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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

Numbers 5

Verse 2

2.Command the children of Israel. This passage clearly shews that God, in desiring the lepers to be put out of the camp, was not acting as a physician by any means, and merely consulting the health of the people: but that by this external rite and ceremony He exercised them in the pursuit of purity; for, by joining with the lepers those who had an issue, (2) and who were defiled by the dead, He instructs the people simply to keep away from all uncleanness. The reason, which follows, confirms this, — “that they defile not their camps, in the midst whereof He dwells.” It is just as if He had said, that all the habitations of His elect people were parts of His sanctuary, which it was a shame to defile with any pollution. For we know what license men give themselves in corrupting (3) the service of God, by mixing, as the proverb says, sacred things with profane. Thus we see that the very worst of men boast themselves to be anything but the least zealous of His worshipers, and spare not to lift up polluted hands, although God so sternly repudiates them. It was, then, profitable that the ancient people should be reminded by this visible proof, that all those who are defiled cannot duly serve God, but that they rather pollute. with their filthiness what is otherwise holy, and thus grossly abuse religious exercises; and again, that they ought not tobe tolerated in the holy congregation, lest their infection should spread to others. Let us now briefly examine Leviticus 13:0

(2) SeminifiuosLat.

(3) Brouiller et abastardlirFr.

Verse 5

5.And the Lord spoke unto Moses. Although at the outset He seems to include all trespasses, yet we gather from the context that the precept only refers to things stolen or fraudulently withheld, that he, who is conscious of his guilt, should make reparation. It must be observed, however, that the law relates to more secret thefts, which are not usually brought to justice: and on this account it is said, “If they have committed any sin after the manner of men, they must not seek for subterfuge from ordinary use and custom.” Although, therefore, they may have many companions, God declares that this will not avail for their excuse; and consequently commands them voluntarily to restore what they have fraudulently or wrongfully appropriated. He will treat hereafter of the punishment of theft; He now only prescribes that, although no one shall bring the guilty parties to justice, and their crime may not be discovered, still they should diligently examine their consciences, and themselves ingenuously declare the secret transgression; and also make compensation for the loss conferred, since, without restitution, their confession would be but illusory. I now pass over what Moses adds, that, if no heir exists to whom the stolen goods may be restored, they should offer it to the priest, because I have already expounded it: except that we gather frost thence, that a contamination is contracted by fraud and rapine, which is never purged unless the house is well cleared of the ill-gotten gain. But this offering was treated of amongst the laws of the priests: (128) now, with respect to the restitution, we must consider that the fifth part was superadded, not so much in order that he, who had suffered the loss, should be enriched, as that all should diligently beware of every offense, which they hear not only to be useless to themselves, but also to be productive of loss. Besides, when a man has been robbed, it is often of more consequence than this additional fifth part, that he should have been deprived of the use of his property.

(128) See vol. 2, p. 273, on Numbers 5:8.

Verse 8

8But if the man have no kinsman. This passage, which I have inserted from chapter 5 is connected (213) indeed with another subject, and yet, because it directly refers to the right of the priests, it was necessary to remove it to this place, especially since it expresses that kind of sacrifice which Moses has lately adverted to, i.e., when they expiated the crime of theft. God did not indeed desire that the priests should be enriched by others’ losses, nor that thieves should go free, if they offered what they had stolen to the priests; but, if there were no one to whom they could restore it, He would have their houses delivered from (the proceeds of) their sin; and with very good reason, since otherwise the very gross offender would have never hesitated to plunder the goods of a dead man, if he were without heirs. First, therefore, He commanded their property to be restored to the lawful owners; and, if they were dead, He substituted their kinsmen, who are called גאלים, goelim, on account of the right of redemption, which God granted in the Law to relatives, as we shall see elsewhere; and because he who was next of kin was commanded to marry the widow of one who had left no seed. It was therefore a very uncommon thing that a person who had defrauded another had to recompense the loss to the priest; for in most cases some successor to the dead man would be found.

(213)Depend bien de la matiere qui est traitee plus au long des larrecins :” depends indeed on the subject of theft which is treated more at length. — Fr.

Verse 9

9.And every offering. Thus far I have brought together the passages, in which Moses treats of the office of the priests, and have briefly expounded them, I will now begin to treat of their rights, i.e., of the honor which God invested them with, that He might have them ready and cheerful in their obedience. Here, however, Moses lightly touches upon what he more fully sets forth in other passages, as we shall presently see, viz., He assigns to the priests all the holy oblations, the various kinds of which He afterwards enumerates. Now, there were three principal grounds for this law; — First, Lest what had been already dedicated to God should be profaned by its promiscuous use; for, that the sacrifices might retain their proper dignity, it was necessary to distinguish the sacred from ordinary meats. Secondly, A vainglorious excess in respect to the ceremonies was restrained; for if after the victims were killed all the flesh had been returned to the owners, a desire of ostentation (207) would have grown up amongst foolish men, the rich would have come emulously to gain applause, and when they had feasted magnificently, they would have exposed the rest for sale. Thus would they have abused their false pretense of worshipping God to the acquirement of favor towards themselves. Thethird ground is that which Paul touches upon, viz., that it is just that the ministers of the altar should live by the altar, (1 Corinthians 9:13;) for though it is an unworthy thing that the servants of God should be attracted by their hire, yet was God unwilling that the priests, when they had freely bestowed their labor on the worship of the sanctuary, should suffer from hunger, lest their alacrity might thus be repressed. For if they desired to execute their office properly, it was necessary that they should attend altogether to spiritual things, and abandon the care of their domestic affairs. If any should object that these were incentives to avarice, and that an excellent and profitable calling was set before the priests, the reply is easy: whatever came to their share, since it was restricted to their own eating, could not have been excessive in quantity; for they were not allowed to sell any, nor even to give it away to others, as we have already seen, and as will hereafter be repeated. Thus then the foul dishonesty of those, who taunt Moses as if he had enriched the priests by the spoils of the people, is abundantly reftired; for if there were any whose interests he would have desired to consult, surely his own sons would have been preferred to all; yet to them there is no reference here. Nay, whatever he grants to the priests, he takes away from his own sons and their posterity; as if he purposely deprived them of advantages which were not otherwise unlawful. In a word, the dignity of holy things was alone consulted, without any endeavor being made to enrich the priests.

(207)C’estoit pour inciter les gens a une fole convoitise de se monstrer, et faire leurs parades :” it would have incited men to a foolish ambition for ostentation and parade. — Fr.

Verse 11

11.And the Lord spoke unto Moses. Although this ceremony appears to be part of the legal services, still I have thought fit to postpone it to this place, because it relates to the observance of the Seventh Commandment. The object of it is, lest women, trusting that they would escape punishment, should abandon themselves to unchastity, or lest jealousy should lead to dissension, and, by alienating the mind of the husband from the wife, should loosen the ties of pure affection, since thus the door would be open to many iniquities. By this rite, therefore, God proclaims Himself the guardian and avenger of conjugal fidelity; and hence it appears how acceptable a sacrifice in His sight is the chastity of married women, of which He condescends to profess Himself the guardian. It is, therefore, no trifling consolation to husbands, that God undertakes the cognizance of the secret wrong, if, perchance, their wives have dealt treacherously with them.

But it will be better to examine the details in order. When at the outset he says, — If a man’s wife go aside, and her offense be concealed, an absurdity appears to be implied; as if He would thus bring to judgment none but those who should be convicted, whereas, if the fact were established, there would be no use in the application of the test. But the condition, “if she commit a trespass against him,” does not signify that the woman’s adultery should be discovered, but refers to the opinion of her husband; and thus the words must be paraphrased in this way: If any one should think that his wife has had connection with another man, and he cannot otherwise be relieved from the anxiety which oppresses him, let him appeal to God for that judgment, which is beyond the reach of man. Still God (78) seems designedly to have expressed the crime, lest husbands should heedlessly involve their innocent wives in disgrace. We know that many are causelessly suspicious; and when jealousy has once taken possession of the mind, there is no room for moderation or equity. (79) Wherefore it would be inhuman to permit morose and unreasonable husbands to drag their wives to this horrible judgment of God on account of certain trifling suspicions. For, if the husband were cruel and ungodly, it would be like putting a sword into the hands of a madman, to give him such a power without any distinction. God, therefore, implies that the priest should carefully consider, so as not too easily to receive every complaint; although He afterwards more clearly expresses Himself in another part of the conditions, “if a man be jealous of his wife, and she be not defiled.”

(78) “Toutefois il semble bien que Dieu ait poisee le cas, qu’une femme fust chargee de presomption vehemente;” still it fully appears that God has supposed the case, that the woman should be charged upon strong presumption. — Fr.

(79) “Nous savons qu’il y a beaucoup de gens ombrageux, qui concoyvent des fantasies a la volee;” we know that there are many suspicious persons who hastily take fancies into their heads. — Fr.

Verse 15

15.Then shall the man bring his wife to the priest. This offering is different from the rest, which have been heretofore mentioned, because it is a kind of adjuration, whereby the woman exposes herself to be accursed. Pure meal without frankincense or oil is therefore offered, since the rite (80) of expiation would not be in accordance with the curse. That the woman may be more afraid of perjuring herself, she is presented before God, with her head uncovered too, as if the priest would drag her from her lurking-place; for it seems incongruous that, as some suppose, the veil was removed from her head in token of her infamy, since thus she would have been condemned before her case was heard. She is, then, brought before God’s face with her head bare, that she may be seriously alarmed; and then follows the mode of absolution or condemnation. The priest is commanded to take holy water in an earthen vessel, to throw in some dust from the floor, and then a book or scroll, on which were written the words of the curse, so that the blots should remain in the water, and so to give the cup to the woman. Some interpret the holy water to be that which was kept ill the brazen laver, to be always ready for the ablution of those engaged in duly offering sacrifices. Let my readers, however, consider whether he does not rather mean the water in which the ashes of the red heifer were sprinkled, and whereby solemn purifications were made, (Numbers 19:1,) as we have already seen. For thus the woman was admonished that, if she perjured herself, no further means of expiation remained. The dust collected from the floor was also a sign of detestation: in short, the whole proceedings were calculated to humble her, so that she might not double her offense by perjury. Besides, the priest is commanded to repeat the words of the curse, lest she should seek to escape by some subterfuge or other. The question, however, arises, why she should be compelled to imprecate evil upon herself rather than others were who were suspected of murder or other atrocious crimes? and I think it was for this reason, because no other offense can be so easily concealed. Lest, therefore, women should grow hardened from their cunning and evil arts, a remedy is provided against their various deceptions; and thus God shows that the marriage-bed is under His protection and safeguard. We must remember, too, that this was not a mere empty bugbear, inasmuch as God undoubtedly appeared as the open avenger of unfaithfulness, according to His declaration. Nor is the threat added in vain, that if the woman be a deceiver, she should be a curse among the people, because her belly should swell and her thigh dissolve; whilst, on the other hand, He does not promise in vain, that if she be innocent, she should not only be free, but prolific also; so that God’s blessing would be the seal of her absolution. For this is the meaning of the expression, “she shall be sown with seed;” (81) as, on the contrary, it was said that her thigh (82) should dissolve when she wasted away with barrenness. We infer, from the opposite effects of the same water, that by the outward symbol God wrought with His secret power as the occasion demanded.

(80) “Litandi ritus.” — Lat. “La facon d’obtenir grace devant Dieu, et se reconcilier.” — Fr.

(81) A. V. , “and shall conceive seed.” “Heb., shall be sown with seed; which the Chaldee expoundeth, shall prove with child. ” — Ainsworth.

(82)Thy thigh to fall. Heb., thy thigh falling; in Greek, thy thigh fallen; in Chaldee, thy thigh dissolved. — Ibid. “Something similar to the disease called prolapsus uteri. ” — Adam Clarke.

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Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Numbers 5". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". 1840-57.