Tag Archives: Numbers

Numbers

This morning on the short walk to nursery, my three-and-a-half year old started spotting lots of numbers, on the ground, on the lampposts, over doorways. I thought we’d take some photos of them as we went. My toddler took some of these himself.

First, randomly painted on the path next to a drain cover:

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On a lamppost (there were several more of these!):

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An allocated car parking space:

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And another:IMG_1337

Someone’s front door (I know who lives there):

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A functional building from many years ago, now luxury apartments:
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a car (can you guess what make and model?):
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The door to his nursery.
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The test for an unfaithful wife – is it unfair to women?

This morning in my daily Bible reading I got up to Numbers chapter 5. I must have read this passage before, but I couldn’t remember doing so. It describes the test that a man should put if wife through if she has been unfaithful, or even if he thinks she has been unfaithful. The passage can be found here. On first reading, in our 21st century ears, it doen’t seem fair at all. How do we reconcile that this is in God’s Word?

It says that if a husband is jealous of his wife and suspects her of being unfaithful, he is to bring her to the priest and there she is to drink bitter water and he will pronounce a curse over her.

Num 5:19-22 “If no other man has slept with you and you have not gone astray and become impure while married to your husband, may this bitter water that brings a curse not harm you.  But if you have gone astray while married to your husband and you have defiled yourself by sleeping with a man other than your husband”-  here the priest is to put the woman under this curse of the oath-”may the LORD cause your people to curse and denounce you when he causes your thigh to waste away and your abdomen to swell. May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells and your thigh wastes away.

If she has been unfaithful her abdomen will swell up and that will be her punishment. If she has not been unfaithful, the curse will not take effect.

Num 5: 27-28 If she has defiled herself and been unfaithful to her husband, then when she is made to drink the water that brings a curse, it will go into her and cause bitter suffering; her abdomen will swell and her thigh waste away, and she will become accursed among her people. If, however, the woman has not defiled herself and is free from impurity, she will be cleared of guilt and will be able to have children.

So what are we to make of this odd passage? Some thoughts:

  • This is the beginning of a section on purity. The people of God (who is the nation of Israel in the wilderness) are to dedicate themselves to being pure for God, in every aspect of their lives. Their impurity is dealt with through the priests and sacrificial system. Eliminating adultery is just one aspect of becoming a more holy people.
  • This was a patriarchal society so it is no surprise that it seems unfair to us. There is a double standard – there is no mention of a comeback for the man who might have been involved in the adultery. Other patriarchal societies of the time had far worse tests for adultery that were far more likely to produce a guilty verdict. So although harsh to us (and I don’t think we are supposed to copy this ritual!) it was a softening of attitudes of the time.
  • The verdict is not pronounced on the wife by the man or the priest. The priest offers the matter to God and He is the one who decides whether she is guilty or not, not the husband or the priest. By allowing God to decide they are asserting his sovereignty and omnipotence – God knows whether she is guilty so the matter is left in His hands.

How do we relate that to this passage today?  God cares about purity in all aspects of our lives, yet he is also just, so can be trusted is situations where guilt is not clear. There will be some cases when we are called to suspend judgment and allow God to bring the truth to light.

It is also worth noting that Jesus forgave a woman who was not only suspected of adultery, but was caught in the act. She was dragged to Jesus by an angry mob who had already passed judgment and were keen to stone her (again, note that they let the man get away!) Jesus’ response was said “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7). Jesus knows what we’re all like but forgives us anyway, so he is the best person to pass judgment. God is just and forgiving.

Prayer garments and healing

In Numbers 15, God instructs Moses and the people to put tassels on the corner of their garments.

Numbers 9:37-41: The LORD said to Moses, 38 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘Throughout the generations to come you are to make tassels on the corners of your garments, with a blue cord on each tassel. 39 You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the LORD, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by going after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes. 40 Then you will remember to obey all my commands and will be consecrated to your God. 41 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am the LORD your God.’ “

The point of the tassels was to look at and have something physical to remember the commands of God by – to be constantly reminded to live as God made them to live.

In Malachi, one of the Old Testament prophets, there is a prophecy about the coming of the Messiah

4:2 But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings.

Interestingly, the word for ‘wings’ is the same Hebrew word that was used for the corners of the garments.

So Jesus arrives, and people are saying that he is starting to fulfil the prophecies of the Old Testament. There is a crowd gathered round him. Jesus is on his way to raise to life the daughter of a local ruler, when a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years came up behind him and touched Jesus’ cloak. Instantly she was healed (Matt 9).

Oh yes, as a Jewish man who observed the OT law, Jesus would have been wearing the prayer shawl – the garment with the tassels. The sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings.

Some points from the links:

  • She belived he would be the Messiah
  • She knew the scriptures and acted upon them, to her reward
  • The use of a physical garment as a reminder (and sign) of God’s commands acted as a sign to her as well as a reminder to the person wearing it.
  • The Old Testament really fits together well

Thanks to Rob Bell for this!