Attention!
Partner with StudyLight.org as God uses us to make a difference for those displaced by Russia's war on Ukraine.
Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary

Numbers 6

Verses 1-27

THE VOW OF THE NAZARITE, OR ACCEPTABLE CONSECRATION TO GOD

(Numbers 6:1-8)

“The previous chapter has provided for the exclusion from the pale of God’s people of certain forms of guilt and defilement. The present one offers an opening to that zeal for God which, not content with observing what is obligatory, seeks for higher and stricter modes of self-dedication. Thus the law of the Nazarite is appropriately added to other enactments which concern the sanctity of the holy nation. That sanctity found its highest expression in the Nazarite vow, which was the voluntary adoption for a time of obligations resembling, and indeed in some particulars exceeding, those under which the priests were placed.”—Speaker’s Comm.

Nazarite, or more properly, Nazirite (Heb. נָזִיר from נָזרַ to separate), signifies a separated one, then; one consecrated, especially by a vow.

From the mode in which the law is introduced in Numbers 6:2, it is evident that Nazaritism was not a new institution, but was already familiar to the people. Moses “appears to have done no more than ordain such regulations for the vow of the Nazarite of days, as brought it under the cognizance of the priest, and into harmony with the general system of religious observance. It is doubted, in regard to Nazaritism in general, whether it was of native or foreign origin.… Winer justly observes that the points of resemblance between the Nazarite vow and heathen customs are too fragmentary and indefinite to furnish a safe foundation for an argument in favour of a foreign origin for the former.”

Nazarites were of two kinds, and were styled respectively, “Nazarites of days,” and “perpetual Nazarites.” The former took the vow only for a limited and specified time. The Sacred Scriptures are silent as to the length of time for which the vow was taken. “According to Nazir, the usual time was thirty days, but double vows for sixty days, and treble vows for a hundred days, were sometimes made.” Of perpetual Nazarites, three are mentioned in the Scriptures: Sampson, Samuel, and John the Baptist. The laws which are laid down in this chapter apply to those who were Nazarites for a limited period only, not to those who were Nazarites for life.

On the moral significance of Nazaritism we cannot do better than transcribe the remarks of the Rev. S. Clark, M.A., in Smith’s Dict. of the Bible. “The meaning of the Nazarite vow has been regarded in different lights. Some consider it as a symbolical expression of the Divine nature working in man, and deny that it involved anything of a strictly ascetic character; others see in it the principle of stoicism, and imagine that it was intended to cultivate, and bear witness for, the sovereignty of the will over the lower tendencies of human nature: while some regard it wholly in the light of the sacrifice of the person to God … Philo has taken the deeper view of the subject. According to him the Nazarite did not sacrifice merely his possessions, but his person, and the act of sacrifice was to be performed in the completest manner. The outward observances enjoined upon him were to be the genuine expressions of his spiritual devotion. To represent spotless purity within, he was to shun defilement from the dead, at the expense even of the obligation of the closest family ties. As no spiritual state or act can be signified by any single symbol, he was to identify himself with each one of the three victims which he had to offer as often as he broke his vow by accidental pollution, or when the period of his vow came to an end. He was to realise in himself the ideas of the whole burnt-offering, the sin-offering, and the peace-offering. That no mistake might be made in regard to the three sacrifices being shadows of one and the same substance, it was ordained that the victims should be individuals of one and the same species of animal. The shorn hair was put on the fire of the altar in order that, although the Divine law did not permit the offering of human blood, something might be offered up actually a portion of his own person.… That the Nazarite vow was essentially a sacrifice of the person to the Lord is obviously in accordance with the terms of the Law (Numbers 6:2). In the old dispensation it may have answered to that ‘living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God,’ which the believer is now called upon to make. As the Nazarite was a witness for the straitness of the Law, as distinguished from the freedom of the Gospel, his sacrifice of himself was submission to the letter of a rule. Its outward manifestations were restraints and eccentricities. The man was separated from his brethren that he might be peculiarly devoted to the Lord. This was consistent with the purpose of Divine wisdom for the time for which it was ordained. Wisdom, we are told, was justified of her child in the life of the great Nazarite who preached the baptism of repentance when the Law was about to give way to the Gospel. Amongst those born of women, no greater than he had arisen, ‘but he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.’ The sacrifice which the believer now makes of himself is not to cut him off from his brethren, but to unite him more closely with them; not to subject him to an outward bond, but to confirm him in the liberty with which Christ has made him free. It is not without significance that wine under the Law was strictly forbidden to the priest who was engaged in the service of the sanctuary, and to the few whom the Nazarite vow bound to the special service of the Lord; while in the Church of Christ it is consecrated for the use of every believer to whom the command has come, ‘drink ye all of this.’ ” Confining our attention to the first eight verses, we have in them an illustration of acceptable consecration to God. Acceptable personal consecration to God is characterised by

I. Voluntariness.

The self-consecration of the Nazarite was entirely spontaneous. It is true that Samson, Samuel, and John the Baptist, were dedicated to the Lord as perpetual Nazarites by their parents previous to their birth. But as a rule, the vow was voluntarily assumed. In the legislation recorded in this chapter it is regarded as the free act of the individual. Our self-consecration to God must be willing and hearty, or it will not be accepted by Him. The strictest obedience, which is begotten of fear; the most careful performance of religious duties, which is not hearty; the most diligent service, which is not free, is regarded as worthless in the sight of God. To be accepted by God, we must “serve Him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind.” The service of the slave or of the hireling, He rejects; but the free consecration of the heart and life to Him is an offering with which He is well pleased (a).

II. Completeness.

The Nazarite dedicated himself wholly to God. This is symbolised especially by the uncut hair, which is spoken of in Numbers 6:7 as “the diadem of God upon his head.” “The consecration of the Nazarite culminated in his uncut hair. The free growth of the hair, unhindered by the hand of man, was ‘the symbol of strength and abundant vitality’ (cf. 2 Samuel 14:25-26).” Hence in the Nazarite it proclaimed the fact that he had dedicated himself wholly, with all his powers, to the service of God. Our consecration to God must be unreserved to be acceptable. Divided allegiance is no allegiance. “Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” Whole-heartedness is indispensable to true allegiance to any person or to any cause. Divided service God rejects. He claims us entirely. He requires our supreme affection. The throne of our being must be freely given to Him, or our consecration will not be accepted by Him. When our whole self is given to God, we shall keep back nothing else from Him. “May the God of peace Himself sanctify you wholly,” etc. (1 Thessalonians 5:23). (b)

III. Subordination of sensual enjoyments.

The Nazarite was to abstain entirely from wine and intoxicating drink. He was neither to eat nor to drink of anything prepared from the vine, “from the kernel even to the husk.” This was to represent his abstinence from every gratification of the senses, which would in any way impair the holiness of his soul. This entire abstinence from the products of the vine is not a law for Christians. It is never represented as such in the Sacred Scriptures. The Nazarite was free to “drink wine” when the period of his separation was ended. But it is a law of the Christian life, that the sensual must ever and in all things be subordinated to the spiritual. Sensual appetites must not lord it over spiritual aspirations. Our animal passions must be controlled by moral principles. Everything which tends to weaken or becloud our soul’s vision, to blunt our susceptibility to spiritual impressions and impulses, to interrupt our conscious communion with God, or to deprive us of spiritual purity and power, we are bound to abstain from. “Abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.” “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.” (c)

IV. Separation from all moral evil.

“Because the Nazarite was holy to the Lord during the whole period of his consecration, he was to approach no dead person during that time, not even to defile himself for his parents, or his brothers and sisters, when they died, according to the law laid down for the high priest in Leviticus 21:11. Consequently, as a matter of course, he was to guard most scrupulously against other defilements, not only like ordinary Israelites, but also like the priests.”—Keil and Del. The people of God must “abstain from every form of evil.” Jesus Christ was “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners,” even while he received sinners and ate with them. A similar separation is required from His followers. “I pray not that Thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil.” “Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not anything unclean, and I will receive you,” etc. “Ye that love the Lord hate evil.” By your consecration you are “holy unto the Lord,” therefore shun utterly all sin whatsoever, (d)

Do these characteristics of acceptable personal consecration to God mark our lives?

ILLUSTRATIONS

(a) Personal devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ has distinguished the saints of all churches, and of all countries. They have acknowledged that they were not their own, but His. They have renounced, for His sake, all private interests, and all personal aims. They have lived, and worked, and suffered, and died for Him. They have been the slaves of Christ—His slaves, not because their spirit was crushed by a tyrannical authority which they had no power or courage to resist, but because His Divine majesty, His infinite love for them, and the glory of His personal perfection kindled their imagination, commanded the homage of their conscience, and won their hearts. They were His slaves, but they found in His service a larger freedom than they had known before they accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as their Mister; and, with the larger freedom, there came a fuller life and a nobler joy.

The act of consecration is an act of the will. It is a voluntary surrender of the life to Christ, a yielding to His claims as our rightful Owner. But His Ownership belongs to the moral and spiritual order, and is ultimately asserted in His personal ascendancy over the whole moral and spiritual life of those who are His. Consecration is an indispensable condition of holiness, for it is a free consent to belong to Christ, and not to ourselves; but where there is personal devotion to Christ, Christ is not merely accepted by the will as the Lord and Owner of life, He is enthroned over all the forces of our moral and spiritual nature.—R. W. Dale, D.D.

(b) It is related of the missionary, Henry Martyn, that, when at college, “he never lost an hour;” but then every moment was spent in seeking honour for himself. When, however, he had obtained the highest honours, he was disappointed in finding that he had grasped a shadow. A friend told him one day that he ought to attend to his studies not to obtain the praise of men, but that he might be better fitted to promote the glory of God. He thought such a demand very strange, and when his sister spoke to him on the subject, and begged him to give his heart to God, he did not like to listen to her, because he felt that he would have to give up many things if he became religious. At length, however, a great change came over him—a change of heart; and he resolved to “seek first the kingdom of God.” His prospects were every day becoming brighter and brighter; but the love of God had entered his heart, and he was enabled to conquer his ambition and love of fame. He became a minister of the Gospel, and was greatly esteemed for his learning and amiable manners. He began now, more than ever, to feel that he was not his own, and therefore that he must not live to himself; and although he might have risen to posts of distinction in his native land, he chose rather to be a missionary to the heathen. He sacrificed home, friendship, worldly comfort, health, earthly love, and last of all life itself, that he might tell the heathen of the true God, and of the Lord Jesus Christ, who died to save sinners; for, as he said, “he could not endure life if Jesus were not glorified.” He left all that he might follow Jesus. He felt that it was what God required of him, and he acted in the spirit of his Divine Master, who gave Himself for the sins of the world.—Sunday School Teacher.

(c) Stimulants, like wine, inflame the senses, and through them set the imagination and feelings on fire; and the law of our spiritual being is that which begins with the flesh, sensualizes the spirit—whereas that which commences in the region of the spirit, spiritualizes the senses, in which it subsequently stirs emotiom. But the misfortune is that men mistake this law of their emotions; and the fatal error is, when having found spiritual feelings existing in connection, and associated with fleshly sensations, men expect by the mere irritation of the emotions of the frame to reproduce those high and glorious feelings … The worst case of all occurs in the department of the affections. That which begins in the heart ennobles the whole animal being, but that which begins in the inferior departments of our beings is the most entire degradation and sensualizing of the soul.

Wine is but a specimen of a class of stimulants. All that begins from without belongs to the same class. The stimulus may be afforded by almost any enjoyment of the senses. Drunkenness may come from anything wherein is excess; from over-indulgence in society, in pleasure in music, and in the delight of listening to oratory, nay, even from the excitement of sermons and religious meetings. The prophet tells us of those who are drunken, and not with wine.… This is what we want: we want the vision of a calmer and simpler Beauty, to tranquillize us in the midst of artificial tastes—we want the draught of a purer spring to cool the flame of our excited life; we want, in other words the Spirit of the Life of Christ, simple, natural, with power to calm and soothe the feelings which it rouses: the fulness of the Spirit which can never intoxicate.—F. W. Robertson, M.A.

(d) Christ had His power in the fact that He carried the impression of His separateness from the world and His superiority to it. He was no ascetic, His separation no contrived and prescribed separation, but was only the more real and radical that it was the very instinct or first impulse of His character. He could say, “The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me;” counting the bad kingdom to be only a paste-board affair, whose laws and ways were but a vain show, that He could not even so much as feet. This, now, is what we want, such a fulness of Divine participation, that we shall not require to be always shutting off the world by prescribed denials, but shall draw off from it naturally, because we are not of it. A true Christian, one who is deep enough in the godly life to have his affinities with God, will infallibly become a separated being. The instinct of holiness will draw him apart into a singular, superior, hidden life with God.

It is not conformity that we want; it is not being able to beat the world in its own way, but it is to stand apart from it, and produce the impression of a separated life; this it is, and this only, that yields any proper sense of the true Christian power. It is not the being popular that makes one a help to religion, no holy man was ever truly a popular character. Even Christ Himself, bringing the Divine beauty into the world, profoundly disturbed the quiet of men by His very perfections. All really bad men, adhering to their sin, hated Him, and their animosity was finally raised to such a pitch, that they crucified Him. And what does He say, turning to His disciples, but this very thing, “The servant is not greater than his lord; if they have persecuted me, they will persecute you. I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” We are certainly not to make a merit of being hated, for the worst and most wicked men can do that; as little are we to make a merit of popularity and being even with the world in its ways. There is no just mode of life, no true holiness, or fruit of holy living, if we do not carry the conviction, by our self-denial, our sobriety in the matter of show, and our withholding from all that indicates being under the world, that we are in a life separated to God, Therefore His great call is—“Come out from among them, and be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” And there is a most profound philosophy in this. If we are to impress the world we must be separate from sinners, even as Christ our Master was, or at least, according to our human degree, as being in His Spirit. The great difficulty is, that we think to impress the world, standing on the world’s own level and asking its approbation. We conform too easily and with too much appetite. We are all the while touching the unclean thing—bowing down to it, accept-its law, eager to be found approved in it. God therefore calls us away. Oh, that we could take our lesson here, and plan our life, order our pursuits, choose our relaxations, prepare our families, so as to be truly with Christ, and so, in fact, that we ourselves can say, each for himself, “The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me,”—H. Bushnell, D.D.

THE INVOLUNTARY DEFILEMENT OF THE NAZARITE, OR SIN IN THE CONSECRATED

(Numbers 6:9-12)

Provision is here made for cases in which the Nazarite involuntarily contracted defilement, by reason of a person dying suddenly by him. He was to go through the ordinary process of purification commanded for others; he was also to offer a trespass-offering as having “sinned through ignorance, in the holy things of the Lord;” his head was to be shaved, and he was to begin the days of his separation over again. We have, then, in this section—
First: A recognition of the fact that man may die suddenly and unexpectedly. “If any man die very suddenly by him.” It is here implied that death may seize a man so quickly and so entirely without any sign of his approach, that the most zealous and watchful Nazarite may be unable to avoid defilement from the dead body. While death sometimes approaches his victims with measured steps and slow, at other times he smites them with the suddenness and rapidity of a lightning-flash. He arrests not only the aged and the weak, but the young and the strong also. In the case even of the healthy and vigorous, and apparently secure, frequently there is but a step between them and death. Wise and blessed are they to whom even sudden death is great gain! (a)

Second: An illustration of the truth that a good man may fall into sin, and of the consequences of such sin. The case which is here legislated for is that of defilement which is quite involuntary, and, as we should say, accidental. It is a figure of the involuntary sins of good men, sins of infirmity, sins into which they are suddenly surprised, faults by which they are overtaken. In our present state we are exposed to subtle Satanic temptations; currents of evil influence, which are both insidious and strong, bear frequently upon us; we are in danger of being taken in an unguarded moment, and surprised into sin. “We have heard how suddenly the storm sweeps down upon certain lakes. One moment all is calm, and in another the loosened wind lashes the slumbering waters into waves and billows, as if the storm-spirit had been looking on from some rift of the hills, and watching for an opportunity of plaguing the unsuspecting lake. So is it with men who are overtaken in a fault. They are apt to imagine that momentary quiet means permanent rest, and when they resign their weapons, the enemy leaps upon them fiercely.” “You were going quietly on your way, thinking no evil, suddenly temptation, for which you were not prepared, presented itself, and before you knew where you were, you were in the dust, fallen.” It is sins of this class, class in men of sincere piety, which are illustrated in the text. It is here suggested—

I. That such sins defile and dishonour good men.

“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.” The head is mentioned as defiled not because uncleanness was specially retained in the hair; but because “the consecration of his God was upon his head.” His unshorn hair was the mark of his self-dedication to God. He himself, as a person thus consecrated, was regarded as impure by reason of his nearness to the dead. If a good man be ensnared by temptation and commit sin, that sin will leave its mark upon his being. We cannot sin under any circumstances without contracting some measure of defilement. Nor can any good man sin without dishonour, even his involuntary sins tarnish and soil the lustre of “the diadem of his God upon his head.” When Abram sinned through fear, by telling only a half-truth with an intention to deceive Pharaoh, how mean and dishonoured he appeared! As we look upon Pharaoh, the man of the world, rebuking Abram, the man of God, we feel how painfully the latter has humiliated and degraded himself. When the godly man is even suddenly surprised into sin by subtle and strong temptation, he incurs impurity and sad reproach.

II. That such sins require atonement on the part of good men.

The Nazarite who had unintentionally contracted ceremonial uncleanness was required to bring to the priest a sin-offering and a burnt-offering, as in the case of those who had unclean issues (comp. Numbers 6:10-11, with Leviticus 15:14-15). He was also required to bring a trespass-offering, as one who and “sinned, through ignorance, in the holy things of the Lord” (comp. Numbers 6:12 with Leviticus 5:15-16). For us in this gospel age the grand offering, which consummates and crowns all previous offerings, has been made: “Once in the end of the world hath He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” And if a good man sin by reason of infirmity, or be tripped up and overthrown by temptation almost ere he is aware of it, he must penitently approach unto God through that great sacrifice,—must repent of his sin, humbly confess it unto God, and seek forgiveness from Him. (See 1 John 1:9; 1 John 2:1-2.)

III. That such sins involve loss to good men.

The Nazarite who involuntarily was defiled lost time. The former days of his separation were not reckoned unto him: “the days that were before shall be lost, because his separation was defiled.” He was put back, and required to begin afresh: “he shall consecrate unto the Lord the days of his separation.” In this we have a striking illustration of a very solemn spiritual truth: a godly man cannot sin under any circumstances without suffering sad less—loss not only of progress, but of spiritual purity, peace, and power. This will account for the very slow progress of many in the Christian course. In an unguarded moment we are led astray, and wander from God and light into sin and darkness. In great mercy “He restoreth our soul;” but the journey home is sad and sorrowful, and we have lost much of good and gained bitter experience and painful memories. (b)

IV. That such sin will be followed by new efforts on the part of good men.

The Nazarite who had unintentionally incurred defilement began again the term of separation which he had vowed unto the Lord. “And he shall consecrate unto the Lord the days of his separation.” The godly man may fall into sin, but he will not continue therein. He will “remember from whence he has fallen, and repent, and do the first works.” “Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand” “A just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again.” “Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall I shall arise; when I sit in darkness the Lord shall be a light unto me.” “There are ever,” says Archbishop Trench, “goads in the recollection of a better and a nobler past, goading him who has taken up with meaner things and lower, and urging him to reclaim and recover what he has lost; as, to take an extreme instance, it is the Prodigal’s recollection of the bread enough and to spare in his father’s house, which makes the swine’s husks, and the famine even among them, so intolerable to him” (Luke 15:17; cf. Hebrews 10:32). And Robertson: “In the darkest, wildest, wanderings, a man to whom God has shown His love in Christ is conscious still of the better way. In the very gloom of his remorse, there is an instinctive turning back to God.”

Conclusion.

1. Let godly men watch and pray lest they be ensnared by temptation and fall into sin. “Be sober, be vigilant,” etc.

2. Let those who, in an unguarded hour, have fallen into sin be encouraged to return penitently unto God through Jesus Christ, “Return, thou backsliding Israel, saith the Lord,” etc. (Jeremiah 3:12-15). “O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God,” etc. (Hosea 14:1-7).

ILLUSTRATIONS

(a) “In the midst of life we are in death.” Ha is the interjection of laughter. Ah is an interjection of sorrow; the difference betwixt them is very small, consisting only in the transposition of what is no substantial letter, but a bare aspiration. How quickly, in one minute, in the very turning of a breath, is our mirth changed into mourning! Thus it was with upwards of seventy (mostly females) who were burned to death in the sudden conflagration of the theatre at Richmond, in Virginia. “Ah!” said the narrator of the dreadful catastrophe, “how little thought the fair one, whose curls were adjusted, whose garments, costly and elegant, were disposed so as to produce on the spectator the most impressive effect, that those curls were that same night to be crisped with the devouring flame, and those garments to be denied the service of a winding sheet!”—Gleanings.

I was meditating yesterday upon death, till I was amazed that it is almost the only subject which is never treated of in conversation further than as a mere uninteresting fact. Were any number of persons intending to embark for a distant, unknown country, of whom some might be called to-morrow, and all must be called soon, would they not, whenever they met as friends and fellow-travellers, be enquiring amongst themselves how each was provided for the journey; what accounts each had heard of the place; the terms of reception; what interest and hopes each had secured, what treasures remitted, what protection insured; and would they not excite each other to despatch what was yet possible to be done, and might to-morrow be irretrievably too late? I think it would sit pleasingly on the mind when a friend was vanished out of this visible world to have such conversations to reflect upon. What astonishing scenes are now opened to the minds of many with whom, a few months ago, we used familiarly and triflingly to converse; with whom we have wasted many an inestimable hour! What clear views have they now of those great and important truths, for which the foolish bustle of this world leaves scarcely any place in the immortal mind.—Talbot.

(b) A young man was for several months in a backsliding state, which manifested itself in the usual way—of conformity to a fashionable and unholy course of life, and a neglect of the ordinances and institutions of the house of God. During this time he called on a deacon of the church, who was a watchmaker, and asked him to repair his watch. “What is the difficulty with your watch?” said he “It has lost time lately,” said the young man. The deacon looked up to him with a steady and significant eye, and said, “Haven’t you lost time lately?” These few words brought the backslider to repentance, to the Church, and to duty.—Christian Treasury.

How a single sin tends to modify the history, to check the progress, and to impair the happiness and honour of even a child of God! This was eminently the case with Aaron and Moses. They had “spoken unadvisedly with their lips” at Massah and Meribah, and therefore God had “sworn in His wrath that they should not enter into His rest,” that, namely, of the earthly Canaan. One reason why God is more apt to punish His people on earth for sin is, that they are not to be punished for it hereafter. Hence, for the sake of justice and impartiality, He often inflicts upon them severe rebukes even here, while taking little cognizance, seemingly, of the sins of some of His enemies, for whom the wrath of the future is reserved. He forgives His people and yet He “takes vengeance on their inventions.” Thus Noah’s drunkenness was punished by Canaan’s contempt and Ham’s unnatural conduct. Thus David’s sin, in the matter of Uriah, was punished by the death of the child of guilt. Thus Lot’s sin, in choosing to dwell in Sodom, was punished by the vexation he met with there, and by the sins of his family. Thus Peter’s denial of his Master was punished by that look of Christ which sent a dart of remorse through his soul, and wrung from his eyes those bitter penitential tears. And thus Aaron and Moses, might be said, in a sense, to expiate their sins by a premature and public death. There can be little doubt that God still visits His “people’s faults with rods and their sins with chastisements;” now by permitting a remorse even greater than their iniquities had deserved; now by allowing their subjection to abuse and calumny fiercer than they are entitled to; now by hiding His countenance from them; now by visiting them with the loss of friends and other painful bereavement; now by breaking their own health, and abridging their days; and now by clouding their death-beds, and depriving them there of all sensible comfort and hope. Many a one wonders bow a great, sincere, and Christian man like Dr. Johnson, should have been so gloomy in his feelings, so terribly afraid of death, so void of peace and joy in believing; but his biographer, Boswell, has, with characteristic honesty and imprudence, explained one cause at least of this, by mentioning a certain sin which did easily beset the philosopher on even to old age, although he struggled against it energetically, and most bitterly deplored its power over him; and were the biographers of other sad-hearted Christians, whose dark diaries are printed, acting with the same downrightness, they might account for much that is at present mysterious in their misery. God will by no means “clear the guilty” even among His own people; and although all their sins are laid on Christ, and pardoned for His sake at last, it is quite consistent with this that they should be punished here. This dispensation is a merciful, as well as a just one. It tends to check men in courses that might otherwise become habitual and hopeless. And it shows what a fatherly interest God takes in His people, administering to them salutary discipline, and bringing them back to Him by the rod “If ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.” How happy those who receive all their “evil things” here!—George Gilfillan, M.A.

THE OFFERING OF THE NAZARITE, OR THE SACRIFICE OF THE CONSECRATED

(Numbers 6:13-21)

In these verses we have the ceremonies to be observed by the Nazarite when the days of his separation were ended. “The directions as to the release from consecration are called ‘the law of the Nazarite’ (Numbers 6:13), because the idea of the Nazarite’s vows culminated in the sacrificial festival which terminated the consecration, and it was in this that it attained to its fullest manifestation.” In these ceremonies we discover illustrations of certain important truths of universal application; to these truths let us direct our attention.

I. That the lives even of the best of men in the present state are imperfect.

When the Nazarite had successfully fulfilled the days of his separation he could not approach God without a sin-offering. He was required to “offer one ewe lamb of the first year without blemish,” as an expiation for sins involuntarily committed during the period of consecration. This, though mentioned second in the text, was offered first. “Though he had fulfilled the vow of his separation without any pollution, yet he must bring a sacrifice for sin; for there is guilt insensibly contracted by the best of men, even in their best works—some good omitted, some ill admitted, which, if we were dealt with in strict justice, would be our ruin, and in consequence of which it is necessary for us to receive the atonement, and plead it as our righteousness before God.” “When ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which was our duty to do.” When we have done our uttermost and best, we still need an interest in the great sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, (a)

II. That our services are acceptable to God only as we give ourselves to Him.

After the sin-offering, the Nazarite was to “offer unto the Lord one he lamb of the first year without blemish for a burnt offering.” The burnt-offering was an acknowledgment of God’s sovereign claims upon the Nazarite, and a symbol of his surrender of himself, body and soul, to the Lord. So, also, the hair of his head, which had been worn in honour of God, he was to cut off at the door of the tabernacle, and put it into the altar fire which was under the sacrifice of the peace-offerings, thus offering up a portion of his own person in sacrifice to the Lord. The grand meaning and end of all sacrifice is the surrender of ourselves to God. Our most treasured possessions we must give to Him; we must worship Him with our best. Apart from this self-sacrifice all other sacrifices and services are worthless in the sight of God. The worth and efficacy of the death of Jesus Christ as a sacrifice for sin consisted in the entire surrender of Himself to the will of God. And the grand object of that death as set forth by St. Paul on one occasion is, that every man should sacrifice himself to God. “He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them and rose again.” “We are Christ’s ‘slaves.’ He purchased us, not to set us free and to make us our own masters, but that we might belong to Him. The rights of a master over a slave appeared to the Apostle to represent the rights of Christ over us … The slave has no personal independence. He has to do his master’s will. His master determines where he shall live and what he shall do. He works to increase, not his own wealth, but his master’s. He has to live for his master, not for himself. The renunciation of all personal objects in the presence of Christ is the precise characteristic of Christian living.” Without this self-renunciation all other services and sacrifices are vain in the sight of God. (b)

III. That all that is good both in ourselves and in our services is attributable to God.

The Nazarite was also required to “offer unto the Lord one ram without blemish for peace-offerings, 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.” By reference to Leviticus 7:11-12, it will be seen that this was offered “for a thanksgiving.” The Nazarite presented the sacrifice of peace-offerings unto the Lord as an expression of thankfulness to Him for the grace by which he had been enabled to fulfil his vow. Whatever of good there is in us is the result of Divine grace. All holy desires are quickened by Him. Every worthy resolution which we form He inspires within us by His Spirit. The strength for holy living, and diligent working, and patient suffering, He imparts. “Every good gift, and every perfect gift, is from above,” etc “By the grace of God I am what I am.” “For who maketh thee to differ? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?” “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory, for Thy mercy, and for Thy truth’s sake.”

IV. That the good man when he has complied with the express requirements of the Divine law will seek for other opportunities of expressing his devotion.

“This is the law of the Nazarite who hath vowed his offering unto the Lord for his separation, beside that which his hand shall get, according to the vow which he vowed, so he must do after the law of his separation;” that is, says Keil and Del., “he had to offer the sacrifices previously mentioned on the ground of his consecration vow. Beyond that he was free to vow anything else according to his ability, to present other sacrificial gifts to the Lord for His sanctuary and His servants, which did not necessarily belong to the vow of the Nazarite, but were frequently added.” The fulfilment of even the largest requirements of the Divine law cannot exhaust the devotion of the truly godly soul. He who has truly given himself to the Lord can never give Him enough to satisfy his own desire; where he has given his utmost he would fain give more. “Love never puts its own name upon anything. Love has some object, must have some object, on whose shrine it lays its every possession. Love, warm, intelligent, growing Love, keeps back nothing from God. Its beaming eyes look upon every treasure with a view of ascertaining its proper relation to the King. Love has endless resources, because it has endless sacrifices. We make a grievous mistake when we say, ‘Such a man must be rich because he gives so much to the cause of God;’ he may not be rich in material possessions, but he must be rich in the spirit of self-sacrifice. He has a wealthy heart, and that explains the bounty which astonishes and confounds those who have a prince’s gold, but a beggar’s spirit.” (c)

V. That the good man through the sacrifices by which He approaches God has communion with Him.

Such seems to be the meaning symbolized in that part of the ceremonial for which directions are given in Numbers 6:19-20. We quote the note of Keil and Del.: “When this had been done the priest took the boiled shoulder of the ram, with an unleavened cake and wafer out of the basket, and placed these pieces in the hands of the Nazarite, and waved them before Jehovah. They then became the portion of the priest, in addition to the wave-breast and heave-leg which fell to the priest in the case of every peace-offering (Leviticus 7:32-34), to set forth the participation of the Lord in the sacrificial meal. But the fact that, in addition to these, the boiled shoulder was given up symbolically to the Lord through the process of waving, together with a cake and wafer, was intended to indicate that the table-fellowship with the Lord, shadowed forth in the sacrificial meal of the peace-offering, took place here in a higher degree; inasmuch as the Lord directed a portion of the Nazarite’s meal to be handed over to His representatives and servants for them to eat, that he might thus enjoy the blessedness of having fellowship with his God, in accordance with that condition of priestly sanctity into which the Nazarite had entered through the vow that he had made.” Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the good man may have the most intimate and blessed communion with God. “Jesus saith, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” “Through Him we have access by one Spirit unto the Father.” “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,” etc. (Hebrews 10:19-22.) “Our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.”

Conclusion

1. Let us give ourselves unreservedly and heartily to God. “I beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice,” etc.

2. Let us seek through Christ. to realize close and constant communion with Him.

“I would commune with Thee, my God,

E’en to Thy seat I come;

I leave my joys, I leave my sine,

And seek in Thee my home.

I stand upon the mount of God,

With sunlight in my soul;

I hear the storms in vales beneath,

I hear the thunders roll;

But I am calm with Thee, my God,

Beneath these glorious skies;

And to the height of Thine abode,

Nor storms nor clouds can rise.

O this is life, and peace, and joy,

My God, to find Thee so—

Thy face to see, Thy voice to hear,

And all Thy love to know.”

G. B. Bubier.

ILLUSTRATIONS

(a) When, because we have accomplished some little work, we count that we may straightway take our ease, and esteem our “Well done” as already gained, very profitable will be then the warning of the parable (Luke 17:7-10); the example of the hind, who having laboured all day in the field, resumes his labours in the house, and only looks to rest and refresh himself when his master has no further need of his service; good for us that, in the words of the son of Sirach, we learn to “wax old in our work” (Numbers 11:20), and, so long as we are here, to see in one task completed but a stepping-stone to another which shall be begun; ever as we have surmounted one hill of labour, perceiving a new one rising above it, and girding ourselves for the surmounting of that as well.Well for us, too, is it to know and to confess that we are not doing God a favour in serving Him, but He the highest favour to us in enabling us to this service; and that He, graciously accepting our work and rewarding it, does this solely out of the freedom and riches of His grace; adding to it a worth which of Itself it does not possess; that there is another footing, that namely of the parable, upon which He might have put all—yea, upon which, though He does not, yet we must evermore put it, so far as is necessary for subduing every motion of pride and vain-glory, every temptation to bring in God as our debtor—which we evermore are doing, or are on the point of doing.—Archbishop Trench.

There is an anecdote of the saintly and learned Archbishop Usher, not unfamiliar to religious readers, which is meant to illustrate his spiritual modesty. It relates bow a friend frequently urged him to write his thoughts on Sanctification, which at length he engaged to do; but, a considerable time elapsing, the performance of his promise was importunately claimed. The Archbishop replied to this purpose: “I have not written, and yet I cannot charge myself with a breach of promise, for I began to write; but when I came to treat of the new creature which God formeth by His own Spirit in every regenerate soul, I found so little of it wrought in myself that I could speak of it only as parrots, or by rote, but without the knowledge of what I might have expressed; and, therefore, I durst not presume to proceed any further upon it.” Upon this his friend stood amazed to hear such a confession from so grave, holy, and eminent a person. The Archbishop then added: “I must tell you, we do not well understand what Sanctification and the new creature are. It is no less than for a man to be brought to an entire resignation of his own will to the will of God; and to live in the offering up of his soul continually in the frames of love, as a whole burnt-offering to Christ; and ch, how many who profess Christianity are unacquainted, experimentally, with this work upon their souls!”—F. D. Huntington, D.D.

(b) It is very possible for Christian men to miss the real extent of the devotion to Himself which is claimed by our Lord, and which, throughout the New Testament, is assumed and implied as the true Christian life. A Christian man may consider that he is at liberty to determine for himself the objects for which he will live, provided he seeks those objects in ways which the ethics of the New Testament do not condemn. He may suppose, for instance, that if he likes he may determine to accumulate a hundred thousand pounds or a quarter of a million, and that the law of Christ simply requires him to carry on his business or profession in a just and honourable manner, and to give a fair proportion of his wealth to the relief of the poor, and the maintenance of various religious societies. Or he may suppose that having set his heart upon rising to a certain social rank, or winning a certain political position, he is quite at liberty to concentrate all his strength on this object, so long as there is nothing dishonest or ignoble in the means which he adopts to secure it. But if there be any truth at all in the Apostle’s description of us, if in any sense we are the “slaves” of Christ, there is obviously a fundamental mistake in this conception of the limits of our duty. Our first question must be whether Christ wants us to accumulate a hundred thousand pounds or a quarter of a million; and whether He wants us to win the social rank, or the political power which we have resolved to make our own. A master may often trust his servants to determine for themselves how they will get a certain work done, but whether the work shall be done at all or not, is a question which must in all cases be referred to his decision. And when we are choosing an object to live for—an object which it may take us many years to achieve—it certainly shows a curious conception of the kind of relationship in which we stand to Christ, to imagine that we need not consult Him about the end for which we are to live, though we must be careful to employ only those means which He approves. Our life, on this theory, is not given to Christ. We keep it for ourselves. We are not really His. We choose the objects to which it shall be devoted. The renunciation of self which He imperatively requires of us is altogether evaded. The Lord Jesus Christ is the Lord of our life in such a sense that it is for Him to determine the objects for which our life shall be spent, as well as the way in which these objects shall be sought. We are in such a sense His servants, that we have no right to do any work but His. If we desire that He should say to us at last, “Well done, good and faithful servants,” it is clear that whatever we do must be done for Him.—R. W. Dale, M.A., D.D.

(c) David wanted to make an offering himself, wanted to give vent to the sorrow, dependence, and gratitude of his soul; and a costless sacrifice would not have met this want. It would have been useless to suggest that such a sacrifice would be as good as any other; in itself it might be, but not to him. He felt that the occasion demanded something more, that something more was due both to God and to himself: the offering must be the fruit and form of deep and holy emotions, and to give a gift would be to mock rather than to manifest these emotions. An illustration may be taken from some of the old sacred buildings. You will find them “finished with the most circumstantial elegance and minuteness in those concealed portions which are excluded from public view, and which can only be inspected by laborious climbing or groping,” a fact explained by saying, “that the whole carving and execution was considered as an act of solemn worship and adoration, in which the artist offered up his best faculties to the praise of the Creator.” These men of “the dark ages,” as we love in the pride of our compassion to call them, had in this a true and grand idea: what would they say of our veneered and gilded modern life, in which everything is for show and nothing from reality, everything for a purpose and nothing from a principle? As these men builded, so David sacrificed. They builds not for man, and hence the secret and distant parts of their work were just as accurately conceived and finely finished as those exposed to the public gaze; their object was not to do something as cheaply and easily as possible, but something as well as possible; they wished to raise structures worthy of the Lord; they had a zeal for His glory and the glory of His worship which spurned meanness and imperfection however hidden; and the same spirit in David rendered needful to him what was needless in itself, and made it “more blessed to give” an offering of his own than one received from Araunah.

It is the end and essence of all religion to turn the mind from self to God; to give it absorbing views of the Divine beauty and glory; to fill it with Divine love and zeal; to make it feel honoured in honouring God, blessed in blessing Him; to make it feel that nothing is good enough or great enough for Him; and when the mind is thus affected and thus possessed, it will understand and share the spirit of David’s resolve, net to offer burnt-offerings unto the Lord God of that which doth cost nothing.—A. J. Morris.

THE NAZARITE

(Numbers 6:21)

“This is the law of the Nazarite.”
Here a new ordinance appears. Israel’s whole race was severed from the world. But the wide circumference was girdle to a narrower circle. Where all were separate, the Nazarites occupied special separation. They bound themselves by voluntary vows. The vow might be the act of men weighed down by consciousness of sin, appalled by sight of inborn evil, or penitent by grievous falls. It might be gratitude for signal mercies. It might be zeal to arouse others to think more of God. The Nazarites’ motives are unknown. But Nazarite rules are rigidly prescribed.

I. No juice of grape, no produce of the vine, from kernel unto husk, may touch the consecrated lips.

Believer, this principle is broad and deep. You openly avow that you are not your own. Your body, spirit, mind, and soul, are purchased by redeeming blood. They all are bound a living sacrifice to the one altar—Christ. Hence you must keep them pure, clean, bright, strong, vigorous for His work. They should stand as servants, with loins girt, ready at all times to discharge His will. Then sedulously flee whatever may tend to weaken the firm energy, or to stir up the sleeping brood of sensual and ungodly lusts.

II. No razor approaches the Nazarite’s hair. His flowing locks openly announce his separate state.

The dedication must not be a secret act, known only to the conscience and the Lord. Religion is not for the closet or the knees alone. It is not a lily, growing only in the shade. It must be conspicuous, as locks pendant from the head. Like the standard, it must proclaim the country to which the ship belongs. Pure religion shines as the sun, without one cloud. Thus others profit by its rays.

III. He must avoid all contact with the dead. (Numbers 6:6-7.)

Wherefore is death to be thus shunned? It is the penalty of sin. Therefore it is emblem of what holy men should holily abhor. Life, too, is God’s inseparable essence. Therefore, to intermix with death, denotes a separation from God. He who is Christ’s must flee the touch of everything allied to sin. The Spirit’s temple must be pure. Believer, rigidly apply this maxim. It drives you from the contagion of ungodly scenes. How many crowds are nothing but a crowded charnel house! How many books are deathful! This rule brands many a pulpit as a plague-spot. A lifeless teacher often guides in paths of death. Here, too, we see the misery of those who by dead works expect to buy soul-life. All works are dead which grow not on the stem of faith. How can they purchase life?
But no precautionary care can always keep men from the dying scene. Death has an unrestricted range. Thus the most watchful Nazarite might most unwillingly stand by the dead. If so, pollution has polluted him; his vow is broken. Therefore, atonement must be made. He is required to place a whole burnt offering on the blazing altar. He must then add a sacrifice for sin. Moreover, as a debtor, he must buy remission by a trespass-offering. Thus the chief types which shadowed out Christ’s blood must all be brought. This is not all. The former period of his Nazarate is cancelled; he must commence afresh his dedicated walk. Beware of sudden evil. Satan is a lurking foe; where least suspected, nets are spread. But there is hope for suddenly-contracted guilt. There is a Saviour waiting to obliterate; there is no stain which He removes not. Pardon found must be the starting-point of new devotedness. The cleansed hands fight with more vigour.
But what if deliberate transgression be indulged? The ordinance is silent here, and thus warns solemnly. Where shall he turn who turns presumptuously from God? Grieve not the Spirit’s gentle mind.

The Nazarite continued only for a fixed time; but grand solemnities attested the completion of this hallowed state. No rite is absent which confesses need of remission, and trust in reconciling blood. (Numbers 6:13-21.) What is the purport of this multitude of rites? They all seek expiation. They graphically show that holiest deeds of holiest men can only find acceptance through the dying Jesus. Believer, is not this the conscious feeling of your humbled soul? Behold the cross. There is your only help; cleanse there the stains of your most holy hours. Live under vows, as a strict Nazarite; but wrestle for forgiveness as a sad short-comer.—Henry Law, D.D.

THE PRIESTLY BLESSING

(Numbers 6:22-27)

“The spiritual character of the congregation of Israel culminated in the blessing with which the priests were to bless the people. The directions as to this blessing, therefore, impressed the seal of perfection upon the whole order and organization of the people of God, inasmuch as Israel was first truly formed into a congregation of Jehovah by the fact that God not only bestowed His blessing upon it, but placed the communication of this blessing in the hands of the priests, the chosen and constant mediators of the blessings of His grace, and imposed it upon them as one portion of their official duty. The blessing which the priests were to impart to the people, consisted of a triple blessing of two members each, which stood related to each other thus. The second in each case contained a special application of the first to the people, and the three gradations un-folded the substance of the blessing step by step with ever-increasing emphasis.”—Keil and Del.

Let us notice—

I. The Divine Direction.

“And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto Aaron and to his sons, saying, On this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel.” It was the duty of the priests ministerially to bless the people by prayer to God on their behalf; they were to entreat Him to bless them. But in this place they are commanded to pronounce His blessing upon them: speaking in His name, and as His representative, they were to declare the people blessed. The blessing which is pronounced in accordance with the Divine direction cannot be a mere form; it must accord with reality. The command to pronounce the blessing may be regarded as an assurance that, when it was pronounced, the blessing itself would be given. The command to the priest to pronounce the blessing is equivalent to the promise of God to bestow that blessing. The Christian minister is required both to pray for the blessing of God upon the people of His charge, and with confidence to pronounce that blessing upon all who sincerely seek God.

II. The Divine Benediction.

“Saying unto them, The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: The Lord make His face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The Lord lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.”
Let us notice here—

1. The significant form of the Benediction.

(1) The triple use of the sacred Name is significant. “The Priestly Blessing prescribed for ritual usage in the Book of Numbers,” says Canon Liddon, “is spoken of as putting the Name of God, that is to say, a symbol unveiling His nature upon the children of Israel. Here, then, we discover a distinct limit to the number of the Persons Who are internal to the Unity of God. The priest is to repeat the Most Holy Name Three times. The Hebrew accentuation, whatever be its date, shows that the Jews themselves saw in this repetition the declaration of a mystery in the Divine Nature. Unless such a repetition had been designed to secure the assertion of some important truth, a single mention of the Sacred Name would have been natural in a system, the object of which was to impress belief in the Divine Unity upon an entire people. This significant repetition, suggesting, without distinctly asserting, a Trinity in the Being of God, did its work in the mind of Israel.” The same thing has been argued from a consideration of the several members of the Benediction. Thus Richard Watson says, “If the three members of this form of benediction be attentively considered, they will be found to agree respectively with the three Persons taken in the usual order of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. The Father is the Author of blessing and preservation; illumination and grace are from the Son; illumination and peace from the Spirit, the Teacher of truth, and the Comforter.” And while in the triple mention of the sacred Name and the threefold blessing, we have suggestions of the Trinity of Persons in the Godhead, in the great assurance, “I will bless them,” we have a revelation of the Divine Unity—that God is One.

(2) The use of the singular number in reference to the subjects of the blessing is significant. “The Lord bless thee, and keep thee,” etc. Six times we have the pronoun in the singular number—“thee.” According to the Speaker’s Comm., the singular number indicates that the blessing is conferred on Israel collectively. May we not view it also as indicating the regard of God for the individual? “If we take the law to ourselves, we may take the blessing to ourselves, as if our names were inserted.” So the Christian believer may say, “The son of God loved me, and gave Himself for me.”

2. The Divine fulness of the Benediction. “As the threefold repetition of a word or sentence serves to express the thought as strongly as possible (cf. Jeremiah 7:4; Jeremiah 22:29), the triple blessing expressed in the most unconditional manner the thought, that God would bestow upon His congregation the whole fulness of the blessing enfolded in His Divine Being which was manifested as Jehovah.” Man’s need of God’s blessing is implied. That need arises from his condition as a creature dependent on God for “life, and breath, and all things;” and as a sinful creature, who merits no good from God. Apart from the blessing of God man is utterly undone. First, the blessing of God in general is pronounced, “The Lord bless thee;” and then that blessing is pronounced in some of its particular forms (a). The second clause in each verse of the Benediction defines more closely the general tenor of the preceding one. The blessing includes—

(1) The preservation of God. “The Lord bless thee, and keep thee.” Danger is implied. We are weak, inexperienced, prone to sin, exposed to temptation. God is our only sufficient and all-sufficient Guardian. What subtlety can surprise Him who is infinite in intelligence? What strength can stand against Omnipotence? “Kept by the power of God, through faith unto salvation” (b).

(2) The favour of God. “The Lord make His face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee.” When the Divine face is dark with frowns, distress and death ensue; when it is bright with favours, life and joy flow to man. “They perish at the rebuke of Thy countenance.” “Cause Thy face to shine, and we shall be saved.” There seems to be an allusion to the shining of the sun. It gives life, light, heat, beauty, power, joy. “In His favour is life.” “The light of the Divine countenance is the sum of all delight.” (See our notes on Psalms 80:3; Hom. Comm. on, Psalms, pp. 466–468).

(3) The peace of God. “The Lord lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.” שָלו̇ם peace, “the sum of all the good which God sets, prepares, or establishes for His people.” M. Henry: “Peace, including all that good which goes to make up a complete happiness.” This great blessing is viewed as flowing from the gracious regard of God for man. Pardon, preservation, peace, an unspeakable wealth of blessing flows to man from the sovereign favour of our gracious God.

III. The Divine Ratification.

“And they shall put my name upon the children of Israel, and I will bless them.” The Benediction was not to be the mere utterance of a pious wish; but God would give effect to it. The people were to be blessed in the Sacred Name, and as the people of God; and God promises to make good the blessing pronounced by the priests. “A Divine blessing goes along with Divine institutions, and puts virtue and efficacy into them.” God will certainly bless His own ordinances unto all those who believe.

Conclusion.

Let us firmly believe in the great willingness of God to bless us, and let us heartily seek for “the fulness of the blessing of the Gospel of Christ.”

ILLUSTRATIONS

(a) When we ask God’s blessing, we pray that first He would bless us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. We pray that He would bless us with the pardon of every sin, with the healing of every moral disease, with fitness for the world to come, with victory over the trials of the world that now is. We pray that He would stamp upon our hearts that Divine and inexhaustible blessing which will turn our trials into elements of sanctification, our griefs and our tears into a ministry of grace and progress, and education for glory; and all the assaults of Satan and the obstructions of sin into means of ripening and maturing us as the sons of God for a kingdom that fadeth not away. It is God’s blessing laid upon the heart within that alters to a Christian the whole world without. If the world were now to be turned into Paradise by God’s breath coming over it again,—yet, if unconverted men were left to tread that Paradise, they would soon reduce it to the desert, polluting, blasting, and destroying all. No outer change for the better will ever do without an inner one. There must not only be a pure and beautiful Paradise, but there must be a holy man and a holy woman to live in it; and it would be in vain that the millennium were to burst upon our world if we had not first a little millennium within to melt into the great millennium without, making the outer world and the inner world in harmony, at peace with God, and therefore at peace with one another. Our constant idea is, that what man wants is something done to his outer circumstances; the real and the Divine one is that something should be done for man in his inner heart. Man is sick and dying; it will be of very little, or of very transient use to change his bed; what he wants is to be eured of his disease. The great mischief is, not what sin has done to the outer world, but what sin has done to the inner world; and if the inner world can be made right, then all the outer will seem to be altered. If you go forth with a sad, a grieved, and a bruised spirit into the loveliest scenes of nature, they will all lose their charms to you. To a man who is sorrowful, his own fireside will only reflect sorrow; to a heart that is ill at ease, the fairest landscape will communicate no ecstasy. But on the other hand, let a man’s heart be overflowing with joy—let the first light of Eden that is to be, shine into his mind, and the very desert itself to that man’s eye will grow beautiful and the blackest scenes of the world will shine bright, and all nature will reflect a joy that is first in his own heart, and repeats itself by a law as beneficent as it is true, wherever he sets his foot, or in whatever path of the world he walks. What we need therefore is, first the blessing pronounced on the heart, and then we shall hear it in multiplying echoes, and reflected in sweet music from every point of the horizon around and without us.—John Cumming, D.D.

(b) Christians are kept by the supreme love of their omnipotent Saviour (John 10:28-29; Jude 1:1). The Lord Jesus not only redeemed His people; He is at this hour interceding for them; and His intercession keeps the saints. As Peter was kept (Luke 22:31) by the Saviour’s mediation, so all the good of all lands, in every age, are supported in temptation and brought through to the praise and glory of God. Sublime is the realization of the thought that our LIVING AND DIVINE LORD is standing before the Throne promoting the well-being of His struggling and oftentimes disspirited Church. He knows that we are still in the wilderness as “strangers and pilgrims”—still exposed to the attacks of a relentless antagonist—and still possessors of a depraved nature; hence. He “ever liveth to make intercession “for His Church. Would it not comfort our hearts in seasons of distress to ponder the fact of our Saviour’s intercession? No longer would we be oppressed with a sense of loneliness, for no spirit can be desolate for which the Son of God is interceding. Am I addressing a faint-hearted disciple of the Lord—one who is ever on the stormy lake of Galilee? Cheer thee! though human sympathy may flow scantily, Divine sympathy is unlimited in abundance. The Saviour, though unseen, is not inaccessible; and though no longer on the CROSS, He stands as the great High priest in the Holy of Holies. He will “keep” His people as the apple of His eye. He has “all power” to curb the rage of the whirlwind, and to pacify the roar of the storm, and to bring His Israel to their “desired haven”! “Kept by the power of God.” What more can we need to assure our hearts and to transfuse them with peace? “The power of God “is the stay of the universe—it is the hope of all creation animate and inanimate. Blessed God! they are well kept whom Thou keepest; do Thou in Thy abounding goodness comfort our hearts with the assurance that Thou wilt keep us unto the end! We cannot keep ourselves: we are blind and weak, and ignorant, but Thou art full of help; teach us, therefore, by Thy Spirit, to feel that “our help is in the Name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”—Jos. Parker, D.D.

THE PREACHER’S BLESSING; OR THE HAPPY NEW YEAR

(Numbers 6:22-26)

New Year’s Day so seldom falls on a Sunday, that, when it does, it would be a pity to let it slip, without wishing you all a happy new year, according to the good old English custom. But the world’s notion of happiness, and the Gospel notion of happiness, are very different; and therefore the world’s wishes for your happiness, and the preacher’s wishes for your happiness must be very different also. The world’s good wishes are like itself, worldly: they look chiefly to the body: they reach not beyond earth, and the things of earth. Whereas the good wishes of the preacher are chiefly for your souls: he looks, and by his office is bound to look, first to the one thing needful; his desires for your welfare are guided by the Gospel, and, like that, would raise you up to heaven. Even with regard to this world, the preacher knows full well, that the greatest happiness we can any of us enjoy is a peaceful mind, a quiet conscience, the feeling that God is reconciled to us, and loves us, and cares for us, and watches over us, and will so order and arrange whatever may befall us, that all things shall work together for our good. These are the very best gifts which any man can have in this life; and they are all contained in the text. Therefore, to every one of you I say, “The Lord bless thee, and keep thee,” etc. But let us look at the text a little in detail; and let us keep in mind that this solemn blessing was of God’s own appointment; so that we may expect to find mention of all those things which He knows to be best for His people.
“The Lord bless thee”! that is, the Lord give thee every good gift, and pour down on thee in due abundance whatever is wholesome and profitable, for thy soul first, and also for thy body. “The Lord keep thee!” that is, the Lord watch over thee for good, and shield thee from every kind of evil.

“The Lord make His face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee.” You all know the difference of feel between a sunshiny and a cloudy day. The real heat may be the same—nay, the cloudy may be warmer than the sunshiny—for we often have bright sunshine in the clear frosty days of winter, and heavy clouds in the middle of summer. But though the real heat may be the same—though the thermometer may tell us that the cloudy day is the warmer of the two—yet to our feelings it may be quite the contrary. There is something so enlivening in the sun, that I have often known persons come in from a walk on a bright winter’s day, and speak of it as very pleasant; while the same persons on a damp, cloudy evening in July, would be the first to shiver, and to wish for a fire. Now, the same difference does it make to a man’s soul, whether God’s face is shining on him or no. Let God’s face shine on the soul, it walks in the brightest sunshine; let God veil His face and cloud it over, the soul feels chilled and is discomforted. (Psalms 30:7.) Do we not see many a man disquieted and ill at ease in the midst of riches and luxuries; while his poor neighbour, who lives in a sorry hovel, may look always cheerful and contented? What is this difference owing to? Not to the health and strength of the poor man; for he may be old, and often a sufferer from cold and wet, and he cannot afford to buy himself the little comforts suited to his years and infirmities. The rich man, on the other hand, may still be young; his disease, if it can be called one, is more of the mind than of the body; he can consult the best physicians; he can travel from place to place in search of pleasure; he is not forced to deny himself any one earthly thing that may tend to his ease and enjoyment. Yet with all this, in spite of his youth and riches, in spite of his having no outward ailment, and possessing every comfort and luxury that heart could wish for, he may be always growling and grumbling; while the dweller in the old hovel, with the pinching frost of poverty and age, and sometimes sickness to boot, sharp upon him, may be ever making the best of his condition, and finding out something in it to thank God for. What, then, is this difference owing to? The cause is simply this, that the poor man has led a Christian life, or at least has turned to God in earnest, and repented of his sins betimes; and so God has allowed His face to shine upon him and to cheer him; while his rich neighbour has been led astray by the deceitfulness of riches, and has been so taken up with his pleasures, or with the cares which riches bring with them, that he could not spare time to think about God. He has turned his face away from God; therefore God has turned away His face from him, and left him in clouds and heaviness. Oh, that you might but know and feel the joy and gladness which the light of God’s face can shed on the soul of the Christian!

“The Lord be gracious to thee!” that is, the Lord receive thy prayers, as a kind and merciful king hearkens to the petitions of his subjects (comp. Exodus 22:27; Nehemiah 9:17; Jonah 4:2; Psalms 77:7-9). To pray, then, that God will be gracious to His people, is to pray that He will listen to your supplications, and grant your requests, that He will be slow to mark what you have done amiss, and ready to take you into favour when you forsake your sins and cry to Him for pardon.

“The Lord lift up His countenance upon thee!” that is, the Lord show forth His favour and love toward you. We may suppose this expression taken from a king sitting on his throne, and looking with eyes of such goodwill on the petitioners who come before him that the by-standers perceive, and the petitioners themselves feel, that he is their friend: they feel that they have the happiness of being esteemed and loved by him, and that they can reckon with certainty on his protection. To be countenanced thus by the King of kings is the highest privilege a son of Adam can enjoy. If the king had looked favourably upon us, we should expect to receive some honour or preferment; or at least we should feel certain that, so far as he could hinder, he would not suffer anyone to hurt us. So is it with those who have God’s countenance, but in a far, far higher degree. For the king, great as he is, is only a man. His power is cut short in a thousand ways, and, at the best, can only follow us to the grave. But God is the King of kings: His power has no bounds, except His own wisdom and goodness and will: in the grave, where human rule is at an end, His rule and sovereignty are doubled, etc.

“The Lord give thee peace!” Peace is the fruit of God’s favour. “The effect of righteousness is peace.” If we know we are forgiven for Christ’s sake, we are at peace. If, out of gratitude and love to our Master and Saviour, we are living in obedience to His holy laws, then too we have every ground and reason to be at peace (1 Peter 3:13).

There is a false peace, a peace arising out of recklessness and carelessness, and the never thinking about God. Would you say that Samson was at peace when he lay sleeping in the lap of Delilah? So dangerous, so deadly is the false security of the self-righteous and the careless. Rouse yourselves, I beseech you, from such fatal slumbers, if any of you have hitherto been sinking beneath them. Awake! behold, the face of the Lord does not shine, but frown upon you. Let this be the first day of a new year of godly fear and hope.
The Lord bless you this year, and keep you! etc.—A. W. Hare, A.M.

GOD WILL BLESS HIS OWN ORDINANCES

(Numbers 6:23-27)

The exercise of benevolence is that which every child of God should cultivate to the uttermost; but ministers above all should consider it as the distinguishing badge of their office; they are compelled indeed sometimes to “use sharpness;” but whether they rebuke, or whether they exhort, they should be actuated by nothing but a principle of love. Under the Law it was a very important part of the priestly office to bless the people, and God prescribed a form of words to be used by Aaron and his sons in the discharge of that duty. Nor can any words better express the scope and end of the Christian ministry. If the people be brought to receive abundant communications of grace and peace, and to surrender up themselves entirely to God, a minister can desire nothing more in this world; his labours are well repaid. To promote this blessed end, we shall—

I. Explain the words before us.

God is here making known His will to Moses, and directing him what orders to give to Aaron and his sons respecting the execution of their priestly office; and there are two duties which He assigns to them:—

1. To bless the people in God’s name. This was repeatedly declared to be their office (Deuteronomy 21:5), and the constant practice of the Apostles shows that it was to be continued under the Christian dispensation. In conformity to their example, the Christian Church has universally retained the custom of closing the service with a pastoral benediction. We are not indeed to suppose that ministers can, by any power or authority of their own, convey a blessing (Acts 3:12); they can neither select the persons who shall be blessed, nor fix the time, the manner, or the degree in which any shall receive a blessing; but, as stewards of the mysteries of God, they dispense the bread of life, assuredly expecting that their Divine Master will give a salutary effect to the ordinances of His own appointment. The direction in the text was confirmed with an express promise, that what they spake on earth should be ratified in heaven; and every faithful minister may take encouragement from it in the discharge of his own duty, and may consider God as saying to him. Bless thou the congregation, “and I will bless them” (Luke 10:5-6; John 20:23).

2. To claim the people as God’s property. To “put the name of God upon them” is to challenge them as His portion, the lot of His inheritance (Deuteronomy 32:9). This every minister must do in most authoritative terms; and not only claim them as His property, but excite them with all earnestness to surrender up themselves to His service. Nor shall their exhortations be lost, for God will accompany them “with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven;” and the people, constrained by the Divine impulse, shall say, “I am the Lord’s” (Isaiah 44:3-5). Moreover, in their intercession for the people, they are also to urge this plea with God on their behalf (Jeremiah 14:9; Daniel 9:17-19). Thus are they to strengthen the connection between God and them, and to promote that fellowship with God, which is the end, as well as the means, of all spiritual communications.

II. Notice some truths contained in them.

Amidst the many profitable observations that may be deduced from the text there are some deserving of peculiar attention.

1. The priests under the Law, while they blessed the people, typically represented the office of Christ Himself. Christ as our great High Priest performs every part of the priestly office; and it is remarkable that He was in the very act of blessing His disciples when He was taken up from them into heaven (Luke 24:50-51). Nor did He then cease, but rather began, as it were, to execute that office, which He has been fulfilling from that time to the present hour. St. Peter, preaching afterwards to a vast concourse of people, declared to them that to bless them was the great end for which Jesus had ascended, and that He was ready, both as a Prince and a Saviour, to give them repentance and remission of sins (Acts 3:26; Acts 5:31). Let us then conceive the Lord Jesus standing now in the midst of us, and, with uplifted hands, pronouncing the benediction in the text; is there one amongst us that would not cordially add, “Amen, Amen”? Nor let this be thought a vain and fanciful idea, since He has promised to be wherever two or three are gathered together in His name, and that too for the very purpose which is here expressed. (CompareMatthew 18:20; Matthew 18:20, with Exodus 20:24.)

2. The ministers are used as instruments to convey blessings; God Himself is the only Author and Giver of them. The very words which the priests were commanded to use, directed the attention of all to God Himself; nor could the frequent repetition of Jehovah’s name fail to impress the most careless auditor with a conviction, that the blessing could come from God alone. We ought indeed to reverence God’s ministers as the authorised dispensers of His blessings (1 Thessalonians 5:13); but we must look for the blessings themselves to God alone; and endeavour to exercise faith on the Father as the Fountain of them, on Christ as the Channel in which they flow, and on the Holy Spirit as the Agent by whose Divine energy they are imparted to the soul (Revelation 1:4-5). At the same time we should remember the obligations which these mercies lay us under to devote ourselves entirely to the service of our gracious and adorable Benefactor.

3. However weak the ordinances be in themselves, yet shall they, if attended in faith, be available for our greatest good. Nothing can be conceived more simple in itself than a priestly benediction; yet, most undoubtedly it brought down many blessings upon the people. And can we suppose that God will put less honour upon His ordinances under the Gospel dispensation? Shall not “grace, mercy and peace flow down from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ,” in answer to the fervent intercessions of His ministers? (2 Timothy 1:2). Though ministers be but earthen vessels, yet shall they impart unto the people the richest treasures (2 Corinthians 4:7). Their word shall not be in vain, but shall accomplish God’s good pleasure, etc. (Isaiah 55:10-11). Let not then the benediction be so often slighted, as though it were only a signal to depart: but while it is delivered with solemnity in the name of God, let every heart be expanded to receive the benefit. Let every one consider himself in particular as the person addressed (“thee” was repeated six times); and may the experience of all attest at this time that God is ready to “grant us above all that we can ask or think.”—C. Simeon, M.A.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Numbers 6". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/numbers-6.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.