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God’s Word for You

Numbers 5:27-31 A Test for Jealousy (Part 4)

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, June 23, 2021

27 When he has made her drink the water, if she has defiled herself and has been unfaithful to her husband, the water that brings a curse will enter into her and become bitter. Her belly will swell, and her thigh will shrivel. The woman will be an object of cursing among her people. 28 If the woman has not defiled herself but is clean, then she will be unaffected and will be able to conceive children.
29 This is the law regarding jealousy when a wife, while married to her husband, goes astray and defiles herself, 30 or when a feeling of jealousy comes over a husband and he is jealous of his wife. Then the man will present the woman before the Lord, and the priest will apply this entire procedure to her. 31 The man will be free from guilt, but that woman will bear her guilt.

It hardly needs to be said, but a woman who refused to drink the bitter water would be condemned as guilty. Once she had drunk, the innocent woman would still be able to conceive and to have children as long as she was physically able.

We should remember some details about the test for jealousy, most of which we have already pointed out but which are worth repeating:

1, The reason for this test, unique in the Bible, is that marriage, the family unit, is the central estate of society and every culture. If a marriage dissolves, the immediate family will be affected by it; the extended family will be affected by it; the community will be affected by it; God’s people will be affected by it. And afflicted by it. In his commentary on Numbers, Lutheran pastor David Chytraeus listed just a few of the many benefits of a happy marriage based upon trust. My translation of Chytraeus’ 16th Century Latin is not always precise:

a, Mutual love, genuine, ardent, sincere, gratifying;

b, Constantly dismissing scornfulness, moroseness, hatred, suspicion, deceit, and distrust.

c. Marital trust, where in mutual love one spouse acquiesces to the other, the husband giving himself to his wife alone, and the wife giving her sanctified body to her husband and thus preserving her chastity.

d. A praiseworthy conjugal union and co-responsibility, in good times and in difficult times:

e. for begetting and educating children,

f. for physical and legal protection

g. and finally a kindly forbearance (Greek ἐπιεικεία)  when sickness excuses conjugal joining.

2, The basic assumption of this test is the innocence of the woman. She is treated as a member of God’s people throughout. She is never mistreated or mishandled. She is allowed to bring an offering before the bronze altar in the courtyard of the tabernacle (one of the only times we clearly see a woman doing so; at other times this is merely implied with words such as “Israelite”).

3, A woman was able to demand this test herself to prove her innocence before a jealous husband or a gossiping community.

4, If the woman was guilty, the curse would enter into her body, but this was not due to her drinking poison or some other “no win” ritual such as those of the pagans. Only the will of God could bring about the curse; there was nothing about the elements of the ritual—water, dust, scraped text of a curse—which was dangerous in any way.

5, After a guilty verdict, her husband was not required to divorce her. He had the option to forgive her and call her back again into his home and bed.

6, A child born from her adultery was not admitted into the husband’s inheritance, unless he chose to admit the child (Hosea 2:23).

Two additional points are especially significant to us:

7, There is no record in the Bible of this test ever being carried out; not even a hint. Hosea’s wife was so open with her adultery that the prophet didn’t need the test. He also had the command from God. Other men with unfaithful wives probably caught them in the act, and the penalty in that case was death for the woman and her lover (Deuteronomy 22:23-24).

8, The most far-reaching and significant point of this test is that right up until the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, the test for jealousy was available and an option for any jealous husband or falsely accused wife. That means that in the case of Mary and Joseph, we have this passage: “Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly” (Matthew 1:19). There is no record of Joseph taking Mary down to the temple to have her tested, but the test was open to him. Of course, the angel’s message delivered to him was clear: “What is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20). Some of the Church Fathers in antiquity supposed that Joseph did indeed go ahead with this test, but the text of Matthew 1 makes it clear that he did not. Yet the test itself is a testimony from God that the virgin who would conceive in Isaiah 7:14 and give birth to Immanuel could have proved her virgin pregnancy under the test for jealousy. Joseph, Mary’s betrothed husband, had a faith that did not need such proof, but with a provision in the law for it, the virgin birth was already there as a possibility here in the Law of Moses 1,400 years before the arrival of the Baby who would bear the sins of the world—sins of adultery, jealousy, unfaithfulness, pettiness, gossip, hatred, and whatever else burdens any of us and all of us. Through him, our sins are lifted away forever. He drank the bitter cup of our suffering so that we never shall.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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