The Camp of the Saints

Numbers 5-6

In the early chapters of
the book of Numbers, the author has invited his readers to consider three classes
in the camp of Israel. The warrior enrolled at twenty years of age, the Levite
enlisted at twenty-five, and the priest's service opened on his attaining his
thirtieth year. Each of these has its counterpart in Christianity. There are
still many good soldiers of Jesus Christ who take their share of hardness in
the ministry of the gospel; many shepherds who labor in the Word and doctrine;
and here and there we meet priestly souls who give themselves to a ministry
of ceaseless praise, intercession, and worship.

In the Old Testament, the
persons were distinct and not allowed to trespass on the service of one another,
but in the present, every saint is called to discharge the functions of all.
Yet in actual practice, we tend to develop one special line of service and offer
it as our contribution to the welfare of the Church.

Moses has often been called
the "father of preventive medicine," and it is certainly remarkable to find
these careful precautions against infection in writings so remote from our times.
Even today many in the world are far behind the hygienic system of the Pentateuch
in matters dealing with personal cleanliness and the spread of disease.

The cases selected as illustrations
are leprosy, hemorrhage, and contact with a corpse. The scourge of leprosy still
remains more or less a mystery to science, but spiritual leprosy has eaten deeply
into the texture of the writer's system, and none of his readers are unconscious
of its workings in their own lives.

The Hebrew word tsara, translated
55 times in the Old Testament "leper," "leprous," or "leprosy," is derived from
a root which means "to strike" and was viewed by the Jews as a stroke of God.
Indeed, the widely held rabbinic belief that Messiah would be a leper was based
on Isaiah 53:4 -- "smitten of God."

Both Jewish and Christian
expositors have recognized that leprosy represents sin in its mysterious workings
and hideous manifestations. One famous rabbi remarks, "If a man considers this,
he will be humbled and ashamed because of his sin. Every sin is a leprosy, a
spot upon the soul."

The apostle Paul describes
an outbreak of moral leprosy among the church at Corinth and shows, when the
thing is certain and the sinner unrepentant, that only expulsion from the camp
will meet the demands of divine holiness and safety for the saints.

The second case cited is
that of "an issue" where the life of the sufferer is slowly being drained away
and where the work of many physicians has been in vain (see Mk. 5:36). In these
cases the discipline was far less severe than with leprosy and merely involved
exclusion from the camp until sundown, in minor cases, or for a week in more
acute ones.

An outbreak of passion might
easily suspend happy fellowship for a limited season, but as soon as the "clothes
are washed," that is, when the action of the Word is welcomed and the sin judged,
there may be immediate recovery and restoration.

The wise man tells us that
he who rules his spirit is better than he who takes a city. His father David
could do the latter, but neither the son nor the father was able to govern themselves.
This problem of self-control is one of the hardest and loneliest which we have
to face.

The hardest battles ever

The greatest victories won

Are fought with never a comrade near,

And never a shot or gun.

It may be a battle with terrible pain,

Or a struggle with mind or soul,

But God, who is watching His soldiers, knows

The names on His honor roll.

The third evil which unfitted
its victim from the fellowship of the camp was known as "defilement by the dead."
This subject is one of the main topics of the book and is dealt with in six
important passages: 5:2; 6:9; 9:6; 9:10; ch. 19; and 31:19. We find what answers
to "the camp" in the Christian assembly of our times and the direct teaching
of the New Testament fully agree with the shadows of the law. There can be no
allowance of open sin, no room for lawless self-indulgence, nor can the purity
of the fellowship be compromised by deliberate association with known evil.

If we allow things that
are unsuited to that holy Presence which indwells the church, then we shall
find, to our grief and shame, that the glory will slowly and unwillingly leave
the threshold of the Temple (see Ezek. 10:4; 11:23 and Rev. 2:5) and Ichabod
will be graven on the walls of our house.

It is important to note
that defilement could only be transmitted by one who had direct contact with
a corpse: his touch defiled all that was in his tent and also those who sought
to apply "the water of purification," but there is no hint that the uncleanness
could be handed on to a third party.

The theory of second-hand
defilement is a false and malignant heresy and its applications have wrought
endless havoc among Christian people. The idea is untrue to Scripture, false
to the facts of life and experience, and is condemned by the witness of nature
and the findings of science.

After considering the cleanness
of the camp, the writer turns to the important matter of honesty in our relations
toward others. Neglecting this lesson has worked incalculable havoc among God's
people, and it behooves us to face frankly the provisions which Jehovah made
then, and still insists on today.

The case of a personal trespass
is supposed and there are three stages in the recovery of the offender. First,
he must make full confession of the wrong done. Then an adequate restitution
must be offered, and lastly a "ram of the atonement" would serve as a recognition
both of the inward state that made such a sin possible and as a reminder of
the death of Christ by which the stain was effaced.

It will be noticed that
four parties were involved: God, the priest, the sinner, and the one whose rights
had been violated. In like manner every dispute or trespass among brethren will
take into account the character of God, the spiritual man who can deal with
the matter (Gal. 6:1), and then the two opposing brethren. (See the same four
parties in Mt. 18:15-20.)

The Lord Jesus again and
again referred to these discords among brethren and yet we must all sadly own
that we have not heeded His words. We find that the "churches of the saints"
are distressed and often riven asunder because of some strife between two or
more Christians which remains unsettled for years.

In the Royal Proclamation
recorded in Matthew 5, we find one searching passage in which the King reveals
His will in the following terms: "Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar,
and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there
thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother,
and then come and offer thy gift."

Note that the Lord suggests
that the worshipper's conscience will be acutely sensitive as he approaches
the holy courts. This will be appreciated by every thoughtful mind, for there
is nothing like the Cross to awaken the memories of past weakness and failure.

It is when the offerer has
led his lamb up to the priest that he remembers that his brother has something
against him, so tying up the animal, he leaves it and hurries through the city
to his brother's home, and there insists on a reconciliation before returning
to carry out the ritual.

In such a case, as a matter
of mere geography, one would seem to be travelling away from the altar, but
in fact one is approaching all the eternal values of the symbol; as so often
in life, the long way round is really the nearest way home.

I expect most of us remember
some hour in "life's little day" when we found ourselves suddenly arraigned
before the "eyes of His glory" and we were pierced with an arrow of conviction
as to some act of dishonor. We shall never forget what a crucifixion of our
pride it cost us to unload our breasts of all the unclean stuff, but equally
we shall always remember the cleansing sense of relief that followed.

There is a tendency in us
all to brush aside these claims of our Lord Jesus and to say they are "Jewish,"
or we imagine that we can dispense with obedience in one matter because of "costly
and higher service" in some other direction.

We need to learn that our
professed loyalty to Christ is always tested in little things. For many a Christian
in the days of Domitian's persecution the casting of a handful of incense upon
a brazier before an idol altar seemed a little thing, and yet the great gates
of life swing upon frail hinges such as these. The Lord give us to listen to
Moses and to Christ.