Numbers 5 has three stories.
The first story is about Jehovah instructing Moses to send away all the people with leprosy from the camp. The second story is about Jehovah instructing Moses to let the Israelites offer sacrifices for their sins and offenses. The third story is about Jehovah telling Moses how to deal with the problem of a husband suspecting his wife to be unfaithful.
What is the relationship between these three stories?
Let us first look at the relationship between Numbers 4 and Numbers 5. Last time, we mentioned that Numbers 4 covers three distinct kinds of ministry: the ministry of Aaron as high priest, and his sons as priests in the Holy of Holies and in the sanctuary; the ministry of the Kohathites (the children of Levi who transported the things associated with the sanctuary); and the ministry of Gershon (the son of Levi who carried the things in the outer courtyard). Now, 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, were judged by Him, and almost destroyed. Their rebellion brought a plague, which was only later stopped when Aaron took the incense burner and prayed (2 Samuel 24). Similarly, Aaron and Miriam rebelled against Moses and the Lord judged them by afflicting Miriam with leprosy. Leprosy was a result of rebelling against God and the authorities He established.
Thus, when Numbers 5 talks about sending people with leprosy away from the camp, this concept did not appear out of nowhere. It had already been alluded to before. 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.” (NIV, Numbers 12:14)
Why is it that Kohath—the one who carried the things in the Holy of Holies—rebelled, instead of Gershon—the one who served and carried the things in the outer courtyard? Aaron was a high priest, and only a high priest could enter the Holy of Holies to serve God once a year. When Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu offered strange fire before the Lord, they were committing transgression. Kohath’s descendant, Korah, was greedy of Aaron’s priestly office. This is also an example of committing transgression. We also may be tempted to commit this transgression.
For example, some Christians fight for church leadership positions. In the eyes of the world or lukewarm Christians, it seems meaningless to fight about something that does not even pay money. For worldly Christians, they find it incomprehensible to see ministers fighting for influence in a church. For those who love God and are willing to serve in a church, they should have no greed for anything in this world. Is it wrong then for someone to wish that their opinions would be respected in the church and that ministry will be conducted according to their method? When one thinks they are right, and when their flesh has not been completely dealt with in Christ, mistakes like pushing one’s personal agenda are often made.
The three parts of the tabernacle in the Old Testament are the Holy of Holies, the sanctuary, and the outer courtyard. These can often be used to represent three separate stages of spiritual life and or three distinct stages of ministry to God. People who serve in the Holy of Holies, such as Aaron, seem to be serving God Himself. Those who serve in the sanctuary, like Aaron’s sons and Kohath, serve and carry the holy things and help people like Aaron to serve God. People who serve in the outer courtyard, like Gershon, serve in many practical ways such as preparing sacrifices for the people. Each one serves God, but their service is either toward God directly or may be to the Israelites/people outside.
No matter which stage classifies your spiritual life, you are also susceptible to committing spiritual leprosy, which is rebelling against God. Out of the people who served God in the Holy of Holies, Moses was considered someone very close to God. We may not think Moses would commit sin. However, when Moses did not obey the command of the Lord to speak to the rock and bring water out of it, God rebuked him for failing to respect Him and uphold his Holiness before the Israelites. Thus, God did not allow Moses to enter the Promised Land as punishment. This is rebellion against God, and it is sin.
The people who were afflicted with leprosy mentioned in Numbers 5 included ordinary Israelites who were only permitted to enter the outer courtyard. Ordinary Christians and even unbelievers who rebel against God may also be living in a state of rebellion against God, as in the case of the prodigal son described in Luke 15. Three types of people can be subject to spiritual leprosy. How does God deal with people afflicted with leprosy? In the Old Testament, the first method was to isolate the person and cut off their communication with the Israelites to avoid spreading it to more people. Second, the person was cut off from their fellowship with God to prevent them from defiling God.
We see this at the beginning of Numbers 5 where 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.” (NIV, Numbers 5:2-3)
“Camps in which I dwell among them” means that the presence of God was in the camp of the Israelites. In the New Testament, it was said regarding Jesus Christ, “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (NIV, John 1:14) However, Paul made it clear that Christ was now to dwell inside a person: “that Christ may dwell in your hearts.” (NIV, Ephesians 3:17) Believers are the tabernacle of God. God dwells in the saved person making them a Christian. Now, if we sin, God, as our father, will not cut off the relationship between us and him, but fellowship with Him will be hindered. Fellowship will be not a privilege that person can continue to enjoy until he/she repents. For example, if a son runs away from home, he is still the son of his father; however, the communication between him and his father becomes hindered or cut off. For Christians, being put outside the camp is not a permanent sever of relationship. Instead, it represents the inability to have fellowship with God. (Of course, if they are unbelieving sinners, they may face a different ending outside the camp.)
When you look at sin in this way, the second story in Numbers is very meaningful. This story tells us how the Israelites dealt with their sins and what they owed to others by way of offering sin offerings and trespass offerings. There is a way out of sin and back into relationship with the Father. This second story shows us that when we repent before God, fellowship with God can be restored. So, what is the spiritual meaning of the third story which talks about the husband’s suspicion of his wife’s unfaithfulness?
God is omniscient. While he knows all our sins, we do not necessarily know what is happening around us nor who is right and who is wrong. Let’s look at two verses. 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.”
In this story, a husband suspects his wife has been unfaithful, but she has not been caught in the act of infidelity. The husband, carrying a spirit of suspicion, takes his wife to the priest. There, the priest makes the woman stand before the Lord. The woman’s hair will be loosed to hang down and the priest will place in her hands the reminder-offering (meal offering or grain offering). The priest will put the woman under oath as he holds the bitter water that brings a curse. If she is innocent, no curse would be put upon her, and she will be able to get pregnant. If, however, she had made herself impure by defiling the marriage bed, her abdomen will swell, her womb will miscarry, and she will become a curse among her people.
What exactly does this mean? It was generally customary to put oil on the grain offering (which represents the Holy Spirit) along with incense (which represents the resurrection of Christ). However, in these verses, it specifically mentions that no oil or incense should be poured out and put on. This is because the grain offering was for jealousy and intended to remind the people of their sins.
Why was this kind of grain offering used to remind people of sin? It was so that the Israelites understood that unfaithfulness to their covenant relationship with God was considered adultery in God’s eyes. Paul said that the husband and wife become one flesh, and this is a profound mystery because it refers to Christ and the Church. In other words, our relationship as the Church with Christ is symbolic of a husband and wife. The relationship between God and the Israelites was exactly this. So, if God, as the husband, suspects his wife to be unfaithful, but his wife’s unfaithfulness has not been revealed, is there some method used to reveal her infidelity?
We may use a recent example to illustrate my point. People have different opinions regarding the outbreak of the coronavirus. Some people say that Satan caused the virus and is using it to make it impossible for people to preach the gospel and preach in large-scale gatherings. The enemy must, therefore, be bound. This may be true, but Jesus said that nothing happens without the permission of the Heavenly Father. So, even if Satan attacks us, it has already been permitted by God. Why does God allow these things to happen? Often, it is to bring us to repentance. If we just blame attacks on Satan and bind him without repenting, then God’s purpose of permitting something to happen has not been fully achieved because Romans 8 tells us that all things work together for good to those who love God.
I personally think that one of the effects of the coronavirus can be likened to the grain offering for jealousy. That is, it is meant to remind us, the people, of our sins. I’m not saying that everyone who has contracted the coronavirus did so because of their sins. Many doctors and others essential workers, for example, have been unfortunately exposed and have suffered as martyrs or innocent victims. However, we may not realize the positive internal changes that may have taken place within those who have contracted the coronavirus. For example, we mentioned at our meeting that we don’t know what kind of impact the coronavirus brought to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Prince Charles after they were infected. When Johnson was lying on the hospital bed, we don’t know exactly what he was thinking. We also do not know yet what kind of impact these two British leaders will have on the British people after being infected.
I lived in the UK for a year and I know they are very secular. Britain used to be the world’s leading country in Christianity and evangelization. Devout Christian leaders once aligned their country’s principles with the Kingdom of God. In recent centuries, however, the state of Christianity in Britain has declined. While in the UK, I was told that many traditional buildings looked like churches but were actually restaurants. Since pastors were unable to keep churches alive, property was sold to restaurants.
Many prophecies nowadays say that Brexit will be used to make Britain return to being a sheep country (a Christian nation) because God desires to honor the many British people in history who devoted themselves to Him. God is listening to the prayers of British Christians and has heard the prayers of those already in glory. I believe He will bring a great revival to Britain. If this prophecy is true, how will it happen? Without repentance, there can be no revival. How can there be repentance? People first need to be conscious of their sins. How can we be conscious of our sins? We need the Holy Spirit to show us we have sinned. 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.”
If you are a British national reading this, I encourage you to pray to God. Search to know why God allowed your country’s leaders to contract the coronavirus? Is there anything God wants to say? If God is convicting you, your nation, or your leaders of sin, what are the sins and how can you repent? And what are God’s hidden intentions and/or blessings in this? How can you receive them?
Of course, you don’t need to be a British national to seek God and ask these questions. Since we cannot go to as many places as we did before because of the virus, we should spend more time praying and even fasting and praying. We don’t have to be afraid of expressing to God our feelings that He has temporarily abandoned us.
Let’s recall that the grain offering in Numbers 5 specifically mentions that oil should not be poured on it, and incense should not be put on it either. Oil represents the Holy Spirit while incense represents the resurrection of Christ. Generally speaking, fine flour represents human nature because flour is produced in the soil. Barley was one of the earliest crops to ripen. After the long winter, barley was generally the first crop to be harvested in the spring. This imagery of fine barley flour is, therefore, used to represent the resurrection of things from the dead; it can symbolize the human nature of Jesus Christ as the resurrection. Since it is mentioned here that a grain offering of only a tenth of an ephah of barley flour was to be offered, this offering would have very few resurrected human elements of Jesus in it. The Holy Spirit does not seem to be in it, nor is the resurrection of Christ. This is the mystery of this offering.
When Jesus was crushed to death, he quoted David from 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.” Many people in distress share the same feelings as David. Why doesn’t God respond? Why does God permit terrible things to happen? Why did God allow this virus to hurt many people and bring a lot of loss and inconvenience? I believe many people have prayed like this. Maybe you are unsure of God’s response too, as if God is hiding.
Bill Johnson from Bethel Church in Redding, CA offers an example to help us understand this mystery of not hearing God right away. He says it’s like when parents hide Easter eggs from their children. They are not hiding the eggs so that their children can’t find the eggs. Instead, they want their children to find the eggs through a process of searching. In the same way, God hides himself and asks us to pray to Him in search of a response, especially that we may recognize if there are any sins in our lives. If God is not pleased, he will show us, and then we can repent and be forgiven by Him. In other words, sometimes God’s concealment is His appearance; His silence is His speech; and His inaction is His action.
This is the meaning of the grain offering. 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 arouse us to reconcile ourselves with Him through repentance and confession of our sins. According to promises of the Bible, especially the promise of Psalm 91, neither the pestilence in the day nor the destruction in the darkness should harm us. So why does God allow viruses and destruction to come to us? Is God leaving us, or has He made false promises? No, He did not leave us nor falsely promise things. He just hid Himself temporarily.
Let’s look a little closer at the two grain offerings. The rule of the grain offering in Leviticus 2 says that it must not be mixed with leaven nor honey. It must be seasoned with salt, and oil and incense must be put on it. This is the original grain offering ordained by God. Persons unfamiliar with the religious customs of the Jews may not see how these two offerings are different. We can use an example of American citizens to illustrate this point. Every American knows that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution stipulates that Americans have the right to freedom of speech and religion. If someone changes the Constitution’s provisions someday, prohibiting the freedom of speech, Americans will recognize the contrast between the first law and the revision thereafter because the contrast is large. Leviticus 2 stipulates that oil and incense must be put on the grain offering while Numbers 5 specifies that oil and incense should not be put on it. This difference may not be obvious to us, but it’s a vast contrast for the Jewish priests and Jews. They might have wondered why God said this. Why did God explicitly order oil and incense to be put on the grain offering before, but now He instructed that no oil or incense be put on them? Did God make an error, or are we simply misunderstanding? Seeing the contrast between the two gradually leads people to be conscious of their sins.
As we face the consequences of the outbreak of the coronavirus today, we may be wise to allow this to push us closer to Christ by recognizing and repenting of any sins in our lives. This can be done while also recognizing our duty to use the authority God has given us to bind Satan in any forms that he may manifest himself. Although we collectively represent God’s bride as the Church, we should also recognize that our individual choices toward holiness matter. Do we have other idols besides God? Have we committed adultery with our idols behind God’s back? Have we forgotten God and loved the world? Have we destroyed elements of 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 the grain offering of jealousy as a way of saying we are willing to become more conscious of our sins.
Now, we cannot ignore, however, the original role of the grain offering mentioned in Leviticus 2. It was to let God find satisfaction in us. After we have repented, the next sacrifice we can give is the unmodified grain offering described in Leviticus 2. When we offer this, the oil that represents the Holy Spirit and the incense that represents the resurrection of Christ will be put on us. Then will our offering please God. God will once again comfort and encourage us with His presence.
We really need to repent. This is the role of the grain offering for jealousy. This outbreak of the coronavirus is a grain offering for jealousy. The purpose of it is to remind people of their sins. 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.”
I hope this word blesses you. I do not write with the purpose of condemnation, but that many would be saved by recognizing that Jesus died for our sins and took the wrath of God upon Himself, that which is represented by the burnt offering. The burnt offering was a sacrifice burned completely to ashes. It alone satisfied God. When Abraham offered Isaac to God, he did so as a burnt offering. However, this could not have satisfied God completely. Jesus’ life, on the other hand, was the offering that satisfied God’s wrath and punishment for sin. God will not put His wrath on us anymore. This does not mean that Christians no longer need to confess their sins or trespasses. We still need to confess our sins so that we may continue to enjoy unbroken fellowship with the Father. First, we need to become conscious of our sins so that we may repent. This is the purpose of the special grain offering—to remind us of our sins. The current coronavirus serves as this kind of special offering. What sins has God reminded you of while reading this? Let us repent.
Written by Jairus on April 15, 2020, and edited on Feb 15, 2021.