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Series Theme: FRAMEWORKS: Numbers

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FRAMEWORKS: Numbers 5: Working for a Pure Camp


Part 1.3: A Holy Camp

Ch.5: Working for a Pure Camp

Ch. 6: Nazarites

Ch.7: Offerings at the Dedication of the Tabernacle

Ch. 8: Setting Apart the Levites

Ch. 9: Passover & Presence


FRAMEWORKS: Numbers 5: Working for a Pure Camp


v.1-4 The Purity of the Camp

v.5-10 Restitution for Wrongs

v.11-31The Test for an Unfaithful Wife



v.1-4 The Purity of the Camp


v.1 The Lord said to Moses,

v.2 “Command the Israelites to send away from the camp anyone who has a defiling skin disease [The Hebrew word for defiling skin disease, traditionally translated “leprosy,” was used for various diseases affecting the skin] or a discharge of any kind, or who is ceremonially unclean because of a dead body.

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.”

v.4 The Israelites did so; they sent them outside the camp. They did just as the Lord had instructed Moses.


[Notes: The rules in this chapter tend towards trying to maintain a clean, pure, and holy community. These fairly general reminders, are covered in detail in Lev 13-15]



v.5-10 Restitution for Wrongs


v.5 The Lord said to Moses,

v.6 “Say to the Israelites: ‘Any man or woman who wrongs another in any way and so is unfaithful to the Lord is guilty

v.7 and must confess the sin they have committed. They must make full restitution for the wrong they have done, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the person they have wronged.

v.8 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 the wrongdoer.

v.9 All the sacred contributions the Israelites bring to a priest will belong to him.

v.10 Sacred things belong to their owners, but what they give to the priest will belong to the priest.'”


[Notes: The general principles in respect of wrongs done are obviously a) acknowledging a wrong done to another, b) recognising it is also a wrong against God that c) must be confessed and d) as appropriate, restitution made.]



v.11-31 The Test for an Unfaithful Wife


v.11 Then the Lord said to Moses,


v.12 an acknowledged relational wrong in the community

v.12 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man's wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him


v.13 suspected adultery seen as contaminating the holy community

v.13 so that another man has sexual relations with her, 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),


v.14 a problem that stirs up possible jealousy

v.14 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—


v.15 she goes before the priest with an offering

v.15   then he is to take his wife to the priest. He must also take an offering of a tenth of an ephah [That is, probably about 3.5 pounds [1.6k] of barley flour on her behalf. He must not pour olive oil on it or put incense on it, because it is a grain offering for jealousy , a reminder-offering to draw attention to wrongdoing.


v.16 She is to stand before the Lord, i.e. an added risky seriousness!

v.16 “‘The priest shall bring her and have her stand before the Lord .


v.17,18 Phase 1: Dirty water would simply be a token act – the following curse is the issue

v.17 Then he shall take some holy water in a clay jar and put some dust from the tabernacle floor into the water.

v.18 After the priest has had the woman stand before the Lord , he shall loosen her hair and place in her hands the reminder-offering, the grain offering for jealousy, while he himself holds the bitter water that brings a curse.


v.19 A curse can involve protection where there is no cause for it

v.19 Then the priest shall put the woman under oath and say to her, “If no other man has had sexual relations 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.


v.20-22 Yet if there is guilt then the curse is operative

v.20 But if you have gone astray while married to your husband and you have made yourself impure by having sexual relations with a man other than your husband”—

v.21 here the priest is to put the woman under this curse—“may the Lord cause you to become a curse among your people when he makes your womb miscarry and your abdomen swell.

v.22 May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells or your womb miscarries.” “‘Then the woman is to say, “Amen. So be it.”


v.23,24 Phase 2: Further picture actions to emphasise the reality of a curse

v.23 “‘The priest is to write these curses on a scroll and then wash them off into the bitter water.

v.24 He shall make the woman drink the bitter water that brings a curse, and this water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering will enter her.


v.25,26 Phase 3: Further picture actions to emphasise the reality of a curse

v.25 The priest is to take from her hands the grain offering for jealousy, wave it before the Lord and bring it to the altar.

v.26 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.


v.27,28 Standing Guilty or Innocent before God believes God will act accordingly

v.27 If she has made herself impure and been unfaithful to her husband, this will be the result: When she is made to drink the water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering, it will enter her, her abdomen will swell and her womb will miscarry, and she will become a curse.

v.28 If, however, the woman has not made herself impure, but is clean, she will be cleared of guilt and will be able to have children.


v.29-31 Summary

v.29 “‘This, then, is the law of jealousy when a woman goes astray and makes herself impure while married to her husband,

v.30 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.

v.31 The husband will be innocent of any wrongdoing, but the woman will bear the consequences of her sin.'”


[Notes: The activities involved in this procedure is not so superstitious or remnant of ancient witchcraft as one might think. Four things should be observed:

i) standing before the Lord before the Tabernacle, and seeking to be deceitful, was a decidedly risky business when you consider the judgements that God has already brought on miscreants.

ii) we may not understand a curse but it is a prophetic declaration of bad on a guilty person which, in the Law, [see Deuteronomy] brings the act of God on the transgressor.

iii) the threefold acts involving drinking were, in themselves, unlikely to cause harm, yet in the present location and circumstances, the conscience of a guilty party would be likely to stir up such distress that sickness may well occur. There is, therefore, a twofold possibility of sickness occurring – God acting through the curse, stress occurring through a guilty conscience.

iv) however else we may view this procedure, its presence in the Law should act as a deterrent. In the light of casual relationships in the twenty-first century in the West, this may appear quaint, but no doubt helped create more stable family relationships and a more stable community. Different laws apply where adulterers are caught.]