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Numbers 5:19-22

Context
5:19 Then the priest will put the woman under oath and say to the her, “If no other 1  man has had sexual relations with you, and if you have not gone astray and become defiled while under your husband’s authority, may you be free from this bitter water that brings a curse. 2  5:20 But if you 3  have gone astray while under your husband’s authority, and if you have defiled yourself and some man other than your husband has had sexual relations with you….” 4  5:21 Then the priest will put the woman under the oath of the curse 5  and will say 6  to the her, “The Lord make you an attested curse 7  among your people, 8  if the Lord makes 9  your thigh fall away 10  and your abdomen swell; 11  5:22 and this water that causes the curse will go 12  into your stomach, and make your abdomen swell and your thigh rot.” 13  Then the woman must say, “Amen, amen.” 14 

1 tn The word “other” is implied, since the woman would not be guilty of having sexual relations with her own husband.

2 sn Although there would be stress involved, a woman who was innocent would have nothing to hide, and would be confident. The wording of the priest’s oath is actually designed to enable the potion to keep her from harm and not produce the physical effects it was designed to do.

3 tn The pronoun is emphatic – “but you, if you have gone astray.”

4 tn This is an example of the rhetorical device known as aposiopesis, or “sudden silence.” The sentence is broken off due to the intensity or emphasis of the moment. The reader is left to conclude what the sentence would have said.

5 sn For information on such curses, see M. R. Lehmann, “Biblical Oaths,” ZAW 81 (1969): 74-92; A. C. Thiselton, “The Supposed Power of Words in the Biblical Writings,” JTS 25 (1974): 283-99; and F. C. Fensham, “Malediction and Benediction in Ancient Vassal Treaties and the Old Testament,” ZAW 74 (1962): 1-9.

6 tn Heb “the priest will say.”

7 tn This interpretation takes the two nouns as a hendiadys. The literal wording is “the Lord make you a curse and an oath among the people.” In what sense would she be an oath? The point of the whole passage is that the priest is making her take an oath to see if she has been sinful and will be cursed.

8 sn The outcome of this would be that she would be quoted by people in such forms of expression as an oath or a curse (see Jer 29:22).

9 tn The construction uses the infinitive construct with the preposition to form an adverbial clause: “in the giving of the Lord…,” meaning, “if and when the Lord makes such and such to happen.”

10 tn TEV takes the expression “your thigh” as a euphemism for the genitals: “cause your genital organs to shrink.”

11 sn Most commentators take the expressions to be euphemisms of miscarriage or stillbirth, meaning that there would be no fruit from an illegitimate union. The idea of the abdomen swelling has been reinterpreted by NEB to mean “fall away.” If this interpretation stands, then the idea is that the woman has become pregnant, and that has aroused the suspicion of the husband for some reason. R. K. Harrison (Numbers [WEC], 111-13) discusses a variety of other explanations for diseases and conditions that might be described by these terms. He translates it with “miscarriage,” but leaves open what the description might actually be. Cf. NRSV “makes your uterus drop, your womb discharge.”

12 tn The verb is the perfect tense with vav (ו) consecutive. It could be taken as a jussive following the words of the priest in the previous section, but it is more likely to be a simple future.

13 tn Heb “fall away.”

14 tn The word “amen” carries the idea of “so be it,” or “truly.” The woman who submits to this test is willing to have the test demonstrate the examination of God.



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