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Numbers 5: A Few Laws and a Test

Original Publication Date
March 22, 2016
Updated
Jan 10, 2023 1:34 AM
Tags
NumbersChapter StudyLawAdultery
Bible References
Numbers 5
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Done
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Table of Contents
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This page was originally posted on my Blogger version of the blog on March 22, 2016 The content below has a few minor tweaks for clarity, and additional references, and some updated information.

Introduction

Numbers 5 discusses a few points that were meant to help the Israelites sort out their day to day problems. These points address issues of purity, restitution and jealousy.

Purity

The camp had to remain clean and pure for God to remain in their presence. To accomplish this, lepers, those with issue, and those defiled by the dead were outside the camp. This applied to both genders as both male and female are expected to abide by God's law.

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Today the word β€œpurity” is almost exclusively used in reference to women and virginity, but the Bible discusses purity as a state of cleanliness and relationship to YHWH. We also see that these expectations are meant for male and female. Back in 2016 I didn’t focus a lot on this section but due to what I’ve since learned about the connotation of purity in many Christian circles, I feel that a post on just this topic could be useful.

Restitution

When a man or woman committed a trespassβ€”fraud, property damage, slander, etc.β€”he or she was expected to pay recompense plus 20%. If it wasn't possible to give the sum to the victim, the money was to go to God via the priest.

This seems like a very reasonable demand in both ancient and modern times. Let’s use the example of property damage. Say someone destroyed your table (by accident, on purpose, whichever). In Moses' day, you couldn't just go to Walmart or the local furniture store to purchase a new chair; you would have actually had to make a new chair. You may have needed to harvest the wood supply specifically for that chair or hire a carpenter (since it's unlikely you could craft the chair yourself). This means it could be days or even weeks before you have a replacement. It makes sense that the extra 20% was for the troubleβ€”emotional distress, as it is called today. In today's society, it's not as difficult to replace something as simple as a chair, though the same logic would apply to something like your house or your car. In the case of simple items, you may be able to replace them more easily, but you still have to go get them. In Moses' day, riding your horse/donkey/camel to the carpenter (or walking), was a free journey, however today traveling costs. Whether you are spending on gas to drive to the store or opting for a shipping fee when purchasing online, you will need additional funds to cover that extra cost. While the demand in question makes perfect sense, we do not often see people so willingly to pay for damage they've cause, be it physical, defamation of character, or false advertising. Often, cases that should come under this simple moral code turn in to lawsuits.

Whether you believe the law is still in effect or not, it easy to recognize that this code of conduct should apply to us today. Jesus tells us to love our neighbors, which means we should never be committing trespasses against our neighbors. Since we are not perfect, some times we may do so on accident (car accidents, mishaps, misheard information being spread, etc.). In those cases our neighbors should not have to hunt us down for their restitution; we should be freely giving, out of love for our brother/sister.

Law of Jealousy

One of the main dangers of adultery is anger or jealousy. Before Jesus paid the price for us, men and women caught cheating were stoned to death. When a woman was suspected of adultery but it could not be proven, the matter was to be brought before the priest along with an offering. The offering was to be a tenth of an ephah of barley mealβ€”neither frankincense nor oil was to be placed upon the offering. The priest was to set the woman before theΒ LordΒ and give her holy water while her head was uncovered (a sign of mourning). The holy water, mixed with dust from the tabernacle floor, would bless the woman if she was innocent, but curse her if she were guilty. Called the test of bitter water, it was meant to absolve the man of his jealousy.[1]

The first question I had after reading this passage, was why there wasn't a test of bitter waters for men. There are two points to think on, however, when discussing this scenario.

The first is the effect of the act. If a woman committed adultery and became pregnant, there was no way of knowing who the child's father was. There was no Maury or DNA tests in Moses' era. This meant the possible loss of an heir for the father and the possibility of a false heir for the husband. Both men would have to live with the uncertainty of the baby's paternity. In the reverse case, the woman knows that the baby is hers. She neither suffers the anxiety of her role in the baby's life, nor the loss of the ability to parent her child.

That brings be to my 2 point. The curse of the bitter water was to make the woman barren (eliminating this problem), while blessing was for her to conceive (signaling to the husband that he was the father). Not only is this a method of resolving the issue, but it is also hard to reproduce for a husband. If he were to commit adultery, how should the bitter water effect him? Surely the same result would have occurred, the woman would become pregnant or not pregnant, but that was still viewed as a blessing or curse on the woman not on the man.

Further Reading

  1. Edge Induced Cohesion -Β Number 5:11-31: Concerning Jealous Husbands

References and Footnotes

  1. "Number 5:11-31: Concerning Jealous Husbands".Β Edge Induced Cohesion. April 2011

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