Numbers 5:1-4 . THE UNCLEAN TO BE REMOVED OUT OF THE CAMP.
12-15. if any man's wife go aside, and commit a trespass against him--This law was given both as a strong discouragement to conjugal infidelity on the part of a wife, and a sufficient protection of her from the consequences of a hasty and groundless suspicion on the part of the husband. His suspicions, however, were sufficient in the absence of witnesses ( Leviticus 20:10 ) to warrant the trial described; and the course of proceeding to be followed was for the jealous husband to bring his wife unto the priest with an offering of barley meal, because none were allowed to approach the sanctuary empty handed ( Exodus 23:15 ). On other occasions, there were mingled with the offering, oil which signified joy, and frankincense which denoted acceptance ( Psalms 141:2 ). But on the occasion referred to, both these ingredients were to be excluded, partly because it was a solemn appeal to God in distressing circumstances, and partly because it was a sin offering on the part of the wife, who came before God in the character of a real or suspected offender.
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 ( Genesis 3:14 , Psalms 22:15 ).
in an earthen vessel--This fragile ware was chosen because, after being used, it was broken in pieces ( Leviticus 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 ( 1 Corinthians 11:7 )--the bitter potion being put into her hands preparatory to an appeal to God--the solemn adjuration of the priest ( Numbers 5:19-22 ), all were calculated in no common degree to excite and appall the imagination of a person conscious of guilt.
22. the woman shall say, Amen, Amen--The Israelites were accustomed, instead of formally repeating the words of an oath merely to say, "Amen," a "so be it" to the imprecations it contained. The reduplication of the word was designed as an evidence of the woman's innocence, and a willingness that God would do to her according to her desert.
23, 24. write these curses in a book--The imprecations, along with her name, were inscribed in some kind of record--on parchment, or more probably on a wooden tablet.
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.
29. This is the law of jealousies--Adultery discovered and proved was punished with death. But strongly suspected cases would occur, and this law made provision for the conviction of the guilty person. It was, however, not a trial conducted according to the forms of judicial process, but an ordeal through which a suspected adulteress was made to go--the ceremony being of that terrifying nature, that, on the known principles of human nature, guilt or innocence could not fail to appear. From the earliest times, the jealousy of Eastern people has established ordeals for the detection and punishment of suspected unchastity in wives. The practice was deep-rooted as well as universal. And it has been thought, that the Israelites being strongly biassed in favor of such usages, this law of jealousies "was incorporated among the other institutions of the Mosaic economy, in order to free it from the idolatrous rites which the heathens had blended with it." Viewed in this light, its sanction by divine authority in a corrected and improved form exhibits a proof at once of the wisdom and condescension of God.