[…] In the case of a man who becomes jealous and suspects his wife of unfaithfulness; he should make his wife stand before Jehovah, and the priest must carry out toward her all this law.
This passage stirs up negative feelings in me, so this post might come off as more subjective than others.
When an Israelite man suspected that his wife had been unfaithful to him but there were not enough witnesses, he had to bring her to trial before the priests and Jehovah.
There he was to offer “a grain offering of jealousy,” his wife had to publicly swear that she had been faithful to him, calling a curse upon herself in the case that she was lying, and then the priest would pick up dust from the tabernacle floor, put it in clean water and have her drink the water (Nu. 5:14-26).
I have read this passage a few times but have a hard time reconciling why God would put a woman through what seems to me an abuse of power and public humiliation when it was just as likely that she was innocent.
I therefor decided to investigate this law in more detail in order to gain a better understanding of it.
The law called on God to act as ultimate judge. The water she drank did not have special powers; it simply symbolized that the oath had been taken before Jehovah in a sacred place.
It was normal back then, even more so than it is today, for a sexually active woman to bear children.
But the curse the woman called down upon herself asked God to intercept this natural process by making her barren.
If the woman’s ‘abdomen swelled and thigh fell away,’ she would henceforth be incapable of having children, meaning God had found her guilty and he had punished her himself (Nu. 5:27).
This act of divine intervention would be the equivalent of a miracle- a negative miracle, seeing it from the woman’s perspective.
Now, obviously for this curse to be tested out, the husband had to have sexual relations with his wife. If she did not swell up and eventually ‘conceived and produced offspring,’ that would be testament of her innocence (Nu. 5:28).
I still have trouble assimilating the trauma and social stigma this exposed a woman to, the frustration she must have felt if she suspected him of being unfaithful, not having a law to process that, plus the lack of a way to identify the male adulterer in cases where the woman was in fact an adulteress.
However I have to note that there is a great deal of wisdom behind the law which basically required the man to lie down again with his wife.
From a marriage perspective, when a couple lies down together after a serious argument, it triggers something in one’s psychology that presses one to forgive the spouse and move past that obstacle in the relationship. It is what is colloquially called “make-up sex.”
Also the time that passed while trying to conceive allowed the couple to try to work their problems out over several months, instead of just recurring to divorce or stoning.
At this point I would like to note that jealousy in itself is and always has been a sin, so if the accused woman bore a child, her husband was publicly regarded as having been wrong (Gal. 5:19,20).
And that can be pretty hard on a guy’s ego.
There are a lot of ‘what-if’ scenarios that must have arisen when this law was enforced, questions that modern fertility tests would answer for us impartially and without the need for divine intervention.
Certainly Mosaic Law did have its limitations, and where these laws fell short, justice became a matter of faith (Rom. 8:3).
For “there is only one who is Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and to destroy. But you, who are you to be judging […]?” (Jam. 4:12).