Introduction: Welcome to Expound our weekly worship and verse by verse study of the Bible. Our goal is to expand your knowledge of the truth of God as we explore the Word of God in a way that is interactive, enjoyable, and congregational.
Skip Heitzig: Numbers, chapter 4. Father, we begin by talking to the Author, the one who superintended Moses to record these words. We ask you, Father, to clear our minds. There's so many things that are vying for our attentions, distractive thoughts. As part of our worship, Father, we're saying by sitting here that what you have to say to us through your Word is more important than what we could be texting someone or hearing on social media or watching on television. We want you to speak to us these timeless principles. Father, we pray that not only will we rejoice, but we will respond to the clear teaching of Scripture, in Jesus' name, amen.
It would be tempting for a Christian today to say the book of Numbers isn't that important. And that would be evidenced by looking at the average Christian's Bible to see if the book of Numbers has anything underlined in it or not. And probably you wouldn't find much, which betrays the ignorance, I believe, of the average Christian who would disregard the Old Testament. Not only is it important, it's so important that the most important verse in the Bible is attached to the book of Numbers.
If you were to ask somebody, "What's the most important verse in the Bible?" Probably the verse that would win would be John 3:16. But most people disregard what's written right before verse 16 of John, chapter 3, and that's verse 14 and 15 where Jesus said, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that whoever believes in him would not perish but have everlasting life." And then it is written, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son."
What Jesus was doing was referring to a story straight out of the book of Numbers, chapter 21, where serpents came into the camp and bit the people of Israel, and they were dying. And as they were dying, God said to Moses, "Lift up a serpent on a pole; and whoever looks at that serpent, that bronze snake, will be healed." It was a look of faith and it was typical of what Jesus came to the earth to do---to die on a pole, on a cross. And whoever would look to him, by faith, would be saved.
So, the book of Numbers is attached to that verse, making it not just some Old Testament book to be disregarded, but something all-important. Not only did Jesus say that, but Paul the apostle in First Corinthians, the tenth chapter, refers to the book of Numbers when he admonishes those in Corinth: "And let us not be idolaters like some of them, who were destroyed in the wilderness."
And he continues, "Neither let us be sexually immoral as some of them were. Neither let us be murmurers, complainers, like some of them were," and they were destroyed in the wilderness. So Jesus refers to it; Paul refers to it. The writer of Hebrews (some believe to be Paul, others believe to be someone else) also made reference to the book of Numbers when he said, "Let us therefore enter into the rest that God has prepared for us. For some of them," referring to the people in the book of Numbers, the children of Israel, "did not mix the promises of God with faith and failed to enter into God's rest."
So, three notable occurrences in the New Testament are firmly anchored in the book of Numbers. That's why we're studying it. But it is, in part, a book of numbers. There's lots of numbers in the book: the tribes of Israel are numbered, the leaders of the tribes are numbered, all the people of Israel are numbered, the Levites are numbered, all the families of the Levites are numbered. It is indeed a numbering.
Why? Simply because God is going to march them through the desert. And in order to make that march work when you have a couple million people---you know what you need for a couple million people? Numbers, organization, somebody to take a census and put tabs and organize people into camps, so that there's order to this, otherwise---pandemonical gathering in the wilderness. And so the book of Numbers can be outlined with three simple words: organization, disorganization, reorganization.
Right now God is organizing them, getting them ready to march through the desert. Organism is what the church is. We are organic. It's an organism. We're part of a living, breathing, work of God called "the body of Christ." There's something organic and beautiful about believers just getting together. But any organism must be organized. There's a level of organization that must be applied to every organism, otherwise the organism is a blob. So, God applies organization.
Now, I, as a pastor, struggle with that balance between just the raw, organic work of the Spirit, but also the need to apply the gift of administration, and other things to organize it. You don't want to over-organize something that God is doing and God is moving. There is certain amount of chaos that you allow. For there ever to be creativity, you must allow for chaos. But you can't allow for chaos to take over.
Just as if an organism grows on its own, we call it cancer, so there must be a way to organize what God is doing. And God is giving to Moses and Aaron the organization that is provided for right here in this book. Now, some will say concerning the church and organization, I've heard this before, as soon as the church grows and you start applying organization to it, some people feel it's becoming "too institutional" and "you're quenching the Holy Spirit." Maybe you are, or you're allowing for the Holy Spirit to do a greater work.
A visitor went to a mental institution and he noticed that something unusual was portrayed right before his eyes as he saw one guard keeping watch over a hundred, what were called then, "inmates" in this mental institution. And the visitor said to the guard who was his friend, "Aren't you afraid that these people are going to get their heads together and attack you and escape?" And the guard smiled, and with a confident sigh he said, "Look, these people are here for the very fact that they are unable to get their heads together and work together cooperatively."
So, God provides for his people the ability to march in an organized fashion through the wilderness. As we get into this chapter, and we're going to conclude the evening by taking the Lord's Supper together, and we're just going to see how it flows. Because if we were to do two chapters, the last part of chapter 5 isn't all that conducive to a communion service since it talks about a woman who lies, caught in adultery, and she drinks some water that makes her belly swell and her thigh rot---and "Now, let's take the Lord's Supper." [laughter]
So, don't know where we're going to end up. So, as we begin chapter 4, again we're dealing with numbers, but let me make a clarification. In chapter 3, a census was taken of the tribe of Levi, and if you remember, there were three families in the tribe of the Levites. There were the Kohathites, the Gershonites, and the sons of Merari, or, if you will, the Merarites. These three comprised that one tribe. They were numbered, a census was taken.
Now in chapter 4 another census is taken for the same families of the same tribe. Why? Chapter 3 is a census of eligibility; chapter 4 is a census of viability. Let me explain: chapter 3, you find the males in the tribe of Levi from one-month-old and above, and you count them; those are eligible to serve. However, now God wants them to take a census of the working Levites. When we go on a march, you're not going to use a one-month-old to do the work, so they're not viable.
Eligible---one day they'll become that Gershonite, that priest, whatever, but until then you've got eligibility. But now we got to know viability---how many working Levites. And now the census is given for the males, the Levites who will serve from age thirty to age fifty. And whereas in the first census, chapter 3, there were 22,000 in the tribe of Levi, that's eligibility; there's only 8,000 that fit these parameters age thirty to age fifty, and that's viability, the working Levites that we see in chapter 4.
Now I want to just throw something else out at you as we go. They didn't begin their ministry until they were thirty. They were all eligible, but not viable till they were age thirty. The disparity comes in a few chapters when we read concerning them that they start their service at age twenty-five and not thirty. I'm bringing this up in case somebody would take a cursory reading of it and say, "I found a disparity in the Bible. I found a contradiction."
No, you didn't; you found a clarification. Here it says age thirty to fifty; in chapter 8 it will say age twenty-five to fifty, because it seems as though it took five years to prepare them for their task. It was the training; it was the serving of the aptitude of those who are called. And probably they were mentored by the priests who turned fifty. After fifty they retired. And you can look at it a number of different ways---the desert, it was hard on people.
But probably at age fifty the priests transition and say, "I'm no longer going to serve in this senior capacity, but I'm going to get behind the scenes and mentor the next generation of twenty-five-year-olds and bring them up, so that by age thirty they're viable." They move from eligibility to viability because of the mentoring of the senior leadership, the priests. It's a good, good pattern to follow. The older we get in the ministry, you want to be training the next generation and releasing them.
King David became king when he was thirty years of age. And what's interesting about David is he, in First Chronicles 23, lowers the age again to age twenty. I don't know what was going on. I don't know if that was okay with God, or if he heard about it what he got to heaven. Like, "That was not cool, dude, for you to do that. I said thirty and then twenty-five, you did twenty." Don't know if they needed extra help or had to just work longer. Whatever it was, he on his own decided to lower that number.
What's more interesting than any of that is when Jesus began his ministry. Being Jewish and one who proclaimed, "I did not come to destroy the Law and the Prophets, I came to fulfill it." He became our great High Priest, let's put it that way, that's what Hebrews calls him. At age thirty he entered into his ministry.
"Then," verse 1, "the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying"---you read this a lot. When God spoke, he didn't speak to all the people, he spoke to two people, Moses and Aaron. They were in turn to speak to the twelve leaders of the tribes. Those leaders would convey that message to the tribes; thus, all the people. And here's why: the form of government that God is instituting here is called a theocracy. God is in charge. They don't vote.
Boy, how good would that be [laughter] to not have to go through a campaign or a series of campaigns, and just hear rhetoric, and get so tired of it? God's original design of government was a theocratic kingdom. God was in charge and would convey his wishes. Now, later on this will change, the people will desire---what?---a king. They cry out for a king. They don't want a theocracy, now they want an autocracy.
They want a chosen king who will represent them before all the nations, because they want to be like the other nations. So, they move from theocracy to autocracy. Today the nation of Israel is neither a theocracy nor an autocracy, it is a democracy. And we in America, we love that, because we think that's the best form of government. It's not. It's a good form of government, and probably the best so far without a theocracy.
I mean, I think we have proven with the thousands of years that we've been on the earth that man is not good at governing himself in any capacity for very long, no matter what form of government they chose. That is why in the kingdom age when Jesus Christ rules on the earth, he's not going to choose an autocracy or a democracy, but a theocracy. Once again he is in charge, calling the shots, and this is sort of a preview of that.
" 'Take a census,' " verse 2, " 'of the sons Kohath from among the children of Levi, by their families, by their fathers' house, from thirty years old and above, even to fifty years old, all who enter the service to do a work in the tabernacle of meeting.' " We immediately learn that if you wanted to be in the ministry back then in these days in the wilderness among the children of Israel, God had to appoint you. There were no self-appointed leaders.
It wasn't like a guy was sitting around his tent one day going, "I really feel led to work in the tabernacle." Sorry, unless you are a male, Levite, age thirty to fifty, having been trained for five years, no go. You can't just appoint yourself. God is the one who selected that tribe; thus is appointing the Levites and the families, and will later on be the one who will appoint the prophets to represent him. Now, this will not always be followed, unfortunately.
You know the rest of the story, I trust, by now, having read your Bibles. You know that when there was a kingdom with a king---the first king was King Saul, followed by King David, followed by King Solomon, and then the kingdom split north and south. Right? So down south was Rehoboam the son of Solomon; up north was an unrelated guy named Jeroboam the son of Nebat. And he decided that since the kingdom was now split, why make people up north go all the way down south and worship in the Jewish temple in Jerusalem?
"How about," he thought, "if we made worship a little less restrictive and more free? Hey, we'll build two temples up north: one in Bethel and one in Dan. And we'll put a golden calf that represents strength like our forefathers did out in the desert." And why use Levites? They chose priests, the Bible says, out of every class of people, not just the Levites. That brought idolatry into the land. But God's original intention that when you are in the ministry, it's not by self-appointment, it's by God's calling.
And so God sets the parameters, and he restricts who can be in it, just like in the New Testament. It's not like, "You know, I just sort of feel led to just---I'm gonna just go down the street and make a church. No, there are qualifications in First Timothy, chapter 3, and the book of Titus about what it takes, what the character is about, the gifting, the calling, etcetera. And that should be evidenced before people. It's not by self-appointment.
Number two, there's a level of maturity. Maybe a Levite was thinking, "Man, I'm nineteen years old, I'm getting old." I want to get to work." I say that because when I was nineteen, that's what I said. I said, "Man, I gotta go out and do something, I'm getting old." Because I had a buddy who started actually teaching and pastoring when he was seventeen. So I thought, "Man, I'm nineteen, I'm getting old. I gotta do something," not allowing for that period of preparation. There takes a maturity, that's why they had to be thirty years of age before they entered the ministry.
Something I want you to note with that in mind. In verse 3, notice the word "service." "All who enter the service"---see that word? What you don't know, unless you studied it, is that the word "service," the root meaning of the word is "warfare" in Hebrew. The very root meaning of the word service for these people in the service of God's work is the root word for warfare.
No wonder in the New Testament that when Paul seeks a metaphor to speak of ministry, he speaks of the physical athlete and the man on the battlefield who doesn't get engaged in civilian activities that he might please his commanding officer. So, it's not by self-appointment; there has to be a level of maturity; and number three, each worker is different from the others.
There's three families, not just one. There's three families and they all have different duties. They all have different activities that they are to work through. There's not just one, there are several. Like in the New Testament, the "body of Christ." There's a variety of activities the Bible says, First Corinthians 12. "Diversities of ministries, but the same Spirit works all in all." But we're all different. We're all unique, and we have a unique gift to add.
In the early church, when it started, the apostles did---well, they did everything. But they had a problem---the church grew. Acts, chapter 6, the number of the disciples began to multiply in Jerusalem. And as they grew there was a group of ladies, widows who were getting provided for by that local assembly. Some of them were Hebrews, some of them were Grecian in background. And the Greek ladies complained that they felt the Hebrew ladies were getting preferential treatment.
And they complained to the apostles, "You gotta fix this. Come on, you're the pastor, you gotta fix this." And the apostles said, "We're not going to leave the Word of God and serve tables. But here's the solution: you pick, you select, you find seven men full of wisdom and full of the Holy Spirit and we'll agree with you. We'll set them over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the Word." They recognized this principle.
There's different gifts in the body. Every one of us has some or a few gifts, but not a single one of us has all the gifts. And when a person---if the apostles would have continued, "Yeah, man, we'll fix it. We'll do it all. We'll run ourselves ragged to do it all." They would be depriving other people of the opportunity to serve by hogging all of the opportunities themselves. And something else would have occurred: they would have quit the ministry, because they'd be so burned out trying to do it all.
So they recognized this principle. "We're a body, we're a group, find seven men full of the Holy Spirit, full of wisdom, and we'll set them over this. We, on the other hand, will give ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word." So we see these principles enacted here. Now, beginning in verse 4, and we're going to move swiftly, as you will see. Beginning in verse 4 down to verse, oh, about 21, the Kohathites, the viable, working Kohathites---remember them?
The family of Kohath camped just south of the tabernacle and in the wilderness journey it was their responsibility to carry the articles of furniture: the ark of the covenant, the altar of incense, the menorah, the table of showbread, the altar and the laver out in the courtyard. All of the articles of furniture, the Kohathites had charge of. So they're counted, those age thirty to age fifty. Notice down in verse 18 the Lord says, " 'Do not cut off the tribe of families of the Kohathites from among the Levites.' "
Now he explains what he means. " 'But do this in regard to them, that they may live and not die when they approach the most holy things; Aaron and his sons shall go in and appoint each of them to his service and his task. But they shall not go in to watch while the holy things are being covered, lest they die.' " So here's the deal: Aaron and his sons would go in first before the Kohathites, and they would cover the ark of the covenant and cover the furnishings so that the Kohathites who would carry them couldn't look at them.
Because if they looked at the ark of the covenant they would?---they would die. First Samuel, chapter 6, the ark of the covenant gets captured by the Philistines, returned to Israel, goes to the town of Beth Shemesh, the Beth-Shemites are "Woo-hoo! We're excited! We got the ark back." And 50,000 of them died because they looked inside. It was like an Indiana Jones movie on steroids, Raiders of the Lost Ark I'm referring to. That was put out---what?---194-? [laughter] No, no, 198- whatever. A long time ago.
So, the sons of Aaron took the veil that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies, and put it over the ark of the covenant, then covered that with badger skins for wind and rain protection, then covered that with a blue cloth. Now it was ready for the Kohathites to come in and transport it, and the Kohathites are numbered. Beginning in verse 21, the Gershonites---remember them? They camped west of the tabernacle.
And the Gershonites or the sons of Gershon, one of these families of the Levites, it was their job to carry the soft stuff: the cloths, the curtains, the skins that covered that main tentlike apparatus of the Holy Place. Beginning in verse 29 the census is taken for that third family, the Merarites, or the sons of Merari. Now, they camped north of the tabernacle, and if you recall, their job was the infrastructure. They would carry the boards, the bowls, the sockets, the pegs, the stuff that held it together, the infrastructure on which the curtains would be placed. That was their job.
" 'And,' " verse 31, " 'this is what they must carry as all their service for the tabernacle of meeting: the boards of the tabernacle, its bars, its pillars, its sockets, the pillars around court with their sockets, pegs, and cords, with all their furnishings,' " etcetera. There's a thread of thought that goes through these chapters, and I don't want you to miss it, because it's a comparative thread. We compare this thread to what we read in the New Testament.
The thread is that we have an emphasis on a holy place, holy property, holy furnishings, holy items. You can't even look on one of them or you'll die. I mean, just the emphasis on a holy place and holy people, the priests, that is absent in the New Testament. We don't have a priesthood in the New Testament. We don't have a special place we go, because we are the temple of the Holy Spirit. He lives in you. He works powerfully in each of us. That's the beautiful thread, the beautiful difference.
You're the temple. Now, the temple or the tabernacle was a place of worship, which means worship should be going on inside of you every day. You're the temple. Sacrifice has been made, you don't have to have the continual sacrifice, that's done with once for all. You're a priest. All of us are a "royal priesthood," First Peter tells us. So the emphasis that is in the Old Testament is something that is taken away in the new because of Christ.
Now verse 34 to verse 37, the count is given, the numbers are recorded; there's 2,750 viable Kohathites. Verse 38 to 41, the Gershonites are counted; 2,630 of them that are age thirty to fifty. Verse 42 to 45 the sons of Merari are counted; 3,200 of them, bringing a grand total of 8,580 viable, working Levites. Now, they counted 22,000 in the previous chapter, but those are just eligible, the 8,000 are the viable.
Verse 46, "All who were numbered of the Levites, whom Moses, Aaron, the leaders of Israel numbered, by their families, by their fathers' houses, from thirty years old and above, even to fifty years old, everyone who came to do the work of service and the work of bearing burdens in the tabernacle of meeting---those who were numbered were eight thousand five hundred and eighty. According to the commandment of the Lord they were numbered by the hand of Moses," hence the title, the book of Numbers, "each according to his service and according to his task; thus were they numbered by him, as the Lord commanded Moses."
Now, let me describe to you how it worked. They were camped. Aaron and his sons, probably all the Levites, all the families every morning would look outside and just look over the top of the tabernacle to see if a cloud was staying still or starting to move. If it was in its place, that cloud of God's glory, the /s/shechinah [ssheh k? nah], the Shekinah, a cloud by day, a pillar of fire by night, if that was stationary, "Great, we're just going to hang out here."
But if it starts to move from the tabernacle, that's their signal. As soon as that happened, Aaron and his sons will go in, cover the ark of the covenant with the veil that separates the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies, followed by badger skin, followed by blue. Take the altar of gold and cover it with scarlet, and cover it then with another blue cloth. And then the bronze altar out in the courtyard, cover that with a scarlet cloth, followed by blue. So all of the people saw the color blue, the heavenly color, as they were marching.
That's what Aaron did, and his sons. Then the Gershonites would come in and carry those things on staves or poles and move them out, getting ready for the march. As soon as that happened, the Gershonites boys would come in. The Gershonites boys could take down the curtains and the hangings, and any of the openings of the doors, and the skins, and pack them up and get them ready to go. After that all that was left was the infrastructure.
Now, the boys from Merari are going to come in and take down the sockets and the boards and the poles and the pegs and the cords and wrap them all up and get them ready to go for march. That's how they would take off. And then the camps, family by family, and tribe by tribe would march orderly, a couple million people marching through the wilderness. When the cloud would stop, they stopped. There was no reason. It's not like Moses had to explain why we're here. It's just, "I don't know, God stopped, so we're going to camp."
So they would place the ark down first. Then the Merarites would come in and lay the infrastructure around the ark. Right wherever that cloud stopped, that's where they would put the ark. The infrastructure would be built around it. After that the Gershonites would come in and hang the curtains and the cloths, the veils, and the skins. Then the high priest would come in and uncover the ark of the covenant and they would set up shop for worship.
With this kind of organization, it probably only took about thirty minutes to set up the entire tabernacle, because you have this kind of a staff of 8,580 people in the march doing it. And they know exactly what pole they pick up, what board he has, what cloth that person has, etcetera. It was all well timed and very well organized. But let's just say, let's just suppose, let's just imagine that one of the boys, say from Merari, wakes up one day and he's a little bummed out.
You know, that cloud starts to move, and he goes, "Man, I've been doing this for twenty years, and my job, nobody cares about my job. My job is to just take that one board on the north side of the tabernacle and put that in my wagon wrapped up. I carry that board around with my family and my belongings and my tent. Everywhere I go, I carry the board. I'm getting really bored with this." [laughter] You saw that coming, didn't you? Okay.
But he's been doing it twenty years, and he starts thinking thoughts like, "Nobody knows who I am. Nobody cares who I am. Moses doesn't even acknowledge me. They don't even put my name in the bulletin. [laughter] I don't know how important I am. I'm gonna leave that board right where it's at." And so they move, everybody goes to wherever that cloud stops, and they start setting up the tabernacle. "But we have a problem, there's one piece missing." "Oh, that belongs to Shlomo. That was his job to pick up that board."
So Moses would say, "Shlomo, wassup, dude? Where's the board?" "Well, I got bored." [laughter] "Okay, but we can't set up shop and go through our worship system because you're not cooperating with the rest of the group." "Well, I didn't think I was that important." "Man, you are so important, we can't continue without you." There's a New Testament corollary to all of this in the body of Christ. What a metaphor, is it not, that Paul the apostle chose to speak of the church like a human body?
Your body, your human body had around 30 trillion individual cells. Each of your cells has its own nucleus. There are chemical exchanges, electrical charges, and movement in each cell that some scientist say is akin to the city of New York or Tokyo in all of the activity that goes on in a single cell. The genetic material that is in a single human cell, if it was decoded into written form like you could read in a book, one of your cells would produce 4,000 volumes of literature.
That would roughly fill this entire stage side to side and front to back, all the way up to the ceiling. Four thousand---that's one cell out of 30 trillion. If you were to decode all 30 trillion of your cells from your body into written information, it would fill the Grand Canyon 30 times, and that is one human being. That's the deoxyribonucleic acid readout in written form, the DNA coded information in written form from one human body.
We're a body of Christ, every cell, every activity, every organ, every appendage is vital, vital. So much so that Paul, using this analogy, said in First Corinthians, the twelfth chapter, "If the foot should say, 'Because I am not a hand, I'm not of the body," is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say, 'Because I'm not an eyeball, I'm not of the body,' is it therefore not of the body?" Now, an ear isn't as glamorous as an eye. You usually notice somebody's eyes. "Ooh, their eyes, look how beautiful her eyes are."
Rarely do you go, "Her earlobes are awesome!" [laughter] Because no one's earlobes are awesome. They're earlobes, they're just kind of gnarly, some more gnarly than others. [laughter] But it's still part of the body, and that shape is necessary to conduct the sounds into those three bones to have them rattle against the tympanic membrane and send a message to your brain so you hear that sound---so vital. Then Paul says, "No, but rather, those parts of the body that he we think are the weakest are most necessary."
You may not see them. Their names might not be in the bulletin. What if your lung said, "Nobody sees me. I want more exposure." Death would happen. Vital, unseen, that's important. And so all of these people worked beautifully together. Now in chapter 5, if chapter 4 was about service, then chapter 5 is about separation. Hold on to your horses here. It's an interesting chapter, to say the least.
"And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 'Command the children of Israel that they put out of the camp every leper, everyone who has a discharge, and whoever becomes defiled by a corpse. You shall put out both male and female; you shall put them outside the camp, that they may not defile their camps in the midst of which I dwell.' And the children of Israel did so, and put them outside the camp; as the Lord spoke to Moses, so the children of Israel did."
We read this and perhaps our first thought is, "This is harsh. This is harsh. What kind of a God is this? This is not love. To say, 'Well, if you have a discharge, you have this possible disease, we're just going to make you live outside the camp elsewhere. You can't even hang out with your family. You are ostracized from this camp.' " It sounds to people to be harsh, when in reality it's a loving God doing a very loving thing.
Don't you agree that because some of these diseases are highly contagious and could affect and kill the entire population, that the most loving thing to do for all the people is to isolate those who have a disease for a period of time? It's loving. It might not feel good for the person being put out, but it's important for the health of God's people in the wilderness, and so they did. Now the word "leper" is a broad term for an infectious skin disease. Let me explain. The Hebrew word tsara'at, if you wanted to write that down, tsara'at speaks of skin disease in general.
It could be anything from an allergy to psoriasis, to eczema, to full-blown leprosy that would take your life. The most extreme form was a bacteria known in the ancient world as Mycobacterium leprae, a disease that took the life. It lasted a loathsome nine to thirty years. According to William Barclay it was a progression where you died by the inch. Nodules would form, ulcerations would form, eviscerations would form.
Foul discharge would come out of the skin. Nodules would form on the vocal cords, eventually making your voice hoarse, unable to speak. Eyebrows would fall out. Hair would fall out. Limbs could deteriorate and fall off. You lose sensation. It's a long, slow death, and it's very, very contagious. And so they were put out, they were ostracized. But not just, "Okay, you don't look right to me, get out of here." But if you remember, I hope you do, back to Leviticus where in chapter 13 the priest acted like the physician.
You come to the priest because you have some skin thing going on, some mark. Could be an allergy. Could be just some skin problem that will go away. So, you come to the priest. You may not want to go to the priest, but somebody who sees that on your skin is going, "Dude, I'm telling the priest." Right? Probably that's how it happened in real life. So you go to the priest, you check it out, and say, "Well, okay, we're going to keep you quarantined for seven days, and then we're going to check you out again."
So after seven days the priest would bring him back, exam him, keep that person for another seven days. Now fourteen days have passed. Now he's checked a second time. If it goes away, he's pronounced clean. If it continues, he's pronounced unclean, put out of the camp, hair shaved, clothes torn. And if you get near people, or if they get near you, you have to shout out. Can you imagine how isolating it would feel to say, "Unclean! Unclean!"
It's sort of like being on the golf course all the time saying, "Fore!" [laughter] Like, "I'm really a bad shot all the time." You have to shout out, "Unclean!" all day long whenever people come in your direction. Think what it would mean if you were a father or a mother not able to cuddle your children and tuck them in at night, to be taken away from your family, to even be taken away from a place of worship.
In the synagogues there was a special chamber called the mehitzah/mechitza which was a chamber that isolated these lepers, quarantined them so they can peak through the lattice and they can see their family, but they couldn't get any nearer than that. They could worship, but from afar. So imagine what it would feel like to be a leper and have Jesus---the Bible said, stretched out his hand and touched the leper.
"That's unlawful. That's illegal. It's contagious. He's unclean. You can't touch a leper." If you're God you can. Because when Jesus touched lepers, they ain't lepers no more. So just the feel of a hand. He hadn't felt a hand for so long. He would want to grab it and just hold it there---a touch of compassion. So, because God loved his people, there was this separation.
"The Lord spoke to Moses," verse 5, " 'Speak to the children of Israel: "When a man or a woman commits any sin that men commit in unfaithfulness against the Lord, and that person is guilty, he shall confess the sin which he has committed. He shall make restitution for the trespass in full, plus [20 percent] one-fifth, and give it to the one he has wronged." ' " I would love to see this law reinstated.
" ' "But if the man has no relative to whom the restitution may be made for the wrong, the restitution for the wrong must go to the Lord for the priest, in addition to the ram of the atonement with which atonement is made for him." ' " In these days it could go to the state just like if there's no relatives for that person. " ' "Every offering of all the holy things of the children of Israel, which they bring to the priest, shall be his. And every man's holy things shall be his; whatever any man gives the priest shall be his." ' "
So here's the deal: somebody steals your camel, now you're bummed out. "Where's my camel?" It's like your car's gone. You go out to the park---the camel lot [laughter] and your camel's not there. Okay, so your camel's gone. So, eventually, you find the guy who stole your camel. He has to pay you the camel back---I'm sorry, camel back. [laughter] He has to give you your camel and add 20 percent inconvenience charge. I like this. Today, let's say somebody steals your car. And the police say, "You know, we found your car. It's beat up to shreds. Sorry about that, dude. Hope you got insurance."
First of all, it'll take months before that case ever gets to court and is heard by a judge, and you will probably not get any compensation for it. So the insurance company has to foot the bill, which means your insurance rates go up, which means you foot the bill. In those days the criminal had to work it off, restore fully, plus 20 percent. It's a good incentive against crime.
Now some, perhaps, here tonight are thinking, "Well, you know, my life hasn't always been that perfect, and I've been---I've been the dude who stole before. So, I don't think that's a good law. I'm glad it is like it is." Others would say, "Wouldn't it just be easier if you sinned against your brother to just ask for God's forgiveness and then move on?" It would be easier, but it wouldn't be right without restitution.
Let's just pretend that you have a brand-new car tonight, brand new. You got the latest whatever you think is cool, and it's out in the parking lot. In fact, you took up two parking spaces. You're one of those diagonal people that we all---that's you. You got the new car out there, and you want to show off, "I got the new car." So let's say I'm pulling out after church tonight, and I don't see your new car, and I'm backing up. And you're watching this because I'm getting close as I back up to your new car.
And then you hear that horrible crunch of metal, and your stomach knots up because you realize I just hit your car. And then I get out of the car. "Oh, that's Pastor Skip, he hit my car." [laughter] And I go out and I look and I survey the damage. And I go, "Ah, that's a shame." [laughter] And then I bow my head and I pray. "Lord, forgive me, and help this poor soul to find the money to fix this thing up now, in Jesus' name, amen." And then I get in my car, and as I drive away I say, "Isn't being a Christian great!" Vroom! That's a lot easier, but it's not right. What is right is that I fix it between you and me and I make restitution.
So, if you sinned against God's people, you've sinned against God, according to this text. And so you had to do three things: confession of sin; restitution to the person you wronged; and, three, a sacrifice at the tabernacle. And then things would be made right. Now verse 11. Now, let me just say we're going to go through this quickly. And I'm just going to say what you are about to read is weird. [laughter] Okay? That's the caveat, okay? "You just said it's weird. You can't---this is God's Word." I know, it's the weird part of God's word. [laughter] It's inerrant text, I believe it, all that stuff, but you'll see what I mean, and you'll be glad it's not in practice today. Hear it, be glad for the new covenant.
" 'Speak to the children of Israel and say to them, "If any man's wife goes astray and behaves unfaithfully toward him, and a man lies with her carnally, and is hidden from the eyes of her husband, and it is concealed that she defiled herself, and there was no witness against her, nor was she caught---if the spirit of jealousy comes upon him and he becomes jealous of his wife, who has defiled herself; or if the spirit of jealousy comes upon him and he becomes jealous of his wife, although she had not defiled herself," ' " so he's just a jealous guy.
" ' "Then the man shall bring his wife to the priest." ' " Interesting, not to court, not to a counselor who charges a hundred dollars an hour, to a priest, the clergy, God's house. " ' "He shall bring the offering required for her, one-tenth of an ephah of barley meal; shall pour no oil on it, no frankincense on it, because it's a grain offering of jealousy, an offering for remembering, for bringing iniquity to remembrance.
" ' "And the priest shall bring her near, and set her before the Lord. And the priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel, and take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it into the water. And the priest shall stand the woman before the Lord, uncover the woman's head, [before Lord, uncover the woman's head] put the offering for remembering in her hands, which is the grain offering of jealousy. And the priest shall have in his hand the bitter water that brings a curse.
" ' "The priest shall put her under oath, and say to the woman, 'If no man has lain with you, and if you have not gone astray to uncleanness while under your husband's authority, be free from this bitter water that brings a curse. But if you have gone astray while under your husband's authority, and if you have defiled yourself and some man other than your husband has lain with you'---then the priest shall put the woman under the oath of the curse.
" ' "And he shall say to the woman---'The Lord make you a curse and an oath among your people, when the Lord makes your thigh rot and your belly swell; and may this water that causes the curse go into your stomach, and make your belly swell and your thigh rot.' Then the woman shall say, 'Amen,' " ' " It'd be a hard sermon to say amen to. " ' " 'Amen, so be it.' " ' " Then, it goes on to say the priest will write with a pen curses on parchment. When the ink dries, he will take the ink scraped off of the surface and put the ink into the water along with the dust from tabernacle, and she has to drink that stuff.
If she is not guilty, nothing happens. If she is guilty, what you and I just read will happen: her belly will swell and her thigh will rot. Verse 29, " 'This is the law of jealousy, when a wife, while under her husband's authority, goes astray and defiles herself, or when the spirit of jealousy upon a man, and he becomes jealous of his wife; then he shall stand the woman before the Lord, and the priest shall execute all this law upon her. Then the man shall be free from iniquity, but that woman shall bear her guilt.' "
This is, the best I can describe it, an Old Testament equivalent of a lie detector test. If this gal committed some sin that would be private, hidden, no eyewitnesses, it was done private between a man and a woman, this is how it would be found out as she would go to the priest. Now, just this process would have a tremendous psychological effect on the person. If the person is not guilty, it will embolden her to be a little more firm and say, "Honey, you are, like, way crazy jealous."
And it will reinforce her faithfulness to him. If, on the other hand, she is guilty, can you imagine the psychological burden of guilt? Guilt is a very powerful thing, and it is the reason and the cause of many neuroses among people, living with guilt and not knowing how to deal with guilt. This is one way to deal with it. When I was a kid, my dad did not believe in threatening, he believed in promising. "Son, if you do this, then that is what I will do to you."
And he never threatened me, he always promised, and he made good on those promises. And he often brought in the board of correction. It's about that long, [laughter] and it changed my life. What I liked about it, as I looked back, not that I liked it while it happened. What I liked about it is it brought resolve, it was over. There was punishment meted out for a crime, now it's done, now we're good.
When I got a little bit older, I will never forget my father coming to me and saying, because I did something really bad, and he said, "Son, you're too old to spank. We've been there and done that. But I want you to know that you have broken my heart, and I am so disappointed in you," and he walked away. And at that moment I remember wishing that he would just spank me and get it over with. But at seventeen it's sort of hard to do that, years of age. But I longed for just that finality, that resolution.
This was, in part, that resolution, although---although, there is no reference to this ever happening once the children of Israel got into the land of Canaan. And so many scholars believe this was a transitional law given for the wilderness march and the wandering, not a law that was ever put into practice in Israel. There's no record of it.
Also, just in case you're wondering, "Well, isn't not chauvinistic, because it's like very one sided. What if, which is more often the case, the woman is thinking her husband cheated on her?" Well, Leviticus tells that both the man and the woman would be stoned. Not get stoned, be stoned. They would die. They would---capital punishment would be meted out upon them. So it wasn't just one side, it wasn't just God's for the guy and not the girl. This seems to be an example that was given for the transitional march through the wilderness.
On one hand, I'm thankful that this doesn't go on, but can I just be candid with you? As a pastor and as a counselor over the years, I've been in situations with husbands and wives that would just be very convenient to have this happen. Because they both have two different stories, and you don't know which is which, and it's impossible to counsel. And if something like this was just like, "Okay, listen, drink this really quick, and let's see what happens." [laughter]
It would just solve a lot and make it quicker, but I'm really glad for God's grace to be quite honest with you. I don't exactly know what it is when it says "the thigh will rot and the belly will swell." Josephus believes it's dropsy. Other scholars believe it's miscarriage. Other scholars believe it's a thrombophlebitis. We don't exactly know, but it's not good. But then it says in verse 31, " 'Then the man will be free the iniquity, but that woman shall bear her guilt.' "
Here's the takeaway from this. And I know, this is like, "We're ending on this and then having communion?" Here's the takeaway: marriage fidelity is so high on God's list, it's so important to him that a husband and a wife share a fidelity for a lifetime. That's just big on God's list, that you make a promise, you make a vow, "Till death do you part." Not "Till debt do you part," "Till death do you part." Fidelity is big on God's list. He hates divorce the Bible says.
God doesn't hate divorced people, he hates the act of it because of what it does generationally. So, the idea of entering into a relationship and the fidelity of the husband and the wife together. We can segue and we can say, "We are the bride of Christ." And our fidelity to Jesus Christ is so important because he's always been faithful to us. He's always loved us. And if our faithfulness with Christ was being tempted or being tested, don't you know that our bellies would swell and our thighs would all rot.
But thank God for the new covenant where all of our guilt---and we're all guilty, we've all be unfaithful---is taken away. And what we celebrate tonight is God saying, "When I look at you, I look at you as if you were my Son Jesus Christ---pure, spotless, undefiled." That's the new covenant. Would you take the top and peel it off and get to the bread. And as you hold it in your hands, we say: Lord, we know that this represents the broken body of Jesus Christ, broken for us where he took the punishment we should have received vicariously, substitutionally upon his own body.
And, Jesus, you said to "Take this, and as you do, remember me, remember what I've done for you." So we take this remembering that sacrifice. Let's take together. And then as you peel the next layer, we say: Lord, after supper you took the wine of the Passover, and you said, "This is the cup of the new covenant and my blood which is shed for many for the remission of sins. Drink this, do this in memory, in remembrances of me."
And then Paul said, "You show the Lord's death until he comes again." So we take this element, and by taking it and drinking it we're saying the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses you from all sin. As you hold this in your hand, if at this moment you realize, "I'm not sure that I have a real relationship with God through Jesus Christ. I know that I'm a sinner. I know that I've broken God's law, and I'm going to turn from my sin and I'm going to turn my life over to Jesus Christ."
Then you say to him right now: Forgive me of my sin, Lord Jesus. I put my trust in you that you died for me and rose for me, and I want to live for you by your power. Forgive me of my sin. I repent from it, I turn from it. I want to live for you. And we all say thank you, Lord, for your work for us, in Jesus' name. Let's take together.