Numbers 5:17
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:
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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 dust that is in the floor of the tabernacle - To set forth the fact that the water was endued with extraordinary power by Him who dwelt in the tabernacle. Dust is an emblem of a state of condemnation Genesis 3:14; Micah 7:17.17, 18. the priest shall take holy water—Water from the laver, which was to be mixed with dust—an emblem of vileness and misery (Ge 3:14; Ps 22:15).

in an earthen vessel—This fragile ware was chosen because, after being used, it was broken in pieces (Le 6:28; 11:33). All the circumstances of this awful ceremony—her being placed with her face toward the ark—her uncovered head, a sign of her being deprived of the protection of her husband (1Co 11:7)—the bitter potion being put into her hands preparatory to an appeal to God—the solemn adjuration of the priest (Nu 5:19-22), all were calculated in no common degree to excite and appall the imagination of a person conscious of guilt.

Holy water; either water out of the holy laver, Exodus 30:18, or rather the water of purification appointed for such kind of uses, Numbers 19:9. This was used, that if she were guilty, she might be afraid to add profaneness and the pollution of holy things to her other crime.

In an earthen vessel; either to signify that frailty and vileness of which she stood accused, or express her sorrowful and shameful condition, or because, after this use, it was to be broken in pieces, that the remembrance of it might be blotted out as far as possible. Compare Leviticus 6:28 11:33 15:12.

And of the dust; all emblem of vileness and misery, as appears from Job 2:12 Psalm 22:15 Lamentations 3:29; and the serpent’s food, Genesis 3:14; very proper for her who had been seduced to folly by the serpent’s instigation.

In the floor of the tabernacle; which made it holy dust, and struck the greater terror into the woman, if she were guilty. Put it into the water, to make it more unpleasant and bitter, which was suitable to one in that sorrowful state.

And the priest shall take holy water,.... Out of the laver, as the Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan, and so Jarchi and Aben Ezra:

in an earthen vessel; which held half a log, and that was but a quarter of a pint, or three egg shells; for no more was assigned, to a suspected woman, according to the Misnah (r). Some say only a fourth part: an earthen vessel was made use of, as everything vile and mean was in this affair:

and of the dust that is in the floor of the tabernacle the priest shall take, and put it into the water; first the water was put in, and then the dust, as Ben Gersom observes: there was a place a cubit square, where was a marble table, and a ring fixed in it, and when he lifted it up he took dust from under it, and put it so as it might be upon the top of the water (s); which was used, either, as the Targum of Jonathan suggests, because the end of all flesh is to come to dust, and so to put her in mind of her original and her end; and in like manner the earthen vessel might signify, that she would be broke to pieces as that vessel; as also it might direct her thoughts to the tempter, by the influence of whose temptation she had been drawn into this sin, dust being the serpent's food; and this being taken off the floor of the tabernacle, might add to the veneration of it, and make it more solemn and awful to drink of it.

(r) Sotah, c. 2. sect. 2. Menachot, c. 9. sect. 3.((s) Sotah, c. 2. sect. 2.

And the priest shall take {h} 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:

(h) Which also is called the water of purification of sprinkling, read Nu 19:9.

17. holy water] A unique expression. The writer may have thought that the water should be taken from the sacred laver, which, according to a late stratum of P , stood in the court. LXX. , however, has ὕδωρ καθαρὸν ζῶν—‘pure living water,’ which suggests that in the primitive ritual ‘running water’ was prescribed (cf. Numbers 19:17, Leviticus 14:5 f.). It is possible that ‘running water’ was the original reading, and that it was altered by a later hand.

the dust &c.] This was sacred dust, which would increase the sacredness of the potion, and so make it more dangerous for one who was unworthy to drink it.

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. Numbers 5:17The priest was to bring her near to the altar at which he stood, and place her before Jehovah, who had declared Himself to be present at the altar, and then to take holy water, probably water out of the basin before the sanctuary, which served for holy purposes (Exodus 30:18), in an earthen vessel, and put dust in it from the floor of the dwelling. He was then to loosen the hair of the woman who was standing before Jehovah, and place the jealousy-offering in her hands, and holding the water in his own hand, to pronounce a solemn oath of purification before her, which she had to appropriate to herself by a confirmatory Amen, Amen. The water, which the priest had prepared for the woman to drink, was taken from the sanctuary, and the dust to be put into it from the floor of the dwelling, to impregnate this drink with the power of the Holy Spirit that dwelt in the sanctuary. The dust was strewed upon the water, not to indicate that man was formed from dust and must return to dust again, but as an allusion to the fact, that dust was eaten by the serpent (Genesis 3:14) as the curse of sin, and therefore as the symbol of a state deserving a curse, a state of the deepest humiliation and disgrace (Micah 7:17; Isaiah 49:23; Psalm 72:9). On the very same ground, an earthen vessel was chosen; that is to say, one quite worthless in comparison with the copper one. The loosening of the hair of the head (see Leviticus 13:45), in other cases a sign of mourning, is to be regarded here as a removal or loosening of the female head-dress, and a symbol of the loss of the proper ornament of female morality and conjugal fidelity. During the administration of the oath, the offering was placed in her hands, that she might bring the fruit of her own conduct before God, and give it up to His holy judgment. The priest, as the representative of God, held the vessel in his hand, with the water in it, which was called the "water of bitterness, the curse-bringing," inasmuch as, if the crime imputed to her was well-founded, it would bring upon the woman bitter suffering as the curse of God.
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