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Numbers 5:2-3

5:2 “Command the Israelites to expel 1  from the camp every leper, 2  everyone who has a discharge, 3  and whoever becomes defiled by a corpse. 4  5:3 You must expel both men and women; you must put them outside the camp, so that 5  they will not defile their camps, among which I live.”

1 tn The construction uses the Piel imperative followed by this Piel imperfect/jussive form; it is here subordinated to the preceding volitive, providing the content of the command. The verb שָׁלַח (shalakh) in this verbal stem is a strong word, meaning “expel, put out, send away, or release” (as in “let my people go”).

2 sn The word צָרוּעַ (tsarua’), although translated “leper,” does not primarily refer to leprosy proper (i.e., Hansen’s disease). The RSV and the NASB continued the KJV tradition of using “leper” and “leprosy.” More recent studies have concluded that the Hebrew word is a generic term covering all infectious skin diseases (including leprosy when that actually showed up). True leprosy was known and feared certainly by the time of Amos (ca. 760 b.c.). There is evidence that the disease was known in Egypt by 1500 b.c. So this term would include that disease in all probability. But in view of the diagnosis and healing described in Leviticus 13 and 14, the term must be broader. The whole basis for the laws of separation may be found in the book of Leviticus. The holiness of the Lord who dwelt among his people meant that a high standard was imposed on them for their living arrangements as well as access to the sanctuary. Anything that was corrupted, diseased, dying, or contaminated was simply not compatible with the holiness of God and was therefore excluded. This is not to say that it was treated as sin, or the afflicted as sinners. It simply was revealing – and safeguarding – the holiness of the Lord. It thus provided a revelation for all time that in the world to come nothing unclean will enter into the heavenly sanctuary. As the Apostle Paul says, we will all be changed from this corruptible body into one that is incorruptible (1 Cor 15:53). So while the laws of purity and holiness were practical for the immediate audience, they have far-reaching implications for theology. The purity regulations have been done away with in Christ – the problem is dealt with differently in the new covenant. There is no earthly temple, and so the separation laws are not in force. Wisdom would instruct someone with an infectious disease to isolate, however. But just because the procedure is fulfilled in Christ does not mean that believers today are fit for glory just as they are. On the contrary, they must be changed before going into his presence. In like manner the sacrifices have been done away in Christ – not what they covered. Sin is still sin, even though it is dealt with differently on this side of the cross. But the ritual and the regulations of the old covenant at Sinai have been fulfilled in Christ.

3 sn The rules of discharge (Lev 12 and 15) include everything from menstruation to chronic diseases (see G. Wyper, ISBE 1:947, as well as R. K. Harrison, Leviticus (TOTC), 158-66, and G. J. Wenham, Leviticus (NICOT), 217-25.

4 tn The word is נֶפֶשׁ (nefesh), which usually simply means “[whole] life,” i.e., the soul in the body, the person. But here it must mean the corpse, the dead person, since that is what will defile (although it was also possible to become unclean by touching certain diseased people, such as a leper).

5 tn The imperfect tense functions here as a final imperfect, expressing the purpose of putting such folks outside the camp. The two preceding imperfects (repeated for emphasis) are taken here as instruction or legislation.

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