Did you know? Why the Decree for adultery is so hard for the Israelites? Death
Did you know? that is all connected to mount sinai?
The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 12 Speak to the Israelites and say to them: If any man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him
broken faith with him Hebrew maʿalah bo maʿal.
This is the only time that the term maʿal is used outside the sacred sphere of sancta and oath violations, where the object of maʿal is invariably the Deity. Here its usage in connection with the betrayal of the husband bears a literary rather than legal character. Just as the term berit, “covenant,” is at times used by the prophets for the marriage relationship (cf. Ezek. 16:8; Mal. 2:14), where no oath of marital fidelity is actually involved, so here maʿal has a figurative meaning.
The unfaithful wife is a recurring prophetic image for Israel’s infidelity to God (e.g., Hos. 2:4–22; Jer. 3:8f.; Ezek. 23:37). Moreover, maʿal is used in priestly texts for idolatry (cf. Lev. 26:40; Num. 31:16). Since maʿal denotes straying after other gods, its extension to straying after other men is obvious. As the only term used in common in the laws of oath violation (5:6–8) and the laws of adultery (5:11–31), it provides the link between these two otherwise unrelated cases.31
Milgrom, J. (1990). Numbers (p. 37). Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.
If a man’s wife goes astray (5:12). This particular case concerns a woman suspected by her husband of having an adulterous affair.41 In Mesopotamian as well as biblical law, if a man or a woman was caught having intercourse with another’s spouse, they were both executed. In Law 129 of the Code of Hammurabi, the man and woman were to be bound together and thrown into the river.42 A trial by ordeal places punishment in the hands of God for a case of unapprehended adultery.43 Westbrook argues that the ancient Near Eastern societies shared a set of legal traditions, among them marriage and divorce codes.44 See sidebar on “Suspected but Unobserved Adultery”
Walton, J. H. (2009). Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (Old Testament): Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy (Vol. 1, p. 347). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
The key to the answer lies in the fact that the guilty woman did not go apprehended by man. That this element is the most significant in her case is shown by the fact that it is cited four times in her indictment, each in a different manner: (1) “unbeknown to her husband”; (2) “she keeps secret” (or “it was done clandestinely”); (3) “without being apprehended”; (4) “and there is no witness against her” (v. 13). These clear redundancies, among others, lead one critic to assert that their purpose is “to give weight to what might (and all too correctly!) be seen as a transparent charade … to protect the woman as wife in the disadvantaged position determined for her by the mores of ancient Israel’s society.”4 This stylistic inflation, however, may have been deliberately written with a judicial purpose in mind: to emphasize the cardinal principle that the imapprehended criminal is not subject to the jurisdiction of the human court. Since the adulteress has not been apprehended—as the text repeats with staccato emphasis—then the community and, especially, the overwrought husband may not give way to their passions to lynch her. Indeed, even if proved guilty by the ordeal, they may not put her to death. Unapprehended adultery remains punishable only by God, and there is no need for human mediation. The punishment for this sin against man (the husband) and God is inherent in the ordeal.
Milgrom, J. (1990). Numbers (pp. 349–350). Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.