This Week’s Reading: Numbers 2-9
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 ( Num. 5:1-4, NKJV).
Remember the childhood pattern story, “This is the House that Jack Built”? Well the book of Numbers could be titled, “This is the Camp that God Built.”” In the first few chapters of Numbers, we see God ordering a census for Israel, taking a roll call, and establishing each tribes’ position in the camp, like He was assigning rooms to all His children. Each tribe was given information about their battle position, what order they were to march out of camp, and where they were to camp in relation to the tabernacle.
After the laying out of all the details and ceremony of the tabernacle, and seeing His people respond with obedience and generosity in the establishing of the “tent that God built”, God takes an unexpected turn in His construction details. God commands Moses to have everyone with leprosy, those with oozing sores, those menstruating, and those who were around a corpse, to be removed from the camp. And Moses and the Israelites quickly obeyed God’s command.
Hold on: Cast out the grieving, the ill, women menstruating and men with discharge? What was going on here?
In order to unlock the principle, a crucial key is to listen to what God is saying: Put out both male and female, put them outside the camp, that they may not defile their camps in the midst of which I dwell.
Dwell, shakan in Hebrew, is a word which means to permanently move in and settle down¹.
God was preparing for moving day into Camp Israel. God’s singular, eternal intention was to permanently settle as the centrifuge of Israel, with all His power and His presence as the hub of His people, the twelve tribes settled like spokes around the tabernacle, a massive bird’s eye illustration of God in community, spread across the plains of the wilderness. God planned to position Himself as the centre of Israel, the blessing of Israel, the focal point of life for His people, for their benefit and the benefit of the nations.
In order for God to move into Camp Israel, certain ground rules had to be maintained. Camp Israel, by virtue of God’s Presence, had to maintain a standard which pagan, Egyptian-raised Israel would not be expecting: the camp needed to be holy. Upon uttering His intention for permanent residency with His people, Moses acted quickly and thoroughly, for God was not suggesting a conditional rental agreement, a twelve month lease, easily broken and quickly abandoned. God was outlining His desire to stay, and Moses and Israel eagerly moved to meet His conditions.
Holiness to God is, by its nature, uncompromising. For the people of Israel, whose living experience of worship was limited to Egyptian idol worship and/or groans in the wilderness, most understood that the tabernacle was off limits except to the priesthood. God, in establishing His residency, informed Israel that His greatness impacted more than His tabernacle; in fact, by virtue of His holiness, anywhere God lived had to be holy, set apart. This meant the entire nation would be impacted without exception and so all with leprosy, discharge or exposed to a corpse needed to leave.
Quite the object lesson. Quite the standard. Basically, Moses explained the following: If you are unclean, get out. This is not a KOA campground. This is Camp Israel. God is our midst. We are not an ordinary people gathered in the desert. We are extraordinary, the chosen people of the living God Almighty.
For anyone ill, Camp Israel was not exactly a comforting environment, though it was an honest one.
Why was discharge such an offense? What was the problem with leprosy? Why was banishment the outcome for being near a corpse?
In Israel’s days, leprosy, a contagious disease of the flesh, was a literal illustration of the decay process, one slow day at a time, until disease overtook the afflicted one. Discharge was a sure outward sign that illness was present in an individual and unchecked illness leads to death. A corpse teems with disease; anyone near it was at risk of contamination.
With the command to remove those fighting death and disease, God, the Giver of Light, firmly illustrated He will not live with our darkness. Darkness and light can’t cohabitate. One encompasses the other. Just as light can’t co-habitate with darkness, so death can’t abide with the Source of life.
With the command for the diseased to leave camp, the Israelites understood what holiness actually meant – no wiggle room, no excuses, no rationalizing of sin, death or disease. If you were diseased, you had to deal with it and you couldn’t live in denial, hoping you wouldn’t affect everyone else. Head out of the camp. No exceptions.
God’s moving terms with Israel were clear: Be holy, as I am holy.
In other words, be whole and if you’re not, deal with it. Be set apart for your life before God. Be honest with the condition of your sin.
With God present, Camp Israel could never be a place where anything goes. The defiled and ill, the contagious had to leave, because the Holy One was coming to stay.
But what of those put out? What of the women, who were thrust outside of the settlement trying to understand God who had removed them from the camp? What of the lepers banned from the camp? Or those dazed with grief at the death of their mother, father, or child and told to head out?
The book of Leviticus brings us an answer with good news for the diseased and grieved in Israel: Outside of the camp is where His mercy and healing flows deepest.
Beyond the camp was God’s infirmary, where the diseased were healed, the grieving were restored and the priesthood was at its best. God had promised Moses this in Egypt and He doesn’t change His mind:
He said, “If you listen carefully to the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you.”(Ex 15:26,NIV).
For the leper, Leviticus 14:3 explains how the priesthood was more than equipped to deal with this disease, “And the priest shall go out of the camp, and the priest shall examine him; and indeed, if the leprosy is healed in the leper..and he shall sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed from the leprosy, and shall pronounce him clean, and shall let the living bird loose in the open field.”
With God at camp, Leprosy wasn’t a death sentence. The outskirts of the Israelite camp was triage, a place of healing, not banishment. The priest was commanded to journey out of the camp and verify God’s healing. Once the man or woman was declared clean once again, he let loose a bird to fly so that all the camp could see that restoration had happened. God was in the Camp and healing was now a given.
For a woman with discharge, Leviticus offers the projected outcome : ‘But if she is cleansed of her discharge, then she shall count for herself seven days, and after that she shall be clean. And on the eighth day she shall take for herself two turtledoves or two young pigeons, and bring them to the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting. Then the priest shall offer the one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering, and the priest shall make atonement for her before the Lord for the discharge of her uncleanness (15:28-30)
Disease abolished. Sin and thanksgiving offered. Problem resolved because God lives here. For the man with discharge, the bible states God’s clear expectation, “the priest shall make atonement for him before the Lord because of his discharge” (Lev 15: 15). Sexual sins, emissions, discharge, all were to be faced, dealt with and healed. because God, Jehovah Ropha, the God of Healing lived at Camp Israel and He had no tolerance for death’s sting.
God’s intention for the Outback was mercy. Outside of the camp, the individual would pray for healing and when a merciful and compassionate priest brought relief, they would declare the person healed and welcome them back into the camp where God lives. Hidden sins were not to be tolerated but rather, revealed and dealt with. Restoration and mercy ruled the day. All the Israelites needed to do was journey outside the camp to find God in their darkness, so they could return to God in the camp and be transformed by His light.
In Vine’s, the authors explain that the Greek word skenein (“to live in a tent”) is the direct translation of shakan. John 1:14 says of Jesus, “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” Hebrews compares the tabernacle sacrifices of Israel in the wilderness with the sacrifice of Jesus at the true tabernacle:“Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell [skenein] with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them and be their God” (Rev. 21:3). ²
The Good News is that God wants to permanently live with us and through Christ, He does.
God has come to dwell, not just in Camp Israel, but within us, Camp ( your name). As we rend our hearts before Him, remember Camp Mercy for our diseased hearts, fleshy minds and infected thoughts. May we live real and face our sin, all those hurts and hangups, that we may be forgiven and healed to His Glory.
Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come. Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name (Hebrews 13:12-13).
Let’s pray: Father God, Lord Almighty, we come today with thanksgiving for Your healing and Your mercy. Lord, we are challenged by Your standard of holiness today. We ask that Holiness Expert, Holy Spirit, search our hearts, and show us any anxious ways, that we would be healed. Lord Jesus, the cost, the propitiation of Your blood to heal, on a bloody cross outside of the city, makes us weep with joy and sorrow, that our sin and our healing was purchased by such a beautiful and horrible sacrifice. Help us Lord, as your children and priests to lift up compassionate faith-filled declarations of healing as we trust You abide, You heal and You love who would call upon Your Name. You are amazing, Lord God Almighty, in all Your ways. Thank you that You meet us, both inside Your camp of Glory and in the Outback of Mercy. We love You and thank You that You choose to dwell with and be our God. May we be holy as You are holy, by Your amazing grace. Amen.
1. God heals. Do you believe this? Why or why not?
2. God is determined to deal with our disease, whether it’s emotional, physical, spiritual or mental. Are you willing to go to the outback to seek His healing and mercy? What does that look like for you?
3. Celebrate Recovery is a powerful Christian program which uses Scripture and people to bring substantial healing and behavioural changes. What other recovery programs do you know will help get you the healing you need? Are you willing to face the habit, hurt or hang-up or are you still hiding in your tent, hoping no one discovers how sick you are? What has God been saying to you?
4. We are called priests and kings unto God in Revelations. How has this study shifted your model of the priesthood? What does being a priest mean for you in your faith community? How about in the general public?
Next Week’s Reading: Numbers 10 – 19
¹Strong, James. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Abingdon Press, 1890
²Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. W. Vine, M. F. Unger, and W. White. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1984