Numbers 5 – I dont want to!

If you’ve been around me or have read a number of my devotional posts you’ve probably heard me say something like, “I love to study and write about the Bible”. This, of course, is true however in the interest of full disclosure, I must tell you there are passages I’d rather not study, and there are certainly passages I would rather not write about. The passage confronting me today is one I don’t mind studying, but truthfully, I’d really rather not write about it. 

I attempted to justify not writing about this passage by saying, “I’m not writing a “verse by verse” commentary. This really is supposed to be a devotional post, so I’m not required to cover every passage in every chapter.” Again, this is a true statement. However, the question I must address is am I at liberty to cherry-pick what I think is important content for the post, or do I want God to direct me to what He wants me to communicate? I say it is my goal to glorify God. If that’s true, shouldn’t I allow the Holy Spirit to direct?

You may be thinking, “what’s the big deal? Just get on with it! Write about what you are going to write about. Is it really worth mentioning?” If that’s what you’re thinking you’d probably be right in a sense. But it does bring up an important point to consider in our service to the Lord Jesus Christ. I’m not saying I’m ready to hop a ship to Tarshish, but I am saying that even though I say I’m committed to serving and glorifying God, there are times I try to avoid doing what I think He is asking of me. Does this just happen to me, or can you relate to what I’m saying?

Although this type of rebellion I’m experiencing isn’t condonable, it is understandable. After all, we are only imperfect human vessels or cracked pots if you will in the service of the perfect and perfectly Holy God of our redemption.

To complicate my quandary of whether or not to write about this passage was the fact that I prayed in earnest, asking God to tell me what He wants me to do. Argh! As soon as I prayed my mind began to flood with things that could be said about this passage. Was this God telling me to write about it? Hard to tell, right? I could still skip it, who would be the wiser? I read the passage again and noticed it is a significant chunk of Numbers 5, occupying twenty-one verses. I also realized that in the past thirty-nine years of being a believer I had never heard this passage mentioned in a sermon or Bible study.

Why do I spill so much ink telling you this? Because I wanted to point out that even though we are walking with Jesus, the relationship is real and is fraught with both our successes and our failures. God still loves us, still forgives us, and still uses us to His glory!

The passage that took me through such turmoil is Numbers 5:11-31. The New English Translation (NET) Bible selected the pericope, “The Jealousy Ordeal”, which seems aptly named to me.

Numbers 5:11

      11       And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 


We’ve noticed it previously, but it is still worth mentioning here, that YHWH spoke to Moses. What follows is not from the mind of Moses, God spoke. To whom was God speaking? The passage says Moses, but as we continue reading we discover the message from God was intended for the Children of Israel.

As Numbers 5:14 points out these few scriptures cover two scenarios. The first is a man knows his wife has been unfaithful to him and he is jealous, the second is the man doesn’t know for sure if she’s been unfaithful but he is jealous. Interestingly the prescription is the same regardless of which scenario is making the man jealous.

There are four actors found in this passage. The jealous man, his accused wife, the Priest, and YHWH. Here are the steps that must be followed.

According to Number 5:15, the man must bring his wife and a grain offering of jealousy to the priest. In the following verses, the priest must interact with the accused woman by carefully following a prescribed set of steps from YHWH. The priest creates bitter water the woman must drink by mixing it with Holy water and dirt from the floor of the tabernacle. He stands the woman up before YHWH, puts the offering in her hand, uncovers her head and explains to her what she must do and what will happen.

The priest explains to the woman she will be required to drink the bitter water. If she is innocent of infidelity, nothing will happen. He then explains what will happen if she is guilty.

Numbers 5:22

22       and may this water that causes the curse go into your stomach, and make your belly swell and your thigh rot.”

‘Then the woman shall say, “Amen, so be it.”

Scholars have stated the reference to making her thigh rot is actually talking about the female reproductive organ. Essentially, the bitter water damages her body so she cannot have children (Numbers 5:28).

Under oath, the woman agrees to the consequences outlined by the priest, he records the curse on parchment and scrapes it into the bitter water. The priest must then offer the grain offering to YHWH burning it on the altar. Only then does the priest make the woman drink the bitter water.

Notice that YHWH, the covenant God is the one who judges whether or not the woman has broken covenant. Who is more qualified to deal with covenant issues than the one and only covenant God? 

Also, notice the almost mystical effect, or non-effect of the bitter water, based solely on the woman’s guilt or innocence. There is actually nothing mystical about the process at all. Clearly, God determines guilt or innocence and it is God who will punish the guilty.

I think this passage clearly teaches us that YHWH God is fair and just. He is intimately acquainted with us. He sees when we sin. 

This new nation was to be in a covenantal relationship with a Holy God. This means that covenants between people in the camp, in this case, the marriage covenant must be honored.

You may be tempted to dismiss this passage as unimportant to us today but it’s Old Testament, but don’t do it! Listen, if it was important to YHWH to deal with jealousy connected to marriage fidelity then, it most certainly is important to Him today. Let me say it this way, staying faithful in marriage is just as important today as it was back then and dealing with jealousy before God is just as important today as it was back then.


All Scripture Quotations From The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.

2 Replies to "Numbers 5 - I dont want to!"

  • PTK
    November 25, 2019 (9:32 am)

    Mark, my dear friend and Brother. I always look forward to reading your posts. You clearly are committed to ‘staying in the Text” (not just ‘sharing’ you own thoughts but seeking to explain the TRUTH OF THE WORD OF GOD. This commitment is so rare today that it makes reading your blog worthy of my time. I don’t have time to read peoples’ thoughts. I want to spend my time considering God’s Thoughts, Words and Ideas. So thanks for your blog – it is time well spent because i am always considering God’s Words when i read your blog.
    A thought occurred to me as I read the end of your blog today, when you talked about this Numbers passage being OT stuff so many consider it irrelevant today. Obviously YHWH DOES KNOW when someone commits adultery – this passage makes that very clear. And in our present cultural milieu of rampant sexual immorality there is a lot of adultery and fornication going on. If you believe that television programming reflects anywhere near what is reality in our culture, virtually everyone – including people who claim to be Christians are ‘regularly involved in immoral behavior or approve of it’. AND if you add into that overt immorality the more prevalent form of it that our Lord Jesus declared “when a man looks at a woman to lust after her, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart” – well, there is a LOT of adultery going on. I immediately thought of a verse we recently studied in Hebrews 13:4 which says: “Marriage is honorable among all, and the marriage bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God WILL JUDGE.” In the OT Numbers passage it simply described in one fairly graphic way that YHWH judged adulterers in the OT era. And since we don’t practice the OT Law, we don’t have that graphic illustration played out before us every time a husband suspects his wife of having had an immoral affair. So, we don’t see YHWH overtly judging the sins of adultery and fornication today. And that is why we consider this Numbers passage irrelevant. BUT it is NOT IRRELEVANT.

    Wow, I didn’t mean to go on and on. It was just a thought that hit me as I read your excellent post today. Thanks Mark!

  • Roger Streifel
    December 27, 2019 (7:00 pm)

    Do go on and on PTK. Great post and really a convicting message by PTK.

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