Our Jealous Savior and the Law of Jealousies
“Thus saith the LORD of hosts; I was jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I was jealous for her with great fury.” (Zechariah 8:2)
In Zechariah 1:14 the prophet of God said, “The angel that communed with me said unto me, Cry thou, saying, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; I am jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with a great jealousy.” Because of his great jealousy for his people, God destroys the enemies of his people. “Therefore thus saith the LORD; I am returned to Jerusalem with mercies: my house shall be built in it, saith the LORD of hosts, and a line shall be stretched forth upon Jerusalem. Cry yet, saying, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; My cities through prosperity shall yet be spread abroad; and the LORD shall yet comfort Zion, and shall yet choose Jerusalem” (Zech. 1:16-17). Here, again, the Lord Jesus asserts that his jealousy for his chosen makes their salvation certain. “Thus saith the LORD of hosts; I was jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I was jealous for her with great fury.”
Our great Savior’s great jealousy for his Church, the bride he has espoused to himself in everlasting love and tender mercy, is her everlasting security (Song 8:6). The word translated “jealous” is the same as the word “zealous.” Jealousy is zealousness. Where there is no jealousy, no burning zeal, there is no love. I do not love a person, if I do not zealously do my utmost for him. So it is with our God and Savior, who “is a consuming fire.” He says, “Who would set the briers and the thorns,” as enemies of his people, “against me in battle? I would go through them, I would burn them together” (Isa. 27:4). He declares that he is jealous for his church, “with great fury” against those who would pull her away from him. Yet, he declares to the object of his love, for whom he is jealous, “Fury is not in me” (Isa. 27:4).
Solomon wrote, “Jealousy is the rage of a man” (Pro. 6:34), the rage of a man against any and all who would steal the heart of the wife he loves (2 Cor. 11:2-3). As at first our Savior loved us simply because he loved us (Deut. 7:7-8), he will bestow upon his chosen all good things simply because he loves us with an everlasting love. “The zeal” (that is, the tender love and free grace, the burning jealousy) “of the Lord of hosts shall do this” (Isa. 9:7). For his word’s sake (that is to say “for Christ’s sake”), and according to his own heart, the Lord God has done and will do great things for the salvation of his people (2 Sam. 7:21).
Characteristics of Jealousy
Jealousy causes a man to be watchful and quick sighted. Even the slightest glance of one who desires his wife’s heart enrages the loving, jealous husband. So it is with our loving Savior, who is jealous for our hearts. The slightest indignity done to his beloved spouse, his Hephzibah, seeking to take her heart from him, will be met with his utmost fury. If Edom jeers at his prophet, “Watchman, what of the night? watchman, what of the night,” if Ammon but claps his hands at God’s Israel, if he stomps his feet, or if he merely rejoices in his heart, when Christ’s bride is hurt, he will suffer for his daring insolence (Ezek. 25:6-7; Joel 2:18).
Jealousy is merciless, violent, and cruel as the grave, burning as fire in a man’s heart (Song 8:6). In fact, the word translated “jealous” in Zechariah 8:2 is elsewhere translated “fiery thunderbolts” (Ps. 78:48) and “burning fever” (Deut. 32:24). Jealousy puts a man into a feverish fit of outrage, and makes him burn for revenge. While those things are all evil in fallen man, they are gloriously just and righteous in our blessed Husband, the Lord Jesus. He will spit in the face of any Miriam who dares but to mutter against his Moses (Num. 12:14). What, then, will he not do to those who would steal the heart of his bride?
And jealousy is implacable. It cannot be reconciled. “For jealousy is the rage of a man: therefore he will not spare in the day of vengeance. He will not regard any ransom; neither will he rest content, though thou givest many gifts” (Pro. 6:34-35). Balak was willing to give anything to have his will with Israel. Haman was willing to pay ten thousand talents of silver to have the Jews destroyed. Ahasuerus was willing to comply with Haman. Esther said, “We are sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be slain and to perish” (Est. 3:9; 7:4). But God was jealous for Israel and had Haman hanged upon his own gallows.
“For thus saith the LORD of hosts; After the glory hath he sent me unto the nations which spoiled you: for he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye” (Zech. 2:8). Our mighty Phineas will gird his sword upon his thigh and execute the great fury of his wrath upon any who dare oppose his beloved. He will smite his enemies in the hinder parts and put them to a perpetual shame and reproach forever (Ps. 78:66).
The Law of Jealousies
So jealous is God our Savior for us that he established a law in Israel called “the law of jealousies,” to show us how he, who “hateth putting away,” keeps his beloved from leaving him (Num. 5:11-31). According to “the law of jealousies,” if the wife was seen spending what appeared to the husband to be an inordinate amount of time with another man, she could be brought to a priest and given a test. The test was designed to prove her innocence, or establish her guilt.
We should not fail to observe that the test was only available to the husband. No such test existed if the wife suspected her husband of adultery. And the burden of proof or innocence was entirely upon the suspected woman. We are nowhere told that adultery was more prevalent among wives than it was among husbands in Israel; but that may very well have been the case.
Hebrew women looked upon barrenness as a terrible curse and reproach, a shameful thing, as indicated in Numbers 5:28. There we are told that if the wife were proved innocent, she would then conceive. It was suggested by some of the ancient Jewish writers that adultery was more prevalent among wives, because they thought that the multiplicity of lovers would increase the probability of conception. And, if they were able to conceive and bear children, people would look upon them as being blessed of God. That notion would tend to stir a little jealousy in a man, especially if his other wives were barren.
If a woman’s husband became suspicious of her fidelity, if he was jealous for her, God ordained this strange law for his use. It was not necessary that she be caught in the act of adultery, or that she be guilty of it. All that was necessary was that her husband be jealous. If in his mind there was but the suspicion of infidelity, this test, this law was to be applied (Num. 5:12-14).
The test did not involve being put on trial in a court of law. That would only take place if the woman were caught in the act of adultery. In that case the result was capital punishment for both the woman and the man with whom she had committed adultery (Lev. 20:10).
If a man was suspicious of his wife, she was to be brought to the priest with an offering (v.15). The offering was to be supplied by the husband, but it was her offering. This offering was unique. The offering was to be the tenth part of an ephah of barley, which was the same as an omer, about 3 1/2 quarts of dry measure or about 1/10 of a bushel. The offering was carried in an earthen vessel. And the woman had to hold this weight while she was being tested. You can imagine how heavy the offering was as she held it out in her hands. It was designed to make her weary and, perhaps, bring about a confession of guilt.
Everything about the offering was significant. It was not an offering that was designated to expiate, or remove, or transfer sin. The amount of barley meal was the same as the daily ration of manna for one person, the same measure used in the meal or meat offering. But, unlike the meal offering, this offering had no fine flour, or oil, or frankincense, all of which pointed to the righteousness of Christ, the work of the Spirit and the sweet smelling savor of the grace of God. Fine flour was the food of the priests. Barley was the food of the beast. The earthen vessel was a vessel of dishonor, a common vessel, used only for a time and then discarded. Every element of the offering was designed to cause the woman to remember her sin and iniquity (Num. 5:15). This was a jealousy offering, and it showed the effects of suspicion. The woman was suspected of a common, beastly, and dishonorable act adultery. Therefore the offering was an offering of barley meal. And the offering was provided by her husband. It was her offering; but it was provided by her husband.
The priest was required to take holy water (water from the laver of brass), mix it in the earthen vessel with dirt from the floor of the tabernacle, and pronounce the curse upon the woman (Num. 5:19-22). The ramifications of the curse were contingent upon her being proved guilty. The curse was declared to the woman; and she was required to agree to it, verifying her understanding of the charges laid against her. After hearing the curse, she would reply, “Amen, amen” (Num. 5:22). By doing so she was saying that she understood the charges against her, agreed to the curse, and was ready to be tested. She was saying that when she drank the bitter water, if it became bitter in her stomach and caused her stomach to swell and she became ill and began to corrupt, that she was guilty as charged and would be shunned the rest of her days.
Then the priest wrote the charges, the indictment of suspicion, on a piece of parchment and took the water mixed with the dirt and blotted out the indictment, so that the ink from the indictment would be mixed with the water and dirt. The brew that was in the earthen vessel was water, dirt from the floor of the tabernacle, and blottings from the parchment upon which her indictment was written. This strange concoction was designed only to reveal whether she was guilty or not guilty of adultery. It searched her from within and made manifest her guilt or innocence.
A Gospel Type
Because the mixture had nothing toxic or poisonous in it, and could only discern what was inside the woman, the test was a miraculous thing and should be viewed as such. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10 that these things happened in Israel to be typical, typical of Gospel matters. In this Gospel age God judges the secrets of all hearts by Jesus Christ, the Great High Priest of our profession, by the Gospel. As is all the law, the Book of Numbers is about the Church, Christ’s bride, in our relationship with Christ our Husband. What’s this all about?
Remember, only the wife could be suspected of adultery. No law was given concerning the possibility of the husband’s infidelity. Had God intended for us to look upon this law as relating to the natural affairs of the heart, neither the wife nor the husband would have need of testing. Both were, as we all are, adulterers by nature (Matt. 15:19; Mark 7:21).
The law is, in its entirety, spiritual. It is all about Christ, his person and his accomplished work for his people. The husband was not suspected, because this, of course, points to the fact that Christ is without sin. He is our ever faithful Husband, whose name is Faithful and True. Any problem that results in a damaged relationship between Christ and his church must be laid at our door, never his. No hint of suspicion can ever be put to the immutable Christ. He, who never lies, who cannot lie, loves his bride unconditionally. He will never leave her nor forsake her. He is with her always. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He loves her with an everlasting love and lives to intercede for her. If a possibility of suspicion, if any hint of unfaithfulness exists, it can only be with the bride, not with Christ.
Christ is jealous for his glory and jealous for his bride. He will countenance no rival to her affection for him. The emotion of jealousy has to do with entitlement. On a human level, people get jealous because they believe that they are singularly entitled to the affection of the one they love. Even the slightest understanding of our corruption, depravity, and unworthiness should dispel such notions of entitlement. Human jealousy is groundless. No human being is worthy of, much less entitled to be jealous. Christ, on the other hand, has both claim and right to the unconditional affection and allegiance of those he loves. He says, “Give me thine heart;” and he is entitled to it, because he is worthy. He has a right to be jealous, because he is entitled.
Cause for Suspicion
We must acknowledge that we often (Dare I not say, “Constantly”?) give our Savior, our completely devoted Husband, cause for jealousy. Do we not? The believer’s love for Christ is genuine. We say with Peter, “Lord, thou knowest all things: thou knowest that I love thee.” “We love him, because he first loved us.”
“Do not I love Thee, Oh my Lord?
Behold my heart and see;
And turn each cursed idol out
That dares to rival Thee!
Do not I love Thee from my heart?
Then let me nothing love;
Dead be my heart to every joy
Which Thou dost not approve.
Is not Thy name melodious still
To mine attentive ear;
Doth not each pulse with pleasure beat
My Savior’s voice to hear?
Hast Thou a lamb in all Thy flock
I would disdain to feed?
Hast Thou a foe before whose face
I fear Thy cause to plead?
Thou knowest I love Thee, dearest Lord,
But Oh! I long to soar
Far from the sphere of mortal joys,
That I may love Thee more.”
Yes, we love our Redeemer, who loved us and gave himself for us. Yet, our base, corrupt, evil hearts are ever straying from him! How often we go awhoring after others!
“Prone to wander, Lord I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love!
Here’s my heart. O take and seal it!
Seal it for Thy courts above!”
The cares of the world often get in the way of the unrivalled love we owe our Beloved. Our minds may wander from Christ and become focused on petty differences between the brethren. We sometimes isolate ourselves (individually and as a body of believers) from fellowship with others of like precious faith over perceived issues. We often become proud and self sufficient, and leave our first love, like the church at Laodecea. God’s church sometimes allows the presence of false teachings, like the church at Pergamos. Sometimes she allows the doctrine of Balaam to enter in, as well as the doctrine of the Nicolaitans. She struggles with schisms, like the church at Corinth. Yes, the church of God, Christ’s chosen, redeemed, dearly beloved bride often gives reason to be suspected of an alienation of affection. To be suspicious of her would be both feasible and reasonable. The possibility of her being untrue is always at the surface.
How can the inner thoughts of our hearts be known? We must be proved. We must be tested. We must be tried. We must be searched from within. We must drink the water mixed with dust and the blottings of the accusation.
The three elements of the potion in Numbers 5 were dust from the floor of the tabernacle, holy water, and ink from the indictment written against the wife. Those elements are significant. The dust represents death. The water represents the Word of God, the Gospel. The indictment represents the law. The dust and the indictment are in the water. And the very law of the indictment is the means by which the indictment is blotted out (Rom. 3:24-28; Isa. 45:20).
The Gospel of Christ sets forth the death of Christ as the Substitute for sinners condemned by the law. The Gospel is the food and drink of the church. It is the feast of fat things, wine upon the lees and well refined. It is the singular drink for both the one who is true and the one who is unfaithful. It is the drink that reveals both.
It is the Gospel that searches the inward man, where God requires truth. To the one who is guilty of unfaithfulness and drinks, the Gospel searches him out, finds, and discloses his unfaithfulness. The drink of death searches out the faithful, too, and gives him freedom to bring forth fruit unto God. The fact is, there is in our hearts both faithfulness and adultery. We must be tried by the Word. We must have a constant diet of the Gospel. The preaching of the Gospel is the only thing that will search us out. (See: Heb. 4:12-13; Eph. 5:8-13; John 3:19-21; Psa. 139:2324).
The offering that was brought was barley, the food of beasts. This is a picture of the believer approaching God with nothing of value. It speaks to the fact that the believer stands before God trusting him to reveal the truth about him. “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.”
The barley also pictures the Gospel in that it is the food of beasts. The Gospel is for sinners. Christ came not to call the righteous, but to bring sinners to repentance. “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.”
When the church is tried by the Gospel, she is always found innocent. When she feasts on the Gospel and is searched in her inmost self, she is found without sin, because the Gospel declares that her sin is gone. She is sanctified. She is made the very righteousness of God. Fully aware of her personal guilt, rottenness, and swelling within, she clings to Christ all the more, knowing that he is her All. The indictment that was against us has been blotted out by the precious blood of Christ (Rom. 8:1, 33-34).
Death and the law are both elements of Gospel preaching, and both are swallowed up by it. The Gospel is a heavenly cordial that inebriates the soul and causes the bride to rejoice that though she may be suspect in herself, because of her Bridegroom, she is not guilty. She welcomes the test; she gladly drinks the potion heartily and often, for it will prove her always innocent. Though within her flesh she knows that there dwells no good thing, she knows, by Gospel declaration, that she is truly her Beloved’s, that she is true to him, and that he will never put her away. Because he declares, “I am jealous for her,” nothing shall separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Hos. 2:19-20; Jer. 32:38-40).