Day 35--An Eclipse of the Heart--"The Discipline of Blessing"--Numbers 5 - 7
February 4, 2021, 8:37 AM

Blog Day 35 Numbers 5 – 7

Yup. We’re going there. The example of the woman caught in jealousy has doubtlessly aroused anger, disdain, confusion in Numbers 5.  Reading it, I felt my own heart sink. Last night, a person commented during the (newly renamed) Wee Bible Study that she was seeing the roots of women’s oppression today in these scriptures from thousands of years ago. And we need to remember—we haven’t gotten it right yet! Women are still fighting for the same rights as men in our culture, and they are still dealing with double standards in regards to behavior and value in society.

So let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room—a central tension in our culture, and in what we will read in scripture, is that men and women are different. Not better or worse, but different. Chromosomes make a difference. (For the purposes of this article, I am not addressing gender dysphoria—I’m sticking to the story at hand.) A continual dance that we engage in is equality in the midst of gender differences that have specific components. Our goal, or perhaps I should say God’s goal, is not to make people androgynous, or without sexual or gender markers, but to recognize the tension that ‘sin’ creates between us, and to do something about it.  Psalm 139 refers to us as wonderfully or marvelously made, without referring to gender. WE ALL are marvelously made by God, and that does include all gender dysphoria as well!!! Our lives are a dance of celebrating our differences and yet also trying to create equality and value in the midst of them for the purposes of doing God’s kingdom work here on earth.

So….on to jealousy. I am relying on a wonderful article by a scholar and writer named Dr. Alastair Roberts, professor at Durham University in England. I’m going to bullet list some of his points. I’m also paraphrasing so I’m not quoting exactly. (Full article found here: https://alastairadversaria.com/2013/02/09/the-cup-of-the-adulteress-understanding-the-jealousy-ritual-of-numbers-5/ )

  • Jealousy is toxic and consuming. Bringing the woman to the priest for justice prevented the husband from being given permission to harm or mistreat the woman himself. The hope was that there would be a divine judgment which would prevent additional human sin.
  • God was the judge, however weird the ritual might sound to us, and only God was to be trusted to make the decision.
  • Drinking the bitter water only affected the woman if she was guilty. If she was not guilty, it had no effect. The ingredients listed do not suggest a poisonous mixture that would provide sickness or death regardless of the truth. Once again—God was the judge.
  • The punishment was congruent with the supposed crime of adultery. Why? Read on…
  • Why the woman and not the man? Because, in a pre-birth control world, a child was considered part of the father’s lineage, and lineage was a huge concern for these chosen people. If a woman had committed adultery, the child she was carrying had lineage that was not her husband’s and the child would then have no right to inheritance or privilege associated with that. Truthfully, that’s the same today. Why do men or women get DNA (they used to be called paternity tests—remember?) to prove that a child has been conceived with a particular man? So the child has rights and privileges associated with that father. When the punishment says “Her womb shall discharge…” it means that she will spontaneously miscarry the child conceived in adultery.
  • Marriage infidelity will be seen over and over and over again as a metaphor for God’s relationship with his people. Marriage fidelity is carried throughout scripture as the meta-narrative for God’s complete and perfected relationship with his people. As enlightened 21st century, contemporary, hip and accepting people, that may be hard for us to hear, but it is the case as you will continue to read.
    From Genesis to Revelation, our Scriptures begin and end with marriage imagery that signifies the faithfulness of God to his people, and in between those two books? We see that our relationship with God is often troubled and rocky. Breaking the promises of marriage through pleasure-seeking will always be counter to God’s plan for marriage and for our relationship with God. We know that marriages are not perfect, but God will continue to expect our fidelity and our steadfastness within those relationships—after all, those are promises we knowingly made in his presence.
    (Note: this is not a holier than thou moment on my part. I am a divorced woman who is still deeply loved by God, but I see my own divorce as counter to what God had planned for me. I am not making a generalization about all marriages in this note—just mine!)
  • Infidelity can be seen in other places of the Torah that we have already covered: the worship of the golden calf, Aaron’s sons offering something unholy to God and paying the price. Infidelity simply means unfaithful. God is clearly trying to train his chosen people in the ways of faithfulness vs. infidelity on a number of levels, throughout ALL their relationships. Soberingly, all the people currently traveling through the desert in this narrative, other than Joshua and Caleb, will not enter the Promised Land because of their disobedience and infidelity to God, including Moses. Infidelity has consequences.

We can also have hope as we read this story because there are parallels in our Gospels that may still our souls. The woman at the well with multiple husbands/partners is given the drink of ‘living water’ instead of bitter water by Jesus in John 4. A few chapters later, in John 7-8, a woman actually caught in adultery is not stoned to death by the crowd because Jesus intercedes, but she is still told to go and not to sin again. Her infidelity is real and God’s judgment is still real as well.  

The big lesson is this: in the Hebrew Scriptures, as we read today, God is trying through the law to teach his people how to be in relationship with him. We failed because external laws did not create the heart connections that God craved to have with us.  So God sent Jesus to create those heart connections that led to forgiveness and transformation, healing and new life. The sins are still the same, and God still hates them—adultery, violence against women, gender discrimination at all levels, unhealthy sex in unhealthy relationships—but the treatment and invitation are different—drink from the living water to be transformed in your hearts. Sin itself is the bitter water, and we all drink from that cup whether we admit it or not. Jesus came to be with us as we drink it, and to provide the antidote with living water that transforms our lives, not just our behaviors, but our entire lives.

Let me know if this was a help by commenting below, if you can. I want to be sure we are in dialogue and that I am not simply throwing my monologue out there!

Be blessed and be a blessing to others,

ML

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