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The Eternal One spoke to Moses.

Now that the arrangement of the camp, the ordering of the families, and the organization of their defenses is complete, God begins sanctifying the people. Because this camp is a holy place—a place where God has chosen to dwell among His people—purity is an obvious concern. But beyond the religious regulations, concern for cleanliness and rules for social interaction are essential because of the vast number of people traveling together. There are more than 600,000 males over the society’s average age of 20 years, and logically these men make up one-quarter of society. The laws given to the people are not simply religious instruction, but are necessary for the good morale and accompanying social concerns of such a large population, concerns such as transmission of diseases, mistreatment of individuals, and suppression of crime.

Eternal One: 2-3 Tell the Israelites to send outside of the camp anyone, male or female, who is ritually unclean and could spread it to others, namely those with skin lesions, and discharges, or who have touched a dead person. They need to stay outside of the camp in order not to ritually contaminate My dwelling place among them.

The Israelites did exactly that and sent them outside the camp, just as the Eternal told Moses.

The Eternal One continued.

Eternal One (to Moses): Tell the Israelites that sinning against each other is just like abandoning Me. All incur guilt, men and women alike. He or she must confess, then pay back in kind (if the crime is robbery, or some material offense) what he or she has cost to the wronged person and add one-fifth more. If there are no people in the wronged party’s immediate family to receive the payback, then it should go[a] to the priest along with a ram, which the guilty party shall supply as an atonement sacrifice. 9-10 The priest also gets anything an Israelite donates. Sacred gifts, anything—they then belong to the priest who receives them.

11 (continuing instructions to Moses) 12 Tell the Israelites that if a married woman sneaks off to commit adultery, 13 that is, if a man has sexual relations with her but her husband doesn’t know, even if no one can say for certain that she tarnished herself because no one saw or caught her, 14 and her husband feels suspicious and becomes jealous, whether or not she’s guilty; 15 then he should bring his wife to the priest along with the requisite offering: two quarts of barley flour. Because it’s an offering for this particular purpose, jealousy (namely, a grain offering that brings back to mind some kind of wrongdoing), he shouldn’t include any oil or incense with it.

16-19 Then the priest will set her in front of Me, mix dust from the congregation tent’s floor into a jar of holy water, and loosen her hair. He’ll make her take an oath and hold the grain offering of jealousy while he holds the curse-causing, bitter water and says, “If you are innocent of this charge, if no man had sexual relations with you, if you didn’t reject your husband’s authority and tarnish yourself; then let this bitter water have no curse on you. 20 But if you are guilty of rejecting your husband’s authority and having sexual relations with someone other than your husband,” 21 [here the priest should make the woman say the cursing-oath], “then may the Eternal One make your name a shunning reproach, an insult or a warning among the people, because you will have a miscarriage[b] and your belly will swell. 22 If you are guilty, may this curse-causing water run through your bowels, make your belly swell, and your womb miscarry.” And the woman shall say, “Amen. Let it be so.”

23 The priest will write these curses on a scroll and wash the words into the bitter water. 24 He’ll then make the woman drink the bitter water that will run right through her, causing terrible pain. 25 The priest will take the barley-flour jealousy offering that she was holding, raise it up high before the Me, bring it to the altar, 26 burn a handful (a memorial portion) of it into smoke on the altar, and then make the woman drink the water. 27 The effect (much pain with her belly swelling and her womb miscarrying) or lack thereof will show whether or not she’s guilty of marital unfaithfulness. If guilty, her name will be a curse among the Israelites. 28 If innocent and pure, she’ll be free from the water’s effects and still be able to have children.

This judgment ritual is a mixture of dust or ash and water to bring objectivity to the accusation of adultery on a wife. The result is either clearing her name or confirming the claim against her. The administration is reserved for the priest, and the results are final.

Eternal One: 29 This is what should be done in a jealousy case, when a woman is rejecting her husband’s authority and sleeping with other men, 30 or simply if her husband gets jealous and suspicious of her. The husband will bring her before Me, and the priest will enact this law. 31 The man shall not be charged with anything or considered to have done wrong; the woman must deal with the consequences of her behavior.

Footnotes

  1. 5:8 Hebrew manuscripts add, “to the Eternal One.”
  2. 5:21 Literally, thigh to fall away

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