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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Numbers 6

 

 

Verses 1-21

THE NAZARITE OF DAYS, Numbers 6:1-21.

There is in Mosaism nothing relating to the perpetual Nazarite. Only three are mentioned in the Bible — Samson, Samuel, and John the Baptist. These were Nazarites not of personal choice but from their birth, either by reason of divine ordination or parental consecration. There is in the Scriptures no positive injunction or recommendation of this vow, nor is there any prescribed period for the limited Nazarite. According to the best Jewish authorities the usual time was thirty days, but double vows for sixty and treble for one hundred days were sometimes made. For some occasions on which vows were made, see Acts 18:18, note.


Verse 2

2. Man or woman — Childless parents, says the Mishna, undertook this vow in the hope of obtaining offspring. This course was followed by Manoah’s wife and by Samuel’s mother. If a female Nazarite broke her vow she was liable to forty stripes. According to the Hebrew canons, “The father or the husband may disannul the Nazariteship of his child or of his wife, if he will.” Philo, after describing the votive offerings occasionally made by the people, goes on to say: “And when they have no longer any materials left in which they can display their piety, they then consecrate and offer up themselves, displaying an unspeakable holiness, and a most superabundant excess of a God-loving disposition, on which account such a dedication is fitly called THE GREAT VOW for every man is his own greatest and most valuable possession, and this even he now gives up and abandons.”

Shall separate — The original word signifies the doing of something wonderful or extraordinary, and is the very term used in Leviticus 27:2, for making a singular vow.” It intimates an unusual and intense zeal for Jehovah. From the absence of any prescribed ritual, and from the statements in the Mishna, we infer that this act of self-consecration was a private affair. If the vow was broken, its renewal required a public ceremonial.

A vow of a Nazarite — This vow involved the two radical significations of the term Nazarite: separation and consecration. He separated himself from strong drink, and from every production of the vine, even the skins and seeds of the grape; from every instrument of the barber, and from any dead body, even that of his nearest kindred. He was not cut off from marriage, from secular business, and from social life. He was not a monastic, though much of his time may have been devoted to sacred studies and to acts of worship. The descriptions of this character in the Scriptures are chiefly negative rather than positive. The separation is more definite than the consecration.


Verse 3

3. Wine and strong drink — See Leviticus 10:8-11, notes. This law requiring abstinence from intoxicants is placed next to the law for a defiled or suspected woman, because by drunkenness unchastities frequently come. Genesis 19:32-35; Proverbs 23:31; Proverbs 23:33.

Vinegar — A beverage generally of wine or strong drink (beer and cider) turned sour, but it was sometimes made by the fermentation of a mixture of barley and wine. It was acid even to a proverb, (Proverbs 10:26,) but was serviceable as a relish with bread, as used by labourers. See Ruth 2:14, notes. The Romans called this liquid posca, either pure or mixed with water. Though offered in derision to Jesus on the cross, he drank it, and doubtless found a temporary refreshment amid his dying agonies. Matthew 27:48, note. The same beverage drugged with anaesthetics he had previously refused. Matthew 27:34, note.

Liquor of grapes — Unfermented wine or must.

Moist grapes — Fresh.

Dried — Raisins. As the fruit of the vine symbolizes all pampering of fleshly appetites which are at war with holiness, it was strictly forbidden to the Nazarite. The grape-cake, a dainty of epicures and debauchees, is mentioned in Hosea 3:1, (R.V.) as a sensual bait of idolatry, a luxury not in keeping with the sobriety and purity of the true religion.


Verse 4

4. Kernels — Grape-stones.

Husk — The cuticle or skin.


Verse 5

5. No razor come upon his head — The unshorn head was not a symbol of holiness among the Hebrews, as Bahr suggests, but simply an ornament in which the whole strength and fulness of life were set forth in honour of Jehovah as a sign of the perfect consecration of all his energies to his service. It was not a sign of perfect liberty, still less of dependence upon some other power, nor of abasement, nor abstinence, nor of renunciation of the world.

Until the days be fulfilled — The law prescribed no period.


Verse 6

6. Dead body — See Numbers 5:2, note.


Verse 7

7. Unclean for his father — He could not enter the house where his father lay dead. The omission of the wife in the list of near relatives would seem to permit the Nazarite to bury his wife. Others interpret Numbers 6:6 as excluding him from her funeral except by breaking his vow, contracting ceremonial defilement during seven days, and beginning his vow anew.

The consecration of his God — R.V., “Separation unto his God.” In Exodus 29:6, and Leviticus 21:12, we have the Hebrew nezer, crown. This is its import here, “the diadem of his God upon his head.” As the golden crown upon the turban of the high priest, and the oil of consecration poured upon the priestly head, so the luxuriant growth of the Nazarite’s hair expressed in a similar manner the fact of his consecration to the service of Jehovah and subjection to his authority. To this St. Paul alludes in 1 Corinthians 11:7. The application of the word nezer, crown, to the Nazarite is a figure called assonance, a rhetorical beauty especially frequent in Isaiah.


Verse 9

9. Defiled the head of his consecration — Or, his consecrated head. Involuntary defilement by actual contact with a corpse was a violation of the Nazarite’s sanctity during seven days. “Cleanse thou me from secret” (unconsciously committed) “faults.” See Leviticus iv, concluding notes. If we may believe Hebrew writers, the subject of this vow could not even so much as wear mourning for his nearest relatives.

Shall shave his head — Not because his hair is the special seat of the defilement, but because it was the conspicuous exponent of his entire consecration to Jehovah.


Verse 10

10. Two turtles — See Leviticus 1:14; Leviticus 15:13-15, notes.


Verse 11

11. Sin offering — See Leviticus 4, notes. Moral and ceremonial impurities are treated alike in the Levitical law.

Burnt offering — See Leviticus i, notes.

Atonement — See Leviticus 1:4; Leviticus 4:20, notes. It is equivalent to the covering up or concealing of that which God cannot allow in his presence. In Hebrew phraseology, to atone is to remove or annihilate. Atonement is the basal notion and essential characteristic of every bloody sacrifice in Mosaism. But we have no proof that the Hebrews saw in the typical atonement the great expiation made by the coming Antitype. The type, to one ignorant of the antitype, predicts and elucidates nothing. Though nowhere in the Old Testament is faith in an atoning Messiah required as the condition of pardon, yet faith in a priestly atonement involving blood was certainly the condition of both pardon and pretty in Mosaism. Thus was foreshadowed the necessity of a satisfaction of the ethical nature of both God and man, in the justification of sinners.

Sinned — An act without the concurrence of the will cannot be properly called sin, yet it may be in the eye of the law such a “missing of the mark” as may need an atonement.

By the dead — Literally, upon the nephesh, or soul. See Numbers 5:2, note.

Hallow his head — “Begin again the count of his Nazariteship.” — Jarchi.


Verse 12

12. Consecrate Separate. The term of his original vow must begin anew, and the previous days count for nothing. For the spiritual lesson, see Ezekiel 33:13.

Trespass offering — See Leviticus 5:6, note, and introductory note. This was the proper offering for an inadvertent sin. See Leviticus 5:15, note. He has become delinquent “for having prolonged the days of separation through his carelessness with regard to the defilement; that is to say, for having extended the time during which he led a separate, retired, and inactive life, and suspended his duties to his own family and the congregation, thus doing injury to them, and incurring a debt in relation to them through his neglect.” — Knobel.


Verse 13

13. This is the law of the Nazarite — The following verses (13-21) contain the rites required for the discharge of a Nazarite of days, prescribing the mode of expressing his gratitude for the attainment of the object of his vow and for its successful termination. The whole list of sacrifices described in Leviticus i-vii is exhausted, with the exception of the trespass offering, which is appropriated to a broken vow.

He shall be brought — Literally, he shall bring him, or it — that is, the offering. We are left in doubt whether the priest brings the Nazarite, or he brings himself or his sacrifice, or some unknown person presents him. The English happily expresses the ambiguity.


Verse 14

14. Lamb… without blemish — See Leviticus 1:3.

Peace offerings — Since the occasion was joyous these festive offerings were especially pertinent. See Leviticus 3:1; Leviticus 7:11-21, notes. The sin offering is pertinent to an involuntary sin, unknown yet presumed on the ground of human imperfection. See Leviticus 4:2, note, and concluding notes. Thus was the Nazarite not only estopped from claiming any merit, but he was also taught that even his best endeavours needed the blood of sprinkling, and that not even a conscience void of offence was to be trusted in as a ground of acceptance. See 1 Corinthians 4:4.


Verse 15

15. Their meat offering — See Leviticus ii, notes. The possessive “their” indicates that the meat offering and drink offering were not independent, but appendages to the preceding offerings, especially to the peace offering. Leviticus 7:12. The drink offerings symbolized gladness. For their nature see Leviticus 23:13, note.


Verse 16

16. Sin offering, and… burnt offering — The order is by no means accidental, but expresses the relative order of man’s religious duties; first to seek forgiveness, and then to consecrate himself entirely to God. See Introduction to Leviticus, (5.)


Verse 18

18. Put it in the fire — Traces of the hair sacrifice are found among the Greeks in the case of Achilles, at the funeral of Patroclus, who cut off his golden locks and threw them into the flood as a sacrifice to the river-god. Nero cut off his first beard, and, putting it into a box studded with jewels, consecrated it to Jupiter Capitolinus. Virgil says that the topmost lock was dedicated to the infernal gods. These practices may have been derived from the Jewish Nazarites.


Verse 19

19. Sodden — Cooked, usually boiled.

Unleavened — See Leviticus 2:11, note.

Wafer — A thin cake. For the mode of baking it see Leviticus 2:4, wood-cut.


Verse 20

20. Wave offering — See Leviticus 7:30, note.

After that the Nazarite may drink wine — The Hebrew yayin is the most general term for wine which intoxicates. It is an open question whether the strong condemnation pronounced by the Bible against the effects of wine is not rather directed against intoxication and excess than against the substance itself. He who quotes the Nazarite as an example of total abstinence should also quote this permission of wine drinking after the period of his vow. The Pauline reason for abstinence, the removal of all stumbling-blocks from the path of the weak brother, is the only unanswerable, scriptural argument. Romans 14:21, note. This removes the question from the sphere of immutable morality, into which extremists have wrongfully thrust it, to the sphere of prudential morality, where it belongs.


Verse 21

21. Besides that that his hand shall get — Better, besides what his hand grasps. R.V., “which he is able to get.” The foregoing sacrifices are absolutely necessary to the discharge of a temporary Nazarite; but other sacrifices, according to his ability, are optional. In after times there grew up the charitable custom, on the part of the rich, of defraying the expenses of the sacrifices requisite for the discharge of indigent Nazarites. This was a very popular act among the Jews. See Acts 21:24, note.

The ordinance of Nazariteship is full of interest and practical instruction to all who desire, in a very special manner, to set themselves apart from things which, though not absolutely sinful in themselves, nevertheless tend to interfere with that intense devotion and entire consecration of heart requisite to that evangelical perfection which consists in loving God with all the heart. It moreover foreshadows the pre-eminent consecration of “the Nazarite” and of all who fully follow the example of “the Holy One.”


Verses 22-27

THE FORM OF THE PRIESTLY BLESSING, Numbers 6:22-27.

The Book of Numbers is rich in fragments of ancient poetry, some of them of great beauty, and all elucidating the character of the times in which they were composed. Such is the poetical benediction of the high priest. From this mustard seed arose the overshadowing system of Hebrew and Christian liturgies, which Milton aptly styles “the manuals and handmaids of devotion, the lip-work of every prelatical liturgist, clapped together and quilted out of Scripture phrase.” While the vast majority of Hebraists are unable to detect any rhythm of measures in Hebrew poetry, they find what has been called a rhythm of sentiment. Thus in this priestly blessing each period is divided into two members which balance each other by thought corresponding to thought in repetition and amplification. This parallelism is the distinctive feature of Hebrew poetry. Thus, in this benediction, are three sets of parallels, each containing two verbs.


Verse 23

23. Aaron and… his sons — It is not certain whether the blessing is a prerogative of the entire priesthood or of only the successors in the high priest’s office. The Targum of Palestine adds to this verse these words: “While spreading forth the hands from the high place (place of speaking) in this tongue (form).”


Verse 24

24. Bless thee — This priestly benediction touchingly individualizes the whole congregation by the use of the singular pronoun. “He calleth his own sheep by name.”

And keep thee — The Targum adds, “from demons of the night, and things that cause terror, and from demons of the noon and of the morning, and from malignant spirits and phantoms.” The addition is quite human. The keeping power of God, exercised toward his children amid peril, is a source of wonderful comfort and confidence. The blended agency of God and the believer in this keeping is beautifully expressed by St. Peter — “Kept by the power of God through faith” (1 Peter 1:5) — while the inheritance is also “reserved” or kept “in heaven for you.” In this keeping free agency is not violated. See John 17:12, note.


Verse 25

25. Make his face shine — The Targum adds, “when occupied in the law, and reveal to thee its secrets.” Anthropomorphic descriptions of God and boldness of metaphor are characteristic of Hebrew poetry. “If the light of the sun is sweet and pleasant to behold, the light of the divine countenance, the everlasting light, is the sum of all delight.” — Baumgarten. Stripped of figure, the prayer is that Jehovah may deal kindly with Israel, as is indicated in the following part of the parallelism.

And be gracious unto thee — It is a mere play of the fancy to make sharp distinctions between the blessings invoked in these verses. Thus Luther refers the first blessing to bodily good, the second to the spiritual nature and soul, and the third to the same with a desire for final victory over the cross, death, the devil, the world, and the flesh.


Verse 26

26. Lift up his countenance — Look at. This phrase is used by David to denote Jehovah’s deliverance of men out of their distresses. Psalms 4:6; Psalms 21:6; Psalms 33:18.

Give thee peace — This is not a mere negative blessing, exemption from unrest and warfare; but, like the peace that Christ left as a legacy to believers, it includes all blessing of a positive kind, all well-being. See especially John 14:27, note. The Targum adds, “peace in thy end.

And they shall bestow the benediction of my name upon the children of Israel, and I, by my word, will bless them.” The threefold structure of this benediction, copied by St. Paul in the so-called apostolic benediction, suggests that it was a designed adumbration of the Trinity so clearly revealed in the New Testament. The Fathers and early theologians urged this as a proof text of this profound Christian mystery, which rests upon abundant and undoubted scriptural proofs. As the threefold repetition expresses the thought as strongly as possible, so this triune blessing calls down the fulness of grace enfolded in that absolute Being, Jehovah, which in the Christian dispensation is unfolded through the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

“Eternal Sun of righteousness,

Display thy beams divine,

And cause the glories of thy face

Upon my heart to shine.

Lift up thy countenance serene,

And let thy happy child

Behold, without a cloud between,

The Godhead reconciled.” C. Wesley.


Verse 27

27. They shall put my name — The name of a man is the medium in which his personality floats from mind to mind. But the name of Jehovah, when thus invoked upon obedient Israel, signified more than that: it conveyed, in a measure, the attributes for which that name stands. Hence to ask in the name of Christ is to lay hold of his living and omnipresent personality as substantive and real. Professor Bush suggests that the blessing in the name of Jehovah is putting his name upon Israel. He thus translates the words, “And thus shall ye put my name,” etc. In John 17:12, Jesus says, “I kept them in thy name,” probably referring to the priestly benediction.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Numbers 6:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/numbers-6.html. 1874-1909.

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Sunday, September 15th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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