A Test for Adultery – Numbers 3-5

Read Numbers 3-5

God’s people are still camped at Sinai and God instructs them what to do when someone violates His holy standards. One issue related to His holiness and purity is adultery. As part of this issue, what if a husband suspects his wife of adultery but he has no proof?

As you read this section, modern people have all kinds of questions: Why is this trial only for women? What happens if a wife suspects her husband of adultery? Does she have to drink this concoction every time her husband suffers under delusions of betrayal? Let’s take a closer look at what is being said.

What Happens if a Wife Suspects Her Husband?

Adultery was strictly forbidden in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:14) for both men and women. Although the Old Testament was set in a patriarchal society, men were not to “get away” with adultery anymore than women; both were equally accountable to God. While there were laws to protect females in other situations, there is no reciprocal law if a woman suspected her husband of adultery.

Was This Trial Only for Women?

This law should not make us throw our hands up, thinking the Bible is only the product of misogynistic males (as is common thinking in our day). This law actually served to protect women from unjust accusations. Let’s say you are married to a jealous husband who continually barks his doubts about your faithfulness. The wife now has recourse to respond to her husband’s accusations. He can either close his accusing mouth or go through with the procedure at the tabernacle. Of course, for the couple to go publically together to the tabernacle, he would have to have strong inclination of her guilt. And if he were wrong, he would not only embarrass his wife (and possibly the mother of his children), but he too would be embarrassed in front of his friends. This trial actually offered Hebrew wives a resource to stop unfounded male insinuations.

Compare God’s Word against another ancient ethical system, the Code of Hammurabi. Laws 131-132 of Hammurabi’s Code (a Babylonian law code of ancient Mesopotamia), placed women in an unthinkable situation:

“If a man’s wife is accused by her husband, but she was not caught while lying with another man, she shall make an oath by the god and return home. If a finger has been pointed at a man’s wife because of another man, but she has not been caught lying with the other man, she shall leap into the River for the sake of her husband.”

Essentially, to prove her innocence, she is forced to jump into deep water in Hammurabi’s Code. If she is guilty, she still drowns in this trial. In comparison to the scene presented in Numbers, there’s no real danger to the women (unless she is guilty), where the danger is substantial to the women in the Babylonian code no matter her actions. If God found her guilty of adultery in the tabernacle, she would lose the ability to have children (5:21-22) and possibly her life (Deuteronomy 22:22). While this was a terrible fate in ancient Hebrew culture, in comparison to Babylon’s laws, she would die even if she were innocent.

Was She Forced to Drink Every Time Her Husband Imagined Adultery?

There is no record anywhere in Scripture that this trial was performed. If it was enforced, we have reason to believe that a priest would not allow a continually jealous husband to repetitively test his wife. As with judges today, we must rely on their good sensibilities to carry out the ethical force of the law and apply the law with wisdom.

What Do I Say to My Homosexual Son?

In our day, many adult children are revealing to their parents they are homosexual. Believing parents struggle with this news and wonder how to express love for their children while also communicating the biblical truth. While I read portions of this during last Sunday’s sermon on the topic of homosexuality, I want to share Pastor David Murray’s suggested letter in full. I am grateful for his insights.

My Dear James,

I’d rather say this man-to-man and face-to face, and I hope I will have a chance to do so soon. However, to avoid misunderstanding, and to ensure that you have something in black and white you can keep and refer to, I want to make sure you know one thing: I love you, and I always will. I do not hate you, and I never will.

Our relationship will probably change a bit as a result of your chosen lifestyle, but my love for you will never change. I will continue to seek your very best, as I have always done. In fact, I will probably, by prayer and other practical means, seek your good as I’ve never done before.

Maybe you’ve been afraid that I will reject you and throw you out of my life. I want you to know that you will always be welcome in our family home. Text, email, phone regularly. I certainly will. We’d especially love you to come home for birthdays and for other special occasions. I hope we can continue to go fishing together and to share other areas of our lives.

Your male friend may also visit our home with you, but we will need to discuss certain boundaries. For example, I can’t allow you to share a room or a bed together when you are here, and I will not allow open displays of affection for one another, especially in front of the other children. If you stay with us, you will attend family devotions, and if you are with us on a Sunday, you will come to church with us to hear the Gospel.

Perhaps these boundaries are not going to be easy for you to accept, but please try to understand that I have a duty to God to lead my home in a God-glorifying manner. Psalm 101 commands me to prevent sinful behavior in my home. While extremely anxious to preserve a relationship with you, I am especially concerned that your siblings are not influenced into thinking your lifestyle is fine with God or us.

I know that you don’t like me calling your lifestyle and sexual practices a sin. However, remember I’ve always told you that I myself am a great sinner, but I have an even greater Savior. I hope the day will come when you will seek that great Savior for yourself. He can wash us snow-white clean. He is also able to deliver us from the bondage of our lusts and from everlasting damnation.

I will not bring up your sin and the Gospel every time we meet, but I do want you to know where I stand right up front, and also that I’m willing to speak with you about the Gospel of Christ anytime you wish.

I hope you will not call this message hate. This is how love sounds.

I will always be your Dad. And you will always be my son.

As I will never stop loving you, I will never stop praying for you.

With all my love,

Dad (Ps. 103:13)