It’s an official name–The Grain Offering of Jealousy.
The Ritual of the Grain Offering of Jealousy
If a man suspected that his wife was cheating on him, he could bring her to the temple for a test. The man brought a grain offering devoid of the usual oil and frankincense that was added to it.
The priest would then remove her head covering, have her hold the grain offering that the husband brought. Then the priest would take some of the dirt from the temple floor and sprinkle it into a vase of water.
He next wrote down a curse on a tablet. It basically said if she was innocent, she would not get sick. If she was guilty, or thighs would shrivel and her stomach would swell. Then he would wash the words of the tabled off into the water, which she was to drink, agreeing with “Amen” and “Amen” to the terms.
If she was innocent, nothing would happen. She will be “unaffected and will be able to conceive children” (v. 28). But if she was guilty her thighs would shrivel, her stomach swell, her womb become barren and she would endure “bitter suffering” (v. 24).
The Holy and the Unclean
I realized that perhaps the reason that this curse “took effect” was the holiness of God. If anyone entered the temple in an unholy way, God struck them down. If they brought something unclean, it did not go well with the Lord.
So when the woman drinks the water that has the lettering a small bit of the dirt of the temple floor, if she is clean, then she brings no offense against the Lord. It’s not that the water makes her sick, it’s more that it’s the issue of her uncleanness before the Lord. But if she is guilty, then she has held the grain offering and taken into herself something that is holy, while she is unclean, and therefore is guilty. That guilt incurred the wrath and anger of God.
What about the Men?
Of course my first thought reading this was, “Do they have something like this for men also?” Granted, we know that if adultery took place, both were to be stoned to death (Lev 20:10).
But we have to see the cultural context. Men were seen as those responsible over their wives. This has been the case since the beginning. It isn’t oppression but it’s a responsibility to hold up and to care for their wives.
Yet in the day if a man even suspected a wife of adultery, it was common among the peoples of the land (not necessarily the Israelites), to abuse his authority and just divorce her outright. This is reflected in the Code of Hammurabi of the Babylonian Civilization, written between 1792 and 1750 BC, that instructed that a woman was to be drowned.
“If the “finger is pointed” at a man’s wife about another man (if she is accused of adultery), but she is not caught sleeping with the other man, she shall jump into the river for her husband’s sake.”
Is she lived through being drowned, she was declared innocent. If she did not survive, then she was deemed guilty. Basically if she couldn’t swim in the fast, raging river, she was in trouble. Innocent or not.
But the test in this case allowed the woman to exonerate herself and prove her innocence before the Lord. She couldn’t be falsely slandered and accused and go to her death because of her lack of ability to swim. She would instead bring herself, clean or unclean before the holiness of God. The Lord himself would distinguish her guilt or innocence. Thus, in some ways, protecting the woman from wrongful accusation if that was the case.
Infidelity was taken seriously in the eyes of the Lord. And so was his holiness. In some ways this “test” to a woman’s innocence or guilt could exonerate her before all, that is, if she was innocent. It also meant that the man could not just casually accuse of her infidelity and so shirk his responsibilities.
We sometimes forget in this modern day world of casual affections that adultery was the death penalty. As in literally, the death penalty. We still hold onto fidelity as a value, but yet it is so easily toyed with in modern tv shows, in flirting “innocently,” and treating it as something common.
This also is in regards to our relationship with the Lord. We too must be careful that we do not flirt with the world and treat our relationship with him as casual instead of holy.
He can be righteously jealous (Ex 34:14).