Numbers 6 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

Numbers 6
Pulpit Commentary
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
verses 1-21 - Note. - The Hebrew Nazir has been written Nazarite in English under the mistaken impression that there is some connection between Nazir and Nazarene (Matthew 2:23). A very little reflection will show that "the Nazarene" not only was no Nazir, but that he even took pains to let it be seen that he was not. John the Baptist was the Nazir of the New Testament, and in all outward things the contrast was strongly marked between them (Luke 7:14, 33, 34; John 2:2).
Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When either man or woman shall separate themselves to vow a vow of a Nazarite, to separate themselves unto the LORD:
Verse 2. - Either man or woman. It was not a little remarkable that women could be Nazirites, because, generally speaking, the religious condition of women under the law was so markedly inferior and so little considered. But this is altogether consistent with the true view of the Nazirite vow, viz., that it was an exceptional thing, outside the narrow pale of the law, giving scope and allowance to the free movements of the Spirit in individuals. In this too it stood on the same plane as the prophetic office, for which room was left in the religious system of Moses, and which was designed to correct and supplement in its spiritual freedom the artificial routine of that system. As the prophetic office might be exercised by women, so the Nazirite vow might be taken by women. In either case we find a tribute to and a recognition of the Divine liberty of the Holy Ghost, and an anticipation of the time when the spirit of self-devotion should be poured out without distinction upon men and women. Shall separate themselves to vow a vow of a Nazarite, to separate themselves unto the Lord. Rather, "shall make a solemn vow, a Nazirite vow, to live consecrated unto the Lord." The two words translated "separate" are not the same. The first (from pala, to sever, to consecrate, to distinguish as exceptional) is of somewhat doubtful use here. In Judges 13:19 it appears to be used as an intensitive, "did wonderously," and the Septuagint has here μεγάλως εὔξηται εὐχὴν. The other word (from נזר, to separate) is used in a general sense in Genesis 49:26; Deuteronomy 33:16, or with the addition, "unto the Lord," as in Judges 13:5. It had, however, acquired a technical sense before this, as appears from Leviticus 25:5, 11, where the undressed vines are called "Nazirites," as recalling the unshorn locks of those who had taken the vow. It is evident indeed, from the way in which the Nazirite vow is here spoken of, that it had been, perhaps long, familiar among the people. All that this commandment did was to recognize the practice, to regulate it minutely, and to adopt it into the religious code of Israel. Whence the custom was derived is wholly uncertain, for although the separate elements existed in many different quarters, yet the peculiar combination of them which made the law of the Nazirite is entirely peculiar. Vows of abstinence have, of course, been common among all religions. Mingled with much of superstition, self-will, and pride, they have sprung in the main from noble impulses and yearnings after a higher life, prompted by the Holy Spirit of God; and it may be said with some confidence, that in spite of all reproaches (deserved or undeserved), such voluntary vows of abstinence have done more than anything else to save religion from becoming an unreal profession. Hair offerings, on the other hand, springing from a simple and natural sentiment, have been common enough amongst the heathen. Compare the sacred locks of Achilles ('Iliad,' 23:142, sqq.), and the various use of the tonsure in pursuance of vows among the ancient Egyptians (Herod., 2:65) and amongst modern Mahomedans and Christians. The physical fact on which all these hair offerings rest is that the hair is the only portion of oneself which can be conveniently detached and presented.
He shall separate himself from wine and strong drink, and shall drink no vinegar of wine, or vinegar of strong drink, neither shall he drink any liquor of grapes, nor eat moist grapes, or dried.
Verse 3. - Strong drink. Hebrew, shekar; σίκερα (Leviticus 10:9; Luke 1:15). Any intoxicating drink, other than wine including the beer of the Egyptians. Vinegar. Hebrew, chamets. It seems to have been freely used by the poorer people (Ruth 2:14), and was, perhaps, a thin, sour wine ("vile potet acctum," Horat.). Liquor of grapes. A drink made by soaking grape-skins in water.
All the days of his separation shall he eat nothing that is made of the vine tree, from the kernels even to the husk.
Verse 4. - From the kernels oven to the husk, or skin. Of grape-skins it is said that cakes were made which were considered a delicacy (Hosea 3:1, mistranslated "flagons of wine"), but this is doubtful. The Septuagint has οῖνον ἀμὸ στεμφόλων ἕως γιγάρτου, "wine of grape-skins (the liquor of grapes mentioned before) even to the kernel." The expression is best understood as including anything and everything, however unlikely to be used, connected with the grape. It is clear that the abstinence of the Nazirite extended beyond what might possibly intoxicate to what was simply pleasant to the taste, like raisins, or refreshing, like charnels. The vine represented, by an easy parable, the tree of carnal delights, which yields to the appetite of men such a variety of satisfactions. So among the Romans the Flamen Dialis might not even touch a vine.
All the days of the vow of his separation there shall no rasor come upon his head: until the days be fulfilled, in the which he separateth himself unto the LORD, he shall be holy, and shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow.
Verse 5. - There shall no razor come upon his head. The meaning of this law is best understood from the case of Samson, whose strength was in his hair, and departed from him when his hair was cut. No doubt that strength was a more or less supernatural gift, and it went and came with his hair according to some supernatural law; but it is clear that the connection was not merely arbitrary, but was founded on some generally received idea. To the Jew, differing in this from the shaven Egyptian and the short-haired Greek, the hair represented the virile powers of the adult, growing with its growth, and failing again with its decay. To use a simple analogy from nature, the uncropped locks of the Nazirite were like the mane of the male lion, a symbol of the fullness of his proper strength and life (cf. 2 Samuel 14:25, 26, and, for the disgrace of baldness, 2 Kings 2:23). In later ages Western and Greek feeling on the subject prevailed over Eastern and Jewish, and a "Hebrew of the Hebrews" was able to argue that "even nature itself" teaches us "that if a man have long hair it is a shame unto him" (1 Corinthians 11:14). No doubt "nature itself" taught the Greek of Corinth that lesson; but no doubt also "nature itself" taught the Jew of Palestine exactly the opposite lesson; and the Apostle himself did not quite discard the earlier sentiment, for he too made a Nazirite vow, and suffered his hair to grow while it lasted (Acts 21:24). The meaning, therefore, of the law was that the whole fullness of the man's vitality was to be dedicated without any diminution to the Lord, as typified by the free growth of his hair. It has been conjectured that it was allowed to the Nazirite to "poll" (κείρασθαι) his hair during his vow, although not to "shave" it (ξυρᾶσθαι); and in this way the statement is explained that St. Paul "polled his head" (κειράμενος τὴν κεφαλὴν, Acts 18:18, compared with Acts 21:24) in Cenchraea, because he had a vow. It is, however, quite evident that any permission to cut the hair is inconsistent with the whole intention of the commandment; for if a man might "poll his head" when he pleased, he would not be distinguished from other men. If it was allowed in the Apostle's time, it is only another instance of the way in Which the commandments of God were made of none effect by the traditions of men.
All the days that he separateth himself unto the LORD he shall come at no dead body.
He shall not make himself unclean for his father, or for his mother, for his brother, or for his sister, when they die: because the consecration of his God is upon his head.
Verse 7. - He shall not make himself unclean for his father, or for his mother. The same injunction had been given to the priests (Leviticus 21:12) - "for the crown of the anointing oil of his God is upon him." A similar reason restrained the Nazirite. Because the consecration of his God is upon his head, i.e., because he wears the unshorn locks which are the outward sign of his separation unto God. The hair of the Nazirite was to him just what the diadem on the mitre was to the high priest, what the sacred chrism was to the sons of Aaron. Both of these are called by the word nezer (Exodus 29:6; Leviticus 21:12), from the same root as nazir. It was thought by some of the Jewish doctors that in these three particulars - the untouched growth of the hair, the abstinence from the fruit of the vine (cf. Genesis 9:20), and the seclusion from the dead - the separated life of the Nazirite reproduced the unfallen life of man in paradise. This may have had some foundation in fact, but the true explanation of the three rules is rather to be found in the spiritual truth they teach in a simple and forcible way. He who has a holy ambition to please God must

(1) devote to God the whole forces of his being, undiminished by any wont and use of the world;

(2) abstain not only from pleasures which are actually dangerous, but from such as have any savour of moral evil about them;

(3) subordinate his most sacred private feelings to the great purpose of his life.
All the days of his separation he is holy unto the LORD.
And if any man die very suddenly by him, and he hath defiled the head of his consecration; then he shall shave his head in the day of his cleansing, on the seventh day shall he shave it.
Verse 9. If any man die very suddenly by him. עָלָיו, in his presence, or neighbourhood, so that, having hastened to his assistance, lie found himself in contact with a corpse. This case is mentioned particularly, because it was the only one in which simple humanity or mere accident would be likely to infringe upon the vow. In the day of his cleansing, on the seventh day. This appears to be an anticipation of the law given below (Numbers 19:11); but that law may have only sanctioned the existing custom. Shall he shave it. Because "the consecration of his God upon his head" was desecrated by the pollution of death, it must, therefore, be made away with and begun over again.
And on the eighth day he shall bring two turtles, or two young pigeons, to the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation:
Verse 10. - Two turtles, or two young pigeons. The same offerings had been prescribed for those defiled by divers unclean-nesses in Leviticus 15 (cf. Leviticus 12:8).
And the priest shall offer the one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering, and make an atonement for him, for that he sinned by the dead, and shall hallow his head that same day.
Verse 11. - For that he sinned by the dead. This is one of the cases in which the law seemed to teach plainly that an outward, accidental, and involuntary defilement was sin, and had need to be atoned for. The opposite principle was declared by our Lord (Mark 7:18-93). The Septuagint has here the strange reading περὶ ω΅ν ἥμαρτε περὶ τῆς ψυχῆς. Shall hallow his head. By dedicating again to God the free growth of his hair.
And he shall consecrate unto the LORD the days of his separation, and shall bring a lamb of the first year for a trespass offering: but the days that were before shall be lost, because his separation was defiled.
Verse 12. - For a trespass offering. Rather, "for a guilt offering." Hebrew, asham (see Leviticus 5). The asham always implied guilt, even though it might be purely legal, and it was to be offered in this case in acknowledgment of the offence involved in the involuntary breach of vow. In the education of conscience, on anything lower than the "perfect law of liberty," it was only possible to secure thoroughness and consistency at the cost of introducing much that was arbitrary and destined to pass away. Something similar must always be tolerated in the moral education of children. The days that were before shall be lost. Literally, "shall fall." Septuagint, ἅλογοι ἔσονται, "shall not be counted."
And this is the law of the Nazarite, when the days of his separation are fulfilled: he shall be brought unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation:
Verse 13. - When the days of his separation are fulfilled. The original law contemplated only a vow for a certain period, longer or shorter. All the Nazirites, however, of whom we read in Scripture were lifelong Nazirites: Samson (Judges 13:5), Samuel (1 Samuel 1:11), John the Baptist (Luke 1:15). In all these cases, however, the vow was made for them before their birth. Hegesippus (in Euseb. 2:23) tells us that James, the Lord's brother, was a Nazirite: "He did not drink wine nor strong drink, and no razor came on his head."
And he shall offer his offering unto the LORD, one he lamb of the first year without blemish for a burnt offering, and one ewe lamb of the first year without blemish for a sin offering, and one ram without blemish for peace offerings,
Verse 14. - He shall offer his offering. This offering included all the four ordinary sacrifices - the sin offering, the burnt offering, the peace offering, and the meat offering. For the meaning of these see Leviticus 4, 1, 3, 2.
And a basket of unleavened bread, cakes of fine flour mingled with oil, and wafers of unleavened bread anointed with oil, and their meat offering, and their drink offerings.
Verse 15. - A basket of unleavened bread... anointed with oil. Required for every sacrifice of thanksgiving, as this was (Leviticus 7:12). And their meat offering, and their drink offerings, i.e., the gifts of meal, oil, and wine which belonged to burnt offerings and peace offerings (see below, Numbers 15:3, sqq. ).
And the priest shall bring them before the LORD, and shall offer his sin offering, and his burnt offering:
And he shall offer the ram for a sacrifice of peace offerings unto the LORD, with the basket of unleavened bread: the priest shall offer also his meat offering, and his drink offering.
And the Nazarite shall shave the head of his separation at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and shall take the hair of the head of his separation, and put it in the fire which is under the sacrifice of the peace offerings.
Verse 18. - Shall take the hair of the head of his separation, and shall put it in the fire which is under the sacrifice of the peace offerings. It is not said, nor intended, that the hair was offered to God as a sacrifice. If so, it would have been burnt with the burnt offering which represented the self-dedication of the worshipper. It had been holy to the Lord, growing uncut all the days of the vow. The vow was now at an end; the last solemn act of sacrifice, the peace offering, which completed all, and typified that fearless and thankful communion with God which is the end of all religion, was now going on; it was fitting that the hair which must now be shorn, but could not be disposed of in any ordinary way, should be burnt upon the altar of God. In the fire, i.e., on the brazen altar. In later days it seems to have been done in a room assigned to the Nazirites in the court of the women: another deviation from the ordinal law.
And the priest shall take the sodden shoulder of the ram, and one unleavened cake out of the basket, and one unleavened wafer, and shall put them upon the hands of the Nazarite, after the hair of his separation is shaven:
Verse 19. - The sodden shoulder, or boiled shoulder; the left. The right, or heave shoulder, was already the priest's, according to the general rule (Leviticus 7:32). That the other shoulder was also "waved" and accepted by God as his portion, to be consumed in his name by the priest, was a further token of the gracious acceptance of the self-dedication of the Nazirite, and of the fullness of eucharistic communion into which he had entered with his God.
And the priest shall wave them for a wave offering before the LORD: this is holy for the priest, with the wave breast and heave shoulder: and after that the Nazarite may drink wine.
Verse 20. - Shall wave them. By putting his hands under the hands of the Nazirite. On the symbolism of this see Leviticus 7. Drink wine. Perhaps at the sacrificial feast.
This is the law of the Nazarite who hath vowed, and of his offering unto the LORD for his separation, beside that that his hand shall get: according to the vow which he vowed, so he must do after the law of his separation.
Verse 21. - This is the law of the Nazarite who hath vowed, and of his offering. "And of" are not in the text. We should probably read, "This is the law of the Nazirite who hath vowed his offering unto the Lord in accordance with his consecration," i.e., these are the offerings which, as a Nazirite, he is bound to make. Beside that his hand shall get. Literally, "grasp." If he can afford or can procure anything more as a free-will offering, he may well do so. In later days it became customary for richer people to defray for their poorer brethren the cost of their sacrifices (Josephus, Ant., 19:6, 1; and cf. Acts 21:24).

And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Verse 22. - The Lord spake unto Moses. It is a matter of mere conjecture at what point of time this command was given. As it concerned the priests and their daily ministration, it would be natural to suppose that it was given at the time when the tabernacle service was set up, i.e., at the precise point fixed by the first verse of the following chapter. That the command was given to Moses, and to Moses alone, and that after the consecration of Aaron to the high priesthood, serves to bring out into clear relief the relative position of the two. Aaron and his sons alone, as the "official" representatives of the Lord, could bless in his name and put . his name upon the people; but the formula of blessing was delivered to Aaron himself through Moses, as the "personal" representative of the Lord, the mediator of the old covenant. Ὁ νόμος. . διαταγεὶς . . ἐν χειρὶ μεσίτου (Galatians 3:19). Our Lord is both the Moses (Acts 3:22) and the Aaron (Hebrews 6:20) - 5 ὁ μεσίτης and ὁ ἀρχιερεὺς - of this dispensation.
Speak unto Aaron and unto his sons, saying, On this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel, saying unto them,
Verse 23. - On this wise ye shall bless. In Leviticus 9:22 it is recorded that Aaron blessed the people, first by himself from the brazen altar of sacrifice, and afterwards in conjunction with Moses, when they came out of the tabernacle; and that he might so bless the people is mentioned as one object of his consecration (Deuteronomy 21:5; and cf. 1 Chronicles 23:13). Blessing in or with the name of the Supreme Being was an important part of all primitive religion, as appears from the case of Melchizedec and Abraham, of Isaac and his sons, of Jacob and Pharaoh. And this act of blessing was far from being a mere expression of good will, or from being a simple prayer; for" without all contradiction the less is blessed of the greater" (Hebrews 7:7), i.e., the blessing must be given by one who stands nearer to God to one who stands less near. The name of God could not be used in blessing save by one who had some right to such use of it, whether as prophet, as priest, or as patriarch. For that name in which the blessing was given was not inoperative, but was mighty with untold spiritual efficacy where rightly used as the name of blessing. To Aaron and to his sons was now confided this use of the Divine name, that all Israel might know and might hear in their appointed words the voice of God himself. Saying unto them. The benediction here appointed consists of three clauses, each complete in itself, and each consisting of two members, the second of which seems to present the application and result in experience of the grace besought in the first. Both, therefore, in its form and its contents this benediction is one of the most profound and most fruitful of the Divine oracles; and this indeed we might have expected, because (if we may venture to say so) God is never so entirely and absolutely himself as in blessing.
The LORD bless thee, and keep thee:
Verses 24-26. - The Lord,... the Lord,... the Lord. Are we to see in this threefold use of the Divine name a shadowing forth of the Holy Trinity? It is obvious that it cannot be proved, and that it would not even have suggested any such idea to the priest who gave, or to the people who received, the benediction. To them the threefold form merely added beauty and fullness to the blessing (cf. Ecclesiastes 4:12). But that is not the question. The real question is whether the Old Testament was written for our sakes (1 Corinthians 9:10; 1 Corinthians 10:11; 2 Timothy 3:15, 16), and whether the God of the Jews was indeed the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (John 5:17; John 8:54). If so, it is not possible for us to avoid seeing in this benediction a declaration of the threefold Being of God, and it is not possible to avoid believing that he meant us to see such a declaration, veiled indeed from the eyes of the Jew, but clear enough to the Christian. For a somewhat similar case compare Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8.
The LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee:
Verse 25. - The Lord make his face shine upon thee. The "face" of God is his personality as turned towards man, or else turned away from him. His face hidden or turned away is despair and death (Deuteronomy 31:17, 18; Job 13:24); his face turned against man is destruction and death (Leviticus 17:10; Psalm 34:16); his face turned upon man in love and mercy is life and salvation (Psalm 27:1; Psalm 44:3). It is to the soul of man what the blessed sun of heaven is to his body. And be gracious unto thee. 'Ἐλεήσαι σε, Septuagint. Be kind and beneficent to thee: the effect in and on the soul of the clear shining upon it of the face of God.
The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.
Verse 26. - The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee. Ἐπάραὶ.. τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ σέ, Septuagint. This clause seems to repeat the last in a somewhat stronger form, as implying more personal and individual attention from the Lord. His face shines upon all that love him, as the sun shines wherever no clouds intervene; but his face is lifted up to that soul for which he has a more special regard. נָשָׂא פָגִים אֶל seems to mean the same thing as נָשָׂא עֵינַיִם or שִׂיס (Genesis 43:29, ἀναβλέψας... τοῖς ὐφθαλμοῖς αὐτοῦ; 44:21). To lift up the eyes or the face upon any one is to look upon that one with peculiar and tender interest. And give thee peace (shalom). This peace, being the perfect fruit in experience of the grace which comes from God, forms the climax and conclusion of the benediction.
And they shall put my name upon the children of Israel; and I will bless them.
Verse 27. - They shall put my name upon the children of Israel. The "name of God is uniformly treated in Scripture as something very different from a mere arrangement of letters or an arbitrary vocal sound. All nations have bad names for the Supreme Being, but there was nothing sacred about them, except from association. The name of God was not of man, nor from man, but of his own direct revelation (Exodus 6:3), and was therefore of an unspeakable sanctity (Exodus 20:7; Exodus 33:19). Like the "word" of God, it cannot be dissociated from God himself. It is in some sense an extension outwards, into the sphere of the created and sensible, of the ineffable virtues of the Godhead itself. It stands in a real, though un-assignable, relation to infinite goodness and power, and therefore it comes fraught with untold blessing (or perchance cursing) to those on whom it lights. Hence, to put the name of God - the covenant name - upon the people had a real meaning. No one could do it except by his express direction; and when it was so done there was an invisible reality answering to the audible form; with the name pronounced in blessing came the blessing itself, came the special providence and presence of God, to abide upon such at least as were worthy of it. It is a fact, the significance of which cannot be denied, that the name which was commanded to be put upon the people was lost, and irrecoverably lost, by the later Jews. Out of an exaggerated dread of possible profanation, they first disobeyed the command by substituting Adonai for that name outside the sanctuary; and finally, after the death of Simeon the Just, the priests ceased to pronounce that name at all, and therefore lost the tradition by which the pronunciation was fixed. Our method of spelling and pronouncing the name as Jehovah is merely conventional, and almost certainly incorrect. It would seem to be the more devout opinion that the name itself, as revealed by God and uttered by many generations of priests, was forfeited (like Paradise), was withdrawn, and ought not to be inquired after. And I will bless them. Here is the precise truth of all effectual benediction: they shall put my name;... I will bless. The outward form was ministered by the priests, the inward reality was of God and from God alone. It is observable that the form of blessing is expressed in the singular; either

(1) because all Israel was regarded as one, even as the first-born son of God (Exodus 4:22, 23; Hosea 11:1), or

(2) because all real blessing must in truth be individual - a nation can only be blessed in its several members.

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