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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 5

Coke's Commentary on the Holy BibleCoke's Commentary



The leprous and unclean are commanded to be put out of the camp: restitution is enjoined: the trial of jealousy.

Before Christ 1490.

Verse 2

Numbers 5:2. That they put out of the camp Le Clerc conjectures, that the camp of each tribe had some vacant space left, which was reckoned without the camp, and that here the unclean were lodged by themselves; for that they were banished quite beyond the bounds of all the tents, at a great distance from all their friends and relations, appears less probable. "These legal pollutions," says Ainsworth, "figured our pollution by sin; and the removing of such out of the Lord's camp, figured the removal of unrepenting sinners out of the church triumphant, into which shall in no wise enter any thing that defileth." Revelation 21:27. Isaiah 52:1.

Verse 6

Numbers 5:6. When a man or woman shall commit, &c.— Shall do any manner of wrong to any man, trespassing therein withal against the Lord, and the person is found guilty. Some think that the clause, and that person be guilty, should rather be rendered, shall be sensible of his guilt: and Calmet judiciously observes, that this law respects secret offences, and those who would expiate their fault before any public notification of it. Of the same kind is the law which follows. In cases of theft detected, the criminal is bound to restore four, and, in some cases, five times the value. Exodus 22:1-2. But Moses is here more indulgent to those who frankly confess their fault, in order to encourage restitution, and to recompence the offender's ingenuousness. See Calmet.

Verse 7

Numbers 5:7. Then they shall confess their sin which they have done Then he shall confess the wrong he hath done.

REFLECTIONS.—We have here,

1. The separation of the unclean from the camp and tabernacle till the cause of it was removed. Note; (1.) God's church and people must have no fellowship with the unholy and impure. (2.) Such should be cut off from the visible communion of saints. (3.) If not before, at death the separation will be made, and that final and eternal.

2. The restitution of unjust gain, or fraudulent acquisitions. Though it cover the delinquent with shame, confession must be made; and better take shame before man, than be covered with everlasting confusion before men and angels. Atonement to God must be offered, (figurative of the Great Atonement on the cross,) as well as restitution to man, with a fifth part over: if the injured person were dead, his near kinsman was entitled to it; if he had none, it was the priest's. Restitution must be made. The poor are now God's receivers, when the party injured cannot be found. The priest who officiated was entitled to the hallowed things of the atoning sacrifice; it is fit that he who doth the work should have the wages.

Verse 12

Numbers 5:12, &c.— This, says Calmet, is one of the most singular of the laws of Moses; and one which strongly marks out the grossness and obduracy of the Israelites. A husband, who had just suspicions of the fidelity of his wife, though he could bring no sufficient proof of it before the judges, might recur to the means which this law allowed to cure himself of his suspicion; and God, by a continual miracle, was engaged, as it were, to discover the innocence, or the crime, of her suspected. The rabbis speak of various ceremonies attached to this law, which are not spoken of by Moses. We refer, therefore, those who are curious upon the subject, to Calmet. The spirit of jealousy is, according to the Hebrew idiom, the affection or passion of jealousy. Adultery, if proved, was punished with death. Lev 20:10 and this trial of jealousy was allowed by God, to diminish the number of divorces, which God tolerated among the Jews, to controul the fierce and violent temper of the Israelites; who, otherwise, might be carried by their suspicions to the most fatal extremities against their wives.

Verse 15

Numbers 5:15. He shall bring her offering for her This offering was to be of a mean sort, unaccompanied either with oil or frankincense, to denote the mean and humble circumstances of the person on whose account it was offered. See Leviticus 5:11. The phrase at the close of this verse, an offering of memorial, bringing iniquity to remembrance, is rendered by the Vulgate, an offering investigating adultery; an offering for the discovery of adultery: which expresses the meaning, if not the letter of the Hebrew.

Verses 16-17

Numbers 5:16-17. And the priest, shall bring her near, and set her, &c.— Read, shall bring it near, and set it, &c. see Numbers 5:18. The holy water, in the next verse, means the water from the laver, which is called holy, as being appropriated to the use of the sanctuary. Dust was to be used as expressive of sorrow and affliction; see Job 2:12. Neh 9:1 and being the dust of the sanctuary, it taught her, says Ainsworth, to fear judgment from the Lord; (see Wagenseil in Sota, chap. i. p. 6.) while the means used clearly witness the miraculousness of the fact.

Verse 18

Numbers 5:18. Uncover the woman's head, &c.— The priest was first to take off the woman's head-attire that she might appear as a mourner; see Leviticus 21:0.

10 and as the covering of the head betokens the woman's subjection and chastity, 1Co 11:10 it was fitly taken away, says Bishop Kidder, as a sign that her fidelity and dutiful subjection were questioned: after this, the jealousy-offering was to be put into the woman's hand, the priest having in his hand the bitter water which causeth the curse; which may be so called from the bitter effects, and the horrible curse which it produced, in case of guilt: terms by no means improper for it, though it might happen to be taken by chaste and worthy women whose innocence was called in question. Proverbs 5:4.

Verses 19-20

Numbers 5:19-20. The priest shall charge her by an oath, &c.— These two verses, and the two following, contain a species or formula of summons or adjuration, which the priest tendered to the person accused: a form, which was always expressed in the vulgar tongue, even when the Hebrew language ceased, as Maimonides has observed, and with him an anonymous writer quoted by Wagenseil.

Verse 21

Numbers 5:21. The Lord make thee a curse, &c.— i.e. The Lord make thee such an object of his malediction, and such a dreadful monument of his vengeance, that men may make thy case a model of imprecation; saying, If I swear falsely, may I be as accursed as such a woman! see Calmet. The former part of this verse seems an evident interruption of the narrative, and must be read as in a parenthesis.

Verse 22

Numbers 5:22. And the woman shall say, Amen, amen. If the woman, after this adjuration, persisted in pleading not guilty, she was to pronounce amen, or so be it, doubled, to express her hearty consent that it might be as the priest, in the name of God, had declared. If the woman acknowledged her guilt, she was immediately divorced without dowry, according to the Jewish canon: for the Scripture is very concise upon the subject; not informing us whether a woman might, or might not, be allowed to refuse drinking the water after the oath administered by the priest.

Verse 23

Numbers 5:23. The priest shall write these curses in a book, &c.— The Jews call every scroll, whereon any thing is written, ספר sepher, a book; and the rabbis tell us, that these maledictions were written upon vellum or parchment: but Calmet observes, that it is far from certain that parchment was used for writing in the time of Moses, or many ages after; and the original word often signifies tablets of plain wood, or covered over with wax, which was the most ancient manner of writing; see his dissertation Sur les Livres Anciens. These curses, wrote thus, most probably in wax, were to be wiped off at or into the bitter water, אלאּמי el-mei; so that the woman was, as it were, to drink the curse itself. It is plain that the jealousy-offering was made before the woman drank the water, Numbers 5:26.

Verse 24

Numbers 5:24. And become bitter And become is not in the Hebrew: the word is למרים lemarim,—in amaritudinem,—for bitterness; and by a comparison of the 27th verse, it appears that this alteration in the phrase is used as referring to the case of guilt. Very many and extraordinary are the effects which the wonder-loving rabbis tell us immediately followed this draught: but if what Bishop Patrick observes from the Jewish writers be true, that, upon confessing her guilt, the woman was only divorced without dowry, it is probable there were but few instances where this miraculous judgment was inflicted; for it is hardly to be supposed, that any woman, conscious of her guilt, would, by asserting her innocence thus solemnly, in defiance of the Almighty, venture upon the certain hazard of sudden and immediate death, with all the miserable circumstances here described, rather than confess, and gain time to repent, after the experiment had been already tried by one or more.

Verse 29

Numbers 5:29. This is the law of jealousies Grotius remarks justly, that "it is not to be wondered if God, among his own people, produced a miraculous effect for the detection of a crime most heinous, and very difficult to be proved. Indeed, history abounds with examples of the direful effects of jealousy, not only to private persons and families, but to whole states and kingdoms; the design, therefore, of this institution was to prevent these evils, by appointing a method whereby injured innocence might be cleared, and every shameful breach of conjugal fidelity brought to condign punishment. By this solemn and awful decision of Providence, jealous husbands were restrained from cruel outrages against their wives, and wives were preserved in their duty out of dread of this punishment." The Jews tell us, that this way of trial ceased towards the latter end of the second temple.

Verse 31

Numbers 5:31. Then shall the man be guiltless from iniquity i.e. The man, by taking this method to find out the truth, shall clear himself from the guilt of harbouring unwarrantable jealousy: nor shall he be deemed punishable for thus prosecuting and trying the wife who gives him occasion of jealousy, whether she prove guilty or not. It was thus, says Henry, that God anciently testified his detestation of adultery; and we must not suppose that this crime shall pass unpunished under the Gospel. Though the miraculous trial of persons suspected no longer takes place, the Searcher of the hearts and reins will one day bring the most hidden secrets to light, and destroy him who has polluted the temple of his Holy Spirit.

REFLECTIONS.—From the whole many useful lessons arise. 1. Let every wife be careful to avoid the least occasion which may awaken the spirit of jealousy. 2. Let every husband beware of indulging it; it is a canker which will rob him of all peace and rest. 3. Innocence is a sufficient support under the most malignant accusations. 4. We need fear to drink, if sin has embittered the waters; the pleasures of sense can make us but a miserable recompence for the curse of God. 5. Though the waters of jealousy are no more, the voice of conscience and the eye of God will speak and see. 6. God brings strangely to light the hidden things of darkness: though the adulterer says, No eye seeth me, yet afterwards his folly is made manifest to the world. 7. Though sinners escape all present censure or punishment, yet whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.

Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Numbers 5". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/numbers-5.html. 1801-1803.
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