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.

2 Answers 2


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).


The priestly exam was to handle a particular situation, in which a man was jealous or suspicious that his wife was unfaithful to him, but her act of impurity or unfaithfulness did not have witness to prove. Without God intervene, the wife could likely be stoned to death, and if the wife was innocent, the man was in a miserable sin.

God had demanded the Israelite: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay" (Deuteronomy 32:35 NIV). It is a teaching to us, if we forgot our God, our human will always do things in the wrong way, according to our desire, our evil motive, jealousy and uncontrollable emotion.

The priestly exam was to protect the woman. In those days men was higher in status, and more powerful. They could use their power to exercise evil doing in their own desire. Even though the priestly exam seemed harsh and unfair to the woman, it could save her life if the woman was innocent, and destroyed the man's evil thought.

To man, God had another statements, explicit written in Deuteronomy 22:13-30 (NIV).

13 If a man takes a wife and, after sleeping with her, dislikes her 14 and slanders her and gives her a bad name, saying, “I married this woman, but when I approached her, I did not find proof of her virginity,” 15 then the young woman’s father and mother shall bring to the town elders at the gate proof that she was a virgin. 16 Her father will say to the elders, “I gave my daughter in marriage to this man, but he dislikes her. 17 Now he has slandered her and said, ‘I did not find your daughter to be a virgin.’ But here is the proof of my daughter’s virginity.” Then her parents shall display the cloth before the elders of the town, 18 and the elders shall take the man and punish him. 19 They shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give them to the young woman’s father, because this man has given an Israelite virgin a bad name. She shall continue to be his wife; he must not divorce her as long as he lives. 20 If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the young woman’s virginity can be found, 21 she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done an outrageous thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father’s house. You must purge the evil from among you. 22 If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel. 23 If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, 24 you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death—the young woman because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man’s wife. You must purge the evil from among you. 25 But if out in the country a man happens to meet a young woman pledged to be married and rapes her, only the man who has done this shall die. 26 Do nothing to the woman; she has committed no sin deserving death. This case is like that of someone who attacks and murders a neighbor, 27 for the man found the young woman out in the country, and though the betrothed woman screamed, there was no one to rescue her. 28 If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, 29 he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives. 30 A man is not to marry his father’s wife; he must not dishonor his father’s bed.

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