Shortly after Numbers 5 begins, it describes the law for a jealous husband. This law was to be carried out when a jealous man suspected that his wife had committed adultery. The literal purpose of the law was to determine the truth of his wife’s behavior and for her to bear the consequence of her sin if she was found guilty. Let’s see what this law says and see what else we can learn from it.
Numbers 5:11-31 says, “ Then the Lord said to Moses, 12 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him 13 by sleeping with another man, and this is hidden from her husband and her impurity is undetected (since there is no witness against her and she has not been caught in the act), 14 and if feelings of jealousy come over her husband and he suspects his wife and she is impure — or if he is jealous and suspects her even though she is not impure — 15 then he is to take his wife to the priest. He must also take an offering of a tenth of an ephah of barley flour on her behalf. He must not pour oil on it or put incense on it, because it is a grain offering for jealousy, a reminder offering to draw attention to guilt.” NIV
When a woman commits adultery, she usually attempts to hide it from her husband. Her husband may experience jealousy but doesn’t have any proof that his wife has been intimate with someone else. The only way he could find out for sure was to bring his wife to the priest with a reminder offering to draw attention to her guilt. Today, we can’t do this because the temple is no longer in operation and most of us don’t live in Israel even if it did. Even so, there is something else more important here for us to understand.
We have a reminder offering called the Lord’s Supper that was initiated around the time of the barley harvest (at Passover). When we eat of this table, we are to remember the Lord’s death until He returns. This reminder offering does not contain oil or frankincense but only bread and wine. This meal is a reminder of our marriage covenant with Christ. We are individually and corporately the bride of Christ. Jesus is not only the groom but also our High Priest. When we come to this table, we need to examine ourselves for sin, especially the sin of spiritual adultery. At this time, the Holy Spirit often draws attention to our guilt. This is important because our God is a jealous God. He wants our full attention and devotion to be directed at Him. If our heart is not right before Him, we need to repent of our sins.
Numbers 5:16-31 continues, “‘The priest shall bring her and have her stand before the Lord. 17 Then he shall take some holy water in a clay jar and put some dust from the tabernacle floor into the water. 18 After the priest has had the woman stand before the Lord, he shall loosen her hair and place in her hands the reminder offering, the grain offering for jealousy, while he himself holds the bitter water that brings a curse. Then the priest shall put the woman under oath and say to her, “If no other man has slept with you and you have not gone astray and become impure while married to your husband, may this bitter water that brings a curse not harm you. 20 But if you have gone astray while married to your husband and you have defiled yourself by sleeping with a man other than your husband” — 21 here the priest is to put the woman under this curse of the oath — “may the Lord cause your people to curse and denounce you when he causes your thigh to waste away and your abdomen to swell. 22 May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells and your thigh wastes away.” “‘Then the woman is to say, “Amen. So be it.” 23 “‘The priest is to write these curses on a scroll and then wash them off into the bitter water. 24 He shall have the woman drink the bitter water that brings a curse, and this water will enter her and cause bitter suffering. 25 The priest is to take from her hands the grain offering for jealousy, wave it before the Lord and bring it to the altar. 26 The priest is then to take a handful of the grain offering as a memorial offering and burn it on the altar; after that, he is to have the woman drink the water. 27 If she has defiled herself and been unfaithful to her husband, then when she is made to drink the water that brings a curse, it will go into her and cause bitter suffering; her abdomen will swell and her thigh waste away, and she will become accursed among her people. 28 If, however, the woman has not defiled herself and is free from impurity, she will be cleared of guilt and will be able to have children. 29 “‘This, then, is the law of jealousy when a woman goes astray and defiles herself while married to her husband, 30 or when feelings of jealousy come over a man because he suspects his wife. The priest is to have her stand before the Lord and is to apply this entire law to her. 31 The husband will be innocent of any wrongdoing, but the woman will bear the consequences of her sin.'” NIV
The woman stood before the Lord with her hair loosened and with the reminder offering in her hand. According to 1 Corinthians 11:15, a woman’s long hair represents her glory, honor, or dignity. As we come to partake of the Lord’s Supper, we should stand before our High Priest, reflect His glory, and give Him honor.
The priest had a cup containing the holy water and dust from the tabernacle floor. The cup of cursing the woman drank in this passage determined whether or not she obeyed God’s commandment to not commit adultery. The woman had to drink the contents of the cup given to her and accept whatever happened as a result of doing so. This shows that we all must accept the consequences of our sins.
Interestingly enough is the fact that people are not much more than dust and water. If the woman was innocent, she could bear children as a result of drinking this mixture. If she was guilty, the truth was made known by the swelling of her belly just as if she were pregnant. This is similar to how the sin of sexual immorality is often discovered when a non-married person literally becomes pregnant. Another thing that can happen as a result of sexual immorality is the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. This can lead to infertility which was almost unbearable for many women. Infertility represents the absence of life and also represents death itself.
Note that during the ceremony of the law of jealousy, the curses were written on a scroll and washed off into the bitter water. Together the contents caused bitter suffering if the woman was guilty. This is a terrible cup for many to drink.
Do you see the spiritual dimension of this law? We came from dust and will return to dust. Before we do so, we all have a choice to make. We can drink from one of two cups—the cup of blessing (wine) or the cup of cursing (water).
We can choose the cup of blessing by deciding to obey or disobey God’s commandments. When a person enters into a marriage covenant with the Lord, the words of that agreement (the law) should enter into his/her heart and mind. The Holy Spirit helps the believer to live a life of obedience including producing the fruits of the Spirit, blessing, and eternal life. This person will be found guiltless before the Father.
We choose the cup of cursing through disobedience to God’s commands. Consider Ezekiel 23 which describes the cups of cursing given to Oholah (Samaria) and Oholibah (Jerusalem) because they followed after the gods of other nations. Oholah committed harlotry with the Assyrians and never gave up her harlotry from Egypt. As a result, the Assyrians executed judgment on her. Oholibah did not learn her sister’s lesson. She desired the Assyrians and Babylonians so God promised to give her the same cup her sister drank. They both had to pay the ultimate price for their sin of spiritual adultery.
In the future, the nations will surely pay for their lawlessness but God’s people will pay the same price if they commit apostasy by rejecting God’s commandments and deciding to live a lifestyle of lawlessness too. Those who come out of Babylon the Great will be obedient and the keep the faith of Christ. They will cling to their Bridegroom and rejoice when it is time for the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.
Note that the husband is innocent of any wrongdoing. There is also no law for the man who commits adultery. This is because the Lord was innocent of sin and will never be guilty of committing adultery against the Bride of Christ. The penalty for both men and women who committed adultery was death. Although this penalty was not always carried out, a pattern remains. Those who repent by returning to God’s commandments will receive mercy and be declared not guilty. Those who don’t repent will be found guilty and experience eternity in the lake of fire.
Which cup do you want to drink?