Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentNUMBERS 6
The general subject embracing this list of instructions is that of protecting the spiritual life of Israel, and this chapter has the rules for those who became Nazirites. There were two types of this vow:
(1) The Nazirite for Life, of which the Bible has only three examples: (a) Samuel; (b) Samson; and (c) John the Baptist; and
(2) the Nazirite of Days, the rules in this chapter applying only to the latter of the two classes. There are no certain examples anywhere in the Bible of persons actually becoming Nazirites, despite there having been apparently a very large number of these. This type of vow had existed for ages prior to the times of Moses and was known in pagan lands as well as among the Jews. Jonah (Jonah 1:16) states that the mariners on the Ship of Tarshish, "offered a sacrifice unto Jehovah, and made vows." The instructions provided here do not initiate a new practice but seek rather to regulate a custom already prevalent.
George W. Wade thought that the Jews who had made vows and were waiting to shave their heads (Acts 21:23) were Nazirites of Days, for whom Paul paid the charges;F1 however, the N.T. does not refer to them as Nazirites. Of the three known examples of the Nazirites for Life, it is significant that, "They were vowed or dedicated to the Lord by their parents even before they were born (Judg. 13:5,14; 1 Sam. 1:11, and Luke 1:15)."F2
In the fact that women were permitted to become Nazirites, Whitelaw saw:
"A recognition of the Divine liberty of the Holy Spirit, and an anticipation of the time when the spirit of self-devotion should be poured out without distinction upon men and women."F3
A person wishing to become a Nazirite, either man or woman, offered himself "unto Jehovah" in a dedicatory sense, such an intention no doubt arising in unusually holy and spiritually-minded persons who desired a more strict and meaningful religious life than that which came of merely observing the ordinary requirements.
Our Lord Jesus was not a Nazirite. The word "Nazarene" means a citizen of NAZARETH, having no connection with NAZARITE. Neither Samuel nor John the Baptist are anywhere called a Nazirite, although, due to the circumstances attending the birth of each, coupled with their manner of life afterward, they are usually designated as Nazirites for Life. The very word in Hebrew for "Nazirite .... is spelled with exactly the same consonants as separate, and is thus closely related to the idea of separation."F4
The Nazirites of the O.T. occupied somewhat the same status as that of the prophets in the early days of the church, in that both men and women were members of the class, and that they were an honored and respected minority in both cases. Also, in many instances, little was known of them personally. In the N.T., for example, not even the names are given of Philip's four virgin daughters who were "prophetesses." The great majority of the Nazirites of old also remained nameless in the sacred records.
And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When either man or woman shall make a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to separate himself unto Jehovah, he shall separate himself from wine and strong drink; he shall drink no vinegar of wine, or vinegar of strong drink, neither shall he drink any juice of grapes, nor eat fresh grapes or dried. All the days of his separation shall he eat nothing that is made of the grape-vine, from the kernels even to the husk.
The Nazirites were a special class of people "raised up by God himself' (Amos 2:11,12) to further and deepen the spiritual life of the people. They were even classed with the prophets by Amos. Unger noted that the sanctity of Israel as being "the people of God," attained "its highest expression in the Nazirite vow."F5
From the kernels even to the husks
(Numbers 6:4). Marsh noted that there is a wide disagreement among scholars as to the true meaning of the words thus rendered in our text, giving as his opinion, that they mean unripe grapes and tendrils, as rendered in the American Translation.F6 Cook observed that, A sour drink was made of the seeds of unripe grapes; and cakes were also made of the husks (skins).F7 Grape leaves, of course, are widely used as food in the Middle East today, but the prohibition here is absolute. Nothing whatever pertaining to the grapevine was permissible to the Nazirite. The widespread use and cultivation of the grape among pagan populations justifies the conclusion that a rejection of pagan association with the vine and its products was included in the purpose of the Nazirite.
All the days of his vow of separation there shall no razor come upon his head: until the days be fulfilled, in which he separateth himself unto Jehovah, he shall be holy; he shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow long.
It is significant that the long hair of the Nazirite "separated" even in the matter of his appearance, because in antiquity long hair for a man was considered a shame, even as the apostle Paul himself taught in the N.T. (1 Corinthians 11:14). However, in the case of the Nazirite, it was a shame purposefully endured on his part for the Lord. He was not an ascetic. "He continued to live a normal life, but for a period of his vow, his life was a protest against the sin and wickedness of his age."F8 The device of long hair as a protest is used even today, because the usual purpose of the "long hairs" of our own generation is that of rebellion or protest against what is known as "the establishment." However, it is a gross mistake to equate in any manner such rebels against society with the Nazirites in view here.
All the days that he separateth himself unto Jehovah he shall not come near to a 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 his separation unto God is upon his head. All the days of his separation he is holy unto Jehovah.
This prohibition against defilement by touching the dead was discussed extensively in the previous books of the Pentateuch, the significance here being that the rule was more strict for the Nazirite than the application of it to the priests, resembling more the very strict rules for the high priest himself.
And if any man die very suddenly beside him, and he defile the head of his separation; then he shall shave his head in the day of his cleansing, on the seventh day shall he shave it. And on the eighth day he shall bring two turtle-doves, or two young pigeons, to the priest, to the door of the tent of meeting: and the priest shall offer one for a sin-offering, and the other for a burnt-offering, and make atonement for him, for that he sinned by reason of the dead, and shall hallow his head that same day. And he shall separate unto Jehovah the days of his separation, and shall bring a he-lamb a year old for a trespass-offering; but the former days shall be void, because his separation was defiled.
Inherent in this is the Divine law that "accidental" sins are none the less wicked and sinful. There is no suggestion here that the occasion mentioned involved any purpose whatever on the part of the Nazirite. This concerns a violation that "just happened," involving an UNINTENTIONAL touching of a dead body.
Note that the full gamut of the Levitical sacrifices were required:
(a) the sin offering,
(b) the burnt-offering, and
(c) the trespass-offering.
The terms of reinstatement of the vow were severe. "An oath to Yahweh overrides all other considerations; it carries a completely categorical imperative."F9 If an ordinary person became defiled through touching a dead body, his cleansing was effected (Numbers 19:11-22), but, for the Nazirite, he shaved his head on the seventh day, and the next day brought the triple sacrifices, hallowed his head again, and began all over again the full term of his vow, losing all of the time prior to the violation.
What was done with the hair that was shaved off after such a violation? The text here carries no explanation; but Jewish tradition has this: "They buried it, because it was then considered defiled. The hair shaved off after the completion of the vow was burnt as a sacrifice (Numbers 6:18)."F10
And this is the law of the Nazirite, when the days of his separation are fulfilled: he shall be brought unto the door of the tent of meeting: and he shall offer his oblation unto Jehovah, one he-lamb a year old without blemish for a burnt-offering, and one ewe-lamb a year old without blemish for a sin-offering, and one ram without blemish for peace-offerings, and a basket of unleavened bread, cakes of fine flour mingled with oil, and unleavened wafers anointed with oil, and their meal-offering, and their drink-offerings. And the priest shall present them before Jehovah, and shall offer his sin-offering, and his burnt-offering: and he shall offer the ram for a sacrifice of peace-offerings unto Jehovah, with the basket of unleavened bread: the priest shall offer also the meal-offering thereof, and the drink-offering thereof. And the Nazirite shall shave the head of his separation at the door of the tent of meeting, and shall take the hair of the head of his separation, and put it on the fire which is under the sacrifice of peace-offerings. And the priest shall take the boiled 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 Nazirite, after he hath shaven [the head of] his separation; and the priest shall wave them for a wave-offering before Jehovah; this is holy for the priest, together with the wave-breast and heave-thigh: and after that the Nazirite may drink wine.
These verses detail the rather elaborate ceremonies, including the offering of a full list of the Levitical sacrifices, that concluded the days of the Nazirite's separation. Num. 6:19,20 describe the peace-offerings which were normally consumed by the offerer and his friends, celebrating at the same time the lifting of the ban against drinking wine. As Ward said:
"Such O.T. passages as this cannot be used by the Christian to justify social drinking of alcoholic beverages. The O.T. is not our final authority for conduct. Our final authority is the lordship of Jesus Christ as interpreted by the Holy Spirit (in the N.T.)."F11
We referred above to the hair shaved off at the end of the days as being burnt as a sacrifice. However, it is nowhere called a sacrifice, and the Jewish tradition on this could be correct: "it was burned, not as a sacrifice, but in order to keep an object of consecration from being profaned."F12
This is the law of the Nazirite who voweth, [and of] his oblation unto Jehovah for his separation, besides that which he is able to get: according to his vow which he voweth, so he must do after the law of his separation.
This is a summary of the preceding, but seems also to imply that the feast of the Nazirite with his friends after the completion of the vow was to be augmented by whatever else the Nazirite was able to bring in addition to these required items. The man's friends also probably enriched the occasion by their own contributions. Plaut says that, "The friends of the Nazirite provide the offerings when he is too poor to do so."F13 Josephus records how Agrippa, having returned from Rome in possession of the kingdom from Claudius Caesar, and greatly enriched, "ordained that many of the Nazirites should have their heads shorn,"F14 the charges, of course, being paid for by Agrippa. Many students suppose that a similar thing occurred in Acts 21:23-26, where Paul is said to have paid charges for certain Jews having fulfilled a vow.
THE AARONIC BLESSING
And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto Aaron and unto his sons, saying, On this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel: ye shall say unto them:
Jehovah bless thee, and keep thee:
Jehovah make his face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee;
Jehovah lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.
So shall they put my name upon the children of Israel;
and I will bless them."
One grows weary of the cavalier manner in which most of the modern commentators dismiss these words as having no suggestion whatever of the Holy Trinity, displaying by such denials, in our opinion, a rather profound lack of discernment. Not only the ancients, but many current scholars find here the most remarkable suggestions of that fuller revelation that comes to light in the N.T., setting forth the Three Persons of the Godhead. "Ps. 67 is evidently modeled on this benediction,"F15 as is also the case with the famous benediction recorded by Paul in 2 Cor. 13:14. The Hebrew words that compose this blessing consist of only three lines, with three words in the first, five words in the second, and seven words in the third.F16
When one compares this benediction with that of Paul, "It is impossible not to see shadowed forth the doctrine of the Holy Trinity; and the several sets of terms correspond fittingly to the office of the Three Persons in their gracious work for the redemption of men."F17 Keil also, after outlining the arguments of the fathers and earlier theologians, stated that, "There is truth in this,"F18 and it is likewise our conviction that there certainly is truth in it. The most important reason for this conviction is not the class of arguments usually cited, but the supreme fact that by this benediction "the name of God" was to be "placed upon,' the children of Israel. Now, in connection with this triple mention of Jehovah, take a glance at the baptismal formula in Matt. 28:18-20 where once more the triple names, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are invoked in the baptismal ceremony itself, by which means the "name of God" is placed "upon" the children of God in the new age. That the triple name here is any different in essence from the triple name of Matthew's Commission is impossible to suppose. Add to that the sole appearance of these two triples in precisely the passages indicated. This seems to confirm, absolutely, their essential unity in meaning. "The name of God (which is the key consideration here) has a much wider significance than the English reader would give it ... His name is upon them that find in him their blessing."F19
It is also of interest that the form of this blessing follows the very unusual and distinctive format of "Ugaritic texts in the period about 1400 B.C."F20 Thus, there is further evidence, compounded fantastically throughout the O.T., that the post-exilic priests had nothing whatever to do with the Pentateuch. Although this wonderful blessing is commonly called the "Aaronic Blessing," it is actually the blessing of the Lord, not that of the priests. Note the last line, " ... and I (Jehovah) will bless them." The word "Jehovah" is also no improvement here. "The Lord bless thee, and keep thee ..." is the way it should read; and it is no accident that this is the way it is sung by all believers all over the world to this day.
The climax of the blessing, "and give thee peace," is magnificent. "Peace as used here has a much wider meaning than is usually attached to the word; and it includes prosperity, good health, wholeness, and completeness in every way."F21
We find agreement with Carson who understood why this blessing was attached to the sacred record at this particular point:
Its position here is especially appropriate, for it implies that God's blessing was available for all the people and was not confined to special classes like the Nazirites.F22
Jewish tradition relates that this wonderful blessing was used regularly throughout Jewish history, being intoned following the daily sacrifices each day. It surely must be accounted one of the priceless treasures of the O.T.
Footnotes for Numbers 6
1: George Woosung Wade, Peake's Commentary on the Bible, Numbers (London: T. C. and E. C. Jack, Ltd., 1924).
2: C. F. Keil, Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), p. 35.
3: Thomas Whitelaw, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 2, Numbers (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 43.
4: John Joseph Owens, Broadman Bible Commentary, Vol. 2, Numbers (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1970), p. 100.
5: Merrill F. Unger, Unger's Commentary on the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1981), p. 191.
6: John Marsh, Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 2, Numbers (New York: Abingdon Press, 1955), p. 170.
7: F. C. Cook, Barnes' Notes, Numbers (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983. Reprint of the John Murray publication in London, 1879), p. 194.
8: T. Carson, New Layman's Bible Commentary, Numbers (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1979), p. 248.
9: John Marsh, op. cit., p. 171.
10: W. Gunther Plaut, Torah, A Modern Commentary (Philadelphia: The Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1979), p. 55.
11: Fred M. Ward, Teachers' Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1972), p. 97.
12: W. Gunther Plaut, op. cit., p. 57.
14: Flavius Josephus, Life and Works of Flavius Josephus, translated by William Whiston (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston), p. 579.
15: J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 105.
16: W. Gunther Plaut, op. cit., p. 65.
17: F. C. Cook, op. cit., p. 196.
18: C. F. Keil, Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), p. 41.
19: Lindsay B. Longacre, Abingdon Bible Commentary on the Old Testament (New York: Abingdon Press, 1929), p. 300.
20: Elmer Smiek, Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Old Testament, Vol. 1 (Chicago: Moody Press, 1962), p. 121.
21: Harry M. Orlinsky, Notes on the New Translation of the Torah (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1969), p. 228.
22: T. Carson, op. cit., p. 249.