“This is the ritual law for dealing with jealousy. If a woman defiles herself by being unfaithful to her husband, or if a man is overcome with jealousy and suspicion that his wife has been unfaithful, the husband must present his wife before the LORD, and the priest will apply this entire ritual law to her.” - Numbers 5:29-30
In our culture, sexual morality is regarded as a purely personal matter. How you live is viewed as your own business, and issues of adultery and unfaithfulness are settled privately between a man and his wife. But for Israel, marital faithfulness and sexual morality were community concerns. From the beginning of Creation, God had ordained that a man and a woman should establish a family and that the family should become the foundational building block of society. Anything, therefore, that would jeopardize the well-being of marriages and families was much more than a private matter. It was seen as a threat to the fabric of society and, accordingly, was a concern for the community as a whole.
So how did the community intervene when a husband suspected his wife of unfaithfulness? If a husband was suspicious that his wife was being unfaithful, he was required to bring his wife before the priest, who would then engage in a complicated procedure to ascertain her guilt or innocence. This procedure was designed to protect the powerless wife. The husband was not free simply to pass judgment by his own initiative. Instead, the issue had to be handled “before the Lord” in the Holy Place, with full knowledge of the community and under the guidance of the religious leaders. Actually, Israel’s procedure was very merciful for the woman. In neighboring states, a woman in similar circumstances would have been required to throw herself in the river. If she survived she was innocent, if she drowned she was guilty—and dead!
Matters of suspicion between husband and wife are to be dealt with honestly and openly with each other before the Lord. This requires a willingness to talk with each other about deep personal matters and a readiness to pray together about their spiritual and moral well-being. Of course, couples should start by learning to talk and pray openly about lesser issues. Then, when problems arise, they will have a more solid basis for finding a solution.
Sexual morality is critical for the well-being of a society, and so it is not a purely personal affair. Stable cultures require stable families, and stable families are built by stable marriages. Stable marriages thrive on marital faithfulness, and marital faithfulness is nurtured by marital openness. So start with open, honest, and truthful communication with each other.
For Further Study: Numbers 5:11-31
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