As we read in Exodus 32 where Moses had delayed in coming down from the mountain and the people had Aaron make for them a god to go before them, we are reminded how this very thing has happened today. Jesus has delayed in coming down from heaven and the people have called upon their spiritual leaders to give them a god of their own making. Just like then they have called something God that isn’t God; they have bowed down to worship God, but it is not the true God. When Moses came down from the mountain he took the idol they had made “and burned it with fire, and ground it to powder, and scattered it over the surface of the water, and made the sons of Israel drink it” (Ex 32:20). For this was to be a test of the people who had just entered into a covenant with God that was not unlike the covenant of marriage between a woman and her husband. As in Numbers 5:11-31 the people were forced to drink the water of bitterness that brings a curse upon the Bride that had committed adultery, in this case by playing the harlot after another god:
Then the priest shall bring her (who is accused of adultery) near and have her stand before the LORD, and the priest shall take holy water (the word of God) in an earthenware (human) vessel; and he shall take some of the dust (the uncleanness of the world) that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it into the water. (Think about this in light of all that follows.) The priest shall then have the woman stand before the LORD and let the hair of the woman’s head go loose, and place the grain offering of memorial in her hands, which is the grain offering of jealousy, and in the hand of the priest is to be the water of bitterness that brings a curse. And the priest shall have her take an oath and shall say to the woman, “If no man has lain with you and if you have not gone astray into uncleanness ( i.e., if the Bride has not committed adultery against the Bridegroom), being under the authority of your husband, be immune to this water of bitterness that brings a curse; if you, however, have gone astray, being under the authority of your husband, and if you have defiled yourself and a man other than your husband has had intercourse with you (cf. James 4:4 below)” (then the priest shall have the woman swear with the oath of the curse, and the priest shall say to the woman), “the LORD make you a curse and an oath among your people by the LORD’s making your thigh waste away and your abdomen swell; and this water that brings a curse shall go into your inward parts and make your abdomen swell and your thigh waste away (the curse will make the adulteress unfruitful so she cannot bear children).” And the woman shall say, “Amen. Amen.”
The priest shall then write these curses on a scroll, and he shall wash them off into the water of bitterness. Then he shall make the woman drink the water of bitterness that brings a curse, so that the water which brings a curse will go into her and cause bitterness. And the priest shall take the grain offering of jealousy from the woman’s hand, and he shall wave the grain offering before the LORD and bring it to the altar; and the priest shall take a handful of the grain offering as its memorial offering and offer it up in smoke on the altar, and afterward he shall make the woman drink the water. When he has made her drink the water, then it shall come about, if she has defiled herself and has been unfaithful to her husband that the water which brings a curse shall go into her and cause bitterness, and her abdomen will swell and her thigh will waste away (she will bear no fruit), and the woman will become a curse among her people. But if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, she will then be free and conceive children (bear the fruit of righteousness without which no one will see God).
You adulteresses! (Here is how we commit adultery against God:) Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
As in the case of those who prostituted themselves with the golden calf, the same water of bitterness was given to the inhabitants of Judah for their forsaking of the Lord in the days of Jeremiah:
Why are we sitting still? Assemble yourselves, and let us go into the fortified cities, and let us perish there, because the LORD our God has doomed us and given us poisoned water to drink, for we have sinned against the LORD.
Who is the wise man that may understand this? And who is he to whom the mouth of the LORD has spoken, that he may declare it? Why is the land (of inheritance which represents the kingdom of God) ruined, laid waste like a desert (i.e. a desolation), so that no one passes through? And the LORD said, “(It is) because they have forsaken My law which I set before them (the law was the terms of the covenant), and have not obeyed My voice nor walked according to it, but have walked after the stubbornness of their heart and after the Baals (the gods of this age, the man of lawlessness who leads the people into lawlessness), as their fathers taught them.” Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, “Behold, I will feed them, this people, with wormwood and give them poisoned water to drink.”
Also among the prophets (preachers) of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing: The committing of adultery and walking in falsehood; and they strengthen the hands of evildoers (by giving them a false security that they are saved from the wrath of God although they walk in the stubbornness of their hearts), so that no one has turned back from his wickedness. All of them have become to Me like Sodom, and her inhabitants like Gomorrah. Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts concerning the prophets (preachers), ‘Behold I am going to feed them wormwood and make them drink poisonous water, for from the prophets (preachers) of Jerusalem (what is today called church) pollution has gone forth into all the land.’
Now, “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us” (Rom 15:4), and “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come” (1 Cor 10:11). For the same wormwood and water of bitterness is given today to all who profess to be the Bride of Christ but play the harlot after a god that, in accordance with their own fleshly desires, is of their own making . Having experienced God’s covenant love and strong arm of grace in delivering them from their bondage to sin in the spiritual land of Egypt, their adulterous hearts have quickly forsaken their first love. Fashioning an image of the beast to go before them they call something God that isn’t God; they bow down and worship a god that isn’t the true God but rather the god of this age who has blinded their minds so that they cannot see (2 Cor 4:4), the very man of lawlessness who “opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God” (2 Thess 2:3-4). And so, as it has always been for the unfaithful wife they are forced to drink the water of bitterness. And just as the pure water is the Word of God that cleanses our souls, so is the water of bitterness a deluding influence of false religion brought on by the perverted doctrines of demons (2 Thess 2:11, 1 Tim 4:1). And just as the god of their own making polluted the waters in the days of Moses, as the harlotry of her own soul made the bitter water bring a curse of unfruitfulness to the unfaithful wife, so do the perverted doctrines of demons that flow like oil and honey from the mouths of the false prophets (cf. 2 Pet 2:18-19) lead today’s faithless to believe a lie, “so that all may be condemned who do not believe the truth but take pleasure in wickedness” (2 Thess 2:11-12).
My son, give attention to my wisdom, incline your ear to my understanding; that you may observe discretion, and your lips may reserve knowledge. For the lips of an adulteress drip honey, and smoother than oil is her speech; but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death, her steps lay hold of Sheol. She does not ponder the path of life; her ways are unstable, but she does not know it (for she is a blind guide, deceived even as she is deceiving others).
He who is full (with the knowledge of the truth) loathes honey (that drips from the mouth of the adulteress), but to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet.
The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the (spiritual) rivers and on the springs of (spiritual) water–the name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the (spiritual) waters turned bitter and many people died from the waters that had become bitter (i.e. poisoned).
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