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the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 5

Poole's English Annotations on the Holy BiblePoole's Annotations



God commands to put away all unclean persons from the camp; it is executed, Numbers 5:1-4.

Restitution commanded, and an offering, especially of hallowed things, which belong to the priest, Numbers 5:5-10.

Laws in case of jealousy, bitter water ordained, Numbers 5:11-31.

Verse 2

Out of the camp, in which the people dwelt; as afterward out of the cities and towns, that they might not converse with others, and infect them.

An issue, to wit, of genital seed in men, or of blood in women in their seasons.

By the dead, i.e. by the touch of the dead. See Leviticus 21:1; Numbers 6:6.

Verse 3

By which caution God would intimate the possibility and danger of men’s being made guilty by other men’s sins, and the necessary duty of avoiding intimate converse with wicked men.

In the midst whereof I dwell, by my special and gracious presence; and therefore the permission of such impurities is the greater injury and provocation to me, as being done in my sight, and reflecting dishonour upon my name.

Verse 6

Any sin that men commit, Heb. any sins of men, i.e. either,

1. Of common infirmity, or such sins as men commit through human frailty; for if this were done knowingly and willingly, a greater punishment was appointed. See Leviticus 6:5,Leviticus 6:6. Or rather,

2. Sins against men, or belonging to men, to wit, deceits or wrongs, whereby other men are injured, of which he manifestly speaks, as appears from Numbers 5:7,Numbers 5:8; so this is a genitive case of the object, as Matthew 12:31, blasphemy of the Spirit (for so it is in the Greek) is blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, as it is called Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10; and power of all flesh, John 17:2, is power over all flesh; and power of spirits, Matthew 10:1, is power over or against spirits, Luke 9:1; and prayer of God, Luke 6:12, is prayer directed unto God; and the spoil of the poor, Isaiah 3:14, is the spoil taken from the poor; and violence of the children of Judah, Joel 3:19, is violence against them, as we translate it.

To do a trespass against the Lord; which words may be added, either,

1. To express a new sin, of prevaricating or dealing falsely with God, either by a false oath, which is a special injury to God, or by a lie or simple denial that he hath taken any thing of his neighbour’s, which also God takes as a sin especially concerning himself, who in such cases is the only judge of what is falsely said or sworn. See Acts 5:3,Acts 5:4. Or,

2. To aggravate the former sin, and to show that such injuries done to men are also sins against God. who hath commended justice to men as well as religion to himself. But the former is more probable, both because here is a ram of atonement to be offered to God for the special injury clone to him, as well as satisfaction is to be made to the man whom he injured; and especially by comparing this with the parallel place, Leviticus 6:2, &c. And that person be guilty, i.e. shall be sensible of his guilt, or be convicted in his conscience of his sin; for otherwise this might seem a mere tautology, if it were only meant of being really guilty of sin, which was expressed before in those words, when one shall commit any sin, i.e. be guilty of any sin.

Verse 7

They shall not continue in the denial of the fact, as such persons oft do, but shall give glory to God, and take shame to themselves, by acknowledging their sin with grief and remorse. See Leviticus 5:5; Leviticus 6:4.

With the principal thereof; i.e. the thing he took away, or what is equivalent to it.

The fifth part thereof is added both as a compensation to the injured person for the want of his goods so long, and for his trouble for the supposed utter loss of them, and as a penalty upon the injurious dealer to discourage others from such attempts.

Quest. How doth this agree with that law, Exodus 22:1?

Answer. That law was made against notorious and obstinate thieves, who were legally convicted of their crime, and this against more modest thieves, whose necessities might induce them to steal, and whose consciences are affected with their sin.

Verse 8

If the man have no kinsman, which might be the case commonly with proselytes, if not with Israelites. This also suppposeth the person injured to be dead or gone away into some unknown place, and the person injured to be known to the injurer.

God appointed

the priest as his deputy to receive his dues, and take them to his own use, that so he might more cheerfully and entirely devote himself to the ministration of holy things. This is au additional explication to that law, Leviticus 6:2, and for the sake thereof it seems here to be repeated.

Verse 9

Heb. every heave offering, the heave-offering being here taken largely, so as to comprehend also the wave-offering for both of these were Aaron’s portion. See Exodus 29:26-28.

Unto the priest to wit, to offer unto the Lord by his hands.

Shall be his, i.e. the priest’s. See Leviticus 6:16.

Verse 10

Every man’s hallowed things; understand this not of the sacrifices, no, not of such of them as were voluntary or vowed, as most understand it, because these were not the priest’s peculiar, but a good part of them was offered to God, and the remainder was eaten by the offerer as well as by the priest, as is manifest; but of such other things as were devoted to God, and were such as could not be offered in sacrifice; as suppose a man consecrated a house, or rent of it, to the Lord, this was to be the priest’s. And this restriction may be easily collected from the nature of the thing, because he speaketh in this and the other branches here of such things as were appropriated to the priest as his portion, which none of the sacrifices were.

Verse 12

This law was given partly to deter wives from adulterous practices, and partly to secure wives against the rage of their hard-hearted husbands, who otherwise might upon mere suspicions destroy them, or at least put them away.

Quest. Why was there not the same law for the trial of the husband, when the wife was jealous of him?

Answ. This might be either,

1. Because the woman’s sin is greater, because there is not only filthiness and falseness in it, which is also in the man’s sin, but also peculiar unrighteousness in dishonouring his name and family, and transferring his estate to strangers and other men’s children. Or,

2. Because there was not like fear of inconveniences to the husband from the jealousy of the wife, who had not that authority, and power, and opportunity for the putting away or killing of the husband as the husband had over the wive. Or,

3. Because being the inferior and the weaker sex, and more subject to jealousies and groundless suspicions, it was not thought expedient to trust them with such a power or privilege.

Go aside, from the way of religion and justice, or from her faith given to her husband, or to the by-paths of falsehood and filthiness, and that either in truth, or in appearance, and in her husband’s opinion.

Verse 13

She utterly denying it, Proverbs 30:20, and none being able and willing to discover it; for if it was witnessed, she was to die for it, Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22.

Verse 14

The spirit of jealousy, i.e. a strong opinion or suggestion or inward motion of that kind, whether from a good or evil spirit. Thus we read of the spirit of wisdom, Isaiah 11:2, of perverseness, Isaiah 19:14, of fornication, Hosea 4:12, of fear, 2 Timothy 1:7, of slumber, Romans 11:8.

Verse 15

Then, she persisting in her denial, and her husband requiring her submission to this way of trial. Her offering was partly because none were to appear before God empty, Exodus 23:15; partly, by way of solemn appeal to God, whom hereby she desired to judge between her and her husband; and partly, by way of atonement to appease God, who had for her sins stirred up her husband against her, and sent an evil spirit between them. See 1 Samuel 26:19. No oil nor frankincense, both because it was a kind of sin-offering, from which these were excluded, Leviticus 5:11, and to testify, her sorrowful sense of the hand of God, and of her husband’s displeasure, and because she came thither as a delinquent, or one suspected of delinquency, and under an ill fame, and unpleasing both to God and men; as one that wanted that grace and amiableness and joy which oil signified, and that acceptance with God which frankincense designed, Psalms 141:2.

Bringing iniquity to remembrance; both to God, before whom she appeared as a sinner, and to her own conscience, if she were guilty, and, if she were not guilty of this, yet it reminded her of her other sins, for which this might be a punishment.

Verse 16

i.e. the woman; but of her he speaks, Numbers 5:18; or it, i.e. the offering, which is last spoken of, so the feminine gender is put for the masculine or the neuter, of both which we have instances.

Before the Lord, i.e. before the sanctuary where the ark was.

Verse 17

Holy water; either water out of the holy laver, Exodus 30:18, or rather the water of purification appointed for such kind of uses, Numbers 19:9. This was used, that if she were guilty, she might be afraid to add profaneness and the pollution of holy things to her other crime.

In an earthen vessel; either to signify that frailty and vileness of which she stood accused, or express her sorrowful and shameful condition, or because, after this use, it was to be broken in pieces, that the remembrance of it might be blotted out as far as possible. Compare Leviticus 6:28; Leviticus 11:33; Leviticus 15:12.

And of the dust; all emblem of vileness and misery, as appears from Job 2:12; Psalms 22:15; Lamentations 3:29; and the serpent’s food, Genesis 3:14; very proper for her who had been seduced to folly by the serpent’s instigation.

In the floor of the tabernacle; which made it holy dust, and struck the greater terror into the woman, if she were guilty. Put it into the water, to make it more unpleasant and bitter, which was suitable to one in that sorrowful state.

Verse 18

Before the Lord; before the tabernacle, with her face towards the ark.

Uncover the woman’s head; partly, that she might be made sensible how manifest she and all her ways were to God, and that she might be more visible to the congregation, that her shame might be greater if she were guilty; partly, in token of her sorrow either for her sin, or at least for any cause of suspicion which she had given; partly, as a sign that she was after a sort deprived of the help and protection of her husband, which the covering of the woman’s head signified, 1 Corinthians 11:5-7,1 Corinthians 11:10, and that she was neither virgin nor loyal with, for the heads of both these used to be covered.

In her hands, that she herself might offer it, and therefore call God to be witness of her innocency. Bitter; so called either from the bitter taste which the dust gave it, or from the bitter effects of it upon her if she were guilty. Compare Exodus 32:20.

That causeth the curse; not by any natural power, but by a supernatural efficacy ordained and wrought by God for her punishment, and for the terror and caution of others.

Verse 19

Charge her by an oath, to answer truly to his question, or to declare by oath whether she be guilty or no, and after such oath shall say as follows.

If no man, to wit, except thy husband, as is manifest from the whole context; or no other man, the word another being understood here, as it is thought to be also Genesis 14:1; Genesis 36:6; Exodus 22:20. With another, or, with him, i.e. the man now mentioned. So it is an ellipsis easily supplied out of the text.

Verse 21

An oath, i.e. a form of cursing or imprecatory oaths, that when they would curse a person, they may wish that they may be as cursed and miserable as thou wast upon this occasion. See the phrase Isaiah 65:15; Jeremiah 29:22 and compare Genesis 48:20; Ruth 4:11,Ruth 4:12.

Thy thigh; a modest signification of the genital parts, used both in Scripture, as Genesis 46:26; Exodus 1:5, and other authors, that the sin might be evident in the punishment.

To rot, Heb. to fall, i.e. to die or waste away, as the word is used, 1 Chronicles 21:14, compared with 2 Samuel 24:15.

To swell, suddenly and violently till it burst, which the Jews note was frequent in this and like cases, as Exodus 32:20. And it was a clear evidence of the truth of their religion.

Verse 22

i.e. So let it be if I be guilty. The word is doubled by her as an evidence of her innocency, and ardent desire that God would deal with her according to her desert.

Verse 23

These curses, wherewith she cursed herself, to which peradventure her name was added.

In a book, i.e. in a scroll of parchment, which the Hebrews commonly call a book, as Deuteronomy 24:1; 2 Samuel 11:11; Isaiah 39:1.

Blot them out with the bitter water, or, rase or scourge them out, and cast then into the bitter water. Whereby it was signified, that if she was innocent, the curses should be blotted out and come to nothing, and if she were guilty, she should find in her the effects of this water which she drunk, after the words of this curse; had been scraped and put in.

Verse 24

To drink, to wit, after the jealousy-offering was offered, as is affirmed, Numbers 5:26.

Verse 26

The memorial thereof, of which see Leviticus 2:2.

Verse 28

She shall be free, to wit, from these bitter curses and miseries.

Shall conceive seed, i.e. shall bring forth children, as the Jews say, in case of her innocency, infallibly she did, yea, though she was barren before; or shall be as capable of bearing children as other women.

Verse 31

Guiltless from iniquity; which he should not have been, if he had either dissembled or indulged her in so great a wickedness, and not endeavoured to bring her either to repentance or punishment; see Matthew 1:19; or cherished suspicions in his breast, and thereupon proceeded to hate her or cast her off. Whereas now, whatsoever the consequent is, the husband shall not be blamed or censured, either for bringing such curses and mischiefs upon her, or for defaming her, if she appear to be innocent. Her iniquity, i.e. the punishment of her iniquity, whether she was false to her husband, or by any light and foolish carriage gave him occasion to suspect her to be so.

Bibliographical Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Numbers 5". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/mpc/numbers-5.html. 1685.
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