Chapter 6

NUMBERS CHAPTER 6

The Nazirite Vow

    • The Lord told Moses to give the following instructions to the Israelites:

      • If a man or woman makes a special vow to set themselves apart to the Lord in a special way, called the Nazirite vow, they must abstain from wine and alcoholic drinks. They can’t drink vinegar made from wine or alcoholic drinks, or grape juice, or eat anything produced by a grape vine (not even the seeds or skins) during the time of the vow. Their hair cannot be cut and they cannot go near a dead body (even if it is the body of a close relative- mother, father, brother, etc) during the time of the vow. Their hair is the symbol of their separation to God.”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “The voluntary Nazirite vow allowed men or women to set themselves apart for the Lord. There was considerable variation in how the Nazirite lifestyle was practiced in various periods of Hebrew history. Vows were taken very seriously in ancient times as a well-established means of expressing devotion or gratitude to God. This vow could be temporary or permanent…Nazirite restrictions gave members of non-Levitical tribes a way to enter into a more demanding and highly respected relationship with God.”

        • HCSB commentary adds, “In the ancient world, people performed vows to God out of a situation of need or distress. Such vows had specific conditions and stipulations, and involved a special ritual at the beginning and end of the period of dedication. Samson was dedicated as a Nazirite for the purpose of delivering Israel from Philistine oppression (Judges 13:3-5). The mothers of Samson and Samuel took Nazirite vows during their time of barrenness before the birth of their sons.”

        • The Nazirite vow involved total restriction from the vineyard and any of its products, not simply fermented grape juice. Priests, too, were forbidden to consume wine during their time of ritual service, but the Nazirite vow was more restrictive.” (HCSB commentary)

        • Guzik writes, “The Nazirite was forbidden to eat or drink anything from the grape vine; 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), something to be gratefully received from God (Psalms 104:15).”

        • Guzik lists other Biblical examples of Nazirites: John the Baptist (Luke 1:15) and Paul (Acts 18:18).

      • If someone suddenly dies near someone who has taken a Nazirite vow, the Nazirite’s hair becomes defiled. They must wait seven days, then shave their heads as part of the purification ritual. On the eighth day, they must bring either two turtledoves or two pigeons to the priest. One will be offered as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering. This will complete the purification ritual. The individual must then rededicate him/herself by bringing a year old lamb as a guilt offering and the time period prior to the time they were defiled no longer counts toward the completion of the vow- they must start over.”

        • HCSB notes, “Proximity to death, to which a Nazirite could inadvertently be exposed while sleeping in a tent with an elderly relative, would bring instant contamination and require a process of re-purification, as outlined here. The other restrictions- those of the vineyard and the razor- were under the full control of the individual. If these restrictions were deliberately violated, the vow was automatically ended.”

        • Wenham relates an example of having to restart a Nazirite vow found in the Mishnah (collection of material documenting Jewish oral law- the first part of the Talmud), “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.”

      • This is the law pertaining to Nazirites. At the conclusion or fulfillment of the time period set for the vow, they must go to the Tabernacle and offer the following sacrifices to the Lord: a one year old unblemished male lamb as a burnt offering, a one year old unblemished female lamb as a sin offering, an unblemished ram as a peace offering, grain and drink offerings including a basket of unleavened cakes made with fine flour and olive oil and unleavened wafers spread with oil. The priest will present these to the Lord. The Nazirite will shave his/her head at the entrance of the Tabernacle and place the hair on the fire under the peace offering. After this, the priest will take the boiled shoulder of the ram, one cake and one wafer from the basket, and place them in the Nazirite’s hands. The priest will lift these up (wave) as a special offering to the Lord. These, along with the breast of the special offering and the thigh of the sacred offering, are the priest’s holy portion. After this ceremony is complete, the Nazirite can now drink wine again. This is the ritual for anyone who makes a Nazirite vow to bring these offerings to the Lord. If they can afford it, they can bring extra offerings. They must be careful to fulfill whatever they vowed to do as a part of their Nazirite vow.”

        • Guzik writes, “The vow of a Nazirite ended with a public ceremony, with extensive sacrifice…No wonder 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 sacrifice (Acts 21:23-24). The Nazirite vow was not something that could be entered into lightly.”

The Priestly Blessing

    • The Lord told Moses to give Aaron and his sons this special blessing with which they were to bless the Israelites:

      • May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord shine His face on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord look favorably on you and give you peace.”

      • When Aaron and his sons bless the Israelites in My name, I will bless them.”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible says, “The priests were the mediators of God’s covenant with Israel, so their duty was to pray for God’s people and invoke His blessing on them. Jesus has the same role in relation to the church (Romans 8:34, Hebrews 2:17-18; 4:14-16).

        • From Spurgeon, “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?”

        • The priest’s blessing invokes the Lord’s blessing by repeating His name in each appeal. The repetition of God’s name reminds God’s people of His interest and involvement in their lives. This benediction emphasizes the relationship between God and His people and helps them to remember the source of their blessings.” (NLT Illustrated Study Bible)

        • Some have asserted that this priestly blessing is not original to the text, but that it was inserted at a later time from a liturgical text. However, an archaeological discovery in the 1980’s has led to the dismissal of this claim.

        • In 1980, excavators recovered two small silver scrolls from a rock-cut tomb at Ketef Kinnom, southwest of the Old City of Jerusalem. Scholars date these small amulets to the late 600’s or early 500’s BC. When these delicate scrolls were unrolled through a lengthy and tedious process, they were found to contain the blessing of Numbers 6:24-26 in words that are very close to the text in the Hebrew Bible. In ancient times, such scrolls were sometimes worn as charms, similar in function to the tefillin, or ‘phylacteries’ or ‘prayer boxes’ (Deuteronomy 6:8; Matthew 23:5). These small scrolls are the earliest manuscripts (written documents) of the biblical text and contain the earliest reference to Yahweh, the OT name of God, found in Jerusalem. These artifacts point to the timeless appeal of this brief text.” (NLT Illustrated Study Bible)

Image from the Biblical Archaeology article linked below: “One of the silver scroll amulets before it was unrolled as seen on screen in a recent slide lecture. The silhouette is that of Gabriel Barkay, the archaeologist responsible for the discovery.”
          • The Biblical Archaeology article, The Blessing of the Silver Scrolls, provides much more information on the scrolls and I highly recommend it for those interested in a more in-depth discussion.

 

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