In the book of Numbers, there is a very interesting test for a woman suspected of committing adultery. After some initial discussion, if the woman refuses to admit her sin, or is innocent, the priest will write the curses that might fall upon her on a scroll. Then he will scrape this ink off the scroll into some water that already had some dirt sprinkled into it. If she was guilty, she would suffer as a result, even though it could never be proved. If she was innocent than she would be fine; the bitter water would not harm her.

23The priest is to write these curses on a scroll and then wash them off into the bitter water. 24He shall have the woman drink the bitter water that brings a curse, and this water will enter her and cause bitter suffering. 25The priest is to take from her hands the grain offering for jealousy, wave it before the LORD and bring it to the altar. 26The priest is then to take a handful of the grain offering as a memorial offering and burn it on the altar; after that, he is to have the woman drink the water. 27If she has defiled herself and been unfaithful to her husband, then when she is made to drink the water that brings a curse, it will go into her and cause bitter suffering; her abdomen will swell and her thigh waste away, and she will become accursed among her people. (Numbers 5:23-27)

My question is, Why was not such a ‘miraculous test’ made for men, whose wives had suspected them of being adulterous? I have my own theory that I may post later. As extreme as this case is, I do not see it as sexual discrimination by an unjust man based society. I am looking for answer that unfolds the righteousness of God in his holy laws. For bonus points, any symbolic meaning attached to the practice is also welcome.


This test has many dimensions to it. It has little to do with the guilt or innocence of the woman.

In order for the test to apply, the woman must become foolish. This has been interpreted to mean that she has aroused her husband's jealousy by flirting. Or she has aroused the suspicion of witnesses to her flirting, but they have not witnessed adultery, and have made it known to the husband.

The time of causing suspicion must be followed by a period of sufficient length of time where the two were isolated together and had opportunity for adultery. see Rashi's comments

If the husband is suspicious, the test is a method of being reconciled.

If the community is suspicious, the husband may not have relations with her until she is cleared.

The first effect of the law is that it is a deterrent. And apparently an effective one since part of the law is that a woman so condemned would become a curse. Her name would be used in a phrase such as '...may you be as so-and-so who cheated on her husband." There is no record of a woman who has become such a curse.

The second effect is that innocent women are not put away because of libelous suspicions of the community or simple jealousies of the husband.

The third effect is that it caused a jealous husband to reconsider his jealousy. If she had really been unfaithful, she would die during the test. He had to consider if he really wanted to put her to death, or to grant mercy in the absence of proof.

The OP asks why is there not a test for the suspected man. The simple answer is that a woman could not divorce her husband even if he was unfaithful, nor could she have him put to death.

1Co 11:8 For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man.

1Co 11:9 Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.

However, some have interpreted that the test also applies to the adulterer:

causing the belly to swell and the thigh to rupture: [This refers to] the belly and thigh of the adulterer, or perhaps only those of the adulteress? [However,] when Scripture says “causes your thigh to rupture and your belly to swell” (verse 21), those of the adulteress are stated [thus here it must refer to the adulterer]. — [Sotah 28a and Sifrei Naso 1:65]

If the man and the woman were guilty, they could either confess and be stoned, or face the test, hoping to gain mercy from God, which would certainly be a life-changing event.

Christians see this as a commentary on Jesus (the man) and the church (the woman).


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