JEALOUS HUSBANDS ARE IN THE BIBLE. Along with a remedy for a man’s jealously of his wife. If he fears she’s sleeping around, he takes her to the priest who makes her drink dirt water and dried ink scraped from a written curse.
If she gets sick, she’s guilty as sin.
If she’s okay, or at least seems okay, all is well. The husband can relax.
It’s all God’s idea, according to whoever wrote the Book of Numbers, or perhaps pieced it together from memories passed down orally from one generation to the next.
Here’s how I recently paraphrased that law for the Casual English Bible, in Numbers 5:11-31.
Rx for jealous husbands
The LORD told Moses:
Tell this to the Israelite people:
Here’s what I want you to do if a man’s wife has sex with someone else. Let’s say the wife and the other man keep it secret, and no one else saw it happen. And let’s say the husband begins to suspect something, and he works himself up into such a fit of jealousy that he has to know one way or another if anything happened.
The man should take his wife to the priest. He should bring an offering: a couple quarts of barley flour. Just plain flour. Don’t mix in any olive oil or frankincense. This is a grain offering about jealousy and about finding out if anything happened.
Wife drinks dirty water
The priest will have the woman stand before the LORD. Then the priest will put some holy water in a clay bowl. Then he’ll add some dirt he picks up from the floor of the tent worship center.
He’ll have the woman let down her hair. Then he’ll hand her the grain offering that her husband brought because of his jealousy. The priest will stand in front of her, holding the bowl of angry water. The priest will tell the woman the oath she’ll have to swear:
“If you haven’t had sex with another person, and you’ve stayed faithful to the husband you’re supposed to serve, this water won’t hurt you. And the curse I’m about to put on it won’t affect you. But if you’ve wandered away from your husband and had sex with another man…”
Mid-sentence the priest should stop and tell the woman she’s going to have to swear an oath that contains a curse of what will happen if she’s guilty. Then the priest should continue where he cut off:
“may the LORD make your family and friends hate you and treat you as toxic. And may the LORD use this angry water to swell your body and destroy its ability to produce another baby.
So now, if you’re guilty, may this water you drink make you swell up with sickness, and then destroy your ability to have another child.”
At this point, the priest will have the woman say, “Yes. Absolutely yes.”
The priest should then write down everything he just said: the oath and its curses. Then he should scrape the ink into the bowl of angry water. He’ll have the woman drink the water that would curse her and make her sick if she’s guilty.
But first, he should take the grain offering of the jealous husband and lift it toward the LORD. Then he should take it to the altar. He should take a handful of flour and burn it on the altar, sending it up in smoke. This is when the woman should drink the angry water. If she was unfaithful to her husband, her body will swell. She’ll never again deliver a healthy baby. People will turn their backs on her and treat her as poison. But if the woman didn’t do anything wrong, the angry water won’t affect her in any way. She’ll remain healthy and able to have children.
This is the law for dealing with a jealous husband when the wife who’s supposed to serve him helps herself to another man. It’s also the law for dealing with a man who’s jealous simply because he suspects his faithful wife. In either situation, the priest will apply the law as the LORD instructed.
This law will show if the husband’s suspicions were valid. If so, the woman will suffer the consequences.
Notes….and this law needs notes
 5:15. Two dry quarts equals 2.2 dry liters. That’s about a two-and-a-half-pound sack of flour (1 kg).
 5:15. Frankincense was one of the most exotic and expensive fragrances available, along with myrrh. Also used as woody-tasting spices. Both come from sap of small trees and shrubs growing in what are now Saudi Arabia, northern Africa, and India. People would grind up the dried sap and put it in perfumes. They also burned it as a woody fragrance, and a sweet-smelling incense. They burned the incense in religious services. They also burned incense in homes as air fresheners in the days before soap and deodorants. Possible health benefits: reduces inflammation in the gut and irritable bowel syndrome; reduces inflammation of arthritis; helps relieve asthma. Further medical studies are needed, according to medical researchers.
 5:18. It’s unclear why the woman needed to let her hair down. It’s not generally something a woman did in public. Women who were ritually unclean because they were suffering from serious skin diseases were instructed to put their hair down and muss it up to provide a visual clue to others that they were unclean (Leviticus 13:5). Some scholars suggest women had to put their hair down to make them feel vulnerable or perhaps to shame them.
 5:18. The Hebrew word is mar. It’s usually translated in this context as “bitter.” But it can also mean: disagreeable, poisonous, angry, cruel, anxious. Anything but refreshing. “Angry” seems a good fit, given the husband’s jealousy, which produced this anxious scene.
 5:21. There’s a lot of debate over what is happening here because the words are oblique. The passage literally says, may the LORD “make your thigh shrivel and your belly swell.” Babies first appear between a mother’s thighs. So, many scholars say the phrase is a euphemistic way of saying the woman would suffer from infertility or miscarriages.
 5:22. Literally, “Amen. Amen.” Archaeological discoveries in Israel confirm people used “Amen” to confirm the truth of an oath they took.
 5:24. This law, sometimes called the Test of the Bitter Water, might seem to favor the husband, as we interpret the law today. A priest whips up a cocktail of dirt and ink. Ink analyzed from the famous Dead Sea Scrolls contained mainly lamp soot. So, we have a nervous wife standing in the worship center in what she was taught was God’s presence. And she is ordered to drink dirty water that not only has a curse on it, but a curse in it: the priest scraped the ink of the words into the water. Who’s not going to get sick after drinking that? Well, Israelites taught that God controlled everything. See the note for Exodus 28:30, about the high priest using what sounds a bit like dice to get answers from God. Israelites taught that if the woman was innocent, this would prove it and it would quench the jealous anger of her husband, hopefully shutting him up on the subject. Still, the law might seem unfair. But without it, the woman had no recourse. She would have to continue suffering from her husband’s jealousy. This way, if she could avoid getting sick and could manage to produce a baby, the husband should be relieved. From today’s perspective, though, we’re left wondering what would happen if the woman’s next baby looked like the man in the next tent. Perhaps that would produce another trip to the priest, with another round of angry water and some extra dirt.
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As a first time visitor to the site, I was surprised to see the blog “For jealous husbands, women drank dirt water” as that topic is my latest post on my lapsed Southern Baptist site godaccused.com
I am impressed with the high production values evident in your video presentations and would appreciate any opinions of my site’s content, art and approach.
Stephen M. Miller
Thanks for the kind words, John. I’ll take a look at your site.