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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Numbers 5

 

 

Verses 1-4

Numbers 5:1-4. The Seclusion of Persons Rendered Unclean through Leprosy, Issues, or Contact with the Dead.—Such seclusion was the result of a primitive belief that persons in the conditions specified were the seat of, or had been exposed to, some supernatural influence which they might extend to any who approached them. Rules relating to the leprous and to sufferers from issues are found in Leviticus 13-15*. For historical instances of the seclusion of lepers, see Numbers 12:10-15, 2 Kings 7:3; 2 Kings 15:5.

Numbers 5:2. the dead: literally, "a soul" or "ghost." A dead body was thought to be dangerous because the disembodied spirit hovered round it, and such a spirit was potent for harm.


Verses 5-10

Numbers 5:5-10. The Restitution of Misappropriated Property.—This regulation supplements the law contained in Leviticus 6:1-7, which, dealing with the restitution of property wrongfully appropriated, omits to explain how it is to be disposed of, if the owner has died without leaving any kinsman to whom restitution may be made. The present enactment enjoins that the property in such a case shall pass to the priest as Yahweh's representative.

Numbers 5:9. heave offering: better, "contribution," the word meaning in strictness anything "heaved" (or "lifted") from a larger aggregate.


Verses 11-31

Numbers 5:11-31. An Ordeal in Cases of Jealousy.—A married woman suspected of unfaithfulness is, in the absence of evidence, to be subjected to an ordeal by being made to drink holy water with which dust from the floor of the Tabernacle has been mingled, and in which a writing inscribed with a curse has been steeped. In the event of her innocence the potion proves harmless, and she becomes fruitful; in the event of her guilt, it injures her (probably by producing abortion). Ordeals similar to the one here enjoined were not uncommon in antiquity Pausanias, for instance, mentions that at a sanctuary of Earth ( γῆ), in Arcadia, the chastity of the priestesses was tested by their being made to drink bull's blood, which brought down instant retribution upon the unchaste. In the Hebrew ordeal the potion which the suspected woman was compelled to drink had a threefold potency. In the first place, the water (described as holy, Numbers 5:17) was doubtless originally taken from a sacred spring and could not be drunk by a guilty person with impunity. (Similarly at Tyana the water of the Asbamæan lake, if drunk by a person guilty of perjury, caused disease, though it was innocuous to the innocent). Secondly, the discriminating property of the water was intensified by admixture with the dust of the sacred Tabernacle (which no lay person might ordinarily approach). And thirdly, the water was impregnated with the written words of a curse, a curse in itself being an active agent (cf. Numbers 22:6, Mark 11:21), fulfilling itself mechanically upon the wrong-doer (cf. Genesis 9:24*, Zechariah 6:1-4). But though among the Hebrews the ritual observed was thus of a very primitive character, the ideas that originally lay behind it had come to be replaced by others of a more spiritual nature; for the punishment that followed in the case of the guilty woman was regarded as proceeding from Yahweh (Numbers 5:21), to whom the oath was an appeal (cf. Exodus 22:11, 1 Kings 8:31 f.). Ordeals by water and fire were common in the Middle Ages.

Numbers 5:13. and be kept close, etc.: better, "and she be undetected, though she be defiled."

Numbers 5:15. the tenth part of an ephah: about 7 pints.—no oil . . . nor frankincense: the exclusion of these has been explained as due to the sad character of the occasion.

Numbers 5:16. before the Lord: i.e. before the altar of Yahweh.

Numbers 5:17. holy water: the LXX has "holy living (i.e. running) water." Among the Semites as well as among other races sanctity was ascribed to all running water, which, as giving fertility to the soil and sustaining animal life, would naturally appear as the embodiment of Divine energy. It is said that in Palestine to this day all springs are viewed as the seats of spirits (W. R. Smith, RS2, p. 169), and some rivers bore in antiquity the names of deities (e.g. the Adonis and the Belus (i.e. Baal)).

Numbers 5:18. let . . . loose: a token of sorrow or distress of mind, cf. Leviticus 10:6; Leviticus 13:45; Leviticus 21:10.—water of bitterness: i.e. water productive of bitterness (or mischief).

Numbers 5:21. make thee a curse: i.e. make thy fate such that it will be the worst that anyone can wish to imprecate on another; cf. Jeremiah 29:22, Isaiah 60:15, Zechariah 8:13, Psalms 102:8.

Numbers 5:22. Amen: literally, "assured," an expression of assent (cf. Deuteronomy 27:15 f., Nehemiah 5:13), LXX γένοιτο.

Numbers 5:23. a book: any material on which writing could be inscribed.—wave: Exodus 29:24, Leviticus 7:30*.

Numbers 5:26. make . . . drink the water: this, following the same command in Numbers 5:24, does not mean that the priest gives the woman a second draught; it merely repeats the earlier direction. The occurrence of this and other repetitions (cf. Numbers 5:16 with Numbers 5:18-19 with Numbers 5:21, and the duplicates in Numbers 5:18) has suggested that the law here is a compilation from more than one account.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Numbers 5:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/numbers-5.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 15th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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