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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 5

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 2

Command the children of Israel, that they put out of the camp every leper, and every one that hath an issue, and whosoever is defiled by the dead: Put out of the camp every leper. The exclusion of leprous persons from the camp in the wilderness, as from cities and villages afterward, was a sanatory measure taken according to prescribed rules, (Leviticus 13:1-59; Leviticus 14:1-57.) This exclusion of lepers from society has been acted upon ever since (Joseph Wolff's 'Journal,' p. 491); and it affords almost the only instance in which any kind of attention is paid in the East to the prevention of contagion. The usage still more or less prevails in the East among people who are indifferent about taking precautions in any cases of fever or pestilence, however malignant; but it is generally believed that in Asia the leprosy has now much abated in frequency and virulence. It usually appears in a comparatively mild form in Egypt, Palestine, and other countries where the disorder is, or was, endemic.

Lepers, however, are generally obliged to wear a distinctive badge, that people may know them at first sight and be warned to avoid them. Other means were adopted among the ancient Jews by putting their hand on their mouth and crying, "Unclean, unclean." But their general treatment, as to exclusion from society, was the same as now described. The association of the leper, however, in this passage, with those who were subject only to ceremonial uncleanness, shows that one important design in the temporary exile of such persons was to remove all impurities that reflected dishonour on the character and residence of Israel's king. And this vigilant care to maintain external cleanliness in the people was typically designed to teach them the practice of moral purity, or cleansing themselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit. The regulations made for ensuring cleanliness in the camp suggest the adoption of similar means for maintaining purity in the church. And although in large communities of Christians, it may be often difficult or delicate to do this, the suspension, or, in flagrant cases of sin, the total excommunication of the offender from the privileges and communion of the church is an imperative duty as necessary to the moral purity of the Christian, as the exclusion of the leper from the camp was to physical health and ceremonial purity in the Jewish Church.

Verses 3-5

Both male and female shall ye put out, without the camp shall ye put them; that they defile not their camps, in the midst whereof I dwell.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 6

Speak unto the children of Israel, When a man or woman shall commit any sin that men commit, to do a trespass against the LORD, and that person be guilty;

Trespass against the Lord. This is a wrong or injury done by one man to the property of another and as it is called "a trespass against the Lord," it is implied, in the case supposed, that the offence has been aggravated by prevaricating-by a false oath, or a fraudulent lie in denying it, which is a "trespass" committed against God, who is the sole judge of what is falsely sworn or spoken (Acts 5:3-4).

And that person be guilty - i:e., from the obvious tenor of the passage, conscience-smitten, or brought to a sense and conviction of his evil conduct (see the note at Leviticus 6:4). In that case there must be, first, confession, a penitential acknowledgment of sin; secondly, restitution of the property, or the giving of an equivalent, with the additional fine of a fifth part, both as a compensation to the person defrauded, and as a penalty inflicted on the injurer, to deter others from the commission of similar trespasses (see the note at Exodus 22:1). The difference between the law recorded in that passage and this is, that the one was enacted against flagrant and determined thieves, the other against those whose necessities might have urged them into fraud, and whose consciences were distressed by their sin. This law also supposes the injured party not to be accessible or to be dead, and in that case the compensation due to his representatives was to be paid to the priest, who, as God's deputy, received the required satisfaction.

Verses 7-8

Then they shall confess their sin which they have done: and he shall recompense his trespass with the principal thereof, and add unto it the fifth part thereof, and give it unto him against whom he hath trespassed.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 9

And every offering of all the holy things of the children of Israel, which they bring unto the priest, shall be his.

Every offering ... shall be his. Whatever was given in this way, or otherwise, as by free-will offerings, irrevocably belonged to the priest.

Verse 10

And every man's hallowed things shall be his: whatsoever any man giveth the priest, it shall be his.

Every man's hallowed things shall be his, [ wª'iysh (H376) 'et (H854) qaadaashaayw (H6944)]; Septuagint, hekastou ta heegiasmena]. This refers most probably not to sacrifices, whether voluntary or vowed, but to other votive offerings, not of a sacrificial character, such as the tithe, or consecration of a house, etc. The limitation of the statement to such cases as these is obvious-because these offerings were the portion of the priests, while sacrifices were, in special parts, devoted to God, while the remainder, reserving a portion only to the priest, was given to the offerer.

Verse 11

And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 12

Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, If any man's wife go aside, and commit a trespass against him,

If man's wife go aside. This law was given both as a strong discouragement to conjugal infidelity on the part of a wife, and a sufficient protection of her from the consequences of a hasty and groundless suspicion on the part of the husband. His suspicions, however, were sufficient, in the absence of witnesses (Leviticus 20:10), to warrant the trial described; and the course of proceeding to be followed was for the jealous husband to bring his wife unto the priest with an offering of barley meal because none were allowed to approach the sanctuary empty-handed (Exodus 23:15), and barley being the food of horses (1 Kings 4:28), as well as the symbol of what was low, was used in the offering of jealousy-which related to a matter of a sensual, animal character. On other occasions there were mingled with the offering, oil, which signified joy, and frankincense, which denoted acceptance (Psalms 141:2). But on the occasion referred to, both these ingredients were to be excluded, partly because it was a solemn appeal to God in distressing circumstances, and partly because it was a sin offering on the part of the wife, who came before God in the character of a real or suspected offender.

Verses 13-16

And a man lie with her carnally, and it be hid from the eyes of her husband, and be kept close, and she be defiled, and there be no witness against her, neither she be taken with the manner;

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 17

And the priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel; and of the dust that is in the floor of the tabernacle the priest shall take, and put it into the water:

The priest shall take holy water - water from the laver, which was to be mixed with dust-an emblem of vileness and misery (Genesis 3:14; Psalms 22:15).

In an earthen vessel. This fragile ware was chosen, because after being used it was broken in pieces (Leviticus 6:28; Leviticus 11:33).

Verse 18

And the priest shall set the woman before the LORD, and uncover the woman's head, and put the offering of memorial in her hands, which is the jealousy offering: and the priest shall have in his hand the bitter water that causeth the curse:

Bitter water, [ meey (H4325) hamaariym (H4751)] - water of bitterness, deadly waters. The water was not really bitter to the palate. But among the Hebrews and other Oriental people, the word bitter was frequently used for curse, and the phrase, considered in the literal meaning of the words, denotes not bitter water, but water of bitterness - i:e., of curse. The whole circumstances of this awful ceremony-her being placed with her face toward the ark-her uncovered head, a sign of her being deprived of the protection of her husband (1 Corinthians 11:7) - the bitter potion being put into her hands preparatory to an appeal to God-the solemn adjuration of the priest (Numbers 5:19-22), all were calculated in no common degree to excite and appal the imagination of a person conscious of guilt.

Verses 19-20

And the priest shall charge her by an oath, and say unto the woman, If no man have lain with thee, and if thou hast not gone aside to uncleanness with another instead of thy husband, be thou free from this bitter water that causeth the curse:

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 21

Then the priest shall charge the woman with an oath of cursing, and the priest shall say unto the woman, The LORD make thee a curse and an oath among thy people, when the LORD doth make thy thigh to rot, and thy belly to swell;

The Lord make thee a curse ... - a usual form of imprecation (Isaiah 65:15; Jeremiah 29:22).

Verse 22

And this water that causeth the curse shall go into thy bowels, to make thy belly to swell, and thy thigh to rot: And the woman shall say, Amen, amen.

Amen, amen. The Israelites were accustomed, instead of formally repeating the words of an oath, merely to say Amen, a 'so be it' to the imprecations it contained. The reduplication of the word was designed as an evidence of the woman's innocence, and a willingness that God would do to her according to her desert.

Verses 23-24

And the priest shall write these curses in a book, and he shall blot them out with the bitter water:

Write these curses in a book. The imprecations, along with her name, were inscribed in some kind of record-on parchment, or more probably on a wooden tablet.

Blot them out with the bitter water, [ maachaah (H4229)] - wipe off, blot out. Here it is presumed that the material on which the writing was did not dissolve by the water, but only that the writing was thereby washed off. In this case paper was excluded. On the other hand, the writing must have been with ink, otherwise it could not have been so easily obliterated-a circumstance which also excludes the byssus (Havernick's 'General Historico-Critical Introduction to the Old Testament'). If she were innocent, they could be easily erased, and perfectly harmless; but if guilty, she would experience the fatal effects of the water she had drunk.

Verses 25-28

Then the priest shall take the jealousy offering out of the woman's hand, and shall wave the offering before the LORD, and offer it upon the altar:

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 29

This is the law of jealousies, when a wife goeth aside to another instead of her husband, and is defiled;

This is the law of jealousies. Adultery discovered and proved was punished with death. But strongly suspected cases would occur, and this law made provision for the conviction of the guilty person. It was, however, not a trial conducted according to the forms of judicial process, but an ordeal through which a suspected adulteress was made to go-the ceremony being of that terrifying nature that, on the known principles of human nature, guilt or innocence could not fail to appear. From the earliest times the jealousy of Eastern people has established ordeals for the detection and punishment of suspected unchastity in wives. The practice was deep-rooted as well as universal. And it has been thought that the Israelites being strongly biassed in favour of such usage, this law of jealousies 'was incorporated among the other instititions of the Mosaic economy, in order to free it from the idolatrous rites which the pagans had blended with it,' Viewed in this light, its sanction by divine authority, in a corrected and improved form, exhibits a proof at once of the wisdom and condescension of God.

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Numbers 5". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/numbers-5.html. 1871-8.
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