This article on Numbers 5:5-8 is about conflict in the church, confession of guilt and true reconciliation and atonement. The author also looks at restitution and compensation.

Source: Una Sancta, 2002. 3 pages.

Numbers 5:5-8 – Cover Not with Sand but with Atoning Blood

In a booklet published last spring, Dr. J. Douma – in reference to past conflicts originating from the institution or continuation of reformed organisations, writes,

that most of these conflicts have been closed off without reconciliation. We were only too happy to let 'bygones be bygones', while all the time it ought to be obvious for the Christian that it needed to be touched by the blood of Christ, to reconcile the conflicting parties with each other.

Indeed, that must be obvious to Christians, for that is what God has taught us in his Word.

Already at Horeb🔗

A really clear Scripture reference for this we find in Numbers 5:5-8. There we find an almost literal reiteration, of what was earlier stated in Leviticus 6.

As early as with the Law giving at Horeb, the Lord had stipulated what should be done when someone had treated another Israelite – fellow member of God's people dishonestly, e.g. by theft or usury, or by borrowing something from him and later claiming that he had not borrowed it at all, or by finding someone else's possession and not reporting it…

Already then, God decreed that the offender had to restore matters completely to what it had been before. Hand back what he had deceitfully taken from the other, and if that was no longer possible, then restore it with something else. And, to show that he truly regretted what he had done, add an extra compensation of 1/5 of the value.

The offender also had to restore relations with the Lord, by bringing a sin offering in the sanctuary – an action pointing to Christ's coming sacrifice for our sins – and asking for forgiveness. The guilt thus, had to be completely settled. Don't cover it over with sand, but rather with Christ's blood! Among God's people such situations cannot be allowed to remain. That is not how we deal with each other in God's world, not to mention in the Church.

A Clean Breast🔗

Now, in Numbers 5, this decree is once more, almost literally, repeated. Why is that? In Numbers 5, the people of Israel are about to leave Horeb, and commence their journey to the promised land of Canaan. It is now, at last, that the LORD is going to bring them, ex-slaves from Egypt, into the rest of the land that overflows with milk and honey.

But exactly now, the LORD repeats the law of Leviticus 6, about committing injustice to each other. Do you understand the importance of such a reminder, now, at this precise moment? With that, the Lord says: “Soon, when things are going to go well, then keep them going well! Also amongst each other. Interact properly with each other, honestly.”

However, it is more: it is at the same time an encouragement to “clean the slate” from issues and matters of the past years, which have remained unresolved. To do that now, before the journey commences. If we compare numbers 5 somewhat closer with Leviticus 6, we find that Numbers 5 is more than just a repetition, a reminder. In Numbers 5, the Lord, before their departure from Sinai, places extra emphasis on this decree, previously uttered.

In Numbers 5 we read – what we do not read in Leviticus 6 – that the Lord urges the guilty to confess their guilt. And He especially stipulates what needs to be done if the person unjustly treated, is no longer alive. In such a case the debt must be repaid to his redeemer, and if he has also died, the Lord still does not allow that they forget about it. No, such a person must come to the sanctuary and confess his guilt to the priest and pay him the compensation for the incurred debt.

Old Wounds🔗

In other words: the Lord insists that his people, before they depart for Canaan, as yet resolve old issues, which have remained hidden. Old wounds need be given a chance to heal. Also old, suppressed, as good as forgotten debts must be cleared. Long repressed differences, must be brought out in the open, dealt with and set right. Even if, in the mean time, the injured party has died. Even if he no longer has a redeemer, for a debt once incurred, never disappears on its own volition. Not even when it is no longer mentioned. Not if we ourselves have almost forgotten it: Before God it still exists, as long as no forgiveness has been pleaded and atonement made.

Guilt, once incurred, will remain a fact, as long as it has not been completely cleared away.

We may say that time heals all wounds, but let us then be aware of the fact that time does not heal all sins! There is no statute of limitations for sin. The courts, after a set period of time, discard certain offences. We are then no longer held accountable for them. But not so among the people of God. There it remains as a disruptive “stumbling block” for as long as it has not been completely dealt with.


Also in the Church there is often the inclination to “bury” an issue, if, after some time has passed, it has not been thoroughly talked out and resolved. To pretend that nothing ever happened. It is believed appropriate for the “hand of time” to pass over it, then it will one day be completely forgotten.

On more than one occasion have I, myself heard such an action recommended, regarding long protracted, badly eroding issues: “It will have to disappear with time.”

God's Word, however, teaches us that guilt never disappears, not even with “the hand of time” passing over it. It is still there! Burying it does not mean that it has actually disappeared. Guilt must be cleared away. Whoever has hurt someone: in business, with harsh words, unfounded accusations, averse attitudes, no longer has a clean slate. That slate does not get clean all by itself, so long as that guilt has not been atoned for. Not even by the passing of many years, not even if the hurt brother or sister has died. 'I have a long memory' says the Lord, 'that debt keeps bothering me'.

It Touches the LORD🔗

You realise that even more when we come to understand that issues we have with each other, always directly concern the LORD. This fact is clearly emphasised in Numbers 5.

When we read verse 6 we could perhaps think that, contrary to Leviticus 6, the sins mentioned here do not deal with sins against our fellow men, but against God Himself. After all, we do read here: “When a man or woman commits any sin that men commit in unfaithfulness against the Lord…” But when you read on we find mention made of restitution, if need be, even to a redeemer. Then it becomes abundantly clear, that it here concerns guilt people incur against each other, just as in Leviticus 6. It obviously deals with our relationships that can be severely damaged by committing all kinds of injustice to each other.

It is quite possible to translate vs. 6 to make this clearer. In the annotations accompanying the “STATEN VERTALING” it is pointed out that instead of: “…sins committed by people…” we can also read: “…sins committed against people…”

Therefore it deals with guilt towards our fellow man. The same annotation immediately adds: “…whereby that man also becomes unfaithful to the LORD…”!

God is directly involved with what His people do to each other. That which we are inclined to see as a matter between certain people, also always, directly, concerns the LORD. God feels that injustice as committed to Him personally. One by one, we altogether, belong to the LORD! Us he has accepted as His children, and He Himself, the holy and mighty God, dwells in our midst (according to Numbers 5:3). But he who is not awed by this fact, and right under God's eyes, dears to deal deceitfully with his neighbour, in actual fact slaps God Himself in the face. That means that this person has much to set right with the LORD.

Clear It!🔗

Numbers 5, points to one remedy to restore a broken society: The guilt must be cleared away completely. Also the guilt left untouched for many years; also the forgotten, or buried guilt. It must be done away with, it must go from the midst of God's people, where it has most certainly remained for all that time.

To do away with guilt, begins with confessing it. Honestly admitting that it was wrong. First against the person concerned. Gathering the courage to search out that person and boldly, holding nothing back, acknowledge the sin. Without reservations or weak excuses. That clears the air! That cleanses the relationship and brings true reconciliation. Tears first, most probably! But after that, a relieved heart and a clearer conscience.

Then we will automatically want to do anything to restore what can still be restored. That is what the LORD also urges in Numbers 5: we must endeavour to set right what can still be set right and a little extra may very well be needed to show that we are prepared to do any, and everything to heal the break as much as we are able.

Restored Forever!🔗

This is how the LORD wants to maintain relationships in the Church, and restore them where needed. He does not tolerate injustice in the Church. His Church will be the place on earth where people have a good, restored relationship with each other, because His Church is the very place where He, in spite of all our sins, still wants a relationship with us. Where He Himself, has given the precious blood of His Son as an absolute cleansing of our sins.

Is it not awe inspiring and humbling that the LORD makes it possible for us to clear up the injustices committed to each other? No matter how badly we behaved, it does not have to remain unresolved between Him and us personally, nor between ourselves. As long as it is confessed in all honestly and everything possible is done to set matters right, then it has gone!

It can even be set right when the hurt brother or sister concerned, has long died! We might then think: 'this is terrible, now I will never be able to put matters right!' However, then God says:

'Do put it right with Me. Seek your reconciliation with Me, pleading on the blood of Christ. Then, once in heaven, or on the new earth, you can face that brother and sister with a clear conscience, for then things have been restored forever.'

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