Numbers 5:11
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
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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.The trial of jealousy. Since the crime of adultery is especially defiling and destructive of the very foundations of social order, the whole subject is dealt with at a length proportionate to its importance. The process prescribed has lately been strikingly illustrated from an Egyptian "romance," which refers to the time of Rameses the Great, and may therefore well serve to illustrate the manners and customs of the Mosaic times. This mode of trial, like several other ordinances, was adopted by Moses from existing and probably very ancient and widely spread institutions.Nu 5:11-31. The Trial of Jealousy. No text from Poole on this verse.

And the Lord spake unto Moses,.... At the same time, and delivered to him a new law:

saying; as follows.

And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
11–31. The Ordeal of Jealousy.

Though in its present form a late priestly composition this section is evidently based upon very ancient material. Its contents find no parallel in the other Pentateuchal codes; but the custom of trial by ordeal was a very ancient feature in Israelite life, as it was in the life of many other nations, and it still has a wide prevalence, especially in Africa. The forms of ordeal differ greatly—drinking a potion (as here), being thrown into water (as in the case of suspected witches in the middle ages in Europe), walking upon heated metal, or holding it in the hand, or very frequently invoking upon oneself a curse which will come true in the event of guilt. The latter, as well as the potion, forms part of the ordeal in the present passage1 [Note: References to ordeals in other nations are given in Gray’s Numbers, pp. 44 f.] . Another Biblical instance of an ordeal appears in the story of Korah (Numbers 16:16-18), and the practice perhaps underlies Psalm 109:18, Proverbs 6:27 f. The essential element in all cases is that the accused is subjected to a test, the visible results of which will be a conclusive divine sentence of innocence or guilt.

In the present instance a woman is suspected of adultery which cannot be legally proved, and her husband’s jealousy is roused. He brings her to the priest with an accompanying offering of flour. The priest places her ‘before Jehovah,’ and after dictating a curse upon herself which the woman endorses by responding ‘Amen, Amen,’ he causes her to drink a potion, consisting of holy water with two added ingredients—dust from the floor of the Tabernacle, and the written words of the curse which have been washed off into the water. If she is guilty of the charge, the potion will have a harmful effect upon her body which will prevent her being delivered of a child, but if she is innocent it will do her no harm and she will conceive seed.

Numbers 5:11Sentence of God upon Wives Suspected of Adultery. - As any suspicion cherished by a man against his wife, that she either is or has been guilty of adultery, whether well-founded or not, is sufficient to shake the marriage connection to its very roots, and to undermine, along with marriage, the foundation of the civil commonwealth, it was of the greatest importance to guard against this moral evil, which was so utterly irreconcilable with the holiness of the people of God, by appointing a process in harmony with the spirit of the theocratical law, and adapted to bring to light the guilt or innocence of any wife who had fallen into such suspicion, and at the same time to warn fickle wives against unfaithfulness. This serves to explain not only the introduction of the law respecting the jealousy-offering in this place, but also the general importance of the subject, and the reason for its being so elaborately described.
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