Numbers 5: The Water That Causes Bitterness

Today’s post on Numbers 5 is a mini lesson in why you shouldn’t go with your first impression on confusing texts of the Bible. And let me just say for the record, Numbers 5 is con-FU-sing!

We were cruising along just fine counting people and giving them jobs, when BAM! A complete non sequitur of a chapter punches us in the uterus. Yes, I used that body part on purpose even though I don’t have one. Trust me, it will make sense.

The Problem

A man thinks his wife has been unfaithful. But he has a bit of a problem: there is no evidence. No one has seen anything even remotely resembling adultery from her.

But he can’t shake this jealous feeling he has sweeping over him.

So to get to the bottom of it, he takes his wife, who may or may not be cheating on him, to the priest for a little test.

She will drink a mixture of water, dirt from the tebernacle floor, and ink. This bitter cocktail will apparently cause her a bit of pain, and then the truth will be discovered.

If she is guilty, her womb will discharge and her uterus will drop. If she is not guilty, nothing will happen.

Seems easy enough.

And totally sexist and unjust.

My First Thoughts/Questions

Why does this have to be here? Doesn’t God know that passages like this are exactly why people don’t believe in him? How could he be so blatantly sexist?

What about the man who may have been the other party in the adultery? What happens to him?

How in the world am I going to turn this into a funny post?

So this woman has to go through this huge ordeal because her husband is JEALOUS? Even if there is no evidence? Moral of the story, ladies: Don’t marry a jealous man.

Can the wife do anything if she thinks her husband is cheating on her?

And many, many more. I’m sure you have several of your own. We might be tempted to be done at this point. We could think to ourselves, surely there is no way this law is a good thing. This just proves the Bible is backwards and horrible.

Not so fast.

The next part may not answer all your questions, but the little bit of digging I did was quite fruitful.

The Possibilities

Let’s look at all the things that have to happen for this situation to take place

  • The wife must be suspected of adultery.
  • There must be NO evidence.
  • The husband must be jealous.
  • They must go to the priest.
  • She has to drink the drink.
  • They must wait for the result.

If any one of those things doesn’t happen, this isn’t legal. That is a lot of factors. The husband can’t just do something terrible to his wife. He has to go through a legal process. That is a good thing. We may think the process is weird, but it still means he can’t flip out and beat his wife to death.

This law protects women from crimes of passion.

Also, according to the IVP Women’s Bible Commentary, that mixture probably won’t cause a miscarriage. It is dirt, water, and ink. It won’t taste great, but it won’t cause your uterus to fall out.

This test is weighted in favor of the woman. She will more than likely walk out of there innocent.

And maybe when enough husbands come back from their visit to the priest looking like idiots, they will learn to trust their wives a little more.

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3 responses

  1. Good post. I’ve been okay with everything going on up until this chapter but I was all ticked off after this one! So unfair!! Glad you put some perspective on it, but still, discouraged that stuff like this is stuck in here because it’s so easy to take this OUT of perspective and use it for ill will. Next chapter please.

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