And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying “. . . This is the law in cases of jealousy, when a wife, though under her husband’s authority, goes astray and defiles herself, or when the spirit of jealousy comes over a man and he is jealous of his wife. Then he shall set the woman before the LORD, and the priest shall carry out for her all this law. The man shall be free from iniquity, but the woman shall bear her iniquity.” — Numbers 5:11-31
In the 2002 Biblical Horizons conference, James Jordan spent time discussing the inspection of jealousy from Numbers 5. There are no recorded instances of this law’s being practiced as such. However, like all of the law, this law is typological of Jesus, and in a more obvious way than most laws. Jesus routinely inspects his own bride to prove her faithfulness or faithlessness toward him. There are a surprising number of cases where the themes in this passage reappear in God’s inspecting his own people. A couple of the more obvious cases are:
- The worship of the golden calf (Exodus 32), which involves Israel’s faithlessness toward her husband, the eating of dust, and a judgment upon those who disobeyed. One wonders if the disobedience became physically evident in the three thousand who fell, as in Numbers 5.
- Eating the Lord’s supper (1 Cor. 10-11). Chapter 10 describes idolatry as being bodily joined to demons instead of to Jesus. The Corinthians’ own sins at the table have resulted in the bread’s becoming death rather than life for them: “That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” In one sense, the Supper is a weekly visitation from God to judge the faithfulness of his people.
There are many other cases that are possible links to the inspection of jealousy. For example, barley appears infrequently enough in Scripture that it should be considered a possible reference to this pattern. In the case of Ruth, it may be used to call attention to her covenant faithfulness. In the case of Ezekiel’s barley cakes, it may be used to call attention to Israel’s faithlessness and impending judgment.
Jordan suggested that the inspection might have been appropriate not only for a jealous husband, but also for a husband who believed in his wife’s innocence but wanted to vindicate her before public accusations. However, I’m not sure of that. For one, the passage limits itself to cases where the Spirit has moved the husband to jealousy. Two, there are several interesting cases where such an inspection is conspicuously absent. One prominent case is Joseph and Mary:
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” — Matthew 1:18-21
Even though Joseph doubted Mary’s innocence, he is described as righteous for wanting to cover her apparent sin. Also fascinating is the case of Hosea and Gomer:
And the LORD said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.” So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a lethech of barley. And I said to her, “You must dwell as mine for many days. You shall not play the whore, or belong to another man; so will I also be to you.” For the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or household gods. Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the LORD their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the LORD and to his goodness in the latter days. — Hosea 3
Barley is actually mentioned here, but Gomer is not made to eat it — instead, it is the price of her redemption. The guilty and erstwhile unrepentant wife is redeemed from her adultery; she had been consigned to shame and barrenness but is now rescued from it. So we may fill out the pattern of the inspection of jealousy by saying that God is righteous, not only to discipline and purify his bride, but also to restore her to himself.