Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, by John Nelson Darby, [1857-62], at sacred-texts.com
Let us pursue the study of the book. Chapter 5 presents three things, in connection with the purity of the camp, looked at as the dwelling-place of God, and in connection with our pilgrim passage through the wilderness, which is the great subject of the Book of Numbers; a passage in which all is put to the test, and in which the presence of God ungrieved in the midst of us is our only security, and guidance, and strength.
Every defilement was to be purged out. God took knowledge of the wrong done there against a brother. If this be always true, it is the more so when applied to the wrong done to Him, who has not been ashamed to call us His brethren. When the trespass could not be recompensed to the person who had suffered the wrong, or to his kinsman, it was due to God in the person of the priest, beside the sin-offering. In God's camp no wrong could be committed without amends being made for it. Then comes the question of jealousy. If the faithfulness of Israel, the church, or an individual, to God or to Christ, be questioned, there must be the trial of it. It seems to me that the dust of the tabernacle was the power of death in God's presence, fatal to the natural man, but precious, as the death of sin, for him who has life. The water is the power of the Holy Ghost acting by the word on the conscience.
The power of the Holy Spirit judging thus (according to the sentence of death against the flesh), the state of unfaithfulness-which was thought to be hidden from the true husband of the people, makes the sin manifest, and brings down the chastening and the curse upon the unfaithful one, and that evidently by the just judgment of God. Drinking death, according to the power of the Spirit, is life to the soul. "By these things," says Hezekiah, "men live, and in all these things is the life of my spirit"; even when they are the effect of chastening, which is not always necessarily the case. But if any of the accursed things be hidden-if there be unfaithfulness towards Jesus, undetected, it may be, by man, and God puts it to the test; if we have allowed ourselves to be enticed by him who has the power of death, and the holy power of God is occupied with death, and comes to deal with this power of the enemy-the concealed evil is laid bare, the flesh is reached; its rottenness and its powerlessness are made manifest, however fair its appearances may be. But if we be free from unfaithfulness, the result of the trial is only negative; it shews that the Spirit of holiness finds nothing to judge, when He applies death according to the holiness of God.
In the offering without either oil or frankincense, the woman is set before God, according to the judgment of God displayed against sin, in His holiness and majesty, when Christ was made sin for us. Sin which is confessed has never that effect; for the conscience is purified from it by Christ. The unfaithfulness here spoken of, is that of the heart of Israel-of the church to Christ. All these things apply, not to the acceptance of the believer, or of the church as to righteousness-that is treated of where drawing near to God is in question-but to the judgment of our ways in the wilderness journey, inasmuch as God is in our midst.
The church would do well to consider how far she has given herself to another. There are some, assuredly, amongst its members who have not done it in heart. If Christ did not discover the iniquity, and cause it to be judged, He would be, so to speak, identified with the iniquity of the bride, and thus defiled thereby (Num 5:31); He will therefore surely do so What is here said of the church may be equally said of each one of its members: remembering here also, that the question is one, not of salvation, but of the walk down here, the walk in the wilderness being ever the subject of this book. [See Note #1] Let us also observe that the soul, or the church, can, in other respects, shew a zeal, an extraordinary devotedness, which are indeed sincere, whilst it falls into a fault which it conceals from itself up to a certain point. But nothing can counterbalance unfaithfulness to one's husband.
Looked at as a professing whole, or as an individual who makes profession, there may be the discovery that there is nothing real; as the case has been in Israel according to the flesh and will be also in the professing church. They have been unfaithful to their husband.