeat of laws on restitution. After this we get some very strange instructions on testing a wife’s faithfulness or proving a wife’s unfaithfulness. While this law appears harsh it really is very cool. In a culture where women stood disadvantaged a possibility existed for injustice against women, even on mere accusation. This law is not meant to suppress women, but rather meant to protect them from unscrupulous male activity.
As a test for a wife’s faithfulness, this strange law protected women from unjustifiable ‘sending away with a certificate’, even on mere suspicion. As a test for unfaithfulness it protected the sanctity of marriage.
Chapter 5 is very strange! Men and women with defiling skin diseases are expelled from the camp. Strange and rough. The Old Testament doesn’t have good words like self-isolation that we have today – with Covid-19 pandemic. Expulsion here shouldn’t surprise us. In fact it helps us understand the expulsion of man in Genesis 3 by the same God because of impurity. The God of the Old Testament expels while the God of the New Testament embraces and heals. This is the gospel.
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