There are passages in Scripture that are odd…confusing. But the Word says, ALL Scripture is useful for us. So, when I bump into those verses, I get excited when glimmers of ‘use’ begin to appear. It doesn’t happen every time I read a puzzling piece of Scripture…sometimes the verses simply have to sit on what my pastor calls, the God Shelf. Other times, God opens a window to show me a bit more of His glory.
One such window opened for me this week on an obscure part of the Old Testament. Tucked away in the book of Numbers (chapter 5), where laws are expanded and the culture of the day unveiled, is an odd little passage about what a wife must endure when a jealous husband suspects adultery. For years all I could get from that passage was that a wife must have both a pure heart and faith in God for such times. Often in Scripture, God speaks not of what ought to be but what is…it is why some say God supports slavery or unholy acts. He doesn’t support them; His Word simply acknowledges their existence.
In Numbers 5, we read of a husband whose unfounded suspicions could place a wife in quite a predicament. The husband had the authority to drag her before the priest who would give her ‘bitter water.’ If she was innocent, nothing would happen. If she was guilty, some ugly results preceded her death. I couldn’t see any use in that Scripture for me as a believer in 2016.
This year, though, the preceding verses leapt off the page and gave the context I needed! The unity of the people of God–their relationship to each other and to God–sets the stage. Relationship insights are always needed by all of us! Earlier in the chapter we read this:
‘Any man or woman who wrongs another in any way and so is unfaithful to the LORD is guilty and must confess the sin they have committed. They must make full restitution of the wrong…’
We are the bride of Christ. Our lateral sins have vertical impact! When we sin against others, we are unfaithful to the Lord. Just like the wife of Numbers, the bitter waters of life reveal our hearts. Unlike the husband of Numbers, God is never unreasonably suspicious. He knows our hearts; He allows life to reveal our hearts (our sins) to us.
Only if we have allowed Jesus to sweeten the waters (check out Exodus 15 for a picture of that), can we pass through the tests unscathed. If there is impurity in our actions, the costs will be born in our lives: our heritage is comprised, our peace disturbed.
The word for ‘bitter’ in both passages has some interesting connotations. Bitter encompasses the ideas of heaviness, anger and chafing. There are any number of things that come into our lives that can produce such emotions. Christ bore all of that on the Cross and opened the way to the Kingdom of Heaven for all who believe. The Kingdom of Heaven is the opposite of bitter: it is joy, peace, love and perseverance. It is life and hope for eternity.
God allows the tests of life, the bitter waters, so we will choose Him! Step out in faith of His power, love and purposes!