Numbers 6 – The Vow of a Nazirite
A. The vow of a Nazirite.
1. (1-2) The purpose for the vow of a Nazirite.
Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When either a man or woman consecrates an offering to take the vow of a Nazirite, to separate himself to the Lord,’”
a. To separate himself to the Lord: The vow of the Nazirite was to express one’s special desire to draw close to God and to separate oneself from the comforts and pleasures of this world. This vow could be taken by a man or woman in Israel.
i. Consecrates an offering: According to Allen and Cole, the Hebrew word here translated consecrates has the idea of something exceptional, wonderful, or miraculous.
· This was a special vow, significantly beyond a normal promise or vow.
· This was a comprehensive vow, concerning what one ate, how one looked, and with whom one associated.
ii. “The English word Nazirite transliterates Hebrew nazir, meaning “set apart.” (Wenham)
iii. “The word Nazirite is sometimes confused with Nazarene, the word used to describe Jesus in terms of his hometown origin (see Matthew 2:23; Mark 14:67, 16:6; Acts 24:5). While these words are based on the same root (nazar, ‘to vow’), they are distinctive words.” (Allen)
b. To take the vow of a Nazirite: There were several remarkable Nazirites in the Bible: Samson (Judges 13:5), John the Baptist (Luke 1:15), and Paul (Acts 18:18). The mother of Samson (Manoah’s wife) took the vow of a Nazirite during her pregnancy (Judges 13:4).
i. The things prohibited for the Nazirite took some of the things forbidden for the priests and made the prohibitions stronger. Priests were not allowed to drink while serving as priests (Leviticus 10:9); Nazirites were never allowed to drink. Priests could mourn the death of their closest relatives according to custom (Leviticus 21), Nazirites could not.
ii. In a significant way, the Nazirite vow gave every Israelite the opportunity to make a priest-like vow and live in a priest-like consecration to God, at least for a time. The priesthood was restrictive. Only men of a certain age from a very particular family could be priests. The consecration of a Nazirite vow was open to all, including women.
iii. “Throughout the biblical period the discipline of Nazirite vows was highly respected. Samson, Samuel and contemporaries of Amos (Amos 2:11f.) took the vow. Josephus mentions that these vows were popular in the first century ad.” (Wenham)
iv. Adam Clarke supposes that the vow of a Nazirite was never taken for less than a year. Less than that period would not allow enough hair to grow out to burn on the fire of the altar (as in Numbers 6:18).
v. “There was absolutely nothing monastic in this order. These men did not separate themselves from the ordinary life of their fellows, yet they did maintain an attitude of special separation, the signs of which were arranged for.” (Morgan)
2. (3-8) Requirements for fulfilling the vow of a Nazirite.
He shall separate himself from wine and similar drink; he shall drink neither vinegar made from wine nor vinegar made from similar drink; neither shall he drink any grape juice, nor eat fresh grapes or raisins. All the days of his separation he shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, from seed to skin. All the days of the vow of his separation no razor shall come upon his head; until the days are fulfilled for which he separated himself to the Lord, he shall be holy. Then he shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow. All the days that he separates himself to the Lord he shall not go near a dead body. He shall not make himself unclean even for his father or his mother, for his brother or his sister, when they die, because his separation to God is on his head. All the days of his separation he shall be holy to the Lord.
a. He shall separate himself from wine and similar drink: The Nazirite was forbidden to eat or drink anything from the grape vine (from seed to skin). This was a form of self-denial connected with the idea of a special consecration to God. Generally speaking, wine and grape products were thought to be a blessing (Proverbs 3:10), things to be gratefully received from God (Psalms 104:15).
i. From wine and similar drink would include all intoxicating drinks – such as beer or distilled spirits. The Nazirite was the keep distance from everything intoxicating or related to the grapevine.
b. No razor shall come upon his head: During the time of a Nazirite vow, the hair was allowed to grow, and then it was cut at the conclusion of the vow. This was a way of outwardly demonstrating to the world that this man or woman was under a special vow.
i. Regarding the hair of a Nazirite, Cole remarks concerning the word nazir: “The word is also used of ‘untended’ vines during the time of the sabbatical year (Leviticus 25:5,11). Presumably these vines are termed nazir because they were not tended or trimmed, just as the Nazirite was not to trim his or her hair during the period of special vow. Thus a nazir was a person who was specially consecrated to the Lord and who was marked out as distinct by his or her unusual manner of hairstyle.”
ii. Women could take the Nazirite vow, and they did not normally cut their hair in ancient Jewish culture. Their Nazirite vow was likely expressed in not caring for their hair, letting hang loose and keeping it relatively unkept.
iii. In the case of Samson, his strength came from his Nazirite’s vow of consecration and separation to God – so when Delilah cut his hair (the most public, visible example of the vow), his strength was lost.
iv. Samson had broken the vow before – both at drinking parties (Judges 14:10), and in touching a dead carcass (Judges 14:8-9). But until Delilah cut his hair, he had not broken the Nazirite vow in the most obviously public way. This illustrates the principle that there is a sense in which public sins do matter more because they bring more disgrace to the name of God and His people.
c. He shall not go near a dead body: The third aspect of the Nazirite vow was the strict avoidance of a dead body. Dead bodies – even those of a close relative – were not to be approached during the vow of a Nazirite. Separation from death – the most obvious and terrible consequence of sin – was essential during the period of the vow.
i. Father…mother…brother…sister: These words were a serious caution to the potential Nazirite. Even if their father or mother died during the days of their vow, they could not mourn for them as normal. Even a priest was allowed to care for the dead body of a close relative (Leviticus 21:1-3), but this was not allowed for the Nazirite.
ii. “Jesus alludes to this aspect of the dedication of his disciples when he admonished them to ‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead’ (Matthew 8:21–22).” (Cole)
iii. “Some contend strongly that the Nazarite was a type of our Lord; but neither analogy nor proof can be produced. Our blessed Lord both drank wine and touched the dead, which no Nazarite would do.” (Clarke)
d. All the days of his separation he shall be holy to the Lord: It is interesting that there were no other moral requirements, such as abstinence from sexual relations in marriage.
i. “There was to be no monastic association of Nazirites, no formal watch kept over their conduct. They mingled with others in ordinary life, and went about their business as at other times. But the unshorn hair distinguished them; they felt that the eye of God as well as the eyes of men were upon them, and walked warily under the sense of their pledge.” (Watson)
3. (9-12) Consequences of breaking the vow.
And if anyone dies very suddenly beside him, and he defiles his consecrated head, then he shall shave his head on the day of his cleansing; on the seventh day he shall shave it. Then on the eighth day he shall bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons to the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting; and the priest shall offer one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering, and make atonement for him, because he sinned in regard to the corpse; and he shall sanctify his head that same day. He shall consecrate to the Lord the days of his separation, and bring a male lamb in its first year as a trespass offering; but the former days shall be lost, because his separation was defiled.
a. If anyone dies very suddenly beside him: If one’s vow was broken (perhaps by someone dropping dead next to the Nazirite), then the Nazirite’s hair was to be shaved off, sacrifice made, and the vow would begin all over again.
b. But the former days shall be lost, because his separation was defiled: The sacrifices required for even the accidental breaking of the Nazirite vow were a sin offering and a burnt offering. God required a sacrifice of atonement, a sacrifice of rededication, and the wiping away of the former days of the vow.
i. “The Mishna relates how Queen Helena had almost completed seven years of a Nazirite vow when she was defiled and therefore had to keep it for another seven years.” (Wenham)
B. Concluding the vow of a Nazirite.
1. (13-15) Items needed for sacrifice.
Now this is the law of the Nazirite: When the days of his separation are fulfilled, he shall be brought to the door of the tabernacle of meeting. And he shall present his offering to the Lord: one male lamb in its first year without blemish as a burnt offering, one ewe lamb in its first year without blemish as a sin offering, one ram without blemish as a peace offering, a basket of unleavened bread, cakes of fine flour mixed with oil, unleavened wafers anointed with oil, and their grain offering with their drink offerings.
a. He shall be brought to the door of the tabernacle of meeting: The vow of a Nazirite ended with a public ceremony, with extensive sacrifice: One male lamb…one ewe lamb…one ram…a basket of unleavened bread…drink offerings.
i. “The offerings of the Nazirite at the completion of the period of the vow (v.13) were extensive, expensive, and expressive of the spirit of total commitment to Yahweh during this period of special devotion.” (Allen)
b. He shall present his offering to the Lord: The normal fulfillment of the vow would require the sacrifice of three animals and more. This was an expensive vow to fulfill. The Nazirite vow was not something that could be entered into lightly.
i. When Paul visited Jerusalem, he was invited to pay the expenses of some Christians who had taken a Nazirite vow and were ready to conclude it with this ceremony (Acts 21:23-24).
2. (16-21) The sacrifice offered.
Then the priest shall bring them before the Lord and offer his sin offering and his burnt offering; and he shall offer the ram as a sacrifice of peace offering to the Lord, with the basket of unleavened bread; the priest shall also offer its grain offering and its drink offering. Then the Nazirite shall shave his consecrated head at the door of the tabernacle of meeting, and shall take the hair from his consecrated head and put it on the fire which is under the sacrifice of the peace offering. And the priest shall take the boiled shoulder of the ram, one unleavened cake from the basket, and one unleavened wafer, and put them upon the hands of the Nazirite after he has shaved his consecrated hair, and the priest shall wave them as a wave offering before the Lord; they are holy for the priest, together with the breast of the wave offering and the thigh of the heave offering. After that the Nazirite may drink wine. “This is the law of the Nazirite who vows to the Lord the offering for his separation, and besides that, whatever else his hand is able to provide; according to the vow which he takes, so he must do according to the law of his separation.”
a. Then the priest shall bring them before the Lord: In the first part of the ceremony for the conclusion of a Nazirite vow, the priest offered the required animals and the grain offering.
b. Shall take the hair from his consecrated head and put it on the fire: After the priest made the sacrifice, the Nazirite’s head was shaved and the hair put in the fire of the altar.
c. Put them upon the hands of the Nazirite…the priest shall wave them as a wave offering before the Lord: It may be the that they waved these pieces before the Lord together, or perhaps the priest took the pieces back from the Nazirite. Either way, there was the active participation of the Nazirite in this ceremony.
d. After that the Nazirite may drink wine: This was the official conclusion of the vow. This was presumably part of a fellowship meal with the portions of meat from the sacrifice allowed to the one who concluded the vow.
C. The priestly blessing.
1. (22-23) The command to bless the people.
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘This is the way you shall bless the children of Israel. Say to them:’”
a. This is the way you shall bless: Moses, Aaron, and their spiritual descendants were commanded to bless the people of God. They were to do it according to the procedure detailed in the following verses.
i. “The priests were always there pronouncing this blessing at the close of the daily morning service in the temple and later in the synagogues.” (Wenham)
ii. It is important that the priestly blessing follows the section on the vow of the Nazirite. Whenever there is some special act to demonstrate consecration or separation to God, we easily think that these specially separated people are the ones – perhaps the only ones – whom God wants to bless or will bless. We need to be reminded that though there is great value in special acts of consecration, we can’t think of God’s blessing as something that is earned those special acts. God loves to bless His people, and blesses them far more freely than they usually imagine.
iii. “So Christ did upon his apostles, which was his last action upon earth, (Luke 24:50) and so must all pastors do that would do good on it, pray down a blessing on their people.” (Trapp)
b. Say to them: The Bible does not give us many written prayers, that were meant to be repeated. Another example would be what is often called “The Lord’s Prayer” in Matthew 6:9-13 (perhaps better titled “The Disciple’s Prayer).
i. “Free prayer is most useful, and it will ordinarily consort best with the movements of the free Spirit; but in the case of a benediction, it is well that it was dictated to the man of God. The children of Israel might miss blessing through the ignorance, or forgetfulness, or unbelief of Aaron; and therefore it was not left to him; but he had to learn by heart each word and sentence. In this wise, and in no other, was he to bless the people. I like this; for if God himself puts the very words into the mouth of his priest, then they are God’s words.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “That this blessing was important in the lives of ancient Israelites is attested in the copy of it found in the excavations of Ketef Hinnom to the southwest of Mount Zion and the Old City of Jerusalem. In digging within the compound of the Scottish St. Andrew’s Church on the western slope of the Hinnom Valley in 1979, the expedition led by archaeologist G. Barkai unearthed a late seventh to sixth century B.C. burial complex. Among the remains recovered was a phylactery containing two silver scrolls the size of a small cigarette, upon which were written two versions of the priestly blessing. These had been used as amulets during the lives of the individuals interred there or as burial pendants. The text on the larger one is nearly identical to that of the Masoretic text, and an abbreviated version of the second and third blessings was written on the smaller. As such they attest the authenticity and antiquity of the Priestly Benediction. These texts also contain the oldest attestation to the Tetragrammaton found to date in Jerusalem.” (Cole)
2. (24-26) The Aaronic blessing.
“The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.”
a. The Lord bless you: This simple desire begins everything. God loves to bless His people, and He wants leaders who long for the people be blessed. This also recognizes that all blessing really comes from God; and without His blessing, nothing really works right.
i. We remember also that God’s blessing has always in mind our greatest and highest good. We often expect God’s blessing to mean a life of comfort and ease – but that certainly isn’t for our greatest and highest good. God knows how we need to be blessed, even if we don’t.
ii. We have often settled for happiness or comfort or wealth when God wanted us to be blessed. True blessing from God is higher than happiness or wealth or comfort.
b. And keep you: To be kept by the Lord is blessing indeed. Some are kept by their own sin and desire, some are kept by idolatry and greed, and others are kept by their own bitterness and anger. But to be kept by the Lord insures life, peace, and success.
c. The Lord make His face to shine upon you: To have the glorious, pleased face of God shining upon man is the greatest gift one could have. To know that as God looks upon you, He is well pleased – not because of who you are, or what you have done, but because you are in Jesus Christ – there is no greater source of peace and power in life.
i. We can imagine a father disciplining his son and putting the son out of his presence – and then receiving the son back to see his loving face again. This is how God receives sinners who come to Jesus by faith.
ii. “Why should he fret when God smiles? What matters though all the world should censure, if Jehovah countenances his servant. A look of approval from God creates a deep, delightful calm within the soul.” (Spurgeon)
d. And be gracious to you: The idea is that God would show tender mercy and care for His people.
e. The Lord lift up His countenance upon you: The priest was to pray that God would look upon His people; when He blesses, keeps, shines, and is gracious towards His people. Any look that God directs toward His people is filled with nothing but blessing. His loving attention is on the believer.
i. To lift up one’s eyes or face means to pay attention, and to look favorably towards. “When God smiles on his people, they can be sure that he will be gracious to them, that is, he will deliver them from all their troubles. He will answer their prayers and save them from their enemies.” (Wenham)
f. And give you peace: The Hebrew word is shalom, which is more than the end of aggression. This peace, this shalom is God’s word for wholeness and goodness and total satisfaction in life. This is the abundant life Jesus promised (John 10:10).
g. The Lord…the Lord…the Lord: The repetition of Lord three times does not prove the Trinity, but it illustrates it.
· God the Father blesses and keeps His children.
· God the Son makes God’s face to shine on us and brings us grace.
· God the Holy Spirit communicates God’s attention to us, and gives us peace.
i. “The thrice-mentioned YHWH, which grammatically need not be repeated, and the final resounding “I will [surely] bless you,” serve to heighten the emphasis that the God of Israel is the source of all grace, blessing, hope, and peace.” (Cole)
ii. “I will not say that this teaches the doctrine of the Trinity; but I must say that, believing the doctrine of the Trinity, I understand the passage all the better. The shadow of the Triune God is on the sacred benediction in the name thrice repeated.” (Spurgeon)
h. You…you…you…you…you…you: It is repeated six times for emphasis – God wants to bless you. We often feel as if God really wanted to bless someone else. He wants to bless us.
i. “So long as you are resting upon Christ—Jesus, the great High Priest, speaks from the eternal glory, and he says, ‘The Lord bless thee.’ ‘Oh! but I do not deserve it.’ Just so; but ‘the Lord Bless thee.’ ‘I am so unworthy, I am so backsliding.’ Yes, but the Lord Jesus Christ knows all, covers all. We will read it, then: ‘The Lord Bless thee – thee, and keep thee: the Lord make his face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: the Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.’ Oh! have you got that wrought into your very hearts?” (Spurgeon)
ii. As God bestows His blessing on us, we must receive it by faith. We must be like Jacob – who would not let go of God until God blessed him.
iii. “The prayer is cast in poetic form and is probably one of the oldest poems in Scripture.” (Wenham)
3. (27) The fruit of the blessing.
So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them.
a. So they shall put My name on the children of Israel: To be blessed by God is to have His name on you – to be identified with who He is and all His nature. This was a great gift, to have God’s name upon them.
i. Aaron was commanded to pronounce this blessing over the people of Israel – not over the other nations. Though God blesses all mankind, there is a definite and strong sense in which He has blessing only for His people. We have to join ourselves to Him to gain that blessing.
b. And I will bless them: God promised to bless according to these words. This makes these words appropriate for pastors to pronounce over their congregations. More importantly, every believer should remember that we have a High Priest in heaven – Jesus Christ – who lives forever to pray for us and to bless us.
i. “When God saith, ‘I will,’ all the devils in hell cannot turn aside the blessing, and all the ages of eternity cannot change the King’s word.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “The Lord has blessed his people, and he would have them know it. He has blessed them with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, and it is his wish that they should experience the fullness of this blessedness. Are any of the Lord’s people without a sense of this blessing? It is not the will of God that you should continue in this low condition.” (Spurgeon)