Numbers 5 Bible Commentary

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

(Read all of Numbers 5)

Verse 3

[3] 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.

That they defile not the camp — By which God would intimate the danger of being made guilty by other mens sins, and the duty of avoiding intimate converse with wicked men.

I dwell — By my special and gracious presence.

Verse 6

[6] 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, that is, sins against men, as deceits or wrongs, whereby other men are injured, of which he manifestly speaks.

Against the Lord — Which words may be added, to shew that such injuries done to men are also sins against God, who hath commanded justice to men, as well as religion to himself.

Guilty — That is, shall be sensible of his guilt, convicted in his conscience.

Verse 7

[7] 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 confess their sin — They shall not continue in the denial of the fact, but give glory to God, and take shame to themselves by acknowledging it.

The principal — That is, the thing he took away, or what is equivalent to it.

And add — Both as a compensation to the injured person for the want of his goods so long, and as a penalty upon the injurious dealer, to discourage others from such attempts.

Verse 8

[8] 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.

No kinsman — This supposes the person injured to be dead or gone, into some unknown place, and the person injured to be known to the injurer.

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

Verse 9

[9] And every offering of all the holy things of the children of Israel, which they bring unto the priest, shall be his.

Unto the priest — To offer by his hands.

Verse 10

[10] 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, because these were not the priest's peculiar, but part of them was offered to God, and the remainder was eaten by the offerer as well as by the priest; but of such other things as were devoted to God, and could not be offered in sacrifice; as suppose a man consecrated an house to the Lord, this was to be the priest's.

Verse 12

[12] Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, If any man's wife go aside, and commit a trespass against him,

If a man's wife — 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. 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 the husband, as the husband had over the wife.

Go aside — From the way of religion and justice, and that either in truth, or in her husband's opinion.

Verse 15

[15] 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.

The man shall bring her to the priest — Who first strove to persuade her to own the truth. If she did, she was not put to death, (which must have been, if it had been proved against her) but only was divorced and lost her dowry.

Her offering — By way of solemn appeal to God, whom hereby she desired to judge between her and her husband, and by way of atonement to appease God, who had for her sins stirred up her husband against her.

He shall pour no oil — Both because it was a kind of sin-offering, from which these were excluded, and because she came thither as a delinquent, or suspected of delinquency, 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 denoted, Psalms 141:2.

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

Verse 16

[16] And the priest shall bring her near, and set her before the LORD:

Before the Lord — That is, before the sanctuary where the ark was.

Verse 17

[17] 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 — Water of purification appointed for such uses. This was used, that if she were guilty, she might be afraid to add profaneness to her other crime.

An earthen vessel — Because, after this use, it was to be broken in pieces, that the remembrance of it might be blotted out as far as was possible.

Dust — An emblem of vileness and misery.

From the floor of the tabernacle — Which made it holy dust, and struck the greater terror into the woman, if she were guilty.

Verse 18

[18] 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 her head — Partly that she might be made sensible how manifest she and all her ways were to God; partly in token of her sorrow for her sin, or at least for any cause of suspicion which she had given.

In her hands — That she herself might offer it, and thereby 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.

That causeth the curse — Not by any natural power, but by a supernatural efficacy.

Verse 19

[19] 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:

By an oath — To answer truly to his question, or to declare whether she be guilty or no, and after such oath shall say as follows.

Verse 21

[21] 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 — That is, a form of cursing, that when they would curse a person, they may wish that they may be as miserable as thou wast.

Thy thigh — A modest expression, used both in scripture, as Genesis 46:26, Exodus 1:5, and other authors.

To rot — Heb. to fall, that is, to die or waste away.

To swell — Suddenly and violently till it burst, which the Jews note was frequent in this case. And it was a clear evidence of the truth of their religion.

Verse 22

[22] 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.

Amen, amen — That is, 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.

Verse 23

[23] And the priest shall write these curses in a book, and he shall blot them out with the bitter water:

In a book — That is, in a scroll of parchment, which the Hebrews commonly call a book.

Blot them out — Or scrape them out and cast them 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 drank, after the words of this curse had been scraped and put in.

Verse 24

[24] 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 — That is, after the jealousy-offering was offered.

Verse 28

[28] And if the woman be not defiled, but be clean; then she shall be free, and shall conceive seed.

Conceive seed — That is, shall bring forth children, as the Jews say, in case of her innocency, she infallibly did, yea though she was barren before.

Verse 31

[31] Then shall the man be guiltless from iniquity, and this woman shall bear her iniquity.

Guiltless — Which he should not have been, if he had either indulged her in so great a wickedness, and not endeavoured to bring her to repentance or punishment, or cherished suspicions in his breast, and thereupon proceeded to hate her or cast her off. Whereas now, whatsoever the consequence is, the husband shall not be censured for bringing such curses upon her, or for defaming her, if she appear to be innocent.

Her iniquity — That is, the punishment of her iniquity, whether she was false to her husband, or by any light carriage gave him occasion to suspect her.