Numbers 5-6: Vows and Blessing
March 3, 2024
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
The test with which these chapters begin seems passingly strange—a test for adultery (5:11-31) that would not hold up in any court of law, or judgment of peers, or public opinion in any modern context. What is more, the necessity of drinking this “bitter” drink (5:24), which looks like it would have tasted horrible even to the innocent, and hardly have been clean with dust from the floor (5:17), seems, well, odd. It certainly does not appear to be a gold-standard test. One is also tempted to wonder why there is not in the same place a test for the man with whom the woman (if she had) committed adultery. To these questions, we may say that the text supposes a supernatural intervention of God, and the ceremony around it is a means, a kind of public sign, whereby that supernatural intervention can take place.
It is interesting how the word “jealousy” is repeated (5:25, 29-30). It is almost as if this is a technique for dealing with the type of man who feels jealousy for his wife—perhaps sometimes inappropriately—and coming to a conclusion whereby they can be reconciled and his wife acquitted and their relationship (supernaturally) restored to its intended intimacy. We are to be “jealous” in a healthy way for our husband and for our wife, as the Lord is “jealous” for his people (Ex. 34:14), meaning he is in a covenant (exclusive) relationship with his people. When adulterous actions appear, or are suspected of having taken place, there needs to be some way of restoring intimacy, discovering truth in the inmost parts (Ps. 51:6).
In these old covenant days, the system was as described here, always predisposing a supernatural intervention of God, rather than any inherent power in dusty water. The Nazirite vow, made famous by Samson (Judges 13:5), is a way of an individual being set apart in a special way for God’s service. The rules are described (6:1-21), intended to show the significance of God himself and the close commitment of this individual to serving him. There is a place even today for going on “retreat” or “taking stock” of your life and determining in the Spirit to live a life of complete commitment to Christ. Paul shaved his head (Acts 18:18), and while that is perhaps not something we will ourselves want to do, it does indicate that there is a time for making fresh commitments to the Lord in a new season of determination to read the Bible, to pray, to be close to the Lord and follow him—to own God as more important than any other passing fancy.
The chapters end (6:22-27) with the famous priestly blessing, worth repeating in whole below. By such means, the true character of God, his love and kindness and generosity, is brought to remembrance for God’s people, in a simple ceremony of blessing that underscores the extraordinary goodness of God:
The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. (Num. 6:24-26)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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