Numbers 5:18
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 causes the curse:
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
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.

Before the Lord; before the tabernacle, with her face towards the ark.

Uncover the woman’s head; partly, that she might be made sensible how manifest she and all her ways were to God, and that she might be more visible to the congregation, that her shame might be greater if she were guilty; partly, in token of her sorrow either for her sin, or at least for any cause of suspicion which she had given; partly, as a sign that she was after a sort deprived of the help and protection of her husband, which the covering of the woman’s head signified, 1 Corinthians 11:5-7,10, and that she was neither virgin nor loyal with, for the heads of both these used to be covered.

In her hands, that she herself might offer it, and therefore call God to be witness of her innocency. Bitter; so called either from the bitter taste which the dust gave it, or from the bitter effects of it upon her if she were guilty. Compare Exodus 32:20.

That causeth the curse; not by any natural power, but by a supernatural efficacy ordained and wrought by God for her punishment, and for the terror and caution of others. And the priest shall set the woman before the Lord,.... In the east of the tabernacle, with her face to the west, where was the holy of holies, so Ben Gersom; but not immediately for they had her from place to place, as Jarchi says, till she was weary, and her mind disturbed, that she might confess; and if she said, I am defiled, she rent the writing of her dowry, and went out; but if she said, I am pure, they brought her to the eastern gate, the gate of Nicanor, for there they made women suspected of adultery to drink the waters (t):

and uncover the woman's head; as a token of her immodesty and non-subjection to her husband, and that she might be seen by all, to cause shame in her: according to the Misnah (u), the priest took off her clothes, and loosed her hair--if she was clothed with white garments, he clothed her with black; if she had on her ornaments of gold, chains, earrings, or rings, he took them away from her, that she might be unseemly, and whoever would might come and look at her:

and put the offering of memorial into her hands, which is the jealousy offering; to weary her, as Jarchi says, that if perhaps her mind was disturbed she would confess; and so in the Misnah (w) it is said, that her husband put this offering into her hands to weary her; but the true reason here seems to be, that it might appear to be her own offering:

and the priest shall have in his hand the bitter water that causeth the curse; not that the water was bitter of itself, for it was the water out of the laver, and had nothing in it but the dust of the floor of the tabernacle; though some think some bitter thing was put into it, so Ben Gersom, as wormwood; but it is so called from the effects of it on those that were guilty; it produced sad effects in them, bitter and distressing, and made them appear to be accursed ones, for it was not bitter till it entered, Numbers 5:24; whereas it was not so to the innocent, nor attended with any such consequence to them; so that there was nothing in the water itself, but its efficacy was divine and supernatural.

(t) Sotah, c. 1. sect. 5. (u) Sotah, c. 1. sect. 5, 6. (w) Sotah, c. 2. sect. 1.

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 {i} curse:

(i) It was so called by the effect, because it declared the woman to be accursed, and turned to her destruction.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
18. The hair is let loose as a sign of mourning for her shame.

the water of bitterness] the water which causes physical pain.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. If a man's wife went aside, and was guilty of unfaithfulness towards him (Numbers 5:13 is an explanatory clause), through a (another) man having lain with her with emissio seminis, and it was hidden from the eyes of her husband, on account of her having defiled herself secretly, and there being no witness against her, and her not having been taken (in the act); but if, for all that, a spirit of jealousy came upon him, and he was jealous of his wife, and she was defiled,...or she was not defiled: the man was to take his wife to the priest, and bring as her sacrificial gift, on her account, the tenth of an ephah of barley meal, without putting oil or incense, "for it is a meat-offering of jealousy, a meat-offering of memory, to bring iniquity to remembrance." As the woman's crime, of which her husband accused her, was naturally denied by herself, and was neither to be supported by witnesses nor proved by her being taken in the very act, the only way left to determine whether there was any foundation or not for the spirit of jealousy excited in her husband, and to prevent an unrighteous severance of the divinely appointed marriage, was to let the thing be decided by the verdict of God Himself. To this end the man was to bring his wife to the priest with a sacrificial gift, which is expressly called קרבּנהּ, her offering, brought עליה "on her account," that is to say, with a meat-offering, the symbol of the fruit of her walk and conduct before God. Being the sacrificial gift of a wife who had gone aside and was suspected of adultery, this meat-offering could not possess the character of the ordinary meat-offerings, which shadowed forth the fruit of the sanctification of life in good works; could not consist, that is to say, of fine wheaten flour, but only of barley meal. Barley was worth only half as much as wheat (2 Kings 7:1, 2 Kings 7:16, 2 Kings 7:18), so that only the poorer classes, or the people generally in times of great distress, used barley meal as their daily food (Judges 7:13; 2 Kings 4:42; Ezekiel 4:12; John 6:9, John 6:13), whilst those who were better off used it for fodder (1 Kings 5:8). Barley meal was prescribed for this sacrifice, neither as a sign that the adulteress had conducted herself like an irrational animal (Philo, Jonathan, Talm., the Rabb., etc.), nor "because the persons presenting the offering were invoking the punishment of a crime, and not the favour of God" (Cler., Ros.): for the guilt of a woman was not yet established; nor even, taking a milder view of the matter, to indicate that the offerer might be innocent, and in that case no offering at all was required Knobel), but to represent the questionable repute in which the woman stood, or the ambiguous, suspicious character of her conduct. Because such conduct as hers did not proceed from the Spirit of God, and was not carried out in prayer: oil and incense, the symbols of the Spirit of God and prayer, were not to be added to her offering. It was an offering of jealousy (קנאת, an intensive plural), and the object was to bring the ground of that jealousy to light; and in this respect it is called the "meat-offering of remembrance," sc., of the woman, before Jehovah (cf. Numbers 10:10; Numbers 31:54; Exodus 28:12, Exodus 28:29; Exodus 30:16; Leviticus 23:24), namely, "the remembrance of iniquity," bringing her crime to remembrance before the Lord, that it might be judged by Him.
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