What’s a guy to do anyway?
Let’s say that a husband suspects his wife has cheated on him. Please understand, he possibly has zero evidence to support this feeling he has. No witnesses have spotted his wife with another man. He didn’t walk in on them, leaving them with a lot of explaining to do.
No, this husband just has a hunch, a gut feeling, a mere suspicion based on his emotions and perhaps intuition.
How is a man like this supposed to proceed? Should he simply move on, noting in his diary how he has been having unsubstantiated thoughts based on nothing but a general sense of distrust?
A man in his position, at least as of late, might have many options to try and discover the truth. Perhaps he might seek counseling to help him deal with his trust issues. If he is certain he isn’t the problem (aren’t we all certain we aren’t?), he might even go as far as to hire a private investigator to follow her around and catch her in the act with the scoundrel. What he wouldn’t do what Numbers 5 says to do in a situation like this.
Get ready for some ultimate weirdness.
In Numbers 5, a husband who is overcome with jealousy without a cause is given a means by which to know whether or not his wife has been unfaithful, or whether it is he who has some profound trust issues. He is to take her to the priest, give a grain offering of jealousy, and then stand aside as his wife is made to go through a bizarre ritual, one where the husband can be certain of just what his wife has been up to. This ritual was a means of hearing from God himself, via a peculiar sign, about whether or not his suspicions are true or false.
There are many odd parts to this ritual. The woman stands before the priest, holding the grain offering of jealousy in her hands. The priests lets down her hair and then makes a nasty concoction of holy water (presumably from the basin in the tabernacle) and dust from the tabernacle floor. He then writes on the scroll a curse that states that if she has cheated, her child will miscarry (more on this in a moment), but if she doesn’t miscarry, then she is innocent. Once the curse is written down, the ink is promptly washed off of the scroll and added to the already gnarly drink that has been prepared.
Then she, standing before the LORD, swallows the divine drink and waits to see what happens. If there is a miscarriage, she cheated. If nothing happens, then she is innocent. Either way, the husband now knows the truth.
Or does he?
Before I go any further, I want to address what, for our culture, is a hot topic, though not related to what I am trying to say.
Is this a story about God causing abortions? Well, the NIV seems to think so. Truth be told, we don’t actually know what is going on. The text literally says that the curse will make her “womb swell and her thigh sag” if she is guilty…whatever that means. If this is talking about a miscarriage, then perhaps the husband did have one clue: his wife was pregnant and he hadn’t slept with her in a while. I agree, this would give a husband cause to be suspicious. It also explains, as Richard Elliot Freedman points out in his commentary on Numbers, whey there isn’t such a law for husbands. However, this would also mean that God kills the most innocent character in this odd cast of players, which doesn’t feel right (note that the wife isn’t commanded to be killed; she lives on though guilty).
So what it means for a womb to swell and a thigh to sag is truly anyone’s guess.
I will not attempt here to solve this mystery, mainly because I can’t.
You can’t either.
Neither can that guy you like to watch on YouTube. Nobody knows.
Back to my question, and my point: does the husband truly know whether or not his wife is guilty?
Based on the multitude of disagreements about the meaning of this ritual over the last few thousand years, I would say the husband is no closer to the truth than before the ritual took place, though he may feel like he is. One Talmudic understanding is that the entire ritual is done to insure that the wife is found innocent!!! Everyone knows that drinking water mixed with dust and ink could never produce any sign, a miscarriage, or anything else. 100% of women would be found innocent. And 100% of jealous husbands would be left at least feeling as though God had spoken and proved his wife pure (though the smarter ones might still wonder how the baby ended up in there, assuming it was the pregnancy that tipped them off to begin with).
Why am I talking about this?
For those who know me, you know that I gravitate towards stories like this. Odd stories. Hard to figure out stories. Stories from our bibles that baffle the mind.
But, I have another reason for focusing no this one.
I believe that this husband filled with jealousy does what so many do within our sacred text. When in doubt, he seeks a sign.
In fact, I have just published an entire book to this very matter. Our bibles are filled with stories of men (mainly) who are always looking for God to send them some sort of sign, a guarantee about the future and any decisions they might make.
When Moses was called by God to free the Israelites so they could serve God, he asked for a sign. Later, when confronted with a Sabbath breaker, Moses seeks the voice of God to know exactly what to do. And when they didn’t know where to go, they simply followed a pillar of cloud or fire.
King Saul constantly looked to hear from God, and he used various tools in his belt to do so, even consulting a witch to hear from the dead (a little necromancy never hurt anyone, right?).
From beginning to end, our Scripture has stories of men, just like this jealous husband, who simply can’t move on unless he gets some definite, concrete, and divine intervention. He needs to know the will of God concerning his wife.
We aren’t so different.
And thought I can’t relate to the ritual, or luckily the feeling that my wife has been up to no good, I can relate to the desire to know. We all can. We want to know that whatever we are about to do is going to be worth it.
The jealous husband wants to know that staying with this woman is what he is supposed to do, what he is God-ordained to do. He doesn’t want to live with jealousy nor does he want to shrug it off and find out years later that she has been unfaithful the whole time.
We long to walk confidently, knowing that God has preordained our steps and path, and knowing that this means that we will be blessed and not cursed. Our plans will prosper. How could they not when God is at the helm?
This is why I want to talk about this. It is something we deal with on a daily basis.
Indeed, this is why I spent the last 2 years writing my latest book, Elusive God. In it, I deal with a multitude of stories from both the Old and New Testaments where people sought after God and His will using a variety of means, some odder than others. They do all of this in hopes of hearing from God. Because you can’t be any more certain than you are when you “know” what God has told you to do. This knowledge lets you feel as though you can see into the future, that you have peered into the great unknown and have seen what lies ahead.
But perhaps in all of our searching and looking, we have forgotten that God has called us to live by faith and not by sight. We have lost sight of the fact that we aren’t supposed to see, but rather to trust.