Water of Bitterness

More weirdness from the Old Testament:

If any man’s wife goes astray and acts unfaithfully against him, if a man lies with her carnally, and it is hidden from the eyes of her husband, and she is undetected though she has defiled herself, and there is no witness against her, since she was not taken in the act; and if the spirit of jealousy comes upon him, and he is jealous of his wife who has defiled herself; or if the spirit of jealousy comes upon him, and he is jealous of his wife, though she has not defiled herself; then the man shall bring his wife to the priest, and bring the offering required of her, a tenth of an ephah of barley meal; he shall pour no oil upon it and put no frankincense on it, for it is a cereal offering of jealousy, a cereal offering of remembrance, bringing iniquity to remembrance. “And the priest shall bring her near, and set her before the LORD; and the priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel, and take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it into the water.  And the priest shall set the woman before the LORD, and unbind the hair of the woman’s head, and place in her hands the cereal offering of remembrance, which is the cereal offering of jealousy. And in his hand the priest shall have the water of bitterness that brings the curse. Then the priest shall make her take an oath, saying, `If no man has lain with you, and if you have not turned aside to uncleanness, while you were under your husband’s authority, be free from this water of bitterness that brings the curse. But if you have gone astray, though you are under your husband’s authority, and if you have defiled yourself, and some man other than your husband has lain with you, then’ (let the priest make the woman take the oath of the curse, and say to the woman) `the LORD make you an execration and an oath among your people, when the LORD makes your thigh fall away and your body swell; may this water that brings the curse pass into your bowels and make your body swell and your thigh fall away.’ And the woman shall say, `Amen, Amen.’ “Then the priest shall write these curses in a book, and wash them off into the water of bitterness; and he shall make the woman drink the water of bitterness that brings the curse, and the water that brings the curse shall enter into her and cause bitter pain. And the priest shall take the cereal offering of jealousy out of the woman’s hand, and shall wave the cereal offering before the LORD and bring it to the altar; and the priest shall take a handful of the cereal offering, as its memorial portion, and burn it upon the altar, and afterward shall make the woman drink the water. And when he has made her drink the water, then, if she has defiled herself and has acted unfaithfully against her husband, the water that brings the curse shall enter into her and cause bitter pain, and her body shall swell, and her thigh shall fall away, and the woman shall become an execration among her people. But if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, then she shall be free and shall conceive children. “This is the law in cases of jealousy, when a wife, though under her husband’s authority, goes astray and defiles herself, or when the spirit of jealousy comes upon a man and he is jealous of his wife; then he shall set the woman before the LORD, and the priest shall execute upon her all this law. The man shall be free from iniquity, but the woman shall bear her iniquity.” (Numbers 5:12-31)

So if the dude gets jealous, he can bring his lady before the priest, who will administer this strange potion to her. And if nothing happens, then clearly the husband was wrongly jealous. But if she gets “bitter pain” and her thigh falls away, then she clearly has played the harlot. Surely God can work through such means, but it sounds so much like, “if she’s not a witch, she will float.” And what happens to the dude with whom she supposedly was naughty? Does he get to lose his thigh?

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~ by Rob on March 17, 2008.

4 Responses to “Water of Bitterness”

  1. Please read Isa.52:13-53:12; Mic.6:6-8 from the O.T. and post a comment in your blog. Thanks.

  2. […] asked me to comment on Isa. 52:13-53:12 and Mic. 6:6-8.  An odd and sort-of-out-of-the-blue request, but I have […]

  3. It reads really strangely (to my uneducated ears), but I think it is a genius plan.

    Think about the time. What was a man going to do if he got jealous of his wife, even if he had no evidence of her alleged unfaithfulness. He probably wasn’t likely going to let the “transgression” just slipped by. There probably stood a good chance that she would be stoned to death. Hence God steps in and says, “Whoa wait a minute, you have no evidence, bring her before me who knows all. I shall judge.” He then has a priest prepare a concoction of water and ink (the curse) and administer to the woman. My guess is that the drink had no harmful effects, aside from tasting bitter from the dye. Outside of miraculous intervention and God striking her dead, the woman would be fine. However now, the Lord had judged her and her husband would have to make peace with that.

    “The man shall be free from iniquity, but the woman shall bear her iniquity.”

    I take this to mean that God just helped a man avoid killing without evidence of guilt – something that surely would have brought iniquity. On the other hand, if the woman had committed adultery, she (and she alone) shall bear the iniquity.

  4. That is a much better interpretation than my cynical one. Thanks for helping me think it through.

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