Tuesday, August 4, 2009

NUMBERS: Chapter 5

Chapter 5
Summary:God commands Moses to rid the camp of lepers, anyone that has open sores, and even those who have "defiled" themselves by touching a corpse. This applies to men and women alike, as God does not want these outcasts "defiling" the camps where God dwells. The people of Israel complied with God's command and kicked out all of these people from their camp site.

God then says to Moses that when a man or woman commits a "sin" betraying a "trust" against God, and are found guilty of doing so, that person shall confess that "sin" and repay
for their wrongs, adding a "fifth part" (20% interest) to their re-compensation. If the person he has wronged is dead and has no living relatives, then the payment must be made to God via a priest, where he is also to bring a ram for an animal sacrifice "atonement". Any gift offering or gift of animal sacrifice that the people of make to God will belong to the priests.

God tells Moses, that if any man's wife commits adultery - "lies with another man carnally" - yet it cannot be proven, there are no witnesses, and the husband becomes jealous and suspicious of her alleged infidelity, then the man is to bring his wife to a priest along with a tenth part of an ephah (about a tenth of a bushel) of barley meal. The barley meal is not to contain oil or frankincense, as it is a "jealousy offering" - which supposedly will bring out the truth.

The priest shall bring the man's wife and set her before God, taking holy water from a clay pot, and placing dust from the floor of the tabernacle into the water. The priest shall set the woman before God, and uncover her head (taking her hair down also), and put the "jealousy offering" into her hands. The priest shall hold in his hands the bitter water that supposedly contains "the curse". The priest shall then make the woman swear by an oath that she is innocent -
5:19 "...if no man has lain with thee, and if thou hast not gone aside to uncleanness with another instead of thy husband, be thou free from this bitter water that causeth the curse."
5:20 "But if thou hast gone aside to another instead of thy husband, and if thou be defiled, and some man have lain with thee beside thine husband,"
then the priest shall charge the woman with an "oath of cursing" and the priest shall say to the woman:
5:21 "The LORD make thee a curse and an oath among thy people, when the LORD doth make thy thigh to rot, and thy belly to swell;"
5:22 And this water that causeth the curse shall go into thy bowels, to make thy belly to swell, and thy thigh to rot."
The woman shall reply with an "amen", and the priest shall write these curses into a book and wash them off into the bitter water. (When the priest later makes the woman drinks this "bitter water", it will cause the curse to enter her and become bitter.)

The priest shall then take the "jealousy offering" from out of the woman's hand, and shall wave it in the air before God before offering it upon the altar. The priest shall take a handful of the offering and burn it upon the altar, afterward making the woman drink the "bitter water".

After the woman drinks the water, if she has truly defiled herself and has "trespassed" against her husband, then the water's curse shall cause her belly to swell and her thigh shall rot, and the woman shall be a curse amongst the people of Israel. If the woman has not been "defiled" then she shall be set free, and will become pregnant.

This, God declares, is the "law of jealousies" - when a wife goes aside to another instead of her husband and is defiled - or if her husband merely suspects that she's committed adultery.

The husband shall remain guiltless from "sin", as it's his wife's fault for her "sins" - not his.
Thoughts:Moses' first duty in this chapter is to get rid of all the unsightly lepers, people with sores, and anyone who has "defiled" themselves by touching a dead body. God does not want these undesirable people amongst the people of Israel's camp - simply because if God has to live amongst the people of Israel, he doesn't want to be around a bunch of lepers, people with sores, or anybody who's touched a corpse. The people of Israel complied with this request and rid their camp of all of these undesirables.

The problem here, obviously, is that the sick and the ill are lumped together with the "sinners" (those who touch corpses, being guilty of "sin") and are unceremoniously dumped out to the outskirts of the camp, left to suffer and die alone in the middle of the desert - simply because God doesn't want them to "defile" his camp. Quite a departure from God's claims of being a merciful deity, he insists that the sick are no different than the sinners and should simply be abandoned out in the desert. Even more troubling, is that we learn in Leviticus: Chapter 13 that it is priests, and not someone with a better understanding of medicine that makes the judgment on whether someone is infected with leprosy or not - basically, based on the colors of the blemishes in the skin. Perhaps we can justify the quarantine of the ill from the healthy people, but to leave them alone to die in the outskirts of the camp without anyone (aside from maybe the sinners who were exiled as well) to take care of them is simply cruelty.

God follows his bout of cruelty concerning the sick with a law demanding that anyone who has cheated someone or stolen something from another will have to repay that "trespass" with the full value with 20% interest tacked on. However, if the person you wronged is no longer living and has no living relatives to recompensate, then the money is to go into the pockets of Aaron and his sons - along with a ram that's needed for some good old "animal sacrificing" fun.

God spend the rest of the chapter serving up another law chocked with a big helping of misogyny - concerning what to do if you're suspicious that your wife might have cheated on you, yet there's no evidence or witnesses to support your "jealousy".

God states that a jealous husband will have to bring his allegedly unfaithful wife out to the tabernacle along with a tenth of a bushel of barley meal - which is considered a "jealousy offering". God explains that because this "jealousy offering" will supposedly somehow bring out the truth, it's not to contain oil or frankincense - the reasoning behind this is unclear. Meanwhile, the priest is to take some "holy water" from a clay pot and mix in some dirt from the floor of the tabernacle. The woman is to hold the barley meal in her hands, while the priest is to "uncover her head" (meaning to remove any head-wear she might be wearing and let down her hair) and is to hold the pot of dirty water. Then he makes the suspected adulteress swear to an oath that she hasn't cheated on her husband.

The priest is then to write down the "curses" that the dirty water is to contain and to wash the ink away into the dirty water. He is then to take the "guilt offering" from the woman, wave around it in the air for a bit, and then set a handful of it on fire upon the altar.

The woman is then required to drink the "holy water" - contaminated with dirt from the floor and ink - and if she's indeed guilty then "her belly will swell" and "her thigh will rot" and will become an outcast among her people. If it instead turns out that she's innocent of her accused adultery, then her "reward" is that she will become pregnant.

Apparently if you have problems conceiving a child, all you would really have to do is accuse your wife of being unfaithful and bring her and a tenth of a bushel of barley meal down to the tabernacle, and after your wife drinks some filthy water, she'll either become pregnant or her legs will rot off if she's cheated on you unbeknowst to you. Either way, it's a win-win situation, if you're right, you get vengeance, and if you're wrong you get a baby - which if you're like an ancient Israelite, had better be a boy, but you could always accuse your wife of being unfaithful again to try for another chance.

The ridiculousness of this "law" is obvious, as is the sexism contained within it, but what's also troubling is that God apparently has no problem with men falsely accusing their wives of cheating on them as he states in the last three verses of this chapter. So a woman has to go through this humiliating experience of drinking dirty water while proclaiming her innocence and hoping that she doesn't get sick in any way, thereby "exposing" her guilt. As for God, and his supposed omniscience, couldn't he think of a better way to judge a woman's guilt or innocence than by some ridiculous degrading ritual? Couldn't he just strike her dead - as he requires adulteresses to be stoned to death anyways?

I simply find it baffling how religious women can read verses like these in the bible and be okay with how God deems it acceptable to treat women in such ways.

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