And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
THE UNCLEAN TO BE REMOVED (verses 1-4).
Command the children of Israel, that they put out of the camp every leper, and every one that hath an issue, and whosoever is defiled by the dead:
Verse 2. - Every leper. The law of the leper had been given in great detail in Leviticus 13 and 14, and it had been already ordered that he should be put out of the camp (Leviticus 13:46, and cf. 14:3). Every one that hath an issue. These defilements are treated of in Leviticus 15; where, however, it is not expressly ordered that those so polluted should be put out of the camp. Whosoever is defiled by the dead. The fact of being thus defiled is recognized in Leviticus 11:24; Leviticus 21:1, but the formal regulations concerning it are not given until Numbers 19:21. Probably the popular opinion and practice was sufficiently definite to explain the present command.
Both male and female shall ye put out, without the camp shall ye put them; that they defile not their camps, in the midst whereof I dwell.
Verse 3. - That they defile not their camps, in the midst whereof I dwell. Cleanliness, decency, and the anxious removal even of unwitting pollutions were things due to God himself, and part of the awful reverence to be paid to his presence in the midst of Israel. It is of course easy to depreciate the value of such outward cleanness, as compared with inward; but when we consider the frightful prevalence of filthiness in Christian countries
(1) of person and dress,
(2) of talk,
(3) of habit in respect of things not so much sinful as uncleanly,
we may indeed acknowledge the heavenly wisdom of these regulations, and the incalculable value of the tone of mind engendered by them. With the Jews "cleanliness" was not "next to godliness," it was part of godliness.
And the children of Israel did so, and put them out without the camp: as the LORD spake unto Moses, so did the children of Israel.
Verse 4. - So did the children of Israel. It is difficult to form any estimate of the numbers thus separated; if we may judge at all from the prevalence of such defilements (especially those under the second head) now, it must have seriously aggravated both the labour and the difficulty of the march. Here was a trial of their faith.
CHAPTER 5:8-10 EXPOSITION. RESTITUTION TO BE MADE FOR TRESPASSES (verses 5-10).
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Speak unto the children of Israel, When a man or woman shall commit any sin that men commit, to do a trespass against the LORD, and that person be guilty;
Verse 6. - Shall commit any sin that men commit. Literally, "[one] of all the transgressions of men," i.e., the wrongs current amongst men. To do a trespass against the Lord. This qualifies the former expression, and restricts its reference to the sins mentioned in Leviticus 6:2, 8, 5, viz., wrongs done to the property of another. Such wrongs, perhaps because they were considered legitimate as long as they were not found out, were taken up by the Lord himself as involving a trespass against his own righteousness.
Then they shall confess their sin which they have done: and he shall recompense his trespass with the principal thereof, and add unto it the fifth part thereof, and give it unto him against whom he hath trespassed.
But if the man have no kinsman to recompense the trespass unto, let the trespass be recompensed unto the LORD, even to the priest; beside the ram of the atonement, whereby an atonement shall be made for him.
Verse 8. - If the man have no kinsman. No goel, or personal representative. This supposes that the wronged man himself is dead, and it is an addition to the law of restitution as given in Leviticus 6, an addition clearly necessary to its completeness. The wrong-doer must in no case be the gainer by his own wrong, and if the trespass could not be "recompensed" to man, it must be "recompensed" to the Lord, who was as it were joint-plaintiff in the cause. To the priest. On the general principle that the priest was the visible representative of the invisible majesty.
And every offering of all the holy things of the children of Israel, which they bring unto the priest, shall be his.
Verse 9. - Every offering. Hebrew, terumah, heave offering (Exodus 29:28). Septuagint, ἀπαρχὴ. Those offerings, or portions of offerings, which were not consumed on the altar, but "presented" at the altar. Having been offered, they were the property of the Lord, and were given by him to the priests.
And every man's hallowed things shall be his: whatsoever any man giveth the priest, it shall be his.
Verse 10. - Every man's hallowed things. Dedicatory offerings, such as first-fruits, not exactly of the nature of sacrifices. His, i.e., the priest's. Whatsoever any man giveth the priest, it shall be his. A general principle, including and confirming the previous rules; subject, of course, to the other and greater principle, that whatever the Lord claimed for himself by fire must first be consumed. These directions concerning the rights of the priests to offerings are very often repeated in various connections. There was probably a strong tendency amongst the people to cheat the priests of their dues, or to represent their claims as exorbitant. It is in the spirit of covetousness which underlies all such conduct that we are to find the connection between these two verses and the rest of the paragraph.
CHAPTER 5:12-27 THE TRIAL OF JEALOUSY (verses 11-31).
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, If any man's wife go aside, and commit a trespass against him,
Verse 12. - If any man's wife... commit a trespass against him. The adultery of the wife is here regarded only from a social point of view; the injury to the husband, the destruction of his peace of mind, even by the bare suspicion, and the consequent troubling of Israel, is the thing dwelt upon. The punishment of adultery as a sin had been already prescribed (Leviticus 20:10).
And a man lie with her carnally, and it be hid from the eyes of her husband, and be kept close, and she be defiled, and there be no witness against her, neither she be taken with the manner;
Verse 13. - If it be laid. Or, "if he be hid." This verse is explanatory of the former. Taken with the manner. The latter words are not in the Hebrew. It means no doubt "taken in the act" (cf. John 8:4). Αὐτὴ μὴ ῇ συνειλημμένη, Septuagint.
And the spirit of jealousy come upon him, and he be jealous of his wife, and she be defiled: or if the spirit of jealousy come upon him, and he be jealous of his wife, and she be not defiled:
Verse 14. - And she be not defiled. As far as the mischief here dealt with was concerned, it was almost equally great whether the woman was guilty or not.
Then shall the man bring his wife unto the priest, and he shall bring her offering for her, the tenth part of an ephah of barley meal; he shall pour no oil upon it, nor put frankincense thereon; for it is an offering of jealousy, an offering of memorial, bringing iniquity to remembrance.
Verse 15. - He shall bring her offering for her. קָדְבָּנָהּ, "her offering;" עָלֶיהָ, "on her account." It was to be a meat offering - not connected on this occasion with any other sacrifice - of the fruits of the earth, symbolizing the fruits of her guilty, or at least care. less and suspicious, conduct. As of barley meal, not of fine wheat flour, it indicated her present low and vile estate (deserved or undeserved); as without incense or oil, it disclaimed for itself the sanctifying influences of God's grace and of prayer. Thus every detail of the offering, while it did not condemn the woman (for one found guilty could not have made any offering at all), yet represented her questionable repute and unquestionable dishonour, for even the unjust suspicion of the husband is a dishonour to the wife. Barley meal. In the days of Elisha half the price of fine flour (2 Kings 7:1), and only eaten by the poor (Ezekiel 4:12; John 6:9). An offering of jealousy. Literally, "of jealousies." קְנָאֹת, an intensive plural. An offering of memorial, bringing iniquity to remembrance. Θυσία μνημοσίνου, Septuagint. An offering to bring the woman into judicial remembrance before the Lord, in order that her sin (if any) might be remembered with him, and be declared.
And the priest shall bring her near, and set her before the LORD:
Verse 16. - Before the Lord. Either at the brazen altar or at the door of the tabernacle.
And the priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel; and of the dust that is in the floor of the tabernacle the priest shall take, and put it into the water:
Verse 17. - Holy water. Probably from the laver which stood near the altar (Exodus 30:18). The expression is nowhere else used. The Septuagint has ὕδωρ καθαρὸν ζῶν, pure running water. In an earthen vessel. Cheap and coarse, like the offering. Of the dust that is in the floor of the tabernacle. This is the only place where the floor of the tabernacle is mentioned. As no directions were given concerning it, it was probably the bare earth cleared and stamped. The cedar floor of the temple was overlaid with gold (1 Kings 6:16, 30). This use of the dust has been held to signify the fact
(a) that man was made of dust, and must return to dust (Genesis 3:19); or
(b) that dust is the serpent's meat, i.e., that shame and disgust are the inevitable fruit of sin (Genesis 3:14; Isaiah 65:25). Of these,
(a) is not appropriate to the matter in question, since mortality is common to all, and
(b) is far too recondite to have been intended here. It is very unlikely that the spiritual meaning of Genesis 3:14 was known to any of the Jews. A much simpler and more intelligible explanation is to be found in the obvious fact that the dust of the tabernacle was the only thing which belonged to the tabernacle, and which was, so to speak, impregnated with the awful holiness of him that dwelt therein, that could be mixed with water and drunk. For a similar reason the "sin" of the people, the golden calf, was ground to powder, and the people made to drink it (Exodus 32:20). The idea conveyed to the dullest apprehension certainly was that with the holy dust Divine "virtue" had passed into the water - virtue which would give it supernatural efficacy to slay the guilty and to leave the guiltless unharmed.
And the priest shall set the woman before the LORD, and uncover the woman's head, and put the offering of memorial in her hands, which is the jealousy offering: and the priest shall have in his hand the bitter water that causeth the curse:
Verse 18. - Uncover the woman's head. In token that she had forfeited her glory by breaking, or seeming to have broken, her allegiance to her husband (1 Corinthians 11:5-10); perhaps also with some reference to the truth that "all things are naked and open to the eyes of him" with whom she had to do (Hebrews 4:13). Put the offering of memorial in her hands. That she herself might present, as it were, the fruits of her life before God, and challenge investigation of them. Bitter water. It was not literally bitter, but it was so fraught with conviction and judgment as to bring bitter suffering on the guilty.
And the priest shall charge her by an oath, and say unto the woman, If no man have lain with thee, and if thou hast not gone aside to uncleanness with another instead of thy husband, be thou free from this bitter water that causeth the curse:
Verse 19. - If no man. The oath presupposed her innocence. With another instead of thy husband. Hebrew, "under thy husband, i.e., as a wife subject to a husband (Ezekiel 23:5; Hosea 4:12). "Υπανδρος οῦσα, Septuagint. It was only as a femme couverte that she could commit this sin.
But if thou hast gone aside to another instead of thy husband, and if thou be defiled, and some man have lain with thee beside thine husband:
Then the priest shall charge the woman with an oath of cursing, and the priest shall say unto the woman, The LORD make thee a curse and an oath among thy people, when the LORD doth make thy thigh to rot, and thy belly to swell;
Verse 21. - Then the priest shall say unto the woman. These words are parenthetical, just as in Matthew 9:6. The latter part of the oath is called "an oath of cursing," because it contained the imprecations on the guilty. To rot. Hebrew, "to fall." Τὸν μηρόν σου διαπεπτωκότα,, Septuagint. To swell. The Hebrew zabeh is not of quite certain meaning, but probably this.
And this water that causeth the curse shall go into thy bowels, to make thy belly to swell, and thy thigh to rot: And the woman shall say, Amen, amen.
Verse 22. - Into thy bowels. Cf. Psalm 109:18. Αἰς τὴν κοιλίαν σου, Septuagint. It has been thought that these symptoms belonged to some known disease, such as dropsy (Josephus, Ant.,' 3:11, 6), or ovarian dropsy. But it is clear that the whole matter was outside the range of the known and of the natural. An innocent woman may suffer from dropsy, or any form of it; but this was a wholly peculiar infliction by direct visitation of God. The principle which underlay the infliction was, however, clear: δἰ ῶν γὰρ ἡ ἁμαρτία διὰ τούτων ἡ τιμωρία - the organs of sin are the seat of the plague. Amen, amen. Doubled here, as in the Gospel of John. The woman was to accept (if she dared) the awful ordeal and appeal to God by this response; if she dared not, she pronounced herself guilty.
And the priest shall write these curses in a book, and he shall blot them out with the bitter water:
Verse 23. - In a book. On a roll. Blot them out with the bitter water. Rather, "wash them off into the bitter water," in order to transfer the venom of the curses to the water. Ἐξαλείψει... εἰς τὸ ὔδωρ, Septuagint. The writing on the scroll was to be washed off in the vessel of water. Of course the only actual consequence was that the ink was mixed with the water, but in the imagination of the people, and to the frightened conscience of a guilty woman, the curses were also held in solution in the water of trial. The direction was founded on a world-wide superstition, still prevalent in Africa, and indeed amongst most semi-barbarous peoples. In the 'Romance of Setnan,' translated by Brugsch. Bey, the scene of which is laid in the time of Rameses the Great, a magical formula written on a papyrus leaf is dissolved in water, and drunk with the effect of imparting all its secrets to him that drinks it. So in the present day, by a similar superstition, do sick Mahomedans swallow texts of the Koran; and so in the middle ages the canonized Archbishop Edmund Rich (1240) on his death-bed washed a crucifix in water and drank it, saying, "Ye shall drink water from the wells of salvation."
And he shall cause the woman to drink the bitter water that causeth the curse: and the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her, and become bitter.
Verse 24. - He shall cause the woman to drink. This is said by anticipation, because she did not really drink it until after the offering (verse 26).
Then the priest shall take the jealousy offering out of the woman's hand, and shall wave the offering before the LORD, and offer it upon the altar:
Verse 25. - Offer it upon the altar. According to the law of the minchah (Leviticus 2), only an handful was burnt as a "memorial" (Hebrew, azkarah), the rest being "presented," and then laid at the side of the altar to be subsequently eaten by the priests. All this was done before the actual ordeal by drinking the water, in order that the woman might in the most solemn and complete way possible be brought face to face with the holiness of God. She stood before him as one of his own, yet as one suspected and abashed, courting the worst if guilty, claiming complete acquittal if innocent.
And the priest shall take an handful of the offering, even the memorial thereof, and burn it upon the altar, and afterward shall cause the woman to drink the water.
And 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, that the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her, and become bitter, and her belly shall swell, and her thigh shall rot: and the woman shall be a curse among her people.
Verse 27. - Shall enter into her, and become bitter. Rather, "as bitter," or "as bitterness," i.e. as producing bitter sufferings. Shall be a curse, i.e., shall be used as an example in the imprecations of the people.
And if the woman be not defiled, but be clean; then she shall be free, and shall conceive seed.
Verse 28. - And shall conceive seed. As a sign of the Divine favour; to a Jewish woman the surest and most regarded (1 Samuel 2:5; Psalm 127:3; Luke 1:58).
This is the law of jealousies, when a wife goeth aside to another instead of her husband, and is defiled;
Verse 29. - This is the law of jealousies. A law prescribed by God, and yet in substance borrowed from half civilized heathens; a practice closely akin to yet prevalent superstitious, and yet receiving not only the toleration of Moses, but the direct sanction of God; an ordeal which emphatically claimed to be infallibly operative through supernatural agencies, yet amongst other nations obviously lending itself to collusion and fraud, as does the trial by red water practiced by the tribes of West Africa. In order to justify heavenly wisdom herein, we must frankly admit, to begin with -
(1) That it was founded upon the superstitious notion that immaterial virtue can be imparted to physical elements. The holiness of the gathered dust and the awfulness of the written curses were both supposed to be held in solution by the water of jealousy. The record does not say as much, but the whole ordeal proceeds on this supposition, which would undoubtedly be the popular one.
(2) That it was only fitted for a very rude and comparatively barbarous state of society. The Talmud states that the use of it ceased forty years before the destruction of Jerusalem (if so, during our Lord's earthly lifetime); but it may be held certain that it ceased long before - indeed there is no recorded instance of its use. It was essentially an ordeal, although one Divinely regulated, and as such would have been morally impossible and highly undesirable in any age but one of blind and uninquiring faith. And we find the justification of it exactly in the fact that it was given to a generation which believed much and knew little; which had a profound belief in magic, and no knowledge of natural philosophy. It was ever the wisdom of God, as revealed in the sacred volume, to take men as they were, and to utilize the superstitious notions which could not at once be destroyed, or the imperfect moral ideas which could not at once be reformed, by making them work for righteousness and peace. It is, above all, the wisdom of God not to destroy the imperfect, but to regulate it and restrain its abuses, and so impress it into his service, until he has educated his people for something higher. Everybody knows the extreme violence of jealousy amongst an uncivilized people, and the widespread misery and crime to which it leads. It may safely be affirmed that any ordeal which should leave no place for jealousy, because no room for uncertainty, would be a blessing to a people rude enough and ignorant enough to believe in it. Ordeals arc established in a certain stage of civilization because they are wanted, and are on the whole useful, as long as they remain in harmony with popular ideas. They are, however, always liable to two dangers.
(1) They occasionally fail, and are known to have failed, and so fall into disrepute.
(2) They always lend themselves readily to collusion or priestcraft. The trial of jealousy being adopted, as it was, into a system really Divine, and being based upon the knowledge and power of God himself, secured all the benefits of an ordeal and escaped all its dangers. It is probable enough that the awful side of it was never really called into play. No guilty woman would dare to challenge so directly a visitation so dreadful, as long as she retained any faith or any superstition. Before the time came when any Jewish woman had discarded both, the increasing facilities of divorce had provided another and easier escape from matrimonial troubles.
Or when the spirit of jealousy cometh upon him, and he be jealous over his wife, and shall set the woman before the LORD, and the priest shall execute upon her all this law.
Then shall the man be guiltless from iniquity, and this woman shall bear her iniquity.