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“The Law of Jealousies”
“And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying…Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, If any man's wife go aside, and commit a trespass against him, and a man lie with her carnally, and it be hid from the eyes of her husband, and be kept close, and she be defiled, and there be no witness against her, neither she be taken with the manner; and the spirit of jealousy come upon him, and he be jealous of his wife, and she be defiled: or if the spirit of jealousy come upon him, and he be jealous of his wife, and she be not defiled: Then shall the man bring his wife unto the priest, and he shall bring her offering for her, the tenth part of an ephah of barley meal; he shall pour no oil upon it, nor put frankincense thereon; for it is an offering of jealousy, an offering of memorial, bringing iniquity to remembrance.And the priest shall bring her near, and set her before the LORD: And the priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel; and of the dust that is in the floor of the tabernacle the priest shall take, and put it into the water: And the priest shall set the woman before the LORD, and uncover the woman's head, and put the offering of memorial in her hands, which is the jealousy offering: and the priest shall have in his hand the bitter water that causeth the curse: And the priest shall charge her by an oath, and say unto the woman, If no man have lain with thee, and if thou hast not gone aside to uncleanness with another instead of thy husband, be thou free from this bitter water that causeth the curse: But if thou hast gone aside to another instead of thy husband, and if thou be defiled, and some man have lain with thee beside thine husband: Then the priest shall charge the woman with an oath of cursing, and the priest shall say unto the woman, The LORD make thee a curse and an oath among thy people, when the LORD doth make thy thigh to rot, and thy belly to swell; And this water that causeth the curse shall go into thy bowels, to make thy belly to swell, and thy thigh to rot: And the woman shall say, Amen, amen. And the priest shall write these curses in a book, and he shall blot them out with the bitter water: And he shall cause the woman to drink the bitter water that causeth the curse: and the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her, and become bitter. Then the priest shall take the jealousy offering out of the woman's hand, and shall wave the offering before the LORD, and offer it upon the altar: And the priest shall take an handful of the offering, even the memorial thereof, and burn it upon the altar, and afterward shall cause the woman to drink the water. And when he hath made her to drink the water, then it shall come to pass, that, if she be defiled, and have done trespass against her husband, that the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her, and become bitter, and her belly shall swell, and her thigh shall rot: and the woman shall be a curse among her people. And if the woman be not defiled, but be clean; then she shall be free, and shall conceive seed. This is the law of jealousies.” (Numbers 5:1-31)
The Lord God declares repeatedly, “I am a jealous God.” God is jealous for his name, jealous for his honor, jealous for his Son, and jealous for his people. His jealousy for his church is such that he makes his servants jealous for it (2 Corinthians 11:2). He is determined that none have the hearts of his chosen but him. So jealous he is, and he so wants us to know his jealousy for us, that he made a law, called “the law of jealousies,” specifically to display that jealousy. That is the subject of this 5th chapter of the Book of Numbers.
The chapter opens with a demand of complete separation from uncleanness, a complete purity, a complete holiness among God’s worshippers.
“And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Command the children of Israel, that they put out of the camp every leper, and everyone that hath an issue, and whosoever is defiled by the dead: Both male and female shall ye put out, without the camp shall ye put them; that they defile not their camps, in the midst whereof I dwell. And the children of Israel did so, and put them out without the camp: as the LORD spake unto Moses, so did the children of Israel.” (vv. 1-4)
When we read the letter of the law understanding its spiritual meaning, it is both pleasing and profitable to our souls. Everything unclean must be removed from God’s Israel. We cannot be accepted of God except we be made clean by the doing and dying of our ever-gracious Lord Jesus Christ (Leviticus 22:21; Hebrews 12:14; Jude 24-25; Revelation 21:27; 22:11).
Oh, that I may be found in that day when Christ comes again without spot and without wrinkle, or any such thing, but holy and without blame before him in love (Ephesians 1:4).
That by which God’s elect are made holy, that by which we are separated from all others, by which we are made fit for heaven is the special atonement wrought for us by Christ our Kinsman Redeemer.
“And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, When a man or woman shall commit any sin that men commit, to do a trespass against the LORD, and that person be guilty; Then they shall confess their sin which they have done: and he shall recompense his trespass with the principal thereof, and add unto it the fifth part thereof, and give it unto him against whom he hath trespassed. But if the man have no kinsman to recompense the trespass unto, let the trespass be recompensed unto the LORD, even to the priest; beside the ram of the atonement, whereby an atonement shall be made for him. And every offering of all the holy things of the children of Israel, which they bring unto the priest, shall be his. And every man’s hallowed things shall be his: whatsoever any man giveth the priest, it shall be his.” (vv. 5-10)
It was Christ, who made himself our Kinsman, who made restitution for all our injustices and trespasses. It was Christ, the Son of God, who undertook our cause from everlasting and put his name in the bond debt to answer for all his elect. He, and he only, could say. “Then I restored that which I took not away” (Psalm 69:4). Christ is the Kinsman-Redeemer only of Abraham’s seed (Hebrews 2:16), the Kinsman-Redeemer of God’s elect. And all for whom the Kinsman-Redeemer died have their crimes atoned and restitution made for them by the doing and dying of our Kinsman-Redeemer (2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13-14; Hebrews 9:12). Universal atonement, universal redemption, is a myth of will-worship idolaters, a fable of antichrist. Those who have no Kinsman-Redeemer have no atonement.
If you can take your place before God as a guilty sinner, having nothing to pay, confessing your sin and your guilt to God, trusting Christ alone for all, he is your Kinsman-Redeemer and his atonement is your atonement. You can say of him, with that same assurance that Job had when he said, “I know that my Redeemer liveth” (Job 19:25).
The Law of Jealousies
So jealous is God our Savior for us that he established this law in Israel, called “the law of jealousies” (v. 29), to show us how he who “hateth putting away” keeps his beloved from leaving him (vv. 11-31). If a man’s wife was seen speaking with or spending what appeared to him to be an inordinate amount of time with another man, she could be brought to a priest and given a test. The test was designed to prove her innocence or establish her guilt.
We should not fail to observe that the test was only available to the husband. No such test existed if the wife suspected her husband of adultery. — Why? One obvious answer is the fact that the husband here portrays our Husband, the Lord Jesus, the ever Faithful and True Christ. The woman represents us, his poor, erring, backsliding, whoring people. — But his people still! And he will not lose even one!
The burden of proof or innocence was upon the woman. We are nowhere told that adultery was more prevalent among wives than it was among husbands in Israel; but that may very well have been the case.
Hebrew women looked upon barrenness as a terrible curse and reproach, a shameful thing, as indicated in verse 28. There we are told that if the wife was proved innocent, she would then conceive.
It was suggested by some of the ancient Jewish writers that adultery was more prevalent among wives, because they thought that the multiplicity of lovers would increase the probability of conception. And, if they were able to conceive and bear children, people would look upon them as being blessed of God. That notion would tend to stir a little jealousy in a man, especially if his other wives were barren.
If a woman’s husband became suspicious of her fidelity, if he was jealous for her, God ordained this strange law for his use. It was not necessary that she be caught in the act of adultery or that she be guilty of it. All that was necessary was for her husband to be jealous. If in his mind there was but the suspicion of infidelity, this test, this law, was to be applied (vv. 12-14).
This test did not involve being put on trial in a court of law. That would only take place if the woman had been caught in the act of adultery. The result in that case was capital punishment for both the woman and the man with whom she had committed adultery (Leviticus 20:10).
If a man was suspicious of his wife, she was to be brought to the priest with an offering (v. 15). The offering was to be supplied by the husband; but it was her offering. This offering was unique. The offering was to be the tenth part of an ephah of barley, which was the same as an omer, about 3 1/2 quarts of dry measure or about 1/10 of a bushel. The offering was carried in an earthen vessel. And the woman had to hold this weight while she was being tested. You can imagine how heavy the offering was as she held it out in her hands. It was designed to make her weary and, perhaps, bring about a confession of guilt.
Everything about the offering was significant. It was not an offering that was designated to expiate, remove, or transfer sin. Rather, in verse 15, it is specifically called a jealousy offering, a memorial offering, and an offering to bring iniquity to remembrance.
The amount of barley meal was the same as the daily ration of manna for one person, the same measure used in the meal or meat offering. But, unlike the meal offering, this offering had no fine flour, no oil, and no frankincense, all of which pointed to the righteousness of Christ, the work of the Spirit, and the sweet-smelling savor of the grace of God.
Fine flour was the food of the priests. Barley was the food of the beast. The earthen vessel was a vessel of dishonor, a common vessel, used only for a time and then discarded. Every element of the offering was designed to cause the woman to remember her sin and iniquity (v. 15). This was a jealousy offering; and it showed the effects of suspicion. The woman was suspected of a common, beastly, and dishonorable act — adultery. And, as I said before, the offering was provided by her husband; but it was her offering.
Who can miss the significance of that fact? Christ is our Husband. Christ is our Sacrifice. And our Lord Jesus Christ provides himself as our Sacrifice.
The priest would take holy water (water from the laver of brass) and mix it in the earthen vessel with dirt from the floor of the tabernacle and pronounce the curse upon the woman (vv. 19-22). The ramifications of the curse were contingent upon her being proved guilty. The curse was declared to the woman; and she was required to agree to it, verifying her understanding of the charges laid against her. After hearing the curse, she would reply, “Amen, amen” (v. 22). By doing so she was saying that she understood the charges against her, agreed to the curse, and was ready to be tested. She was saying that when she drank the bitter water, if it became bitter in her stomach and caused her stomach to swell and her thigh to rot, if she became ill and began to corrupt, that she was guilty as charged and would be shunned the rest of her days.
This mixture is a picture of the gospel of God by which the secrets of men are revealed. The priest wrote the charges, the indictment of suspicion, on a piece of parchment and took the water mixed with the dirt and blotted the indictment. The blotting of the ink from the indictment was mixed with the water and dirt. The brew that was in the earthen vessel was water, dirt from the floor of the tabernacle, and ink blotted from the parchment upon which her indictment was written. This strange concoction was designed only to reveal whether she was guilty or not guilty of adultery. It searched her from within and made manifest her guilt or innocence. — Either way, the outcome would be miraculous, an obvious work of God. — The concoction was, no doubt, bitter to the taste. But there was nothing in it that could make her sick, except by divine intervention. If she was innocent, she could not be injured by the mixture. If she was guilty, she could not be punished but by a miracle performed by the Lord.
Because the mixture had nothing toxic or poisonous in it, and could only discern what was inside the woman, the test was a miraculous thing and should be viewed as such. God the Holy Ghost tells us in 1st Corinthians 10 that these things happened in Israel to be typical, typical of gospel matters. In this Gospel Age God judges the secrets of all hearts by Jesus Christ, the Great High Priest of our profession, by the gospel. As is all the law, the Book of Numbers is about the church, Christ’s Bride, in our relationship with Christ our Husband. What is all this about?
The Wife Suspected
First, this law was given to remind us of our sin. Only the wife could be suspected of adultery. No law was given concerning the possibility of the husband’s infidelity. Had God intended for us to look upon this law as relating to the natural affairs of the heart, neither the wife nor the husband would have need of testing. Both were, as we all are, adulterers by nature (Matthew 15:19; Mark 7:21).
The law is, in its entirety, spiritual. It is all about Christ, his person and his accomplished work for his people. The husband was not suspected because this, of course, points to the fact that Christ is without sin. He is our ever-faithful Husband, whose name is Faithful and True. Any problem that results in a damaged relationship between Christ and his church must be laid at our door, never his.
No hint of suspicion can ever be put to our ever-faithful, ever-true, immutable Christ. He who never lies and who cannot lie, loves his Bride unconditionally. He will never leave her nor forsake her. He is with her always. He is the same yesterday, and today, and forever. He loves her with an everlasting love and lives to intercede for her. If any possibility of suspicion, if any hint of unfaithfulness exists, it can only be with the Bride, not with Christ.
The Song of Solomon was written specifically to remind us of our Savior’s great faithfulness and of our horrid unfaithfulness. There is within each of us a terrible tendency to become neglectful, indifferent, and lukewarm towards the Lord Jesus Christ. This common, sinful tendency of our nature must be marked, acknowledged, and avoided.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love:
Here’s my heart, Oh, take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
Second, this law was given to Israel to remind us of our Savior’s great love for us and of his determination to have us love him. Christ is jealous for his glory and jealous for his Bride, and will countenance no rival to her affection for him.
In Zechariah 1:14, the prophet of God said, “The angel that communed with me said unto me, Cry thou, saying, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; I am jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with a great jealousy.” Because of his great jealousy for his people, the Lord God destroys the enemies of his people and — “Therefore thus saith the LORD; I am returned to Jerusalem with mercies: my house shall be built in it, saith the LORD of hosts, and a line shall be stretched forth upon Jerusalem. Cry yet, saying, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; My cities through prosperity shall yet be spread abroad; and the LORD shall yet comfort Zion, and shall yet choose Jerusalem” (Zechariah 1:16-17).
In Zechariah 8, the Lord Jesus again asserts that his jealousy for his chosen makes their salvation certain. — “Thus saith the LORD of hosts; I was jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I was jealous for her with great fury” (Zechariah 8:2).
The emotion of jealousy is stirred by a sense of entitlement. The Lord Jesus is entitled. We are not. He has both claim and right to the unconditional affection and allegiance of those he loves. He says, “Give me thine heart;” and he is entitled to it because he is worthy. He has a right to be jealous because he is entitled. — Though we all proudly presume that we are entitled to the love of our husband or wife, we are not, because none of us are without sin and none of us love freely and unconditionally.
Cause for Suspicion
Third, we must acknowledge that we often, (Dare I not say constantly?) give our Savior, our completely devoted Husband, cause for jealousy. — Do we not? The believer’s love for Christ is genuine. We say with Peter, “Lord, thou knowest all things: thou knowest that I love thee.” — “We love him, because he first loved us.” Every heaven born soul can say with Phillip Doddridge…
“Do not I love Thee? Oh, my Lord,
Behold my heart and see;
And turn each odious idol out
That dares to rival Thee!
Do not I love Thee from my heart?
Then let me nothing love.
Dead be my heart to every joy
Which Thou dost not approve.
Is not Thy name melodious still
To mine attentive ear?
Doth not each pulse with pleasure beat
My Savior’s voice to hear?
Hast Thou a lamb in all Thy flock
I would disdain to feed?
Hast Thou a foe before whose face
I fear Thy cause to plead?
Thou know’st I love Thee, dearest Lord,
But Oh! I long to soar
Far from the sphere of mortal joys,
That I may love Thee more!”
Yes, we love our Redeemer, who loved us and gave himself for us. Yet, our base, corrupt, evil hearts are ever straying from him! How often we go awhoring after others! The cares of the world often get in the way of the unrivalled love we owe our Beloved. Our minds often wander from Christ and become focused on petty differences between the brethren. We sometimes isolate ourselves (individually and as a church body) from fellowship with others of like precious faith over perceived issues. We often become proud and self-sufficient and leave our first love, like the church at Laodicea. God’s church sometimes allows the presence of false teachings, like the church at Pergamos. Sometimes she allows the doctrine of Balaam to enter in, as well as that of the Nicolaitans. She struggles with schisms, like the church at Corinth. Individually, personally, who can tell out his adulteries committed against the Lord Jesus?
Yes, the church of God, Christ’s chosen, redeemed, dearly beloved Bride, often gives reason to be suspected of an alienation of affection. To be suspicious of her would be both feasible and reasonable. The possibility of her being untrue is always at the surface. The fact of it is evident. Therefore the Lord Jesus, our ever-faithful, ever-true, ever-gracious, ever-loving Husband, has put in our hands a jealousy offering, a memorial offering, an offering to bring iniquity to remembrance
Fourth, we are here reminded that Christ is our only sacrifice of acceptance with the holy Lord God. Remember, the woman’s sacrifice was the sacrifice provided by her husband – an omer of barley. — That is Christ, the Bread of Life.
An omer was the daily manna provided for each man day by day in the wilderness (Exodus 16:16). This omer of barley represents the firstfruits that belong to God (2 Kings 4:42). Ruth came home from the fields of Boaz (her kinsman redeemer) with an ephah (ten times an omer) of barley. And Hosea bought Gomer with an omer of barley (Hosea 3:2).
Fifth, God gave this law to tell us that we must be proved, not for our Husband’s sake, but for our own. We must be tested. We must be tried. We must be searched from within. We must drink the water mixed with dust and the ink of the accusation. How will the inner thoughts of my heart and yours be discovered?
The three elements of the potion in Numbers 5 were dust from the floor of the tabernacle, holy water from the laver of brass, and the ink from the indictment written against the wife. Those elements are significant. The dust represents death. The water represents the Word of God, the gospel (Hebrews 4:12-13). The indictment represents the law and its curse. The dust and the indictment are in the water. And the very law of the indictment is the means by which the indictment is blotted out (Isaiah 45:20-21; Romans 3:24-28).
The whole mixture (the water, the ink of the indictment, and the dirt) was all put in an earthen vessel, which represents the gospel preacher (2 Corinthians 4:7). The Gospel of Christ sets forth the death of Christ as the Substitute for sinners condemned by the law. The gospel is the food and drink of the church. It is the feast of fat things, wine upon the lees and well refined. It is the singular drink for both the one who is true and the one who is unfaithful. It is the drink that reveals both.
It is the Gospel that searches the inward man, where God requires truth. To the one who is guilty of unfaithfulness and drinks, the gospel searches him out, finds, and discloses his unfaithfulness. This is exactly what is portrayed in the Song of Solomon (5:2-7).
The drink of death searches out the faithful too, and gives him freedom to bring forth fruit unto God. The fact is, there is in us, that is in our hearts, both faithfulness and adultery. We must be tried by the Word. We must have a constant diet of the gospel. The preaching of the gospel is the only thing that will search us out and prove us (Psalm 139:23-24; John 3:19-21; Ephesians 5:8-13; Hebrews 4:12-13).
The offering that was brought was barley, the food of beasts. This is a picture of the believer approaching God with nothing of value. It speaks to the fact that the believer stands before God trusting him to reveal the truth about himself. — “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.”
The barley also pictures the gospel in that it is the food of beasts. The gospel is for sinners. Christ came not to call the righteous but to bring sinners to repentance. — “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.”
When the Church is tried by the gospel, she is always found innocent. When she feasts on the gospel and is searched in her inmost self, she is found without sin because the gospel declares that her sin is gone. She is sanctified. She is made the very righteousness of God in Christ. Fully aware of her personal guilt, rottenness swelling within, she clings to Christ all the more, knowing that he is her All. The indictment that was against us has been blotted out by the precious blood of Christ (Romans. 8:1-4, 33-34).
Death and the law are both elements of the preaching of the gospel; and both are swallowed up by it. The gospel is a heavenly cordial that inebriates the soul and causes the Bride to rejoice that though she may be suspect in herself, because of her Bridegroom, she is not guilty. She welcomes the test. She gladly drinks the potion, heartily and often, for it will prove her always innocent. Though within her flesh she knows that there dwells no good thing, she knows, by gospel declaration, that she is true to her Beloved; and he will never put her away. Because he declares, “I am jealous for her,” nothing shall separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Jeremiah 32:38-40; Hosea 2:19-20).
Here is the mixture that says so. The death of Christ was my death. The indictment of the law has been blotted out. The water of the Word (the gospel) declares it so. This is the witness of God (Hebrews 11:2; 1 John 5:1-13).
That is what the law of jealousies teaches us. — “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” — “He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself.” — “He that hath the Son hath life!” — “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen!” — “Lord, thou knowest all things. Thou knowest that I love thee!”