Unjust accusations. Who hasn’t felt the powerlessness of allegations made or words spoken that are not true? What a horrible feeling to not be able to clear one’s name or to alter people’s ill-formed impression of you.
Lingering doubts, on the other hand, can gnaw away at us. We might want to trust the person in question but we can’t ignore our suspicions even though we know they are not verified with proof.
These are the types of situations God’s gracious but foreign and strange command to Moses covers in this passage.
Imagine your husband has suspicions regarding you that you can’t disprove. Imagine you have doubts about your spouse that gnaw away at you and are damaging your relationship.
This strange Old Testament practice of the ‘test for adultery’ made a way for the husband to either remove doubts and suspicions or to have the truth revealed. Yet, it also made a way for their spouse to be cleared of suspicion or to face the consequences of their sin.
In this process, we see God’s protection for both the husband and the wife. If she is not guilty she will be vindicated; shame will be cleared, suspicion gone. If she was guilty but had been deceptive, the guilt will be exposed, which then protects the husband.
Sin is always hurtful; it damages relationships. He will be hurting her if he continues to suspect her falsely, hurting her by not trusting her. She would be hurting him if she had sinned and been deceptive. This process instituted by God sought to provide a way of dealing with sin, with accusation or with the doubts due to sin or potential sin.
It is worth noting that both men and women caught in adultery would have both been guilty! It is not just the woman but both who would have been sentenced to death for their serious sin. (Deuteronomy 22:22)
Adultery, as with all sexual sin, is very serious in God’s eyes. So, we ought not to set our moral thermostat by the culture of our day but let it be re-sensitised by the Word of God. From this, we also learn that there are no secrets before God; God knows the secret sins that no one else knows about. God, who sees all will ultimately judge all.
The passage ends affirming that the one who asked his wife to consent to the ‘test for adultery’ will be innocent of any wrongdoing for being jealous and needing confirmation or alleviation of his doubts, whereas the guilty one would then bear the consequences of that sin.
A strange yet gracious and no longer relevant practice instituted by God to remove suspicions & to clear the innocent with God as the witness but also to deal with sin.
What can we learn, what ought we to do?
God cares for relationships. God wants clarity in relationships, clear air, suspicions removed. So talk openly and honestly with each other. God defends the innocent and vindicates them. Sin is damaging to relationships! The covenant of marriage really matters. God punishes sin, so repent of sin and be forgiven and set free to sin no more, to hurt no more but to please God.