Biblical Principle #284: Israelite Adultery Detection Test

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The Law of Moses provided a test by which an Israelite could verify whether his wife was guilty of adultery—and a wife could prove her innocence.


If an Israelite suspected his wife might have committed adultery, but couldn’t prove it, GOD provided a test where the truth would be revealed by supernatural means:

11 Moreover the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 12 “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, ‘If any man’s wife commits transgression and disregards and despises him, 13 and someone has sexual intercourse with her, and she conceals it from her husband and keeps it hidden, but she is defiled, and there was no witness against her, nor was she caught— 14 and if a spirit of jealousy comes upon him, and he becomes jealous of his wife, who is defiled; or if a spirit of jealousy comes upon him, and he becomes jealous of his wife, although she is not defiled— 15 then the man shall bring his wife to the priest. He shall bring the gift required for her, one-tenth of an ephah of barley meal; he shall pour no oil on it, and put no frankincense on it, because it is a grain offering of jealousy, an offering for remembering, for bringing sin to remembrance.

16 ‘Then the priest shall bring her near and set her before the Lord. 17 The priest shall take clean running water in an earthen vessel, and take some of the dust on the floor of the tabernacle of testimony and throw it into the water. 18 Then the priest shall stand the woman before the Lord, uncover the woman’s head, and put the sacrifice for remembering in her hands, which is the grain offering of jealousy; and the priest shall have in his hand the water of conviction that brings a curse. 19 Then the priest shall put her under oath, and say to the woman, “If no man has lain with you, and if you have not committed transgression to be defiled while under your husband’s jurisdiction, be innocent from this water of conviction that brings a curse. 20 But if you committed transgression and defiled yourself under your husband’s jurisdiction, and some man other than your husband had sexual relations with you”— 21 then the priest shall put the woman under oath by the words of the oath of this curse; and the priest shall say to the woman, “the Lord make you a curse and an oath among your people, when the Lord makes your thigh rot and your belly swell; 22 and may this water that causes this curse go into your stomach, and make your belly swell and your thigh rot.” Then the woman shall say, “May it be so.”

23 ‘Then the priest shall write these curses in a book, and wipe them off into the water of conviction that brings a curse. 24 Then he shall give the woman a drink of this water of conviction that brings a curse, and it shall enter her. 25 Then the priest shall take the grain offering of jealousy from the woman’s hand, put the sacrifice before the Lord, and bring it to the altar; 26 and the priest shall take a handful of the sacrifice as its memorial portion, offer it on the altar, and afterward give the woman the water to drink. 27 So it shall be, if she is defiled but kept it hidden from her husband, then the water of conviction that brings a curse will enter her, and her belly will swell, her thigh will rot, and the woman will become a curse among her people. 28 But if the woman is not defiled, but is clean, then she shall be innocent and may conceive children.

29 ‘This is the law of jealousy, when a wife, while under her husband’s jurisdiction, transgresses and defiles herself, 30 or when the spirit of jealousy comes upon a man, and he becomes jealous of his wife; then he shall stand the woman before the Lord, and the priest shall execute all this law upon her. 31 Then the man shall be innocent of guilt, but that woman shall bear her guilt.’”

Numbers 5:11-31 OSB

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2 responses to “Biblical Principle #284: Israelite Adultery Detection Test”

  1. George Tillmon Avatar
    George Tillmon

    What if the man is guilty of adultery and the woman brought the charge?

    1. Tim Harris Avatar

      The Scriptures do not provide an equivalent “litmus test” for husbands. The Law of Moses permitted an Israelite man to marry multiple wives (polygamy), so the situation you’re asking about would have to be where the Israelite husband had sex with woman married to another Israelite man.

      Since GOD didn’t provide a similar “revelation” mechanism, I’m guessing this is primarily because persistence would lead to pregnancy in many/most situations. But that is just a guess.

      We must beware of our cultural bias here, as well. Today, Western culture has trained us to think “fairness” and “equality” in the marriage relationship. And, while those may be good traits to pursue, we must remember that, “from the beginning,” GOD created woman to help man, not the other way around.

      (I do not mean to imply that GOD loves women less, or that husbands should see themselves as more important or greater than their wife, which is not true.)

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