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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Numbers 6

Verses 1-21

The Nazirite vow 6:1-21

The emphasis in this section continues to be on the importance of maintaining purity in the camp so God’s blessing on Israel might continue unabated.

The Nazirite (from the Hebrew root nazar, meaning "to separate") illustrated the consecrated character of all the Israelites, and of the nation as a whole, in an especially visible way.

The "Nazirite" vow was normally temporary. There are two biblical examples of life-long Nazirites: Samson and Samuel. John the Baptist may have been a third case, but we do not know for sure that he lived as a Nazirite before he began his public ministry. This vow was also normally voluntary. Any male or female could take this vow that involved dedication to God’s service. The vow itself required three commitments. These were not the vow but grew out of it as consequences.

1. The separated one abstained from any fruit of the grape vine (Numbers 6:4). Perhaps God commanded this because, ". . . its fruit was regarded as the sum and substance of all sensual enjoyment." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 3:35. Cf. Riggans, p. 53.] Other passages link strong drink with neglect of God’s law (e.g., Genesis 9:20-27; Genesis 19:32-38; Proverbs 31:4-6; Habakkuk 2:5).

"In itself, wine culture was considered to be good-Israelites regarded the harvest of their vineyards as a blessing-but there was also a dangerous side to it: the possibility of lapsing into a pagan lifestyle." [Note: Maarsingh, pp. 25-26.]

2. The Nazirite would leave his or her hair uncut (Numbers 6:5). The significance of this restriction has had many interpretations by the commentators, as have the other restrictions. The most probable explanation, I believe, connects with the fact that hair represented the strength and vitality of the individual (cf. Judges 16:17; 2 Samuel 14:25-26). [Note: Cf. Ashley, p. 143.] The long hair of the Nazirite would have symbolized the dedication of the Nazirite’s strength and vigor to God.

"There might also have been a negative reason [for] this prescription. In many nations at this time, people devoted their hair to their gods." [Note: Maarsingh, p. 26.]

3. The third commitment was to avoid any physical contact with a human corpse. This is perhaps the easiest restriction to explain. It seems that since the Nazirite had dedicated himself to a period of separation to God and from sin he should avoid contact with the product of sin, namely, death. Perhaps, too, since death was an abnormal condition, contact with dead bodies caused defilement.

If the Nazirite broke his vow through no fault of his own he had to follow the prescribed ritual for cleansing and then begin the period of his vow again (Numbers 6:9-12).

". . . there was the recognition that some things in life superseded the requirements of the vow. If someone died suddenly in one’s presence, for example, the vow could be temporarily suspended (Numbers 6:9). After the emergency had passed, there were provisions for completing the vow (Numbers 6:10-12 ff)." [Note: Sailhamer, pp. 377-78.]

The Nazirite did not withdraw from society except in the particulars of these restrictions. He lived an active life of service in Israel. His dedication to God did not remove him from society but affected his motivation and activities as he lived.

The Nazirite lived as a priest temporarily in the sense that he lived under more stringent laws of holiness and served God more directly than other Israelites did. His service was not the same as the priests’, but sometimes it did involve some sanctuary service as well as other types of service (e.g., Samuel).

"This law specifically shows that there were provisions not just for the priest but for all members of God’s people to commit themselves wholly to God. Complete holiness was not the sole prerogative of the priesthood or the Levites. The Nazirite vow shows that even laypersons, men and women in everyday walks of life, could enter into a state of complete devotion to God. Thus this segment of text teaches that any person in God’s nation could be totally committed to holiness." [Note: Ibid., p. 377.]

When the time of the Nazirite’s vow expired, he had to go through a prescribed ritual called "the law of the Nazirite" (Numbers 6:13; Numbers 6:21). Burning his cut hair on the brazen altar under his peace offering (Numbers 6:18) probably symbolized giving to God the strength and vigor that he had previously employed in His service. It also ensured that no one would misuse his hair, possibly in a pagan ritual. The Nazirite ate part of his offering (Numbers 6:19). He physically enjoyed part of the fruits of his dedication to God.

God did not require the taking of vows under the Mosaic Law (cf. Leviticus 27). Consequently the fact that Paul took a Nazirite vow (Acts 18:18) and paid the expenses of others who had taken one (Acts 21:26) does not indicate that he was living under the Law of Moses. He was simply practicing a Jewish custom that prevailed as the Mosaic Law regulated that custom. He did this to win Jews to Jesus Christ, not because as a Christian Jew he was under the Mosaic Law (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).

"It can hardly be denied that there is a desperate need in the church today for such leadership, for men utterly given over to God for His purposes-not men of fanatical zeal (which can very often be fleshly and even devilish), but men of controlled fire, men who can truly say, ’One thing I do’ (Philippians 3:13), men of whom it can be said that the love of Christ constrains them, giving their lives depth, drive, and direction in the service of God." [Note: Philip, pp. 86-87.]

Verses 22-27

The Aaronic benediction 6:22-27

The location of this blessing in this context indicates that one of the priest’s central tasks was to be a source of blessing for God’s people. This blessing, like the preceding Nazirite legislation, deals with the purification of Israel. As the nation prepared to move out toward the Promised Land, God gave this benediction to the priests to offer for the sanctification of the people. God’s will was to bless all His people, not just the Nazirites. The priests were the mediators of this blessing from God to the Israelites.

"Whereas Nazirites generally undertook their vows for a short period, the priests were always there pronouncing this blessing at the close of the daily morning service in the temple and later in the synagogues." [Note: G. Wenham, p. 89.]

This blessing was three-fold, and each segment contained two parts. In each case the second part was a particular application of the general request stated in the first part. The first part hoped for God’s action that would result in the people’s benefit in the second part. The three blessings were increasingly emphatic. Even the structure of the blessing in Hebrew is artful. Line one consists of 15 letters (3 words), line two of 20 letters (5 words), and line three of 25 letters (7 words).

"Each of the three clauses, in a different way, gives expression to God’s commitment to Israel-a commitment which promises earthly security, prosperity, and general well-being." [Note: Budd, p. 77.]

The first blessing is the most general (Numbers 6:24). God’s blessing is His goodness poured out. The priest called on Him not only to provide for His people but to defend them from all evil.

The second blessing is more specific (Numbers 6:25). God’s face is the revelation of His personality to people. It radiates as fire does, consuming evil and bestowing light and warmth, and it shines as the sun, promoting life. God’s graciousness refers to the manifestation of His favor and grace in the events of life.

The third blessing is the most specific (Numbers 6:26). Lifting up the countenance refers to manifesting power. The priest called on God to manifest His power for His people. Specifically this would produce peace (Heb. shalom). "Shalom" does not mean just the absence of aggravation. It is the sum of all God’s blessings.

"The two main elements in the oracle are ’grace and peace.’ It is probable that the Apostle Paul based his salutations on this oracle." [Note: The NET Bible note on 6:22.]

"Excavations of a tomb overlooking the Hinnom Valley in Jerusalem [Ketef Hinnom, 1979] brought to light a small silver scroll containing a tiny inscription bearing the words of the priestly benediction of Numbers 6:24-26. This sheds light on Hebrew orthography and morphology. Also its date (ca. seventh century B.C.) long precedes the composition of the P document of historical-critical scholarship (450 B.C.), thus undermining the hypothesis to that degree." [Note: Eugene Merrill, "The Veracity of the Word: A Summary of Major Archaeological Finds," Kindred Spirit 34:3 (Winter 2010):13.]

One writer suggested the following alternative translation of Numbers 6:27.

"And when they shall name me the Most High of the Israelites, I, on my part, will bless them." [Note: Pieter de Boer, "Numbers vi 27," Vetus Testamentum 32:1 (January 1982):13.]

This rendering seems to capture the spirit of God’s promise. This blessing has always been a very important part of Israel’s worship even to the present day in Judaism.

". . . the high priestly blessing was pronounced whenever the nation of Israel gathered for collective worship and sacrifice as well as when the individual Israelite brought sacrifices to the LORD. The nature of the blessing was that of an oracle, a sure word from God that He had accepted the sacrifice and was pleased with the worshipper. The contents of the blessing were protection, gracious dealings, and peace with God, which assuredly produced the effect of joy, security, and confidence on the part of the people." [Note: Neil W. Arnold, "The High Priestly Blessing," Exegesis and Exposition 2:1 (Summer 1987):50. See also "The Priestly Blessing," Buried History 18:2 (June 1982):27-30. For other instances of the use of this blessing, see Michael Fishbane, "Form and Reformulation of the Biblical Priestly Blessing," Journal of the American Oriental Society 103:1 (January-March 1983):115-21; and Leon Liebreich, "The Songs of Ascents and the Priestly Blessing," Journal of Biblical Literature 74 (1955):33-36.]

"Some people suggest that only spontaneous prayer is ’real’ prayer; verses such as these show that such sentiment is not correct." [Note: Allen, p. 754.]

". . . the Aaronic blessing concludes the section of text dealing with the bulk of Israel’s priestly legislation, and, implicitly, promises that if these laws are kept, the blessing of God will follow. The material in this major section (Leviticus 1 -Numbers 6) comes between the date of the erection of the tabernacle and the movement of the camp some fifty days later (Numbers 10:11)." [Note: Ashley, pp. 149-50.]

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Numbers 6". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/numbers-6.html. 2012.