First, there is a clarification on the guilt offering (the sin offering that includes restitution, a sacrifice that we read about in Leviticus 5:14 – 6:7; 7:1-7); this includes the confession of the sin committed (Numbers 5:5-7). If the victim of the sin no longer lives, the compensation plus one fifth will be given to his relatives. If there are no living relatives, the priest will receive the compensation plus one fifth (Numbers 5:8-10). This way, the tabernacle will not be contaminated by sins whose restitution is impossible to fulfill directly.
Second, there is an offering or examination for unproven but suspected adultery. Remember the punishment for adultery: “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death” (Leviticus 20:10). In Numbers 5, adultery is suspected but there is no clear evidence. If it happened, the guilty couple has decided to hide their sin, avoiding its shame and trying to save their lives… but the tabernacle is contaminated. Not only the deceived husband but the entire nation is affected by this one sin committed in secret.
Since the established authorities could not determine guilt or innocence, the case is handed over to Yahweh as Judge. This ritual asks Him to make evident what was done in secret. The water of bitterness that brings the curse will have one of two effects: it either will enter the woman to uncover her defilement in an obvious and physical manner or it will do nothing – and in this case she will be vindicated by Yahweh and even blessed with children. The holiness of the tabernacle also will be vindicated in the sight of all.
Third, the reading describes the sacrifices associated with the Nazirite vow. The Nazarite makes a vow of personal commitment to Yahweh, usually for a limited time. It was a personal, but its fulfillment (like that of all vows) had an impact on the entire community. Therefore Numbers 6 clarifies some of the laws governing the vow, explaining what the Nazarite had to do if he accidently became contaminated and giving him instructions for his vow’s completion. Notice that this includes all the principal sacrifices offered at once: the burnt offering, the sin offering, the grain offering and the peace offering.
Fourth, in Numbers 7 we see two offerings by the leaders of the tribes for the transport of the tabernacle and to supply it for future sacrifices (as noted by Jacob Milgrom, Numbers, The Jewish Publication Society, 1989, pgs. 363-64). Although the chapter may appear boring to us today with its repetition, to the Israelites who experienced it, it was thrilling. Each tribe celebrated equally their inclusion before Yahweh’s Presence by grace. And by presenting the offerings for the future use of the tabernacle, they demonstrated their faith in His continued presence among them and in the future fulfillment of His promises.
As we look over the four offerings described in Numbers 5 – 7 (the guilt offering if the victim of the sin has not survived, the offering for suspected adultery, the sacrifices with the Nazarite vow and the offering of the 12 tribes for the supply of the tabernacle), we see an emphasis on personal holiness together with the joy of participating with Yahweh’s people in worship. Personal holiness is never dreary; it is an essential step to joyful fellowship with the Lord. The psalmist tells us, “Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. He will receive a blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation. Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob” (Psalm 24:3-6).
Therefore it is appropriate to read nestled among these chapters the blessing that Yahweh gives His people through the priests: “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26). Among so many details and so much repetition in Numbers 5 – 7, let’s not miss the picture of a holy and pure people, blessed by Yahweh, that responds to His grace in holy giving and worship.