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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Numbers 6

 

 

Introduction

SECTION 1. THE PREPARATIONS TO GO FORWARD FROM SINAI WITH YAHWEH’S PROVISIONS RELATED THERETO (1:1-10:10).

The Mobilisation of the Army of Israel, and the Preparation of the Levites For Their Work of Bearing the Ark and Dwellingplace of Yahweh (1:1-4:49).

The first stage towards entry into the land had to be the mobilisation of the army of Israel, both of its fighting men, and of its ‘servants of the dwellingplace of Yahweh’. That is what is in mind in the first four chapters.

The description of this follows a general chiastic pattern indicated by the letters a to d and can be divided up as follows:

a The taking of the sum of the tribes and their responsibility (to war) (Numbers 1:1-46).

b The Levites’ responsibility for the Dwellingplace (Numbers 1:47-54).

c Positioning and arrangements for travel of the people (Numbers 2:1-32).

d The consecration of the priests to Yahweh (Numbers 3:1-4).

d The dedication of the Levites to the priests and to Yahweh (Numbers 3:5-13)

c Positioning and arrangements for travel of the Levites (Numbers 3:14-51).

b The priests’ responsibility for the Dwellingplace (Numbers 4:5-15).

a The taking of the sum of the Levites and their responsibilities (Numbers 4:1-4; Numbers 4:21-49).

Provision For The Purity of the Camp And Yahweh’s Own Provision For That Purity (5:1-9:14).

Vital if Yahweh was to dwell among His people, and speak to them, and shine His light on them, was that they be holy. The provision for the holiness of the camp can be divided between the responsibility of the people to seek holiness and purity (Numbers 5:1 to Numbers 7:88) and the response of Yahweh in providing them (Numbers 7:89 to Numbers 9:14).

1). The Responsibility Of The Whole People (5:1-7:88).

a First was the responsibility to keep the camp ritually clean and whole by expulsion of all that was unclean that would defile the camp (Numbers 5:1-4), dealing with moral offences that caused dissension and would defile the camp (Numbers 5:5-10), and the maintenance of marital relationships with the consequent removal of the defilement of secret adultery (Numbers 5:11-31).

b Second was the responsibility for the lay people to consider the opportunity for individual dedication of themselves as Nazirites to Yahweh (Numbers 6:1-21), at least for a time, putting themselves almost on a par with the priests from a point of view of consecration to God, although not enabling them to perform priestly functions. By this they could increase the holiness of the camp and contribute to it becoming ‘a kingdom of priests’ (Exodus 19:6).

c Third was for the priests to dispense Yahweh’s blessing of His people with His Name (Numbers 6:22-27), establishing them as His holy people and ensuring the holiness of the camp.

d Fourth was for the princes to provide the gifts and offerings necessary for the dedication of the altar and for the maintaining of the holiness of the Sanctuary on behalf of the whole of Israel (Numbers 7:1-88).

2). The Response of the Sanctuary (7:89-9:14).

d In response the Voice of Yahweh would speak to Moses from the Mercy Seat (Numbers 7:89). The King would make His response to the offerings of the princes by acting as their Guide through the supreme leader.

c Second would come the lighting of the lamps in the Sanctuary, symbolising the light of Yahweh among His people, and as it shone on the show bread which represented His people, it indicated His blessing on them, and the light of His face shining on them. Through the lampstand, the light of His face was revealed as shining permanently on His people (Numbers 8:1-4 compare Numbers 6:25; 2 Corinthians 4:1-6).

b Third would come the compulsory dedication of the Levites to the service of Yahweh (Numbers 8:5-26). This on the Godward side parallels the dedication of the Nazirites among the people, contributing to the holiness of the camp.

a And fourthly would come the compulsory keeping of the Passover of deliverance by all who were clean (Numbers 9:1-14). Having cleansed the camp (Numbers 5:1-31) they were in a position to enjoy the Passover. This glad feast reminded them of how Yahweh watched over them and protected them, because they were atoned for by the shedding of blood in accordance with His commandment. And as their deliverance had begun with the Passover, so would their going forward now begin with the Passover, a reminder that the Yahweh Who had revealed His power in Egypt was still with them.

Note the parallels. The cleansing of the camp (Numbers 5:1-31) results in their being able to celebrate the Passover of deliverance as a ‘clean’ people (Numbers 9:1-14), The dedication of the people as Nazirites, increasing the holiness of the camp (Numbers 6:1-21), is paralleled by the permanent dedication of the Levites as holy on their behalf (Numbers 8:5-26). The blessing of the priests and their desire for the light of His countenance to shine on Israel (Numbers 6:22-27) is paralleled by the shining of the lamp in the Dwellingplace on the showbread which represented Israel, depicting a greater reality (Numbers 8:1-4). While the submission of the princes and their dedication of the altar (Numbers 7:1-88) is responded to by the Voice of Yahweh from between the Cherubim speaking to their supreme leader (Numbers 7:89).

Chapter 6 The Nazirite Vow (Numbers 6:1-21) And The Blessing of Yahweh (Numbers 6:22-27).

It will be noted that in the introductory scheme (see Chapter Comments for Numbers 5 and the Book Comments for Numbers) this vow of dedication is set in juxtaposition to the dedication of the Levites in Numbers 8:5-26. It was giving all in Israel, of whatever tribe, the opportunity to share something similar to the holiness of the priests and Levites.

Thus the camp having been cleansed from uncleanness and trespass and secret adultery, there was now a call to the people to partake in holiness positively, either temporarily or permanently, and thus contribute to the overall holiness of the camp. If people became ‘jealous’ in a godly way of the priests and Levites a way was made open for them to join in their lifestyle. And if they had a burning desire to please Yahweh, again a way was made open for them to become especially ‘holy’. So full holiness before Yahweh was available to all, not just the Levites and priests. All could become a Nazirite. The word seems to indicate ‘one separated’. The Nazirite epitomised all that Israel was meant to be.

While the requirements given are physical; abstaining from the fruit of the vine, letting the hair grow long, and avoiding contact with the dead, we must not be deceived by this. These restrictions were with a purpose. They were to ensure that there was nothing lacking in their dedication. Wine could interfere in their service for God (compare Leviticus 10:9-10); cutting their hair would be a reducing of the fullness of their dedication (part of what they had dedicated was being removed), thus leaving it uncut stressed that there must be no diminishing of their dedication in any way; contact with the dead would mean that they were unable to approach Yahweh, that they had wandered from the way of life and wholeness. The point was that their period of separation to God had to be involved totally in worshipping and serving Him. It was the way of ‘life’. Nothing was to be held back or defiled.

Once again the passage appears to have been constructed chiastically.

Analysis.

a The decision to make a vow (Numbers 6:2).

b Abstinence from wine (Numbers 6:3-4).

c The hair not to be cut (Numbers 6:5).

d The taint of death to be avoided (Numbers 6:6-8).

e Sacrifices to be offered if he sins for the dead (Numbers 6:9-11).

f Consecration of ‘the days of his separation’ (Numbers 6:12).

f Fulfilment of ‘the days of his separation’ (Numbers 6:13).

e Sacrifices to be offered for his sins and dedication (Numbers 6:14-15).

d The death of these victims to be brought about on his behalf (Numbers 6:16-17).

c The head of the Nazirite to be shaved (Numbers 6:18-19).

b The Nazirite to drink wine (Numbers 6:20).

a The law concerning the decision to make a vow (Numbers 6:21).

Apart from d which is a contrast between non-death and death the remainder is in clear balance.


Verses 1-8

Chapter 6 The Nazirite Vow (Numbers 6:1-21) And The Blessing of Yahweh (Numbers 6:22-27).

It will be noted that in the introductory scheme (see Chapter Comments for Numbers 5 and the Book Comments for Numbers) this vow of dedication is set in juxtaposition to the dedication of the Levites in Numbers 8:5-26. It was giving all in Israel, of whatever tribe, the opportunity to share something similar to the holiness of the priests and Levites.

Thus the camp having been cleansed from uncleanness and trespass and secret adultery, there was now a call to the people to partake in holiness positively, either temporarily or permanently, and thus contribute to the overall holiness of the camp. If people became ‘jealous’ in a godly way of the priests and Levites a way was made open for them to join in their lifestyle. And if they had a burning desire to please Yahweh, again a way was made open for them to become especially ‘holy’. So full holiness before Yahweh was available to all, not just the Levites and priests. All could become a Nazirite. The word seems to indicate ‘one separated’. The Nazirite epitomised all that Israel was meant to be.

While the requirements given are physical; abstaining from the fruit of the vine, letting the hair grow long, and avoiding contact with the dead, we must not be deceived by this. These restrictions were with a purpose. They were to ensure that there was nothing lacking in their dedication. Wine could interfere in their service for God (compare Leviticus 10:9-10); cutting their hair would be a reducing of the fullness of their dedication (part of what they had dedicated was being removed), thus leaving it uncut stressed that there must be no diminishing of their dedication in any way; contact with the dead would mean that they were unable to approach Yahweh, that they had wandered from the way of life and wholeness. The point was that their period of separation to God had to be involved totally in worshipping and serving Him. It was the way of ‘life’. Nothing was to be held back or defiled.

Once again the passage appears to have been constructed chiastically.

Analysis.

a The decision to make a vow (Numbers 6:2).

b Abstinence from wine (Numbers 6:3-4).

c The hair not to be cut (Numbers 6:5).

d The taint of death to be avoided (Numbers 6:6-8).

e Sacrifices to be offered if he sins for the dead (Numbers 6:9-11).

f Consecration of ‘the days of his separation’ (Numbers 6:12).

f Fulfilment of ‘the days of his separation’ (Numbers 6:13).

e Sacrifices to be offered for his sins and dedication (Numbers 6:14-15).

d The death of these victims to be brought about on his behalf (Numbers 6:16-17).

c The head of the Nazirite to be shaved (Numbers 6:18-19).

b The Nazirite to drink wine (Numbers 6:20).

a The law concerning the decision to make a vow (Numbers 6:21).

Apart from d which is a contrast between non-death and death the remainder is in clear balance.

The Dedication of Himself/Herself By A Nazirite, A ‘Separated One’ (Numbers 6:1-8).

Numbers 6:1

‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,’

Again we are informed that these were the words of Moses as spoken to him by Yahweh. Even if the writer was Joshua or Eleazar, the words were the words of Moses.

Numbers 6:2-4

Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, “When either a man or a woman shall make a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to separate himself to Yahweh, he shall separate himself from wine and strong drink. He shall drink no vinegar of wine, or vinegar of strong drink, neither shall he drink any juice of grapes, nor eat fresh grapes or dried. All the days of his separation he shall eat nothing that is made of the grapevine, from the kernels even to the husk.”

When any man or woman, (for Yahweh believed in equal opportunity in spiritual things), sought to become holy to Yahweh they could take a special vow, a Nazirite vow. While it would not make them priests it would give them the same standing before Yahweh as a priest, or in many ways as the High Priest. Thus like them they would have to abstain from wine and strong drink (Leviticus 10:9-10) and avoid all contact with the dead (Leviticus 21:1-4; Leviticus 21:11-12). The priests were also forbidden to shave their heads (Leviticus 21:5), but the Nazirites went further than the priest because their action was voluntary. They did not partake of wine or strong drink at any time, and they did not cut their hair at all.

We should note that this was not a kind of hermitry. The Nazirite continued to live normally within the camp, he would be expected to be an example to all, but he was living in order to please Yahweh as one ‘separated to Yahweh’, because of his love for Him. And Yahweh would treat him as having an especial ‘holiness’. It is clear that these provisions were given in order that they might be carried out. Israel were being called on to recognise the need for periods when they individually fully separated themselves to Him so that they could fully seek His face without the distraction of other things. They were being called on to increase the holiness of the camp.

“He shall drink no vinegar of wine, or vinegar of strong drink, neither shall he drink any juice of grapes, nor eat fresh grapes or dried. All the days of his separation he shall eat nothing that is made of the grapevine, from the kernels even to the husk.” While the priests were only forbidden wine and strong drink when serving in the Sanctuary on their sacred duties (Leviticus 10:9-10), the Nazirites were to avoid totally all the produce of the vine. They were on sacred duty all the time. At all times wine must not be allowed to interfere with their dedication. This may well have had in mind the failure of the ‘perfect’ man Noah (Genesis 6:9; Genesis 9:20-27) where after being so pleasing to God Noah had failed Him utterly because of the fruit of the vine. ‘Grape-cakes’ are also mentioned in Hosea 3:1 as an indication of sensual living. The fruit of the vine epitomised all the desires of the flesh. The total ban (like the ban on work on the Sabbath) would prevent any attempt to seek loopholes, something men have always been good at. Their joy was to be in Yahweh and not in the fruit of the vine. Their hearts were to be made glad by Him, and not to look anywhere else.

Amos told how Yahweh had raised up the young men of Israel to be Nazirites, but that many of the people in their godlessness sought to make them drink wine (Amos 2:11). In other words, when those who loved God sought to please Him, the majority sought to lead them astray.

Paul stresses a similar attitude to wine as that of the Nazirites in the New Testament. ‘Do not be drunk with wine in which is excess, but be filled with the Spirit’ (Ephesians 5:18). Wine in itself is not condemned but dependence on it, and drunkenness, is.

Numbers 6:5

All the days of his vow of separation (nezer) there shall no razor come on his head. Until the days are fulfilled, in which he separates himself to Yahweh, he shall be holy, he shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow long.”

The second requirement of the Nazirites was that they were not to cut their hair. Among some peoples the hair was seen as giving strength and fuller life. Soldiers would often let their hair grow long for battle. Thus Deuteronomy 32:42 declares, ‘With the blood of the slain and the captives, from the head of the long haired ones of the enemy’, while Judges 5:2 speaks of ‘the loosing of the long locks in Israel’, Both speak of those going into battle as having allowed their hair to grow long, although it is usually hidden in the translation. But the idea here is probably rather that the Nazirite must not reduce himself/herself in any way when in the direct service of Yahweh. His/her concentration must be on total service. Cutting his hair would in some way diminish his setting apart to God, his ‘holiness’. It would be removing a part of what he had dedicated to God. Thus not cutting his hair is specifically connected with his period of holiness, and stressed the need for continual full dedication. It was evidence of his dedication, his separation (‘nezer’). The same word ‘nezer’ is used of the High Priest’s crown (Leviticus 8:9 compare Exodus 28:36) and of the oil of consecration (Leviticus 21:12) as ‘the holy separator’ which separates him off from all others as ‘holiness to Yahweh’. So is the Nazirite’s hair his holy separator to Yahweh.

Samson was permanently dedicated to Yahweh and also was not allowed to cut his hair, but in his case his dedication was not by his choice. His path was chosen for him by his mother. However, his dedication was not as strict as that of the Nazirites here, and that fact is never criticised. He certainly drank wine, and allowed himself to have contact with the dead by killing his people’s enemies. That may, however, have been permitted because he was a permanent Nazirite raised up to be a deliverer, not a man with this kind of dedication. He was evidence of how God can use us even in our weaknesses. Compare also Samuel (1 Samuel 1:11) and John the Baptiser (Luke 1:15).

Numbers 6:6-7

All the days that he separates himself to Yahweh he shall not come near to a dead body. He shall not make himself unclean for his father, or for his mother, for his brother, or for his sister, when they die, because his separation to God is on his head.”

This again should be compared with the High Priest who was subject to similar conditions (Leviticus 21:1-12). Clearly the Nazirite’s holiness was on a par with that of the High Priest. Any contact with the dead would interfere with his dedication for it would render him unclean, and during any period of uncleanness his dedication would necessarily have to lapse. So it must be avoided, for he was to be available to Yahweh at all times.

Numbers 6:8

All the days of his separation he is holy to Yahweh.”

His position is here confirmed. All the days of his separation, that is for the period that he is under his vow, he is ‘holy to Yahweh’, set apart totally for His glory. Nothing must be allowed to interfere with that. The presence of such a holy person in the camp would have been seen as contributing greatly to the holiness of the camp, made all the greater by the fact that it was wholly voluntary.

This kind of separation is one that we should all at times follow, a period when we set all else aside in order to please God (compare 1 Corinthians 7:5). It is also indicative of what the general attitude of the Christian should be towards life and its demands.


Verses 9-12

What To Do In The Case of an Accidental Breach of Vow (Numbers 6:9-12).

Numbers 6:9

And if any man die very suddenly beside him, and he defiles the head of his separation, then he shall shave his head in the day of his cleansing. On the seventh day shall he shave it.”

It may, however, be that by accident he comes in contact with the dead because of the sudden and unexpected death of someone next to him. This would defile the head of his separation, the very hair that declared him holy. In that case his hair must be cut off. It had been defiled. It was no longer the sign of his separation, which had ceased. It was unavoidable. Anyone who touched the dead body of a man was unclean for seven days (Numbers 19:11).

On the third day he was to purify himself by having the ‘water of uncleanness’ sprinkled on him, and as a result on the seventh day he would be clean (19:12). This was ‘the day of his cleansing’. Thus having carried through this procedure like any other Israelite must, the defiled Nazirite would be clean on the seventh day. That was the point at which he must cut off his hair so as to begin again. Without that he would not, in his case, be clean. The hair was defiled. It would have to be replaced by new hair. It was then too that he would wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and wait until the evening when he would be clean (Numbers 19:19), and ready to renew his vow.

Numbers 6:10-11

And on the eighth day he shall bring two turtle-doves, or two young pigeons, to the priest, to the door of the tent of meeting, and the priest shall offer one for a purification for sin offering, and the other for a whole burnt offering (‘an offering that goes up’), and make atonement for him, because he sinned by reason of the dead, and he shall hallow his head that same day.”

But because he had broken his Nazirite vow atonement had to be made. So on the eighth day he was to bring two turtle-doves or two young pigeons to the priest, to ‘the door of the Tent of Meeting’ (that is within the courtyard where the altar was), and the priest would offer one for a purification for sin offering and one for a whole burnt offering. By this atonement would be made because he had ‘sinned’ by touching the dead and breaking his vow. Then he would hallow his head by renewing his vow and beginning again.

Numbers 6:12

And he shall separate to Yahweh the days of his separation, and shall bring a he-lamb a year old for a trespass-offering; but the former days shall be void, because his separation was defiled.”

He must then once again separate himself to Yahweh for the same period as previously, separating off those days as the days of his vow, and bring a one year old lamb as a guilt offering. This sacrifice always demonstrated that Yahweh’s rights had been breached. But the days that he had already served would not count, for what had happened had defiled that period of separation.

One important lesson from this is that what we have promised to God we must perform. If something interferes we must begin again. We must under no circumstances just assume that as something has happened which has prevented us we are free from our obligation. Vows to God are voluntary. But once made they are binding. It is also an assurance that we need not despair. We may find that we have failed in our consecration. We meant it so genuinely, and yet we have let God down. We have here the assurance that we can begin again.


Verses 13-21

His Actions On The Completion of His Vow (Numbers 6:13-21).

Numbers 6:13-15

And this is the law of the Nazirite, when the days of his separation are fulfilled. He shall be brought to the door of the tent of meeting, and he shall offer his oblation to Yahweh, one he-lamb a year old without blemish for a whole burnt offering, and one ewe-lamb a year old without blemish for a purification for sin offering, and one ram without blemish for peace-offerings, and a basket of unleavened bread, cakes of milled grain mingled with oil, and unleavened wafers anointed with oil, and their grain offering, and their drink-offerings.”

From this point on there is a complete reversal of the situation, brought about by the fulfilment of the days of his separation, the arrival of the last day in his period of total and complete dedication, after which he would return to normal life, yet never to be the same again.

Once the period of his separation was successfully completed the Nazirite would be brought to the door of the Tent of Meeting (i.e. be brought into the courtyard where sacrifices were made) and there he was to offer a whole burnt offering, an act of dedication and atonement which would be a pleasing odour to God; a purification for sin offering, which would remove his sin and again make atonement for him; a ram ‘for peace or wellbeing offerings’ which would put him at peace with Yahweh and again make atonement and be a pleasing odour to God; and a grain offering which would also be a pleasing odour to God, dedicating his life and activity to God; and drink offerings which regularly accompanied a whole burnt offering (Numbers 15). The cakes and wafers were regularly offered with peace/wellbeing offerings (Leviticus 7:12-13). For all the major offerings see our commentary on Leviticus 1-4.

Comparison with Leviticus 8 will bring out how close all this was to the offerings for the consecration of the priests, slightly reduced because only one person was involved. This might suggest that the Nazirite was being returned to being one of the people and yet was still to be seen as someone specially consecrated. He/she could no longer be the same again. Note also the requirement for the purification for sin offering. Like all men, what he was, and what he had done, was not perfect before God. Sin always reveals its ugly presence in even the best of men and interferes in the most holy of activities.

Numbers 6:16

And the priest shall present them before Yahweh, and shall offer his purification for sin offering, and his whole burnt offering. And he shall offer the ram for a sacrifice of peace-offerings to Yahweh, with the basket of unleavened bread. The priest shall offer also its grain offering, and its drink-offering.”

So all the whole range of offerings, with all their significance, were to be duly offered by the priest in accordance with the requirements of Leviticus 1-4. Here instead of death negating his vow (as in Numbers 6:6-8), it was sealing it. The result would be purification, and forgiveness, renewed dedication, the offering of tribute and thanksgiving, and renewed reconciliation and peace with God. While his vow was over his dedication to Yahweh was to continue permanently.

Numbers 6:18

And the Nazirite shall shave the head of his separation at the door of the tent of meeting, and shall take the hair of the head of his separation, and put it on the fire which is under the sacrifice of peace-offerings.”

The reversal continues. In contrast with allowing his hair to grow long the Nazirite will shave it. The Nazirite will then shave ‘the head of his separation’ there in the courtyard ‘at the door of the Tent of Meeting’, as close to Yahweh’s physical presence as he was permitted, and take his hair and place it on the fire under the peace offerings on the altar, in order that it might be burned up. For the one and only time an ‘ordinary’ Israelite could approach the altar. This had two purposes. Firstly in that it was itself an offering to God of the Nazirite’s period of separation, now ended, and secondly in order to ensure that the hair could never be taken and used for superstitious practises. The hair of such holy men would have been highly prized, and could have been greatly misused.

Numbers 6:19

And the priest shall take the boiled shoulder of the ram, and one unleavened cake out of the basket, and one unleavened wafer, and shall put them on the hands of the Nazirite, after he has shaved the head of his separation,”

One unleavened cake and one unleavened wafer would have been retained from what was in the basket (the remainder having been offered). Once the Nazirite had shaved off the indication of his separation, the priest was to take these, along with the boiled shoulder of the ram, and place them on the Nazirite’s hands. This indicated that he was identifying the Nazirite with them.

Numbers 6:20

And the priest shall wave them for a wave-offering before Yahweh. This is holy for the priest, together with the wave-breast and heave-thigh, and after that the Nazirite may drink wine.”

The priest would then ‘wave’ or present them before Yahweh, an indication that they were an offering to Him, after which he would retain them for his own use as the servant of Yahweh. This was in addition to the wave-breast and the heave-thigh which normally went to the priests. The ram’s shoulder was an addition to the priest’s portion in this case. It may well be seen as confirming that the Nazirite was still leaving something of himself in the hands of Yahweh. No one who had been a Nazirite could go back totally to ‘normal’ life. But after that, in contrast with ceasing from wine he could once again drink wine. He would then partake of the remainder of the peace/wellbeing offering, and probably drink again of the wine from which he had previously refrained.

Numbers 6:21

This is the law of the Nazirite who vows, and of his oblation to Yahweh for his separation, besides that which he is able to get. According to his vow which he vows, so he must do after the law of his separation.”

As previously (see Numbers 5:29) the instruction is now summarised. In it has been described the Nazirite’s oblation to Yahweh for his separation as evidenced in the offerings described. ‘Besides that which he is able to get’ may suggest that this was the minimum and that a Nazirite usually offered much more. But what was most important was that he had performed his vow once he had entered under the ‘law of separation’.

The dedication of men and women as Nazirites was a picture of what it would mean for Israel to be a ‘kingdom of priests’ (Exodus 19:6). The intention was probably that all should at one stage or another voluntarily take such vows. While they would not perform priestly functions they would for the period of their vows become as holy as priests. It was a foretaste of what being in the kingdom of priests meant, and as we have suggested, once having experienced such a dedication the person would be expected to still continue to be bound by the principles of the higher life, even though the outward trappings had gone. They could not fully return to their old ways. It was a call to live such a higher life.

It is important to us because it reminds us that God seeks from us all a higher dedication, and especially times when we lay all else aside so as to seek Him (compare 1 Corinthians 7:5; Romans 12:1-2), a dedication that is then to continue on in our daily lives. Once we have wholly committed ourselves to Him we can never return to what we were. We are to put off the old man, and put on the new (Ephesians 4:22-24).


Verses 22-27

The Priests Were Also To Play Their Part In Maintaining the Holiness of Israel: How Israel Were To Be Blessed (Numbers 6:22-27).

The whole camp having played their part in maintaining the holiness of Israel (Numbers 5:1-4), each individual having played his part in maintaining the holiness of Israel (Numbers 5:5-10), the sinned against husband having played his part in maintaining the holiness of Israel (Numbers 5:11-31), the Nazirite having played a full part in maintaining the holiness of Israel (Numbers 6:1-21), it was now the turn of the priests to add to that blessing. We must not underestimate the significance of the blessing. It would be seen as helping to bring about their dedication and Yahweh’s blessing on His people. It would ‘put His name on them’.

Numbers 6:22

‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,’

These words stress that we have here the words of Moses from Yahweh and continually emphasise the beginning of a new section (see Numbers 5:1; Numbers 5:5; Numbers 5:11; Numbers 6:1)

Numbers 6:23-26

‘Speak to Aaron and to his sons, saying, “In this way you shall bless the children of Israel. You shall say to them,

Yahweh bless you and keep you,

Yahweh make his face to shine on you, and be gracious to you,

Yahweh lift up his countenance on you, and give you peace.” ’

God demonstrated what His good pleasure was for His people by providing the words of the blessing. The priests were to bless them in this way. Conformity to this was probably seen as being as important as conformity to other correct ritual. It did not lay within the priests’ area of choice.

Yahweh’s Blessing.

While being in poetic parallelism the thought of the poem reveals the common chiastic sequence of thought. Yahweh’s gracious activity towards them is sandwiched between descriptions of His blessings on them of provision, protection and peace.

a ‘Yahweh bless you and keep you.’ The blessing of Yahweh very much involved material blessings (Genesis 7:16; Genesis 22:17-18; Leviticus 26:3-13; Deuteronomy 28:2-14. Such blessing was an integral part of the covenant. It is this factor that justifies our prayer, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ in the covenant prayer (Matthew 6:11). The priest was thus assuring Yahweh that they were worthy of blessing because they were being obedient, and was calling on Yahweh to provide such blessings and make their lives prosperous and wholesome.

“And keep you.” For the significance of this see Psalms 121, which is a commentary on these words. On the other side of the equation to blessing they needed to be preserved and given long life. He would enable them to be strong. He would not let evil influences affect them. He would protect them from evil, preserving their going out and their coming in. This combination of blessing and keeping occurs regularly and justifies us in seeing the two as one (e.g. Deuteronomy 4:40; Deuteronomy 5:33; Deuteronomy 7:12-24; Deuteronomy 30:19-20 : Psalms 67:1). This was what the priest was seen as calling down on Israel.

b ‘Yahweh make his face to shine on you.’ The shining of the face on someone indicated an attitude of love, lovingkindness and mercy. It was the message of the lampstand in His dwellingplace. This involved saving them in His covenant love (Psalms 31:16; Psalms 80:3; Psalms 80:7; Psalms 80:19), and delivering them from all their troubles. It was a prayer that the shining of His face on them would be their light and salvation (Psalms 27:1). It therefore also involved teaching them His statutes through which they would see light (Psalms 119:135; Psalms 36:9; Psalms 43:3). It is the opposite of His hiding His face from them (Psalms 44:24). By what it accomplished Israel would be a witness to the nations of God’s saving power (Psalms 67:1-2). This would not be seen simply as the priest’s wish, but as a means of it being brought about. As a result of the priest’s words the word of Yahweh would go forth to do His will (compare Isaiah 55:11).

c ‘And be gracious to you.’ This calls for Yahweh’s own compassionate activity on their behalf. If Yahweh did not reveal His undeserved love towards them where would they be? Without His gracious activity all their efforts would be in vain. Here the priest is calling on the direct activity of Yahweh in unmerited grace without which they could do nothing.

b ‘Yahweh lift up his countenance on you.’ To lift up the countenance was to look on someone, in this case with favour. This involved putting gladness in their hearts and watching over His people and keeping them at peace ( Psalms 4:6-8). The priest was seeking to bring them into a place where God would look on them and bring His peace on them, and was by his words calling for Yahweh’s gracious response.

a ‘And give you peace.’ Finally the priest calls on Yahweh to give them peace, peace in their hearts, peace between each other, peace with the world outside, and above all peace with God. It signified the whole spectrum of peace.

The threefoldness of the blessing in its poetic rhythm stressed its completeness, the fivefoldness in its thought (‘bless and keep you’ being seen as one) stressed its connection with the covenant. The whole blessing contained fifteen words stressing the combination of both.

All these prayers would be seen by Israel as being as effective as Balak would later hope that Balaam’s words might be against Israel (Numbers 22-24). This would indeed be seen by them as one reason why Balaam could not assail them. They were under the positive blessing of Yahweh. Balaam saw it that way too (Numbers 22:12; Numbers 24:1).

Numbers 6:27

So shall they put my name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them.”

By this divinely given blessing the priests would be putting Yahweh’s name on the children of Israel. By this He would be stamping them as His (Revelation 3:12; Revelation 14:1; Revelation 22:4). But the name indicated more than identification. To know His name was to see Him powerfully at work (compare Exodus 6:3; Exodus 6:7; Exodus 7:5; Exodus 7:17; Exodus 8:22; Exodus 14:18). To have His name put on them was to be in a position whereby they were sealed as a holy people demonstrating that they were in enjoyment of the benefit of His activity and His blessings. Just as Yahweh would set His name in the Sanctuary, thus dwelling among them (Deuteronomy 12:5; Deuteronomy 12:11; Deuteronomy 14:24; Deuteronomy 26:2) so would He set it on His people and walk with them and be their God. That is why He would bless them.

It should be noted that there is no suggestion that the Priest could withhold the blessing. It was his bounden duty to give it. It was God alone Who decided who came within the sphere of the blessing.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Numbers 6:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/numbers-6.html. 2013.

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