Thursday, 20 February 2014

(52) February 21: Numbers 5-6 & Mark 4:1-20

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­­
As you read consider why these things are focused on here.

To ponder:
God now affirms the need of purity within the camp. First, those made “ceremonially unclean” (see Leviticus) must be sent outside the camp so that it is not “defiled.” It is the place of God’s presence so only what is fitting and acceptable can remain. God mercifully enables people to approach him not by lowering his standards but by making them clean, now through Christ. And these requirements would remind Israel, as it does us, of the separation from God sin and its consequences otherwise requires. Second, actual sins between people are dealt with so community cohesion is ensured. Such sins reflect unfaithfulness “to the LORD,” making the individual “guilty.” Not only is confession and restitution therefore required, but atonement (the ram is the usual offering for sins that require restitution). So we are reminded our sins against our neighbours are sins against God.
            The test of the potentially unfaithful wife may be included here because faithfulness in marriage is to image God’s covenant commitment to his people, or because marriage is key to the fulfilment of his promises. Unfaithfulness certainly makes those involved unclean. So the grain was probably offered for sin in-case the woman being brought “before the LORD” was actually guilty (5v15). The dramatic ritual would have been a powerful deterrent against adultery. However the regulations also protected the wife. The result depends entirely on God, acknowledging that he knows all and governs even the details of everyday health. We should remember that in reality this makes the result utterly reliable and so just, which is not the case when human testimony is relied upon – or when a husband might raise a false accusation to be rid of his wife. If the ailment didn’t result, the woman was to be “cleared from guilt” – clarifying the situation for the community. It all brings home the seriousness of adultery in any marriage, and the damage unresolved suspicion can do.
            The Nazarite’s vow of separation was a particularly special way of dedicating oneself to the LORD for a time. This is seen in the fact that abstaining from the specified drinks and not touching dead bodies were otherwise required only of priests. The first ensured focus on the LORD, and the second utter cleanliness. Not cutting their hair was “the symbol” of the Nazarite’s separation, reminding them and others of their vow. The word “Nazarite” is related to those for vow and crown, suggesting why hair was a suitable symbol. If someone died in a Nazarite’s presence, they had to start their whole time again. The sin offerings atoned for the specific unintentional sin, and the burnt offering reflected the Nazarite’s re-devotion to God. These offerings were also required when their time was complete, but with the addition of the fellowship offering marking the peace the Nazarite had with God as they re-entered normal life. As always, we’re reminded vows must not be made lightly (6v21), but challenged too about whether we might be so devoted to the LORD.
            By concluding chapter 6 with the priestly blessing, we see that with Israel ordered and instructed on maintaining their purity and devotion, they are in a position to experience God’s blessing. To be blessed is to receive joy from God. The blessing shows this stems from God protecting and being graciously present with his people, which results in the peace of covenant life lived before him. By this blessing the priests “put” God’s name on Israel, implying ownership. This same name and its blessing is put on us by Christ (Rev 22v4).

Praying it home:
Praise God that his name of ownership is upon us. Pray that we be pure in our relationships with others, our marriages, and our devotion to God in response.

Thinking further:
None today.

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