The Trial of Jealousy
Numbers 5:11-31
And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,…

Just previously, regulations are laid down with respect to offences in general. Here is an offence which needed to be dealt with m a special way, as being one where restitution was impossible. The offence also destroyed a relation of peculiar sacredness and importance, and the discovery of guilt was difficult, perhaps impossible of attainment, by ordinary lines of proof.

I. THE HUSBAND'S POSITION IS RECOGNIZED. The spirit of jealousy is not condemned as in itself an evil passion. In it he might be angry and sin not. The spirit of jealousy could not be too much excited or too amply satisfied, if only the facts corresponded to his feelings. No mention is made of a similar ordeal for the husband to pass through if a spirit of jealousy were awakened in the wife, and so it may seem that more severity was meted out to the woman than the man. But the offence of an unfaithful husband, equally great of course as a sin, might not be equally dangerous as a crime. The principles of human law which compel men to graduate crime and punishment had to be remembered in the theocracy. An examination of the Mosaic laws against sexual impurity shows that they provided stringently for both sexes. The adulterer was punishable with death. A guilty wife in the discovery of her guilt dragged down her paramour (Leviticus 20:10).

II. THE WIFE'S POSITION IS RECOGNIZED. To punish her more severely for a lapse of conjugal fidelity was really to honour her, showing that in one respect more was expected from her. It became every Israelite to walk circumspectly; it peculiarly became the Israelite matron. May we not say that the spirit of jealousy, though it might often be manifested on insufficient grounds, was nevertheless in itself a provision of God, through nature? The reputation of a wife is a very delicate thing, and was meant so to be. The tenth commandment specifies, "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife." Hence we may infer there was some temptation to men to commit this sin, and wives needed to be specially on their guard. The ordeal to which God called them, hard as it might seem, had a most honourable side. Let it not be said that Mosaic legislation showed the Oriental depreciation of woman. God was caring for her even then, but she had to partake of the severity of the law, even as, long after, represented by the woman taken in adultery, she shared in the clemency and tenderness of the gospel.

III. THE UNERRING DISCOVERY OF GUILT. God took the matter away out of the obscurities of circumstantial evidence. The very nature of the offence made it difficult for a suspicious husband to get beyond presumption. "The eye of the adulterer waiteth for the twilight" (Job 24:15). But God called the accused wife among the solemnities of the tabernacle, and concealment and evasion thenceforth became impossible. Notice how the ordeal was painless in itself. There was no walking on burning ploughshares nor demand on physical endurance. It was independent also of anything like chance, as if the casting of a lot had been held to settle the matter. The bitter water was drunk, and God, who brings all secret things into judgment, showed the indubitable proof in the swollen body and the rotted thigh. Proof, sentence, and punishment were all in one.

IV. THE DISCOVERY, EQUALLY UNERRING, OF INNOCENCE. One wonders what the history of this ordeal was in practice; how often used, and with what results. We know not what terrible tragedies it may have prevented, what credulous Othello it may have restored to his peace of mind, what Desdemona it may have vindicated, and what Iago it may have overthrown in his villainous plots. "God shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday" (Psalm 37:6). There will be a final clearing of all the innocent, however many have been condemned at a human bar. The whole matter assumes its most significant aspect when we note how the apostasy of God's people is figured by gross and shameful breaches of the marriage vow (Ezekiel 16). The doom of the adulterous wife foreshadows the doom of the backsliding believer. - Y.

Parallel Verses
KJV: And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

WEB: Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,

Innocence Strangely Declared
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