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The Numbers 5 Woman

Hey, I want to go through a passage today that at first may seem kind of weird or difficult to understand. Okay, it’s both and at first, it really makes you scratch your head and wonder, but it actually is quite kind, gracious and beautiful. I promise. Remember that, okay? 

Here we go! 

“And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, If any man's wife goes astray and breaks faith with him, if a man lies with her sexually, and it is hidden from the eyes of her husband, and she is undetected though she has defiled herself, and there is no witness against her, since she was not taken in the act, and if the spirit of jealousy comes over him and he is jealous of his wife who has defiled herself, or if the spirit of jealousy comes over him and he is jealous of his wife, though she has not defiled herself, then the man shall bring his wife to the priest and bring the offering required of her, a 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.” (Numbers 5:11-15)

Okay, let’s keep going.. 

And the priest shall bring her near and set her before the Lord. And the priest shall take holy water in an earthenware vessel and take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it into the water. And the priest shall set the woman before the Lord and unbind the hair of the woman's head and place in her hands the grain offering of remembrance, which is the grain offering of jealousy. And in his hand the priest shall have the water of bitterness that brings the curse. Then the priest shall make her take an oath, saying, ‘If no man has lain with you, and if you have not turned aside to uncleanness while you were under your husband's authority, be free from this water of bitterness that brings the curse. But if you have gone astray, though you are under your husband's authority, and if you have defiled yourself, and some man other than your husband has lain with you, then’ (let the priest make the woman take the oath of the curse, and say to the woman) ‘the Lord make you a curse and an oath among your people, when the Lord makes your thigh fall away and your body swell. May this water that brings the curse pass into your bowels and make your womb swell and your thigh fall away.’ And the woman shall say, ‘Amen, Amen.’” (5:16-22)

You still with me? 

“”Then the priest shall write these curses in a book and wash them off into the water of bitterness. And he shall make the woman drink the water of bitterness that brings the curse, and the water that brings the curse shall enter into her and cause bitter pain. And the priest shall take the grain offering of jealousy out of the woman's hand and shall wave the grain offering before the Lord and bring it to the altar. And the priest shall take a handful of the grain offering, as its memorial portion, and burn it on the altar, and afterward shall make the woman drink the water. And when he has made her drink the water, then, if she has defiled herself and has broken faith with her husband, the water that brings the curse shall enter into her and cause bitter pain, and her womb shall swell, and her thigh shall fall away, and the woman shall become a curse among her people. But if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, then she shall be free and shall conceive children.

“This is the law in cases of jealousy, when a wife, though under her husband's authority, goes astray and defiles herself, or when the spirit of jealousy comes over a man and he is jealous of his wife. Then he shall set the woman before the Lord, and the priest shall carry out for her all this law. The man shall be free from iniquity, but the woman shall bear her iniquity.”” (5:23-31, emphasis added)

You made it! I really wish I could see you face to face and ask if your reaction to this passage of Scripture matched mine. If so, you have a lot of questions. At first glance, this doesn’t seem...good, right? What does all of this mean and how is this kind or beautiful or even remotely pointing to Jesus?


Let’s start with how this passage of Scripture tells of God’s care for and protection of women. Because, like, all of this talk of a curse and thighs falling away and bellies swelling may not exactly paint this picture at first. Check this out:

“The ancient Near East was an especially cruel place and time to be a woman. Women had little protection…And at this point in history, men had all the cultural power as well. It would not have been out of the ordinary for a man to simply act on a suspicion and cast his wife aside. Not so for the people of Israel. The Lord set them apart by requiring this strange-to-us test. If the woman was innocent, the Lord provided an opportunity for her to be vindicated. If she was guilty, the consequences upheld God’s standard for marriage.” -Lauren Chandler, With Us in the Wilderness 

God is always providing a way. In this way, women were given a chance to be proven innocent, to live free from the harsh cultural norms. A marriage could also be delivered from any suspicion, this "spirit of jealousy", and restored. How heartbreaking it would be for a husband to accuse his wife, for trust to be broken in some way, but this ceremony gave the opportunity for a clean slate and for the covenant to be restored. 

How comforting it is, really, for this design. In a culture that would not have hesitated to toss women aside, to cast them out, God commands His people to bring His women before HIM. 

“And the priest shall bring her near and set her before the LORD.” (5:16)

“Then he shall set the woman before the LORD, and the priest shall carry out for her all this law.” (5:30b) 

Are you seeing how this points to Jesus? Jesus is our High Priest and He brings us near! He is the one who has carried out for us all the law, who has fulfilled the law, so that we can come near. Jesus stands at our side as our Advocate - even now. 

If you stand accused today, your hair unbound and your hands filled with a grain offering devoid of oil and frankincense - which symbolizes joy and the Spirit of God - you have an Advocate. You may be bare, exposed, uncovered, bringing nothing but an offering that serves to bring your iniquity to remembrance, but you have a Savior who comes near and covers you in His righteousness. 

You may have "broken faith with the LORD" and you may feel as if you’re drinking the water of bitterness, water that brings the curse, but Jesus Himself redeemed you by becoming a curse (Galatians 3:13). 

“Surely, both the holiness of God and the perfection of His word testifies against us. We should be forced to drink a bitter cup that would destroy us – but Jesus drank it for us.” -David Guzik 

Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Father, for providing a way for us. Thank you for your faithfulness and your loving kindness. Thank you for your protection and your provision. Thank you for your holiness and for the gift of our robes of righteousness. Thank you that we can come near. We just want to be near. 

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