Then the LORD said to Moses,
I. THE HUSBAND'S POSITION IS RECOGNIZED. The spirit of jealousy is not condemned as in itself an evil passion. In it he might be angry and sin not. The spirit of jealousy could not be too much excited or too amply satisfied, if only the facts corresponded to his feelings. No mention is made of a similar ordeal for the husband to pass through if a spirit of jealousy were awakened in the wife, and so it may seem that more severity was meted out to the woman than the man. But the offence of an unfaithful husband, equally great of course as a sin, might not be equally dangerous as a crime. The principles of human law which compel men to graduate crime and punishment had to be remembered in the theocracy. An examination of the Mosaic laws against sexual impurity shows that they provided stringently for both sexes. The adulterer was punishable with death. A guilty wife in the discovery of her guilt dragged down her paramour (Leviticus 20:10).
II. THE WIFE'S POSITION IS RECOGNIZED. To punish her more severely for a lapse of conjugal fidelity was really to honour her, showing that in one respect more was expected from her. It became every Israelite to walk circumspectly; it peculiarly became the Israelite matron. May we not say that the spirit of jealousy, though it might often be manifested on insufficient grounds, was nevertheless in itself a provision of God, through nature? The reputation of a wife is a very delicate thing, and was meant so to be. The tenth commandment specifies, "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife." Hence we may infer there was some temptation to men to commit this sin, and wives needed to be specially on their guard. The ordeal to which God called them, hard as it might seem, had a most honourable side. Let it not be said that Mosaic legislation showed the Oriental depreciation of woman. God was caring for her even then, but she had to partake of the severity of the law, even as, long after, represented by the woman taken in adultery, she shared in the clemency and tenderness of the gospel.
III. THE UNERRING DISCOVERY OF GUILT. God took the matter away out of the obscurities of circumstantial evidence. The very nature of the offence made it difficult for a suspicious husband to get beyond presumption. "The eye of the adulterer waiteth for the twilight" (Job 24:15). But God called the accused wife among the solemnities of the tabernacle, and concealment and evasion thenceforth became impossible. Notice how the ordeal was painless in itself. There was no walking on burning ploughshares nor demand on physical endurance. It was independent also of anything like chance, as if the casting of a lot had been held to settle the matter. The bitter water was drunk, and God, who brings all secret things into judgment, showed the indubitable proof in the swollen body and the rotted thigh. Proof, sentence, and punishment were all in one.
IV. THE DISCOVERY, EQUALLY UNERRING, OF INNOCENCE. One wonders what the history of this ordeal was in practice; how often used, and with what results. We know not what terrible tragedies it may have prevented, what credulous Othello it may have restored to his peace of mind, what Desdemona it may have vindicated, and what Iago it may have overthrown in his villainous plots. "God shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday" (Psalm 37:6). There will be a final clearing of all the innocent, however many have been condemned at a human bar. The whole matter assumes its most significant aspect when we note how the apostasy of God's people is figured by gross and shameful breaches of the marriage vow (Ezekiel 16). The doom of the adulterous wife foreshadows the doom of the backsliding believer. - Y.
If any man's wife go aside.: —
I. CONFIDENCE IN CONJUGAL RELATIONS IS OF GREAT IMPORTANCE. "Suspicion," says Bp. Babington, "is the cut-throat and poison of all love and friendship." And in proportion to the intensity of the love will be the anguish of suspicion in respect to the object of the love.
II. ADULTERY IS A SIN OF THE GREATEST ENORMITY. This dreadful ordeal, which was intended to prevent it, shows how great was its heinousness in the Divine estimation. This is expressed —
1. In the abasement of the suspected woman. The "barley meal," of which the offering was composed, the "earthern vessel" which contained the water, and "the dust" that was put into the water, indicate a state of deep humiliation and disgrace. The absence from the offering of oil, the symbol of the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit, and of frank. incense, the symbol of prayer, also proclaimed her questionable repute and the suspicion with which she was regarded. In like manner the "uncovering of the woman's head" was indicative of the loss of woman's best ornament, chastity and fidelity in the marriage relation.
2. In the terrible punishment which came upon the guilty. This ordeal was made so terrible that the dread of it might effectually prevent the wives in Israel from the least violation of their fidelity to their husbands. It remains as an impressive proclamation of the utter abhorrence with which God regards the sin of adultery. It is a sin against God; it inflicts the most intolerable injury upon the husband; it is an unmitigated blight upon the family; and it is a wrong to society generally. The most terrible condemnations are pronounced upon it in the Sacred Word (Leviticus 20:10; Malachi 3:5; 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10; Hebrews 13:4).
III. THE PUNISHMENT OF SIN IS CLOSELY RELATED TO THE SIN ITSELF. The punishment came in those portions of her body which she had abused.
IV. GOD WILL BRING TO LIGHT THE SECRET SINS OF MEN. If the suspected woman were guilty, after this ordeal her guilt would be made manifest. All sins are known unto Him.
V. GOD WILL ASSUREDLY VINDICATE THE INNOCENT WHO HAVE SUFFERED FROM SUSPICION AND SLANDER. In this case the vindication was most complete. "If the woman be not defiled, but be clean; then she shall be free, and shall conceive seed." "If not guilty after such a trial," says Adam Clarke, "she had great honour; and, according to the rabbins, became strong, healthy, and fruitful; for if she was before barren, she now began to bear children; if before she had only daughters, she now began to have sons; if before she had hard travail, she now had easy; in a word, she was blessed in her body, her soul, and her substance." Thus to the innocent there was no terror in this stern ordeal. It was rather a blessing to them, if by any means they had come to be regarded with suspicion by their husbands; for by means of it such suspicions would be removed, and their fidelity and honour vindicated and exalted. And God will, sooner or later, splendidly vindicate all who suffer from misrepresentation, slander, or false accusation.
Caroline's Fox's Journal.Aunt C. Fox told us of an American friend who once felt a concern to go somewhere, he knew not where. He ordered his gig, his servant asking where he was to drive. "Up and down the road," said his master. At last they met a funeral. "Follow this funeral." said the master. They followed in the procession till they came to the churchyard. Whilst the service was being performed the friend sat in his gig; at its conclusion he walked to the grave, and said solemnly, "The person now buried is innocent of the crime laid to her charge." An elderly gentleman in deep mourning came up to him in great agitation, and said, "Sir, what you have said has surprised me very much." "I can't help it, I can't help it," replied the other; "I only said what I was obliged to say." "Well," said the mourner, "the person just buried is my wife, who for some years has lain under the suspicion of infidelity to me. No one else knew of it, and on her death-bed she again protested her innocence, and said that if I would not believe her then, a witness to it would be raised up even at her grave-side."
(Caroline's Fox's Journal.)
Scientific Illustrations.Man frequently satisfies himself that he has come to an accurate conclusion merely because, on the application of what he considers an infallible test, he discovers a particular anticipated result. Often enough the test is utterly fallacious. Take an example. The tanghin, or tanguen, is the only plant of its genus, and is confined to Madagascar. Its poisonous seed is esteemed by the natives an infallible criterion of guilt or innocence. After being pounded, a small piece is swallowed by the supposed criminal. If he be cursed with a strong stomach, which retains the poison, he speedily dies, and is held guilty; if his feeble digestion rejects it, he necessarily escapes, and his innocence is considered proven. Now it is obvious to any educated mind that innocence and guilt are in no way disclosed by this process. Yet inasmuch as it has been accepted as a test, its results are unquestioned. And there are numberless instances in which English society consents to be governed by the results of tests, simply because those tests are generally accepted. Again and again it becomes important to inquire whether, supposing your test does disclose a given result, that test is really as infallible as you deem it to be? Many will be found to be only "tanghin" tests, and as such utterly fallacious.
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