The Law of Jealousy
This passage in Numbers chapter five would certainly raise some eyebrows in criticism, right? It would be very easy to just toss this portion of Scripture into the “out” tray and go on with life. But, remember what Paul told Timothy: “All Scripture is inspired [“inbreathed”] by God…” (2 Tim 3:16). And “all” means “all.”
Here is more excellent Bible reading advice that the Holy Spirit put in Paul’s pen as he wrote Timothy:
Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.2 Timothy 2:7
Another verse reveals that we are the people “upon whom the ends of the world have come” – the people getting ready to be the Bride of Christ – and all that was “written down” in the Old Testament (and the New) is for especially for us:
Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.1 Corinthians 10:11
I truly love how the Psalmist David cherished God’s Word. These are prayers the Holy Spirit wants to put in our heart and mouth as well:
Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things from Your law.Psalms 119:18
Now this “law of jealousy” is all about a testing procedure that proves whether or not a wife has been faithful to her husband. Apparently, the husband needs no proof whatsoever of his wife’s unfaithfulness. A “spirit of jealousy” has come upon him and that’s all that is necessary for the high priest to begin this official (but quite peculiar) testing.
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,Numbers 5:14-15
Then the man shall bring his wife to the priest…
This jealous husband must bring a half bushel of barley flour for an “offering of remembrance, bringing iniquity to remembrance.” This is called the “jealousy offering” (Num 5:15-18).
Then the process begins. The priest takes an earthenware vessel and fills it with holy water. Then he puts some dust from the tabernacle’s dirt floor and adds that to the holy water. This liquid is now called the “water of bitterness that causes the curse” (Num 5:18).
The priest places the woman “before the Lord,” uncovers her head, and places the “jealousy offering” into her hand. Then he makes a proclamation about the bitter water. He declares that one of two things will occur when the woman drinks the water of bitterness:
- IF the water of bitterness has no ill effect on her, then she is INNOCENT.
- IF the water of bitterness has the following ill effects on her than she is GUILTY. The effects are:
- Her belly will swell up.
- Her thigh will rot.
Once the curse has been announced by the priest, they wait to hear the woman agree: “Then the woman shall say, ‘Amen, so be it’” (Num 5:22).
The priest writes the description of the “curses” on a scroll and then scrapes off what he wrote into the water of bitterness. He then takes the “jealousy offering” and offers it on the altar with fire.
Then comes the deciding moment. The accused wife must now drink the water of bitterness.
Imagine the husband standing there and watching this lengthy procedure. Although he has been touched by the spirit of jealousy, he is, nonetheless, deeply in love with his wife. He watches with tenderness, almost wishing that he had never brought his wife to the priest. With each swallow his wife takes, he feels his own belly churning within. “But the law is the law,” he says under his breath, as if to convince himself while unconsciously moving his hand over his stomach.
Imagine the woman as she is slowly drinking the water of bitterness. With each swallow, her eyes nervously glance at the priest and then back to her husband. She knows she is innocent, yet for some reason, fear and uncertainty are sweeping over her. She loves her husband, yet now she wonders about his love toward her. “Why is he allowing me to go through this horrible trial?” she thinks as she takes another gulp. “But the law is the law,” she reminds herself.
She finishes the last drop, feeling flushed and weak in her knees. Waiting. Wondering. She lowers her head, eyes downward to her feet, knowing her every action is being closely scrutinized by her husband and the priest.
Time passes. She slowly moves a hand over her stomach. No swelling! Her legs had felt wobbly while drinking the cursed water, but now small rays of hope are shining in. Her confidence is rising and the weakness in her legs is diminishing. The water of bitterness has had no effect upon her! Great relief, peace, joy and a whole host of other beautiful emotions bubble up inside. Her hands are lifted high in praise. Her feet are starting to dance. “Thank You, Jehovah-God,” she shouts again and again, “thank You!”
During that long procedure, the husband had been blinking rapidly to hold back hot tears. His heart felt pierced with each swallow his precious wife took. An eternity seemed to pass in the few moments of this testing. But now, tears are gushing from his eyes – tears of relief and joy. The heaviness is gone. He runs to his wife, sweeps her off her feet, and they begin twirling in dance all around the room.
Now the priest had performed his holy duties with frightening sternness causing both husband and wife to cringe a bit. Yet now, even he is laughing together with this reunited couple, joining them in their rejoicing!
Quite the procedure, right? But the end result was worth it all! Now there is a deep healing love flowing within this couple’s life. Their relationship has changed forever and there is quiet gratitude for all they have been through together. There is a newfound assurance in their love – one that draws them closer together than ever before! They are marked for each other, and for each other alone.
Yet, it all could have turned out very differently. Unfaithfulness could have been the verdict, and the accused would remain under the curse of that bitter water for the rest of her life.
Now what does any of this have to do with us?
First of all, we must understand that this procedure actually has much more to do with us “upon whom the ends of the world have come” (1 Cor 10:11) than it could ever have had for those living in Old Testament times. This law, as does so much of the Old Testament, serves as a “type and shadow” of the reality in which we, as Jesus’s Bride, the Church, are now living.
Well, as strange as this Old Testament protocol seems, it really is all about Jesus and our relationship with Him.
The Bible tells us more than once that God is a very “jealous” God (Exo 20:4-5; Deu 4:24; Deu 5:9; Dey 6:15; Joshua 24:19).
In a loving reprimand written to the Corinthians, Paul echoes the jealousy that the Lord has over his Bride, the Church:
For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.2 Corinthians 11:2-3
But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.
YES, Jesus is jealous over us. And that’s a good thing! We are His Bride. His jealous love is not selfish and self-seeking like human jealousy. His jealousy is always redemptive. It’s His jealous love that also contains the promise of power to transform us!
In addition to Jesus’ holy jealousy, the Holy Spirit is also jealous! Since the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit has been sent to earth and commissioned to work within us to prepare us as Christ’s glorious Bride. Yes, the Holy Spirit is also jealous and zealous over us to finish that work! In James, we read about this divine jealousy and two key points are mentioned: (1) friendship with the world (and its ways which are at enmity with God) makes us “spiritual adulterers” against God; and (2) the Holy Spirit “jealously desires us” –
You have become spiritual adulterers who are having an affair, an unholy relationship with the world. Don’t you know that flirting with the world’s values places you at odds with God? Whoever chooses to be the world’s friend makes himself God’s enemy!James 4:4-5 (TPT)
Does the Scripture mean nothing to you that says, “The Spirit that God breathed into our hearts is a jealous Lover who intensely desires to have more and more of us”?
And YES, there are testings! Jesus, our very jealous husband, will be taking us to be tested. And that’s a good thing, too! Job spoke out a wonderful revelation about how God tests the ones He loves “every moment.” Job says God does this because He has set His heart of love upon man. Testing is strategically designed by God’s loving heart:
What is man, that You should exalt him, that You should set Your heart on him,Job 7:17-18
That You should visit him every morning, and test him every moment?
As Jesus’ wife, we should be more than willing to go through any “procedure” He places before us. Only an unfaithful wife, knowing what would happen, would beg and plead to not be tested. A faithful wife in love with her husband would gladly gulp down the “water of bitterness” to the last drop, and then be willing to do it all over again at even the slightest suggestion from her husband. What else would true love do?
Seeing all Job’s trials, we could easily say that he drank down several gallons of that “bitter water,” right? Yet listen to his determination to be faithful to God through it all. Oh, that we could get some fresh doses of the determination seen in this verse!
But He knows the way that I take;Job 23:10
When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.
BUT… what if there is unfaithfulness within us? As with all laws of the Old Covenant, there was finality of judgment. The Old Covenant was based upon what the people promised Moses at Mt Sinai:
You go near and hear all that the Lord our God may say, and tell us all that the Lord our God says to you, and we will hear and do it.Deuteronomy 5:27
So, based on this statement, the Old Covenant was established. Therefore, only power of the Old Covenant was a person’s will power to obey, and it is obvious how weak, fickle, and lacking human will power can be. The evidence of that is that shortly after Israel made this declaration, the Israelites had made a golden calf, and were breaking all ten of the Ten Commandments!
Now, the New Covenant, actually holds us to a much higher standard than the Old Covenant. Just read Matthew chapter five. For example, Jesus says that even if a man looks lustfully at a woman, then he would be committing adultery in his heart (Mat 5:27-30). Nevertheless, the New Covenant is not based upon the weakness human will power as the Old Covenant was. The New Covenant is based upon God’s Spirit dwelling within us, writing God’s law upon our heart and mind and empowering us to live it out in real time:
But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.Jeremiah 31:33
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.Ezekiel 36:26-27
I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.
Furthermore, the New Covenant is initiated with Jesus’ sacrifice of love on the Cross, His finished work of redemption, the cleansing power of His Blood, and His amazing forgiveness and justification:
No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.Jeremiah 31:34
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.Luke 22:20
Have we been unfaithful to Jesus, our Jealous Husband? Have we loved other things more than Him? The evidence will be obvious. In our trials and testing – exactly like the water of bitterness – our “belly” will be swelling and our ”thighs” will be rotting. In other words, those trials will make us bitter instead of better! Complaining, murmuring, depression, discouragement… all of these are symptoms. The “bitter water” is proving that there must be some unfaithfulness within us.
Hudson Taylor was an awesome English missionary to China for 51 years. He endured many hardships, but through it all, God used him to win many to Christ. Here is one of his favorite sayings:
It does not matter how strong the pressure of trials may be. It only matters WHERE the pressure is. If it is not between us and Christ, then it will only push us closer to Him.– Hudson Taylor, missionary for 51 years in China (1854-1905)
Have we allowed the “pressure” of life’s trials to get between us and Jesus, our Heavenly Bridegroom? Has the “water of bitterness” made us bitter instead of better and more in love with Christ?
Perhaps our “belly” has been swelling and our “thigh” has been rotting, but we don’t have to stay in that condition! In this New Covenant, we can come back to our High Priest (who also just happens to be our Husband, Jesus!). We can draw near to the Cross, humble ourselves, and renew our love vows to Jesus:
Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus,Hebrews 10:19-22
By a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh,
And having a High Priest over the house of God,
Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
Jesus will cleanse us with the precious Blood He shed on the Cross where He was crucified in our place (1 John 1:7-9). He’ll wash us in the purifying water of His Living and Abiding Word (Eph 5:25-27). The Holy Spirit will continue writing the wonderful characteristics of the love of God (Rom 5:5) upon our heart and mind. Then, once again, we can declare as did the Bride in Song of Solomon:
Place me like a seal over your heart,Song of Songs 8:6-7 (NLT)
like a seal on your arm.
For love is as strong as death,
its jealousy as enduring as the grave.
Love flashes like fire,
the brightest kind of flame.
Many waters cannot quench love,
nor can rivers drown it…
And throughout life’s many testing and trials, as we’re drinking that “water of bitterness,” we’ll just get sweeter and sweeter in our Savior’s arms. As “more than conquerors through Him who loved us,” we will be able to sing of Jesus’ love with “joy inexpressible and full of glory” as did the Apostles Peter and Paul:
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials,1 Peter 1:6-8
That the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ,
Whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword…?Romans 8:35, 37-39
Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.
For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come,
Nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We love You, Jesus!
Let the “Law of Jealousy” procedure continue!
“Then the [Bride of Christ] shall say, ‘Amen, so be it’” (Num 5:22).