Numbers 5
Matthew Poole's Commentary
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
God commands to put away all unclean persons from the camp; it is executed, Numbers 5:1-4. Restitution commanded, and an offering, especially of hallowed things, which belong to the priest, Numbers 5:5-10. Laws in case of jealousy, bitter water ordained, Numbers 5:11-31.

No text from Poole on this verse.

Command the children of Israel, that they put out of the camp every leper, and every one that hath an issue, and whosoever is defiled by the dead:
Out of the camp, in which the people dwelt; as afterward out of the cities and towns, that they might not converse with others, and infect them.

An issue, to wit, of genital seed in men, or of blood in women in their seasons.

By the dead, i.e. by the touch of the dead. See Leviticus 21:1 Numbers 6:6.

Both male and female shall ye put out, without the camp shall ye put them; that they defile not their camps, in the midst whereof I dwell.
By which caution God would intimate the possibility and danger of men’s being made guilty by other men’s sins, and the necessary duty of avoiding intimate converse with wicked men.

In the midst whereof I dwell, by my special and gracious presence; and therefore the permission of such impurities is the greater injury and provocation to me, as being done in my sight, and reflecting dishonour upon my name.

And the children of Israel did so, and put them out without the camp: as the LORD spake unto Moses, so did the children of Israel.
No text from Poole on this verse.

And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
No text from Poole on this verse.

Speak unto the children of Israel, When a man or woman shall commit any sin that men commit, to do a trespass against the LORD, and that person be guilty;
Any sin that men commit, Heb. any sins of men, i.e. either,

1. Of common infirmity, or such sins as men commit through human frailty; for if this were done knowingly and willingly, a greater punishment was appointed. See Leviticus 6:5,6. Or rather,

2. Sins against men, or belonging to men, to wit, deceits or wrongs, whereby other men are injured, of which he manifestly speaks, as appears from Numbers 5:7,8; so this is a genitive case of the object, as Matthew 12:31, blasphemy of the Spirit (for so it is in the Greek) is blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, as it is called Mark 3:29 Luke 12:10; and power of all flesh, John 17:2, is power over all flesh; and power of spirits, Matthew 10:1, is power over or against spirits, Luke 9:1; and prayer of God, Luke 6:12, is prayer directed unto God; and the spoil of the poor, Isaiah 3:14, is the spoil taken from the poor; and violence of the children of Judah, Joel 3:19, is violence against them, as we translate it.

To do a trespass against the Lord; which words may be added, either,

1. To express a new sin, of prevaricating or dealing falsely with God, either by a false oath, which is a special injury to God, or by a lie or simple denial that he hath taken any thing of his neighbour’s, which also God takes as a sin especially concerning himself, who in such cases is the only judge of what is falsely said or sworn. See Acts 5:3,4. Or,

2. To aggravate the former sin, and to show that such injuries done to men are also sins against God. who hath commended justice to men as well as religion to himself. But the former is more probable, both because here is a ram of atonement to be offered to God for the special injury clone to him, as well as satisfaction is to be made to the man whom he injured; and especially by comparing this with the parallel place, Leviticus 6:2, &c. And that person be guilty, i.e. shall be sensible of his guilt, or be convicted in his conscience of his sin; for otherwise this might seem a mere tautology, if it were only meant of being really guilty of sin, which was expressed before in those words, when one shall commit any sin, i.e. be guilty of any sin.

Then they shall confess their sin which they have done: and he shall recompense his trespass with the principal thereof, and add unto it the fifth part thereof, and give it unto him against whom he hath trespassed.
They shall not continue in the denial of the fact, as such persons oft do, but shall give glory to God, and take shame to themselves, by acknowledging their sin with grief and remorse. See Leviticus 5:5 6:4.

With the principal thereof; i.e. the thing he took away, or what is equivalent to it.

The fifth part thereof is added both as a compensation to the injured person for the want of his goods so long, and for his trouble for the supposed utter loss of them, and as a penalty upon the injurious dealer to discourage others from such attempts.

Quest. How doth this agree with that law, Exodus 22:1?

Answer. That law was made against notorious and obstinate thieves, who were legally convicted of their crime, and this against more modest thieves, whose necessities might induce them to steal, and whose consciences are affected with their sin.

But if the man have no kinsman to recompense the trespass unto, let the trespass be recompensed unto the LORD, even to the priest; beside the ram of the atonement, whereby an atonement shall be made for him.
If the man have no kinsman, which might be the case commonly with proselytes, if not with Israelites. This also suppposeth the person injured to be dead or gone away into some unknown place, and the person injured to be known to the injurer.

God appointed

the priest as his deputy to receive his dues, and take them to his own use, that so he might more cheerfully and entirely devote himself to the ministration of holy things. This is au additional explication to that law, Leviticus 6:2, and for the sake thereof it seems here to be repeated.

And every offering of all the holy things of the children of Israel, which they bring unto the priest, shall be his.
Heb. every heave offering, the heave-offering being here taken largely, so as to comprehend also the wave-offering for both of these were Aaron’s portion. See Exodus 29:26-28.

Unto the priest to wit, to offer unto the Lord by his hands.

Shall be his, i.e. the priest’s. See Leviticus 6:16.

And every man's hallowed things shall be his: whatsoever any man giveth the priest, it shall be his.
Every man’s hallowed things; understand this not of the sacrifices, no, not of such of them as were voluntary or vowed, as most understand it, because these were not the priest’s peculiar, but a good part of them was offered to God, and the remainder was eaten by the offerer as well as by the priest, as is manifest; but of such other things as were devoted to God, and were such as could not be offered in sacrifice; as suppose a man consecrated a house, or rent of it, to the Lord, this was to be the priest’s. And this restriction may be easily collected from the nature of the thing, because he speaketh in this and the other branches here of such things as were appropriated to the priest as his portion, which none of the sacrifices were.

And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
No text from Poole on this verse.

Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, If any man's wife go aside, and commit a trespass against him,
This law was given partly to deter wives from adulterous practices, and partly to secure wives against the rage of their hard-hearted husbands, who otherwise might upon mere suspicions destroy them, or at least put them away.

Quest. Why was there not the same law for the trial of the husband, when the wife was jealous of him?

Answ. This might be either,

1. Because the woman’s sin is greater, because there is not only filthiness and falseness in it, which is also in the man’s sin, but also peculiar unrighteousness in dishonouring his name and family, and transferring his estate to strangers and other men’s children. Or,

2. Because there was not like fear of inconveniences to the husband from the jealousy of the wife, who had not that authority, and power, and opportunity for the putting away or killing of the husband as the husband had over the wive. Or,

3. Because being the inferior and the weaker sex, and more subject to jealousies and groundless suspicions, it was not thought expedient to trust them with such a power or privilege.

Go aside, from the way of religion and justice, or from her faith given to her husband, or to the by-paths of falsehood and filthiness, and that either in truth, or in appearance, and in her husband’s opinion.

And a man lie with her carnally, and it be hid from the eyes of her husband, and be kept close, and she be defiled, and there be no witness against her, neither she be taken with the manner;
She utterly denying it, Proverbs 30:20, and none being able and willing to discover it; for if it was witnessed, she was to die for it, Leviticus 20:10 Deu 22:22.

And the spirit of jealousy come upon him, and he be jealous of his wife, and she be defiled: or if the spirit of jealousy come upon him, and he be jealous of his wife, and she be not defiled:
The spirit of jealousy, i.e. a strong opinion or suggestion or inward motion of that kind, whether from a good or evil spirit. Thus we read of the spirit of wisdom, Isaiah 11:2, of perverseness, Isaiah 19:14, of fornication, Hosea 4:12, of fear, 2 Timothy 1:7, of slumber, Romans 11:8.

Then shall the man bring his wife unto the priest, and he shall bring her offering for her, the tenth part of an ephah of barley meal; he shall pour no oil upon it, nor put frankincense thereon; for it is an offering of jealousy, an offering of memorial, bringing iniquity to remembrance.
Then, she persisting in her denial, and her husband requiring her submission to this way of trial. Her offering was partly because none were to appear before God empty, Exodus 23:15; partly, by way of solemn appeal to God, whom hereby she desired to judge between her and her husband; and partly, by way of atonement to appease God, who had for her sins stirred up her husband against her, and sent an evil spirit between them. See 1 Samuel 26:19. No oil nor frankincense, both because it was a kind of sin-offering, from which these were excluded, Leviticus 5:11, and to testify, her sorrowful sense of the hand of God, and of her husband’s displeasure, and because she came thither as a delinquent, or one suspected of delinquency, and under an ill fame, and unpleasing both to God and men; as one that wanted that grace and amiableness and joy which oil signified, and that acceptance with God which frankincense designed, Psalm 141:2.

Bringing iniquity to remembrance; both to God, before whom she appeared as a sinner, and to her own conscience, if she were guilty, and, if she were not guilty of this, yet it reminded her of her other sins, for which this might be a punishment.

And the priest shall bring her near, and set her before the LORD:
i.e. the woman; but of her he speaks, Numbers 5:18; or it, i.e. the offering, which is last spoken of, so the feminine gender is put for the masculine or the neuter, of both which we have instances.

Before the Lord, i.e. before the sanctuary where the ark was.

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:
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 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 curse:
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 charge her by an oath, and say unto the woman, If no man have lain with thee, and if thou hast not gone aside to uncleanness with another instead of thy husband, be thou free from this bitter water that causeth the curse:
Charge her by an oath, to answer truly to his question, or to declare by oath whether she be guilty or no, and after such oath shall say as follows.

If no man, to wit, except thy husband, as is manifest from the whole context; or no other man, the word another being understood here, as it is thought to be also Genesis 14:1 36:6 Exodus 22:20. With another, or, with him, i.e. the man now mentioned. So it is an ellipsis easily supplied out of the text.

But if thou hast gone aside to another instead of thy husband, and if thou be defiled, and some man have lain with thee beside thine husband:
No text from Poole on this verse.

Then the priest shall charge the woman with an oath of cursing, and the priest shall say unto the woman, The LORD make thee a curse and an oath among thy people, when the LORD doth make thy thigh to rot, and thy belly to swell;
An oath, i.e. a form of cursing or imprecatory oaths, that when they would curse a person, they may wish that they may be as cursed and miserable as thou wast upon this occasion. See the phrase Isaiah 65:15 Jeremiah 29:22 and compare Genesis 48:20 Ruth 4:11,12.

Thy thigh; a modest signification of the genital parts, used both in Scripture, as Genesis 46:26 Exodus 1:5, and other authors, that the sin might be evident in the punishment.

To rot, Heb. to fall, i.e. to die or waste away, as the word is used, 1 Chronicles 21:14, compared with 2 Samuel 24:15.

To swell, suddenly and violently till it burst, which the Jews note was frequent in this and like cases, as Exodus 32:20. And it was a clear evidence of the truth of their religion.

And this water that causeth the curse shall go into thy bowels, to make thy belly to swell, and thy thigh to rot: And the woman shall say, Amen, amen.
i.e. So let it be if I be guilty. The word is doubled by her as an evidence of her innocency, and ardent desire that God would deal with her according to her desert.

And the priest shall write these curses in a book, and he shall blot them out with the bitter water:
These curses, wherewith she cursed herself, to which peradventure her name was added.

In a book, i.e. in a scroll of parchment, which the Hebrews commonly call a book, as Deu 24:1 2 Samuel 11:11 Isaiah 39:1.

Blot them out with the bitter water, or, rase or scourge them out, and cast then into the bitter water. Whereby it was signified, that if she was innocent, the curses should be blotted out and come to nothing, and if she were guilty, she should find in her the effects of this water which she drunk, after the words of this curse; had been scraped and put in.

And he shall cause the woman to drink the bitter water that causeth the curse: and the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her, and become bitter.
To drink, to wit, after the jealousy-offering was offered, as is affirmed, Numbers 5:26.

Then the priest shall take the jealousy offering out of the woman's hand, and shall wave the offering before the LORD, and offer it upon the altar:
No text from Poole on this verse.

And the priest shall take an handful of the offering, even the memorial thereof, and burn it upon the altar, and afterward shall cause the woman to drink the water.
The memorial thereof, of which see Leviticus 2:2.

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.
No text from Poole on this verse.

And if the woman be not defiled, but be clean; then she shall be free, and shall conceive seed.
She shall be free, to wit, from these bitter curses and miseries.

Shall conceive seed, i.e. shall bring forth children, as the Jews say, in case of her innocency, infallibly she did, yea, though she was barren before; or shall be as capable of bearing children as other women.

This is the law of jealousies, when a wife goeth aside to another instead of her husband, and is defiled;
No text from Poole on this verse.

Or when the spirit of jealousy cometh upon him, and he be jealous over his wife, and shall set the woman before the LORD, and the priest shall execute upon her all this law.
No text from Poole on this verse.

Then shall the man be guiltless from iniquity, and this woman shall bear her iniquity.
Guiltless from iniquity; which he should not have been, if he had either dissembled or indulged her in so great a wickedness, and not endeavoured to bring her either to repentance or punishment; see Matthew 1:19; or cherished suspicions in his breast, and thereupon proceeded to hate her or cast her off. Whereas now, whatsoever the consequent is, the husband shall not be blamed or censured, either for bringing such curses and mischiefs upon her, or for defaming her, if she appear to be innocent. Her iniquity, i.e. the punishment of her iniquity, whether she was false to her husband, or by any light and foolish carriage gave him occasion to suspect her to be so.

Matthew Poole's Commentary

Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bible Hub
Numbers 4
Top of Page
Top of Page