Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 2. Camp; in the midst of which God had fixed his tabernacle. See Leviticus xvi. 16. Some pretend that these unclean persons were only excluded from the camp of the Lord, and from that of the Levites, which occupied 2000 cubits round the tabernacle. But God will not permit any of the camp to be defiled by such people. They were to absent themselves for seven days, and then wash themselves, &c., chap. xix. 11. If lepers be excluded from the camp, how much more do heretics deserve to be cast out of the Church! (Theodoret, q. 8.) (Worthington)
Ver. 3. It. Hebrew, “their camps, in the midst of which I dwell.” (Calmet)
Ver. 6. To commit, against one another, ver. 7. (St. Augustine, q. 9.) When the thing is secret, so that the judges cannot take cognizance of it, the offender must nevertheless abide by the decision of the priest. Moses condemns him who had stolen an ox to restore it with another, or even to give five oxen, if he have not the one stolen in his possession, Exodus xxii. 1, 4. (Haydock) — Here to reward the sincerity of the man, who confesses his private fault, he only requires the thing itself to be restored, with a fifth part besides. (Calmet) — Negligence, not with contempt; (Menochius) though he knows that he is transgressing the divine and natural law. (Tirinus)
Ver. 7. Shall confess. This confession and satisfaction, ordained in the old law, was a figure of the sacrament of penance. (Challoner) — A special confession of their sin, with satisfaction, and a sacrifice, are required. So Christ orders us to lay open our consciences to his priests, John. xx., &c. (Worthington)
Ver. 8. But if. Moses does not mention this case, Leviticus vi. 2, 5. Here he determines that the heirs, if known, must be entitled to the restitution. A Hebrew could not die without an heir; but a proselyte might, and then restitution was to be made to God. The Rabbins say, that when the person injured was already dead, the offender took 10 persons with him to the grave of the deceased, and said, “I have sinned against the Lord and against N.; I have injured him thus.” After which he gave what was due to his heirs; or, if none could be found, to the house of judgment or the judges, who might restore it, if any claimant appeared afterwards.
Ver. 9. First-fruits; (teruma,) a term which comprises also voluntary oblations of all sorts, and the parts of the victims which belong to the priests; unless the person offering expressed a different intention. (Calmet)
Ver. 14. The spirit of jealousy, &c. This ordinance was designed to clear the innocent, and to prevent jealous husbands from doing mischief to their wives: as likewise to give all a horror of adultery, by punishing it in so remarkable a manner. (Challoner) — The spirit of jealousy, of fear, &c., denotes those passions of the soul. This very remarkable law of Moses suited the genius of his people, (Calmet) and tended greatly to restrain the infidelity of the married couple, and the fury of suspicious husbands. (Theodoret, q. 10.) God was pleased, by a continual miracle, to manifest the truth, on this occasion, provided the husband were not also guilty: for, in that case, the Rabbins assert, the waters had no effect. They relate many particularities, which seem contrary to Philo and Josephus, who inform us that the trial was still made in their time, though the former writers pretend that it was disused, on account of the many adulteries which were committed, in the age preceding the destruction of the temple by Titus. They say that the person who had committed the crime with the woman, died at the same time that the bitter waters put an end to her existence. When the suspected person was brought before the Sanhedrim, they tried, by all means, to extort a confession from her. But if she persisted in maintaining her innocence, they made her stand in black, before the eastern gate of the court, denouncing to her what she had to expect. If she answered Amen, the priest wrote the imprecations (ver. 19-22,) on vellum, with ink, which had no mixture of vitriol in it; and taking water from the laver, and dust from the court, with something bitter, like wormwood, effaced the writing in a new earthen vessel; while another priest tore her garments as far as the breast, and tied them up with an Egyptian cord, to remind her of the miracles wrought by God. If she confessed the crime before the writing was effaced, she was to be repudiated, without any dowry; or, if she kept company with a suspected person, contrary to her husband’s admonition, after she had come off victorious from drinking the bitter waters, she was subjected to the same punishment, and could not demand to be admitted any more to make the miraculous experiment. See Selden, Uxor. iii. 13.
Ver. 15. Measure, (sati). Hebrew and Septuagint, “epha,” of which the measure was only one-third. (Calmet) — Oil, &c. These were rejected in sacrifices for sin, Leviticus v. 11. Jealous husbands have no sentiments of commiseration, or of sweetness; (Haydock) nor can any experience the emotions of joy, while they are in such a situation. (Tirinus)
Ver. 17—18. Holy water, destined for sacred uses, which is called most bitter, ver. 18, (Menochius) and cursed, (ver. 22,) on account of the imprecations used to detect the guilty. (Worthington) — Earth, to shew the woman, that if she had been unfaithful, she deserved to be trodden upon as dung, Ecclesiasticus ix. 10. — Head, that she may remember all is naked before the Lord. (Menochius) — Hebrew may signify, “he shall cut the hair of her head,” (see Leviticus x. 6.; Calmet) or take off her veil. (Josephus, [Antiquities?] iii. 10.) (Haydock) — Remembrance, by which God was requested to manifest the truth, either by punishing or by rewarding the woman, ver. 15, 28. (Menochius) — Bitter, either on account of the wormwood, or because of their effects on the guilty. (Calmet)
Ver. 19. Adjure. The woman was put to her oath. (Josephus) (Haydock)
Ver. 21. Curse. Hebrew, “an object of execration, and an oath,” &c., so that people can wish no greater misfortune to befall any one, than what thou shalt endure. (Haydock)
Ver. 22. Amen. Our Saviour often uses this form, to confirm what he says, verily, truly. The woman gives her assent to what had been proposed, “so be it.” (Calmet)
Ver. 23. Book. Hebrew sepher, may also denote a board covered with wax, which was used as one of the most ancient modes of writing. (Calmet) — Josephus says, the priest wrote the name of God on parchment, and washed it out in the bitter waters.
Ver. 24. Up. Hebrew, “and the water, which causeth the malediction, shall enter into her, bitter.” According to Josephus, the jealous husband threw first a handful of the gomer of barley flour, upon the altar, and gave the rest to the priest; and after the other ceremonies were finished, the woman drunk the water, and either had a son within ten months, or died with the marks of infamy. (B. [Antiquities?] iii. 11. Edit. Bern.) Some Rabbins say she became livid and rotten, though she might linger on part of the year. (Sotæ iii.) But if she proved innocent, she acquired fresh beauty and health, and was delivered with ease of a son. (Maimonides) (Haydock)
Ver. 27. Through her. Hebrew, “into her,” exerting all their efficacy.
Ver. 28. Children, that her husband may love her the more, and she may receive some compensation, for the stain thrown upon her character. (Menochius) — We do not read in Scripture that any was ever subjected to this trial. The method of giving a bill of divorce was more easy. (Calmet)
Ver. 31. Blameless. To act in conformity with God’s injunctions could not be reprehensible. But it would have been certainly criminal to tempt God in this manner, in order to discover a secret offence, if he had not authorized it expressly. If the husband wished to avoid the displeasure of God, he was bound to banish from his heart all malice, rash judgments, &c. The permission here granted, was owing to the hardness of heart of this stiff-necked people, as well as the laws regarding divorces and retaliation. Women, being of a more fickle and suspicious temper, are not indulged with the privilege of divorcing their husbands, or of making them drink the waters of jealousy. But if a man were taken in the act of adultery, he was put to death, Leviticus xx. 10. The crime is equal in both parties. “The husband, says Lactantius, (de V. Cultu. xxiii.) ought, by the regularity of his conduct, to shew his wife what she owes him. For it is very unjust to exact from another, what you do not practise yourself. This injustice is the cause of the disorders, into which married women sometimes fall. They are vexed at being obliged to continue faithful to those, who will not be so to them.” The Romans would not allow wives to bring an action against their husbands. “You would kill, with impunity, your wife taken in adultery, without any trial, said Cato, and she would not dare to touch you with her finger, if you fell into the same crime.” (Gell. x. 23.) The authority which was given to husbands over their wives, was deemed a sufficient restraint; and men being obliged to be often from home, and in company, would have been exposed to continual alarms, from the suspicious temper of their wives, if they had been subjected to the like trials. (Calmet) — In latter ages, however, the Jewish ladies began to assume the right of divorcing their husbands, in imitation of Salome, sister of Herod the great, and of Herodias, his grand-daughter, Matthew xiv. 3. (Josephus, Antiquities xv. 11 and xviii. 7.) Grotius supposes that the Samaritan woman had divorced her five husbands, John iv. 18. But this being contrary to the law, her first marriage alone subsisted. (Haydock) — Her iniquity, in giving her husband any grounds of suspicion. The Rabbins observe, that he was bound first to admonish her, before witnesses, not to keep company with people of bad character; and if he could bring witnesses that she had been found afterwards with them for ever so short a time, he might have the remedy of the law. The pagans maintained, that several of their fountains and rivers had the power of disclosing and punishing perjury. Polemon mentions a fountain of this nature in Sicily; and Solinus (Chap. xi.) says, that one in Sardinia caused the perjured to go blind. The waters of the Styx were greatly feared on this account. (Hesiod, Theog. 783.) Tatitus (vii. 20,) mentions some other fountains, which had the same effects as the bitter waters. (Calmet) — The various ordeal trials which were formerly in use, were probably established in imitation of this law of Moses; but not having the same authority or sanction, they were in danger of being looked upon as superstitious. (Haydock)
Bible Text & Cross-references:
The unclean are removed out of the camp: confession of sins, and satisfaction: first-fruits and oblations belong to the priests: trial of jealousy.
1 And the Lord spoke to Moses, *saying:
2 Command the children of Israel, that they cast out of the camp every leper, and whosoever hath an issue of seed, or is defiled by the dead:
3 Whether it be man or woman, cast ye them out of the camp, lest they defile it when I shall dwell with you.
4 And the children of Israel did so, and they cast them forth without the camp, as the Lord had spoken to Moses.
5 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying:
6 Say to the children of Israel: When a man or woman shall have committed any of all the sins that men are wont to commit, and by negligence shall have transgressed the commandment of the Lord, and offended,
7 They shall confess their sin, and restore the principal itself, and the fifth part over and above, to him against whom they have sinned.
8 But if there be no one to receive it, they shall give it to the Lord, and it shall be the priest’s, besides the ram that is offered for expiation, to be an atoning sacrifice.
9 All the first-fruits also, which the children of Israel offer, belong to the priest:
10 And whatsoever is offered into the sanctuary by every one, and is delivered into the hands of the priest, it shall be his.
11 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying:
12 Speak to the children of Israel, and thou shalt say to them: The man whose wife shall have gone astray, and contemning her husband,
13 Shall have slept with another man, and her husband cannot discover it, but the adultery is secret, and cannot be proved by witnesses, because she was not found in the adultery:
14 If the spirit of jealousy stir up the husband against his wife, who either is defiled, or is charged with false suspicion,
15 He shall bring her to the priest, and shall offer an oblation for her, the tenth part of a measure of barley meal: he shall not pour oil thereon, nor put frankincense upon it: because it is a sacrifice of jealousy, and an oblation searching out adultery.
16 The priest therefore shall offer it, and set it before the Lord.
17 And he shall take holy water in an earthen vessel, and he shall cast a little earth of the pavement of the tabernacle into it.
18 And when the woman shall stand before the Lord, he shall uncover her head, and shall put on her hands the sacrifice of remembrance, and the oblation of jealousy: and he himself shall hold the most bitter waters, whereon he hath heaped curses with execration.
19 And he shall adjure her, and shall say: If another man hath not slept with thee, and if thou be not defiled by forsaking thy husband’s bed, these most bitter waters, on which I have heaped curses, shall not hurt thee.
20 But if thou hast gone aside from thy husband, and art defiled, and hast lain with another man:
21 These curses shall light upon thee: The Lord make thee a curse, and an example for all among his people: may he make thy thigh to rot, and may thy belly swell and burst asunder.
22 Let the cursed waters enter into thy belly, and may thy womb swell and thy thigh rot. And the woman shall answer: Amen, amen.
23 And the priest shall write these curses in a book, and shall wash them out with the most bitter waters, upon which he hath heaped the curses,
24 And he shall give them her to drink. And when she hath drunk them up,
25 The priest shall take from her hand the sacrifice of jealousy, and shall elevate it before the Lord, and shall put it upon the altar: yet so as first,
26 To take a handful of the sacrifice of that which is offered, and burn it upon the altar: and so give the most bitter waters to the woman to drink.
27 And when she hath drunk them, if she be defiled, and having despised her husband be guilty of adultery, the malediction shall go through her, and her belly swelling, her thigh shall rot: and the woman shall be a curse, and an example to all the people.
28 But if she be not defiled, she shall not be hurt, and shall bear children.
29 This is the law of jealousy. If a woman hath gone aside from her husband, and be defiled,
30 And the husband, stirred up by the spirit of jealousy, bring her before the Lord, and the priest do to her according to all the things that are here written:
31 The husband shall be blameless, and she shall bear her iniquity.
1: Year of the World 2514.