Words from the Weary Wilderness - Lenten Journey Day 19
Day Nineteen - Wednesday, March 23
When A Woman May Have Gone Astray
Read: Numbers 5:11-31
Concerning an Unfaithful Wife
11 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 12 Speak to the Israelites and say to them: If any man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him, 13 if a man has had intercourse with her but it is hidden from her husband, so that she is undetected though she has defiled herself, and there is no witness against her since she was not caught in the act; 14 if a spirit of jealousy comes on him, and he is jealous of his wife who has defiled herself; or if a spirit of jealousy comes on him, and he is jealous of his wife, though she has not defiled herself; 15 then the man shall bring his wife to the priest. And he shall bring the offering required for her, one-tenth of an ephah of barley flour. He shall pour no oil on it and put no frankincense on it, for it is a grain offering of jealousy, a grain offering of remembrance, bringing iniquity to remembrance.
16 Then the priest shall bring her near, and set her before the Lord; 17 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. 18 The priest shall set the woman before the Lord, dishevel the woman’s hair, and place in her hands the grain offering of remembrance, which is the grain offering of jealousy. In his own hand the priest shall have the water of bitterness that brings the curse. 19 Then the priest shall make her take an oath, saying, “If no man has lain with you, if you have not turned aside to uncleanness while under your husband’s authority, be immune to this water of bitterness that brings the curse. 20 But if you have gone astray while under your husband’s authority, if you have defiled yourself and some man other than your husband has had intercourse with you,” 21 —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 uterus drop, your womb discharge; 22 now may this water that brings the curse enter your bowels and make your womb discharge, your uterus drop!” And the woman shall say, “Amen. Amen.”
23 Then the priest shall put these curses in writing, and wash them off into the water of bitterness. 24 He shall make the woman drink the water of bitterness that brings the curse, and the water that brings the curse shall enter her and cause bitter pain. 25 The priest shall take the grain offering of jealousy out of the woman’s hand, and shall elevate the grain offering before the Lord and bring it to the altar; 26 and the priest shall take a handful of the grain offering, as its memorial portion, and turn it into smoke on the altar, and afterward shall make the woman drink the water. 27 When he has made her drink the water, then, if she has defiled herself and has been unfaithful to her husband, the water that brings the curse shall enter into her and cause bitter pain, and her womb shall discharge, her uterus drop, and the woman shall become an execration among her people. 28 But if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, then she shall be immune and be able to conceive children.
29 This is the law in cases of jealousy, when a wife, while under her husband’s authority, goes astray and defiles herself, 30 or when a spirit of jealousy comes on a man and he is jealous of his wife; then he shall set the woman before the Lord, and the priest shall apply this entire law to her. 31 The man shall be free from iniquity, but the woman shall bear her iniquity.
Today’s Word from the Weary Wilderness: The man shall be free from iniquity, but the woman shall bear her iniquity. (Numbers 5:31)
Reflection: This was a hard one for me, because I didn’t know which verses to emphasize. So I just did what was faithful, I presented them all. These passages are specifically about how a woman should be treated. There are no lengthy parallels for how a man should be treated if his wife suspects him of infidelity. How do you feel about these charges, and these ideas for managing women? The water of bitterness feels a bit like a truth serum that the priest will use to determine exactly what has happened. From these passages, we also surmise that a large volume of infidelity took place in the wilderness. If it were not so, there would not be such specific practices. How do you believe today’s church should address infidelity? Should the judgment be the same for both parties, or is it best as is stated above?
Prayer: God of the Wilderness, these verses help us get in touch with the fracture of human relationships in the wilderness, and the attempts to restore order. We read that this comes from your mouth as instruction to Moses, so we take it seriously. But we wrestle with it as we look at it through the eyes of the 21st century. Help us to see the complexity of these situations, and the ways that the people were seeking to survive their exodus from Egypt. Help us to use your Holy Spirit to discern what is best for us today. Amen.
Blessings of Peace and Health,
Rev. Beverly B. Coppley
& Chief Missional Strategist