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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible
Numbers 6

 

 

Verse 2

2When either man, or woman shall separate themselves. God recently appointed a tribute for every soul, whereby the Israelites were to acknowledge that they were His children. By that profession, then, he bound them all to Himself from the least to the greatest. A closer tie of obligation is now treated of, when any should voluntarily devote himself to God for a season. These were called Nazarites, which is equivalent to separate or select, because there was greater dignity or excellence in them than in the common people. For they were as ornaments to the Church, and God willed that His peculiar glory should shine brightly in them. When, therefore, Amos expostulates with them (Amos 2:11) because they had prevented the prophets from exercising their office, and had corrupted the Nazarites with wine, he says, in amplification of their crime, that they bad been honored with a special blessing, when God had created of their sons Nazarites and prophets. And when Jeremiah deplores the desolation of the Church, he insists on this corruption, that their Nazarites no longer appeared as of old, “purer than snow,” etc. (Lamentations 4:7.) Nor is it to be doubted, that when Jacob distinguished Joseph his son by the title of a Nazarite (331) among his brethren, (Genesis 49:26,) he alluded in the spirit of prophecy to that degree of honor in which afterwards, under the Law, they stood who separated themselves unto God, as the lights of the Church. Therefore, although this consecration pertained not to the whole people, yet it should be deservedly reckoned amongst the exercises of piety, because the Nazarites were like standard-bearers to shew others the way; and though they did not attract all to follow their example, yet the ardor of their zeal was of no little advantage to the weak and inexperienced, exciting them forwards according to their capacity.

Now, because God abominates all fictitious worship, he put a restraint on their licentiousness, by giving them a clear and certain rule. And, from the testimony of Amos which I have just quoted, it is gathered that God alone was the appointer of the Nazarite vow. We must remember, then, that the Nazarites shone among the people of God like precious jewels, and although few imitated them, yet that they were as standard-bearers and leaders to awaken zeal amongst the multitude for the service of God. We must observe, by the way, that Samson was a Nazarite of another kind, because he did not take the vow upon him only for a season, but was sanctified from the womb for his whole life, and separated from the rest of the people; in which respect, too, he was a type of Christ, and represented Him, as it were. And surely whatever is here taught should be referred to the sole Fountain of sanctity, as if the image of Christ had been set before the eyes of the Jews in a mirror. For the nearer any one under the Law approached to God, the more did Christ shine forth in him. We know that the whole priesthood of the Law was nothing but His image. The same may be said of the Nazarites, whose purity and abstinence ornamented them with peculiar dignity.


Verse 3

3.He shall separate himself from wine. The first injunction is, that they should not only abstain from wine, but that they should not even taste grapes or anything connected with wine. The simple observance was, that they should not drink wine or anything inebriating; but, because men are crafty in inventing subterfuges, it was necessary to express specifically the means whereby the Law might be defrauded. Thus, in abstaining from wine, they would not have deprived themselves of luxuries, either by indulging in fresh or dried grapes, or by mixing water with grapes and expressing their juice, or by imitating the sweetness of wine by other delicate preparations. Hence it appears how many secret recesses and lurking-places are possessed by man’s hypocrisy, whilst it shamelessly imagines stupid means of deception for cheating God himself. But, at the same time, we must remark that this subtlety was intolerable to God, who is pleased by nothing so much as sincerity. We shall also see elsewhere that the priests, when they were executing their office by turns in the Temple, were forbidden the use of wine. This similarity proves what I have already said, that the Nazarites were thus separated from the multitude, that they might approach to the honor of the priesthood. But abstinence from wine was enjoined not only that they might avoid drunkenness, but that their whole mode of living might be more temperate and frugal; for the drinking of wine is well known to be among the chief pleasures of the table, and those who are not abstentious will rather content themselves with moderate and common food than bear to be deprived of wine. We may, then, learn from hence, that a sober use of wine is a most important part of temperate living; and in all gluttony and intemperance, this is most to be condemned, when men have too great a love of excess in wine-drinking. It is then astonishing that when the monks under the Papacy boast of their angelical perfection, they should with one accord refuse to abstain from wine. With many (332) it is sinful to touch during their whole life a bit of beef or pork, and they would glory in being martyrs, if they obstinately preferred to die rather than to eat meat in a case of necessity; but their temperance is so inconsistent, that this austerity as to food acquires for them the greater license in drinking, as if they purposely avenged themselves in this way. (333) Wherefore nothing can be more insufferable than their boasting, since this abstinence in eating alone is a mere mockery of God.


Verse 5

5.There shall no razor come upon his head. It cannot be certainly determined why God would have the Nazarites let their hair grow, except that by this present mark of their consecration, they might be more and more reminded of their vow. Some think that it was a mark of honor, as if they wore a crown on their heads. In this the Popish clergy are more than ridiculous, comparing themselves to the Nazarites by their circular tonsure. (334) But this reason satisfies myself, that God would constantly exercise them in the faithful performance of their vow by this visible sign. It is a mark of manhood to cut the hair, and this, as Paul says, a natural feeling dictates. ( 1 Corinthians 11:14.) Therefore, the dedication of the Nazarites was shewn conspicuously by their heads, lest they should fail in their own vows through carelessness or forgetfulness. A question arises respecting the women, for whom this command appears superfluous; but this is easily answered, that they were thus bound to let their hair grow, so as to have it long not only from custom, but in accordance with their vow. Yet there will be nothing absurd in the synecdoche, whereby that is spoken of both the sexes which applies only to the males. Here also the devil formerly played his game, when he persuaded certain monks, as Augustine relates, (335) to make a shew of sanctity by wearing long hair; for, in order that the celibacy which they had vowed might be more conspicuous, they would not allow themselves to be men, having “made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake;” ( Matthew 19:12;) and, therefore, their long hair was a sign of their virginity. This example teaches us to beware of the wiles of Satan, lest our κακοζηλία make us rather the apes than the imitators of the ancients.


Verse 6

6.He shall come at no dead body. This, too, they had in common with the high-priest, that they were not even to mourn for their relations. Although Moses enjoins two things, that the Nazarites should make themselves unclean neither by entering the house of mourning, nor by mourning themselves, it was indeed a duty of humanity to bury the dead; but if any of the people had touched a dead body, or had come near a death-bed or bier, they were polluted. But God demands more of the Nazarites, lest, they should contract uncleanness; for it was not sufficient for them (as will be seen again presently) to purify themselves according to the accustomed means, but it behoved them to be far removed from all things that would pollute them. But why the touch of a dead body was a pollution, we shall consider more at large in its proper place. Now it must be briefly concluded, that because by death is represented God’s curse, the wages of sin, the Israelites were thus admonished to beware of dead works. (336) As to the mourning, the reason of the prohibition was different, viz., that those who professed the special service of God, should set, an example to others of magnanimity and submission. If it were sinful to weep and lament when our friends are taken from us, Christ would not, have wept. at the tomb of Lazarus; but because perturbation is always associated with grief, and men in their mourning are too apt to give way to ambition and pomp, and voluntarily and purposely provoke themselves to excess, as though nature did not already carry them further than is right, the Nazarites could not give an example of moderation, if they had mixed themselves with mourners. Wherefore, as they were before restrained from daintiness, so now a remedy is applied to the opposite disease, viz., to sorrow. But, although all ought, to seek to indulge it moderately, yet something more is prescribed to the Nazarites, that, as if disentangled and stripped from earthly affections, they should go further than the rest of the people; as we shall see hereafter with respect to the priests.


Verse 9

9.And if any man die very suddenly. Here is prescribed what must be done, if a defilement should have been contracted which no precaution could have prevented. If a Nazarite should have willingly and knowingly entered a house of mourning, or should have come near a dead body, his consecration would have been violated not without, sin; but, in the case of a sudden death, the error was excusable, though God commands that it should be expiated; for whatever time of the vow had passed He counts for nothing, nor will it be taken into account. This was no light punishment, that he, who had been guilty of no fault, should begin to pay his vow altogether afresh. Besides the loss of the time, a sacrifice is also added, whereby he who was polluted should prepare himself for a new consecration. But, because this consecration was voluntary, none could complain of the immoderate rigor to which he had subjected himself of his own accord. Meanwhile, it was shewn how precious to God is the purity of His worship. (337) Two Hebrew words from different roots, though they are of kindred signification, are used, by which mode of speaking Moses wished more fully to express the unexpected nature of the death. For, in my opinion, it is puerile of the Jews to understand the first of a bloody murder, the other of a sudden death.


Verse 13

13.And this is the law of the Nazarites. Moses now shews at last how, after the full period of the vow, the Nazarites must return to their common life. And, first, he commands them to place themselves at the door of the tabernacle; then, to offer there a lamb without spot for a burnt-offering, a ewe-lamb for a sin-offering, and a ram for peace-offerings, with cakes of fine flour mingled with oil, wafers, and unleavened bread, and meat-offering, and drink-offerings. As to the peace-offering, because it was presented in thanksgiving, it was by no means inappropriate; nor the burnt-offering either, because they might justly congratulate themselves, and celebrate God’s goodness, when they had discharged their pious duty, since God had vouchsafed them no ordinary honor. But what was meant by the sin-offering may be questioned, since expiation was needless for the pure and holy. Here we clearly perceive, that however cheerfully and earnestly men endeavor to offer themselves altogether to God, yet they never attain to the goal of perfection, nor arrive at what they desire, but are always exposed to God’s judgment, unless He should pardon their sins. Whence it appears how base is the Papists’ folly, when they dream of appeasing God by works of supererogation. For, if ever any supererogation were pleasing to God, the holiness of the Nazarites, being testified to by the Law, was worthy of this honor; yet God, when the work is complete, commands them to confess their guilt, and suffers not this service to intrude into the place of merit, but requires of them a sacrifice, that they may borrow from elsewhere what belongs not to themselves, though they appear to be the most perfect of all men.


Verse 22

22.And the Lord spake unto Moses. A part of the sacerdotal duties, of which mention is constantly made in the Law, is here briefly set forth; for God says that He had appointed the priests to bless the people. To this David seems to allude in the words:

"We have blessed you out of the house of the Lord.”
(
Psalms 118:26.)

This doctrine is especially profitable, that believers may confidently assure themselves that God is reconciled to them, when He ordains the priests to be witnesses and heralds of His paternal favor towards them. The word to bless is often used for to pray for blessings, which is the common duty of all pious persons; but this rite (as we shall see a little farther on) was an efficacious testimony of God’s grace; as if the priests bore from His own mouth the commandment to bless. But Luke shews that this was truly fulfilled in Christ, when he relates that “He lifted up His hands,” according to the solemn rite of the Law, to bless His disciples. (Luke 24:50.) In these words, then, the priests were appointed ambassadors to reconcile God to the people; and this in the person of Christ, who is the only sufficient surety of God’s grace and blessing. Inasmuch, therefore, as they then were types of Christ, they were commanded to bless the people. But it is worthy of remark, that they are commanded to pronounce the form of benediction audibly, and not to offer prayers in an obscure whisper; and hence we gather that they preached God’s grace, which the people might apprehend by faith.


Verse 24

24.The Lord bless thee. Blessing is an act of His genuine liberality, because the abundance of all good things is derived to us from His favor as their only source. It is next added, that He should “keep” the people, by which clause lie intimates that He is the sole defender of the Church, and protects it under His guardianship; but since the main advantage of God’s grace consists in our sense of it, the words, “and make His face shine on you,” are added; for nothing is more desirable for the consummation of our happiness, than that. we should behold the serene countenance of God; as it is said in Psalms 4:6,

"There be many that say, Who will shew us any good? Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us."

Thus then I interpret this clause, that the people may perceive and taste the sweetness of God’s goodness, which may cheer them like the brightness of the sun when it illumines the world in serene weather. But immediately afterwards the people are recalled to the First cause; viz., God’s gratuitous mercy, which alone reconciles Him to us, when we should be otherwise by our own deserts hated and detested by Him. What follows, “TheLord lift up his countenance upon thee,” is a common phrase of Scripture, meaning, May God remember His people; not that forgetfulness can occur in Him, but because we suppose that He has cast away His care of us, unless He actually gives proof of His anxiety for our welfare. Finally, it is added, may He “establish peace upon his people,” which others translate a little less literally, (197) “put thee into peace:” and since this word signifies not only rest and a tranquil state, but also all prosperity and success, I willingly embrace this latter sense, although even its proper signification is not disagreeable to me. (198)


Verse 27

27.And they shall put my name. Although Jerome has rightly translated this, “They shall call upon my name:” yet since the Hebrew phrase is emphatic, I have preferred retaining it; for God deposits His name with the priests, that they may daily bring it forward as a pledge of His good will, and of the salvation which proceeds from thence. The promise, which is finally subjoined, gives assurance that this was no empty or useless ceremony, when He declares that He will bless the people. And hence we gather, that whatsoever the ministers of the Church do by God’s command, is ratified by Him with a real and solid result; since He declares nothing by His ministers which He will not Himself fulfill and perform by the efficacy of His Spirit. But we must observe that He does not so transfer the office of blessing to His priests, as to resign this right to them; for after having entrusted this ministry to them, He claims the accomplishment of the thing for Himself alone.

 


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Bibliography Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Numbers 6:4". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/numbers-6.html. 1840-57.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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