I read something in my Bible that surprised me this week. I’ve been reading through Numbers and Hebrews at the same time and ran across a passage on God’s instructions regarding adultery. I was floored when I read it.
God commanded that if any guy in ancient Israel suspected his wife of cheating, he was to take her to the priest. If she was guilty and caught red-handed, she would be executed. If there wasn’t any proof but the man just suspected unfaithfulness on her part, she would then undergo a special ceremony at the temple.
Let me tell you, this wasn’t the kind of ceremony I expected from the Bible. It didn’t involve sheep or the typical sacrificial images. Surprisingly enough, the priest was instructed to mix dirt from the temple floor in a bowl of water and then force the woman to drink it. Yes, the woman was supposed to drink mud. If she drank and she was guilty, she’d be cursed. If not, she’d be fine.
What amazed me was twofold.
First, can you imagine a guy nowadays trying to get his wife to drink mud? There’s no way it would happen—not only because of our modern knowledge of bacteria, but because we don’t see adultery as such a big deal. It’s not considered nearly as shameful as it was in the Old Testament. Sure, it’s heartbreaking for the spouse that was cheated on. Sure, it’s too bad for their kids. But we’re quick to come up with an excuse, like, “She was just following her heart” or “Her husband wasn’t her soulmate. Give her a break.” We don’t see adultery—or any other sin for that matter—with the same severity that God sees it.
The second amazing part of this passage to me was still wrapped up in the eating-mud concept. The key to the adultery-punishing-ceremony was the dirt, taken from the temple. Since the temple was where God lived and made His Presence known, the ceremony meant that God was so, so, so holy that even the dirt from His dwelling place would curse someone who harbored sin. It spoke volumes about God’s level of holiness.
After reading through the passage, it hit me that if God is that holy, how can we expect to talk, pray, and worship Him with sin still hidden in our hearts? We may think sin is not such a big deal. I certainly don’t think when I pig out at dinner (gluttony) or choose to pass on a story behind my friend’s back (gossip) that I’m committing a deadly sin. It’s just a little fudging on the rules. It’s nothing like murder or kidnapping. I think, Surely God doesn’t care.
But if He’s even a fraction as holy as He appears in the Bible—if He’s the same God that Job longed to see with hope mixed in fear (“in my flesh I shall see God…. My heart faints within me!”) and the same God who made Isaiah cry, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and … my eyes have seen the King”—then I’m in certain trouble. My sin must matter. God could kill me on the spot for all that I’ve done.
Years after the mud-eating ceremony, the sacrificial lambs, and executions for sin were instituted, it’s said in Hebrews, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared” (10:5). Later in the same passage it says, “by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (v. 14)
In other words, those who are set apart to belong to Jesus, He’s made perfect through His ultimate sacrifice for us. He’s covered us with His offering. Christ didn’t just offer the old ceremonies to God. He gave Himself and all His holiness to me, making my sin null. In God’s presence, I’m still going to be in awe—my heart will faint like Job’s—but I’ll be okay. Somehow I won’t be obliterated, because Jesus has made me holy, like Him.
How does the fact that God’s holiness is applied to you through Jesus Christ … how does that change the way you’ll live today?