Sunday, February 04, 2007

Matt's Messages - Purity in the Wilderness

“Purity in the Wilderness”
Life in the Wilderness
February 4, 2007
Numbers 5:1-31

Today, we’re picking up from where we left off in our study of the Book of Numbers which I have titled: “Life in the Wilderness.”

Let me ask you a couple of questions to see if you remember where we are in our desert trek:

Where are Moses and the Israelites? [They are camped at the base of Mount Sinai.]

In chapter 1, they took a census. Why? [To number the army of Israel.]

Where is the army supposed to march? [To Canaan to conquer the Promised Land.]

How many fighting men does Numbers say there were? 603,550.

In chapter 2, we were told how the nation of Israel was supposed to campp–which tribes went where. The 12 tribes are organized in a circle around what? [The Tent of Meeting.]

Inside of that bigger circle and camped in a circle around the Tent of Meeting is what tribe? [Levi.]

In chapter 3, Moses counted the Levites. How many were there? [22,000.] And that was roughly the same number as what? [The firstborn of Israel.] And the Levites were special/holy to the Lord in the place of the firstborn.

And in chapter 4, the Levites who were of the age of active duty were counted. And we found out what the ministries were to be for those 8,580 active duty Levites. They were in charge of the holy things.

Notice the concentric circles. At the center was the Tabernacle with its completely holy: Holy of Holies. Then the Holy Place, then the rest of the Tabernacle inside of it’s tent, then the Priests and the Levites who are holy to the Lord, then the rest of God’s holy people–Israel camped in a concentric circle around the Holiness of God.

Now, in chapter 5, we are told some of what Moses and the Israelites were to do to keep the camp holy. To keep the camp in the wilderness pure. “Purity in the Wilderness.”

Now understand, we’re still getting ready for the big march. Israel is still getting ready to march towards Canaan. They aren’t quite ready yet.

They have been numbered, organized, and structured, but now they also need to know what they need to do to be purified.

Numbered, organized, and structured, but also purified.

And, as you can imagine, as we see how Israel was purified, we’ll be sure to see some timeless principles that point us to how Jesus purifies us, as well.

There are three sections to chapter 5. Let’s look at the first one. Verses 1-4.

“The LORD said to Moses, ‘Command the Israelites to send away from the camp anyone who has an infectious skin disease or a discharge of any kind, or who is ceremonially unclean because of a dead body. Send away male and female alike; send them outside the camp so they will not defile their camp, where I dwell among them.’ The Israelites did this; they sent them outside the camp. They did just as the LORD had instructed Moses.”

Now what do we have here?

God wants this camp to be pure. God commands that the Israelites send people–who have an infectious skin disease (which would have included Hansen’s disease or leprosy, but that’s not all that this word is talking about, an infectious skin disease), or a discharge of some kind, or someone who has come into contact with the ultimate unclean thing–a corpse–to send these people “away from the camp.”

In other words, outside of the concentric circles.

Why? V.3

“Send away male and female alike; send them outside the camp so they will not defile their camp, where I dwell among them.’”

God wants these circles to be pure. He lives among His people in the center of their camp. And He wants them to pure like He is pure.

Now, what is so bad about skin disease, discharges, and touching a dead body?

Nothing really. All of those things were considered “unclean” by the Lord and therefore by His people.

Unclean. And it’s not that those things were evil in and of themselves, but that clean and unclean were categories that pictured the categories holy and unholy. Righteous and unrighteous.

God deemed certain things–here things that were connected with death and decay–to be unclean. And unclean is a picture of unholy.

And therefore, to keep picture clear, those things that are unclean (impure) must be put outside of the camp.

Now for most of those people, this was a temporary arrangement. If you touched a corpse, you were outside of the camp for a time, but then you could wash and return.

All of them were a picture of the holiness of God and the purity of the camp in the wilderness.

This group of people who were getting ready to march towards Canaan were to be different from every other nation that ever was.

A pure and holy God was in their midst!

And therefore, they needed to be a pure and holy people.

Now, this week, as I was studying this, I had the hardest time seeing what in the world this had to do with you and me in 2007.

I mean, there’s a SuperBowl tonight, why should I care about Numbers 5:1-4?

And then it struck me. How does the New Testament pick up this kind of language?

Hebrews 13!

The writer to the Hebrews says that Jesus went “outside of the camp!”

Hebrews 13:12&13 says, “Jesus suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.”


Jesus left the Holy of Holies–Heaven!–and took on [not just an infectious skin disease, a bodily discharge, or contact with a corpse–but what those things were bold pictures of–] our sin. And He went outside of the camp in our place.

In a few minutes, we’re going to eat the Lord’s Supper.

Among other things, it is remembrance of the fact that Jesus went outside the camp for us.

Which means we can come into God’s presence.

Isn’t that good news?!

That’s the Gospel. And it’s the greatest news in all of the world!

Last week, I got to preach at our sister church plant in my home town of Shelby Ohio.

Their name is Core Community Church, and my message was how to stay “Gospel to the Core.”

I told them about our saying around here: “The Main Thing is to Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing.” And the Main Thing is the Gospel.

The Gospel teaches that a Holy God became man and went outside of the camp “to make people holy through his own blood.”

Jesus makes us clean. Have you trusted Jesus Christ to make you clean?

Have you trusted in His sacrificial, bloody death for your sins?

If you have, you are clean.

If you have not, you will be sent outside of the camp–away from the presence of the Lord.

Trust Jesus today.

Jesus makes us clean.

And not only that #2. JESUS FORGIVES OUR SINS.

That’s what the next passage is about. Verses 5 through 10.

“The LORD said to Moses, ‘Say to the Israelites: 'When a man or woman wrongs another in any way and so is unfaithful to the LORD, that person is guilty and must confess the sin he has committed. He must make full restitution for his wrong, add one fifth to it and give it all to the person he has wronged. But if that person has no close relative to whom restitution can be made for the wrong, the restitution belongs to the LORD and must be given to the priest, along with the ram with which atonement is made for him. All the sacred contributions the Israelites bring to a priest will belong to him. Each man's sacred gifts are his own, but what he gives to the priest will belong to the priest.'’”

Now, we could make the mistake of thinking this changes the subject. But I don’t think so.

I think that God is still talking about purifying the camp.

Here the sin isn’t just pictured by uncleanness. It’s real sin: one person sins against another, probably by stealing or defrauding them in some way. The actual wrong done isn’t clear here. But it seems to be financial to some degree.

Now, what does that do to the camp in the wilderness?

It makes it impure, doesn’t it?

If relationships have broken by interpersonal sin within the camp, the whole camp is affected.

So this impurity must also be fixed.

And notice, when we sin against someone else, who are we ultimately sinning against?

God. Look at verse 6 again.

“When a man or woman wrongs another in any way and so is unfaithful to the LORD, that person is guilty and must confess the sin he has committed.”

That’s an important principle to keep in mind. When we sin against people, we’re ultimately sinning against God.

Remember when David sinned with Bathsheba? Who did he sin against?

Well, Bathsheba for one in tempting her as he did.
And Uriah, her husband. David stole her from him.
And then Uriah died because of David.
And the rest of David’s family were sinned against.
And the nation was harmed by David’s sin.

So what does David pray in Psalm 51 when he becomes repentant?

David prays, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight...”

Now, David doesn’t mean that other people weren’t sinned against at all.

He means that nothing compares to His sin against the LORD.

Ultimately, our sins against one another are sins against God.

So what do we do about it?

Well, confession is called for. Verse 7.

“[He or she] must confess the sin he [or she] has committed.”

And restitution is required. “He must make full restitution for his wrong.”

Plus 20%. “...add one fifth to it and give it all to the person he has wronged.”

That’s a great principle. Give back what has been stolen with interest.

And there is also a sacrifice needed. Verse 8 talks about “a ram with which atonement is made for him.” That also shows how this sin involves God. It requires a sacrifice.

I don’t think it’s hard to make the jump to Jesus here, is it?

When we sin against each other, we’re sinning against God.

And Jesus is our sacrifice (like the ram) that makes atonement for us.

So Jesus Forgives Our Sins.

And that makes it possible for us to be fully reconciled to those we have sinned against.

Jesus Forgives Our Sins.

Remember the story of Zacchaeus?

“Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he?”

Really, Zacchaeus was an evil little man, an evil little man was he!

Zacchaeus was a tax collector who had gotten rich off of shady business deals and collaborating with Rome to milk his fellow Jews.

Had he sinned against his neighbors? You bet.

What happened when he met Jesus?

Jesus said, “Zacchaeus, you come down, for I’m going to you house ‘for tea’ (that’s how my wife grew up singing up, at least,)”

And then what happened? Zacchaeus believed the gospel, and Jesus forgave his sins.

Zacchaeus said (Luke 19:8), “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’ [That’s more than 20%!] Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

Jesus forgives our sins, and that makes it possible for us to reconciled to others.

Is there someone that you are estranged from?

Is there someone whom you have sinned against and haven’t made it right yet?

Is there someone who has sinned against you that you haven’t forgiven yet?

God wants purity in the camp. He wants a restoration of full fellowship wherever possible. And God makes it possible through confession, restitution, and the sacrifice of Jesus.

1 John 1:9. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Romans 12:18. “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

Jesus makes us clean and that makes it possible to come into His presence.

And Jesus forgives our sins and that makes it possible to be reconciled to Him and to others.


I think that this last piece of case law points us in that direction. Verse 11.

“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'If a man's wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him by sleeping with another man, and this is hidden from her husband and her impurity is undetected (since there is no witness against her and she has not been caught in the act), and if feelings of jealousy come over her husband and he suspects his wife and she is impure–or if he is jealous and suspects her even though she is not impure–then he is to take his wife to the priest.”

Notice the repeated word “impure” in these verses.

We’re still talking about purifying the camp in the wilderness, aren’t we?

I’ve always wondered about this passage, and one of the things I’ve wondered is why it’s here at this point in the book of Numbers.

I think it’s because God is showing them through case law how the camp must be purified.

Adultery is not just forbidden by the Seventh Commandment; it’s not just a matter of unfaithfulness in a marriage; it makes the camp impure.

And the camp needs to be purified.

But what do you do when there is no proof?

Nobody’s been caught in the act (if they had, they’d have been stoned). There is just a suspicion, a jealousy (probably with some reason–they would have to be very careful about this–reputations are on the line, and a husband wouldn’t want to go public unless there was good reason).

But there’s no direct proof.

What do you do?

You take it to the Lord and leave it up to His judgment. Because He knows.

Verse 15. “Then he is to take his wife to the priest.”

Now this part could sound harsh to our modern ears, but it’s really merciful because in the Ancient Near East, in other cultures, husbands could toss their wives into the river upon suspicion or beat them or kill them even without proof.

This is going public before the priest (not in private in the tent) and it was fair–it would establish either guilt or innocence! It actually protected an innocent wife.

But it was an ordeal. V.15

“He must also take an offering of a tenth of an ephah of barley flour on her behalf. He must not pour oil on it or put incense on it [no joy here], because it is a grain offering for jealousy, a reminder offering to draw attention to guilt. [Symbolism.] ‘'The priest shall bring her and have her stand before the LORD. Then he shall take some holy water in a clay jar [probably from the basin for washing] and put some dust from the tabernacle floor into the water. After the priest has had the woman stand before the LORD, he shall loosen her hair [probably to indicate openness and the possibility of a cure for looseness] and place in her hands the reminder offering, the grain offering for jealousy, while he himself holds the bitter water that brings a curse.”

Now, I don’t think that the water was bitter because of the dust.

Where was this dust from? The floor of the tabernacle. I’m sure it didn’t taste good, but I think it’s holy water and holy dust. And the bitterness will come if she is guilty. V.19

“Then the priest shall put the woman under oath and say to her, ‘If no other man has slept with you and you have not gone astray and become impure while married to your husband, may this bitter water that brings a curse not harm you. But if you have gone astray while married to your husband and you have defiled yourself by sleeping with a man other than your husband’–here the priest is to put the woman under this curse of the oath-- ‘may the LORD cause your people to curse and denounce you when he causes your thigh to waste away and your abdomen to swell. [That’s a roundabout way of talking about her reproductive parts. The curse is a miscarriage if she is pregnant and awful barrenness if she is not. This would be devastating to a woman in that culture.] May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells and your thigh wastes away.’ ‘'Then the woman is to say, ‘Amen. So be it.’” She agrees. She takes on the curse if guilty. And she does it symbolically, as well. V.23

“‘'The priest is to write these curses on a scroll and then wash them off into the bitter water. He shall have the woman drink the bitter water that brings a curse, and this water will enter her and cause bitter suffering [if she is guilty]. The priest is to take from her hands the grain offering for jealousy, wave it before the LORD and bring it to the altar. The priest is then to take a handful of the grain offering as a memorial offering and burn it on the altar; after that, he is to have the woman drink the water.”

Now this is not magic. It always seemed like it to me. And it’s not just psychological trick to get her to confess, either.

It’s a highly symbolic public ritual that God instituted to give Himself, God, the final judgment of her innocence or guilt and to purify the camp. He actually here is promising to make the truth clear by His own power. V.27

“If she has defiled herself and been unfaithful to her husband, then when she is made to drink the water that brings a curse, it will go into her and cause bitter suffering; her abdomen will swell and her thigh waste away, and she will become accursed among her people. [The opposite is true, too!] If, however, the woman has not defiled herself and is free from impurity, she will be cleared of guilt and will be able to have children. ‘'This, then, is the law of jealousy when a woman goes astray and defiles herself while married to her husband, or when feelings of jealousy come over a man because he suspects his wife. The priest is to have her stand before the LORD and is to apply this entire law to her. The husband will be innocent of any wrongdoing, but the woman will bear the consequences of her sin.'’”

Now, we could talk about a lot of things from this passage, not the least of which is the importance of marital fidelity–it’s important to stay faithful to your spouse!

But what I want to point out that I noticed here is that God knows our hearts.

When there is no proof.

When no one else can see whether we are innocent of guilty, God knows.

Jesus knows.

Jesus Knows Our Hearts.

And that means two things to me.

First, that I shouldn’t fool around with sin! Because God isn’t fooling around. He knows.

I’m not getting away with anything.

I’ve been reading a book recently about cheating and the different ways that people do it. [Don’t worry, I’m not trying to get ideas!]

But it has struck me as I’ve read it that we often think that we can get away things.

Nobody has to know.

“What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” Right?

Wrong. It happens before the eyes of God.

And in a few chapters in Numbers we’ll learn “Be sure that your sin will find you out” (32:23).

Jesus Knows Our Hearts.

So first, that I shouldn’t fool around with sin!

But secondly, if I’m unjustly accused, I know that God will vindicate me.

Many of us have been accused of doing something that we haven’t. I do it to my kids all the time and have to ask for their forgiveness!

But this text reminds us that God knows. Jesus knows our hearts.

And if we have been faithful, even if others don’t believe us, God (in time) will vindicate our name and defend our cause.

Notice that there is no time frame here. It doesn’t say when her abdomen would swell and her thigh would waste away.

My guess is that after this solemn ritual, they went home and in the Lord’s time, He made it abundantly clear whether or not she was innocent.

Of course, God hasn’t promised New Covenant Believers to clear our names in the same way today. And He doesn’t command that we purify the church in the same way today, either, praise the Lord!

But He does promise to vindicate those who are wrongfully accused.

And He promises that the truth will win out in the end.

We can all take that to heart, especially when we are taking lumps for something we didn’t even do!

Jesus Knows Our Hearts.

Worship at the Lord’s Table

And as we step to the Lord’s Table, that fact that Jesus Knows Our Hearts, should cause us to search our hearts as we get ready to eat and drink this memorial meal.

Because this Table says, “Jesus Makes Us Clean.”

He went outside the camp, “to make [His] people holy through his own blood.”

Jesus Makes Us Clean. And if you are trusting in His CrossWork you are invited to eat and drink with us.

Because Jesus Forgives Our Sins. His death paid the penalty our sins deserve, and it makes it possible for us to be reconciled to one another.

And Jesus Knows Our Hearts. If we are innocent, He will vindicate us in His time.

But if we are guilty, we need to not fool around with sin, because He isn’t fooling!
He died for our sins!

“Jesus Paid It All!”

So we need to take this time to examine our hearts and ask God to purify them for Himself.

Because He is pure and holy and He wants us children to be holy and purified, as well.