Adultery Ordeal

Numbers 5:11-31—”Isn’t this bitter-water adultery ordeal pre-scientific?”

To modern and scientific people this test seems strange. However, to those who know the power of God and know that He is able to perform miracles there are no difficulties in this passage.

Actually, when compared to other ways of dealing with the accusations of adultery, this process shows the mercy of God. While the actions presented here seem severe and harsh the consequences would have been worse for a woman charged with adultery by an angry husband if there was no provision for her guilt or innocence to be demonstrated. That she was taken to the priest (v. 15) is finally an act of mercy, for the law did not allow a husband to beat his wife at his own whims when he suspected infidelity. Across Asia and the Middle East women are frequently killed without trial in ‘honor killings’ simply on suspicion of indecent contact with another man.

God’s role in the proceedings (vv. 16,21,25) is emphasized repeatedly to show that this potion was neither simply a tool of magic nor merely a psychological device to determine stress. It was the work of God.

There are many similar Hadith which seem to encourage unscientific superstitions of magic. Bukhari tells us that magic was worked on the Prophet performed with hair and pollen. (Volume 4, Book 54, Number 490). According to Sahih Muslim 26.5452, the Prophet said, “He who is competent amongst you to benefit his brother by using incantations for curing should do so.” According to Sahih Bukhari, one should spit thrice on one’s left after a bad dread to protect oneself from its evil.1 A’isha reported that “Allah’s Messenger (sm) commanded me that I should make use of incantation for curing the influence of an evil eye.”2 The Prophet saw a child weeping and recommended finding someone to make an incantation/talisman to protect him from the evil eye.3

  1. Sahih Bukhari 9.87.124
  2. Sahih Muslim, 26.5448, 26.5447.
  3. Al-Muwatta, 50.2.4

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