The camp of Israel was to be cleansed from every person who had the plague of leprosy or was ceremonially unclean in some other way. Similarly, the purity of the Church must be kept as carefully as the peace and order of it. It is always pleasing and profitable for us to observe the spiritual truth that was contained in these laws that were given to the Israelites! And here, in the precept that was issued concerning the removal of unclean persons from the camp, we have a very striking allusion to the fact that nothing unclean can be permitted to dwell in the soul that has experienced the blessed outpouring of mercy in the Gospel.
Dearest Jesus, we pray for grace to come out from among all that is filthy, to touch no unclean thing, and to be holy like You are holy! (1 Pet. 1:15) And help us to look forward to that Kingdom of glory which is in heaven, where all things that offend will be banished forever! On that day, may we be found dressed in our Savior’s righteousness, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing. May we be holy and without blame before Him, in love! (Ephesians 1:4)
This chapter also contains instructions from the Lord concerning the making of restitution. Heavenly wisdom is both pure and peaceable. The greater the profession of religion that any person or family makes, the more they are obliged to put iniquity far away from them. If a person defrauds his brother in any matter, it is a trespass against the Lord, Who strictly charges and commands us to deal justly with one another. So what is to be done when a person’s awakened conscience charges him with guilt of this kind, even though it may have been done long ago? He must confess his sin – both to God and to his neighbor – and take shame to himself. Even though it goes against him to acknowledge himself guilty, yet he must do it. As long as that which is wrongly gotten is knowingly kept, the guilt remains upon the conscience and is not removed by sacrifices or prayers or tears; for it is the same act of sin being persisted in. But restitution must also be accompanied by faith and repentance. God’s Word directs the tender conscience to proper conduct, which – springing from faith in Christ – will pave the way for inward peace.
The process that the Lord gave in this chapter for cases of suspected adultery would cause the women of Israel to be careful not to give the appearance of evil; but on the other hand, it would also hinder the cruel treatment that such suspicions might result in. The Lord’s procedure would not only hinder the guilty from escaping, but it would also vindicate those who were truly innocent. The law sentenced adulterers to death, but such persons had to be condemned by the testimony of at least two witnesses. And so when there was reason for suspicion, but no proof could be brought, the wife was called upon to make this solemn appeal to the heart-searching God. Having presented an offering of about 14 cups (1.75 kg) of barley meal, the priest would pronounce a curse upon her if she was truly guilty – to which, she was to say, “Amen.” Then, having written down this curse, he would blot the ink into bitter water mixed with dust from the Tabernacle floor; he would offer the woman’s offering of barley meal, and cause her to drink the bitter water. It was called “bitter water” because it would cause the consequences of the curse to take effect if she was guilty (verse 18). But if she was truly innocent, she would be spared from the bad effects of the bitter water; and thus she would be vindicated and cleared of the crime that she had been suspected of.
No woman who was truly guilty could say “Amen” to the curse, and drink the water after it, unless she disbelieved the truth of the Lord or defied His justice – having come to such a pitch of hard-heartedness as to challenge God Almighty to do His worst, and to choose rather to venture upon His curse than to give Him glory by making confession.
Let all who meddle with forbidden “pleasures” know that they will receive nothing except bitterness in the latter end. Although we do not now have this “bitter water,” yet we have God’s Word, which tells us that fleshly lusts will end in bitterness. But the same Word also makes it clear that the Lord will make manifest the innocence of those who are falsely accused.
As we conclude our study of this chapter, let us not forget to bow the knee in prayer to our blessed Redeemer, Who has graciously condescended to make us His Bride, and has engaged us to be His own forever. Let us ask Him for grace and strength so that nothing may tempt us to go aside or wander from Him – whether in thought, in word, or in deed. May we always rejoice in the assurance that we belong to our Beloved, and He belongs to us!
Precious Redeemer! Here we behold and prize Your work of redemption – for our souls deserved to be banished from You forever, by reason of the uncleanness we have contracted; and yet, being cleansed from all sin by Your blood, we are brought within the vail and come within the holy place! May we be forever singing the glories of the Lamb Who was slain, and Who has redeemed poor sinners by his blood! And we pray that You would govern every affection of our hearts, so that there may be no allowed trespasses in me. Search us, O God, and know our hearts; try us and know our thoughts; and see if there is any wicked way in us, and lead us in the way everlasting. Amen. (Ps. 139:23-24)
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