Posted by: jiminmontana | November 29, 2011

Mary’s Bitter Water (?) — a short study of Providence in Numbers 5

The Word of the Lord is so awesome!  Even the most obscure and arcane passages can blow our minds.  Let me choose the MOST outdated passage I can find and see if “the water of bitterness that brings a curse” isn’t both connected with the First Advent of Messiah AND is important for you and me when we consider God’s ancient plans for your life and mine.

The Obscurity

In antiquity, adultery was a capital offense — but an adulterer could not be stoned unless caught in the very act.  Both adulterers were to be stoned (Lev 20:10), but at least two witnesses were required to get this sentence of death. (Deu 17:6)  Therefore, if a man or woman came home to find the spouse in bed with another, the odds of getting a death penalty conviction was unlikely.  Although divorce was not unheard of, it was likely very rare that people were actually stoned to death in Israel — this was the maximum sentence and uncommon.  {Sorry, I can’t find any Rembrandt paintings of THIS topic!}

Numbers 5:11ff concerns the man who suspects that his wife has been messing around, yet he has no proof.  This kind of worry tears a person apart and is ruinous to the family: the fabric of the community.  What to do?

First, the man had to tell his wife that he had concerns.  Try to keep the matter private and deal with it at home.  If the “spirit of jealousy” remained, he was to take his spouse to the local synagogue and have the elders warn her.  Maybe the husband was a nut; the elders could deal with the man who needed his own help.  However, in a small community, it was likely that the people knew whether or not the wife was known to be a bit too “friendly”.  If that was the case, the elders would send the man and his wife to the Temple.

At the Temple, the wife was accused of possibly being unfaithful in marriage.  The man and his wife were escorted by two elders of their local sanhedrim to the Great Sanhedrim in Jerusalem.  In the Temple, the priest called on the Name of the Lord who would be the Judge in this case. Then the priest filled a bowl with the Water of Cleansing (made from the ashes of the Red Heifer) and, quite oddly, swept up what dust he could find from the floor of the Temple and put that dust into the water.  The priest carried this bowl of water in one hand and charged the woman to repent of any wrong-doing before things went too far for her.  Then the priest began to extol her and ask her more than once if she had sinned.  She was urged to confess and repent of any adulterous acts.  As she denied this (for she may have been truly innocent of the charge), the stakes were raised:  the priest let down her hair and actually messed it up with his free hand!  Here, the symbol of her femininity was assailed as possibly having been her means of pride.  Any ornaments of beautification were removed.  The later Mishnah overstepped, I think, in permitting that the the woman’s tunic be torn away exposing her bosom.

Her husband had brought a sacrificial offering of dark barley, not wheat, and he put no oil or incense on it since an accusation of unrepentant evil had been made — a pure offering of white wheat was not in order here.  For this case alone, it is likely that the barley was placed in a brazen bowl, not gold.  Now the priest placed this bowl of barley grain in her hands while he upbraided her for the possibility of sin.  This was her “wave-offering” solemnly commended her ways to the Holy Lord God of Israel — professing innocence.  Here’s Edersheim on the issue as found in “Temple” (1904):    “The “offering” which she brought in her hand symbolised her works, the fruit of her life. But owing to the fact that her life was open to suspicion, it was brought, not of wheat, as on other occasions, but of barley-flour, which constituted the poorest fare, while, for the same reason, the customary addition of oil and frankincense was omitted.”

Num 5:19 ESV – Then the priest shall make her take an oath, saying, ‘If no man has lain with you, and if you have not turned aside to uncleanness while you were under your husband’s authority, be free from this water of bitterness that brings the curse.
Num 5:20 ESV – But if you have gone astray, though you are under your husband’s authority, and if you have defiled yourself, and some man other than your husband has lain with you,
Num 5:21 ESV – then’ (let the priest make the woman take the oath of the curse, and say to the woman) ‘the LORD make you a curse and an oath among your people, when the LORD makes your thigh fall away and your body swell.
Num 5:22 ESV – May this water that brings the curse pass into your bowels and make your womb swell and your thigh fall away.’ And the woman shall say, ‘Amen, Amen.’
Num 5:23 ESV – “Then the priest shall write these curses in a book and wash them off into the water of bitterness.
Num 5:24 ESV – And he shall make the woman drink the water of bitterness that brings the curse, and the water that brings the curse shall enter into her and cause bitter pain.
Num 5:25 ESV – And the priest shall take the grain offering of jealousy out of the woman’s hand and shall wave the grain offering before the LORD and bring it to the altar.
Num 5:26 ESV – And the priest shall take a handful of the grain offering, as its memorial portion, and burn it on the altar, and afterward shall make the woman drink the water.

Num 5:27 ESV – And when he has made her drink the water, then, if she has defiled herself and has broken faith with her husband, the water that brings the curse shall enter into her and cause bitter pain, and her womb shall swell, and her thigh shall fall away, and the woman shall become a curse among her people.
Num 5:28 ESV – But if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, then she shall be free and shall conceive children.

The woman said “Amen” the first time to attest to her innocence.  She restated the “Amen” to agree to any curse that might be coming.  The ink that was still wet on the parchment was swallowed more than once.  The curses were sent to find their way in her body and harm her if she has sinned!  What an odd passage this is!

Notice that the only power of the Law is to convict a person of sin.  The Law, holy though it be, is impotent to actively help the innocent woman in any regard.

A real Crisis for Mary and Joseph

They had a huge problem on their hands.  Joe had already spoken to the family, 0btained the right to marry her, and the two had shared a private meal and a glass of wine in her father’s house to seal the betrothal.  In this culture, a contract was worked out between Joseph and Mary’s father and her dowery was transferred to Joseph’s possession!  This was a true marriage, yet without physical intimacy.  Although legally married, Joe left her there in her father’s house for about a year while he went to build a home for them — usually adding onto the house of his father if room permitted the expansion.  Joseph may have used some of Mary’s money to build the house.  Their time apart was a period of anxious longing and pressurized expectation; joy was building until the day of bliss.  And this time allowed both parties to meditate and prepare themselves personally for what was to come.  It gave adequate time for Miriam to prove her fidelity by not getting pregnant during this time of loneliness.  Joe, the carpenter, was working on the house that they would enjoy together.

During this time of separation, Mary learned that she had been chosen to bring Messiah into the world.  Miraculously, she conceived a son who was not made in the Fallen image of Adam.  And who was going to believe that?  She told Joseph.  He was mortified.  Her family was mortified.  Mary had always been such a good girl.  This scandal was totally unexpected from Miriam, the most noble young lady you could hope to meet.  So the disappointment was vitriolic.  The family was shocked and humiliated and angry.

Perhaps we can imagine one sister or brother saying, “If only we had caught you in the act!  I would be glad to throw a stone at you!”

Providence unEmployed

Joseph did not want to humiliate her.  Although crushed, he was willing to just let the matter go.  He wanted to just melt away — and let Mary be a single mother.  She would live in infamy and shame:  a pariah and a cautionary tale.  When he did not act with bitterness, everyone likely suspected that Joe and Mary had consummated their marriage prematurely.  Both of these innocent people were to be shunned.

What would have happened had Joseph gotten angry?  Obviously, he knew that he was not the father of Mary’s child.  And her story was just ridiculous.  Very nervy of her to make such a wild assertion!  Why couldn’t she just admit to her guilt, at least to him, and make the best of what was left?

Joe could have pitched a fit.  This would have been in his best interest to vindicate himself.  Take her to the elders.  Have the priest mess up her hair.  Charge her with all the curses for adultery.  Make her drink the water of bitterness that brings a curse!

Can’t you see Mary there, big with Child, full of righteousness and wrath.  The priest would have been driven mad with anger.  Here was the most obvious example of adultery that he would ever see.  He would likely have taken a step back as she drank down the curses with the water tinged with dust.  “Amen!  Amen!” she shouts.  With all the angst of the Magnificat, the pregnant Virgo gives her testimony in the Temple: how the angel appeared, how the Spirit of God overshadowed her, how she was bearing the Son of God incarnate.  Even as the first Eve had brought death and her firstborn had been the first murderer, here was the “seed of the woman” (Gen 3) who would bring Life. {women don’t have seed, do they!  Just Mary.}

This water of bitterness was Mary’s to drink.  It even bears her name, because Mariam means “bitterness” in Hebrew.  She had the opportunity to announce the coming of the Messiah in the Temple for many, many priests and worshipers  to hear.  But this opportunity was denied her.

It is amazing to me that Providence had been working for Mary — as far back as the days of Moses — even though God foreknew that Yosef would not put his wife to the testThe Lord made a way for her vindication — even beyond what was going to be needed.

Providence for You

God knows what you are going to need today and tomorrow.  He has been planning on these needs since before the foundations of the earth were laid.  No, I am not saying that all of your wishes are going to come true if you do this or that.  No.  But what you need, He will provide.  He has already provided.

Every choice you make has Provision.  Even the choices that you did not make have Provision!  Even the choices that you will not make, they have Provision.  It’s likely we will some Day understand and see all the Provision He made for us and we did NOT employ — these trophies of His provision will be set aside in Heaven as a memorial to His faithfulness.  For the one who calls himself “I AM”, the time is always NOW.  He “inhabits eternity” (Is 57:15) — that means that God is actively involved in every aspect of time from eternity past through today and tomorrow into the future forever.  He is doing all of that right now — “in the blink of an eye”.  He is already there with you in the future that you have yet to experience.  The decisions that you make right now will have an impact on that experience to come.

The OUTCOMES are in the hands of the Lord.  It is your job to act today according to the Will of the Lord — that’s your responsibility.  Leave the results to Him.  As Pastor Bill Giovannetti has pointed out numerous times, about half the time in Scriptures, when people do the right thing, God comes in and makes everything work out fabulously.  About half the time in Scripture when people do the right thing, they get their heads chopped off, or they are thrown in a well, or their children suffer, etc.  That’s the way it is.  Do right; leave the outcome to I AM.  A thousand years from now we will laugh together knowing “that for those who love God, all things work together for good for those who are called according to his Purpose.” (Rom 8:28)


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