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THE JEALOUSY OFFERING.
Numb. v. 29. This is the law of jealousies.
ANY ordeals have been devised by man; but
they are all superstitious, delusive, cruel, and unjust. But there has been one established by God himself, which was open to no objection. It was appointed for the satisfaction of any who might conceive themselves injured by their wives. The jealous husband might bring his wife to a tribunal, at which the heart-searching God was to be both witness and judge. The process was this-He was to bring his wife to the priest; and with her an offering, not of fine wheat flour, but of barley meal; and that without either oil or frankincense; (the offering being intended to mark her humiliating and afflicted state.) He was then to take some holy water out of the laver, and to mix with it some dust from the floor of the tabernacle and to repeat to the woman a form of imprecation; to which the woman was to say, ' Amen, Amen,' in token of her full consent to every part of it. This curse was then to be written in a book, and washed off again into the vessel that held the water; that so the water might be, as it were, impregnated with the curse. Then the offering was to be waved before the Lord, and part of it to be burnt upon the altar, in token that an appeal was made to God. Then the water was given to the woman to drink; and immediately it was seen whether she had been justly or unjustly accused. If she had been guilty of un
faithfulness to her marriage vows, the curse she had imprecated upon herself came upon her: instantly her belly began to swell, and her thigh to rot; and her shame became visible to all. If, on the contrary, she was innocent, the water she had drunk produced no such effect, but rather a blessing from God came upon her.
"Such was the law of jealousies," as set forth in the chapter before us. But it is not on the provisions of this law, nor on its sanctions, that we intend to dwell it is sufficient for us to know that such and such things were done, and that such and such effects were produced. It is to the uses of this law that we would direct your attention: and they will be found replete with interest and instruction.
Its use was two-fold; political, and moral: I. Political
Many of the Jewish laws were adapted exclusively to that people, and were wholly inapplicable to any other nation. The Jews lived under a Theocracy: God himself was their temporal, no less than their spiritual, Governor. Doubtful causes were referred to his decision; and there were means appointed for the manifestation of his will respecting them. Of this nature was the trial of a suspected wife; it was conducted by a direct appeal to God. This singular institution was of great national utility;
1. As a guardian of domestic peace
[It must almost of necessity happen, that some husband, either through the perverseness of his own temper or the indiscretion of his wife, should feel "a spirit of jealousy" arising within him. Wherever such a thought is indulged, it corrodes, and eats out all domestic happiness; and, especially amongst a people so hard-hearted as the Jews, who were ever ready to put away their wives on the slightest occasions, it would lead to almost an immediate dissolution of the nuptial bonds. The miseries consequent on such hasty divorces may be more easily conceived than described But when a man had the means of redress in his own hands, he would be less willing to indulge suspicion; or, if it arose, he would not suffer it to rankle in his bosom: he would either dismiss it from his mind, or bring it to an issue at once; that if it were justly founded, he might be
released from his connexion; or, if unfounded, be delivered from his painful apprehensions.
Thus the law in question would retard the rise of jealousy, diminish its force, and facilitate its extinction; at the same time that it would prevent unjust divorces, and reconcile the mind to any which the circumstances of the case might require.] 2. As a preservative of public virtue—
[It is the hope of concealment that gives an edge to temptation. A thief will not steal, if he know that he must infallibly be detected: nor will the adulterer lay his plans of seduction, if he know that he cannot possibly conceal his guilt. Now, the remedy being in the hands of the injured party, and the issue of a trial certain, men would be cautious how they subjected themselves to such tremendous consequences as they had reason to expect. Females too would be upon their guard, not merely against the actual commission of sin, but against the smallest approximation towards it. The impossibility of escape would be a fence to their virtue, a barrier which no temptation could force. From their earliest days they would feel the necessity of being reserved in their habits, and circumspect in their conduct; and of abstaining, not only from evil, but from even the appearance of evil. For though they should not be found criminal to the extent that the jealousy of their husbands had led them to imagine, few would wholly exculpate them, or think that they had not given some grounds for suspicion : and the consciousness of this would make the trial itself extremely formidable even to those who had nothing to fear on account of the ultimate decision.
Hence then it is manifest, that the existence of this law would give a salutary check to the passions of mankind, and operate in the most favourable manner on all classes of the community.]
Its use, as political, was important; but it was still
more so as,
Minute and trifling as many of the Jewish laws may appear, there was not one but was intended to inculcate some great lesson of morality. This which we are considering was of very extensive benefit. It had a direct tendency,
1. To convince the sceptical
[The general notion of mankind is, that God does not attend to their actions: "Tush, the Lord doth not see, neither doth the Almighty regard it," is the language of every heart
a Isai. xxix. 15. Ps. lxxiii. 11. Job xxii. 13, 14.