Feb. 13 Reading: Numbers 5-6 Commentary

Below is our Numbers 5-6 commentary from our Beginning to End Bible reading program. You can find an email link at the end of this page to share your thoughts or comments with us.

Key Verse(s):

“Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel: When a man or woman commits any sin that men commit in unfaithfulness against the Lord, and that person is guilty, then he shall confess the sin which he has committed.'” (Num. 5:5-7)

Numbers 5 – Purity in the Camp

commentaryThe next few chapters of Numbers (5-10) deal with regulations for maintaining purity within the camp and making some final preparations to enter the Promised Land.

Issue number one dealt with physical impurity. Specifically, those who had leprosy, those who had a discharge of any kind and those who were defiled by touching a corpse (vv. 1-4). All of these issues brought impurity into the camp.

This was an issue, not because of the physical impurity, but because of God’s presence in the camp. He, of course, is pure and holy. All of these issues made people impure. Like oil and water, those two states of being cannot coexist.

It may seem uncaring of God to do this. But in reality, it’s a kind gesture. We’ve seen people do unholy things before in the presence of God and not be allowed to live (see Leviticus 10). So, in essence, God is sparing the lives of people with this command.

Secondly though, it’s teaching the people about God’s holiness, both moral and physical. To the best of their ability, they were to maintain their own personal holiness. Remember, God had said to them, “Be holy for I am holy” (Lev. 19:2). This was a way to keep that idea front and center in their minds.

Making Things Right

Physical signs of impurity are obvious to see. But what about impurity that is unseen? What about impurity of the heart because you have wronged a neighbor or committed a sin no one witnessed? Those are addressed next.

The commands from Leviticus 6:1-7 about making things right through confession and restitution are reiterated here. Of importance is the recognition of sin in the first place. Without realizing sin occurred, a person cannot make it right.

So what were they to do when they sinned? God instructed them this way in Num. 5:5-7:

“Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel: When a man or woman commits any sin that men commit in unfaithfulness against the Lord, and that person is guilty, then he shall confess the sin which he has committed.'”

What is sin exactly? James 4:17 defines it this way: “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.” In other words, it’s disobedience. You know what the right thing to do is and you choose not to do it. That’s a pretty simple definition.

When that happens, our path to restoration with God is confession. In the New Testament, John would say it this way, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9).

An Unfaithful Wife

Adultery is the third action addressed in this chapter that brought impurity into the camp. Infidelity was considered a serious offense for several reasons. For starters, in that time, women (wives) were viewed as the property of men (husbands). Yes, it was a marriage, but the arrangement took on more of a legal feel. So in essence, a woman committing adultery was not only an offense to her husband but to the person who owned her.

Additionally, in this time, it was more difficult to determine who was the father. None of the genetic testing we have today was available to them. So the burden of proof regarding suspected infidelity rested on the woman.

The path laid out by God in these verses to the woman for clearing her name seems burdensome and unfair. In actuality, it protected her from an enraged and jealous husband who might suspect she was unfaithful (and try to kill her). This ritual would either confirm her guilt or clear her name. In essence, it’s innocent until proven guilty, which is the standard for our legal code today.

The ritual (vv. 16-28) involved the drinking of bitter water and the woman’s vow to abide by the results of the test (v. 22). If the water did nothing to her system, she was cleared of guilt. However, if the bitter water caused her belly to swell and her thighs to rot, she was guilty and would “become a curse among her people” (v. 28).

Of course, the actual water concoction didn’t bring the sickness. Otherwise, even the innocent woman would become sick. It was God causing the woman to become sick as his method for revealing the truth about her infidelity.

Numbers 6 – The Nazirite Vow

An interesting ritual discussed in Numbers 6 is known as the Nazirite vow. This had nothing to do with being from a certain ethnicity or region of the country (i.e. a Nazarene – see Matt. 2:23). Rather, the Nazirite designation signified a special vow that a man or woman (v. 2) took for a certain amount of time to show a special devotion to (or consecration to) the Lord.

Ordinarily, one made the vow public so that people would know why your behavior changed. There were three stipulations with the vow:

1. Drink no wine

2. Refrain from cutting one’s hair

3. No contact with a dead body

The last stipulation takes on added weight when you realize this included dead family members (v. 7). If a family member died while you were under the vow, you could not grieve in the way that would be normally expected. 

The stipulations of the vow helped a person remain ceremonially clean during their time of devotion to God. There was no specific length of time that was required by the vow (although if none is specified tradition says it lasted 30 days). It appears to have been an individual’s choice. In some cases, the vow could be taken for life, where different rules applied. In three cases, a child received this vow from birth (Samuel – I Sam. 2:8-28; Samson – Judges 13:1-5; John the Baptist – Luke 13:1-5). 

When the timeframe of the vow was completed, they could return to their normal life. To conclude the vow, the person shaved their head at the door of the tabernacle and offered a peace offering (vv. 16-20). 

A Priestly Benediction

The Nazirite vow mirrors similar rituals people do today. Fasting might be the modern-day equivalent of a ritual where people choose to draw closer to God through prayer and focused attention on Him. 

A person who took the Nazirite vow was acting in a way that showed devotion to God. It was a personal decision to connect with Him at a deeper level. But, it wasn’t required by everyone to receive God’s blessing. God would bless his people regardless if they simply chose to follow and be obedient.

Proof of this is found in the famous text of Numbers 6:24-26. God told Aaron to bless he people in this way by saying:

“The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace.”

Through this blessing, God would put his name on the people. They would be his children and he would bless them (v. 27).

Questions to Consider:

What are some ways you draw closer to God? Have you ever fasted and prayed for something specific that you needed or were worried about?

God wants to bless you, protect and preserve you, look upon you with gladness, be merciful and compassionate towards you and give you rest. Why don’t so many more people believe that today? What’s keeping them from seeing God this way?

What other points would you want to know about in our Numbers 5-6 commentary? Email us here with questions or comments.