Numbers 5:11-31 (Part 3) – Getting Past our 21st Century Sensibilities To Get At What God is Saying

Posted: July 13, 2016 in 04-Numbers
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Numbers 5:11-31 (Part 3)

Protecting Marital Faithfulness

Evvvvverybody loves Raymond. It was famous sarcastic line of Raymond’s brother, Robert, when it seemed to him that Ray was living a charmed life compared to him or that he was getting the short end of the stick in life compared to Ray. It was even the title of the show. As most people who watched the show, one of Ray’s most consistent complaints on the show was the lack of frequent sexual relations with his wife, Debra. She complains most often that after a day of taking care of three children all day long and then taking care of Ray, she is frequently too tired for sex. It is a common complaint among mothers with small children and validly so. It’s God form of birth control! Tiredness from taking care of little ones. In an episode recently that I saw that I had forgotten about where the kids are a little older and can more easily take care of themselves than earlier in the show’s run, Debra seems inordinately, how should I put it, “frisky”. At first, Ray is enjoying the extra “attention” but, being a comedy show, his brother and some of his buddies start to put ideas in Ray’s head about why she is so suddenly frisky. They ask him if anything has changed in their routine of life. Ray thinks for a bit and says that Debra had recently been going to an aerobics class at the local fitness club or YMCA or something. After finding a brochure from the class, he sees that the instructor for the class is young, buffed, chiseled looking young dude. The hilarity of the episode is how Ray becomes jealous and busts into her class and, of course, being Ray of Everybody Loves Raymond, he makes a complete fool of himself. The irony of the episode is that throughout most of the series, he complains about not getting enough sex but never questions Debra’s loyalty to him, but in this episode he’s is getting what he always wanted but it makes him suspicious that Debra has designs on the aerobics instructor and is just using him as the release for her desires for the instructor. Being a comedy show though, Ray and Debra resolve the issue where Debra says that getting more exercise and getting back into shape makes her feel better about herself and when she feels better about herself she feels better about other things, if ya know what I mean. They make up and the last thing we see as the episode fades out is Debra and Ray racing up the steps to the bedroom.


Everybody Loves Raymond was one of the funniest and most popular shows of its day. It was funny because it made fun of real life situations. The sexual politics of marriage when you have small children was always one of the real life issues that they dealt with in the show and they did so in a light-hearted and funny way. In the real world, sex is a real issue in marriages and it does not always get resolved in a single episode of life. Sexual fidelity, infidelity, and sexual jealousies are real things and real issues in marriages. But let us drift back in time to the biblical era and look at what is happening in our text.


To our modern sensibilities this text seems extremely sexist. Twenty-first century American women want to cry foul when they read this text. Even men of today would look at this text and wonder why men were not subjected to the same test. To us, it seems extremely discriminatory toward women. One of the dangers of reading the Old Testament is that we come at it with our 21st century predispositions and worldviews. We must recalibrate when we read this text and read it with an understanding of the culture of the times. Let us remember that in most Old Testament era societies (and in a certain sense all the way up to the mid-20th century), woman were treated with far less respect than they are today. In cultures that surrounded the people of Israel, women were mere chattel. They were treated like possessions that could be treated any way men wanted to treat them. Women had no rights. Men could abuse them in any and all ways without punishment. A woman could be tossed to the street for no reason practically at all. With no rights to property, women were at the mercy of the men of their societies. Women put simply in biblical era societies that surrounded the people of Israel were treated no better than the family’s cattle.


However, God, with the people He called to be His own, the Israelites, was establishing a society that lived according to His rules. And, in progressing his people toward a society where women would eventually be considered equal to men, He understood the world as it was and put plans in place to begin protecting women from the ill treatment that they have received at the hands of men.


Even though this passage seems archaic and chauvinistic to us, it really was a protection put in place for women. In the absence of God’s law, the Israelites would have assumed the customs of the world at that time. If a man even simply suspected his wife of being unfaithful, he could toss her to the curb and replace her just like that. He could abuse her physically, emotionally and so on simply on suspicion without proof and could get away with it. God put this procedure in place to protect women not single them out. What we must take away is not viewing this as archaic but evidence of God’s desire to protect women, his most beautiful but yet most delicate of His creations.


For a man in Israelite society under God’s law, he would have to be really, really sure that his wife was being unfaithful to him to invoke this ritual at the tabernacle. Not only would he be testing God if he was wrong, he would, of course, alienate his wife if she was innocent. Not only would he be putting his family on public display before God and the entire Israelite society, but he would look like a complete and utter fool if his wife was innocent. A Israelite man would then have to think long and hard about this issue before invoking the ritual. This is a far cry from being sexist toward women. God is actually protecting them from unfounded jealousies. Further, the ritual would help control men too. If a woman was found guilty of her husband’s suspicions, the man with whom she was committing adultery would be exposed as well.


God’s interest here is not to expose women but to protect them. God’s interest here is to preserve marriage and to punish infidelity. God’s interest here was to produce and orderly society that is not consumed by sexual sin and the destruction that it causes.


These were the things that I thought about today when I read through this passage for the third consecutive day. Let’s re-read it again together here:



11 Then the Lord said to Moses, 12 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him 13 so that another man has sexual relations with her, and this is hidden from her husband and her impurity is undetected (since there is no witness against her and she has not been caught in the act), 14 and if feelings of jealousy come over her husband and he suspects his wife and she is impure—or if he is jealous and suspects her even though she is not impure— 15 then he is to take his wife to the priest. He must also take an offering of a tenth of an ephah[a] of barley flour on her behalf. He must not pour olive oil on it or put incense on it, because it is a grain offering for jealousy, a reminder-offering to draw attention to wrongdoing.


16 “‘The priest shall bring her and have her stand before the Lord. 17 Then he shall take some holy water in a clay jar and put some dust from the tabernacle floor into the water. 18 After the priest has had the woman stand before the Lord, he shall loosen her hair and place in her hands the reminder-offering, the grain offering for jealousy, while he himself holds the bitter water that brings a curse. 19 Then the priest shall put the woman under oath and say to her, “If no other man has had sexual relations with you and you have not gone astray and become impure while married to your husband, may this bitter water that brings a curse not harm you. 20 But if you have gone astray while married to your husband and you have made yourself impure by having sexual relations with a man other than your husband”— 21 here the priest is to put the woman under this curse—“may the Lord cause you to become a curse[b] among your people when he makes your womb miscarry and your abdomen swell. 22 May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells or your womb miscarries.”


“‘Then the woman is to say, “Amen. So be it.”


23 “‘The priest is to write these curses on a scroll and then wash them off into the bitter water. 24 He shall make the woman drink the bitter water that brings a curse, and this water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering will enter her. 25 The priest is to take from her hands the grain offering for jealousy, wave it before the Lord and bring it to the altar. 26 The priest is then to take a handful of the grain offering as a memorial[c] offering and burn it on the altar; after that, he is to have the woman drink the water. 27 If she has made herself impure and been unfaithful to her husband, this will be the result: When she is made to drink the water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering, it will enter her, her abdomen will swell and her womb will miscarry, and she will become a curse. 28 If, however, the woman has not made herself impure, but is clean, she will be cleared of guilt and will be able to have children.


29 “‘This, then, is the law of jealousy when a woman goes astray and makes herself impure while married to her husband, 30 or when feelings of jealousy come over a man because he suspects his wife. The priest is to have her stand before the Lord and is to apply this entire law to her. 31 The husband will be innocent of any wrongdoing, but the woman will bear the consequences of her sin.’”


Sexual sin is destructive to society. It is destructive to families. Just look at our world today. Single parent homes and blended families. Each of these types of situations are fraught with problems of their own. Children in single parent homes are more likely to get in trouble at school and with the law. Blended families have destructive forces working against them called my kids vs. your kids that lead to anger, jealousy and destruction. Sure there are marriages that split up for reasons such as physical and emotional abuse but the vast majority of marriages split up over sexual sin. It is considered the norm nowadays to have been married and divorced at least once. Kids with different names than the one on the mailbox. Moms with kids but multiple fathers. Dads with children by multiple mothers. Child support payments. Visitation rights. Whose got the kids this weekend. Kids watching parents battle over them as if they were a car or a boat, a possession. Figuring the logistics of holidays. Kids caught in the middle. It’s all insane. And I have lived it myself. Married. Had kids with my first wife. Divorced. Remarried to a woman with three small boys. Blended family. Jealousies ripping that marriage apart. Divorced again. Luckily, in my third, it is a marriage where we both have decided to live our marriage God’s way. But, I have lived the insanity of divorce and remarriage as the result of the sexual sins of myself and my previous wives. Neither myself or my previous spouses were immune to the rampant sexual sin of our day. And, we accept this as the norm of life now. And, we Christians are no better than anyone else in this regard. The divorce and remarriage rates among Christians are just as high as the general population. I have seen sexual sin destroy families, active families who served and cared, in our fellowship to the point that they no longer are willing to come to our church because of perceived shame.


So, to me, this passage is not some sexist, chauvinistic, archaic piece of God’s legislation for a time gone by that no longer applies to us. What we must take away from this passage is that God is serious about marriage and serious about the protection of the marriage estate. God shows us that marriage is His most important institution and that He wants it preserved. He wants us to think long and hard about the curses that come with sexual sin. It should make us think long and hard about marriage. God want our marriages to last so let us think long and hard about whether we truly love someone or are just sexually aroused by them. Sexual sin rips marriages apart. It wears on the fabric of society. It creates problems that destroy societies. The sanctity of marriage is important to God. It is the closest thing to our relationship with Him when marriage is done right by us. God takes marriage serious. So should we. Take that away with you when you read this. Don’t get hung up on reading 21st century sensibilities into the Old Testament era. Really look at what God is saying here. Take that away. Live that.


Amen and Amen.


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