What does it say?
The military formation of the camp (Num 1-4) gives way to five chapters addressing the need for internal discipline. This section (Num 5) instructs the quarantine of lepers outside camp, prohibition of dishonest gain and a fascinating test to determine if a woman is guilty of immorality in a day when a woman in many cultures would have no recourse whatsoever if accused by her husband.
The Nazarite vow (Num 6) is to abstain from strong drink, cutting the hair and contact with the dead. Nazarite is not to be confused with the village of Nazareth or the word Nazarene. Though these words appear similar, Nazarite comes from a totally different word meaning separated.
What does it mean?
Numbers 5 focuses on corporate discipline, while chapter 6 is a challenge to personal discipline. The disciplined treatment of lepers, those guilty of dishonest gain and immorality, was to avoid defilement of the camp.
The Nazarite vow of devotion to the Lord is voluntary. It would appear that the vow is for a period of time with a specific objective in mind, since it also speaks of the time when the days of separation would be fulfilled. There may be times in our lives as well when we desire to exercise certain disciplines for specific service or other purpose.
The word atonement appears twice in this passage (5:8; 6:11). Earlier we learned about the Day of Atonement. Today we use atonement theologically to speak of Christ’s substitutionary death to reconcile us to God. In an Old Testament context, the word atonement means simply covering. Only the blood of Jesus Christ can redeem us from our sin once-and-for-all. The blood of animal sacrifices in the Old Testament is not a permanent fix for sin, but a symbolic covering before God that looks forward to the coming Messiah.
How will I respond?
Discipline is a common thread in our passage today. As a Jesus follower I am called to a mission that often requires measures of discipline, not a legalistic, forced obedience to the Law, but a total devotion to the Savior that inspires me to make whatever personal sacrifice necessary for him. Being faithful to read through the Bible this year is due to my spiritual hunger to learn God’s truth, but it requires effort and discipline. What is another example of discipline motivated by missional love that I can apply to my life? Here are a few examples: starting a saving account for future short term mission involvement; preparing myself mentally, physically and spiritually for a short term missional engagement; or, sacrificing certain preferences and comforts for missional purposes.