Numbers 5-6 are an interesting pair of chapters, but reading them together is a must. God clearly expresses the need for the camp to be “disinfected” of anything less than pristine. You read of two very interesting ceremonies at the Tabernacle. They seem very different but they echo the same point. If the people want God to dwell with them and fulfill the big promise of being their God, they must be attentive to the hint of sin.
The first is a bizarre ordeal with a woman accused of infidelity. Her husband would bring her to the Tabernacle with a sacrifice and the accusation. The priest would create an unusual cocktail of holy water and Tabernacle dust for her to drink. If when she drank the concoction she would swell and become halt, then she was guilty and everyone would know it. However, if she drank the concoction and never developed any symptoms, then God has rightly acquitted her as innocent.
The second ceremony involved a rare vow called the Nazarite vow. This showed that God was not only a “thou shalt not” kind of God but also a God who invited his people to live a life of deeper devotion. He truly wanted them to know Him intimately and this vow would have consecrated the individual for this exploration. They were restricted from anything fermented during the time of consecration. Then the instructions develop an entirely different standard when they were restricted from grapes, husk, kernel, vine or anything related to the fruit of the vine.
Both of these scenarios illustrate God’s desire for his people to avoid the appearance of sin. It is fair to believe that a woman would hardly be accused of infidelity if she was never in a position where that accusation could be substantiated. By avoiding the appearance of evil, she would never need to bear such an accusation. The Nazarite, whose vow was for strict consecration, would not be able to discern whether there was any fermentation in some grape juice. God’s instruction was to avoid any contact on the grounds of uncertainty. In other words, avoid any possibility of tainting yourself with sin.
The message of Numbers 5-6 insists we do not play around with or get close to sin. Have nothing to do with it! Charles Spurgeon wrote a great devotional in his Morning and Evening collection on this principle. Here is what he said:
Worldly conformity, in any degree, is a snare to the soul, and makes it more and more liable to presumptuous sins. Moreover, as the Nazarite who drank grape juice could not be quite sure whether it might not have endured a degree of fermentation, and consequently could not be clear in heart that his vow was intact, so…things doubtful…are wrong to us. Things tempting we must not dally with, but flee from them with speed. Better be sneered at as a Puritan than be despised as a hypocrite. Careful walking may involve much self-denial, but it has pleasures of its own which are more than a sufficient recompense.