Numbers 5

Chapter 5

Purifying the Camp. 1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Command the people of Israel to expel from the camp every leper and everyone who has a discharge and everyone who is unclean because they touched the dead. 3 You will expel both men and women from the camp. You will put them out so that they do not make the camp unclean, for I dwell in their midst.” 4 The people of Israel did this, putting them outside of the camp. The Israelites did what the Lord had instructed Moses.

Making Recompense.[a] 5 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 6 “Say to the people of Israel, ‘When a man or a woman sins in any way, that person has been unfaithful to the Lord and will be considered to be guilty. 7 He will confess the sin that he has committed. He will recompense his trespass, taking the full amount and one-fifth more and give it to the person against whom he has committed this offense. 8 But if the person offended has no kinsmen who could receive the recompense for the trespass, then let the trespass be paid to the Lord, to the priest, besides the ram that is being used to obtain his atonement. 9 Every offering of holy things that the people of Israel bring to the priest will belong to him. 10 Everyone’s gift of holy things will belong to him; whatever is given to the priest belongs to him.’ ”

11 The Test of Unfaithfulness.[b] The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 12 “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘If any man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him, 13 and a man has sex with her, and this is hidden from her husband, and she is defiled but keeps it a secret since there are no witnesses and she was not caught in the act, 14 and if a spirit of jealousy comes upon him, and he is jealous of his wife because she has defiled herself, or if a spirit of jealousy comes upon him and he is jealous of her even though she has not defiled herself, 15 then he will take his wife to the priest. He will also bring an offering for her, a tenth of an ephah of barley meal in which he has not poured oil nor put frankincense. This is a jealousy offering.[c]

16 “ ‘The priest will bring her and have her stand before the Lord. 17 The priest will put some holy water in a clay vessel and he will put some of the dust from the floor of the sanctuary into the water. 18 The priest will have the woman stand before the Lord. He will uncover her hair and he will place the jealousy memorial offering in her hands. The priest will hold the bitter water that brings on a curse in his hands. 19 The priest will have the woman swear an oath saying, “If no other man has slept with you and if you have not gone astray, becoming defiled while married to your husband, then you will be free from the curse that this bitter water causes. 20 But if you have gone astray while married to your husband, becoming defiled, and you have had sex with someone other than your husband,” 21 (at this point the priest will have the woman swear an oath to curse herself, and the priest will say to the woman) “then may the Lord make you a curse and a blight among your people. May the Lord make your loins rot and your womb swell;[d] 22 this water that brings on a curse will descend to your womb causing it to swell and your loins to rot.” The woman will then say, “Amen, amen.” 23 The priest will write these curses in a book and blot them out with the bitter water. 24 He will have the woman drink the bitter water that brings on the curse. The water that brings on the curse will enter her and will become bitter. 25 The priest will then take the jealousy offering out of the woman’s hand and wave the offering before the Lord and offer it upon the altar. 26 The priest will take a handful of the offering as the memorial offering and will burn it upon the altar. After that he will have the woman drink the water. 27 When he has made her drink the water, if she has defiled herself and been unfaithful to her husband, the curse in the water will enter her and be bitter and will cause her womb to swell and her loins to rot. 28 But if the woman has not defiled herself and she is clean, then she will be unharmed and will conceive children.

29 “ ‘This is the law of jealousy, when a wife goes astray while married to her husband and becomes defiled 30 or when the spirit of jealousy comes upon him and he is jealous of his wife. He will bring his wife before the Lord and the priest will fulfill all the prescriptions of this law upon her. 31 The man will be free from guilt, but the woman will bear her guilt.’ ”


  1. Numbers 5:5 This section mirrors the punishment for personal wrongs given in Lev 15, but extends it to include those wronged who have no kinsmen, in which case restitution would be made directly to the priest.
  2. Numbers 5:11 Where there was suspicion but no proof, recourse was to divine judgment, the manner of which is prescribed by the biblical lawgiver. This kind of judgment, though adapted somewhat, goes back to a practice followed in antiquity, especially in Babylon. Even though the present text protects the wife from violence inflicted by a jealous husband, it also shows woman’s condition of inferiority: in this humiliating situation the woman is presumed guilty, whereas no such provision is made in the case of an adulterous husband. The Gospels take a far different view (Mt 19:9; Jn 8:1-11)!
  3. Numbers 5:15 Jealousy offering: a grain offering that was meant to encourage the wrongdoer to reflect on their sin.
  4. Numbers 5:21 Your loins rot and your womb swell: this was a terrible curse on a woman whose worth was determined by her ability to conceive and bear a child.

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