Numbers 5-6: The Bitter Water

Sometimes I come across passages in the Bible that I just don’t like.  They seem unfair.

Numbers 5 contains one of these passages.  The Bible provides a way for a jealous husband to determine whether or not his wife has been unfaithful.  She’s brought before the Lord along with an offering.  The priest gives her “bitter water,” which is translated from the Hebrew as “bitter water,” so I’m not sure what was in the water that made it bitter.  One meaning of the word used for water is “water of the feet,” or, in other words, urine.

If she was pure and had not been unfaithful, the water wouldn’t hurt her.  But if she had been unfaithful, her belly would swell and her womb would shrivel, and she’d be tarnished forever.

That sounds a lot like the tests performed in the Salem Witch Trials.  If you were a witch, you could swim, in which case they’d burn you at the stake. If you weren’t a witch, you sank and died.  It was a no-win situation.

God knew if she was unfaithful — he didn’t need the bitter water as a sign, because he’s all-knowing.  Did he somehow issue supernatural protection from the bitter water to the truly innocent women who were married to super jealous husbands?

Any mention of an unfaithful husband is disturbingly absent.  Was there a double standard?  Or did a man simply marry any woman he wanted?

I can almost envision a novel from this chapter of Numbers about a woman forced to drink the bitter water before the Lord because of a suspicion of unfaithfulness.

It’s difficult to imagine that kind of justice in our Western, “innocent until proven guilty” culture.  The Lord is superior over all cultures, though, and is a good, just God.  So I have to believe that, even though so far I haven’t read about it, He must have supernaturally protected the innocent from the poison in that bitter water.

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