Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
This chapter contains laws for the preservation of sanctity amongst the people in the midst of whom Jehovah was pleased to dwell.
(2) Every leper.—On the nature of this disease and the laws prescribed with regard to it, see Leviticus 13, 14, and Notes.
Whosoever is defiled by the dead.—The law respecting defilement contracted by contact with the dead bodies of unclean animals and insects is contained in Leviticus 11:24-25; and the law respecting defilement contracted by the priests, by contact with the dead, is contained in Leviticus 21. The law concerning defilement, in regard to the Israelites generally, is found at greater length in Numbers 19 of this book.
(6) To do a trespass.—The noun maal, which is here employed in conjunction with its cognate verb, implies stealth, or secrecy in the action.
And that person be guilty.—Better, then that person shall be guilty, as in Leviticus 5:3.
(7) And add unto it the fifth part thereof.—The law contained in this and the following verses appears to be supplementary to that which is found in Leviticus 5:16. It is prescribed in Leviticus that both in the case of trespass committed in the holy things of the Lord, and also in the case of private wrongs, restitution should be made to the full amount of the injury done, with the addition of one-fifth to that amount. It is here not only provided by implication that in the case of the death of the person who suffered the injury, restitution should be made to his goel, or near kinsman, but also, that in the event of there being no near kinsman, restitution should be made to the Lord in the person of the priest.
(8) Let the trespass be recompensed unto the Lord, even to the priest.—Better, the guilt offering with which restitution is made shall be the Lord’s, even the priest’s.
(9) And every offering.—The word rendered offering, terumah (properly, heave-offering) may denote specifically the heave-offering, i.e., the shoulder, or rather leg, of the sacrificial victim (as in Exodus 29:27; Leviticus 7:14; Leviticus 7:32), or it may be used here (as in Exodus 25:2; Exodus 30:13) in the general sense of an offering dedicated to the Lord by elevation. A comparison of this passage with Exodus 29:28, and with Numbers 18:8-9, seems to warrant the conclusion that the reference here is, at least primarily, to the heave-offerings of the sacrifices, which were the portion, not of the priests generally, but of the particular priest who offered the sacrifice.
(12) And commit a trespass against him.—The word rendered commit a trespass is the same as in Numbers 5:6 (see Note). As the law of marriage lies at the very foundation of the civil commonwealth, it was of the greatest importance that stringent measures should be adopted for the detection and punishment of the sin of adultery.
(13) Taken with the manner.—Better, caught, or, taken in the act.
(15) The tenth part of an ephah of barley meal.—The fine wheaten flour appointed to be used in the morning and evening sacrifice was not allowed on this occasion, but barley flour, which was used by the poorer classes, or by the people generally, in time of great distress, and which appears to have been worth about one-half the price of wheaten flour (2Kings 7:1). “A cake of barley bread” is used to denote something base and contemptible (Judges 7:13). Oil and incense. the symbols of the Holy Spirit’s influences and of prayer, were not allowed to be used.
(16) And the priest shall bring her near, and set her before the Lord—i.e., shall bring her before the Tabernacle, wherein was the ark of the Lord, over which He was pleased to manifest His presence (comp. Leviticus 1:3).
(17) Shall take holy water.—This appears to be the only place in which this expression occurs. The water was probably taken from the laver of brass which stood between the Tabernacle and the brazen altar (Exodus 30:18). It is possible, however, that the reference may be to water in which the ashes of the red heifer had been cast (Numbers 19:9). The Jews have a tradition that it was on the day after the erection of the Tabernacle that Eleazar the priest burnt the red heifer, and sprinkled all Israel.
In an earthen vessel.—The vessel was to be of the most common material, not one of the brazen vessels of the Sanctuary.
And of the dust . . . —It was appointed that the serpent should eat dust, as the curse of sin (Genesis 3:14). This dust, however, was sacred, as being the dust of the Tabernacle.
(18) And uncover the woman’s head.—The word, which is rendered uncover, is the same which is used of the leper (Leviticus 13:45), “And his head bare.” It is thought to denote not only the removal of the head-covering, but also letting the hair become loose and dishevelled. (Comp. 1Corinthians 11:5-10.)
(19) With another instead of thy husband.—Or, whilst under thy husband, i.e., whilst in the marriage state, as in the margin. (See Ezekiel 23:5 for the use of the same Hebrew preposition.)
(23) And he shall blot them out with the bitter water.—Better, and he shall blot them out into the bitter water. The curses were to be written upon a roll, and the roll washed in the bitter water, so that the water should be impregnated with the curse before it was drunk.
(24) And he shall cause the woman to drink the bitter water . . . —These words appear to be inserted here by way of anticipation, inasmuch as it appears from Numbers 5:26 that it was not until after the presentation of the offering upon the altar that the woman was required to drink the water. The offering was not presented until after the woman’s oath of purification, but her guilt or innocence was not finally established until the effects of drinking the bitter water were ascertained.
(31) And this woman shall bear her iniquity.—Better, and that woman. Unlike the ordeals of other nations, the guilty were infallibly detected by the test thus imposed, and were constrained to endure the righteous judgment of God.