People Are Sent Outside the Camp
1The LORD told Moses 2-3to say to the people of Israel, ” Put out of the camp everyone who has leprosy or a bodily discharge or who has touched a dead body. Now that I live among my people, their camp must be kept clean.” 4The Israelites obeyed the LORD’s instructions.
As Israel prepared to march to the Promised Land, the leper (Leviticus 13), those with a discharge (Leviticus 15), and any priest who would touch a dead body, except that of a close relative (Leviticus 21:1) were commanded to be put out of the camp of Israel until ceremonially clean. Now God said that Israel must do what He had previously commanded. Adam Clarke says, “Probably this ordinance gave the first idea of a hospital, where all those who are afflicted with contagious disorders are put into particular wards, under medical treatment.”
It wasn’t that any of these things made a person a notorious sinner; but leprosy, unclean discharges, and dead bodies were reminders of the effects of sin — from which Israel must separate as they prepare to march on the Promised Land.
The Penalty for Committing a Crime
5The LORD told Moses 6to say to the community of Israel:
If any of you commit a crime against someone, you have sinned against me. 7You must confess your guilt and pay the victim in full for whatever damage has been done, plus a fine of twenty percent. 8If the victim has no relative who can accept this money, it belongs to me and will be paid to the priest. In addition to that payment, you must take a ram for the priest to sacrifice so your sin will be forgiven.
9-10When you make a donation to the sacred tent, that money belongs only to the priest, and each priest will keep what is given to him.
A Suspicious Husband
11The LORD told Moses 12-14to say to the people of Israel:
Suppose a man becomes jealous and suspects that his wife has been unfaithful, but he has no proof. 15He must take his wife to the priest, together with two pounds of ground barley as an offering to find out if she is guilty. No olive oil or incense is to be put on that offering.
from the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary, first published in 1871:
This law was given both as a strong discouragement to conjugal infidelity on the part of a wife, and a sufficient protection of her from the consequences of a hasty and groundless suspicion on the part of the husband. His suspicions, however, were sufficient in the absence of witnesses (Lev. 20:10) to warrant the trial described; and the course of proceeding to be followed was for the jealous husband to bring his wife unto the priest with an offering of barley meal, because none were allowed to approach the sanctuary empty handed (Ex. 23:15). On other occasions, there were mingled with the offering, oil which signified joy, and frankincense which denoted acceptance (Ps. 141:2). But on the occasion referred to, both these ingredients were to be excluded, because it was a solemn appeal to God in distressing circumstances.
16The priest is to have the woman stand at my altar, 17where he will pour sacred water into a clay jar and stir in some dust from the floor of the sacred tent. 18-22Next, he will remove her veil, then hand her the barley offering, and say, ” If you have been faithful to your husband, this water won’t harm you. But if you have been unfaithful, it will bring down the LORD’s curse–you will never be able to give birth to a child, and everyone will curse your name.”
Then the woman will answer, ” If I am guilty, let it happen just as you say.”
23The priest will write these curses on special paper and wash them off into the bitter water, 24so that when the woman drinks this water, the curses will enter her body. 25He will take the barley offering from her and lift it up in dedication to me, the LORD. Then he will place it on my altar 26and burn part of it as a sacrifice. After that, the woman must drink the bitter water. 27If the woman has been unfaithful, the water will immediately make her unable to have children, and she will be a curse among her people. 28But if she is innocent, her body will not be harmed, and she will still be able to have children.
A woman suspected of adultery in Numbers 6 is given a drink of “bitter water.” In John 4, Jesus comes to the well of Jacob and meets a Samaritan woman. Jesus reveals her secret — that she has had five husbands and now lives with a man who is not her husband — and offers her a drink of “living water.” He does not condemn her, but proclaims to her that he is the Messiah, and offers her forgiveness and new life.
29-30This is the ceremony that must take place at my altar when a husband suspects that his wife has been unfaithful. The priest must have the woman stand in my presence and carefully follow these instructions. 31If the husband is wrong, he will not be punished; but if his wife is guilty, she will be punished.
the last stanza of “Dover Beach”
by Matthew Arnold, 1867
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
A true country music classic from 1952. HERE is Hank Williams, Sr. and “Your Cheatin’ Heart.”