#4 in the Series, “Numbers in so many Words”
The book of Numbers is the story of God’s Kingdom – his warriors, his workers, his worshipers – and their progression in the wilderness.
In part two, we examined the circumstances they were in.
Part three, which covered chapters 3 and 4 of the book of Numbers, turned our focus from the warriors to the workers. We looked at both the rights and the responsibilities of being a worker in God’s Kingdom.
If you are married, or have been married – do you remember what it was like when you first got married? I’m not talking about the physical relationship, or even what the cooking was like – do you remember what it was like as you got used to the way each other lived?
- One of you was messy; one of you was neat
- one of you left lights on and cupboard doors open; one of you pushed in chairs and put the toilet lid down
- one of you yawned without covering your mouth, wiped your nose with whatever was available, never used a napkin; one of you was always putting things back in drawers and throwing papers away
- one of you left the bread bag untied, dirty dishes in the sink, wet towels on the floor; one of you organized the silverware drawer, the spice cupboard, the shoes in your closet
- one of you would wear anything that didn’t smell too bad; one of you would iron your socks.
If you ever had a roommate, remember what it was like? And when you had disagreements about the way things were – how were those disagreements settled?
“I was here first” – “It’s MY house” – “I’m the man” – “I’m the boss”
In Numbers chapter 5, God reminds Moses, “I’m not living with you; you’re living with me.” It’s God’s kingdom, it’s God’s world…we’re just living in it.
The church I attend isn’t my church. It doesn’t belong to my senior pastor, or to the church board. It’s God’s church. “I’ll build MY church,” Jesus said. What he says to us is about HIS church, HIS body, HIS world, HIS kingdom.
So, we start chapter five with these words…
Number 5:1 The LORD gave these instructions to Moses:
Now, stop just a minute. Before we go any further, make sure you get that. “The Lord gave…”. These aren’t rules Moses makes up off the top of his head. “The LORD gave…” Jehovah. The I Am. The God of wonders, the God of your deliverance. The One who gives breath and life.
Start there, and when the instructions seem hard to understand, when the commands seem beyond your ability or beyond reason, go back there. The LORD gave these instructions.
Don’t be one of those Christians. You know the ones. The ones who go by what they believe – yet their beliefs aren’t based on what God said, but what they think God should have said, what they think God would have said if He saw things their way, what they think is good luck for them to believe about God.
What did God say?
Numbers 5:2-4 “Command the people of Israel to remove anyone from the camp who has a contagious skin disease or a discharge, or who has been defiled by touching a dead person. 3This applies to men and women alike. Remove them so they will not defile the camp, where I live among you.” 4So the Israelites did just as the LORD had commanded Moses and removed such people from the camp.
This is not about skin disease, discharges or dead people. It’s about things that defile. It’s about sin.
What does God want us to do about sin? Specifically, what do we do about defilement in the camp?
In all three segments of this chapter this comes across. When there is sin, it must be dealt with. This is not about what happens outside the camp. God’s not saying – go confront the heathen; go condemn the sinners and reprobates and wicked people out there somewhere. Deal with the things that defile in the camp.
We talk a good game, but we don’t confront sin very well.
“Not me, brother. I’ll confront it.”
No, not really. We’re good at gossiping about it. We’re good at belittling and making fun. We’re good at giving disapproving looks and talking to all our friends about it.
God said, “Remove them.” That means real, face-to-face, one-on-one, honest dialogue. This is a very difficult thing. We don’t want to offend – rightly so. We don’t want to presume – rightly so.
Face it – we’re afraid. We’re afraid of the reaction, afraid of the response. We leave ourselves wide open to some pain.
But what does God have in mind? What is his goal for us? Why are we to remove the sinful one?
This was not removal so that they would never return. It was removal for the effect of restoration. The camp wouldn’t be healthy, nor would these unhealthy ones get any better as long as they remained in the camp. They had to be removed in order to get better.
Remember that as long as they remained in the camp, they were warriors and workers, and if they were sick, they were infecting everything they touched, they were contagious to everyone they came near. They couldn’t be effective workers or warriors.
They needed to be removed for the good of everyone.
We’ve got the wrong idea about judgment. You probably know this Scripture from the New Testament – “Stop judging others, and you will not be judged.” (Luke 6:37)
But do you know this Scripture?
Romans 14:13 So don’t condemn each other anymore. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not put an obstacle in another Christian’s path.
And what about this one?
John 7:24 Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.
1st Corinthians 4:5 So be careful not to jump to conclusions before the Lord returns as to whether or not someone is faithful. When the Lord comes, he will bring our deepest secrets to light and will reveal our private motives. And then God will give to everyone whatever praise is due.
Confront the sin, not the motives. Confront the plain and obvious sickness that is right in front of you for the purpose of restoration.
This is what the Corinthians refused to do. They refused to confront the sinful one in their church, so Paul had to confront the whole church. The entirety of 1st Corinthians chapter 5 is about this exact situation.
1st Corinthians 5:6 How terrible that you should boast about your spirituality, and yet you let this sort of thing go on. Don’t you realize that if even one person is allowed to go on sinning, soon all will be affected?
“Look, you can’t be in ministry right now. You’re not eligible to sing in the choir; you’re can’t teach a Sunday school class; you’re not able to be in a place of leadership. You don’t get to partake of communion. There’s a sin issue. Let’s get that cleared up, then we’ll take the next step.”
What do you get when you have a church that lets someone remain in the camp that is sinning? A sinning church. That’s an oxymoron. Either the sinner has to be removed, or God will remove himself.
Sin – deal with it.
Let’s go on…
Numbers 5:5-10 Then the LORD said to Moses, 6“Give these instructions to the people of Israel: If any of the people—men or women—betray the LORD by doing wrong to another person, they are guilty. 7They must confess their sin and make full restitution for what they have done, adding a penalty of 20 percent and returning it to the person who was wronged. 8But if the person who was wronged is dead, and there are no near relatives to whom restitution can be made, it belongs to the LORD and must be given to the priest, along with a ram for atonement. 9All the sacred gifts that the Israelites bring to a priest will belong to him. 10Each priest may keep the sacred donations that he receives.”
While we must deal with sin in the camp, we must also deal with our sin. “If any…betray the LORD by doing wrong to another.” When we sin against someone else in the camp, we betray – the LORD. The word here is this…
We don’t get a discount just because it’s us. “You know me. That’s just how I am.” Sorry, God doesn’t accept those coupons.
What’s God looking for here? Why is he insistent on our confession?
God takes care of His children. And he wants His children to take care of each other.
We give our children an allowance. We’re happy to provide and to teach them through the allowance. But we don’t want them stealing from each other. If they did, they would have to make restitution. It wouldn’t be enough to say, “Sorry. I shouldn’t have taken that dollar.” Give the dollar back, plus interest.
If you stole money from a bank, you’d be a thief, you’d be a felon. You’d be in trouble.
Why would harming the Body of Christ be any less serious? Make it right. If you’ve been stealing from God by not tithing, make it right. If you’ve been robbing your Christian brother in any way, make it right.
Sin? Deal AND No Deal. Deal with it, but there will be no deals.
Which brings us to the rather fascinating third and best part of this chapter…
Numbers 5:11-31 And the LORD said to Moses, 12“Say to the people of Israel: ‘suppose a man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to her husband. 13Suppose she sleeps with another man, but there is no witness since she was not caught in the act. 14If her husband becomes jealous and suspicious of his wife, even if she has not defiled herself, 15the husband must bring his wife to the priest with an offering of two quarts of barley flour to be presented on her behalf. Do not mix it with olive oil or frankincense, for it is a jealousy offering—an offering of inquiry to find out if she is guilty.
16“‘The priest must then present her before the LORD. 17He must take some holy water in a clay jar and mix it with dust from the Tabernacle floor. 18When he has presented her before the LORD, he must unbind her hair and place the offering of inquiry—the jealousy offering—in her hands to determine whether or not her husband’s suspicions are justified. The priest will stand before her, holding the jar of bitter water that brings a curse to those who are guilty. 19The priest will put the woman under oath and say to her, “If no other man has slept with you, and you have not defiled yourself by being unfaithful, may you be immune from the effects of this bitter water that causes the curse. 20But if you have gone astray while under your husband’s authority and defiled yourself by sleeping with another man”— 21at this point the priest must put the woman under this oath—“then may the people see that the LORD’S curse is upon you when he makes you infertile. 22Now may this water that brings the curse enter your body and make you infertile.” And the woman will be required to say, “Yes, let it be so.” 23Then the priest will write these curses on a piece of leather and wash them off into the bitter water. 24He will then make the woman drink the bitter water, so it may bring on the curse and cause bitter suffering in cases of guilt.
25“‘Then the priest will take the jealousy offering from the woman’s hand, lift it up before the LORD, and carry it to the altar. 26He will take a handful as a token portion and burn it on the altar. Then he will require the woman to drink the water. 27If she has defiled herself by being unfaithful to her husband, the water that brings the curse will cause bitter suffering. She will become infertile, and her name will become a curse word among her people. 28But if she has not defiled herself and is pure, she will be unharmed and will still be able to have children.
29“‘This is the ritual law for dealing with jealousy. If a woman defiles herself by being unfaithful to her husband, 30or if a man is overcome with jealousy and suspicion that his wife has been unfaithful, the husband must present his wife before the LORD, and the priest will apply this entire ritual law to her. 31The husband will be innocent of any guilt in this matter, but his wife will be held accountable for her sin.’”
This is probably more relevant, for most of us, more of the time.
“Um…no. I’ve never really had to do the Bitter-Water Test.”
Think of it this way – there are definitely times we are in the wrong, and we have to be removed for a season and/or restitution has to be made. There is obvious sin we must deal with and not play with.
But isn’t it more often that either – a) we’re innocent, or b) we’re not so innocent, but there’s no real proof or witnesses against us?
The Bitter-Water Test was an ordeal.
There is a long history of similar tests in history – of firewalking or being made to drink deadly poisons or reaching into boiling pots of liquid. They are all different from the Bitter-Water Test in this one thing – this was something prescribed by God. As you read the record of Scripture it becomes clear that this is a very clear picture of something greater that God wanted us to see.
We are the bride, not always spotless, not always pure. And the bridegroom could rightly have put us in the place of ordeal. In fact, he had to. Whether in the Old Testament or the New Testament, God is the same. He is Holy, He is Pure, and even spiritual adultery must be dealt with.
The truth must come out. God won’t hide sin, and he won’t let it be hid. It must be dealt with. But accusations and suspicions cloud the picture. The Accuser stands nearby, but cannot be given ground.
Here’s the good thing – Christ, the bridegroom, took our place. He drank the cup. Of course, there was sin, but it was our sin.
Matthew 16:21 (Message) Then Jesus made it clear to his disciples that it was now necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, submit to an ordeal of suffering at the hands of the religious leaders, be killed, and then on the third day be raised up alive.
Isaiah 53:11-12 After this ordeal, he will see satisfaction. “By his knowing [pain and sacrifice], my righteous servant makes many righteous; it is for their sins that he suffers. 12 Therefore I will assign him a share with the great, he will divide the spoil with the mighty, for having exposed himself to death and being counted among the sinners, while actually bearing the sin of many and interceding for the offenders.”
Life puts us through the ordeal. By virtue of being alive, we are sometimes made to drink some bad water.
If we’re guilty, then we deserve it. Jesus took our punishment – there’s no reason to go through an ordeal because of our sin. If we’re guilty, the ordeal will destroy us. If we’re innocent, the ordeal will reveal Christ.
1st Peter 4:12-19 (HCB) Dear friends, when the fiery ordeal arises among you to test you, don’t be surprised by it, as if something unusual were happening to you. 13Instead, as you share in the sufferings of the Messiah rejoice, so that you may also rejoice with great joy at the revelation of His glory. 14 If you are ridiculed for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 None of you, however, should suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a meddler. 16 But if anyone suffers as a Christian, he should not be ashamed, but should glorify God with that name. 17 For the time has come for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who disobey the gospel of God? 18 And if the righteous is saved with difficulty, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner? 19 So those who suffer according to God’s will should, in doing good, entrust themselves to a faithful Creator.
So what are you going through? Dealing with sin? Going through an ordeal because of sin, perhaps even the sin of someone else, that is affecting you?
Let Christ be revealed in you.