Thy belly to swell, and thy thigh to rot - What is meant by these expressions cannot be easily ascertained. ירך לנפל lanpel yarech signifies literally thy thigh to fall. As the thigh, feet, etc., were used among the Hebrews delicately to express the parts which nature conceals, (see Genesis 46:26;), the expression here is probably to be understood in this sense; and the falling down of the thigh here must mean something similar to the prolapsus uteri, or falling down of the womb, which might be a natural effect of the preternatural distension of the abdomen. In 1 Corinthians 11:29, St. Paul seems to allude to the case of the guilty woman drinking the bitter cursed waters that caused her destruction: He who eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation (κριμα, condemnation or judgment) to himself; and there is probably a reference to the same thing in Psalm 109:18, and in Daniel 9:11.
And the woman shall say, Amen, amen - This is the first place where this word occurs in the common form of a concluding wish in prayer. The root אמן aman signifies to be steady, true, permanent. And in prayer it signifies let it be so - make it steady - let it be ratified. Some have supposed that it is composed of the initial letters of נאמן מלך אדני Adonai Melech Neeman, My Lord the faithful King, but this derivation is both far-fetched and unnecessary.
The trial of jealousy. Since the crime of adultery is especially defiling and destructive of the very foundations of social order, the whole subject is dealt with at a length proportionate to its importance. The process prescribed has lately been strikingly illustrated from an Egyptian “romance,” which refers to the time of Rameses the Great, and may therefore well serve to illustrate the manners and customs of the Mosaic times. This mode of trial, like several other ordinances, was adopted by Moses from existing and probably very ancient and widely spread institutions.
The offering was to be of the cheapest and coarsest kind, barley (compare 2 Kings 7:1, 2 Kings 7:16, 2 Kings 7:18), representing the abused condition of the suspected woman. It was, like the sin-offering Leviticus 5:11, to be made without oil and frankincense, the symbols of grace and acceptableness. The woman herself stood with head uncovered Numbers 5:18, in token of her shame.
The dust that is in the floor of the tabernacle - To set forth the fact that the water was endued with extraordinary power by Him who dwelt in the tabernacle. Dust is an emblem of a state of condemnation Genesis 3:14; Micah 7:17.
Gone aside - literally, “gone astray from” thy husband by uncleanness; compare Hosea 4:12.
Blot them out with the bitter water - In order to transfer the curses to the water. The action was symbolic. Travelers speak of the natives of Africa as still habitually seeking to obtain the full force of a written charm by drinking the water into which they have washed it.
Shall cause the woman to drink - Thus was symbolised both her full acceptance of the hypothetical curse (compare Ezekiel 3:1-3; Jeremiah 15:16; Revelation 10:9), and its actual operation upon her if she should be guilty (compare Psalm 109:18).
The memorial thereof - See the marginal reference. “Memorial” here is not the same as “memorial” in Numbers 5:15.
Of itself, the drink was not noxious; and could only produce the effects here described by a special interposition of God. We do not read of any instance in which this ordeal was resorted to: a fact which may be explained either (with the Jews) as a proof of its efficacy, since the guilty could not be brought to face its terrors at all, and avoided them by confession; or more probably by the license of divorce tolerated by the law of Moses. Since a husband could put away his wife at pleasure, a jealous man would naturally prefer to take this course with a suspected wife rather than to call public attention to his own shame by having recourse to the trial of jealousy. The trial by red water, which bears a general resemblance to that here prescribed by Moses, is still in use among the tribes of Western Africa.