- Up till this point, those who were unclean had not been sent out of the camp. God now orders them to be sent out (5:1-4).
The Test for an Unfaithful Wife
I was once asked about the test for an unfaithful wife and had no answer. That is one of the reasons why a Christian should read the Bible through – so that we can know. Reading this passage for the umpteenth time, I saw several things I didn’t see before. First, a summary
In the passage, a woman whose husband suspects her of having cheated on him but had no admissible evidence to back it up would take her to the priest who would administer a test to find out if she really had been unfaithful. The test was simple. The priest would take some water, put a little dust from the tabernacle floor into it, then make the woman swear that she had not been unfaithful and then make her drink it. If she had been unfaithful, she would become barren (or her abdomen would swell and her thigh waste away, what whatever that means). If she had not been unfaithful, she would be fine.
Why do this?
Thinking about it, I can come up with certain reasons to make a law like that. The first would be to find and punish a sin that might be hidden so that the people remained pure before God.
There was also the issue of protecting the woman. If a man thought his wife had cheated on him but could not prove it, he could still treat her badly – maltreat her, punish her or even divorce her. This test would provide a way of vindicating innocent women and finding out guilty ones – safely. I heard from a reliable source that in the Code of Hammurabi (c. 1720 BC.), CH 132, women who were suspected of this type of infidelity were required to throw themselves into the Euphrates river–if they drown, they were guilty; if not, they were innocent (Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, p. 171) and that in most cultures of this time, a man who suspected his wife of adultery could just kill her no questions asked1.
There is something to be noted about the water used for this ritual – there was nothing in it! It wasn’t some strange concoction. It was water, with a little dust from the tabernacle floor in it. This means that if anything happened to a woman after drinking it, it was not due to any ‘ingredients’ in it. She might get a slight stomach ache if she was the kind of woman who only drank natural spring water (which I doubt). It might also terrify her if she was guilty. If you are one of the secular-minded then you need not worry. On your view, no woman would have ever been convicted of adultery by this trial. For us Christians, it would mean that if the woman really was hurt, it was probably an act of God.