On God-ordained, Abortion-inducing Magic Potions and Jealous Husbands Shaming Their Wives in the Bible


What can a faithful, God-fearing man do if he is jealous and suspects that his wife has been unfaithful to him?

Well, if you are an ancient Israelite and if you believe the text of the Bible, (or if you are a modern man who thinks that the Bible’s laws concerning sexuality should be used to legislate issues of sexuality today), then this is what THE LORD ALMIGHTY commands that you do in Num. 5:11-31 (all verses below are from the NRSV):

Num. 5:11: The LORD spoke to Moses, saying:
Num. 5:12: Speak to the Israelites and say to them: If any man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him,
Num. 5:13: if a man has had intercourse with her but it is hidden from her husband, so that she is undetected though she has defiled herself, and there is no witness against her since she was not caught in the act;
Num. 5:14: if a spirit of jealousy comes on him, and he is jealous of his wife who has defiled herself; or if a spirit of jealousy comes on him, and he is jealous of his wife, though she has not defiled herself;

So basically, if a husband even suspects or, in a paranoid, jealous craze thinks that his wife has been unfaithful to him…even if she has not “defiled herself”, the jealous husband can take action against his wife. And once you read what that action is, you’ll be shocked.

Num. 5:15: then the man shall bring his wife to the priest. And he shall bring the offering required for her, one-tenth of an ephah of barley flour. He shall pour no oil on it and put no frankincense on it, for it is a grain offering of jealousy, a grain offering of remembrance, bringing iniquity to remembrance.
Num. 5:16: Then the priest shall bring her near, and set her before the LORD;
Num. 5:17: the priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel, and take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it into the water.

So the woman is ordered to sit before the priest, and the priest begins creating a potion, of which one of the ingredients is the dust of the floor of the desert tabernacle.

Thus, so far, if you’re a woman, and your husband thinks you’ve cheated on him, you’re going to have to drink some dirty floor water. I wonder what else goes into this lovely potion?

Num. 5:18: The priest shall set the woman before the LORD, dishevel the woman’s hair,

So take that! The priest messes up your hair. And why? Because your jealous husband is accusing you of being a slut and you are to be shamed even if you are not guilty. But wait, it gets worse. Let’s see what the LORD GOD instructs Israel to do next in this trial.

Num. 5:18 con’t: and place in her hands the grain offering of remembrance, which is the grain offering of jealousy. In his own hand the priest shall have the water of bitterness that brings the curse.

I’m guessing the “water of bitterness that brings the curse” is bitter because of all the foot-trampled dust in the bowl of water she’s about to drink.

But if you’re wondering, “Hey, I thought you said there was some magical element to this process”, this is where it gets weird.

Num. 5:19: Then the priest shall make her take an oath, saying, “If no man has lain with you, if you have not turned aside to uncleanness while under your husband’s authority, be immune to this water of bitterness that brings the curse.
Num. 5:20: But if you have gone astray while under your husband’s authority, if you have defiled yourself and some man other than your husband has had intercourse with you,”
Num. 5:21: —let the priest make the woman take the oath of the curse and say to the woman—“the LORD make you an execration and an oath among your people, when the LORD makes your uterus drop, your womb discharge;

Delightful. If you’ve cheated, drinking this dirt water will make you miscarry. That’s what it says. And why? Because to God every life matters, even the unborn in the womb, who were conceived through means that were less than ideal? God loves every unborn child??

No. At least that’s not what the text says. Read it.

God wants the woman who had been suspected of cheating by her jealous husband to drink a bowl of holy water that contains dust from the floor of the tabernacle, and if she’s guilty, that is, she cheated and is now pregnant, drinking the magic dirt potion and pronouncing the curse will cause her to abort the child! This is what GOD IS INSTRUCTING: that the suspected unfaithful woman orally consume a concoction that will induce an abortion if she is pregnant.

Tell me again how much God hates abortion. Here, he’s giving the recipe for a drink that induces one.

But wait, there’s more…

Num. 5:22: now may this water that brings the curse enter your bowels and make your womb discharge, your uterus drop!” And the woman shall say, “Amen. Amen.”
Num. 5:23 Then the priest shall put these curses in writing, and wash them off into the water of bitterness.

Now we’re dealing with straight up magic! SYMPATHETIC MAGIC! Apparently, it wasn’t enough to pronounce the curse over the bitter potion. God instructs the priest to write down the miscarriage curse, and then WASH IT INTO THE WATER. We are dealing here with the vestiges of sympathetic magic. The priest has to write down the curse, and then brush it into the drink to be consumed, as if just saying a prayer aloud over your meal is enough. Why not write down the grace you say before your meal and sprinkle it on your salad?

This is sympathetic magic, just like the Egyptian execration texts (which, btw, contain the earliest mention of Jerusalem) that are motivated by the belief in the numinous power of writing. The writing activates the magic potion that causes the woman to abort if she is guilty.

The accused woman (remember, she has not been found guilty, this is her TRIAL!) has to drink dirt water containing the remains of ink that was used to write a magic abortion curse. And IF she drinks this bitter water, and IF she’s cheated, the magic potion will cause her to spontaneously abort the child. Again, tell me how much God loves the unborn (even in cases of rape, incest, and adultery) and hates abortion. Here, God is mandating–this is God’s instruction to all Israel–mandating that a woman drink a magic potion that will bring about an abortion if she is pregnant.

And before you start criticizing this interpretation because it doesn’t fit with what you already believe, note that God’s view of the unborn in Num. 5 is consistent with the Bible’s other teachings about unborn and even newborn children.

For instance, in Exod. 21:22-23, the miscarriage of a child following an assault on its mother is not treated as a murder of a human punishable by death, but as an assault against a man’s wife that is punishable by a fine paid to the woman’s husband. Or, note that in Num. 3:15-16, only males one month of age and older are counted as people in the roll. Children under one month of age don’t count. This is consistent with and corroborated by the equivalency prices of various aged individuals in Lev. 27:2-8, where Lev. 27:6 says that children under one month of age require no equivalency, as they do not yet count as people! Again, the biblical view concerning the unborn is consistent with the text of Num. 5, which is clearly calling for a drink to be drunk that will supposedly induce a miscarriage.

Num. 5:24: He shall make the woman drink the water of bitterness that brings the curse, and the water that brings the curse shall enter her and cause bitter pain.

Again, if a husband makes an accusation against his wife, the very trial to determine whether the accusation is even true should involve the magical, ancient equivalent of a morning after pill.

Num. 5:25: The priest shall take the grain offering of jealousy out of the woman’s hand, and shall elevate the grain offering before the LORD and bring it to the altar;
Num. 5:26: and the priest shall take a handful of the grain offering, as its memorial portion, and turn it into smoke on the altar, and afterward shall make the woman drink the water.
Num. 5:27: When he has made her drink the water, then, if she has defiled herself and has been unfaithful to her husband, the water that brings the curse (ארר) shall enter into her and cause bitter pain, and her womb (בטן) shall discharge (צבה), her uterus (ירך) drop (נפל), and the woman shall become an execration (אלה, or “curse”) among her people.
Num. 5:28: But if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, then she shall be immune and be able to conceive children.

Let’s address some technical things here. This is ABSOLUTELY describing an abortion or chemically induced (remember, she is drinking a potion after all) spontaneous miscarriage. I don’t care what “gotquestions.org” tells you, while the term ירך (yrk) in Num. 5:21 and 27 is the Hebrew word for the “upper thigh”, it is also the common Hebrew euphemism for things dealing with the genitals, like in Gen. 46:26, where the offspring of Jacob are referred to as the “ones going out of his thigh” (יצאי ירכו) (cf. Exod. 1:5). The same expression (יצאי ירכו) is used of Gideon in Judg. 8:30.

The same word, ירך (yrk), is also used in the incredibly awkward vow taken by Abraham’s servant mentioned in Gen. 24:2 and 24:9 in which Abraham tells his servant to “put your hand under my ‘thigh'” (ירכי) as a fertility vow that he will only choose a wife for Abraham’s son, Isaac, from among his own people and not from the Canaanites. Note that Israel (Jacob) demands the same vow of Joseph not to bury him in Egypt in Gen. 47:29. This is a very different kind of “handshake”, and yet, there it is in the Bible.

Likewise, the word בטן (btn, or “belly”) is a euphemism for “womb”, as in Prov. 31:2, in which the “son of my womb” is expressed as בר–בטני (bar-bitni), using בטן (btn) as a clear reference to the womb. In Ecc. 11:5, בטן (btn) is used in the expression “how the breath comes to the bones in the mother’s womb (בטן)”, obviously referencing the breath of life that ultimately comes to a fetus at birth. In Deut. 28:4, when the text says, “Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb (בטנך)”, it is not talking about that which comes forth from the stomach (in either direction), but from a woman’s womb. Judg. 16:17, Ps. 22:11, Job 1:21 (“naked I came from my mother’s womb (בטן)”) and countless other passages make clear that בטן (btn) in Num. 5:27 is not an upset stomach or a simple tummy malady that came from drinking some expired dirty foot water, it is an explicit reference to a woman’s womb.

So the word בטן (btn) here means a womb swelling or distending (צבה) in distress (not a stomach), and because it is in parallel with the word ירך (yrk) in Num 5:27, ירך (yrk) does not simply mean “thigh” (as if “thigh dropping” made any sense at all). Rather, ירך (yrk) here is another reference to the womb, and the “dropping” or “falling” (נפל) of this womb is an unmistakable reference to a miscarriage. In this regard, the NIV (2011) translation of “miscarry” in Num. 5:21 and 5:27 gets it right.

And if the womb, or more technically, the uterus, “falls” (נפל), this can only be speaking about one thing: a potion-induced spontaneous miscarriage (i.e., abortion) to purge the unfaithful woman of the child that was not conceived by her husband.

And remember, THIS IS COMMANDED BY GOD in Num. 5. It is God’s prescribed means of discerning whether or not the woman has cheated on her husband: if she has, the fetus is aborted and the wife is presumably executed following the punishment prescribed in Lev. 20:10; if she has not, nothing happens.

The punishment for the crime is clear. Not only is the woman exposed as an adulterer and killed for her capital offense (cf. Lev. 20:10), but so too is the potential child’s life terminated in the process. And this, too, is consistent with the activity of God described elsewhere in the Bible, for God is described as having no problem whatsoever with killing an innocent child because he was brought about by illicit sexual activity like adultery. In fact, this is precisely what happened in 2 Sam 12:14, when through the prophet Nathan, God tells David, who conceived a child with Bathsheba, that, “because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child that is born to you shall die.” And of course, while the child is completely innocent–the product of an adulterous relationship between David and Bathsheba–GOD KILLS THE CHILD in 2 Sam. 12:18-19, despite the fact that David begged God for mercy. Thus, this ritual is a double punishment for both woman and child, which is completely consistent with the commands and actions of God throughout the Bible. And if the child from an illicit union does happen to survive, Deut. 23:2 (HB 23:3) says this child is banned from the assembly: “Those born of an illicit union shall not be admitted to the assembly of the LORD.” Thus, even if they do survive birth, God’s position is to ostracize these children completely from his assembly!

And yes, this passage involves sympathetic magic in the form of a potion containing a written curse. The potion of dirty water and ink is not a likely abortifacient. But the point is that they believed in the magic. They believed that imbibing the written curse would reveal the truth, and they believed this divining process to be prescribed by God himself. Whether or not it actually worked is another question. All we know is that Israelite and later Jewish women were to be subjected to this humiliating, presumably abortive process in order to prove their innocence. Again, drinking holy water with dirt in it doesn’t necessarily terminate or prevent a pregnancy. It is the presence of the written curse that makes this a magic potion, again, one prescribed by God.

So ladies, if you’ve done nothing wrong, you get to have your hair intentionally disheveled by a priest and you get to drink dirty foot water with the ink of an abortion-inducing magic curse in it. And then, if you’re innocent, you’ll be immune to the magic potion, and able to return to the loving arms of your jealous husband and conceive children for him. That’s if you’re INNOCENT!

Num. 5:29: This is the law in cases of jealousy, when a wife, while under her husband’s authority, goes astray and defiles herself,
Num. 5:30: or when a spirit of jealousy comes on a man and he is jealous of his wife;

Don’t miss that last part. When she has cheated OR when a “spirit of jealousy” comes over the husband, she must endure the humiliating, abortion-inducing trial just to prove she’s innocent.

Num. 5:30 con’t: then he shall set the woman before the LORD, and the priest shall apply this entire law to her.

And just in case you think there is some punishment for the husband for falsely accusing a wife who survives this humiliation and pain, read the last verse and think again.

Num. 5:31: The man shall be free from iniquity, but the woman shall bear her iniquity.

Let me repeat that last verse. If the woman is INNOCENT, and her husband FALSELY ACCUSES her, read it with me: “THE MAN SHALL BE FREE FROM INIQUITY, BUT THE WOMAN SHALL BEAR HER INIQUITY.” The husband pays no penalty for the false accusation. His wife, on the other hand, is humiliated, and all because he had a “spirit of jealousy”.

As shameful as it is, I can think of no better summary–no better motto or slogan–for the treatment of women in antiquity (including in the Bible) than Num. 5:31:

“The man shall be free from iniquity, but the woman shall bear her iniquity.”

Thus reads the Word of the merciful Lord (who apparently doesn’t hate abortion quite as much as right wing conservatives think he does).

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I cannot comprehend how any woman remained in this religion. Then I think to myself, “What choice did they have? They were chattel. And this is what happened to them when they were INNOCENT!

And let us also remember, this is the same God to whom Jesus prayed, and that Christians believe Jesus to be. So please dispense with the whole, “This isn’t applicable to us Christians anymore. This doesn’t count. We don’t have to deal with this because the Old Testament was nailed to the cross, and we live under grace, not the law” argument, because it’s the same God who sent Jesus, the same religious tradition whose God created the universe and established the very expectation of a Messiah, and the same Jesus who said in Matt. 5:18:

“For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”

Christians can’t claim that they can just sweep passages like these under the rug and act like they never happened or that they don’t tell us something about the nature of God because he’s the same God who told Moses to establish this practice. The same God who gave you Ps. 23 gave you Num. 5:11-31.

This is why we (men) must make every effort to lift up women, encourage them, promote them, and beg their forgiveness for the millennia of oppression we’ve imposed upon them–modern day, institutional oppression that is found in the very laws of this country that were (and many still are) rooted in the laws of this book – the same book and the same laws that some religious fundamentalists are STILL attempting to impose upon our secular government and the citizenry of this nation.

Where is NonStampCollector when you need him? This needs to be a video.

I welcome comments and would love to see someone attempt an apologetic defense of this passage. I’m particularly looking for people who will claim that this is a “poor exegesis” (which usually means a non-apologetic exegesis with which you don’t agree), or “out of context“, or that my comments don’t count because I don’t believe that this text is “authoritative” or “inspired” or because I’m “not a Christian” or because I’m “an agnostic” or “an atheist”, because those anti-intellectual excuses always betray that the one making them simply has no reasoned response, only a desire not to listen to the obvious anymore.


43 Responses

  1. So three quick notes as this thought continues to develop:

    1) No, I do not think this process actually worked, and by that I mean the drinking of holy water plus dirt plus the ink of a written curse induced menstruation, an abortion, or any thing of the sort.

    2) The point is that they believed it worked. Thus, if this process actually ever took place in ancient Israel (and this is a legitimate question among scholars), it more likely served as a psychological deterrent for the wife or reassurance for the husband. That is to say, if a woman believed that this process worked and faced prospect of being found out even if she was completely clandestine, then the retainer of this process of divination would have had value and we can understand why ancient Israel would have retained it. Likewise, if a skeptical or clever woman who had cheated was willing to take the risk, going through the process and not dying could serve as reassurance to the husband, who saw that even God declares she didn’t cheat. This offers some theoretical motivation for why ancient Israel would have retained this clear example of divination.

    3) So what’s the point? The point is that this example of sympathetic magic–one that potentially kills wife and unborn child–was retained by ancient Israel in the pages of its holy book. The point is ultimately to show that from a believer’s standpoint, the hermeneutics of Reform Judaism and Progressive/Liberal Christianity are really the only ways to get around such a chauvinistic and ethically problematic portion of the Bible. These groups simply acknowledge that this was done in history, that it was part of ancient Israel’s beliefs at the time, that this was their attempt to describe God at that time, that this practice is clearly wrong, as it both demeans women and does not accurately portray the deity, and thus can be dismissed as a form of guidance or instruction to the believer, other than to serve as an example of what people can do to one another in the name of religion. Conservative Evangelicals, fundamentalists, those believing in biblical inerrancy, or in the perfect revelation of God, etc., cannot do this, and therefore must contend with various apologetic ways in which to harmonize this troubling episode with their theology. This episode is ethically abhorrent on the part of the deity, precisely because it shames women (note there is no instruction about what to do when women are jealous) and portrays the deity as one who is more than willing to punish the unborn child for the crimes of the mother. However, if you believe that it accurately portrays God, then, of course, some must find a way to defend the practice. Of course, skeptics, agnostics, etc. simply read it as yet another example of what ancient peoples believed.

    But no, I don’t believe this process actually worked, so efforts to determine what potentially abortifacient chemicals may have been in the ink, etc., are ultimately unproductive, as the entire point of this episode is the believed numinous power of writing in antiquity and the persistence of unscientific myths in the bible similar to the imprinting reproductive qualities and reproductive qualities of mandrakes in Gen. 30 – both of which are similar tales pertaining to reproduction that have been utterly debunked.

    Ultimately, given these three reproductive myths in the Bible, and the persistence and endorsement of polygamy, infanticide, and the use of rape and kidnapping to procure wives, the question must finally be ask how anyone could look to the Bible for any modern instruction whatsoever regarding sexual reproduction.

  2. Tabernacle ordinances have been changed – it is no longer physical under the New Agreement – the old being a shadow of the New, of course.

    Yĕhowshuwa` Anointed now dwells in believers instead of tents or buildings; and we in Him.

    What do you say an Israelite husband should have done, in 3000 B.C., when he suspected his wife was an adulteress? (we’re talking about a capital offense). This is innocent until proven guilty ordinance – an example of tolerance and mercy – when he might have just caved her head in instead (again, we’re talking about a capital offense).

  3. This is an interesting post. But to argue that it is about abortion or pregnancy is flawed. Not all acts of intercourse result in pregnancy. In fact, most acts of intercourse do not result in pregnancy. According to the account the husband is jealous that his wife is unfaithful and yet he cannot prove it. If a pregnancy was the result of every adulterous act then all the jealous husband would have to do is abstain from sexual intercourse with his wife, wait a few months and the evidence of the adulterous relationship would be manifest because the woman would be visibly pregnant. He would then have proof and both the adulterous wife and her lover would be stoned according to Mosaic law.

    This passage hinges on suspicion of adultery not suspicion of pregnancy caused by adultery. You are assuming that drinking of the bitter water is meant to rid the uterus of its contents (a bastard embryo or fetus). I offer the following commentary taken from the Old Testament Student Manual (Genesis – 2 Samuel) published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (found at this link: https://www.lds.org/manual/old-testament-student-manual-genesis-2-samuel/numbers-1-12-wilderness-wanderings-part-1?lang=eng)

    “(17-10) Numbers 5:11–31. The Trial of Jealousy

    This law for determining the guilt or innocence of an adulterer is puzzling in many respects. At first it seems heavily biased against the woman for there is no similar requirement for the man. A close examination of the law will show what was involved in it and why the Lord revealed it.

    “The rabbins who have commented on this text give us the following information: When any man, prompted by the spirit of jealousy, suspected his wife to have committed adultery, he brought her first before the judges, and accused her of the crime; but as she asserted her innocency, and refused to acknowledge herself guilty, and as he had no witnesses to produce, he required that she be sentenced to drink the waters of bitterness which the law had appointed; that God, by this means, might discover what she wished to conceal. After the judges had heard the accusation and the denial, the man and his wife were both sent to Jerusalem, to appear before the Sanhedrin, who were the sole judges in such matters. The rabbins say that the judges of the Sanhedrin, at first endeavoured with threatenings to confound the woman, and cause her to confess her crime; when she still persisted in her innocence, she was led to the eastern gate of the court of Israel, where she was stripped of the clothes she wore, and dressed in black before a number of persons of her own sex. The priest then told her that if she knew herself to be innocent she had no evil to apprehend; but if she were guilty, she might expect to suffer all that the law threatened; to which she answered, Amen, amen.

    “The priest then wrote the words of the law upon a piece of vellum, with ink that had no vitriol in it, that it might be the more easily blotted out. The words written on the vellum were, according to the rabbins, the following:—‘If a strange man have not come near thee, and thou art not polluted by forsaking the bed of thy husband, these bitter waters which I have cursed will not hurt thee: but if thou have gone astray from thy husband, and have polluted thyself by coming near to another man, may thou be accursed of the Lord, and become an example for all his people; may thy thigh rot, and thy belly swell till it burst! may these cursed waters enter into thy belly, and, being swelled therewith, may thy thigh putrefy!’

    “After this the priest took a new pitcher, filled it with water out of the brazen bason that was near the altar of burnt-offering, cast some dust into it taken from the pavement of the temple, mingled something bitter, as wormwood, with it, and having read the curses above mentioned to the woman, and received her answer of Amen, he scraped off the curses from the vellum into the pitcher of water. During this time another priest tore her clothes as low as her bosom, made her head bare, untied the tresses of her hair, fastened her torn clothes with a girdle below her breasts, and presented her with the tenth part of an ephah, or about three pints of barley-meal, which was in a frying pan, without oil or incense.

    “The other priest, who had prepared the waters of jealousy, then gave them to be drank by the accused person, and as soon as she had swallowed them, he put the pan with the meal in it into her hand. This was waved before the Lord, and a part of it thrown into the fire of the altar. If the woman was innocent, she returned with her husband; and the waters, instead of incommoding her, made her more healthy and fruitful than ever: if on the contrary she were guilty, she was seen immediately to grow pale, her eyes started out of her head, and, lest the temple should be defiled with her death, she was carried out, and died instantly with all the ignominious circumstances related in the curses.” (Clarke, Bible Commentary, 1:634.)

    Several points should be noted.

    1. Although this ritual focused on the woman, it in no way implied that men who committed adultery were to be excused, for the law clearly stated that adulterers of both sexes were to be stoned (see Leviticus 20:10).
    2. In a way, the law provided protection of two different kinds for a woman. First, without this law it is possible that a husband could unjustly accuse his wife of infidelity. If his word alone were sufficient to convict her, she would be in a terrible state indeed. Putting the determination of guilt or innocence into the hands of God rather than into the hands of her husband, or even other men, ensured that she could vindicate herself if she were innocent.
    The second positive benefit is more subtle but probably is of even greater value. If a husband suspected his wife of adultery, one result would be a terrible strain in the husband-wife relationship. In today’s legal system, with no witnesses to prove her guilt, the court would probably declare her not guilty. But the basis for her acquittal would be a lack of positive evidence of her guilt rather than proof of her innocence. Such a legal declaration, therefore, would do little to alleviate the doubts of the husband and the estrangement would likely continue. Neighbors and friends also would probably harbor lingering suspicions about her innocence. With the trial of jealousy, however, dramatic proof of God’s declaration of her innocence would be irrefutable. The reputation of the woman would be saved and a marriage relationship healed. Thus, true justice and mercy were assured, and the whole matter would be laid promptly to rest.

    3. Those who ask why there was no parallel test a woman could ask of her husband should remember that if the accused woman refused to undergo the trial by drinking the water, her action was considered a confession of guilt. Thus, she and her partner in the evil act would be put to death (see Leviticus 20:10). If she attempted to lie and pass the test, but brought the curses upon herself, this result too was considered proof of the guilt of her male partner. It is possible that a wife who believed her husband guilty of infidelity could ask that his suspected partner be put to the trial of jealousy. The outcome would immediately establish the guilt or innocence of her husband as well as that of the other woman.
    Thus, in a world where the rights of women were often abused, the Lord provided a means for protecting their rights as well as seeing that evil was put away and justice done.”

    Now all of this assumes that the Hebrew Bible, as we have it, has come down to us correctly interpreted. And it assumes that the wife, if innocent, has sufficient faith in the Hebrew God to drink a man-made poison potion and not die from the draught. Nevertheless, I agree with you that the Hebrew Bible has been used to justify oppression of women and many other groups of peoples throughout time.

  4. For my own part, I fail to see any problem with the notion of an evolving morality to which God condescends, though I suppose my particular views aren’t really in question here.

    I’m still not sure there’s a one-to-one correlation between this ritual and modern day abortion, however. After all, even some of the staunchest members of the pro-life crowd make distinctions between the agents, causes, and motivations of killing, noting that obviously not every infant’s life must be preserved in all cases. Usually when a mother’s life is in jeopardy they consider it acceptable to terminate a pregnancy. And one can easily see how ending a life for economic reasons, emotional reasons, or even convenience might differ from ending a life for religious reasons. One might not like that logic, but it can be quite consistent. And the killing of an infant isn’t necessarily considered problematic when it’s God himself doing the killing, which is where I think your example would fall. It hardly seems plausible (as you note) that the dirty water would have been understood as a natural abortifacient and instead appears far more likely that it was conceived of as a magical potion of some kind. Yet magical potions get their power from the divine, so it’s no stretch to simply chalk this scenario up to God’s will, which isn’t considered problematic.

    There are some great observations here, but I certainly don’t think it’s an air-tight argument. The evangelical pro-lifer may end up having to ask some questions about God’s character, but I don’t see how their fundamental position is radically affected.

  5. Bob wrote, “…(note there is no instruction about what to do when women are jealous).”

    Polygyny was common, polyandry was not. Husbands had (have) a liberty that wives did (do) not. Polygyny is a natural expression of human sexuality, condoned by Scripture.

    The traditional orthodox vows taken by Christians in 2015 concoct a prohibition against polygyny that is not found in Scripture – “forsake all others”.


    According to the God of the Bible it was more important to stone a woman to death if she should “entice you to follow after other gods,” than it was to rescue the life of any fetus she might have been carrying.

    It was more important to stone a woman to death the day after her wedding night “if she was discovered not to have been a virgin,” than it was to wait and see if she might have conceived new life that night.

    It was more important to stone a woman to death for “adultery,” than to wait and see if she might be pregnant.

    It was more important to stone a woman to death for “failing to cry out while being raped within earshot of the city,” than it was to spare the life she might have conceived during that ordeal, during which the rapist may have held a knife to her throat, or strangled her into silence and submission.

    And what about the test of “bitter water” mentioned in chapter five of the book of Numbers? The test consisted of mixing dust from the floor of the Hebrew tabernacle with “holy water” to make a concoction that a woman drank to test whether or not she had committed adultery. (The dust from the floor of the tabernacle was probably littered with blood and other drippings from sacrificed animals, Plenty of bacteria grows on that stuff. No health inspector would recommend licking an unrefrigerated and unsanitized slaughterhouse floor, which could be quite bad for one’s health indeed.) If she had, it says, “her belly will swell and her thigh will rot.” Scholars have pointed out that “thigh” is a euphemism for sexual organs. So if the woman had committed adultery and had conceived as a result, then the “bitter water” would induce an abortion (“her thigh would rot”). (I wonder if this means that Bible-believing women who are accused of having affairs ought to swallow some dirt from the floor of their church mixed with “holy water?” Or better yet, swallow an abortion pill like RU-486 in front of the whole congregation?)

    And what about children who “curse their parents?” The Bible says, “Kill them!” (Ex. 21:17; Lev. 20:9; Mat. 15:4; Mark 7:10) The Bible does not say how old the child has to be, but it does emphatically state they must “surely be put to death” should they “curse their parents.”

    Ah, the good old days, when God fearing people had higher priorities than “saving fetal lives.” They were too busy stoning whomever enticed them to worship other gods, stoning adulteresses, stoning women who weren’t virgins on their wedding night, stoning women who “failed to cry out” during rape, and stoning sassy children. In other words they were too busy with all of those higher priorities to worry about “the fate of fetuses.”

  7. The dust from the floor of the tabernacle was probably littered with blood and other drippings from sacrificed animals, Plenty of bacteria grows on that stuff. No health inspector would recommend licking an unrefrigerated and unsanitized slaughterhouse floor, which could be quite bad for one’s health indeed.

  8. @Lynne Cropper

    Delayed I know, but you seem to be assuming that a husband could be punished for sleeping with any woman not his wife. This isn’t so. The Bible defines adultery entirely by the marital status of the women, not that of the man. For a married women to sleep with a man not her husband is adultery, whether the man in question is married or not. For a man to sleep with a woman who is not his wife is only adultery if the woman in question is married. (Even Leviticus 20:10 specifies it is the women’s marital status that is important.)

    If a woman was jealous because she suspected her husband was sleeping with another woman, she could only bring the issue before the courts if the “other woman” was married. It the woman was not married, tough luck. In fact, revealing the affair might cause said women to become another of her husband’s wives, provided she wasn’t a widow or a prostitute (as per Exodus 22:16).

  9. Bob: I think you are making a mistake in this last comment. Ladysunami is talking to Lynne when she says “you seem to be assuming…”. She’s not talking to you.

    That said, I have one brief comment on this interesting discussion.

    We read Numbers and indeed the whole Bible through our modern scientific understanding of the world. The original recipients did not. Thus we ascribe the power to cause abortion to the potion itself, not to God. The ancients would not do this. If the potion caused abortion it was believed to be God’s judgement, not the chemical power of the potion.

  10. You are correct. I saw the @ comment as sender not as responding to. I’ll delete my comment.

  11. Rick,

    You are correct in that the ancients would to have attributed the abortion to God. To be sure. My point is, that the written curse is what activates or enables the curse brought about by God. They would have indeed understood it to be God bringing about the abortion, but they would also have understood the curse, that is the written curse erased into the potion, to be that which activates or enables God’s judgment in this case. If that were not the case, they would just bring her before the priest, who would throw the urim and thumim, and God would divine her to have cheated. (note also that that is also divination). God doesn’t just judge in these cases, he is invited or activated to judge by the use of sympathetic magic. Otherwise, there would be no need for the elaborate potion.

  12. […] of infidelity (again reducing her ability to produce purebred offspring of known origin), he can forcibly give her an abortion potion. Never say Jehovah is anything less than a bro. (See also Fifteen Bible Texts Reveal Why God’s […]

  13. […] his wife may be pregnant by someone else, he can take her to the priest who will give her a magical abortion potion that will work only if the pregnancy isn’t his (Numbers […]

  14. The Torah (old testament) was a guide to keep the Israelites pure while waiting for the fulfillment of Yeshua’s birth. It was not created for the gentiles. After the prophecy was fulfilled the new testament was created which invited the gentiles to join, recognized that everyone is a sinner but Yeshua paid for our sins with his blood.

    I did not have faith for years because people like you would cherry pick through the old testament, again written for the Israelites, to create an image of a nonsensical dictator God. Then I read the bible myself and my eyes were opened. Shame on you for leading people astray.

  15. Thank you

  16. Stop putting words in scripture that is not there! There is no mention in the text of an unborn child just an unfaithful or suspect of being unfaithful woman. There are plenty of scripture referrals to unborn children. So it’s not like God is sidestepping about the issue. If He were talking about killing her unborn child that is exactly what would have been written.

  17. Did you bother to read vss. 21, 22, and 27? IF the woman has committed adultery, and she drinks the water, then her womb swells and her uterus falls (וְצָבְתָה בִטְנָהּ וְנָפְלָה יְרֵכָהּ). These are clearly sexual euphemisms for childbearing. Note that v. 28 offers the converse: if she hasn’t committed adultery, she may still conceive children. The verse is clearly punishing the woman and the offspring of the adulterous union, EXACTLY as God did in 2 Sam. 12:14-19. The Bible clearly states that GOD killed the child because of David’s sin. Verse 15 clearly says God struck the child (וַיִּגֹּף יְהוָה אֶת-הַיֶּלֶד). The Bible is pretty clear about God punishing the innocent child for the sins of the adulterous parents, the woman in Num. 5 and both parents in 2 Sam. 12.

    So, you’re welcome to argue that the text is not explicit, but it is fairly clear, and consistently so, that God has no problem slaying both the unborn and the recently born because of sins of the parents. In Numbers 5, he simply does it with a magic potion. If you think that is NOT a potion induced spontaneous miscarriage, then you need to suggest what this is actually describing. If not an abortion, then what is happening in this verse? It’s obviously a punishment for illicit sex. What do you think is going on with the potion and her belly?

  18. Basic bad logic to justify a pre-conceived argument.

    False Premise 1: As if there aren’t a whole lot of reasons this is bad scholarship, the text does not say or imply that the woman accused of adultery is pregnant. One can’t miscarry without being pregnant. This procedure is designed (if you read context without your preconception) to protect women from being falsely accused and divorced. Since the point is that the woman is being falsely accused (or may be being falsely accused), it is reasonable to conclude that she is NOT pregnant.

    If a man is having relations with his wife on a regular basis in or about 1500 BC, he would have no reason to question whether she got pregnant from an affair until after the child is born. Then, for example, if the child has a distinctively different skin tone than dad, it is obvious that the wife had an affair. If dad is NOT having regular relations with his wife, he doesn’t need a dirt test to figure it out. For example, this is why the Bible says Joseph was righteous to divorce Mary because she was pregnant and he knew that hadn’t had sex.

    The curse is that she won’t have children in the future, which is a horrible curse in Middle Eastern cultures and other cultures that value life and civilized society to this day.

    False Premise 2: Insinuating that oaths were made by men grabbing each others’ genitals completely ignores that the meaning of words in any language is often dictated by context when there are variant readings. This is especially true in middle-eastern and Semitic languages. (1st year student stuff).

    For example, Modern Standard Arabic, when saying “It’s over there” to direct someone to a street location, literally says, “He’s over there.” No Arab thinks that anyone is implying the street is a “boy” or gets confused. This is a syntactical construct of the language. Furthermore, the semantic range of words in most non-English, non-Latin, and non-German languages is FAR greater. Those languages have fewer “word-counts” to express the breadth of human experience.

    Keep up the study, big guy. You’ll get it someday. Maybe. Nice try, though. Glad you have a day job.

    A word to the rest of the wise: if you’d like a degree that is more valuable than a Cracker Jack box top, try a public institution better than one that would hire this guy.

  19. Well, a Charles Spurgeon impersonator. Welcome.

    And many congratulations on rushing to the ad hominem personal attacks–always a sure sign of one’s insecurity in one’s apologetic logic.

    In response (on the merits of your argument) here are my points:

    1. You say: “the text does not say or imply that the woman accused of adultery is pregnant”.
    No, it doesn’t, but that is not the point. The point of the text is to determine (magically, with a magic potion) whether the woman has been unfaithful, that is, whether she has had unlawful sex with another man. You are attempting to argue that because the text does not say that she is, in fact, pregnant, she is therefore NOT pregnant–a false assumption.

    It is true that the text does not say that the woman is pregnant, but rather that she is suspected of having had illicit sex. You claim that this means that she is definitively NOT pregnant, and that this is only a test of fidelity. However, THIS CLAIM (yours) is fallacious because it discounts the very natural product of sex: pregnancy. Furthermore, the penalty for infidelity is the womb swelling and discharging WHETHER SHE IS PREGNANT OR NOT! (Remember, it doesn’t say, but the consequence is the same.) Thus, while you are correct that the text does not state that the woman is definitively pregnant, the PENALTY for the infidelity–whether she is pregnant or not–is the LOSS of the current contents of the womb and the inability to have future children. Thus, your desire to dismiss any abortive consequence from this text is a logical fallacy rooted in a preconceived (no pun intended) desire to depict a God who does not punish unborn (or born children) for the crimes of the mother. This “test” results in the same uterine discharge whether she was pregnant or not, IF she has been unfaithful.

    Thus, your observation is invalid.

    2. Your appeal to the practice of “oaths [being] made by men grabbing each others’ genitals” is nothing more than a red herring. My invocation of this oath in Gen 24:2 and 24:9 was illustrative of the word “thigh”, and not central to the argument. EVEN IF you believe that the Bible does NOT represent the taking of an oath in Gen 24:2 and 24:9 as a literal placing of “your hand under my ‘thigh'”, the fact still stands that the Hebrew word ירך (yrk) IS used to refer to the sexual reproductive organs and childbearing in Num 5:27. So, the fact that you might disagree about the literal use of this particular phrase in Gen. 24 does not negate the fact that the word ירך (yrk) refers to procreation in Num. 5. Or are you arguing that Num. 5:11-31 does not deal with the potential for childbearing?

    The remainder of your point 2 is a red herring. Modern Arab idioms have no bearing on the standard biblical Hebrew in Num. 5, nor does Latin and German, especially since you’re attacking a peripheral illustration and not the central claim of my argument. Your inclusion of this entire paragraph is intended to distract from the central nature of the claim in Num 5: that whether the woman is pregnant or not, the womb discharges if she has been unfaithful. IF pregnant, the embryo/fetus is aborted. IF not, then she simply discharges. And either way, if she was unfaithful, she cannot conceive any further children. THIS is the purpose of the husband subjecting his wife to this test, and the stated consequence of drinking the magic potion. It is described as an abortifacient, which only aborts the child if she had conceived. And if she has, God aborts the child.

    As for the remainder of your post, particularly the personal shots (e.g., “this is bad scholarship”, “1st year student stuff”, “Keep up the study, big guy”, “You’ll get it someday. Maybe”, “Nice try, though”, “Glad you have a day job”, “a degree that is more valuable than a Cracker Jack box top”, “a public institution better than one that would hire this guy”, and the other Trump-aspiring attempts at insults), I’ll let them stand as a testament to your anonymous assuredness and to the character of your etherial certitude.

    (BTW, this is why professionals don’t speak this way when responding in disagreement to other scholars: it’s embarrassing as hell when your rebuttals are disproved and all that remains are your attempts at condescension. It backfires.)

    Thus, I’ll refrain from taking any personal shots against you as it is unprofessional, and because you are already insecure about your own illogical counterclaims, which is what likely prevented you from signing your name to this post. I won’t call you an anonymous troll, but I can understand why you’d want to hide your identity given your easily discarded rebuttals and your unprofessional personal shots.

    The real Charles Spurgeon would be ashamed.

  20. Re the Bible’s “magical abortion potion that will work only if the pregnancy isn’t his (Numbers 5:11-31)” — since its ingredients were only water and dust (verse 18) plus a trace amount of dissolved ink (verse 23), the potion would not have actually caused an abortion or anything else except possibly a mild stomach-ache. Result: any ancient Israelite who suspected that his wife’s pregnancy was the result of sex with another man would have to live with having the priest “magically” demonstrate that the woman had been faithful after all!

  21. Hi Robert,
    This is a little late to the discussion, and I find everything everyone has said to be fascinating. You make some good points and did a fine job analyzing the chapter. Any discussion like this really boils down to one thing, our utter and human response to our need to understand God.
    There are many ways to think of the God of the Bible, but try this one. When we look at the author of a murder mystery, do we associate the author only with the evil characters? Has he/she wronged the characters of the novel in anyway when they unceremoniously die, male or female? When a man is beheaded or when a woman is raped, do you feel compelled to offer your opinion of equality in light of your own experience? Of course not. Neither have I seen in a any books where the characters complain about their creator, which makes us unique in a sense. Now take another look.
    God made the law and it was good, to remind us of our sin. GOD MADE THE LAW. WE BROKE/BREAK THE LAW. We are fully aware when this happens. God is not responsible for our sin and the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23, I’m going to try not to reference scripture to much in these examples). He told us that to protect us, and God keeps his word, every time. Numbers chapter 5 is no different than anything else in the Bible. Remember the flood, how many Men, Woman and children died in that? What about polygamy? What about a man being able to Divorce his Wife on a whim? What about what about what about……..who initiated all of this punishment? God responded exactly how he said he would (plus look at the response of Jesus to these things, if need be).
    Then one will bring up the next argument that appears perfectly valid. That’s not fair. I shouldn’t have to die when I commit adultery. I shouldn’t have to die when I curse my parents. I shouldn’t have to serve a God who dishonors women (Whoops that’s actually incorrect, we did, read the second paragraph above). Fill in the blank with whatever horrible unfair thing you can think of. We all want to determine what a fair consequence is for a male, a female, a child, an animal, etc. BECAUSE WE WANT TO TAKE THE PLACE OF GOD. Think about that, what are all the punishments you would have for the people of the Bible? Then ask someone else. You probably wouldn’t go with the convicted felons version, or the lunatic, or just about anyone you don’t agree with. That works great if everybody has the same experiences and worldview as you do (robots), but once you asked enough people you’d quickly come to the conclusion that it doesn’t work.
    Really, it just boils down to your philosophical view of God. This ultimately determines your response to him. Anyway, my hope is that we think before we start accusing God of wrongdoing, because really, is that even possible? How many Good things have happened to you in just this past week, year, etc…..and ask yourself, who is God? In my opinion, it isn’t the person looking back in the mirror.

    God Bless!

  22. I renew my original point of years past, and ask, what is a husband to do if he suspects his wife an adulteress in 2018? Obviously, most Theos/Elohime followers understand the physical altar, the horns, the dirt underneath, the fore-shadowing animal blood, the ancient blood-sacrifice in general that has been fulfilled by the Anointed, allowing Himself to be substituted i.e. no need to swallow bloody dirt water, because the Mosaic covenant was fulfilled “in spades”. But, as is evidenced by the unabashed derision a professor of religious studies in a “university” continues to perpetuate, it seems there’s a “better way”, a more “civilized way”, that could have been available in 1445 B.C. Please enlighten us, oh sophos, what is that?

  23. Wait, you are asking me mockingly (the “university” in quotes was particularly cute, as if the University of Iowa is not a university) how an ancient man (rather specifically in 1445 BCE at that) would have determined if his wife had cheated on him? My point was not to offer advice on how to do this. My point was that the God-ordained, God-prescribed manner of doing so presumed her guilt, was highly humiliating for a woman judged to be innocent, involved the immediate, God-prescribed abortion of a pregnancy if she is guilty, and involved MAGIC–written words scraped into a beverage and drunk–as part of the trial!


    That’s my point. The point is not that they should have taken a DNA test. The point is that the method they DID have involves MAGIC and ABORTION–both prescribed by God!

  24. Ethan’s initial question was “what is a husband to do if he suspects his wife an adulteress in 2018?”

    I would start with a gentle, non-accusatory conversation with the wife. If that doesn’t go well, marriage counseling with a licensed counselor would be a great next step.

  25. Thank you for the thoughtful essay and the well written comments on vocabulary, which do indeed make clear that this passage is about forced abortions.

    A related experience and some comments. I once lived in a poor area in Africa where men would leave every year for 6 or more months at a time, after the harvest, to work as day laborers or other jobs in other countries, until planting time came.

    As such infidelity was a concern. The commenter above, who notes a man would have no reason to expect infidelity if his wife seemed pregnant and he had been having relations, may not have considered that men can go on long absences. I’ve read this passage more than once and it always seems exactly made for the sort of life in my rural village.

    I also agree with the authors comments on the inherent burden on women in all of this. To be only slightly fair to the men’s side, and it really is inexcusable, if your spouse is unfaithful and you are required to raise the child, you are giving away a substantial portion of your life’s work. The part that rang true for me in this is the whole forced test is a way to relieve the man from the burden of raising another’s child.

    Finally I don’t know why you consider the potion to be magical and ineffective. There are many abortion causing herbs known in antiquity, and bitterness, is a tip off that one may be used in the potion. If it is magical only, it could be a priests way to let women off the hook, marriage counseling if you will, with heavenly affirmation of her virtue, cruel as it may seem. But if she then gives birth soon after when a husband was absent, it wouldn’t work well and may cause some to doubt the priests.

    So I would bet on it being a real herbal drug in addition to the rest

  26. wake,

    Why do you wonder about “a real herbal drug ‘in addition’ to the rest”? To make it more plausible? Rather than add our own hypotheticals to the text (and to God’s instructions), I think we’re only left with three choices: 1) God really said and meant all that; 2) this was an unsanitary and ineffectual curse devised by a premodern patriarchal culture; and 3) this was an unsanitary but effective curse because magic.


    Forgive me if I missed it in scrolling through all the comments, but is this related to Ex 32:20, which led to a plague (v35)? Although that doesn’t mention a curse or bitterness, and is more about eating the fruit of one’s own sin, the ritual seems related to me.

  27. It very well may be. The idea is that one must consume the product of one’s own sin, which will kill him/her. The difference between the two is that while consuming heavy metals will likely kill you–I think they knew this even in antiquity–the “active agent” in the Num. 5 is the written text, thereby implying a purely magical element.

  28. From the Jewish virtual library .org
    “…This admixture made the ink completely indelible and was therefore prohibited for use in writing the passage of the SOTAH (Er. 13a). Non-permanent inks were made from “taria water” (juice of wine), fruit juices, and juice of GALL NUTS (Git. 19a).
    From Herpathy.com
    MANJAKANI is formed on the branches of an oak tree. It is like a cyst and is also known as oak galls.
    Side effects of ingesting Manjakani “do not use this herb during pregnancy. It may cause miscarriage.”
    The ink that the priest used on the paper when he wrote the curse was make from OAK GALLS/gall nuts.The ink is water soluble and washes off into the bitter water mixture that the priest prepares. Gall nuts are used in herbal healing as an astringent and to bring on a womans period. If she is pregnant then she will abort. So yes, this was a forced abortion. If she didn’t cheat she probably wasn’t pregnant so she would just get cramps and her period.

  29. Thank you for this excellent synopsis/guide. I am a Pro Choice blue grandmother in a Red State (SC) and frequently have folks point out their Pro Life views, putting me down when I comment about Trump not following the commands of Jesus. These Evangelicals who voted him into office believe is ordained by God. It is an excellent guide for me when such instances occur. Would love to share on FB, though I will probably damned to hell.

  30. Great read. I enjoyed it and felt that it was very well written and cited. I have similar debates quite often, only to meet minds that spew ideas from their doctrine without having actually read it (also, question if they’ve even opened it). I appreciate you’ve read it and I appreciate your thoughts. Thank you.

  31. You error Sir that bitter water curse is exactly what it said it was “Water & Dust” (Why do people like to add unseen words to the Bible?) plus it is not meant to cause an abortion, it is meant to see if she CHEATED and to atone for the husband jealousy! So yes it was a MAJIC POTION OF ONLY WATER, DUST & GOD!

  32. Of course you don’t use King James version but an NIV. This is an isolated interpretation of the texts. The NIV is the only translations to use the word “miscarriage” and they insert it in the place of words that translate as “waste away”. Only a couple of translations even translate בֶּ֖טֶן (be·ṭen) and בִּטְנֵ֖ךְ (biṭ·nêḵ) as womb. The rest use belly or abdomen. Now for all of your other examples of God condoning abortion, please don’t look cherry pic from new translation Bible’s, to back up your claims, but use the King James version, earlier the print the better.

  33. Ok, so beten isn’t “womb”? Is it womb in Gen. 25:23: “Two nations are in your womb (beten), and two people’s born of you shall be divided”? Is it womb in the next verse, when it says, “When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb (beten)”?

    Come now. Babies are born from the “abdomen”? The word here is talking about a uterus, as the context is clearly talking about sex (with someone other than the husband, or so thinks the jealous husband).

    The KJV is a fine translation in many places, but in others it is lacking, especially since it was published before the discovery of the DSS, which answered a lot of questions about questionable words and interpretations.

  34. […] said God sanctioned abortions in the Old Testament, and what about the people already […]

  35. The author here is wrong about “The potion of dirty water and ink is not a likely abortifacient.” Dirt from the floor of any public building, even today, is infected with amoeba, giardia spores and other parasites. In Biblical times, human and dog feces was tracked everywhere. It still is a big problem in many countries like India. I saw old women pooping by the road in the city limits of Delhi. Parasites cause miscarriages, if not directly, through dehydration and malabsorption. If women drank and got sick, they were tossed out of society to die.

  36. If that is the case, then you make my point all the more so—the God of the Bible commands that women *suspected* of being unfaithful drink an abortifacient to ensure that no child is produced from an illicit union. If one had been conceived, the child’s life is to be terminated. I was simply crediting the abortion to the curse of God rather than the concoction that is commanded to be ingested.

  37. The “bitter water” text is peculiar to us. As is Deuteronomy 25:11-12 which calls for a woman’s hand to be cut-off if she grabs the testicles of the man fighting with her husband. Not to mention the clothing laws, dietary laws, animal sacrifice laws, and on and on. The Old Covenant was a harsh taskmaster.

    Truth is, God at times brought judgment upon the offspring of the wicked. Later that wasn’t the case as both Jeremiah (31:29) and Ezekiel (18:2) declared that not long would “the fathers eat sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” Fast forward to Jesus, and we see he is the end of the Law for those who believe in him (Romans 10:4). So while the article bemoans Judaism, it only reinforces our need for Christ and the New Covenant he initiates and seals.

    It must also be noted the Exodus 21:22-25 is not speaking of a miscarriage. The Hebrew word for miscarriage is “shakal” (Exodus 23:26) and that is not used. What is used is the Hebrew word “yâtsâ'” which means a live birth every time it is used in that context, unless accompanied by the word “gâva‛” (to die) as in Job 3:11. Critics have tried again and again to use this passage to support abortion but the text is against them.

  38. Pastor Rogers,

    There are several flat out inaccuracies with your comments. While it is true that God brings judgment upon the offspring of the wicked, one of the moral questions we must ask is why. Why does god feel the need to punish a newborn child or unborn fetus for the sins of a mother? And we’re not talking about drugs or unhealthy eating here, we’re talking about an otherwise healthy pregnancy, but one deemed “illicit” because it was out of wedlock. Why does God feel the need to kill the baby/fetus?

    Second, where is this rule ever “canceled/lifted” with the coming of Jesus? Where does Jesus say, “That old law is hereby cancelled.” In fact, I seem to remembered Jesus saying something about not a jot or tittle of the law being altered or something to that effect. The God of the NT was ALSO not beyond zapping people dead for crimes such as not giving all of one’s money to the apostles (Ananias) and then lying about it (Sapphira; Acts 5:1-10) or failing to give glory to God (Herod Agrippa; Acts 12:23).

    Finally, your comment about the Hebrew words יצא and שׁכל are demonstrably wrong. Exodus 21:22 literally says וְנָגְפוּ אִשָּׁה הָרָה וְיָצְאוּ יְלָדֶיהָ (“and they hit a pregnant woman and her children come out (יצא)”. The idea is that if a pregnant woman is struck causing her to abort/miscarry. The reason that a fine is imposed (and not death because the miscarried fetus is not considered a person), is because the potential sons/daughters are lost, and that carries a financial penalty. If the pregnant woman had delivered live, healthy children prematurely, there would be no need for penalty. This passage is in the context of compensation for loss/death (read 21:18-26–it’s all about compensation for personal loss/death). So yes, Exodus 21:22-25 IS speaking of miscarriage. יצא means “to go out” and can be used for many things including miscarriage (“going out of a dead fetus”) (Ex. 21:22), live birth (“going out of a live child”) (Gen. 25:26), rivers that “go out” from a field (Gen 2:10), “going outside” of a city gate (Gen. 34.24), etc. The definition of the word שׁכל simply means “to become childless,” whether by death due to revenge murder as in the story of Rebekah telling Jacob to flee Esau so that should would not be deprived of both sons (שׁכל) in Gen 27:45, or Jacob/Israel fearing the loss (שׁכל) of Benjamin in Gen. 43:14, or Samuel hacking Agag to pieces making his mother “childless” (שׁכל) in 1 Sam. 15:33, or as in Lev. 26:22, when God threatens to unleash wild animals to devour the Israelites thereby making them “childless” (שׁכל) if they don’t obey him.

    So no, the text is not against the “critics.” The text supports those who learned Hebrew and teach it every semester for a living. Exodus 21:22-25 describes a miscarriage, and Numbers 5:27 is describing an abortifacient-induced miscarriage, commonly called an abortion.

  39. Verse 28 says that the faithful wife would “conceive seed” or literally, be sown with seed (Heb. zara zera). The implication is that the unfaithful wife would not be sown with seed (would not become pregnant). Therefore, the swollen belly/womb and the fallen thigh/loins describe a failure of the unfaithful wife to become pregnant, not a failure to carry a pregnancy to term. The test must have been done within about a week of the suspected act of adultery; and it would reveal who gave the husband the spirit of jealousy, God or the devil. If she had committed adultery, then God would not have waited until after she became pregnant to give the husband the spirit of jealousy.

  40. . The assault of a woman who is pregnant not resulting in miscarriage is punishable by a fine. The assault of a woman resulting in “harm” i. e. miscarriage, is punishable “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth”. The scripture from Exodus 21.22-24: I will quote it here. The text is as follows “When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no HARM, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is HARM, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,”. I would assume that in the first case that if a woman has been assaulted resulting in premature birth but her child survives and she survives, then a fine is in order. However if any party is injured, or dies, then whatever has been done shall be revisited back on the perpetrators. However this is old testament please remember. Jesus died to set us free from endless regulations that cannot change the heart, due to the hunan heart being exceedingly deceptive.

  41. You obviously are not a Bible scholar because you took this way out of context. This passage is one of the most beautiful, grace-filled passages of the Bible. In this day, women around the world had no voice. If you read the laws of hammurabi about the same time period, you will see how little worth women had outside of Israel. Women could be put to death because their husband claimed they were adulterous. In this law, a husband is jealous of his wife, thinking she cheated on him and instead of putting her through a humiliating legal process or putting her to death, God steps in. He says, “I decide whether she is guilty or not.” She is then given some dirt water that obviously would do nothing bad normally. But, if she is guilty, she is made barren. Nowhere does it say anything about abortion, so I am confused where you get that. And then, if she is innocent, that husband has to shut up for the rest of their lives. It is another place where God protects the powerless. A person who is in a lose lose situation, God provides an easy way out for them. By just drinking some water with dirt, God who knows everything, shows everyone that she is innocent or guilty. Remember if she has commited adultery, she is killed in this time. Israelite, Babylonian, Syrian, it doesnt matter. She would be killed right away. So, even the small chance that she is pregnant, she would be killed anyways. But there is no mention of a baby. And if she is innocent notice that he is never able to accuse her again. WOW, that is God standing up, literally saying he will step in, for a woman who would normally be powerless. The law of the OT, when taken in context, is one of the most grace filled stuff ever.

  42. someone else may have commented on this, but the blog sort of misses the point of the scriptural command. The law of Moses is filled with what theologians call “divine concessions”, which are reforms put in place of other things that were common to the nations before it, and which were much worse than the divine concession itself. I did a good bit of research on this passage a while back because I was concerned whether or not the drink that is created in the commandment is actually toxic. I found no evidence that it would be toxic or harmful to the women’s health, and no credible evidence in favor of thinking it would be toxic. that is because the operative agent in penalizing the woman is God himself. the drink is entirely religiously symbolic. This is not like holding a woman underwater to see if she’s a witch – where the woman is condemned in the act of testing her itself. And when compared to other similar tests to female virtue produced by other human cultures, this test is only a couple thousand years ahead of its time.

    If one remembers that in virtually all ancient societies women were under the physical control of their husbands, then a jealous husband could in most cultural context kill his wife with impunity if he believed he credibly suspected her infidelity. This, like the commandment that a child can be stoned by the whole community if it is indefinitely and terribly disobedient, takes the authority for judicial destructions out of the hand of individual parental or husband figures, and forces the community or God himself to take moral responsibility for the judicial act. it was an enormous step forward in legal rights for children and women.

    I’ll tell you right now, if I were woman living in any ancient society within a thousand years of when this commandment was given to the Jewish people, if I thought that a husband would ever be jealous of me, I would choose to be an Israelite. It is virtually the only culture that had this absolute protection in place against a jealous husband. It doesn’t take much imagination to see that the main function of this command is to protect women from idiotic, self-involved and jealous husbands.

    I believe anyone seeking to interact with ancient texts like this needs to know quite a lot about the cultural milieu in which it was written, in the context of laws and cultural practices it is responding to. Otherwise we are prone to engage in very anachronistic historical interpretations, and in our derision, we’ll miss the point.
    Christians have always believed that the Bible is a “progressive revelation”, meaning that as God is revealing himself more and more throughout the story of his actions and speaking with his people. Therefore, it should be strange to see that a reform instituted in the Torah, is further reformed as Scripture moves on, and is changed in the New Testament. Modernist, or liberal biblical interpretation is entirely unnecessary if one understands the diachronic nature of biblical theology.

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