READ: Numbers 5
THINK: The final 20 verses of this chapter deal with “The Test for an Unfaithful Wife.” This section is quite odd, if not uncomfortable, for many 21st century Americans. But I think that there are a couple of really powerful lessons that all of us can learn – and apply – from this passage if we understand the historical and cultural context well.
Lesson 1: The way that we live towards each other is directly connected to the way we live towards God. As weird as this ritual sounds, a “trial by ordeal” was common in the Ancient Near Eastern world. Except in most cultures it meant that a jealous husband would bring his wife before the community and they’d make her do something exceedingly painful – like put her hand in a pot of boiling water or grab a burning hot rod – and if she didn’t get burned she’d be found innocent. Guess how many people passed the tests? Yep, it was a stacked deck for guilty because it was a male-dominated society. In most cultures if a man suspected his wife was unfaithful, he simply took care of her on his own and nobody saw her again. And nobody questioned that either. God says, “No!” If you have a relational problem then you take it somewhere: the church!
And God’s way of testing is not painful or difficult for the woman. It isn’t a stacked deck to make sure she loses. It is just. And it comes on the heels of his declaration that there are impurities that cause people to be removed. Impurities break fellowship. And relational and sexual impurities break fellowship because unfaithfulness to one’s spouse is unfaithfulness to God. God is serious about that! That’s what marriage is about – a picture of our intimate relationship with God. How we treat each other is how we treat God. He puts this in place, among other reasons, to help Israel understand that.
Lesson 2: Your sexual purity is not a personal issue; it is a communal one. So often we want to think that our sin just affects us and doesn’t really hurt anybody else. In an era where the internet makes it easier than ever to compromise purity this is a particular issue for many Americans. But God sets up this ritual to very clearly communicate to the people of Israel that their purity – and their sin in general – wasn’t a personal issue. It was one that was brought before the priests because it could affect brokenness in the entire community.
Make no mistake, the same is true for us today. Your sin nature wants to believe that your particular struggles are personal. They’re not. They affect absolutely everything about who you are and how you think and how you see others and treat them and interact with them. It affects who you are and causes you to be less effective for the Kingdom. This chapter shows us just how seriously God takes sexual purity and how powerfully he wants to communicate that individual purity affects the entire community.
LIVE: Make a deep effort today – and every day – to understand the way your actions affect those around you. Live towards others and treat them the way you want to live toward God and treat God. Be passionate about protecting your purity and not buying the lie that it only affects you.
PRAY: A little something different today: This passage is about purity and cleansing and uncleanliness. It makes me think of Jesus. Touching someone with leprosy, hemorrhaging women, or a dead body all made someone unclean. Then Jesus came along and something different happened. He touched a leper and – instead of Jesus becoming unclean – the leper became clean. He touched a bleeding woman and he didn’t become unclean. She became clean. He touched a dead body. And the dead body came to life. Ultimately, like the wife in this chapter, he drank the bitter cup of our sin and paid the price so that we could be made clean. That overwhelms me.
Spend a little time today being honest with God about the places in your life where you need him to touch you so that you can be made clean. Spend some time reflecting on all that you’ve were cleansed from when Jesus drank that bitter cup.
How awesome! As usual, Jesus turns everything upside down…and none of his children ever get sent “outside the camp” !