How would you feel about taking an adultery test?
In Numbers 5:11-31, there is a passage specifically addressed to women that describes how a woman could be found guilty or innocent if her husband had jealous thoughts about her and suspected she was having an affair. The process involved bringing the woman in question before the priest. Holy water was mixed with dust from the floor of the Tabernacle and while holding a grain offering in her hand, the woman heard the charges against her. The priest would tell her if she is innocent, when she drinks the water it will have no effect on her. If, however, she is guilty of adultery, the water will bring a curse on her, making her abdomen swell and her thigh waste away. This visible effect will reveal her guilt.
Wow. Reading that from our cultural perspective is shocking. First, it refers to the woman as being under the authority of her husband, something which goes against all our cultural norms today, and probably offends many women. Second, in today’s “free” culture, no one really thinks that having an affair with someone is odd or unusual. It happens every day. The world’s response would be to tell both the husband and the priest (and subsequently, God), that it’s none of their business who a woman chooses to have sex with.
From God’s perspective, things look differently. God sanctified marriage and He hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). Divorce was (and is) allowed only in the case of infidelity and because God knows our human hearts are hard (Matthew 19:1-9). The marriage relationship is meant to be a picture of Christ’s relationship with the church (Ephesians 5). While the adultery test sounds archaic and barbaric to our 21st-century ears, it was actually meant to protect the woman who was faithful to her husband.
God knew that men and women would have misunderstandings. There would be days when words were said out of frustration or hurt. For some reason, it is easy for us to assume the worst when we’re dealing with the person we love the most. Additionally, marriages were primarily arranged in those days, so there was no guarantee that a husband would love and trust his wife at all. I believe God gave the adultery test to His people to protect the innocent as much as to warn the guilty that their sin would be found out.
When we read the Old Testament, we cannot view things simply from our cultural perspective and our modern-day experiences. But we can and should always view it through the lens of God’s unchanging character.
He is holy.
He is good.
He is loving.
He is protective.
He is just.
He is righteous.
And He is our Creator, with all the rights and authority to hold us accountable for our actions. I’m thankful for Jesus, who stands in the place as an Advocate for those who have put their faith in Him. He has already tasted the bitter waters of the curse of death for our sin. We who have trusted Him for salvation stand before our High Priest, Jesus, and whatever the test is, we pass with the flying colors of His righteousness.