In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul gives instructions, sobering exhortations, and explanations concerning the Lord’s Supper as it is practiced in the church in Corinth. Some of the Corinthians were acting like selfish pigs and not waiting on their brothers and sisters to eat. In their refusal to wait and eat with the rest of the family of Christ, they were dividing the body of Christ. They were not discerning the Lord’s body properly (1Cor 11.29); that is, they were, in their actions, judging others as being outside of the body of Christ who were, indeed, in the body of Christ. This is why Paul concludes his instructions with the exhortation, “So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another…” (1 Cor 11.33).
The judgment that had fallen on the Corinthians was severe. Their exclusion of certain family members brought divine displeasure upon some. Their lack of discerning the body was the cause of many being weak and ill and some of them “sleeping” (i.e., dying; 1Cor 11.30).
How does Paul know that this is the cause of this divine displeasure? Isn’t it dangerous to interpret events like this and attribute God’s action to them? Generally, we should use extreme caution. Some might say, “Paul was an inspired apostle and could make that judgment.” That’s possible. But there is another possibility as well.
In Numbers 5 God provided a way for a jealous husband to test the fidelity of his wife. If the husband suspected his wife of being unfaithful, he would take her to the Tabernacle and the priest to be vindicated or condemned. The jealousy test was administered when there were no witnesses to the alleged infidelity. Only God would know, so God would have to be the one to expose it.
The man would bring his wife to the priest with a memorial portion of grain. A memorial in Scripture is that which causes God to remember his covenant and act accordingly (cf. e.g., Gen 9.13-15). This grain offering would be a memorial to bring iniquity to God’s remembrance (Num 5.15).
With the grain in their hands, God also provided a holy drink. The process involved taking dirt from the Tabernacle floor (which is holy ground) and putting it into holy water in an earthen vessel (Num 5.17). Eventually, that water would be joined by words of curse that had been written down and then washed off into the water (Num 5.23).
The woman would then drink the water. If nothing happened, she was declared innocent. If she was guilty, her belly would swell and her thigh would rot (Num 5.22). We don’t know exactly what this means, but it seems that she would have a false pregnancy, giving birth to nothing. Her womb would be dead and no children would pass between her thighs. Death was the consequence of infidelity.
We don’t know if this law was ever carried out against any woman in Israel. It might have been intended for the whole of Israel herself. There is a foreshadowing of this law happening at Mt Sinai when the new bride of YHWH commits adultery with a golden calf. The calf is ground to powder, put in water, and the people are made to drink. The guilty ones are then evident, and the Levites inflict the death penalty on them (Exod 32).
This jealousy test, it seems to me, provides at least some of the context for Paul’s interpretation of the events in Corinth. Grain–bread–and holy wine are brought. They are the body and blood of Christ, the Word of God made flesh. To eat and drink this holy food vindicates us or exposes our infidelity. This jealousy test happens every Lord’s Day as we gather around the Table of our husband. Unlike the bride in Numbers 5, we don’t eat and drink the shadows but the substance. Consequently, our vindication is greater but so is our punishment.
The jealousy test aspect of the Lord’s Supper is one of God’s mercies to us. We need any and all infidelities exposed. It is better that they be exposed now than in the final judgment. As they are exposed in the present, we can deal with them through confession and repentance. At the final judgment, there is no repentance.
This is one reason why you shouldn’t avoid the Lord’s Supper as a member of Christ’s church. Not only have you compounded your sin by disobeying a direct command of Jesus who told us to “eat” and “drink,” but you have also cut yourself off from this grace of sin being exposed so that it can be dealt with.
The Lord has many ways to expose sin, not all involving you falling ill or dead on the spot. It may be that your secret sins come to light to the pastor and elders of the church so that the sin can be put to death. You were sneaking around being unfaithful in some way, thinking that you were getting away with living a duplicitous life. You come to the Table, devour the Word of God, and God exposes you in his grace. The Supper is not the problem. Sin is the problem, and it is the grace of God to expose it so that you have the opportunity to kill it through confession and repentance.
Knowing that you will be tested this next Lord’s Day now encourages you to be much more aware of your private fidelity throughout the week. It matters not if no one sees your web activity because you are wily enough to hide it from everyone. That paramour that you meet on business trips out of the city will never be found. But God knows, and for your good, he will make it known. If he doesn’t, you’re in bad shape for the final judgment.