Numbers 5 contains three stories. The first story is about Jehovah instructing Moses to send away all people with leprosy from the camp.  In the next story, Jehovah is instructing Moses to let the Israelites offer up sacrifices for their sins and offenses.  The third story is about Jehovah telling Moses how to deal with the problem of a husband suspecting that his wife was unfaithful.

What is the relationship between these three stories?

Let us first look at the relationship between Numbers 4 and Numbers 5.  In our previous study, we mentioned that Numbers 4 covered three different levels of ministry: the ministry of Aaron as high priest and his sons as priests in the Holy of Holies and sanctuary; the ministry of the Kohathites, the children of Levi, who were carrying the things in the sanctuary; and the ministry of Gershon, the son of Levi, who was carrying the things in the outer courtyard.  This represents three different stages of service.  Jehovah specifically reminded Moses and Aaron not to let the Kohathites be destroyed because Jehovah foresaw that the Kohathites would rebel against God.  They were greedy for the priesthood of Aaron and his sons.  In the end, they rebelled against God and were judged by Him, leading them to be almost destroyed.  This rebellion also brought a plague, which was later stopped when Aaron took the incense burner and prayed (2 Samuel 24).  Similarly, Aaron and Miriam also rebelled against Moses, which brought Miriam a judgment from God of leprosy.     Leprosy was a result of rebelling against God and the authorities He established.

So, when Numbers 5  talked about sending people with leprosy away from the camp, it did not come out of the blue.  After Miriam was afflicted with leprosy, Aaron pleaded with Moses to intercede, and Moses begged Jehovah to forgive her sins.  Jehovah said, “If her father had spit in her face, would she not have been in disgrace for seven days? Confine her outside the camp for seven days; after that, she can be brought back.” Numbers 12:14, NIV).

We have already talked about this before.

Why was Kohath, who rebelled, allowed to serve and carry things in the Holy of Holies and sanctuary instead of Gershon, who served and carried things in the outer courtyard?  Aaron was a high priest, and a high priest could only enter the Holy of Holies to serve God once a year.  But when his sons Nadab and Abihu offered strange fire before the Lord, they were committing a transgression of assumption, believing that they could offer fire that God had not approved.  Kohath’s descendant Korah was jealous of Aaron’s priestly office believing he could do the job just as well.  This was also considered an assumption.  We easily face the temptation of ambition the more we serve God and try to draw closer to Him.  But the closer our lives are to the outer courtyard, and the more we serve there, the more susceptible we are to the world’s influences and sin.

For example, there are Christians who fight for church leadership positions.  In the eyes of the world or Christians who have a worldly mindset, it doesn’t make sense.  If the job isn’t a paid position, what’s the point of fighting for it?  Christians with a worldly mindset don’t understand why ministers would battle for influence in the church.  There are three stages here.  The worldly Christians are like the prodigal sons in Luke 15, and those who fight for power or attention are like the elder brother.  Those that love God and have no greed or jealousy for position are willing to serve out of a heart of love.  They may be ministering to God in the Holy of Holies, but few people serve in the Holy of Holies.  Most of us are either like the prodigal son or the older brother.

The three parts of the Old Testament tabernacle are the Holy of Holies, sanctuary, and the outer courtyard.  These can represent three different stages of our spiritual life or three different stages of our ministry to God.  People who serve in the Holy of Holies, such as Aaron, seem to be serving God Himself.  Like Aaron’s son and Kohath, those who serve in the sanctuary serve and carry the holy things and help people like Aaron serve God.  Like Gershon, people who serve in the outer courtyard do many practical things, such as preparing sacrifices for people.  They are indirectly serving God and directly serving the Israelites outside.

No matter the stage of your spirituality, you can rebel against God, which is likened to spiritual leprosy.  Moses was the one closest to God of all those serving in the Holy of Holies, yet he disobeyed the Lord’s command to speak to the rock to bring water from it and instead struck the rock.  God rebuked him for his lack of respect and failing to uphold His holiness before the Israelites.  As a punishment, Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land.  His disobedience was considered rebelling against God.

Perhaps Miriam and Kohath’s descendant Korah were both serving God in the sanctuary.  They were both jealous of Moses or Aaron, so their rebellion brought God’s judgment.  Korah went down alive into Hades while Miriam was afflicted with leprosy.

The people who were afflicted with leprosy mentioned in Numbers 5 may have included ordinary Israelites who could only go to the outer courtyard.  Ordinary Christians, or even unbelievers who rebel against God, may live in a state of rebellion against Him, as in the case of the prodigal son described in Luke 15.  Those of us who live in sin are actually afflicted with spiritual leprosy, which is rebelling against God.

These three types of people with different spiritual lives can get spiritual leprosy.  How does God deal with people who are afflicted with leprosy? The first method is to isolate them and cut off their communication with the Israelites to avoid spreading it to more of God’s people.  Second, cut off their fellowship with God and prevent them from defiling God.

Therefore, at the beginning of Numbers 5, Jehovah ordered Moses to “send away from the camp anyone who has a defiling skin diseaseor a discharge of any kind, or who is ceremonially unclean because of a dead body.  Send away male and female alike; send them outside the camp so they will not defile their camp, where I dwell among them.” (Numbers 5:2-3, NIV).

The phrase “Camps in which I dwell among them” means that the presence of God is in the camp of the Israelites.  We know that in the New Testament, Jesus Christ is “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14, NIV), and Jesus Christ “may dwell in your hearts” (Ephesians 3:17, NIV).  So we are the tabernacle of God.  God dwells in saved Christians.  If we sin, God, as our father, will not cut off the relationship between him and us.  But He will cut off our fellowship with Him.  For example, if a son runs away from home, he is still his father’s son.  But the communication between him and his father is cut off.  For Christians, being put outside the camp is not a permanent punishment.  Rather, it’s the inability to have fellowship with God.  (Of course, if they are unbelievers, they may face different endings outside the camp.)

If you look at it this way, the second story of Numbers is significant.  This story shows us how the Israelites repented of their sins by offering sin offerings and trespass offerings.  Our repentance restores fellowship with God.

So what is the spiritual meaning of the third story, which talks about the husband’s suspicion of his wife’s unfaithfulness?  It shows that God is omniscient and knows when we sin.  He knows who is right and wrong, even though we may not be aware of other’s faults.

Let’s look at the two verses that disturb us.  Numbers 5:15 (NIV) records:

He is to take his wife to the priest.  He must also take an offering of a tenth of an ephah of barley flour on her behalf.  He must not pour olive oil on it or put incense on it because it is a grain offering for jealousy, a reminder offering to draw attention to wrongdoing.”

This story’s background is that the husband suspects his wife has been unfaithful, but she has not been caught in the act.  But the husband suspects his wife, so he took his wife to the priest.  The priest would make the woman stand before the Lord, let her hair hang down, and place in her hands the reminder offering (meal offering or grain offering).  The priest himself would hold the bitter water that brings a curse, and he puts the woman under oath.  If she didn’t do anything, she would be fine, and she would be able to get pregnant.  If she made herself impure, her abdomen would swell, and she would miscarry and become a curse among her people.

What exactly does this mean?

Oil is usually put on the grain offering (which represents the Holy Spirit) and incense (which represents the resurrection of Christ).  In this case, it was explicitly noted that no oil or incense should be added to it because it was a grain offering for jealousy, which reminded people of their sin.  This could be the only mention of the grain offering linked to sin in the Bible.

Why does this kind of grain offering remind people of sin? Paul said that when the husband and wife become one flesh, it is a profound mystery because it refers to Christ and the church.  In other words, our relationship with the church and Christ is like a husband and wife.  Many times in the Old Testament, God and the Israelites used the relationship of husband and wife as an analogy.  So, can we personify the relationship between God and man as husband and wife? If God, as a husband, suspects his wife of unfaithfulness, but his wife’s infidelity has not been revealed, what method would be used to disclose this?

For example, people have different opinions concerning the recent outbreak of the coronavirus.  Some people say that Satan caused this to make it impossible for people to preach the gospel and preach it in large-scale gatherings.  They say that the enemy must be bound.  This may be true, but Jesus said that nothing would happen without the Heavenly Father’s permission.  Even when Satan attacked us, God allowed it to happen.  Why does He let these things happen?  If we blame it on Satan and bind him without repenting, God’s purpose in allowing it won’t be accomplished. Romans 8 tells us that all things work together for good to those who love God.  All things can include good things and bad things.  The coronavirus may be a bad thing, but God can use it to work for our good.

In my opinion, one of the effects of the coronavirus can be likened to the grain offering. It is a reminder of sin.  I don’t believe that everyone who contracts this virus has sinned.  Many doctors and others who lack protection and get infected are innocent victims.  With that being said, the shock factor of being told you have the coronavirus will impact people differently.  For example, what impact did this virus have on British Prime Minister Boris Johnson or Prince Charles when they discovered they were infected?  We don’t know what Boris Johnson was thinking while lying in his hospital bed or how it affected the British people.

  The UK has become very secular.  I lived there for a year and experienced this.  Britain used to be the world-leading country in Christianity and evangelization.  They had Hudson Taylor and other devout Christian leaders, bringing significant progress to the rights and privileges in the kingdom of God.  But in recent centuries, the state of Christianity in Britain has been falling.  When I was in the UK, I noticed that many traditional buildings look like churches but were sold to restaurants because they couldn’t keep the churches alive.  

Many prophetic prophecies say that Brexit will make Britain return to Christianity because God honors so many British people in history who were devoted to Him.  God also listens to the prayers of British Christians now and those who are already in glory.  He will raise a great revival in Britain.  If this prophecy is true, how would it happen? Without repentance, there will be no revival.  Where does repentance come from?  It comes from being aware of our sin.  We need the conviction of the Holy Spirit to show us our sin.  John 16:8 (NIV) tells us, “When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.”

Please note that Numbers 5 specifically says that no oil or incense should be put on the grain offering.  Oil represents the Holy Spirit, and incense represents the resurrection of Christ.  Generally speaking, fine flour represents human nature because flour is produced from the ground.  Barley is one of the earliest crops cooked by the Israelites, so fine flour is often used in the Bible to represent the fine human nature of Jesus Christ.  However, we notice that only a tenth of an ephah of barley flour was to be offered, which could mean that the grain offering had limited fine and resurrected human elements of Jesus in it.  The Oil or Holy Spirit wasn’t in it, nor was the incense or resurrection of Christ.  This is the mystery concerning this offering.

When the Lord Jesus was in anguish to the point of death, he quoted what David said in Psalm 22:1 (NIV), “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” David said in the second verse of Psalm 22, “My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest” (NIV).  Many people in distress feel like David.  Why didn’t God respond? Why does God permit bad things to happen? Why did God allow this virus to hurt so many people and bring so much loss and inconvenience? I believe that many people have prayed like this.   It may look like God is hiding and isn’t answering these prayers.

We can compare it to when parents hide the eggs at Easter.  They are not hiding the eggs so that their children can’t find them.  Rather they want their children to find the eggs.   In the same way, sometimes, God seems hidden to encourage us to pray.  If there is a hidden sin, we can repent and be forgiven. God’s concealment is His appearance; His silence is often His speech, and his inaction is His action.

This is the meaning of the grain offering here.  It is a special grain offering.  It lacks a lot of ingredients, indicating that God has hidden Himself in this offering.  The purpose of hiding Himself is to make us reconcile with Him through repentance and confession of our sins.  Originally, according to the promises in the Bible, especially Psalm 91, neither the pestilence in the day nor the destruction in the darkness should harm us.  Then, why does God allow viruses and destruction to happen?  Has He left us, or are His promises lies? No, He didn’t leave us but temporarily hid Himself from us.

The rule of the grain offering in Leviticus 2 is that it must not be mixed with leaven and honey.  It must be seasoned with salt, and oil and incense must be put on it.  This is the grain offering ordained by God.  We may still be unfamiliar with the religious customs of the Jews, so it is not obvious how to see this difference.  Take Americans, for example.  Every American knows that the First Amendment to the U. S.  Constitution stipulates that Americans have the freedom of speech and religion.  But if someone changes the Constitution’s provisions someday, prohibiting the freedom of speech, Americans will then know the importance of freedom.  Leviticus 2 stipulates that oil and incense must be put on the grain offering, but Numbers 5 specifies that oil and incense should not be placed on it.  This difference may not be obvious to us, but it may be a pronounced change for the Jewish priests or Jews.  They might have said, “What’s wrong? Why did God explicitly order oil and incense in the grain offering before, but now we aren’t allowed to put oil and incense on it? Is God wrong? Or are we wrong?” Thinking this way may make people more conscious of their sins.

Similarly, as we are facing the outbreak of the coronavirus today, on the one hand, we need to admit that this is an attack from Satan, and we must use the authority God has given us to bind Satan.  On the other hand, we have to think, why did God allow this to happen? What sins do we need to repent of? Perhaps this can be likened to the grain offering, which helps us be conscious of our sin.  Regardless of the church, or as humans created by God, we are His bride.  Do we have other idols besides God? Have we committed adultery with our idols behind God’s back? Have we forgotten God to love the world? Have we destroyed nature created by God? Have we cursed God while enjoying the sunlight, air, and water that He has given us? We need to reflect on these things.  We need to offer this grain offering for jealousy so that we can be conscious of our sins.  But the original role of the grain offering mentioned in Leviticus 2 is for God to be pleased with us.  Perhaps after we have repented, the sacrifice we will be offering is the real grain offering in Leviticus 2.  The oil that represents the Holy Spirit and the incense that represents the resurrection of Christ at that time will be put on.  Our offerings will then please God.  God will once again comfort and encourage us with His presence.

If I were a British national, I would pray and ask why God allowed our country’s leaders to contract the coronavirus. Is there any word from God in it? If God is reminding us of our sins, what are our sins? Do we need to repent? What is God’s hidden intention and blessing in it? How can I get it?

Of course, you don’t need to be a British national to think about this issue.  When we can’t go outside because of the virus, we should spend more time praying, or even fasting and praying, asking God why He has temporarily abandoned us.

We really need to repent.  This is the role of the grain offering for jealousy.  I said that the purpose of the coronavirus outbreak might cause us to pray more and repent more. So in a way, it is similar to the purpose of the grain offering for jealousy in this chapter.  The objective is to remind people of their sins.

A number of Christian leaders have testified that they now have much more time to pray and read the word of God since the coronavirus limits their ability to travel.  Since the coronavirus outbreak, I have fasted one meal each day for several months to pray.  As I have examined my heart before the Lord in prayer, I was made aware of some areas in my life that needed to change.  With God’s help, I repented and overcame them.

This virus outbreak has caused many unbelievers who have found themselves in difficult circumstances to seek God and ask Him to help them.  

Let’s look at Numbers 5:15 (NIV) again:

He is to take his wife to the priest.  He must also take an offering of a tenth of an ephah of barley flour on her behalf.  He must not pour olive oil on it or put incense on it because it is a grain offering for jealousy, a reminder offering to draw attention to wrongdoing.”

We are the bride of Christ.  If we have committed any spiritual fornication or rebellion toward God, He will be like a jealous bridegroom.  He will examine us to see if we are living purely for Him. We hope this study blesses you.  Again, it is not for condemnation.  Jesus died for our sins and took all the wrath of God.  That is represented by the burnt offering.  In a burnt offering, the sacrifice was burnt entirely to ashes.  It satisfies God alone.  We see it in Abraham’s story when he offered Isaac to God as a burnt offering.  Here we talk about the grain offering, the sin offering, and the trespass offering. Because Jesus took all God’s wrath, God will not pour His wrath on us anymore.  But it doesn’t mean that God won’t chastise us or that we no longer need to confess our sins or trespasses.  We still need to confess our sins, but first need to become conscious of our sins.  That is the purpose of this special grain offering mentioned in this chapter.  It is an offering to remind us of our sins.  The current coronavirus serves as a type of this special offering. Let’s take time to repent.