Numbers 5-6

nascent church Add comments

Numbers is a book of order. When I was reading it I got an image not of people but of little blocks. Everything is fitted together and able to withstand pressure or trouble without problems because of how it is fitted. One piece gets out of place and the whole system could crumble. Even a small misalignment could be catastrophic because each piece carries the weight of other pieces.

In a way too this order seems so totally artificial. God has chosen a people who were pretty much like other people. But now they have a purpose and have to fit into a God shaped mold. The patterns of their lives have to be intensely regulated so they do not go off and do what normal people would do, which includes sin. They are given rules that create a smooth functioning, but to do this they have to be entirely managed at each point.

I think of the command given to Adam which was pretty easy: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.'”

There was a little bit more when God talked to Noah, but it was still pretty simple.

But here everything is managed. Because humans showed they needed to be managed. Give them free reign and they wouldn’t do what is right. The knowledge of good and evil didn’t give them discernment, it gave them ideas.

So now here God is stepping in even more. He is insisting on a people who will reflect his nature to the world. He is shaping them and micro-managing them.

So in chapter 5 we read of the Levite families who carry things. This is important because the Holy Things of God are dangerous to touch. There has to be order, and this order keeps the honor of God maintained and the safety of the people secure. God isn’t messing around. He is insisting on this order because he has a plan to be worked out.

Which then brings us to chapter 6 where we read about what to do if a woman is suspected of adultery but there are no witnesses. It’s not new to notice how unfair this is. Where’s the man’s responsibility?

In thinking of the Law in terms of regulations for order I have a thought. Not one that would fly today but fits within the pattern of that day. If a priest touched the wrong item he would die. Aaron’s sons burned the wrong incense and they died. Each man had a role. This role may have been a warrior or a priest or a Levite assigned to different duties. Most every regulation we’ve read along the way in regards to worship applied to men. So, in their tasks they were given extreme guidelines.

A woman, in this society, had different tasks. One important one was to bear children and raise them up. She participated in the society by helping the generation move to the next generation. With adultery, however, she was risking upsetting the order by confusing lineage. All along we’ve had duties and campsites and roles and counts for specific families. But, have a child with a man who is not her husband, things get disordered. Where would a child of that union camp? What would he do? How could it be certain the other children were the husbands?

It’s not fair at all to judge the woman. But, these passages are not about fairness. They are not about the individuals. They are about keeping a clear functioning order within a volatile community.

Everyone had their risks and everyone had their duties. Only by following these rules could the whole community be a reflection of God and enter into the Promise he was readying for them.

Comments are closed.