Outside the camp

More observations from our wanderings through the Old Testament. A phrase that keeps coming up is “outside the camp”. In our reading so far, several things are described as happening outside the camp:

But the flesh of the bull, and its skin, and its dung, you shall burn with fire outside the camp; it is a sin offering. Exodus 29:14

Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, far off from the camp; and he called it the tent of meeting. Exodus 33:7

you shall put out both male and female, putting them outside the camp, that they may not defile their camp, in the midst of which I dwell. Numbers 5:3

So Miriam was shut up outside the camp seven days; and the people did not set out on the march till Miriam was brought in again. Numbers 12:15

And all the congregation brought him outside the camp, and stoned him to death with stones, as the LORD commanded Moses. Numbers 15:36

Obviously there is a practical reason for this. It’s probably not all that sanitary or expedient to burn bulls inside the camp, or to stone people inside the camp, or to quarantine lepers inside the camp, or to exile sinners inside the camp. So granted, this probably all started out as a very practical thing.

But what is interesting to me is how the author of the letter to the Hebrews give greater weight to this place: outside the camp.

For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go forth to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. Hebrews 13:11-13

This place, once a merely practical place, is now invested with great meaning. It all prefigured Christ’s death “outside the gate”. The author of Hebrews specifically mentions this place in connection with the Old Testament sin offering, which see mentioned in Exodus 29:14 (as well as all over the place in Leviticus). But I wonder if Christ can be somehow seen to fulfill all of the various reasons for being outside the camp. In Exodus 33:7, “outside the camp” is the place of privileged meeting with God, the “tent of meeting”. Christ is the new Tent of Meeting, the New Temple, the place where God and Man meet, as far as the hypostatic union is concerned, but also the place where regular old me and God meet.

Similarly, In Numbers 5:3, the unclean are placed outside the camp. Christ is certainly sinless, but he did “bear our iniquities”, so maybe Christ has fulfilled this meaning of “outside the camp” also. Similarly in Numbers 12:15, a sinner is exiled “outside the camp”. Again with Christ bearing our iniquities. And in Numbers 15:36, those who are put to death are put to death outside the camp. Like Christ.

Just thinking “out loud”.


~ by Rob on March 20, 2008.

One Response to “Outside the camp”

  1. Neat! I miss Bible Study.

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