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A vow of a Nazarite.
The law of vows (with special reference to the Nazarite)
1. The principle of the vow is that God has placed earth’s good things at man’s disposal; and it is a becoming thing in him to give so much of it back to God (1Ch 29:14; 1 Chronicles 29:16; John 1:16). But once made, there was no option in the performance of the vow. No vow was better than a vow unpaid (Deuteronomy 23:21-22 : Ecclesiastes 5:4-6).
2. The subjects of vows were endless as a man’s possessions. They extended even to the person of himself or others over whom he might have control (Leviticus 27:1-34).
3. But the vow at once most prominent in the Old Testament, and coming nearest to the personal consecration asked for in the New, is that of the Nazarite. The Nazaritish vow is explainable neither on the one hand as stoicism, nor on the other as a mystic representation of the Divine power working in man. It represents the ideal of sacrifice, in the devotement of a man’s own person to God.
I. The marks of dedication laid upon the Nazarite.
1. He is to abstain from all alcoholic liquor; and, to avoid danger or suspicion, must abstain from all that comes from the vine (Numbers 6:3-4). As a similar regulation was made regarding the priests when in God’s service (Leviticus 10:9), the inference is that indulgence in strong drink specially unfits a man for God’s presence or indwelling.
2. He is to leave his hair unshorn (Numbers 6:5), obviously as a badge of his position. The meaning of the Nazarite’s long hair, i.e. his subjection to God, gives meaning to the woman’s long hair (1 Corinthians 11:10), viz. her subjection to man.
3. He must not come into contact with the dead (Numbers 6:7). The lesson lay in the close connection between death and sin, and carried the promise of victory over death to him who sought the victory over sin.
II. The examples presented in scripture of the nazarite vow. The vow was generally taken for a short period--from thirty to sixty days--and probably its very commonness prevents its being much noticed in Scripture. But there are some notable examples of Nazarites for life. Samson was, in the full sense of the word, a life-Nazarite (Judges 13:1-25.). In the case of Samuel (1 Samuel 1:11), no mention is made of abstinence, and in the case of John Baptist (Luke 1:15) no mention is made of the hair; but it is probable that they were both full Nazarites.
III. Its application to ourselves.
1. In Bible times it was a permissible and honourable thing to abstain from intoxicating drinks. When God had any specially great or holy work for a man to do, He would have him a Nazarite or an abstainer (Leviticus 10:9, &c.). He classes the Nazarite with the prophet (Amos 2:11). Have we any less reason to-day to be abstainers than these men had?
2. The Nazaritish vow raises the question of our entire consecration to God. Christ was not an abstainer because He is the one perfect example of consecration, and representative of the body which shall yet stand in its completed freedom before God. There will be no vows in heaven, because at every moment the heart’s choice will be all that it should be. But if we put vows from us now, we have to ask, Is it because we are above them, or because we are below them? (W. Roberts, M. A.)
The ordinance of Nazariteship:
1. The fruit of the vine, in every shape and form, was to him a forbidden thing. Now, wine, as we know, is the apt symbol of earthly joy--the expression of that social enjoyment which the human heart is so fully capable of entering into. From this the Nazarite in the wilderness was sedulously to keep himself. It is a very grave question indeed how far we, as Christians, are really entering into the meaning and power of this intense separation from all the excitement of nature and from all merely earthly joy. It may perhaps be said, “What harm is there in having a little amusement or recreation? Has not God given us richly all things to enjoy? And while we are in the world, is it not right that we should enjoy it?” We reply, it is not a question of the harm of this, that, or the other. There was no harm, as a general rule, in wine, nothing abstractedly wrong in the vine tree. The question for us is this, Do we aim at being Nazarites? Do we sigh after thorough separation and devotement of ourselves, in body, soul, and spirit, unto God? If so, we must be apart from all these things in which mere nature finds its enjoyment.
2. But there was another thing which marked the Nazarite. He was not to shave his head. In 1 Corinthians 11:14, we learn that it argues a lack of dignity for a man to have long hair. From this we learn that if we really desire to live a life of separation to God, we must be prepared to surrender our dignity in nature. Now here is just the very thing which we so little like to do. We naturally stand up for our dignity and seek to maintain our rights. It is deemed manly so to do. But the perfect Man never did so; and if we aim at being Nazarites we shall not do so either. We must surrender the dignities of nature, and forego the joys of earth, if we would tread a path of thorough separation to God in this world. By and by both will be in place; but not now. This simplifies the matter amazingly. It answers a thousand questions and solves a thousand difficulties. It is of little use to split; hairs about the harm of this or that particular thing. The question is, What is our real purpose and object? Do we merely want to get on as men, or do we long to live as true Nazarites?
3. The Nazarite was not to touch a dead body (verses 6, 7). When once the consecration of God rested upon the head of any one, that important fact became the touchstone of all morality. It placed the individual on entirely new ground, and rendered it imperative upon him to look at everything from a peculiar point of view. He was no longer to ask what became him as a man; but what became him as a Nazarite.
4. We behold, in the person of the Nazarite, a type of one who sets out in some special path of devotedness or consecration to Christ. The power of continuance in this path consists in secret communion with God; so that if the communion be interrupted, the power is gone. (C. H. Mackintosh.)
1. No juice of grape, no produce of the vine, may touch the consecrated lips. This principle is broad and deep. Flee whatever may tend co weaken the firm energy, or to stir up the sleeping brood of sensual and ungodly lusts. More than gross vice is branded here. Evils may enter in a pigmy form. At first they may seem harmless. Avoid them. They are the cancer’s touch. They are the weed’s first seed.
2. 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 is to be the one attire in which you move abroad--the holy crown which sparkles on your brow.
3. He must avoid all contact with the dead. Among the living he must live. Wherefore is death to be thus shunned? It is the penalty of sin--the sign of God’s most righteous wrath. It is a proof of innocence destroyed-of evil touched--of vengeance merited. It is abomination’s colleague. Therefore it is emblem of what holy men should holily abhor. (Dean Law.)
It is to be noticed here that this separation was voluntary and in full accordance with the self-determination of the will power. The Nazarite, of his own choice, vowed a vow that for a certain time at least he would be all the Lord’s. This indicated his conscious choice. He could make the vow, or he could decline to do so. In all his dealings with men, God recognises and honours their will power. No cue is coerced into His service. No one is over-constrained to set himself apart for God. And so it is with Christian holiness--the New Testament idea of Nazaritism. Men must first of all, by the Spirit of God, will to be all the Lord’s. They must will to give up themselves, the world, and sin, and every wrong thing, and to be separated to God for ever. Those Nazarites to God were among the brightest shining lights of the Jewish dispensation. And is it not so now? The more complete the consecration and separation the more blessed and wide-spread and Divine is the light which shines out from this holy character. But there were certain conditions of Nazariteship then, as there are now. First of all, the Nazarite was to be a total abstainer. No man who gives himself up to the wine-cup can be wholly separated to God. There must be a separation from these things. As men draw consciously near to God there will be an abandonment of intoxicants.
2. Their hair was to remain uncut (Numbers 6:5). In the olden time the growth of the hair was thought to be indicative of strength. The idea may have originated in many minds from the strength in Samson’s unshorn locks. But, whatever the cause, this has very generally been thought to be the case. This was done, we think, that it might be clearly indicated that nothing was to emasculate or effeminate the persons thus set apart. The person who would be all the Lord’s must give up everything which would mar or enfeeble his religious character or life. It has been thought by some that long hair is a token of subjection. So Paul is regarded as teaching in 1 Corinthians 11:5. Well, let it be so. And then what does this indicate to the spiritually-minded person? Why, surely, that the Christian Nazarite is entirely under subjection to God.
3. All who saw these persons knew that they were Nazarites. Their unshorn locks told at once their real character. In like manner the holy Christian will readily impress the mind of those by whom he is surrounded that he belongs to Christ.
4. Furthermore, he was not to touch any dead body, not even of those who were dearest to him. No one who aims to be a holy Christian should fail to keep his “garments unspotted from the world.”
5. The Christian Nazarite’s vow is for life. With him, this consecration is not merely for eight days, or for a month, or a year; but it is for life. (Lewis R. Dunn, D. D.)
The vow of the Nazarite; or, acceptable consecration to God
Acceptable personal consecration to God is characterised by--
1. Voluntariness. The service of the slave, or of the hireling, Be rejects.
2. Completeness. Divided allegiance is no allegiance.
3. Subordination of sensual enjoyments. Our animal passions must be controlled by moral principles. Everything which tends to weaken our soul’s vision, to blunt our susceptibility to spiritual impressions, to interrupt our communion with God, or to deprive us of spiritual purity and power, we are bound to abstain from.
4. Separation from all moral evil. (W. Jones.)
Of the vows of the Nazarites, and the use thereof to us:
The Nazarites were such persons as vowed a special kind of holiness. The parts of their special holiness are two: first, while they were in this vow; secondly, when the days of it were accomplished. This is the vow and these are the rites belonging unto it: now let us observe the uses remaining for us. For albeit these ceremonies be all abrogated, yet we shall find great benefit to arise from hence to the whole Church.
1. And first concerning the sanctification of these Nazarites professing holiness above others, it was a lively figure of Christ, signifying to the whole Church the wonderful purity of Christ, who was fully and perfectly separate from sinners. But was Christ such a Nazarite as these here spoken of? I answer, no: He observed no part of this vow. The Nazarites abstained from wine, the fruit of the vine, the blood of the grape: but Christ Himself in His own person did not so. Howbeit He is indeed a true Nazarite, or rather the truth of the Nazarites, separate from all the corruptions that attend upon the rest of the sons of men, free from the common defilements of the world; and that holy One which is called the Son of God. This is a great comfort for us to consider the excellency of His sacrifice, being without blemish, for it was most requisite that the unspeakable work of the Spirit should come in, that so He might not be tainted with the common infection of original sin, but might be endued with most perfect purity and innocency, and so be fully able to cover our impurity and impiety (Ephesians 5:26-27), and withal as by a certain pledge assure us, that in the end all our sins and imperfections shall be done away. In Him is that fulfilled therefore which is spoken in the Lamentations, that He was whiter than the milk, and purer than the snow, and it agreeth more fitly and truly unto Him than unto these Nazarites.
2. Secondly this teacheth that such as were special ornaments of the Church, and have received a more eminent office than others, should also labour to shine before others in holiness of life, according to the measure of grace which they have received (Romans 16:7). These thus advanced of God are, in the eyes of the world, as a city set upon a hill; a little blemish is soon seen in their face, a small stain appeareth in their coat; and therefore Satan laboureth especially to tempt and seduce them. And Christ telleth His disciples that Satan desired to winnow them--them I say above others as their calling was above others; for they ,sere the master-builders, and laid the foundation of the Church, upon which others builded. Let all those therefore whose place and calling and gifts make them evident above others, take heed to themselves: let them labour to cleave more closely to God, and so to let their light shine before men that they, seeing their good works, may glorify their Father which is in heaven. These are as chief captains of the host, and the ensign-bearers of the Church, to show the way to others and to go in and out before them in an unblamable course; and though they draw not all unto them by their example, yet their fervency, their earnestness, shall serve to instruct many others.
3. Thirdly, seeing these Nazarites must keep themselves from wine and strong drink, as also from eating fresh or dried grapes, so long as the days of their separation endured, we learn hereby that it is our duty to fly from all evil, even all the occasions and allurements of sin whatsoever, though they be never so pleasant to the eye or sweet to the taste; inasmuch as we shall find them in the end to be more sharp than vinegar, more bitter than wormwood, more deadly than poison. (W. Attersoll.)
Dangerous things to be avoided:
As much as we can, let us keep ourselves from slippery places, for even on dry ground it is not very strongly that we stand. (J. Spencer.)
Degrading effects of drink
A minister of the gospel told me in 1847 one of the most thrilling incidents I ever heard in my life. A member of his congregation came home for the first time in his life intoxicated, and his boy met him on the doorstep, clapping his hands and exclaiming, “Papa has come home!” He seized that boy by the shoulder, swung him around, staggered, and fell with him in the hall. The minister said to me, “I spent that night in that house. I went to the door, and bared my brow that the night air might fall upon it and cool it; I walked up and down the hail. There was his child dead; there was his wife in strong convulsions, and he asleep. A man but thirty-five years of age asleep with a dead child in the house, having a blue mark upon the temple where the corner of the marble steps had come in contact with the head as he swung him round, and a wife upon the very brink of the grave! I felt I must remain until he awoke, and I did. When he awoke he passed his hand over his face, and exclaimed, ‘What is the matter? Where am I? Where is my boy?’ ‘You cannot see him.’--’Where is my boy?’ he inquired. ‘You cannot see him.’--’Stand out of my way. I will see my boy!’ To prevent confusion, I took him to that child’s bedside, and, as I turned down the sheet and showed him the corpse, he uttered the shriek, ‘Ah, my child!’ One year afterwards that man was brought from a lunatic asylum to lie side by side with his wife in one grave, and I attended his funeral.” The minister of the gospel who told me that fact is to-day a drunken ostler in a stable in Boston l Now tell me what drink will do. It will debase, degrade, imbrute, and damn everything that is noble, bright, glorious, and godlike in a human being. (J. B. Gough.)
A faithful abstainer:
The Rev. Canon Wilberforce was once in the neighbourhood of the London Docks, in a little room as black as a chimney, but, through the preaching of the gospel, many souls have been born there. He asked if any one would get up and say what God had done for their souls. An old sailor rose and said how bad he had been; felt that he was even a devil’s castaway; but six years ago, in that little room, he was led to see that he was a great sinner, but that Christ was a great Saviour, and that on the cross was nailed every one of his sins. “I signed the pledge and threw away my pipe, and have been upheld by God, because every morning I pray that I may be protected.” Returning recently from Hong Kong, this old sailor had an accident and was badly scalded, and was very ill. When he began to recover the doctor said, “You must take some port-wine.” “No,” said the old sailor, “I am a teetotaller.” “But,” said the doctor, “you need it to strengthen you.” “Doctor,” said the old man, “do you think I shall die ii I don’t take the wine?” “Yes,” said the doctor. “Then,” said the sailor, “when you get into the St. Katherine’s Docks, go round to the little room and tell them that the old man died sober.” But he did not die, and is alive to this hour to testify of the sufficiency of God’s grace to keep him.
On this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel.
The threefold blessing
1. Open the hand wide. The Father comes to fill it. “The Lord bless thee, and keep thee.”
(1) When? Now and ever, when you go out, come in, sit down, rise up, through all your living space, and when the last breath flutters on your lips.
(2) Where? In every place in which you tarry, or to which you move; in the closet, at the domestic board, at home, abroad, in still retreat, and in the busiest haunts, in the publicity of open work, and in the sanctity of holiest spots.
(3) How? By causing all things to minister to your true good, by crowning yore lot with all real happiness.
2. Jesus comes next. “The Lord make His face shine upon thee,” &c. The greatest change on nature’s brow is when light dawns. Gloom dwells beneath the pall of night. It is so with the soul. Sad are the hours which are not bright with Jesus. Then sins affright, and wrath dismays, and all the future is despair. This blessing promises the shining of His face, not a brief ray, but the full blaze of concentrated love. “The Lord make His face shine upon thee.” Here, too, a precious pearl is added. It is grace. The words proceed, “and be gracious unto thee.” What wonders are wrapt up in grace I Its birth is in the heavens, its fruit upon the earth. It looks on those in whom no merit dwells.
3. The blessing voice still speaks. “The Lord lift up His countenance upon thee,” &c. Can they who have received so much need more? But more is wondrously given. The truly blest have all the blessings of a Triune Jehovah. Hence the Spirit’s favour is moreover pledged. Seek Christ, abide in Him, make Him your all, then will this threefold blessing be your crown. (Dean Law.)
The priestly blessing
I. The divine direction. The command to pronounce the blessing may be regarded as an assurance that, when it was pronounced, the blessing itself would be given.
II. The divine benediction.
1. The significant form of the benediction.
(1) The triple use of the sacred Name is significant.
(2) The use of the singular number in reference to the subject of the blessing is significant.
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.” 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. What subtlety can surprise God who is infinite in intelligence? What strength can stand against Omnipotence?
(2) The favour of God. “The Lord make His face shine,” &c. 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.”
4. 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.
(3) The peace of God. “The Lord lift up His countenance,” &c. “Shalom”--peace, “the sum of all the good which God sets, prepares, or establishes for His people.” “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. “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. (W. Jones.)
The priestly blessing:
I. The priests, among other good offices they were to do, are appointed solemnly to bless the people in the name of the lord. Hereby God put an honour upon the priest, for the less is blessed of the better; and hereby He gave great comfort and satisfaction to the people, who looked upon the priest as God’s mouth to them. Though the priest of himself could do no more but beg a blessing, yet being an intercessor by office, and doing that in His name who commands the blessing, the prayer carried with it a promise, and he pronounced it as one having authority, with his hands lifted up and his face towards the people.
1. This was a type of Christ’s errand into the world, which was to bless us (Acts 3:26) as the High Priest of our profession. The last thing He did on earth was with uplifted hands to bless His disciples (Luke 24:50-51). Bishop Pearson observes it as a tradition of the Jews, that the priests blessed the people only at the close of the morning sacrifice, not of the evening sacrifice, to show that in the days of the Messiah, which are (as it were) the evening of the world, the benediction of the law should cease, and the blessing of Christ should take place.
2. It was a pattern to gospel-ministers, the masters of assemblies, who are in like manner to dismiss their solemn assemblies with a blessing. The same that are God’s mouth to His people to teach and command them, are His mouth likewise to bless them; and they that receive the law shall receive the blessing.
II. A form of blessing is here prescribed them. In other of their devotions no form is prescribed; but this being God’s command of the blessing, that it might not look like anything of their own He puts the very words into their mouths (Numbers 6:24-26). Where observe--
1. That the blessing is commanded upon each particular person: “The Lord bless thee.” They must each of them prepare themselves to receive the blessing, and then they should find enough in it to make them every man happy (Deuteronomy 28:3). If we take the law to ourselves, we may take the blessing to ourselves, as if our names were inserted.
2. That the name Jehovah is three times repeated in it, and (as the critics observe) each with a different accent in the original. The Jews themselves think there is some mystery. And we know what it is, the New Testament having explained it (2 Corinthians 13:14).
3. That the favour of God is all in all in this blessing, for that it is the fountain of all good.
(1) “The Lord bless thee.” Our blessing God is only our speaking well of Him, His blessing us is doing well for us; those whom He blesseth they are blessed indeed.
(2) “The Lord make His face shine upon thee.” Alluding to the shining of the sun upon the earth, to enlighten and comfort it, and to renew the face of it. “The Lord love thee, and make thee know that He loves thee.” We cannot but be happy if we have God’s love, and we cannot but be easy if we know that we have it.
(3) “The Lord lift up His countenance upon thee.” This is to the same purpose with the former, and it seems to allude to the smiles of a father upon his child, or of a man upon his friend whom he takes pleasure in. If God gives us the assurances of His special favour, and His acceptance of us, that will put gladness into the heart (Psalms 4:7-8).
4. That the fruits of this favour conveyed by this blessing are protection, pardon, and peace.
(1) Protection from evil (Numbers 6:24). “The Lord keep thee,” for it is He that keepeth Israel, and neither “slumbers nor sleeps” (Psalms 121:4), and all believers are kept by the power of God.
(2) Pardon of sin (Numbers 6:25). The Lord be gracious or merciful unto thee.
(3) Peace (Numbers 6:26), including all that good which goes to make up a complete happiness.
(4) God here promiseth to ratify and confirm the blessing (Numbers 6:27). “They shall put My name upon the children of Israel.” God gives them leave to make use of His name in blessing the people, and to bless them as His people called by His name. This included all the blessings they could pronounce upon them, to, mark them for God’s peculiar, the people of His choice and love. God’s name upon them was their honour, their comfort, their safety, their plea: “we are called by Thy name, leave us not.” It is added, “and I will bless them.” A Divine blessing goes along with Divine institutions, and puts virtue and efficacy into them. What Christ saith of the peace is true of the blessing. When God’s ministers pronounce the blessing, “Peace be to this congregation,” if the sons of peace and heirs of blessing be there, the peace, the blessing shall rest upon them (Luke 10:5-6). For in every place where God doth record His name, He will meet His people and bless them. (Matthew Henry, D. D.)
The blessing of the high priest:
I. The general character of this blessing.
1. It was a blessing given through a priest. Christ, as the great High Priest who offered Himself without spot unto God, is the Divine channel of blessing. Do we know the Lord’s Anointed?
2. This benediction is of the nature of intercession. Never forget that Christ “made intercession for the transgressors.” He has, moreover, a special pleading for believers (John 17:9).
3. This benediction is yet of a higher order than intercession. Here is not only faith pleating, but faith receiving and bestowing. The priest speaks the blessing: for which he asks.
4. This blessing is sure. Christ is commissioned of the Father, and anointed of the Spirit, as the ambassador of peace.
5. It is continuous. God blesses ever; curses never.
II. The blessing itself.
1. It passes from the priest to God. “The Lord bless thee.” What a blessing the Lord gives! Have we not heard a mother say to her little child, “Bless you “? What a wealth of meaning she threw into it. But when God says, “Bless you! “ there are infinity and immutability in it. There can be no limit to the goodwill of the infinite God.
2. Notice that the name of the Lord, or Jehovah, is three times mentioned. Here we hear the voice of One, yet Three.
3. Notice that this benediction is all along in the singular. Why? Because the people of God are one, and He views them as one, and so the blessing comes upon the entire Church as a whole. But, next, I think it is that every individual believer may take the whole of this benediction home to himself.
III. The divine amen. Here is the authority repeated by way of confirmation of what has been said. “They shall put My name upon the children of Israel, and I will bless them.” The priest does his part, and then the Lord makes the blessing effectual. Herein is condescension on God’s part, and honour and security for us. When the Lord’s name is named upon anything He will guard His own dedicated things. The name of the Lord is a strong tower, and within it we are safe. I think I see here a confirmation of those blessings which are pronounced by good men. “They shall put My name upon the children of Israel, and I will bless them.” I loved to have my grandfather’s blessing when I was preaching the Word in early days. He has now gone into the glory; but he blessed me, and none can take away the name of God from me. Most of you will remember the blessings of good men who are now gone to glory; and God confirms those blessings. He allows His people, whom He has made priests and kings unto God, to put His name upon others, and to pronounce blessings upon them. Their word shall stand, and what they bind on earth shall be bound in heaven. And then comes, best of all, the blessing of our God most surely promised. “I will bless them”; they shall have their troubles, but I will bless them through their troubles. When they have earthly goods I will bless them and make them real comforts. I will bless their basket and their store. If those earthly comforts arc taken away I will give them compensation a thousandfold in myself. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Israel blest and kept:
1. The blessing was put into the mouth of Aaron the high priest, in this as in other points a type and figure of the Lord Jesus Christ. But Aaron could only pronounce the blessing; Jesus gives it.
2. Observe how, by implication, the doctrine of the Trinity is here set forth.
I. “The Lord bless thee.” The blessings meant would seem to be chiefly spiritual. Not that we are to think lightly of temporal favours. They are left-hand blessings, if not right-hand mercies; they are gifts to be thankful for on earth, if not graces that take to heaven; provision for the perishing body, if not food for the immortal soul. Health, strength, such a measure of worldly goods as shall keep the wolf from the door and enable us to owe no man anything but love, children growing up to be a comfort to their parents, a kind and affectionate partner, warm and faithful friends, an untarnished name, who shall say that these are not blessings for which God is to be praised? And yet how infinitely short do these temporal blessings, which perish in the using, fall of spiritual blessings which endure for evermore.
1. Godly fear in the heart--that fountain of life by which an awakened sinner departs from the snares of death--is not that of all blessings first and foremost because the “beginning of wisdom?” It is “a fountain of life,” and, like a river, is only increased and deepened by successive additions of grace. If we have not the beginning we can have neither the middle nor end.
2. But is not faith a blessing too? And who know faith to be a blessing? Those who are deeply exercised and tried by an unbelieving heart.
3. And is not hope a blessing too?
6. Testimonies of God’s mercy and grace to the soul.
7. Is not the rod often a blessing?
II. “and keep thee.” Blessing first and keeping afterwards. The blessing given, and then, when given, the blessing kept. The letter written, and then sealed; the jewel put into the casket, and then the casket locked. “The Lord keep thee.” We cannot keep ourselves.
1. I need hardly observe that the first and foremost is to be kept from positive evil. The Lord asked of the Father for His disciples, “I pray not that Thou shouldst take them out of the world”--no; let them suffer there as I have suffered before--“but keep them from the evil.” And this will be first and foremost in the petitions of every child of God who knows his own evil heart and has suffered from its weakness and treachery, that the Lord will keep him from open evil, that he may bring no distress and guilt upon his own conscience, or reproach upon the cause of God.
3. A spirit of delusion.
III. “the lord make his face shine upon thee.”
1. The allusion here seems to be to the sun. Sometimes the natural sun has not risen, and the world must needs be dark if the sun be still beneath the horizon. So with many gracious souls, it is darkness with them because at present neither the Day-star has appeared nor the Sun of Righteousness risen upon them with healing in His wings. But sometimes after the sun has risen we see not his face; dark clouds may obscure the face of that bright luminary throughout the whole day, and we may not get a single ray. So, many of the Lord’s family, after the Sun has risen upon them in the morning of their spiritual life may pass perhaps much of their subsequent time in the dark shadow, till perhaps at evening tide there is light, and a departing ray gilds the dying pillow. But, again, there are sometimes days when mists drive rapidly across the face of the bright orb of day, and yet occasionally he peeps through the breaking clouds. And is not this, in some measure, an emblem of tile way in which the Sun of Righteousness is continually obscured by the mists and fogs which spring up out of our unbelieving heart, hidden from view by the doubts and fears that, like the vapours of the valley, spread themselves to our view over His beauteous face? Yet there are time, when He gleams through the clouds and disperses the mists. When the Lord is pleased to bless the soul and shine upon it with any sweet manifestation, then He breaks in through the dark clouds; but they gather again. It is not in Christian experience one bright summer day. Our spiritual climate is humid, our inward latitude northern.
2. “The Lord make His face shine upon thee.” Is the Lord, then, sovereign in these matters? Can we not lift up our hand and remove the cloud? We have as much power to stretch forth our hand and sweep away the mists that obscure the Sun of Righteousness, as we have power with the same hand to sweep away a London fog. How this puts the creature into his right place I and the creature is only in his right place when he is nothing, and God is all in all.
3. “The Lord make His face shine upon thee.” And if He make His face shine upon thee, He will make thy face shine too.
IV. “and be gracious unto thee.” How sweet the gospel is! But what makes the gospel sweet? That one word which sheds a perfume through the whole--grace. Take grace out of the gospel and you destroy the gospel. Grace pervades every part and every branch of the blessed gospel; it is the life of the gospel; in a word, it is the gospel itself.
V. “the lord lift up his countenance upon thee.” The meaning of this expression may, I think, be illustrated by a simple figure. A child has been disobedient to, or otherwise displeased its parent. When we offend a person, his face is not toward us as at other times. It was so with Laban towards Jacob; and if we have in any way incurred a friend’s or superior’s displeasure we watch instinctively his countenance. Is it down or up? Does it wear a frown or a smile? Is it looking upon us with the eye of affection, or are the eyes averted? We can tell in a moment if we know the countenance. Thus is the blessing asked, “The Lord lift up His countenance upon thee,” as a kind and affectionate parent upon an obedient child.
VI. “and give thee peace.” Oh what a blessing! It is this that makes the pillow easy in life, and will alone make that pillow easy in death--peace with God through Jesus Christ, “the peace of God which passeth all understanding.” The blessing that the gracious soul most earnestly covets is peace; for this is the sweetest honey-drop in God’s cup. It is true that it does not make the heart overflow like joy, nor to dance with exultation like the first beaming in of the rays of hope, nor melt it down like visits of love; but it is in some respects sweeter than all, because it so settles down the soul into sweet assurance; it is the realisation of the Saviour Himself, for “He is our peace,” and may thus be called the crowning blessing. But see how the links of this Divine chain meet. “The Lord bless thee”--link the first; “and keep thee”--link the second; “the Lord make His face shine upon thee”--the third; “and be gracious unto thee”--the fourth; “the Lord lift up His countenance upon thee”--the fifth; “and give thee peace”--the sixth. Six blessed links, and all united into one continuous chain; for when the Lord begins to bless, He ends with peace. We need wish no greater nor pray for a higher blessing than peace, for God has none greater to give. When a father dies he leaves his children all his goods. Jesus, before He died, said, “Peace I leave with you; My peace give I unto you; not as the world giveth give I unto you.” It was His last legacy; His dying gift; in His own eyes of the greatest value, and it should be such in ours. (J. C. Philpot.)
The pastor’s wish and prayer:
I. Let us reflect on the nature and extent of the blessings here involved.
1. Divine benediction. In a world in which everything is rather semblance than reality, how delightful the thought that there is One--the Uncreated and Unconditional, the Ever-present and Ever-true, who is not more able than He is willing to overtake all the conditions of our being, and to do for us exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think! Our weakness can never fall to a depth lower than His power can reach. Our necessities can never exceed His resources. Our difficulties can never be so involved but that His wisdom can direct us. Our sorrows can never be so acute, or so accumulated, but His Spirit can assuage and relieve us.
2. Divine preservation. Not only “the Lord bless thee,” but “keep thee.” The consciousness that with a finite and dependent nature we are in a world of temptation, must ever render acceptable and blessed the help of another mightier and more able.
3. Divine illumination. “The Lord make His face to shine upon thee.” The reference here is doubtless to that mysterious symbol of His presence which God vouchsafed to His ancient Church, as the outward and visible expression of His favour and love. We rise from the material into the spiritual, and repose in the promise of that inward light which is ever streaming from the Spirit through the truth to guide and cheer arid render certain the steps of the wanderer across the desert of life.
4. Divine communication. “The Lord be gracious unto thee.” The grace of God is but another expression for His infinite and exhaustless bounty. The highest conception which we can form of the Divine benevolence is derived from the work of human redemption. Herein is love. In no other act of His administration is it so conspicuous or so glorious. Salvation is grace running out into infinite and everlasting kindness. And what are all the communications of spiritual blessing to the soul but the love of God ever repeating itself, and assuring us that the treasures of eternity are unlocked to supply our need?
5. Divine manifestation. “The Lord lift up the light of His countenance upon thee.” What will heaven be but this perfected and perpetuated in the immediate presence of God?
6. Divine satisfaction. “The Lord give thee peace.” It is a question in mechanics whether there be such a thing as a body in a state of perfect rest. We confess ourselves to be in a position not to solve the problem. Of this however we are certain, that in the spiritual world there is a centre of eternal repose on which the whole universe may rest for ever. The soul of man is torn and distracted with unfulfilled desires; and possess what he may, while one single longing is left unsatisfied the perfection of inward quiet and peace is impossible. This can only come with that completeness of life which is enjoyed in God.
II. Let us inquire into the ever-living and unchangeable source of such inestimable blessing. The incommunicable name Jehovah, here translated Lord, includes within itself every possible perfection and excellence. It not only points to the sum of being, but to the fountain of blessedness. His eternity we place in opposition to all that is temporary; His immutability in opposition to all that is changing; His immortality in opposition to whatever has in it the seeds of decay and death; His all-sufficiency and infinite felicity in opposition to all that is inadequate and unsatisfying. (R. Ferguson, LL. D.)
A comprehensive benediction:
What does this prayer not include? What a richness and plenitude of Divine mercy does it bring into view? It expresses as perfectly as any human words can express, the immense and infinite good which can he found in God, as the Root of all being and the Fountain of all happiness. What more could we ask on your behalf than that you may individually be the chosen objects of the unchangeable love and fatherly care of Him, who, while He has the weight of all worlds upon His arm, yet stoops to feed the ravens when they cry; who, amid the government of worlds, is not unmindful of individuals, and who, while He is guiding the stars in their course, is at the same moment numbering the very hairs of your heads? What more can we ask for you, than that He who never sleeps, and whose eyelids never slumber, whose power fainteth not, and who is ever travelling forth in the greatness of His strength mighty to save, may watch over you and preserve you, give you more than the warrior’s shield of triple brass, and bruise every enemy under your feet? What more can we now ask for you than that He, who ever lives and moves in the light of His own eternity, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the deeper and ever growing knowledge of Himself, fill your soul with the everlasting beamings of truth, cause the sunshine of His presence to break through every cloud, and falling softly on your steps, make your path like that of the shining light, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day? What more can we ask for you, than that He whose eternal love prompted Him to provide for the redemption of our race, may unlock the treasures of His mercy, and bless you with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places, may grant you according to the riches of His grace, and, adding to the plenitude of His grace the riches of His glory, thus fill you unto His own fulness? What more can we ask for you, than that He whose name is the Lord--the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, slow to anger, abundant in goodness and in truth--while He conceals the intenser glory of His nature, would ever manifest Himself unto you, take you into deeper communion with His Spirit, open up heaven to your view, and fill your vision with the glories of immortality? What more can we ask for you, than that He who is the only centre of rest for His dependent universe, may take from your nature every unholy and disturbing element, and give you that peace which passeth all understanding, sanctify you in soul, body, and spirit, and lift you above the din and distraction of this noisy and conflicting world, introduce you into the deep quiet of His own Infinite Being, and fill you with the joy which is unspeakable? What more can we ask for you, than that this goodness and mercy may follow you all the days of your life, and that when you enter the dark valley which separates the silence of eternity from the murmurs of time, you may be conscious of the immediate presence of the glorified Redeemer, and dropping the worn-out garment of the flesh, take your place reclothed and immortal, before the throne of God? (R. Ferguson, LL. D.)
The golden blessing
I. The golden blessing was given through a mediator. The Lord spake to Aaron through Moses. Jesus Christ is our Mediator, through whom all spiritual blessings are given.
II. The blessing was given by priestly lips. It was Aaron, and his sons, who were to bless the children of Israel. God spake to Moses, Moses to Aaron, Aaron to the people. Jesus Christ is both Mediator and Priest. He is a mediatorial Priest, and a priestly Mediator. There is no blessing apart from the true priesthood and sacrifice.
III. This threefold blessing tells of a trinity in unity, and a unity in trinity. Faith believes it, but reason cannot understand it.
IV. IN this benediction we have the earnest of all spiritual blessings. What a fulness there is!
V. The blessing was for all Israel. “On this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel.” It was a common blessing for all the tribes. It is a blessing for those who are rejoicing, and for those who are sorrowing; for those who are praying, and for those who are praising. It is a blessing for the young, and for the old; for those who labour, and for those who suffer. It is a blessing for the living, if for them to live is Christ; for the dying, if they die in the Lord.
VI. It is a blessing secured by purpose, purchase, and power. “I will bless them.” Satan, and all our enemies, will be constrained to confess, “He hath blessed and I cannot reverse it.” (R. E. Sears.)
The Divine blessing and keeping:
What a joy to abide under the Divine blessing! This puts a gracious flavour into all things. If we are blessed, then all our possessions and enjoyments are blessed; yea, our losses and crosses, and even our disappointments. God’s blessing is deep, emphatic, effectual. A man’s blessing may begin and end in words, but the blessing of the Lord makes rich and sanctifies. The best wish we can have for our dearest friend is not, “May prosperity attend thee,” but, “The Lord bless thee.” It is equally a delightful thing to be kept of God; kept by Him, kept near Him, kept in Him. They are kept, indeed, whom God keeps; they are preserved from evil, they are reserved unto boundless happiness. God’s keeping goes with His blessing, to establish it and cause it to endure. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
God’s favour the comfort of the soul
It is God’s presence which constitutes the saint’s morning. As the stars may impart some light and yet the brightness of all combined cannot form the light of day, but when the sun appears there is day forthwith, so God may make some comfort arise to a soul from secondary and inferior means; but it is He Himself alone who, by the shining of His face and the smiles of His countenance, causes morning. (T. Burroughs.)
Brightness to be renewed:
A friend of mine has some diamonds. He tells me that if he sets these diamonds out in the strong sunlight for a time, and then removes them into a dark room, they will shine brilliantly even amidst the darkness. But after a little while this brilliance becomes dim, and finally goes out altogether. The precious stones must be taken into the sunshine again if they are to be seen in the gloom. And is not this a parable of the life of Christians? God calls them His “jewels”; and if their Divine lustre is to be seen amidst the darkness of the world, they must often seek to look upon the face of the Sun of Righteousness. If they are careless about this their brightness will soon grow dim; but if they are faithful that brightness shall be constantly renewed. (Christian Commonwealth.)
Buoyant in the favour of God
As--in some summer’s morning, which wakes with a ring of birds, when it is clear, leagues up into the blue, and everything is as distinctly cut as if it stood in heaven, and not on earth, when the distant mountains lie bold upon the horizon, and the air is full of the fragrance of flowers which the night cradled--the traveller goes forth with buoyant and elastic step upon his journey, and halts not till in the twilight shadows he reaches his goal, so may we, who are but pilgrims, go forth beneath the smile of God, upon our homeward journey. (H. W. Beecher.)
Peace with God:
I reverence hundreds and hundreds of men who don’t hold my opinion; but when I lie dying I don’t want their speculations to rest upon. I want that Book for a pillow, for that Book rests on the nature of things. That is the only honest Book in the world. That tells me what I am; that tells me how to get into the mood of peace with God; that is what I wanted on a cold winter’s night as I rolled forty feet down a precipice, expecting instant death; and if that is what I wanted then, it’s what I want any time, isn’t it? What is true in our highest moments is true in all moments. And what we see only by flashes is true the whole day long, the whole year long, life through, eternity through. If there is any certainty, it is certainty for all time and places. Now it is certain that when I lie dying I want that Book for a pillow, and, among other things in a pillow, I want a certainty that I have attained similarity of feeling with God, and love what He loves, and hate what He hates. That will be enough to give me peace. What! What! I am depending on my own righteousness when I make this my pillow! I beg your pardon, that is not what I say. If my life is to be my pillow, I must put my whole life into the pillow. There would be more than one thorn in the pillow if I were to put my whole life in it. Is there anybody here who can put his whole life in his pillow and rest in peace? You are going to depend on your own righteousness? Put your whole life into the pillow, and then put your head on it, and it will not be the softest kind of a support for a dying hour. You may do as you please, but I, for one, feel very sure I am going hence, that I want to go hence in peace, that I cannot go in peace unless I love what God loves, and hate what God hates. (Joseph Cook.)
Put My name upon the children of Israel.
The Christian’s Divine name
I. The name of God put upon his people indicates God’s love towards them.
II. The name of God put upon his people indicates the relationship in which they stand to God. Not only His friends, but His children.
III. The name of God put upon his people indicates God’s property in them
IV. The name of God put upon his people indicates their conformity to God’s will.
V. The name of God put upon his people indicates the resemblance they bear to god.
VI. The name of God put upon his people indicates the assurance they have of final union with God. (The Evangelical Preacher.)
God’s name upon His people:
Your old name is an ugly one. I suppose you know what your name is? If you have forgotten, let me remind you that your name is entered in God’s Book as “sinner.” I do not think you will be sorry to exchange that bad name for a better. I knew a lady once who had a very ugly name, and she could not bear to be called by it. She got all her friends to promise never to use it, and she always signed herself by a pretty name which she selected for herself out of many others. But of course, that never altered the fact that her real name was the old and ugly one. Just so, you may not like the name “sinner,” and you may call yourself by anything else, and persuade everybody that it does not belong to you, but that never alters the fact that you are a “sinner.” God gave you the name, and God alone can change it. But oh! if you long for a “new name,” tell Him so. He has one ready for you, and such a splendid, beautiful, adorable name! “I will write on him My new name.” (Eva Poole.)
Valued because of the Giver:
When our soldiers returned from that great succession of blunders, the Crimean War, those who had specially distinguished themselves were marshalled in a line to receive the crosses or medals which rewarded their valorous merit from the Queen. As she passed along the line she took the decorations one by one from a salver carried by her side and pinned it to the breast of the happy recipient. As she was pinning one on it slipped from her hand and fell to the ground. A little girl, who was near, picked it up and was proceeding to pin it to the soldier’s breast, when he stepped a pace back and said, “No; I do not value that piece of metal. It is the hand which bestows it I value.” So with the gifts which God gives us here, though they are of themselves of priceless value, yet even more precious is the knowledge that they are bestowed by our heavenly Father..
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Numbers 6". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20