Gaebelein's Annotated Bible
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,4. The Sanctification of the Camp and the Nazarite
1. Concerning the leper, the issue and defilement of the dead (Numbers 5:1-4)
2. Concerning restitution (Numbers 5:5-10)
3. Concerning the wife suspected of adultery (Numbers 5:11-31)
So far we had the outward arrangement of the camp. This chapter tells us that the camp had to be holy and therefore must be cleansed from that which defiles. Divine directions are given concerning the unclean person, the restitution of anything unjustly taken and what is to be done with a wife suspected of adultery. Leprosy could not be tolerated in the camp in the midst whereof Jehovah dwelt. The persons who had an issue and had come in touch with the dead, as well as the leper, both male and female, were to be put without the camp. This command was at once obeyed. “And the children of Israel did so, and put them out without the camp.” The typical meaning of leprosy we learned from Leviticus as well as the meaning of the issue. Sin is typified thereby as manifested in and through one who belongs to the people of God. While here we have the divine command to put the unclean person out of the camp, we have the equally divinely given command in the New Testament: “Put away from among yourselves that wicked person” (1Corinthians 5:13). The principle is the same whether in the camp of Israel or in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. To touch the dead also defiled. If it was a dead person, the one who touched the same was considered unclean for seven days (Numbers 19:11); if a man touched a dead animal it rendered him unclean till the evening (Leviticus 11:27, Lev_11:39-40). To purify such who had become defiled in this manner, the ordinance of the red heifer was given. In no other portion of the Law is made so much of this form of defilement as in Numbers. This is in keeping with the character of the book. Israel passing through the wilderness came face to face with death on all sides. Spiritually the application is not hard to make. The world through which God’s children pass is the enemy of God, alienated from Him and lying in the wicked one. Death is stamped upon it and the world is under condemnation. By the cross of Christ we are crucified to the world and the world is crucified unto us. The Word of God therefore exhorts us not to be conformed to this world (Romans 12:2). We are not to love the world nor the things in the world (1John 2:15-17). James tells us that whosoever will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God (James 4:4). Against defilement with the world in its different phases the child of God must constantly be on his guard. The camp must be holy, because Jehovah is in the midst. All what defiles belongs outside.
The wrong committed in the camp (verses 5-10) must be confessed, restitution be made, and, according to the law of the trespass-offering, the fifth part must be added to it. Unconfessed sin could not be tolerated in the camp where Jehovah dwells. And the same principle we find in the New Testament. “The grace of God, which has brought in unlimited forgiveness, would be rather a calamity if it did not enforce confession. Can one conceive a thing more dreadful morally than a real weakening of the sense of sin in those brought nigh to God? It may seem so where there is only a superficial acquaintance with God. Where the truth hath been hastily gathered and learned on the surface it is quite possible to pervert the gospel to an enfeebling of the immutable principles of God, ignoring His detestation of sin, and our own necessary abhorrence of it as born of God. Whatever produces such an effect is the deepest wrong to Him and the greatest loss to us. This is guarded against here.” (W. Kelly, Lectures on the Pentateuch.)
In the next paragraph concerning the wife suspected of adultery, no positive defilement or sin is in view, only the suspicion of it. A careful reading of the passage is suggested. The offering of jealousy is described in detail, but the brief character of our annotations forbids a closer examination. We can only point out that the offering consisted not of fine flour as in the meal-offering, but of barley meal, which was coarser. No leaven was mixed with it, for that would have implied before the test, the guilt of the accused woman. Nor was oil and frankincense put on the offering, no joy and worship could be connected with this offering of jealousy. Then the priest took holy water in an earthen vessel and the dust of the tabernacle floor and put it into the water. This also has a symbolical meaning. The water stands for the Word, and the dust typifies death and the curse. It was a most solemn ceremony of a searching nature. The innocent one had nothing to fear; the drinking of the bitter water that causeth the curse but resulted for her in vindication. The guilty one was found out by Jehovah and the curse rested upon her. This ordinance is also applicable to Israel as the unfaithful wife of Jehovah.