Chapter 5


Isolation of the Unclean

    • The Lord told Moses to tell the people of Israel that they must send the following people away from camp so that the camp would not become defiled: anyone who had a skin disease, a bodily discharge, or anyone who had become ceremonially unclean due to touching a corpse. The Israelites obeyed.

Compensation for Wrongdoing

    • The Lord told Moses to tell the Israelites the following:

      • Anyone who commits a sin against another person has betrayed Me and they are guilty. The person must confess their sin and pay the person they have wronged the full restitution price plus an additional 20%. However, if the person that has been wronged is no longer living, and has no relative to accept the restitution instead, the compensation belongs to the Lord and must be given to the priest. The guilty party must bring a ram as a sacrifice to make atonement with the Lord. All the offerings the Israelites make belong to the priest and the priest can keep what he receives.”

Test for Adultery

    • The Lord told Moses to give the Israelites the following instructions:

      • If a man becomes jealous and suspects that his wife has been unfaithful to him by having sex with another man, even though she has not been caught in the act and there is no witness against her- the man is to bring her to the priest along with two quarts of barley flour to be presented as a grain offering of jealousy. The priest will bring the woman to stand before the Lord. Then he will put holy water in a bowl and mix it with some dust from the floor of the Tabernacle. The priest will let her hair down and put her hands in the grain offering for jealousy. The priest will hold the bitter water which brings a curse on those who are guilty and require the woman to take an oath, saying this to her, ‘If you have not been unfaithful to your husband, this bitter water will not affect you. But, if you are guilty, the Lord’s curse is upon you and you will be infertile- your thigh will shrivel and your stomach will swell.’ The woman must reply, ‘Amen.’ Then, the priest must write the curses he has stated on a scroll and wash them off into the bitter water and the woman must drink the water. The priest will take the grain offering from the woman’s hand, wave it before the Lord, take a handful of the offering and burn it on the altar. If she is guilty, the bitter water will cause suffering and she will incur the curse, but if not- she will be unaffected.” This is the law regarding a jealous husband. The husband will be innocent of guilt in the matter, but the wife will be held accountable if she has sinned.

Time out!!!

    • This passage draws a lot of criticism. Here are the two most common objections:

          1. Is this unfair to women? It seems that women are being unfairly singled out! Why was there no test for a man?

          • In light of our modern cultural norms it certainly seems extremely unfair. However, this article by Ruth Preston, Is Numbers 5 Unfair to Women, does an excellent job of addressing these all of these issues and I highly recommend it.

          • In a theological debate forum, one member lists these two very relevant points:

            • Although this ritual focused on the woman, it in no way implied that men who committed adultery were to be excused, for the law clearly stated that adulterers of both sexes were to be stoned (see Leviticus 20:10).

            • …the law provided protection of two different kinds for a woman. First, without this law it is possible that a husband could unjustly accuse his wife of infidelity. If his word alone were sufficient to convict her, she would be in a terrible state indeed. Putting the determination of guilt or innocence into the hands of God rather than into the hands of her husband, or even other men, ensured that she could vindicate herself if she were innocent. The second positive benefit is more subtle but probably is of even greater value. If a husband suspected his wife of adultery, one result would be a terrible strain in the husband-wife relationship. In today’s legal system, with no witnesses to prove her guilt, the court would probably declare her not guilty. But the basis for her acquittal would be a lack of positive evidence of her guilt rather than proof of her innocence. Such a legal declaration, therefore, would do little to alleviate the doubts of the husband and the estrangement would likely continue. Neighbors and friends also would probably harbor lingering suspicions about her innocence. With the trial of jealousy, however, dramatic proof of God’s declaration of her innocence would be irrefutable. The reputation of the woman would be saved and a marriage relationship healed. Thus, true justice and mercy were assured, and the whole matter would be laid promptly to rest.”

          1. Some claim this passage describes Bible- sanctioned abortion in the case of a cheating wife.

– This article from Patheos addresses the issues with this claim.

          • First, it is to be noted that there is absolutely no indication whatsoever that the woman in this instance is pregnant. That assumption is read into the text.”

            • If you’re reading an NIV you may be saying- wait- my translations DOES say that a miscarriage occurs! You should be aware that the NIV is the ONLY Bible version that uses the word “miscarriage” and they insert it in the place of words that are translated in other versions as “waste away.” (Please note, I am not disparaging the NIV here! Personally, I think it’s a great translation. However, this is a great place to illustrate the importance of not relying on only one particular translation. It’s always wise to compare the various renderings of difficult passages.)

          • Second, the mixture of water and dust is not an abortifacient. There is no inherent ability of a mixture of water and dust to do anything. God is the one who causes the particular result of the woman drinking this solution. This is a completely different scenario than a man creating a pill or procedure that kills a child, and then allowing a woman to use it at will. Even if this was talking about the killing of a fetus, it would have been done by the power of God alone. Christian pro-life advocate do not purport that God himself does not have the power over death and life. It is precisely because he does that we do not have the right to decide when a life should end. So even if the most radical pro-abortion reading of this text were correct, it still would have no bearing on the question of whether a human person could decide to end the life of a fetus.”

          • Third, the idea that the stomach swells and the thigh rots does not give any clear indication that the death of a fetus is occurring in this instance. It is true that some commentators argue that this appears to be the implication of the text, especially in light of the fact that the woman who is not guilty is able to conceive children (Num. 5:28). However, it is highly plausible that the curse upon a woman for cheating on her husband is the curse of barrenness, so that she is unable to conceive children in the future, rather than the death of an already present fetus (which, again, is nowhere mentioned here).”