Numbers 5:31
Then shall the man be guiltless from iniquity, and this woman shall bear her iniquity.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
Numbers 5:31. Then shall the man be guiltless — Which he should not have been if he had either indulged her in so great a wickedness, and not endeavoured to bring her to repentance or punishment, or cherished suspicions in his breast, and thereupon proceeded to hate her or cast her off. Whereas now, whatsoever the consequence is, the husband shall not be censured for bringing such curses upon her, or for defaming her, if she appear to be innocent. Her iniquity — That is, the punishment of her iniquity, whether she was false to her husband, or by any light carriage gave him occasion to suspect her.5:11-31 This law would make the women of Israel watch against giving cause for suspicion. On the other hand, it would hinder the cruel treatment such suspicions might occasion. It would also hinder the guilty from escaping, and the innocent from coming under just suspicion. When no proof could be brought, the wife was called on to make this solemn appeal to a heart-searching God. No woman, if she were guilty, could say Amen to the adjuration, and drink the water after it, unless she disbelieved the truth of God, or defied his justice. The water is called the bitter water, because it caused the curse. Thus sin is called an evil and a bitter thing. Let all that meddle with forbidden pleasures, know that they will be bitterness in the latter end. From the whole learn, 1. Secret sins are known to God, and sometimes are strangely brought to light in this life; and that there is a day coming when God will, by Christ, judge the secrets of men according to the gospel, Ro 2:16. 2 In particular, Whoremongers and adulterers God will surely judge. Though we have not now the waters of jealousy, yet we have God's word, which ought to be as great a terror. Sensual lusts will end in bitterness. 3. God will manifest the innocency of the innocent. The same providence is for good to some, and for hurt to others. And it will answer the purposes which God intends.Of itself, the drink was not noxious; and could only produce the effects here described by a special interposition of God. We do not read of any instance in which this ordeal was resorted to: a fact which may be explained either (with the Jews) as a proof of its efficacy, since the guilty could not be brought to face its terrors at all, and avoided them by confession; or more probably by the license of divorce tolerated by the law of Moses. Since a husband could put away his wife at pleasure, a jealous man would naturally prefer to take this course with a suspected wife rather than to call public attention to his own shame by having recourse to the trial of jealousy. The trial by red water, which bears a general resemblance to that here prescribed by Moses, is still in use among the tribes of Western Africa. 29. 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 favor of such usages, this law of jealousies "was incorporated among the other institutions of the Mosaic economy, in order to free it from the idolatrous rites which the heathens 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. 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. Then shall the man be guiltless from iniquity,.... Which otherwise he would not, by conniving at her loose way of living, and not reproving her for it, and bringing her either to repentance or punishment; and retaining and encouraging jealousy in his mind, without declaring it, and his reasons for it: the sense of the passage seems to be, that when a man had any ground for his suspicion and jealousy, and he proceeded according as this law directs, whether his wife was guilty or not guilty, no sin was chargeable on him, or blame to be laid to him, or punishment inflicted on him:

and the woman shall bear her iniquity; the punishment of it, through the effects of the bitter waters upon her, if guilty; nor was her husband chargeable with her death, she justly brought it on herself: or if not guilty, yet as she had by some unbecoming behaviour raised such a suspicion in him, nor would she be reclaimed, though warned to the contrary, she for it justly bore the infamy of such a process; which was such, as Maimonides says (p), that innocent women would give all that they had to escape it, and reckoned death itself more agreeable than that, as to be served as such a woman was; See Gill on Numbers 5:18.

(p) Moreh Nevochim, par. 3. c. 49. p. 499.

Then shall the man be {o} guiltless from iniquity, and this woman shall bear her iniquity.

(o) The man might accuse his wife on suspicion and not be reproved.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
31. The husband shall be held innocent in any case, and the woman shall, if guilty, suffer the consequences of guilt.After the woman's Amen, the priest was to write "these curses," those contained in the oath, in a book-roll, and wash them in the bitter water, i.e., wash the writing in the vessel with water, so that the words of the curse should pass into the water, and be imparted to it; a symbolical act, to set forth the truth, that God imparted to the water the power to act injuriously upon a guilty body, though it would do no harm to an innocent one. The remark in Numbers 5:24, the priest was to give her this water to drink is anticipatory; for according to Numbers 5:26 this did not take place till after the presentation of the sacrifice and the burning of the memorial of it upon the altar. The woman's offering, however, was not presented to God till after the oath of purification, because it was by the oath that she first of all purified herself from the suspicion of adultery, so that the fruit of her conduct could be given up to the fire of the holiness of God. As a known adulteress, she could not have offered a meat-offering at all. But as the suspicion which rested upon her was not entirely removed by her oath, since she might have taken a false oath, the priest was to give her the curse-water to drink after the offering, that her guilt or innocence might be brought to light in the effects produced by the drink. This is given in Numbers 5:27 as the design of the course prescribed: "When he hath made her to drink the water, then it shall come to pass, that if she be defiled, and have done trespass against her husband, the water that causeth the curse shall come (enter) into her as bitterness (i.e., producing bitter sufferings), namely, her belly shall swell and her hip vanish: and so the woman shall become a curse in the midst of her people."
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