This is the law of jealousies, when a wife goes aside to another instead of her husband, and is defiled;
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Numbers 5:29. This is the law of jealousy — “It is not to be wondered,” says Grotius, “if God, among his own people, produced a miraculous effect for the detection of a crime most heinous, and very difficult to be proved. Indeed history abounds with examples of the direful effects of jealousy, not only to private persons and families, but to whole states and kingdoms; the design, therefore, of this institution was to prevent these evils, by appointing a method whereby injured innocence might be cleared, and every shameful breach of conjugal fidelity brought to condign punishment. By this solemn and awful decision of Providence, jealous husbands were restrained from cruel outrages against their wives, and wives were preserved in their duty out of dread of punishment.”
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.This is the law of jealousies, when a wife goeth aside to another instead of her husband, and is defiled;
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)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.
Numbers 5:24, the priest was to give her this water to drink is anticipatory; for according to Numbers 5:26 this did not take place till after the presentation of the sacrifice and the burning of the memorial of it upon the altar. The woman's offering, however, was not presented to God till after the oath of purification, because it was by the oath that she first of all purified herself from the suspicion of adultery, so that the fruit of her conduct could be given up to the fire of the holiness of God. As a known adulteress, she could not have offered a meat-offering at all. But as the suspicion which rested upon her was not entirely removed by her oath, since she might have taken a false oath, the priest was to give her the curse-water to drink after the offering, that her guilt or innocence might be brought to light in the effects produced by the drink. This is given in Numbers 5:27 as the design of the course prescribed: "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, the water that causeth the curse shall come (enter) into her as bitterness (i.e., producing bitter sufferings), namely, her belly shall swell and her hip vanish: and so the woman shall become a curse in the midst of her people."
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