Numbers 5

Isolation of the Unclean

1 The Lord instructed Moses:
2 "Command the Israelites to send away anyone from the camp who is afflicted with a skin disease, anyone who has a [bodily] discharge, or anyone who is defiled because of a corpse.[a]
3 You must send away both male or female; send them outside the camp, so that they will not defile their camps where I dwell among them."
4 The Israelites did this, sending them outside the camp. The Israelites did as the Lord instructed Moses.

Compensation for Wrongdoing

5 The Lord spoke to Moses:
6 "Tell the Israelites: When a man or woman commits any sin against another, that person acts unfaithfully toward the Lord and is guilty.
7 The person is to confess the sin he has committed. He is to pay full compensation, add a fifth of its value to it, and give [it] to the individual he has wronged.[b]
8 But if that individual has no relative[c] to receive compensation,[d] the compensation goes to the Lord for the priest, along with the atonement ram by which the priest will make atonement for the [guilty] person.[e]
9 Every holy contribution the Israelites present to the priest will be his.[f]
10 Each one's holy contribution is his [to give]; what each one gives to the priest will be his."

The Jealousy Ritual

11 The Lord spoke to Moses:
12 "Speak to the Israelites and tell them: If any man's wife goes astray, is unfaithful to him,
13 and sleeps with another,[g] but it is concealed from her husband, and she is undetected, even though she has defiled herself, since there is no witness against her, and she wasn't caught [in the act];
14 and if a feeling of jealousy comes over the husband and he becomes jealous because of his wife who has defiled herself-or if a feeling of jealousy comes over him and he becomes jealous of her though she has not defiled herself-
15 then the man is to bring his wife to the priest. He is also to bring an offering for her of two quarts[h] of barley flour. He is not to pour oil over it or put frankincense on it because it is a grain offering of jealousy, a grain offering for remembrance that brings sin to mind.
16 "The priest is to bring her forward and have her stand before the Lord.
17 Then the priest is to take holy water in a clay bowl, and take some of the dust from the tabernacle floor and put [it] in the water.
18 After the priest has the woman stand before the Lord, he is to let down her hair[i] and place in her hands the grain offering for remembrance, which is the grain offering of jealousy. The priest is to hold the bitter water that brings a curse.
19 The priest will require the woman to take an oath and will say to her, 'If no man has slept with you, if you have not gone astray and become defiled while under your husband's authority, be unaffected by this bitter water that brings a curse.
20 But if you have gone astray while under your husband's authority, if you have defiled yourself and a man other than your husband has slept with you'-
21 at this point the priest must make the woman take the oath with the sworn curse, and he is to say to her- 'May the Lord make you into an object of your people's cursing and swearing when He makes your thigh[j] shrivel and your belly swell.[k]
22 May this water that brings a curse enter your stomach, causing [your] belly to swell and [your] thigh to shrivel.' "And the woman must reply, 'Amen, Amen.'
23 "Then the priest is to write these curses on a scroll and wash [them] off into the bitter water.
24 He will require the woman to drink the bitter water that brings a curse, and it will enter her and cause bitter suffering.
25 The priest is to take the grain offering of jealousy from the woman's hand, wave the offering before the Lord, and bring it to the altar.
26 The priest is to take a handful of the grain offering as a memorial portion and burn it on the altar. Then he will require the woman to drink the water.
27 "When he makes her drink the water, if she has defiled herself and been unfaithful to her husband, the water that brings a curse will enter her and cause bitter suffering; her belly will swell, and her thigh will shrivel. She will become a curse among her people.
28 But if the woman has not defiled herself and is pure, she will be unaffected and will be able to conceive children.
29 "This is the law regarding jealousy when a wife goes astray and defiles herself while under her husband's authority,
30 or when a feeling of jealousy comes over a husband and he becomes jealous of his wife. He is to have the woman stand before the Lord, and the priest will apply this entire ritual to her.
31 The husband will be free of guilt, but that woman will bear the consequences of her guilt."

Numbers 5 Commentary

Chapter 5

The unclean to be removed out of the camp, Restitution to be made for trespasses. (1-10) The trial of jealousy. (11-31)

Verses 1-10 The camp was to be cleansed. The purity of the church must be kept as carefully as the peace and order of it. Every polluted Israelite must be separated. The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable. The greater profession of religion any house or family makes, the more they are obliged to put away iniquity far from them. If a man overreach or defraud his brother in any matter, it is a trespass against the Lord, who strictly charges and commands us to do justly. What is to be done when a man's awakened conscience charges him with guilt of this kind, though done long ago? He must confess his sin, confess it to God, confess it to his neighbour, and take shame to himself; though it go against him to own himself in a lie, yet he must do it. Satisfaction must be made for the offence done to God, as well as for the loss sustained by the neighbour; restitution in that case is not enough without faith and repentance. While that which is wrongly gotten is knowingly kept, the guilt remains on the conscience, and is not done away by sacrifice or offering, prayers or tears; for it is the same act of sin persisted in. This is the doctrine of right reason, and of the word of God. It detects hypocrites, and directs the tender conscience to proper conduct, which, springing from faith in Christ, will make way for inward peace.

Verses 11-31 This law would make the women of Israel watch against giving cause for suspicion. On the other hand, it would hinder the cruel treatment such suspicions might occasion. It would also hinder the guilty from escaping, and the innocent from coming under just suspicion. When no proof could be brought, the wife was called on to make this solemn appeal to a heart-searching God. No woman, if she were guilty, could say "Amen" to the adjuration, and drink the water after it, unless she disbelieved the truth of God, or defied his justice. The water is called the bitter water, because it caused the curse. Thus sin is called an evil and a bitter thing. Let all that meddle with forbidden pleasures, know that they will be bitterness in the latter end. From the whole learn, 1. Secret sins are known to God, and sometimes are strangely brought to light in this life; and that there is a day coming when God will, by Christ, judge the secrets of men according to the gospel, ( Romans 2:16 ) . 2 In particular, Whoremongers and adulterers God will surely judge. Though we have not now the waters of jealousy, yet we have God's word, which ought to be as great a terror. Sensual lusts will end in bitterness. 3. God will manifest the innocency of the innocent. The same providence is for good to some, and for hurt to others. And it will answer the purposes which God intends.

Footnotes 11

  • [a]. Nm 9:6-7; Lv 14:2-3; 15; 22:4
  • [b]. Lv 6:1-5
  • [c]. Lv 25:25,48-49; Jr 32:7
  • [d]. In the case of the individual's death
  • [e]. Lv 6:6-7
  • [f]. Ex 25:2-3; 29:27-28; Lv 7:14,32,34
  • [g]. Lit and man lies with her [and has] an emission of semen
  • [h]. Lit a tenth of an ephah
  • [i]. Or to uncover her head
  • [j]. Possibly a euphemism for the reproductive organs
  • [k]. Or flood

Chapter Summary

INTRODUCTION TO NUMBERS 5

This chapter contains a repetition of some former laws, concerning putting unclean persons out of the camp, Nu 5:1-4; making restitution in case of trespass against another, Nu 5:5-8; and of giving the offering of all holy things and all hallowed things to the priests, Nu 5:9,10; and a new law concerning jealousy, in a man, of his wife, Nu 5:11-14; when she was to be brought to the priest, and various rites and ceremonies to be used, Nu 5:15-23; who was to give her bitter water as a trial of her chastity, which, if guilty, would have a strange effect upon her, and make her accursed, but if not, would not affect her, and she would be free and happy, Nu 5:24-31.

Numbers 5 Commentaries