The Expulsion and Restoration of the Unclean
Numbers 5:1-4
And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,…

The host has now been marshaled. The several tribes have taken the places allotted to them in relation to the tabernacle and to one another. They are about to set forth on the march from the wilderness of Sinai. Before the signal is given, certain final instructions for the regulation of the camp have yet to be delivered, and this about the removal of unclean persons is one of them. The general intention of it is intimated in the terms employed. The host is to be so ordered, both in the camp and on the march, as to make it a living picture of the Church, and the Church's relation to God. It is to be made manifest that he dwells and walks among the covenant people (Leviticus 26:11, 12), that he is of pure eyes, and cannot suffer evil to dwell with him. Accordingly, there must in no wise abide in the camp any man or woman that is unclean. Persons afflicted with uncleanness must be removed, and live outside of the sacred precinct. Such is the law here laid down.

I. IN ATTRIBUTING TO THIS LAW A RELIGIOUS INTENTION, I DO NOT FORGET THAT A LOWER AND MORE PROSAIC INTERPRETATION HAS SOMETIMES BEEN PUT ON IT. There are commentators who remind one of the man with the muck-rake in the "Pilgrim's Progress." They have no eye except for what is earthly. To them the removal of the unclean is simply a sanitary measure. I freely admit that there was a sanitary intention. The sequestering of lepers, the early and "extramural" burial of the dead - these are valuable sanitary provisions, and it is plain that this law would lead to them. But I need not wait to prove that the law looks higher, and that its paramount intention is moral and spiritual.

II. Passing on, therefore, to the RELIGIOUS INTENTION Of this law, observe who exactly are excluded by it from the camp. They are of three sorts, viz., lepers, persons affected with issues of various kinds, and persons who had come in contact with the dead. This does not by any means exhaust the catalogue of defilements noted in the Levitical law. But these were the gravest. Only these three disabled from residence in the camp. My reason for calling attention to this point you will understand when I mention that these three uncleannesses, so prominent in the law of Moses, received the same kind of prominence in the gracious ministry of Christ. Read the story of the leper (Mark 1:41); of the woman with the issue of blood (Mark 5:27-30); of the raising of Jairus' daughter and the widow's son at Nain (Mark 5:41 and Luke 7:14). In no one of these passages is the Levitical law named. Much the greater number of those who read or hear them fail to perceive that in Christ's mode of performing the miracles there was any reference to what the law had said about the defiling quality of the evils on which his gracious power was put forth. That there truly was a reference surely needs no proof. No Jew ever forgot what the penalty would be if he suffered himself to be in contact with a dead body, with a leper, with a person having an issue of blood. Certainly our Lord did not forget. Nor would it be doing justice to the truth to say that our Lord touched as he did, notwithstanding the defilement thereby contracted, and its troublesome consequences. He, of set purpose, sought occasion to put himself in contact with every one of the three causes of defilement noted in the law. Keeping this in mind, let us ask the meaning of the law.

1. The general intention. It was to be a memorial of the truth that our nature is deeply infected with sin, and that sin disables all in whom it is found for enjoying the fellowship of God here and hereafter. In this Levitical statute, I admit, the lesson is not taught explicitly. There was nothing morally wrong in any one of the three sources of defilement named. The teaching is by symbol - a kind of object lesson - and not the less impressive on that account.

2. The meaning of the several symbols.

(1) Defilement by the dead. Why is this? Because death is the wages of sin (Genesis 2:17; Genesis 3:19). Compare the representation of death which pervades Psalm 90 - "the prayer of Moses."

(2) Defilement by leprosy. A touching symbol. It admonishes us that sin, besides being blameworthy and deserving of death, is a vile thing, to be loathed and recoiled from, as men loathe and recoil from a leper; contagious also, and apt to spread.

(3) Of the third symbol I need say only this, that it reminds us that sin is an hereditary evil (Psalm 51:5).

3. The relation of this law to Christ and his work. That it has a relation has been already pointed out. The relation may be conceived of thus : - The law is the dark ground on which the redemptive work of Christ unfolds the brightness of its grace. Christ did not keep aloof from the evils which afflict our fallen nature, and which perpetually remind us how deep our fall has been. He took occasion to put himself in contact with them. He touched the leprous man. Not that leprosy was sweet to him; it was to him as loathsome as to any man in Palestine that day. Nevertheless, he touched the leprous man, and the leprosy fled before the power of that touch. Leprosy, wasting issues, death - these are the memorials and tokens of the sin that is the fatal heritage of our fallen race; and one who would know our need of redemption cannot do better than meditate on them as they are set forth in the Levitical law. Leprosy, wasting issues, death - these evils our blessed Lord went up to in his ministry; he touched them, and their flight the instant that they felt his touch gave, and continues still to give, assurance to men that he is indeed the Saviour. He can forgive sin; he can make us clean; he is the resurrection and the life. - B.

Parallel Verses
KJV: And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

WEB: Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,

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