And when he has 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 causes 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.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Numbers 5:27. The water shall enter into her — These effects, the Jews tell us, presently followed; for she grew pale, and her eyes were ready to start out of her head, so that they cried out, Carry her away, lest she defile the court of the temple, by dying there. But if what has just been observed from the Jewish writers be true, that, upon confessing her guilt, the woman was only divorced and condemned to lose her dowry, it is probable there were not many instances wherein this miraculous judgment was inflicted; for it is hardly to be supposed that any woman, conscious of her guilt, would, by asserting her innocence thus solemnly, in defiance of the Almighty, venture upon the hazard of sudden and immediate death, with all the miserable circumstances here described, rather than confess and gain time to repent. And the woman shall be a curse among her people — Such woful effects shall the before-mentioned bitter draught produce, that she shall become a perfect proverb of a curse and wretchedness in the mouths of all her neighbours.
blot them out with the bitter water—If she were innocent, they could be easily erased, and were perfectly harmless; but if guilty, she would experience the fatal effects of the water she had drunk.
then it shall come to pass, that if she be defiled, and have done trespass against her husband; or has committed adultery:
that the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her, and become bitter; the water drank by her, and having the curses scraped into it, shall enter into her, and operate and produce bitter and dreadful effects:
and her belly shall swell, and her thigh shall rot; not through any natural virtue in the water, or what is put into it, either the dust of the floor of the tabernacle, or the scrapings of the parchment roll, these could have no physical influence to produce such effects; but they must be ascribed to a supernatural cause, the power and curse of God attending this draught. A certain Jewish writer (b) says, though very falsely, that the priest put poison into the water, which produced such effects; but then, how could an innocent woman escape the effects of it? that must be allowed to be miraculous and supernatural, was it so; but there is no manner of reason to believe that anything of this kind was put into it, The Jews say (c), as soon, or before she had made an end of drinking: the water, the effects appeared; her face turned pale immediately, her eyes bolted out, and she was filled with veins, her body swelled, and they called out, Cast her out, cast her out, that she may not defile the court. And the text seems to intimate, as if the operation was immediate; yea, moreover, they say (d), that as the waters searched her, so they searched him (the adulterer), because it is said twice, "shall enter, shall enter"; and that the same effects appeared in him as in her, but in neither, unless the husband was innocent; for if he was not pure from the same sin himself, the waters would not search his wife (e) hence they say (f), when adulterers increased (under the second temple) the bitter waters ceased, according to Hosea 4:14; see Matthew 12:39. This practice has been imitated by the Heathens; the river Rhine, according to Julian the emperor (g), tried the legitimacy of children; and so lakes have been used for the trial of perjury and unchastity, as the Stygian lake for perjury, and another of the same name near Ephesus for unchastity; into which, if persons suspected of adultery descended, having the form of an oath hanging about their necks, if they were pure, the waters stood unmoved, but if corrupt, they swelled up to their necks, and covered the tablet on which the oath was written (h). The priestesses of a certain deity being obliged to live a single life, were tried by drinking bullocks' blood, upon which, if false to their oath and corrupt, they immediately died, as Pausanias (i) relates; and Macrobius (k) speaks of some lakes in Sicily, the inhabitants called the Cups, to which recourse was had when persons were suspected of any ill, and where an oath was taken of them; if the person swore truly, he departed unhurt, but if falsely, he immediately lost his life in the lake. Philostratus (l) relates of a water near Tyana, a city in Cappadocia, sacred to Jupiter, which the inhabitants call Asbamaea, which to those that kept their oaths was placid and sweet, but to perjured persons the reverse; it affected their eyes, hands, and feet, and seized them with dropsies and consumptions; nor could they depart from the water, but remained by it, mourning their sad case, and confessing their perjury: but what comes nearest to this usage of the Jews is a custom at marriages among the savages at Cape Breton (m): at a marriage feast, two dishes of meat are brought to the bridegroom and bride in two "ouragans" (basins made of the bark of a tree), and the president of the feast addresses himself to the bride thus,"and thou that art upon the point of entering into a respectable state, know, that the nourishment thou art going to take forebodes the greatest calamities to thee, if thy heart is capable of harbouring any ill design against thy husband, or against thy nation: shouldest thou ever be led astray by the caresses of a stranger; or shouldest thou betray thy husband, and thy country, the victuals contained in this "ouragan" will have the effects of a slow poison, with which thou wilt be tainted from this very instant; but if, on the other hand, thou remainest faithful to thy husband, and to thy country, if thou wilt never insult the one for his defect, nor give a description of the other to the enemy, thou wilt find this nourishment both agreeable and wholesome.''Now if these relations can be credited, then much more this of the bitter waters, for though there was something wonderful and supernatural in them, yet nothing incredible:
and the woman shall be a curse among her people: the time she lives; but then all this while she was looked upon as an accursed person, and despised and shunned by all.
(b) R. Samuel Tzartzah, Mekor Chayim, fol. 91. 3.((c) Misn. Sotah, c. 3. sect. 4. (d) Ibid. c. 5. sect. 1.((e) T. Bab. Sotah, fol. 28. 1. Gersom in loc. (f) Misn. Sotah, c. 2. sect. 9. (g) Orat. 2. p. 151. Ephesians 16. p. 131. (h) Vid. Salden. Otia, l. 1. Exercitat. 6. sect. 24. (i) Achaica, sive, l. 7. p. 450. (k) Saturnal. l. 5. c. 19. (l) Vita Apollonii, l. 1. c. 4. (m) Genuine Letters and Memoirs relating to the Isle of Cape Breton, &c.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.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)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. Numbers 5:21, האלה שׁבעת, "oath of cursing" (see Genesis 26:28); but it first of all presupposes the possibility of the woman being innocent, and contains the assurance, that in that case the curse-water would do her no harm. "If no (other) man has lain with thee, and thou hast not gone aside to union (טמאה, accus. of more precise definition, as in Leviticus 15:2, Leviticus 15:18), under thy husband," i.e., as a wife subject to thy husband (Ezekiel 23:5; Hosea 4:12), "then remain free from the water of bitterness, this curse-bringing," i.e., from the effects of this curse-water. The imperative is a sign of certain assurance (see Genesis 12:2; Genesis 20:7; cf. Ges. 130, 1). "But if thou hast gone aside under thy husband, if thou hast defiled thyself, and a man has given thee his seed beside thy husband,"...(the priest shall proceed to say; this is the meaning of the repetition of לאשּׁה...והשׁבּיע, Numbers 5:21), "Jehovah shall make thee a curse and an oath among thy people, by making thy hip to fall and thy belly to swell; and this curse-bringing water shall come into thy bowels, to make the belly to vanish and the hip to fall." To this oath that was spoken before her the woman was to reply, "true, true," or "truly, truly," and thus confirm it as taken by herself (cf. Deuteronomy 27:15.; Nehemiah 5:13). It cannot be determined with any certainty what was the nature of the disease threatened in this curse. Michaelis supposes it to be dropsy of the ovary (hydrops ovarii), in which a tumour is formed in the place of the ovarium, which may even swell so as to contain 100 lbs. of fluid, and with which the patient becomes dreadfully emaciated. Josephus says it is ordinary dropsy (hydrops ascites: Ant. iii. 11, 6). At any rate, the idea of the curse is this: Δι ̓ ὧν γὰρ ἡ ἁμαρτία, διὰ τούτων ἡ τιμωρία ("the punishment shall come from the same source as the sin," Theodoret). The punishment was to answer exactly to the crime, and to fall upon those bodily organs which had been the instruments of the woman's sin, viz., the organs of child-bearing.
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