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Numbers 19:11-22

Context
Purification from Uncleanness

19:11 “‘Whoever touches 1  the corpse 2  of any person 3  will be ceremonially unclean 4  seven days. 19:12 He must purify himself 5  with water on the third day and on the seventh day, and so will be clean. But if he does not purify himself on the third day and the seventh day, then he will not be clean. 19:13 Anyone who touches the corpse of any dead person and does not purify himself defiles the tabernacle of the Lord. And that person must be cut off from Israel, 6  because the water of purification was not sprinkled on him. He will be unclean; his uncleanness remains on him.

19:14 “‘This is the law: When a man dies 7  in a tent, anyone who comes into the tent and all who are in the tent will be ceremonially unclean seven days. 19:15 And every open container that has no covering fastened on it is unclean. 19:16 And whoever touches the body of someone killed with a sword in the open fields, 8  or the body of someone who died of natural causes, 9  or a human bone, or a grave, will be unclean seven days. 10 

19:17 “‘For a ceremonially unclean person you must take 11  some of the ashes of the heifer 12  burnt for purification from sin and pour 13  fresh running 14  water over them in a vessel. 19:18 Then a ceremonially clean person must take hyssop, dip it in the water, and sprinkle it on the tent, on all its furnishings, and on the people who were there, or on the one who touched a bone, or one killed, or one who died, or a grave. 19:19 And the clean person must sprinkle the unclean on the third day and on the seventh day; and on the seventh day he must purify him, 15  and then he must wash his clothes, and bathe in water, and he will be clean in the evening. 19:20 But the man who is unclean and does not purify himself, that person must be cut off from among the community, because he has polluted the sanctuary of the Lord; the water of purification was not sprinkled on him, so he is unclean.

19:21 “‘So this will be a perpetual ordinance for them: The one who sprinkles 16  the water of purification must wash his clothes, and the one who touches the water of purification will be unclean until evening. 17  19:22 And whatever the unclean person touches will be unclean, and the person who touches it will be unclean until evening.’”

1 tn The form is the participle with the article functioning as a substantive: “the one who touches.”

2 tn Heb “the dead.”

3 tn The expression is full: לְכָל־נֶפֶשׁ אָדָם (lÿkhol-nefeshadam) – of any life of a man, i.e., of any person.

4 tn The verb is a perfect tense with vav (ו) consecutive; it follows only the participle used as the subject, but since the case is hypothetical and therefore future, this picks up the future time. The adjective “ceremonially” is supplied in the translation as a clarification.

5 tn The verb is the Hitpael of חָטָא (khata’), a verb that normally means “to sin.” But the Piel idea in many places is “to cleanse; to purify.” This may be explained as a privative use (“to un-sin” someone, meaning cleanse) or denominative (“make a sin offering for someone”). It is surely connected to the purification offering, and so a sense of purify is what is wanted here.

6 sn It is in passages like this that the view that being “cut off” meant the death penalty is the hardest to support. Would the Law prescribe death for someone who touches a corpse and fails to follow the ritual? Besides, the statement in this section that his uncleanness remains with him suggests that he still lives on.

7 tn The word order gives the classification and then the condition: “a man, when he dies….”

8 tn The expression for “in the open field” is literally “upon the face of the field” (עַל־פְּנֵי הַשָּׂדֶה, ’al pÿne hassadeh). This ruling is in contrast now to what was contacted in the tent.

9 tn Heb “a dead body”; but in contrast to the person killed with a sword, this must refer to someone who died of natural causes.

10 sn See Matt 23:27 and Acts 23:3 for application of this by the time of Jesus.

11 tn The verb is the perfect tense, third masculine plural, with a vav (ו) consecutive. The verb may be worded as a passive, “ashes must be taken,” but that may be too awkward for this sentence. It may be best to render it with a generic “you” to fit the instruction of the text.

12 tn The word “heifer” is not in the Hebrew text, but it is implied.

13 tn Here too the verb is the perfect tense with vav (ו) consecutive; rather than make this passive, it is here left as a direct instruction to follow the preceding one. For the use of the verb נָתַן (natan) in the sense of “pour,” see S. C. Reif, “A Note on a Neglected Connotation of ntn,” VT 20 (1970): 114-16.

14 tn The expression is literally “living water.” Living water is the fresh, flowing spring water that is clear, life-giving, and not the collected pools of stagnant or dirty water.

15 tn The construction uses a simple Piel of חָטָא (khata’, “to purify”) with a pronominal suffix – “he shall purify him.” Some commentators take this to mean that after he sprinkles the unclean then he must purify himself. But that would not be the most natural way to read this form.

16 tn The form has the conjunction with it: וּמַזֵּה (umazzeh). The conjunction subordinates the following as the special law. It could literally be translated “and this shall be…that the one who sprinkles.”

17 sn This gives the indication of the weight of the matter, for “until the evening” is the shortest period of ritual uncleanness in the Law. The problem of contamination had to be taken seriously, but this was a relatively simple matter to deal with – if one were willing to obey the Law.



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