To ensure the purity of the camp, the Lord gave the Israelites directions for restitution and a special purity test.
It was absolutely vital that God’s people remain pure so that they could represent him well to the world.This meant that they needed to deal with sin and maintain God’s standards within their camp, which essentially represented their borders while they were traveling through the wilderness.
Preparation For Holiness
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Command the Israelites to send away from the camp every leper and everyone who has a discharge, and whoever is defiled [that is, ceremonially unclean] by [coming in contact with] the dead. You shall send away both male and female; you shall send them outside the camp so that they will not defile their camp where I dwell in their midst.” The Israelites did so, and sent them outside the camp; just as the Lord had said to Moses, so the Israelites did.
Numbers 5:1-4 (AMP)
The Lord says that the following people are not welcome to reside among His people, and then divides them into 3 categories. In Hebrew, those categories are persons who are
- Those who are suffering from a skin disease;
- A person with a discharge from the genital organs; and
- Anyone who is unclean due to having touched a human corpse.
Basically, these are 3 very serious kinds of ritual impurity, and each demands a period of 7 days of ritual cleansing AFTER it is determined that the condition that is the cause of the impurity is no longer present. And whether male or female these ritually unclean people MUST be removed from the congregation of Israel and set outside the camp.
Understand what this means: excommunication. Once the ritual impurity is cleansed…if it ever is…that person may resume his or her life among the community. But until then, that person is separated from everyone else. Usually, the excommunicated lived in caves or tents just outside of the village or city.
Verse 3 states the reason for this severe method of dealing with these unfortunate folks:
- So that their unclean state doesn’t defile others in the camp of Israel, and
- Because in the midst of the camp of Israel is where God dwells; thus no impure thing can be near to Him.
And verse 4 says Israel obeyed the Lord in this instruction.
Probably of all the subjects discussed, clean and unclean…which also includes the category of Kosher and non-Kosher…is the most difficult to grasp for the 21st century Western gentile mind; and particularly for a person schooled in a Traditional church setting where Pastors and Teachers were not able to explain what it all means, and what it might have to do with modern Believers.
Typically, as most of you are aware, the entire concept is dismissed as utterly irrelevant to modern Christians and therefore a waste of breath to even address it.
Ritual uncleanness (which is the same thing as ritual impurity) was and remains a VERY serious issue for those who worship the God of Israel, but it is discussed in detail in the OT as opposed to the NT.
Why is this?
Let me answer that question with a question:
Why would Jesus or the Apostles repeat everything that was already long established as the foundation for proper worship and obedience to the Lord?
Jesus WAS the Word; He didn’t have to re-validate His own Word. He didn’t come to defend what was already settled.
What makes ritual impurity so serious is that it is contagious; SPIRITUALLY contagious. When someone was put outside the camp with tzara’at ( a skin disease that is usually mistranslated as Leprosy, and Leprosy didn’t even exist among the Israelites until after Babylon) it was not so that someone else didn’t contract that disease per se. Rather they did it because a person with tzara’at threatened to defile others in a spiritual way, thus denying them access to God.
So to the Israelites a skin disease, or a genital discharge, or coming into contact with a dead body (among other things) all amounted to approximately the same thing; separation from God and from the community of God for anywhere from a few days to forever. And frankly, that is EXACTLY what it was meant to demonstrate.
The problem was that a ritually unclean person presented a danger to himself or herself because if they came too near to God in that condition that person would be destroyed. And they were a danger to the entire community because uncleanness was transmissible. A clean person touching an unclean person might become unclean themselves; NOT ill but unclean.
An unclean person could transmit their uncleanness to objects like dishes and pots, or even a chair that they sat on or a bed they laid in. And then once that object became unclean IT could transmit uncleanness to a clean person who, unaware, came along and sat on that chair, lay in that bed, or used that pot to cook in.
Now I know that many of you feel like such talk becoming unclean from touching someone or something ought to be about some deep-jungle backward tribe in New Guinea or Australia and not the people of the Lord.
On the surface, this sounds like magic and sorcery and superstition at its worst. But this is a good time to remind you that while every one of these laws was real and absolute, and God fully intended that they are scrupulously obeyed, that they were ALSO simultaneously a physical demonstration and learning tool designed to progressively reveal the deepest and most critical spiritual truths.
Dr. Robert McGee, the author of Search for Significance, discusses the nature of spiritual truths and how to express them in words. That at the absolute best, words or word pictures, or even drawings and illustrations, fell far short of communicating to humans the infinite depths or heavenly heights of God’s principles and laws.
And the reason this is so is simple, yet profound: The Lord is spirit while we are flesh. The Spirit world may have boundaries, but whatever those boundaries might be they are so enormous compared to our severe physical limitations, that it’s probably best to oversimplify and say that the Spiritual world has no limits.
Regardless of whether we are saved or unsaved, as humans we live in a 4-dimensional universe of length, width, height, and time. A human word…whether it be a thought, or spoken, or written…is confined to aptly describe ONLY things which operate in the same 4 dimensions that we live in.
Spirit is a 5th or “other” dimension if you would. It’s a thing outside of our ability to grasp or define. Spirit is NOT the first 4 dimensions plus another one. Spirit is an entirely another dimension THAN the 4 we are aware of. Nothing made of 4-dimensional material…. you, me, the chair you sit on, the building we’re in, the Bibles we read and the words on those pages…. the physical…. can fully describe or even reasonably contemplate that which is of the 5th dimension…spirit.
So we do the best we can. We have some understanding of God, but very little really. He doesn’t answer our every question because we have no capacity to ask the proper question or to grasp the full answer.
Therefore when it comes to the Tabernacle and the various rituals and procedures performed there; and the priesthood, and the Biblical Feasts that are all only extremely limited facsimiles of spiritual principles, we must not think that the physical model is all there is or that it is fully adequate.
Yet neither must we think that the physical model is incorrect or not worth observing; it is just incomplete as compared to the original spiritual object or principle it is demonstrating or foreshadowing.
The principle of ritual uncleanness and the camp of the Israelites, the ultimate danger and concern were that the constant uncleanness of the people would defile the camp, and the camp would become so defiled that God would no longer live there among His people.
There was a very definite quid pro quo present:
God would remain among His people only so long as His people were scrupulous in keeping the camp ritually clean.
Let that sink in a minute: the Israelite people, God’s people, had definite obligations if they wanted God to dwell in their midst. And I will tell you unequivocally that that pattern of obligation to the Lord remains, as do all His heavenly patterns; we have obligations to God if we want Him to dwell with us. Those obligations may not be so much about ritual as they are about faith, especially since the advent of Jesus.
Yet as James said, faith without works is a dead faith. Allow me to paraphrase that in modern terms:
A so-called faith that does not produce tangible service to God by whatever means He directs, is a faith that doesn’t actually exist.
Since nearness to God is an inherently dangerous proposition, many preventative measures were taken beginning with a scrupulously purified priesthood who were the only ones allowed to get anywhere near the Lord.
Levite guards were deployed to keep the unauthorized people away and execute those who insisted on trying to come near; and a system of dealing with ritual impurity was established that involved removing the unclean people from the area and then, in most cases, making the unclean clean again so they could enjoy God’s presence in their lives.
This is another principle that of course has never become obsolete. Believers have always been required to take preventative measures so as not bring immorality, which is unclean behavior, into nearness to God.
And since the Lord dwells with us (His modern day Tabernacles) we MUST not allow impurity to enter us because that brings it near to Him.
- We must not join ourselves to prostitutes or engage in any kind of immoral sex.
- We must not defile ourselves with wanton drunkenness.
- We must not worship false gods or idols or worthless symbols.
We are to have the attitude of the Levites as we stay alerted and chase away every danger to the holiness of the God who has graced us with His presence.
Yet humans cannot avoid impurity, and this reality traces back to the fall of Adam and Eve. Perhaps the primary reason for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, was so that the High Priest could remove all the uncleanness from the Sanctuary (God’s earthly dwelling place) that built-up during the previous year.
The mere fact that humans, regular Israelites and the priests, were constantly present in and around the Sanctuary meant that imperfection and therefore sin and uncleanness were present…. and it defiled the place.
Even the High Priest was not seen as perfect: he was merely declared to be the holder of the Highest Priestly office and authorized to perform certain vital functions to the service of the Lord.
The Torah Class
NLT Chronological Life Application Study Bible
Holman Old Testament Commentary