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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 5

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 2-3

Numbers 5:2-3

Put out of the camp every leper, and every one that hath an issue, and whosoever is defiled by the dead.


Where God dwells there must be purity:

God himself is pure, and cannot associate with the impure. If discipline is lax, God departs. It is not the large church, or the intelligent or the wealthy one, that attracts Him, but the pure one. As the lightning passes by the polished marble and the carved wood to touch the iron or steel, because there it finds something akin to itself, so God passes by those to dwell with the pure, because in them He finds a character akin to His own.

God will not, because he cannot, do any good to the impure. Any one tolerating sin would not appreciate the design of God and accept His blessing; and where He cannot bless, He will not come to dwell. Let us then “put out of the camp every leper,” everything that defileth; for the presence of God in our midst is of the utmost importance to us as His Church and people. His presence is essential.

1. To our comfort as Churches and Christians. What the shining sun is in nature His presence is with us--our brightness, our joy, &c.

2. To our prosperity. God with His Church has been in all ages the secret of its power and success. His presence is the life of the ministry and of all Christian work (D. Lloyd.)

The exclusion of the unclean:

. As a sanitary measure.

1. The universal application of the rule.

2. The sacred reason by which it was enforced. Impurity separates from God.

As a spiritual parable.

1. Sin is a defiling thing.

2. Sin is a deadly thing.

3. Sin is a separating thing.

Where sin is cherished God will not dwell.

(1) The openly and persistently wicked should be expelled from the Church on earth.

(a) Because of their corrupt influence (1 Corinthians 5:6-13).

(b) Because of the dishonour to God which their presence in the Church involves.

(2) The wicked will be excluded from the city of God above.


1. He who demands this purity has provided the means whereby we may attain unto it. “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.”

2. Let us diligently use the means which He has provided. “Wash you, make you clean,” &c. (W. Jones.)

In the midst whereof I dwell--

God ever present with His people

This teaches us that God is evermore present with His people. This appeareth in the example of Joseph (Genesis 39:21; Genesis 39:23). I will propound a few reasons.

1. He will save those that are His. His presence is not a vain presence, neither is He an idle beholder of things that are done; but His presence is to prosper and to save (Jeremiah 30:11). We must not therefore dream of a presence that effecteth nothing, but rather willeth His people oftentimes to stand still, while He worketh all in all.

2. They have good success in their lawful labours, so that He maketh the works of their hands prosperous.


1. For the increase of a sound faith in God. He leaveth them not to themselves; He with-draweth not His strength from them; He delivereth them not to the lust and pleasure of their enemies. This is it which He telleth Joshua after the death of Moses (Judges 1:5).

2. This teacheth us this good duty, that we take heed we do not defile ourselves with the pollutions of sin. For how shall we dare to commit sin that is so highly displeasing in His sight, forasmuch as He is with us to behold us and all our actions? (W. Attersoll.)

God dwelling with His people:

God is present with his people.

1. Influentially (Psalms 139:1; Psalms 139:10).

2. Sympathetically (Genesis 28:16-17; John 14:16-26; 1 John 1:3).

God is present in the midst of his people.

1. As to the centre of union.

2. As the source of blessing. Life, light, power, beauty, &c.

God’s presence in the midst of his people should exert a great and blessed influence upon them.

1. A restraint from sin.

2. An incentive to holiness.

3. An encouragement to duty.

4. An assurance of support in the toils and trials of life.

5. An assurance of victory in the conflicts of life.

6. An assurance of perfect salvation. (W. Jones.)

The presence of God among His people demands holiness on their part

Redemption was the basis of God’s dwelling in the midst of His people. But we must remember that discipline was essential to His continuance amongst them. He could not dwell where evil was deliberately sanctioned. It may, however, be said, in reply, “Does not God the Holy Ghost dwell in the individual believer, and yet there is much evil in him?” True, the Holy Ghost dwells in the believer, on the ground of accomplished redemption. He is there, not as the sanction of what is of nature, but as the seal of what is of Christ; and His presence and fellowship are enjoyed just in proportion as the evil in us is habitually judged. So also in reference to the assembly. No doubt, there is evil there--evil in each individual member, and therefore evil in the body corporate. But it must be judged; and, if judged, it is not allowed to act, it is rendered null. We are not to judge motives, but we are to judge ways. The very moment a man enters the assembly, he takes his place in that sphere where discipline is exercised upon ever, thing contrary to the holiness of the One who dwells there. And let not the reader suppose, for a moment, that the unity of the body is touched when the discipline of the house is maintained. We frequently hear it said of those who rightly seek to maintain the discipline of the house of God, that they are rending the body of Christ. There could hardly be a greater mistake. The fact is, the former is our bounden duty; the latter, an utter impossibility. The discipline of God’s house must be carried out; but the unity of Christ’s body can never be dissolved. And why, we may ask, was this separation demanded? Was it to uphold the reputation or respectability of the people? Nothing of the sort. What then? “That they defile not their camps in the midst whereof I dwell.” And so is it now. We do not judge and put away bad doctrine, in order to maintain our orthodoxy; neither do we judge and put away moral evil, in order to maintain our reputation and respectability. The only ground of judgment and putting away is this, “Holiness becometh Thine house, O Lord, forever.” God dwells in the midst of His people. (C. H. Mackintosh.)

No Church ought to tolerate open offenders:

No Church ought to tolerate any filthy livers, or unclean persons, or notorious offenders among them (Deuteronomy 23:17; 1 Corinthians 5:1-2; Ephesians 5:3-5). This truth may be further strengthened by many reasons.

1. For it is a comely thing for the saints of God to do so: that as they differ from heathen men, so they may differ from heathen meetings. Moses teacheth that they ought to put out evil from them, because they are an holy people (Deuteronomy 23:14).

2. For the neglect of this duty, the wrath of God falleth upon the sons of men. He is the God of order, and requireth that all things in the Church be done in order. Hence it is that the apostle saith (Colossians 3:6). And we have sundry examples of this in the people of Israel, who were diversely destroyed because of their sins (1 Corinthians 10:5).

3. We showed before that they were as unclean beasts, and should not be admitted to the fellowship of Christ’s sheep which are clean, lest they defile them through their contagion, and tread down with their feet the residue of their pastures. The apostle saith (1 Corinthians 5:6). Sin therefore being infectious, the sinner is not to be tolerated in the assembly of the righteous.


1. It should minister great matter of much sorrow to every society of Christian men and women, when any of the congregation grow to be thus profane and defiled with the contagion of sin. Is it not a great grief to have any one member of the body cut off? This the apostle teacheth (1 Corinthians 5:2.)

2. It is a cause of great mercy and of a wonderful blessing from God, when such as transgress are resisted and punished. So long as sin is suffered, God is offended, and His wrath is extended over those places and persons. He hath a controversy against those that sin against Him.

3. Every congregation is bound to purge their own body from such excrements and filthiness as annoy it. We must have herein true zeal and godly courage in the cause of God and His truth. We must not stand in fear of the faces of men, though they be never so great and mighty. The censures of the Church must not be like the spider’s web, which catcheth flies and gnats, whereas the bigger creatures break from it. This reproveth such as dare not deal with great men, rich men, and mighty men: they are afraid to touch them lest they purchase their displeasure.

4. Is no Church to tolerate any open offenders among them? Then they must use the censure of excommunication as an ordinance of God, not an invention of men; and not only know the nature and use of it, but practise it to the glory of God, and to the good of others. This is it which our Saviour Christ hath left and commanded to be executed among us (Matthew 18:17). (W. Attersoll.)

Verses 6-10

Numbers 5:6-10

Recompense his trespass.

The law as to fraud

1. He must confess his sin, and crave pardon from the bottom of his heart; he must submit himself unto God, knowing that he can by no means hide his sin, nor by any colour keep it from the sight of God.

2. We must make satisfaction to Him whom we have wronged. It is not enough to make open confession unto God, unless also we make actual restitution unto men. This is done to discourage injurious persons. For if they should only restore the principal, they know, if their offences were found out, they should be no losers.

3. He must seek reconciliation and atonement with God, by offering up of a ram in sacrifice, which figured out the suffering of Christ, and offering up of Himself once upon the Cross, for the discharge of our sin, and appeasing of the wrath of His Father. It shall profit us nothing to be at peace with men, except we be at peace with our God. This the enacting of the Law: an exception is annexed by way of prevention. For the offender that hath trespassed against his neighbour might object and say, How can I restore that I have taken? It may be the party is dead; it may be he hath neither son nor daughter nor kinsman: may I not then lawfully conceal it, and justly retain it unto myself? I answer, nay; the Lord answereth, Thou shalt by no means detain the goods that are not thine own, if thou look for any good at My hand. If the owner be dead or unknown, and he have none of his kindred and alliance living to be his heir, it shall not be thine, it is the Lord’s, and He giveth it unto the priest for a recompense of his labours in the tabernacle. God is the Lord of the soil; He challengeth it at His own, and He disposeth it at His own pleasure. (W. Attersoll.)

Fraud and forgiveness:

The sin of fraud.

1. As assuming many forms.

(1) Fraud in the matter of goods entrusted to the keeping of another.

(2) In business transactions.

(3) In seizing by force that which belongs to another.

(4) In wronging another by means of deceit.

(5) In the finder of lost property injuring the loser by falsehood.

And in our own age fraud assumes many forms, and is widely prevalent. The employer who does not pay just wages to those in his service is guilty of it (Proverbs 22:16; Isaiah 3:14-15; Colossians 4:1; Isaiah 5:4). So also is the servant or workman who squanders the time for which his employer pays him; in so doing he defrauds his employer. The trader who takes an unfair advantage of his customer, which he calls by some special name, e.g., “practice of the trade,” &c.; the broker or speculator or manager who induces persons to invest their money in unreliable enterprises; the person who contracts a debt without the sincere intention and reasonable prospect of paying it--all these, and others, are guilty of fraud.

2. As a wrong done to God.

The conditions of its forgiveness.

1. Consciousness of guilt. “The expression, ‘that person be guilty,’ does not merely refer to his actual criminality; but to his consciousness of guilt respecting it: for this case must be distinguished from that of a person detected in dishonesty which he attempted to conceal.” Without the consciousness of guilt the other conditions of forgiveness could not be truly complied with.

2. Confession. “Then they shall confess their sin which they have done.” This is an essential condition of forgiveness (Psalms 32:5; Proverbs 28:13; 1 John 1:9). In itself it relieves the burdened soul, and leads to the joy and peace of forgiveness.

3. Restitution is essential to remission of sin; for where restitution is not made it is evident that sincere repentance is absent (Ezekiel 18:7; Ezekiel 18:9; Ezekiel 18:12-13; Ezekiel 33:15).

4. Sacrifice. In addition to making restitution the offender was commanded to offer “the ram of the atonement, whereby an atonement shall be made for him.”


1. Let those who have injured others make speedy and full confession and restitution.

2. Let us all cultivate the most thorough integrity and uprightness in our whole life and conduct. (W. Jones.)


When Mr. Moody was once speaking upon prayer, an incident occurred illustrating his subject, which made a profound impression, and came home to every one. He said true prayer consisted of ten elements--Adoration, Confession, Restitution, Thanksgiving, Unity, or Brotherly Love, the Spirit of Forgiveness, Faith, Ask (with a beggar’s importunity, a servant’s docility, and a friend’s confidence), Perseverance, and last, Submission. When he came to the third element, Restitution, a man rose in the audience and cried out: “Mr. Moody, let me cut in here. I went to Texas five years ago, having cheated my creditors of 15,000 dollars. My wife and I thought we were real smart. We settled in one of the cities, bought a nice house and furnished it tip top; grand piano, Brussels carpets, and my wife thought no end of the lace curtains. But we had hardly got settled down when Mr. Moody came along, and, like others, we followed the crowd of ‘professors’ and church members. He preached the same sermon we have so far heard to-night. The Spirit of God convicted me and my wife both of sin, on this head of Restitution, and we went home perfectly miserable. I said, ‘Loo, what are we to do?’ ‘Do!’ says she; ‘you know what to do without asking me; repay everybody to the last cent.’ No sooner said than done; the house was sold and an auction called right away; and, oh, the joy I had in handing up the silverware and the china. The piano and all went, but my wife was so happy at parting with the lace curtains it was really curious. Then we took two little rooms, a bedroom and a kitchen, and the only table we had was the one we had used in the kitchen for chopping meat on; but the Lord filled us with Himself, and we had peace and joy, because we had pardon and a clean conscience. The dear Lord has blessed me far above my desert and beyond what the devil led me to steal, and we have come to Northfield to praise the Lord, and carry back with us to Texas a fresh baptism of the blessed power which set us free five years ago.”

Verses 11-31

Numbers 5:11-31

If any man’s wife go aside.

The trial of the suspected wife

. Confidence in conjugal relations is of great importance. “Suspicion,” says Bp. Babington, “is the cut-throat and poison of all love and friendship.” And in proportion to the intensity of the love will be the anguish of suspicion in respect to the object of the love.

Adultery is a sin of the greatest enormity. This dreadful ordeal, which was intended to prevent it, shows how great was its heinousness in the Divine estimation. This is expressed--

1. In the abasement of the suspected woman. The “barley meal,” of which the offering was composed, the “earthern vessel” which contained the water, and “the dust” that was put into the water, indicate a state of deep humiliation and disgrace. The absence from the offering of oil, the symbol of the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit, and of frankincense, the symbol of prayer, also proclaimed her questionable repute and the suspicion with which she was regarded. In like manner the “uncovering of the woman’s head” was indicative of the loss of woman’s best ornament, chastity and fidelity in the marriage relation.

2. In the terrible punishment which came upon the guilty. This ordeal was made so terrible that the dread of it might effectually prevent the wives in Israel from the least violation of their fidelity to their husbands. It remains as an impressive proclamation of the utter abhorrence with which God regards the sin of adultery. It is a sin against God; it inflicts the most intolerable injury upon the husband; it is an unmitigated blight upon the family; and it is a wrong to society generally. The most terrible condemnations are pronounced upon it in the Sacred Word (Leviticus 20:10; Malachi 3:5; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Hebrews 13:4).

The punishment of sin is closely related to the sin itself. The punishment came in those portions of her body which she had abused.

God will bring to light the secret sins of men. If the suspected woman were guilty, after this ordeal her guilt would be made manifest. All sins are known unto Him.

God will assuredly vindicate the innocent who have suffered from suspicion and slander. In this case the vindication was most complete. “If the woman be not defiled, but be clean; then she shall be free, and shall conceive seed.” “If not guilty after such a trial,” says Adam Clarke, “she had great honour; and, according to the rabbins, became strong, healthy, and fruitful; for if she was before barren, she now began to bear children; if before she had only daughters, she now began to have sons; if before she had hard travail, she now had easy; in a word, she was blessed in her body, her soul, and her substance.” Thus to the innocent there was no terror in this stern ordeal. It was rather a blessing to them, if by any means they had come to be regarded with suspicion by their husbands; for by means of it such suspicions would be removed, and their fidelity and honour vindicated and exalted. And God will, sooner or later, splendidly vindicate all who suffer from misrepresentation, slander, or false accusation. (W. Jones.)

Innocence mysteriously declared

Aunt C. Fox told us of an American friend who once felt a concern to go somewhere, he knew not where. He ordered his gig, his servant asking where he was to drive. “Up and down the road,” said his master. At last they met a funeral. “Follow this funeral.” said the master. They followed in the procession till they came to the churchyard. Whilst the service was being performed the friend sat in his gig; at its conclusion he walked to the grave, and said solemnly, “The person now buried is innocent of the crime laid to her charge.” An elderly gentleman in deep mourning came up to him in great agitation, and said, “Sir, what you have said has surprised me very much.” “I can’t help it, I can’t help it,” replied the other; “I only said what I was obliged to say.” “Well,” said the mourner, “the person just buried is my wife, who for some years has lain under the suspicion of infidelity to me. No one else knew of it, and on her death-bed she again protested her innocence, and said that if I would not believe her then, a witness to it would be raised up even at her grave-side.” (Caroline’s Fox’s Journal.)

Innocence strangely declared:

It is recorded in history that a beautiful maiden, named Blanche, the serf of an ancient nobleman, was wooed by her master’s son. Not admiring his character, she scorned his suit. Upon this, his course of love turned to bitter hatred. Just then a precious string of pearls confided to the maiden’s care was lost. Her pseudolover charged her with the theft, and, in accordance with the customs of that rude age, she was doomed to die. On the day of the execution, as the innocent girl knelt to offer her dying prayer, a flash of lightning struck a statue of Justice, which adorned the market-place, to the dust. From a scattered bird’s nest, built in a crevice of the image, dropped the lost pearls--thus declaring her innocence. In a moment the exultant crowd rushed to the scaffold, demanding her release. There she knelt beside the block, pale and beautiful, and with a smile of peace upon her lips. They spoke--she answered not. They touched her--she was dead! To preserve her memory, they raised a statue there; and to this day, when men gaze upon her image, they condemn her oppressor; they praise her for the purity of her character; they recognise the justice of Him whose lightnings testified to her innocence. (W. Smith.)

A fallacious test of innocence:

Man frequently satisfies himself that he has come to an accurate conclusion merely because, on the application of what he considers an infallible test, he discovers a particular anticipated result. Often enough the test is utterly fallacious. Take an example. The tanghin, or tanguen, is the only plant of its genus, and is confined to Madagascar. Its poisonous seed is esteemed by the natives an infallible criterion of guilt or innocence. After being pounded, a small piece is swallowed by the supposed criminal. If he be cursed with a strong stomach, which retains the poison, he speedily dies, and is held guilty; if his feeble digestion rejects it, he necessarily escapes, and his innocence is considered proven. Now it is obvious to any educated mind that innocence and guilt are in no way disclosed by this process. Yet inasmuch as it has been accepted as a test, its results are unquestioned. And there are numberless instances in which English society consents to be governed by the results of tests, simply because those tests are generally accepted. Again and again it becomes important to inquire whether, supposing your test does disclose a given result, that test is really as infallible as you deem it to be? Many will be found to be only “tanghin” tests, and as such utterly fallacious. (Scientific Illustrations.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Numbers 5". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/numbers-5.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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