Jealous husband puts wife on trial
Kicked out of camp1 The LORD told Moses: 2 ell the Israelites to isolate themselves from others by leaving the camp if they develop a serious skin disease, an oozing sore, or if they become ritually unclean by touching a dead person. 3 This applies to men and women. They need to leave the camp so they don’t infect or contaminate anyone else. After all, I’m living with you in this camp. 4 So the Israelites did what the LORD told Moses. Sick and ritually unclean people were removed from the main camp.
If you wrong someone, make it right5 The LORD told Moses: 6 Give this message to the Israelite people:
When you do something wrong to someone, you’re guilty. 7 You need to admit what you did, and you need to make it right. If that involves compensation, pay the person for the damage you caused. Then add 20 percent. 8 If the person died and doesn’t have any relatives to whom you can make restitution, give the payment to the LORD, for the priest. You also need to give the priest a male sheep. This is to atone for your sin and to get you back in good standing with the LORD. 9 When you bring an offering like this to the priest, the meat of the sacrificed animal belongs to him. 10 Each officiating priest gets to keep whatever sacred gifts he receives.
Rx for jealous husbands11 The LORD told Moses: 12 Tell this to the Israelite people:
Here’s what I want you to do if a man’s wife has sex with someone else. 13 Let’s say the wife and the other man keep it secret, and no one else saw it happen. 14 Then the priest will put some holy water in a clay bowl. Then he’ll add some dirt he picks up from the floor of the tent worship center. 15 The man should take his wife to the priest. He should bring an offering: a couple quarts of barley flour. Just plain flour. Don’t mix in any olive oil or frankincense. This is a grain offering about jealousy and about finding out if anything happened.
Wife drinks dirty water16 The priest will have the woman stand before the LORD. 17 Then the priest will put some holy water in a clay bowl. Then he’ll add some dirt he picks up from the floor of the tent worship center.
18 He’ll have the woman let down her hair. Then he’ll hand her the grain offering that her husband brought because of his jealousy. The priest will stand in front of her, holding the bowl of angry water.
19 The priest will tell the woman the oath she’ll have to swear:
“If you haven’t had sex with another person, and you’ve stayed faithful to the husband you’re supposed to serve, this water won’t hurt you. And the curse I’m about to put on it won’t affect you. 20 But if you’ve wandered away from your husband and had sex with another man…”
21 Mid-sentence the priest should stop and tell the woman she’s going to have to swear an oath that contains a curse of what will happen if she’s guilty. Then the priest should continue where he cut off:
“may the LORD make your family and friends hate you and treat you as toxic. And may the LORD use this angry water to swell your body and destroy its ability to produce another baby. 22 So now, if you’re guilty, may this water you drink make you swell up with sickness, and then destroy your ability to have another child.”
At this point, the priest will have the woman say, “Yes. Absolutely yes.” 
23 The priest should then write down everything he just said: the oath and its curses. Then he should scrape the ink into the bowl of angry water. 24 He’ll have the woman drink the water that would curse her and make her sick if she’s guilty. 25 But first, he should take the grain offering of the jealous husband and lift it toward the LORD. Then he should take it to the altar. 26 He should take a handful of flour and burn it on the altar, sending it up in smoke. This is when the woman should drink the angry water.
27 If she was unfaithful to her husband, her body will swell. She’ll never again deliver a healthy baby. People will turn their backs on her and treat her as poison. 28 But if the woman didn’t do anything wrong, the angry water won’t affect her in any way. She’ll remain healthy and able to have children.
Case closed29 This is the law for dealing with a jealous husband when the wife who’s supposed to serve him helps herself to another man. 30 It’s also the law for dealing with a man who’s jealous simply because he suspects his faithful wife. In either situation, the priest will apply the law as the LORD instructed. 31 This law will show if the husband’s suspicions were valid. If so, the woman will suffer the consequences.
This offering may be the guilt offering described in Leviticus 5. In older lingo, the guilt offering was called the trespass offering, as in, “Forgive us our trespasses” or sins. In fact, scholars can’t seem to figure out what the difference is between a “sin offering” and a “guilt offering.” One guess is that guilt offerings are more serious and often involve making restitution. Leviticus 5:14-7:7 talks about when a person needs to make a guilt offering. Leviticus 7:1-10 talks about how to make the sacrifice.
Some scholars say the writer is making the point that the meat of sacrifices like this belongs to the officiating priest. It’s not something the priest has to share with other priests. It’s not community property.
Two dry quarts equals 2.2 dry liters. That’s about a two-and-a-half-pound sack of flour (1 kg).
Frankincense was one of the most exotic and expensive fragrances available, along with myrrh. Also used as woody-tasting spices. Both come from sap of small trees and shrubs growing in what are now Saudi Arabia, northern Africa, and India. People would grind up the dried sap and put it in perfumes. They also burned it as a woody fragrance, and a sweet-smelling incense. They burned the incense in religious services. They also burned incense in homes as air fresheners in the days before soap and deodorants. Possible health benefits: reduces inflammation in the gut and irritable bowel syndrome; reduces inflammation of arthritis; helps relieve asthma. Further medical studies are needed, according to medical researchers.
It’s unclear why the woman needed to let her hair down. It’s not generally something a woman did in public. Women who were ritually unclean because they were suffering from serious skin diseases were instructed to put their hair down and muss it up to provide a visual clue to others that they were unclean (Leviticus 13:5). Some scholars suggest women had to put their hair down to make them feel vulnerable or perhaps to shame them.
The Hebrew word is mar. It’s usually translated in this context as “bitter.” But it can also mean: disagreeable, poisonous, angry, cruel, anxious. Anything but refreshing. “Angry” seems a good fit, given the husband’s jealousy, which produced this anxious scene.
There’s a lot of debate over what is happening here because the words are oblique. The passage literally says, may the LORD “make your thigh shrivel and your belly swell.” Babies first appear between a mother’s thighs. So, many scholars say the phrase is a euphemistic way of saying the woman would suffer from infertility or miscarriages.
Literally, “Amen. Amen.” Archaeological discoveries in Israel confirm people used “Amen” to confirm the truth of an oath they took.
This law, sometimes called the Test of the Bitter Water, might seem to favor the husband, as we interpret the law today. A priest whips up a cocktail of dirt and ink. Ink analyzed from the famous Dead Sea Scrolls contained mainly lamp soot. So, we have a nervous wife standing in the worship center in what she was taught was God’s presence. And she is ordered to drink dirty water that not only has a curse on it, but a curse in it: the priest scraped the ink of the words into the water. Who’s not going to get sick after drinking that? Well, Israelites taught that God controlled everything. See the note for Exodus 28:30, about the high priest using what sounds a bit like dice to get answers from God. Israelites taught that if the woman was innocent, this would prove it and it would quench the jealous anger of her husband, hopefully shutting him up on the subject. Still, the law might seem unfair. But without it, the woman had no recourse. She would have to continue suffering from her husband’s jealousy. This way, if she could avoid getting sick and could manage to produce a baby, the husband should be relieved. From today’s perspective, though, we’re left wondering what would happen if the woman’s next baby looked like the man in the next tent. Perhaps that would produce another trip to the priest, with another round of angry water, and some extra dirt.
- Sorry, there are currently no questions for this chapter.