Preparing a People
(Numbers 5 & 6)
Introduction: Readers who are not that familiar with the Old Testament will cringe when they read the two chapters in Numbers that we are studying today. Since we are not the people being addressed, are not in their situation (a huge group traveling through a terrible desert), and are not part of the sanctuary system, you may ask "Why should we even study this?" Most Christians believe that what is written in the Bible contains timeless advice for all generations of God's followers. There are principles (and, maybe more)in Numbers that continue to teach us about God's ways and His plans and expectations for us. Let's jump right into some very interesting stuff!
- Health Reform
- Read Numbers 5:1-3. Is this how you would treat the sick?
- Are all of the people described here sick? (No. Some are only "ceremonially unclean.")
- If not everyone sent out is ill, how does this make any sense to us today? (The person who died might not have died of old age. Since the "unclean" one has touched the dead body, they may very well have picked up some dread communicable disease.)
- As you consider these regulations, are they for the benefit of the people or not? Are they compassionate or not? (With all these people traveling in such close conditions, separating the sick (and the potential disease carriers) until they get better or are proven to be disease free is a great blessing to all the rest.)
- Look at Numbers 5:3 again. Why does God suggest this rule has to do with Him and not the health of the people? (God has taken ownership of these people. They are His. He wants a healthy camp for His people. It reminds us of God's holy nature.)
- What lesson do we find here when we think that God is "limiting our freedom" with His arbitrary or unpopular rules? (God is reliably looking out for us. We might think His rules are arbitrary, but He has our best interests in mind.)
- Read Numbers 5:4. Do you think these recently freed slaves understand why God was imposing these requirements? (It is unlikely they understood the reasons, but the good news is that they obeyed.)
- Law Reform
- Read Numbers 5:5-7. What is your greatest complaint about the criminal justice system? (In the United States, one big complaint is that the victim has few, if any, rights. Rarely does the victim get compensated for the harm suffered.)
- What penalty does the Bible suggest? (That the victim is not only entitled to full compensation, but a 20% additional payment for the loss suffered.)
- In the U.S., the guilty generally go to prison. Which system is better? The Bible system or the U.S. system? (Most of our (huge) prison population is made up of non-violent offenders. The taxpayers feed, shelter and cloth the people in prison. The U.S. system requires a lot of money - money that comes from innocent people and which does not go to help the innocent victims. It does not seem to do much for the guilty, either, except to lock them away from the rest of us.)
- Notice that Numbers 5:6 says the wrongdoer is "unfaithful to the Lord." Why is this true? Isn't the wrongdoer unfaithful to the victim? (These were now God's people on a journey with Him. He created them and any failure to live up to His standards is an offense against Him.)
- Is there any concept remotely like this today? (I am only familiar with the U.S. criminal system, but ours is exactly like this. If you violate a law, the criminal complaint is brought in the name of the government. The sovereign says "These are my laws to protect the public, and you have trespassed against me.")
- Numbers 5:7 says the person must confess. To whom is confession being made? (The text says "sin" is being confessed - and that is to God. There are two things going on here: First, the 20% penalty makes things "right" with the wronged person. Second, confession makes it right with God.)
- Marriage Reform
- Skim over Numbers 5:11-28 and read Numbers 5:29-30. What concerns about this procedure do you have? (Why is it that the woman, and not the man, has to go through this? Why is mere jealousy grounds for this procedure? Jealousy can be a sin - and it was the basis for the first murder, right? (Genesis 4))
- Is this the normal penalty for adultery? (Read Leviticus 20:10. This is not the normal penalty. The normal penalty is that both the man and woman who committed adultery are put to death.)
- Read Deuteronomy 17:6. What was missing from the jealousy" procedure in Numbers 5? (No witnesses. You needed two or three to impose the death penalty in Leviticus 20:10.)
- Stand back just a moment and set aside all of your "modern" concerns about even-handedness. What is the problem in the kind of family described here? (Accusations between the husband and wife. The household is torn apart, relationships are ruined based on suspicions that may or may not be true.)
- What does God's plan accomplish? What goal is satisfied by this procedure? (It brings the jealousy and the uncertainty to an end. Either God clears the wife (and who can argue with God?), or the wife dies. Jewish commentators say that the woman could refuse to take the oath, confess, and simply be divorced. No death because no adequate evidence.)
- What is the lesson for us today? (Most of what we see on television and in movies glorifies adultery. Adultery is a terrible problem in society and in the church. God's point in this is two fold: He hates adultery and He wants to bring peace to marriages in which these charges have been raised. God wants it over, He does not want a burning ember in the marriage.)
- Spiritual Reform
- Read Numbers 6:1-4. Remember that God had set the Levites apart as His special people. What opportunity does this give to those who were not born a Levite or a male? (The shows that even in Old Testament times, God desired a special relationship with anyone who was willing - regardless of family or gender.)
- Do you think this is connected with the prior regulation? (Sexual temptations are strong. Someone viewing the prior procedure might decide they needed a special time with God.)
- God instructs that anyone who wants to have a special relationship with Him should not be drinking alcohol. How is that related? (How many times does sexual sin involve alcohol?)
- There seems to be an obvious reason why being drunk is inconsistent with "a vow of separation to the Lord." But, this bars grape juice and even raisins - anything that comes from the grape. How does raisin eating interfere with a relationship with God?
- Read Matthew 26:27-29. What does Jesus say about His future and wine? (That He will not drink any until we are together with Him in heaven.)
- A practical question: How was grape eating and wine drinking an issue for people in the desert eating only manna? Were they not all Nazarites (to some degree) during the wilderness journey?
- When you eat at Taco Bell, Subway, McDonald's or Burger King, do you drink water?
- All of the soda drinks in these places have either caffeine or sugar or both. I don't want to be jumpy or fat. Being jumpy and fat is the worst! But, the water generally tastes terrible. Even if it didn't taste terrible, most would prefer the taste of a soda (carbonated) drink.)
- I hope I have you thinking about why grape juice seems to have this odd property in the Bible (and I trust you are not thinking about fast food). What is it about grape juice (and grape products) that is so special - linked with a special relationship to God? (I always thought it had to do with self-denial. Deny self and you have a closer relationship to God. But, Frank Holbrook helped me to look deeper. He said that growing a vineyard showed you were settled in the land. Jesus is not "settled" until we are reunited with Him. We should not "settle" for an ordinary relationship with God. We need to be on the road to a better relationship and our eternal home!
- Final Blessings
- Read Numbers 6:22-27. Friend, would you like this blessing? It comes from the same God who gives us instructions on how to live. Just imagine that? A relationship between how we live and God's blessings!
- Next week: Worship and Dedication.