|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
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.
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.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
This is the law of jealousies,.... Which was appointed by God to deter wives from adultery, and preserve the people of Israel, the worshippers of him, from having a spurious brood among them; and to keep husbands from being cruel to their wives they might be jealous of, and to protect virtue and innocence, and to detect lewdness committed in the most secret manner; whereby God gave proof of his omniscience, that he had knowledge of the most private acts of uncleanness, and was the avenger of all such. The reasons why such a law was not made equally in favour of women, as of men, are supposed to be these: because of the greater authority of the man over the woman, which would seem to be lessened, if such a power was granted her; because marriage was not so much hurt, or so much damage came to families by the adultery of men, as of women; because women are more apt to be suspicious than men, and in those times more prone to adultery, through their eager desire of children, that they might not lie under reproach (o):
when a wife goeth aside to another instead of her husband, and is defiled; is suspected of going aside to another man, and is supposed to be defiled by him.
(o) Vid. Salden. ut supra, (Otia, l. 1. Exercitat. 6.) sect. 19.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
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.
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