Click to donate today!
THE VOW Or THE NAZIRITE (Numbers 6:1-21).
Note.—The Hebrew Nazir has been written Nazarite in English under the mistaken impression that there is some connection between Nazir and Nazarene (Matthew 2:23). A very little reflection will show that "the Nazarene" not only was no Nazir, but that he even took pains to let it be seen that he was not. John the Baptist was the Nazir of the New Testament, and in all outward things the contrast was strongly marked between them (Luke 7:14, Luke 7:33, Luke 7:34; John 2:2).
Either man or woman. It was not a little remarkable that women could be Nazirites, because, generally speaking, the religious condition of women under the law was so markedly inferior and so little considered. But this is altogether consistent with the true view of the Nazirite vow, viz; that it was an exceptional thing, outside the narrow pale of the law, giving scope and allowance to the free movements of the Spirit in individuals. In this too it stood on the same plane as the prophetic office, for which room was left in the religious system of Moses, and which was designed to correct and supplement in its spiritual freedom the artificial routine of that system. As the prophetic office might be exercised by women, so the Nazirite vow might be taken by women. In either case we find a tribute to and a recognition of the Divine liberty of the Holy Ghost, and an anticipation of the time when the spirit of self-devotion should be poured out without distinction upon men and women. Shall separate themselves to vow a vow of a Nazarite, to separate themselves unto the Lord. Rather, "shall make a solemn vow, a Nazirite vow, to live consecrated unto the Lord." The two words translated "separate" are not the same. The first (from pala, to sever, to consecrate, to distinguish as exceptional) is of somewhat doubtful use here. In Judges 13:19 it appears to be used as an intensitive, "did wonderously," and the Septuagint has here μεγάλως εὔξηται εὐχὴν. The other word is used in a general sense in Genesis 49:26; Deuteronomy 33:16, or with the addition, "unto the Lord," as in Judges 13:5. It had, however, acquired a technical sense before this, as appears from Leviticus 25:5, Leviticus 25:11, where the undressed vines are called "Nazirites," as recalling the unshorn locks of those who had taken the vow. It is evident indeed, from the way in which the Nazirite vow is here spoken of, that it had been, perhaps long, familiar among the people. All that this commandment did was to recognize the practice, to regulate it minutely, and to adopt it into the religious code of Israel. Whence the custom was derived is wholly uncertain, for although the separate elements existed in many different quarters, yet the peculiar combination of them which made the law of the Nazirite is entirely peculiar. Vows of abstinence have, of course, been common among all religions. Mingled with much of superstition, self-will, and pride, they have sprung in the main from noble impulses and yearnings after a higher life, prompted by the Holy Spirit of God; and it may be said with some confidence, that in spite of all reproaches (deserved or undeserved), such voluntary vows of abstinence have done more than anything else to save religion from becoming an unreal profession. Hair offerings, on the other hand, springing from a simple and natural sentiment, have been common enough amongst the heathen. Compare the sacred locks of Achilles (‘Iliad,' 23.142, sqq.), and the various use of the tonsure in pursuance of vows among the ancient Egyptians (Herod; 2.65) and amongst modern Mahomedans and Christians. The physical fact on which all these hair offerings rest is that the hair is the only portion of oneself which can be conveniently detached and presented.
Strong drink. Hebrew, shekar; σίκερα (Le Numbers 10:9; Luke 1:15). Any intoxicating drink, other than wine including the beer of the Egyptians. Vinegar. Hebrew, chamets. It seems to have been freely used by the poorer people (Ruth 2:14), and was, perhaps, a thin, sour wine ("vile potet acctum," Horat.). Liquor of grapes. A drink made by soaking grape-skins in water.
From the kernels oven to the husk, or skin. Of grape-skins it is said that cakes were made which were considered a delicacy (Hosea 3:1, mistranslated "flagons of wine"), but this is doubtful. The Septuagint has οἷνον ἀμὸ στεμφόλων ἕως γιγάρτου, "wine of grape-skins (the liquor of grapes mentioned before) even to the kernel." The expression is best understood as including anything and everything, however unlikely to be used, connected with the grape. It is clear that the abstinence of the Nazirite extended beyond what might possibly intoxicate to what was simply pleasant to the taste, like raisins, or refreshing, like charnels. The vine represented, by an easy parable, the tree of carnal delights, which yields to the appetite of men such a variety of satisfactions. So among the Romans the Flamen Dialis might not even touch a vine.
There shall no razor come upon his head. The meaning of this law is best understood from the case of Samson, whose strength was in his hair, and departed from him when his hair was cut. No doubt that strength was a more or less supernatural gift, and it went and came with his hair according to some supernatural law; but it is clear that the connection was not merely arbitrary, but was founded on some generally received idea. To the Jew, differing in this from the shaven Egyptian and the short-haired Greek, the hair represented the virile powers of the adult, growing with its growth, and failing again with its decay. To use a simple analogy from nature, the uncropped locks of the Nazirite were like the mane of the male lion, a symbol of the fullness of his proper strength and life (cf. 2 Samuel 14:25, 2 Samuel 14:26, and, for the disgrace of baldness, 2 Kings 2:23). In later ages Western and Greek feeling on the subject prevailed over Eastern and Jewish, and a "Hebrew of the Hebrews" was able to argue that "even nature itself" teaches us "that if a man have long hair it is a shame unto him" (1 Corinthians 11:14). No doubt "nature itself" taught the Greek of Corinth that lesson; but no doubt also "nature itself" taught the Jew of Palestine exactly the opposite lesson; and the Apostle himself did not quite discard the earlier sentiment, for he too made a Nazirite vow, and suffered his hair to grow while it lasted (Acts 21:24). The meaning, therefore, of the law was that the whole fullness of the man's vitality was to be dedicated without any diminution to the Lord, as typified by the free growth of his hair. It has been conjectured that it was allowed to the Nazirite to "poll" (κείρασθαι) his hair during his vow, although not to "shave" it (ξυρᾶσθαι); and in this way the statement is explained that St. Paul "polled his head" (κειράμενος τὴν κεφαλὴν, Acts 18:18, compared with Acts 21:24) in Cenchraea, because he had a vow. It is, however, quite evident that any permission to cut the hair is inconsistent with the whole intention of the commandment; for if a man might "poll his head" when he pleased, he would not be distinguished from other men. If it was allowed in the Apostle's time, it is only another instance of the way in Which the commandments of God were made of none effect by the traditions of men.
He shall not make himself unclean for his father, or for his mother. The same injunction had been given to the priests (Le Numbers 21:12)—"for the crown of the anointing oil of his God is upon him." A similar reason restrained the Nazirite. Because the consecration of his God is upon his head, i.e; because he wears the unshorn locks which are the outward sign of his separation unto God. The hair of the Nazirite was to him just what the diadem on the mitre was to the high priest, what the sacred chrism was to the sons of Aaron. Both of these are called by the word nezer (Exodus 29:6; Le Exodus 21:12), from the same root as nazir. It was thought by some of the Jewish doctors that in these three particulars—the untouched growth of the hair, the abstinence from the fruit of the vine (cf. Genesis 9:20), and the seclusion from the dead—the separated life of the Nazirite reproduced the unfallen life of man in paradise. This may have had some foundation in fact, but the true explanation of the three rules is rather to be found in the spiritual truth they teach in a simple and forcible way. He who has a holy ambition to please God must
(1) devote to God the whole forces of his being, undiminished by any wont and use of the world;
(2) abstain not only from pleasures which are actually dangerous, but from such as have any savour of moral evil about them;
(3) subordinate his most sacred private feelings to the great purpose of his life.
If any man die very suddenly by him. עָלָיו, in his presence, or neighbourhood, so that, having hastened to his assistance, lie found himself in contact with a corpse. This ease is mentioned particularly, because it was the only one in which simple humanity or mere accident would be likely to infringe upon the vow. In the day of his cleansing, on the seventh day. This appears to be an anticipation of the law given below (Numbers 19:11); but that law may have only sanctioned the existing custom. Shall he shave it. Because "the consecration of his God upon his head" was desecrated by the pollution of death, it must, therefore, be made away with and begun over again.
Two turtles, or two young pigeons. The same offerings had been prescribed for those defiled by divers unclean-nesses in Leviticus 15:1-33 (cf. Le Leviticus 12:8).
For that he sinned by the dead. This is one of the cases in which the law seemed to teach plainly that an outward, accidental, and involuntary defilement was sin, and had need to be atoned for. The opposite principle was declared by our Lord (Mar 7:18 -93). The Septuagint has here the strange reading περὶ ὦν ἥμαρτε περὶ τῆς ψυχῆς. Shall hallow his head. By dedicating again to God the free growth of his hair.
For a trespass offering. Rather, "for a guilt offering." Hebrew, asham (see Leviticus 5:1-19). The asham always implied guilt, even though it might be purely legal, and it was to be offered in this case in acknowledgment of the offence involved in the involuntary breach of vow. In the education of conscience, on anything lower than the "perfect law of liberty," it was only possible to secure thoroughness and consistency at the cost of introducing much that was arbitrary and destined to pass away. Something similar must always be tolerated in the moral education of children. The days that were before shall be lost. Literally, "shall fall." Septuagint, ἅλογοι ἔσονται, "shall not be counted."
When the days of his separation are fulfilled. The original law contemplated only a vow for a certain period, longer or shorter. All the Nazirites, however, of whom we read in Scripture were lifelong Nazirites: Samson (Judges 13:5), Samuel (1 Samuel 1:11), John the Baptist (Luke 1:15). In all these cases, however, the vow was made for them before their birth. Hegesippus (in Euseb. 2.23) tells us that James, the Lord's brother, was a Nazirite: "He did not drink wine nor strong drink, and no razor came on his head."
He shall offer his offering. This offering included all the four ordinary sacrifices—the sin offering, the burnt offering, the peace offering, and the meat offering. For the meaning of these see Leviticus 4:1-35; Leviticus 1:1-17; Leviticus 3:1-17; Leviticus 2:1-16.
A basket of unleavened bread … anointed with oil. Required for every sacrifice of thanksgiving, as this was (Le Numbers 7:12). And their meat offering, and their drink offerings, i.e; the gifts of meal, oil, and wine which belonged to burnt offerings and peace offerings (see below, Numbers 15:3, sqq. ).
Shall take the hair of the head of his separation, and shall put it in the fire which is under the sacrifice of the peace offerings. It is not said, nor intended, that the hair was offered to God as a sacrifice. If so, it would have been burnt with the burnt offering which represented the self-dedication of the worshipper. It had been holy to the Lord, growing uncut all the days of the vow. The vow was now at an end; the last solemn act of sacrifice, the peace offering, which completed all, and typified that fearless and thankful communion with God which is the end of all religion, was now going on; it was fitting that the hair which must now be shorn, but could not be disposed of in any ordinary way, should be burnt upon the altar of God. In the fire, i.e; on the brazen altar. In later days it seems to have been done in a room assigned to the Nazirites in the court of the women: another deviation from the ordinal law.
The sodden shoulder, or boiled shoulder; the left. The right, or heave shoulder, was already the priest's, according to the general rule (Le Numbers 7:32). That the other shoulder was also "waved" and accepted by God as his portion, to be consumed in his name by the priest, was a further token of the gracious acceptance of the self-dedication of the Nazirite, and of the fullness of eucharistic communion into which he had entered with his God.
Shall wave them. By putting his hands under the hands of the Nazirite. On the symbolism of this see Leviticus 7:1-38. Drink wine. Perhaps at the sacrificial feast.
This is the law of the Nazarite who hath vowed, and of his offering. "And of" are not in the text. We should probably read, "This is the law of the Nazirite who hath vowed his offering unto the Lord in accordance with his consecration," i.e; these are the offerings which, as a Nazirite, he is bound to make. Beside that his hand shall get. Literally, "grasp." If he can afford or can procure anything more as a free-will offering, he may well do so. In later days it became customary for richer people to defray for their poorer brethren ,the cost of their sacrifices (Josephus, ‘Ant; 19.6, 1; and cf. Acts 21:24).
INDIVIDUAL CONSECRATION TO GOD
In this section we have, spiritually, the consecration of the individual life to God as a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice (Romans 12:1). This consecration was the ideal for all Israel (Exodus 19:6); but inasmuch as the people at large could not attain unto it fully, a tribe and a family were in varying degree "separated" unto the Lord. In order, however, that individuals might not be hindered from obeying the call to self-dedication as the Spirit moved them, the vow of the Nazirite was allowed, encouraged, and regulated. Consider, therefore—
I. THAT ANY INDIVIDUAL IN ISRAEL WHO WAS OF AGE TO TAKE A VOW MIGHT BECOME A NAZIRITE, WHETHER MAN OR WOMAN, WHETHER OF THE PRIESTHOOD OR OF THE PEOPLE. John the Baptist was a priest; Samuel a Levite; Samson of the tribe of Dan. Even so it is the fundamental character of the gospel that every individual Christian, without any distinction of male or female, clerical or lay, is free to obey the call of the Spirit to an individual consecration of self to God. All are indeed called to "die unto sin, and rise again unto righteousness ;" unto all it is said, "Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3); but yet it is palpably true that individuals here and there are specially moved by the Spirit to realize this their consecration, to translate into practical life their professed detachment from the world and attachment unto God. And this action of the Spirit is perfectly free; none can say beforehand who may be moved to dedicate himself or herself to a life of entire self-sacrifice and of unlimited obedience.
II. THAT THE CHILD OF ISRAEL SO CALLED INWARDLY BY THE SPIRIT WAS PERMITTED AND ENCOURAGED TO TAKE A VOW. Yet this vow limited as to obligations and as to time, so as it should not become a snare. And it appears that a Christian apostle took a vow of the sort (Acts 18:18). Even so it would seem that religious vows are not now in themselves unlawful or displeasing, provided they be really free, and that there be provision for being discharged from them. And note that almost all the Nazirites of Scripture appear to have been lifelong Nazirites, we know not why. Probably it is the tendency of all vows to become perpetual, because there seems something arbitrary and incomplete in any self-devotion or self-denial which ends before life itself ends. Nevertheless, it is plain that the Divine command contemplated only vows for a specific time.
III. THAT THE FIRST OBLIGATION OF THE NAZIRITE WAS TO ABSTAIN FROM EVERYTHING PRODUCED BY, OR MADE FROM, THE VINE, HOWEVER HARMLESS. Even so, if any man will dedicate himself, according to his Christian liberty and the impulse of the Spirit, to the nearer following of Christ, he must renounce all the excitements of this world, all those stimulants of pleasure, gain, or ambition which intoxicate the mind and distract it from the service of God; and not only that which is plainly evil and confessedly dangerous, but also that which has any savour of evil, any suspicion of danger, about it. The wisdom of him who would at any cost please God is not to walk as near the border line of things unlawful or unwise as possible, but rather to give them a clear berth, so as through no mischance he may be entangled therein; and this because of human weakness, whereby
(1) we glide so easily from pleasures or cares lawful to the like unlawful, and
(2) we find it so much easier to take a simple and decided line, even against ourselves, than a wavering and uncertain one (Luke 9:24; Luke 10:42; Luke 18:22; Luke 21:34; 1 Corinthians 6:12; 1Co 9:25, 1 Corinthians 9:27; 2 Timothy 2:4; and cf. Matthew 19:12; 1 Corinthians 7:32).
IV. THAT THE SECOND OBLIGATION OF THE NAZARITE WAS TO DEDICATE THE FREE, UNTOUCHED GROWTH OF HIS HAIR TO THE LORD. Even so the servant of God must dedicate to him the whole forces of his nature, unrestrained and undiminished by any conventionalities of the world, by those customs and fashions of society which cramp and limit on every side the possibilities of usefulness and of power which are in man. The true servant of Christ, neither acknowledging the principles nor guided by the maxims of the world, must be content to be singular, to be wondered at. to be regarded as extreme (cf. Luke 7:33; 2 Corinthians 11:1-33, 2 Corinthians 12:1-21; Galatians 6:14; Philippians 3:8). "Let your moderation" (Greek, τὸ ἐπιεικὲς, "forbearance") "be known unto all men" is a text much more often misquoted in the devil's service than quoted in Christ's.
V. THAT THE THIRD OBLIGATION OF THE NAZIRITE WAS NOT TO COME INTO CONTACT WITH DEATH, EVEN FOR HIS NEAREST RELATIONS. Even so the servant of God must cross his nearest earthly affections, and do violence to his most natural feelings, rather than expose himself to the contagion of spiritual death. Where this danger really exists may indeed be known only to God and to him; but where he knows it to exist he is bound to avoid it at any cost of affection or of appearance, so as he make it not a cloak for escaping duty (Matthew 10:35-37; Luke 14:26, Luke 14:33; Luke 9:60-62; and cf. Matthew 5:29, Mat 5:30; 1 Corinthians 5:11; 2 Corinthians 6:14). Few have strength and vigour of soul to mix with impunity in the society of those spiritually dead; wisdom and loyalty alike demand that we avoid them except we can really do them good.
VI. THAT THE CASE OF THE NAZIRITE BEING UNAVOIDABLY DEFILED WITH DEATH WAS PROVIDED FOR, AND PROVISION MADE FOR HIS BEGINNING AFRESH. Even so God knows that in the confusions and mixtures of life it is hard indeed to escape altogether from the subtle contagion of spiritual deadness, which will often seize upon a soul most unexpectedly from unavoidable contact with others. No profession and no earnestness of self-devotion is a safeguard against this danger. But if it come to pass that the soul be thus defiled, and deadness come over it, all is not therefore lost, nor is its consecration at an end. It must offer the sacrifice of a contrite heart, and begin again with penitence and patience, not counting that which is behind, nor dwelling on its loss, but reaching forth after those things which lie before it (Psalms 37:24; Micah 7:8; Philippians 3:13, Philippians 3:14).
VII. THAT WHEN THE SELF-DEVOTION OF THE NAZIRITE WAS PERFECTED, IT STILL NEEDED TO BE-COMMENDED UNTO GOD THROUGH THE FOURFOLD SACRIFICES OF THE LEVITICAL LAW. Even so our highest service and greatest self-denial is not acceptable to God except it be offered through and with the prevailing sacrifice of Christ. And inasmuch as one of these sacrifices was a sin offering, so is there need that the best of our best things should be purged from the sin which clings to them by the atoning death of Christ.
VIII. THAT THE HAIR, THE SYMBOL OF SEPARATION, WAS AT LAST TO BE PUT IN THE ALTAR FIRE UNDER THE PEACE OFFERING. Even so the good will, the earnest desire, the single purpose with which we have been enabled to serve God, is to be brought at last—when its work on earth is done—and simply laid upon the altar of the love of God, and of our thankful communion with him in peace through Christ; and this not as being anything worthy in itself, but only as being part of our gratitude to God.
IX. THAT ON THIS OCCASION, AND THIS ALONE, THE SECOND SHOULDER WAS ACCEPTED BY GOD AS HIS OWN PORTION FROM THE PEACE OFFERING. Even so it is undeniable that a more devoted life does infallibly lead to a greater acceptance with God and to a fuller communion in peace and thankfulness with him.
HOMILIES BY W. BINNIE
SEPARATED TO THE SERVICE OF GOD
(the law of the Nazarite). This passage, barren and unpromising as it looks, is nevertheless invested with an undying interest by the circumstance that three of the most famous men in the sacred history belonged to the order whose rule is here prescribed. Samson, with all his faults, was a heroic character, and he was a Nazarite from his mother's womb. Samuel, his contemporary, was a hero of a purer and higher type, the earliest of the great prophets after Moses, and he too was a Nazarite, by his mother's consecration, before he was born. As Samuel was the first, John the Baptist was the last, of the old prophets, and he likewise was a Nazarite from his birth.
I. WHAT, THEN, WAS A NAZARITE? The term (more correctly written Nazir, or Nazirite) is a Hebrew one, and signifies separated, or set apart. In Israel there were three orders of men who may be said to have been separated to God's service.
1. The priests. Their office was hereditary. The separation attached to Aaron's house. The work to which they were separated was to offer sacrifice, to burn incense, and to bless the people.
2. The prophets. Their office was not hereditary. The true prophet was such by a Divine call addressed to him individually. His wink was purely spiritual. He delivered to the people the word of the Lord.
3. The Nazarites proper. Their separation was neither hereditary, like the priests', nor necessarily by special Divine call, like the prophets'. It was by their own act, or that of their parents, and was sometimes spontaneous, sometimes by a more or less stringent Divine direction. Any free man or woman—any man or woman not under some prior obligation incompatible with it—could separate himself or herself by the Nazarite's vow. The separation might be either for a limited period or for life.
II. Regarding THE DUTIES PERTAINING TO THE ORDER, nothing is here laid down It is simply implied that the Nazarite was to show an example of pre-eminent devotedness to God. To judge by the lives of Samuel and John the Baptist, the Nazarite's devotedness was to be manifested in the best of all ways, namely, by a life of active labour in diffusing the knowledge and fear of the Lord. However, the law did not prescribe this. It simply put around the Nazarite's separation the hedge of legal recognition and ceremonial regulation. How the garden thus protected was to be filled—what flowers and fragrant herbs and fruit it was to yield—was left to be determined by the motions of God's free Spirit in the individual Nazarite's heart. Anyhow, the practical working of this kind of separation in Israel came to be such that it was looked upon as a sure sign that piety was flourishing when the Nazarites abounded (see Amos 2:11, Amos 2:12).
III. Turning to THE LAW AS LAID DOWN HERE IN NUMBERS, it is to be observed that the Nazarite's separation was to be expressed in three ways.
1. By entire abstinence not only from wine and strong drink, but from all the produce of the vine (Numbers 6:3, Numbers 6:4). John Baptist came neither eating nor drinking.
2. By absolutely refusing to defile themselves for the dead (verses 7-12). The rule was as absolute on this head for the Nazarite as for the high priest. Not even for father or mother, for wife or child, might he contract defilement. If by any chance he should come in contact with a dead body, the law demanded a sin offering for atonement and a burnt offering in token of renewed dedication, and his term of separation had to begin anew.
3. By letting the hair of the head grow unshorn. Every child remembers the seven locks of Samson's head. When the period of separation was expired, the head was shaved and certain prescribed offerings were presented, besides any free-will offering the person might choose to bring (verses 13-21). As these last offerings were costly, it was not uncommon for wealthy persons to come forward and bear the Nazarites' charges (Acts 21:24).
IV. WHAT CONCERN HAVE WE WITH THIS LAW OF THE NAZARITE? Is any corresponding vow of separation to be in use under the New Testament? The Church of Rome, I need hardly say, founds on the Nazarite's vow an argument for her religious orders, so called—orders of men and women who are bound by oath to lifelong poverty, celibacy, and obedience. But there is no real correspondence between the two institutions. Not one of the three vows of the religious orders was included in the vow of the Nazarite. He could, hold property; he was generally married; he submitted his conscience to no man s authority. No warrant can be extracted from this law for ensnaring consciences with the threefold vow. Yet it by no means follows that this Old Testament vow has no lesson for us. It furnishes a valuable analogy. The Apostle Paul evidently felt this, for he liked to think of himself as a man" separated unto the gospel of God" (Romans 1:1), and to think of this separation as having taken place (like Samuel's and John Baptist's) before he was born (Galatians 1:15). This does not refer merely to his being separated to preach the word, for that was common to him with all ministers of the gospel; nor does it refer simply to his apostolate. It refers but to his special work as the great missionary apostle. There is room and need in the Christian Church not only for men separated by the authority and call of the Church to official service, but for men also who are moved to separate themselves to free and unofficial service. Robert Haldane of Airthrey was not an ordained minister, never held a pastoral charge, never administered the sacraments, yet he devoted his whole time and wealth to the cause of Christ. Selling Airthrey Castle, he purchased a mansion house where he could live at less expense, and he thenceforward lived for the diffusion of true religion at home and abroad. Blessed be God, Mr. Haldane was not singular in this sort of separation. It answers exactly, under the Christian and spiritual dispensation, to the separation of the Nazarite under the law. Without doubt men and women separated thus to God will have a great part to play in the victorious progress of the kingdom of Christ. It should be the constant prayer of the Church that Christ would, of her young men, raise up not only prophets (he is doing that), but Nazarites also.—B.
HOMILIES BY E.S. PROUT
THE TEMPORARY VOW OF THE NAZARITE SYMBOLICAL OF THE LIFELONG VOW OF THE CHRISTIAN
Though the Israelites had a priesthood, they were themselves "a kingdom of priests." Individual responsibility toward God was pressed upon their consciences in many ways; e.g; Deuteronomy 26:1-14, etc. And private persons might aspire to the honour of an especial priestly consecration. Since temporary vows were acceptable to God under the old covenant, they may be under the new covenant, if taken for a limited time and for Christian ends; e.g. celibacy or abstinence (cf. Acts 18:18; Acts 21:6). But a higher form of vow is that of entire consecration for life, that we may be daily led by the Spirit of God, and live the life of faith on the Son of God. Our Nazarite state is to be lifelong. None can disallow the Christian's vow to Christ (cf. Deuteronomy 30:1-5 with Matthew 10:37). The consecration which we avow must be marked by three facts, of which we see symbols in this chapter—
I. SELF-DENIAL (Deuteronomy 26:3, Deuteronomy 26:4);
II. VISIBLE PROFESSION (Deuteronomy 26:5);
III. PERSONAL PURITY (Deuteronomy 26:6-8).
I. The priests had, when "on duty," to exercise the self-denial required of the Nazarite (Le Deuteronomy 10:9). The kind of self-denial demanded is a significant testimony in favour of total abstinence (see Milton's words in ‘Samson Agonistes:' "Oh, madness, to think use of strongest wines," etc.). Self-denial, in a wider sense, at any rate, always required of us, because we are always "on duty" (Matthew 10:38; Luke 9:23 : John 12:25).
II. The Nazarites' locks marked their separation. Our consecration must be marked not by tonsures or cowls, but by verbal avowals (Romans 10:9, Romans 10:10) and good works (Matthew 5:16; Philippians 2:14-16), which shall excel those of men who make no profession to the supernatural life of the disciples of Christ (cf. Matthew 5:47, Matthew 5:48).
III. We are "called to be saints," personally pure and separated from the world and its dead works (John 17:11-19; 2 Corinthians 6:17). Christ's claims on us are paramount (Luke 9:59, Luke 9:60) and perpetual (Revelation 2:10). We cannot violate our pledges and go on as though our relations to Christ were unchanged, but must renew our vows (Deuteronomy 26:12; Ezekiel 33:12, Ezekiel 33:13). When the period of the vow ended, the restraints were removed, but the honour remained. So will it be with us at death (John 12:26, etc.).—P.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
THE NAZARITE'S VOW
"When either man or woman shall separate themselves to vow a vow of a Nazarite," etc. Here we meet with the Nazarite's vow as something already in existence, and needing to be regulated. The fact that such regulations were necessary points to a class of persons, not perhaps very large, but likely to be permanent in Israel, who felt it laid upon them to be separate for a while from the common track of their neighbours. There are several instances of vows recorded in Scripture. A person might vow that if a certain wish were granted, a certain thing would be done in return; e.g; Hannah, Jephthah. Here we are on different ground. There is nothing like a bargaining with the Almighty. The Nazarite's vow is of a higher kind, and demands special consideration. It does not rise among such natural feelings as are common to all human breasts The motive shows a class of men to whom the common level of their neighbours' thoughts concerning religion was quite insufficient.
I. Consider THE STATE FROM WHICH THE NAZARITE SEPARATED HIMSELF. The name signified the state—separation. The average of religious feeling and activity in the minds of the Israelites must have been very low. Jehovah for his purposes had constrained them into a special relation to him, but as for them, they had not with all their hearts chosen ‘him in return. They were groaning over Egypt lost, and the perils, trials, and discomforts of the wilderness. They did not delight in the law of the Lord. They learned how to go through the routine of outward ceremonies, but that perfect law which converts the soul, rejoices the heart, and enlightens the eyes was foreign to all their sympathies.
II. Hence THE SEPARATION OF THOSE WHO SOUGHT A HOLIER AND SPIRITUAL LIFE. Some, at all events, out of the multitude at Sinai must have been impressed with its solemn circumstances, and with the claims which Jehovah made for himself in the first four commandments of the Decalogue. What contented their neighbours in the way of compliance with God's wishes fell far short of contenting them. Others had to be dragged. The wish of a Nazarite was, "I will run in the way of thy commandments, when thou hast enlarged my heart." Such were the true successors of Enoch, who walked with God, and Noah, who preached righteousness. Such men, in the ruling wish of their spirits, are set before us in the Psalms of David, where he expresses the heights and depths of personal religion as it was possible in the old dispensation. We may well believe there were thousands who could adopt and sing such, as the language of their experience. It was from men of the Nazarite spirit that prophets could be taken, burning with zeal for the Lord of hosts, and for justice and compassion among men. Note the connection of prophets and Nazarites, Amos 2:11, Amos 2:12.
III. THE NAZARITE THUS BECOMES A TYPE OF WHAT SHOULD EVER BE SOUGHT IN THE CHRISTIAN LIFE. It is easy enough to get into a routine, the omission of which would offend the conscience, yet the observance of which does nothing to bring the life nearer to God. We must not measure ourselves by the attainments and opinions of nominal adherents to the Church of Christ. It is no business of ours to judge them, but what satisfies them should not satisfy us. We must try to find out for ourselves in a satisfactory way what God would have us be and do, not falling in easily with what the crowd may profess to be his will. "What do ye more than others?" Avoid that fatal question which so completely, yet so unconsciously, reveals the unspirituality of the person who asks it—"Where's the harm?" (Romans 12:1, Romans 12:2; Philippians 3:12-15).—Y.
THE REGULATIONS FOR OBSERVANCE OF THE NAZARITE'S VOW
As a vow of separation, it was to be observed in as significant a way as possible. It was not only a separation in heart and sympathy, but it had its signs, which plainly indicated the separation to others. These regulations were also helpful to the Nazarite himself as remembrancers. We may conclude that not only the details of them, but the very substance, was of God's appointment. Thus security was taken that all should be in harmony with the great body of the law, and also give the greatest chance of profit to the Nazarite himself, and the greatest chance of instruction to the people.
I. REGULATIONS DURING THE CONTINUANCE OF THE VOW.
1. Abstinence from the fruit of the vine. It was to be a rigorous abstinence. This we may take to signify a protest in the most comprehensive way against all seeking of mere pleasure and comfort. The grape was the symbol of sensual delights. The spies brought back grapes of Eshcol more than any other produce to testify the riches of Canaan: this shows how much the Israelites thought of the fruit. There was, of course, no peculiar merit and advantage in abstaining from the grape itself. The abstinence was simply a sign indicating a desire to rise above the common pleasures of men. The Nazarites were not ascetics. They did not refrain from a good creature of God by way of penance. But in the grape there was the possibility of wine and strong drink, and the wine and strong drink were the testimony of the worldly soul that he loved to gratify his sensual nature, and eared not that his body should be so disciplined and restrained as to be the effectual minister of God. The appropriate joys of human life are not to be found among the powers that link us to the lower creation. We are to look for them in communion with God and following Christ. Our joy is in the Holy Ghost. "Is any merry, let him sing Psalms."
2. The unshorn head. The Nazarite was not his own. Not even the least thing about his person was at his own disposal. He was not allowed to cast away even a thing so easily and painlessly separated as the hair, seemingly of so little consequence, and so quickly growing again. It was just because the hair seemed so little a thing that leaving it unshorn was so fit for a sign (Matthew 5:36; Matthew 10:30). So when we become Christ's we become his altogether. We must be faithful in that which is least. All of life is for him, though there are many things that, hastily considered, look as little important as the short light hairs clipped from the head. The unshorn head also made a manifest difference in the sight of men. Abstaining from the vine was only known at the social board; the unshorn head revealed the Nazarite to every one he met. It was an unostentatious challenge and rebuke to the more easy-going multitude. God had accepted the Nazarite, and stamped his acceptance by this simple, impressive regulation.
3. The avoidance of the dead. Death was uncleanness (Numbers 5:2). The Nazarite as a consecrated one dare not touch the dead. "Separated for God, in whose presence death and corruption can have no place, the Nazarite must ever be found in the habitations and society of the living." Not even dead kindred may the Nazarite—man or woman—touch. What a striking reminder in verse 7 of the requirements of Christi (Luke 18:29, Luke 18:30). He that would please God and rise to higher attainments in Divine things must subordinate all human kinship to higher claims. Christ divides the family against itself, and makes a man's foes those of his own household. The nearest kindred may be an obstacle to the regenerate, as still dead in trespasses and sins. "Let the dead bury their dead." A Nazarite in the observance of his vow was ever on the watch against all occasion of uncleanness, for the very least defilement compelled a fresh start from the beginning.
II. REGULATIONS FOR THE RETURN TO ORDINARY LIFE. This was to be done in a public, deliberate, and sacred way. Precisely ordained offerings had to be made before the Nazarite again put razor to his head or wine to his lips. These offerings doubtless had relation both to the period just expired and the freer life to be presently resumed. There was thanksgiving for the vow successfully observed, atonement for the sin that nevertheless had mingled in it, and something to express his purposes for the future. The freer life was still to find him a Nazarite in heart. To be nearer God for a time and then go away to a distance, to taste the pleasures of holiness for a season and then go back to pollution, such conduct would have made the vow a mockery and abomination. We must all be Nazarite in spirit, opposed to the world as resolutely as was the Baptist, but not, like him, fleeing to the wilderness. Our guide and example is Jesus himself, the holiest of all Nazarites, who kept himself unspotted even at the table of the glutton and wine-bibber. His prayer for us is not that we should be taken out of the world, but kept from the evil.—Y.
THE PRIESTLY BENEDICTION (Numbers 6:22-27).
The Lord spake unto Moses. It is a matter of mere conjecture at what point of time this command was given. As it concerned the priests and their daily ministration, it would be natural to suppose that it was given at the time when the tabernacle service was set up, i.e; at the precise point fixed by the first verse of the following chapter. That the command was given to Moses, and to Moses alone, and that after the consecration of Aaron to the high priesthood, serves to bring out into clear relief the relative position of the two. Aaron and his sons alone, as the "official" representatives of the Lord, could bless in his name and put his name upon the people; but the formula of blessing was delivered to Aaron himself through Moses, as the "personal" representative of the Lord, the mediator of the old covenant. Ὁ νόμος … διαταγεὶς … ἐν χειρὶ μεσίτου (Galatians 3:19). Our Lord is both the Moses (Acts 3:22) and the Aaron (Hebrews 6:20)—ὁ μεσίτης and ὁ ἀρχιερεὺς—of this dispensation.
On this wise ye shall bless. In Le Numbers 9:22 it is recorded that Aaron blessed the people, first by himself from the brazen altar of sacrifice, and afterwards in conjunction with Moses, when they came out of the tabernacle; and that he might so bless the people is mentioned as one object of his consecration (Deuteronomy 21:5; and cf. 1 Chronicles 23:13). Blessing in or with the name of the Supreme Being was an important part of all primitive religion, as appears from the case of Melchizedec and Abraham, of Isaac and his sons, of Jacob and Pharaoh. And this act of blessing was far from being a mere expression of good will, or from being a simple prayer; for" without all contradiction the less is blessed of the greater" (Hebrews 7:7), i.e; the blessing must be given by one who stands nearer to God to one who stands less near. The name of God could not be used in blessing save by one who had some right to such use of it, whether as prophet, as priest, or as patriarch. For that name in which the blessing was given was not inoperative, but was mighty with untold spiritual efficacy where rightly used as the name of blessing. To Aaron and to his sons was now confided this use of the Divine name, that all Israel might know and might hear in their appointed words the voice of God himself. Saying unto them. The benediction here appointed consists of three clauses, each complete in itself, and each consisting of two members, the second of which seems to present the application and result in experience of the grace besought in the first. Both, therefore, in its form and its contents this benediction is one of the most profound and most fruitful of the Divine oracles; and this indeed we might have expected, because God is never so entirely and absolutely himself as in blessing.
The Lord,… the Lord,… the Lord. Are we to see in this threefold use of the Divine name a shadowing forth of the Holy Trinity? It is obvious that it cannot be proved, and that it would not even have suggested any such idea to the priest who gave, or to the people who received, the benediction. To them the threefold form merely added beauty and fullness to the blessing (cf. Ecclesiastes 4:12). But that is not the question. The real question is whether the Old Testament was written for our sakes (1Co 9:10; 1 Corinthians 10:11; 2 Timothy 3:15, 2 Timothy 3:16), and whether the God of the Jews was indeed the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (John 5:17; John 8:54). If so, it is not possible for us to avoid seeing in this benediction a declaration of the threefold Being of God, and it is not possible to avoid believing that he meant us to see such a declaration, veiled indeed from the eyes of the Jew, but clear enough to the Christian. For a somewhat similar case compare Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8.
The Lord make his face shine upon thee. The "face" of God is his personality as turned towards man, or else turned away from him. His face hidden or turned away is despair and death (Deuteronomy 31:17, Deuteronomy 31:18; Job 13:24); his face turned against man is destruction and death (Le Numbers 17:10; Psalms 34:16); his face turned upon man in love and mercy is life and salvation (Psalms 27:1; Psalms 44:3). It is to the soul of man what the blessed sun of heaven is to his body. And be gracious unto thee. ‘Ἐλεήσαι σε, Septuagint. Be kind and beneficent to thee: the effect in and on the soul of the clear shining upon it of the face of God.
The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee. Ἐπάραι … τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ σέ, Septuagint. This clause seems to repeat the last in a somewhat stronger form, as implying more personal and individual attention from the Lord. His face shines upon all that love him, as the sun shines wherever no clouds intervene; but his face is lifted up to that soul for which he has a more special regard. נָשָׂא פָגִים אֶל seems to mean the same thing as נָשָׂא עֵינַיִם or שִׂיס (Genesis 43:29, ἀναβλέψας … τοῖς ὐφθαλμοῖς αὐτοῦ; Genesis 44:21). To lift up the eyes or the face upon any one is to look upon that one with peculiar and tender interest. And give thee peace (shalom). This peace, being the perfect fruit in experience of the grace which comes from God, forms the climax and conclusion of the benediction.
They shall put my name upon the children of Israel. The "name of God is uniformly treated in Scripture as something very different from a mere arrangement of letters or an arbitrary vocal sound. All nations have bad names for the Supreme Being, but there was nothing sacred about them, except from association. The name of God was not of man, nor from man, but of his own direct revelation (Exodus 6:3), and was therefore of an unspeakable sanctity (Exodus 20:7; Exodus 33:19). Like the "word" of God, it cannot be dissociated from God himself. It is in some sense an extension outwards, into the sphere of the created and sensible, of the ineffable virtues of the Godhead itself. It stands in a real, though un-assignable, relation to infinite goodness and power, and therefore it comes fraught with untold blessing (or perchance cursing) to those on whom it lights. Hence, to put the name of God—the covenant name—upon the people had a real meaning. No one could do it except by his express direction; and when it was so done there was an invisible reality answering to the audible form; with the name pronounced in blessing came the blessing itself, came the special providence and presence of God, to abide upon such at least as were worthy of it. It is a fact, the significance of which cannot be denied, that the name which was commanded to be put upon the people was lost, and irrecoverably lost, by the later Jews. Out of an exaggerated dread of possible profanation, they first disobeyed the command by substituting Adonai for that name outside the sanctuary; and finally, after the death of Simeon the Just, the priests ceased to pronounce that name at all, and therefore lost the tradition by which the pronunciation was fixed. Our method of spelling and pronouncing the name as Jehovah is merely conventional, and almost certainly incorrect. It would seem to be the more devout opinion that the name itself, as revealed by God and uttered by many generations of priests, was forfeited (like Paradise), was withdrawn, and ought not to be inquired after. And I will bless them. Here is the precise truth of all effectual benediction: they shall put my name;… I will bless. The outward form was ministered by the priests, the inward reality was of God and from God alone. It is observable that the form of blessing is expressed in the singular; either
(1) because all Israel was regarded as one, even as the first-born son of God (Exodus 4:22, Exodus 4:23; Hosea 11:1), or
(2) because all real blessing must in truth be individual—a nation can only be blessed in its several members.
THE BLESSING OF GOD ALMIGHTY
In this benediction we have spiritually the love of God, and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, as imparted unto us in the kingdom of heaven, into which we are called, that we may inherit a blessing (2 Corinthians 13:14; 1 Peter 3:9). Consider, therefore—
I. THAT ALL BLESSING IN THE NAME WAS GIVEN BY AARON AND HIS SONS ONLY, because they were the chosen representatives of God. Even so, all blessing in the Triune Name is given by Christ alone, the High Priest of our profession, and the only channel of blessing. All ministerial blessing is only the continuation made audible in times and places of that blessing which our Lord was pronouncing when he left the world (Luke 24:50, Luke 24:51), which blessing, as it was never finished upon earth, so it was taken up with him, and became eternal in the heavens, and is still the benediction wherewith his servants are blessed.
II. THAT TO BLESS THE PEOPLE, AS IT WAS THE PECULIAR PRIVILEGE, SO IT WAS THE BOUNDEN DUTY, OF THE PRIESTS, and that in which their office towards the people was, as it were, summed up (Deuteronomy 21:5). Even so Jesus Christ was "sent to bless us" (Acts 3:26), and "Benedictus benedicat" is the simplest and surest of all Christian prayers; and it is the object and the office of such as are called in any wise to minister the priestly authority of Christ to bring home his benediction to the souls of men.
III. THAT THE FIRST CLAUSE OF THE BLESSING INTIMATES THE LOVE OF GOD THE FATHER, THROUGH WHICH WE ARE PRESERVED. For it is of his blessing that the whole world, and the race of men, and we ourselves have been kept from the destroyer, and held in life and plenty (Genesis 1:28; Genesis 9:1; Acts 14:17; Acts 17:28). And it is of his blessing that we have escaped the destruction which threatened our souls (Genesis 2:17); and that because he had a favour unto us (Deuteronomy 7:8; Deuteronomy 10:15), and because he had predestinated us in love (Ephesians 1:4, Ephesians 1:5, ἐν ἀγάπη προορίσας ἡμᾶς), and because he is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9).
IV. THAT THE SECOND CLAUSE INTIMATES THE LOVE OF GOD THE SON WHEREBY WE HAVE OBTAINED, AND DO OBTAIN, GRACE. For in the Incarnation of the Son the face of God is made to shine upon us, and that clearly and brightly, as the natural sun being risen shines upon the earth which lay in darkness or in twilight (Malachi 4:2; Luke 1:78; John 1:14, John 1:17; John 14:9; 2 Corinthians 3:18; 2Co 4:4, 2 Corinthians 4:6; Hebrews 1:3). Thus Moses not being permitted to see the face of God, but only his back parts (Exodus 33:23), signified, that before the Incarnation the revelation of God in grace and truth could not be made.
V. THAT THE THIRD CLAUSE INTIMATES THE LOVE OF GOD THE HOLY GHOST, WHEREBY WE OBTAIN PEACE THROUGH THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE SPIRIT. For the loving regard of God—his tender gaze upon the soul which he loves—is the coming forth of the Holy Spirit to abide upon and within that soul, bringing with him the life of the Incarnate Son (John 16:14, John 16:15; 1 John 5:11), and the love of the Eternal Father (Romans 5:5), and uniting us to both (1 John 1:3). And this life (Galatians 2:20) and this love (Jud Numbers 1:21) are peace (Galatians 5:22; Romans 8:6; 1 John 4:18); and peace is the ripened fruit and accomplished purpose of the gospel (Luke 2:14; John 20:19; Ephesians 2:15).
VI. THAT THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL WERE TO BEAR THE COVENANT NAME OF GOD, whereby he was revealed to them alone. Even so is the holy and awful and Triune Name of our God called down upon us (Matthew 28:19, εἰς τὸ ὄνομα; James 2:7, τὸ καλὸν ὄνομα τὸ ἐπικληθὲν ἐφ ὑμᾶς), and we bear it as a most potent talisman to shield us from all harm, as a most precious jewel to be our secret joy and pride (Revelation 2:7); cf. Psalms 91:14; Psalms 9:10, etc.). Note, that the name of the Holy Trinity is often apparently interchanged with the name of Jesus (Acts 2:38; Acts 19:5), because in "Jesus" is the whole fullness of the Godhead (Colossians 2:9), and "Jesus" is the name under which the Divine Being is personally made known unto us, as under that now forgotten name to the Jews (Acts 3:16; Acts 4:10). And note again, that amongst Israel, as amongst ourselves now, the sacred Name is put upon the people of God, yet so as it may pass away from them like the thin air, and leave no trace of sanctity behind: whereas in "him that overcometh" the Name shall be written, and that indelibly, because by Christ himself (Revelation 3:12).
VII. THAT THE JEWS LOST THE HOLY NAME BECAUSE THEY USED IT NOT ARIGHT, FEARING TO MAKE IT KNOWN. Of that Name which wrought so many miracles (Isaiah 30:27) nothing remains but four letters without any certain meaning, or any possible use. But the Name in which we trust can never be lost, because it is preached unto every creature under heaven (Acts 17:3; Philippians 2:10), and its sweetness is everywhere diffused (So Psalms 1:3). And so it is with all which that name means to us—we keep for ourselves exactly in proportion as we do not keep it to ourselves.
HOMILIES BY W. BINNIE
So far as I have observed, the blessing of the people has less consideration bestowed upon it than any other of the stated ordinances of Divine service. It is seldom made the subject of discourse from the pulpit; divines seldom treat of it in their books; there is reason to fear that it seldom gets its due place in the minds and hearts of the people. The Benediction occurs in Scripture in several forms. Of these, two are in most frequent use in our Churches: the "Apostolic benediction" in 2 Corinthians 13:14, and the "Aaronic benediction" in the text. Properly these are not two benedictions, but only two forms of one and the same. The benefits expressed are, in substance, the same. The principal difference is that the thrice-holy Name, and the benefits of God's salvation, are declared more plainly and articulately in the later than they could well be in the earlier form. There is nothing expressed in the apostolic benediction which was not implied in the Aaronic. "What mean ye by this service?" When our children ask this question, what are we to reply?
I. IT IS A PROCLAMATION OF THE NAME OF GOD. In blessing the people Aaron was to "put the name of the Lord upon the children of Israel" (verse 27), thus constituting them his witnesses. Compare Micah 4:5. This design is plain in the case of the apostolic form. Every time that form is used in the Church, it is as much as to say, Let all men know that the Name called upon in this place is the name of the Father Almighty, and of Jesus Christ his only-begotten Son, and of the Holy Ghost. The older form fulfilled the same purpose for the older time. There lurked in it a suggestion of the Trinity, to be brought to light in due time; and for the time then present, it loudly proclaimed at once the Unity and the personality of God—a proclamation sorely needing to be repeated in our time also. There is a philosophy walking abroad, which invites us to substitute for the living God, whose name is Love, an impersonal "tendency that makes for righteousness." It is the old Pagan substitution of nature for God. In opposition to it and to all similar error, the Aaronic benediction is a standing witness, that the God in whom all things live and move and subsist, is the LORD, a personal God, who can think upon us, and be gracious to us.
II. A DECLARATION OF THE BENEFITS GOD HAS LAID UP FOR THEM THAT SEEK HIM. If you would understand its true intention, you must bear in mind that the benediction is not spoken to men indiscriminately. It is for the Israel of God; for those on whom Christ's name is called, and who walk in his name. It is a solemn and authoritative declaration of the relation which subsists between him and them; and of the benefits flowing therefrom.
1. "The Lord bless thee, and keep thee," q.d. The Lord is the keeper of Israel. He will care for thee. He will keep thy land and thine house; he will preserve thy going out and coming in, and will guard thy life; he will keep thy soul. He will deliver thy soul from death, thy feet from falling, thine eyes from tears. Compare Psalms 121:1-8, where the Church, opening its heart and drinking in the benediction, turns it into a song, "Jehovah Shomer."
2. "The Lord make his face shine upon thee and be gracious unto thee;" q.d. There is grace in God's heart for thee. He has given proof of this times without number. To many a man stained with sin and utterly cast down, be has said, Live; has taken him by the hand, and brought him near, and made him glad with his loving countenance. The best commentary on this, also, is to be found in the Psalms. A glance at the references in the margin will show that the benediction—and especially this particular member of it—was welcomed in many hearts in Israel, and was responded to with peculiar ardour. From it the Church borrows the refrain of the eightieth psalm (verses 3, 7, 19). Peculiar interest attaches to the form which the Church's response takes in Psalms 67:1-7 : "God … bless us, and cause his face to shine upon us; that thy way may be known on earth, thy saving health among all nations: "q.d. Not for our own sakes alone do we beseech thee to make us glad with thy face, but that we, being sanctified and gladdened, may bear thy name to the nations who know thee not.
3. "The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace." Take this member and the foregoing, and what do they amount to but this, "Grace be to you, and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:3, etc. etc.). There is a look of God which fills with dismay, and makes men call to the mountains to hide them from his presence. But there is a look of God which fills the soul with peace. The Lord can, with a glance of his eye, say to the soul, "I am thy salvation:" he can so lift up his countenance upon us as to give us rest.
III. A CALLING DOWN OF GOD'S BLESSING ON THOSE WHO SEEK HIM. A Benediction is a Beatitude. It is also a Prayer. But it is more than either or both of these. To speak of the latter only, every benediction is a prayer, but every prayer is not a benediction. Into a benediction there enters an element of authority not found in every prayer. Joseph's sons may very well have prayed for Jacob; but we cannot fancy the lads putting their hands on the head of the venerable patriarch and blessing him. "Without all contradiction, the less is blessed of the better" (Hebrews 7:7). The case of Jacob may remind us, that it was not the priests only who blessed the congregation. Moses did it; David and Solomon did it; any aged saint may bless his younger brethren. So, also, the minister of the gospel, when the Lord calls him to preside in public worship, may bless the people in the name of the Lord, in the assured hope that the Lord will indeed bless them, and keep them, and give them his grace and peace.—B.
HOMILIES BY E.S. PROUT
THE PRIESTLY BLESSING
I. CERTAIN NOTEWORTHY POINTS IN REGARD TO THIS BLESSING.
1. One of the special duties of the priests was to be the medium of blessing (Deuteronomy 21:5). The priests had much to do with slaughter and sacrifice; here we have a pleasant view of one of their higher functions. Yet to enter heartily into this duty required an elevation of character which the mechanical duties of the altar did not call for. Every servant of God who is faithful in that which is least may find opportunities for higher spiritual services (Matthew 13:12; Matthew 25:29).
2. The triple repetition of the name Jehovah was supposed by the Jews themselves to contain some mystery. At any rate it suggested that as there was in God an infinity of holiness that no one term could express (Isaiah 6:3), so God has for his people a fullness of blessing beyond what any single utterance of his favour would have suggested (cf. Exodus 33:19; Exodus 34:6, Exodus 34:7; Isaiah 63:7; Ephesians 2:4-10). To us the mystery is further revealed by the doctrine of the Trinity. For it is to be noted that in the New Testament that doctrine is always presented in some practical aspect, often in connection with privileges conferred by the triune "God of our salvation" (e.g. John 14:16, John 14:17; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Ephesians 2:18, etc.).
3. The Divine blessing, though uttered on the nation, was designed for each individual. The "thee" brings the blessing home to each house and heart. God, who has blessings full enough for the whole world, has an appropriate benediction for the neediest of his children (Psalms 40:17). The sunlight is for the sake of the tiniest insect and seed- ling as well as for the whole human race; and God's blessing is for the sick child in the cottage as much as for "the holy Church throughout all the world" (Psalms 25:10 : Romans 8:28).
4. This priestly benediction supplied or suggested the sub- stance of many prayers and benedictions in later days. Echoes of it are heard repeatedly in the Book of Psalms (e.g; Psalms 4:6; Psalms 29:11; Psalms 31:16; Psalms 67:1; Psalms 80:3; Psalms 121:1-8; Psalms 134:1-3). As God's mercies are from everlasting to everlasting, and are "new every morning," so God's words of benediction are like germs of beauty and fruitfulness, reproducing themselves from generation to generation in new and precious forms. "The form of sound words" may be a valuable heritage in the Church of God.
II. THE PARTICULARS OF THE BLESSING. Each clause of the triple blessing contains a promise from God. Combining these, we find that the blessing includes these three favours: protection (verse 24), pardon (verse 25), peace (verse 26).
1. Protection. "The blessing of God," says Calvin, "is the goodness of God in action, by which a supply of all good pours down to us from his favour, as from its only fountain." We can confidently commend ourselves, and all who are the "blessed of the Lord," to his keeping, both in regard to spiritual preservation (1 Thessalonians 5:23, 1 Thessalonians 5:24) and temporal deliverances (Psalms 91:11; Isaiah 27:3). Because our High Priest has offered the prayer (John 17:11), we may utter the doxology (2 Timothy 4:18; Jude 1:24, Jude 1:25).
2. Pardon (verse 25). The face of the Lord represents the aspect which God bears towards man, whether of sunshine and favour (Psalms 21:6; Psalms 34:15; Psalms 119:135; Daniel 9:17) or cloud and wrath (Exodus 14:24; Psalms 34:16; Le Psalms 17:10; Psalms 20:3). The shining of God's countenance is an assurance that God will be gracious; its shining upon "thee" a pledge that we have received the grace and pardon we need (Psalms 31:16; Psalms 80:3). The little child feels the difference between the shining and the averted face of the mother, and the Christian cries, Psalms 143:3, Psalms 143:7. If God grants us to hear "the joyful sound" of forgiveness, we "walk all day long in the light of his countenance."
3. Peace (verse 26). The lifting up of God's countenance may suggest his active intervention to secure to us the blessing of peace. Illustrate, sun rising on the world, "with healing in its wings." Such looks from God will compensate for earthly privations (Psalms 4:6, Psalms 4:7), and the expectation of them may sustain us in the night of trouble (Psalms 42:5). The Christian's peace is "the peace of God," "my peace," communicated by Divine power to the soul (John 14:27; John 15:11; Philippians 4:6, Philippians 4:7). These prayers of blessing remind us that all the relations of life may be thus sanctified, and our warmest wishes breathed forth in the form of prayers: e.g; pastor for flock (Ephesians 6:23, Ephesians 6:24; 2 Thessalonians 3:16); Christian for fellow-worshipper (Psalms 118:26; Psalms 134:3); master for servants (Rth 2:4; 2 Samuel 6:18 2 Samuel 6:20); friend for correspondent (2 Timothy 4:22). But our words of blessing avail not unless God adds his "Amen," as he promises in verse 27. Our benediction, whether of men or God, is only in words; God's blessing is in deeds. His blessing when pledged cannot be reversed (Genesis 22:15-18; Numbers 23:19, Numbers 23:20). Spiritual blessings are part of the new covenant, which by faith we may enjoy for ourselves and invoke on others (Ephesians 1:1-3, Ephesians 1:15-19).—P.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
THE BENEDICTION THROUGH THE PRIESTS
A beautiful and touching benediction, and more beautiful for the place in which we come upon it. It is found in the midst of stern commandments and restrictions, minute specifications of duty, dreadful punishments for disobedience and rebellion. How clearly it thus shows that all Jehovah was requiring and doing was for the people's good. Note—
I. THE VERBAL CHANNEL OF THIS BENEDICTION. Spoken through Aaron and his sons. It became an office of the priest as much as were any of the sacrifices. He was not only the way from men to God, but very tenderly from God to men. It was not a blessing to each tribe to be pronounced by its head, nor for each household to be spoken by the father, though doubtless in many families it was repeated, explained, and impressed. Aaron was the great official mediator between God and the people. Doubtless this benediction was to form a part in all solemn approaches of the priest to the people. It would come to them when in the discharge of sacred duties, at times of holy festival and Divine forgiveness. Others might utter idle, powerless good wishes, sinking with oft petition into mere politeness. The priest's words official, solemn, spoken from the tabernacle. Thus they expressed the permanent good will of God, in spite of all negligence and forgetfulness towards him. We have a better Aaron, seeing perfection was not by the Levitical priesthood. The life and work of Jesus give one long and various utterance of this benediction. He the Minister of the sanctuary and true tabernacle which the Lord pitched, and not man. God's good will to the true Israel is expressed in no doubtful, grudging way in Jesus. All that Aaron said to the people in respect of temporal blessings, Jesus says to the spiritual seed of Abraham in respect of spiritual blessings.
II. THE ELEMENTS OF THE BENEDICTION.
1. As to the attitude of God.
(1) He blesses, which we may take to mean an expression of his favourable disposition, in the most general sense of the term. "Let it be an understood thing, O Israel, that God favours you." In the eyes not only of Israelites, but of other nations, it was a serious thing to be under the favour or frown of Deity. Favour meant the best of good, frown the worst of evil. Balak thought all his ends would be served if he could get Balaam only to curse the Israelites. Thus there would come on them in some mysterious but certain way an irresistible blight.
(2) He makes his face to shine. The sun may and does bless even when not shining, but shining it speaks for itself. The Lord is a sun as well as a shield, a sight that is sweet, and a pleasant thing for the eyes to behold. The face of Jesus shone as the sun upon the mount of transfiguration.
(3) He lifts up his countenance. What expressiveness there is in the face! The language of men s tongues was confounded at Babel, but the language of the countenance all Babel's confusion could not touch. The language of the face needs no interpreter. When we see the face of a fellow-man shining, and his countenance lifted on us, then we know he will help us if he can. Just so sure were the Israelites to be of God's interest in them. No intermediate voice was needed to maintain the reality of his good will. And we are to behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus. "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." And he who has seen Jesus knows all the grace in those features, how his countenance is ever lifted on the unstable, wandering children of men.
2. As to the communications which God makes.
(1) He keeps his people. Security the first of blessings to those who have much to lose. The rich man had increase of goods, and built bigger barns, but the barns could not keep him against death. Perhaps it is worthy of note that in Matthew 6:1-34 is the warning to keep our treasures in heaven. Not until we come to Matthew 13:1-58 is the pearl of great price set before us. Insecurity was the mark of Eden. God's face shone, his countenance was lifted up on Adam and Eve, but he warned them there was danger in the midst of all their blessings. Perfect security belongs to the New Jerusalem. He who crept into Eden can never be found where entereth nothing that defileth or maketh a lie.
(2) He is gracious to them. He heaps on them tokens of his favour, just as one friend heaps presents on another. If we see one person enjoying a great number of gifts from another, we judge that he is regarded with special interest. There are gifts to the evil and the good, the common attendants of nature, but there are special gifts for God's own people. Saved from Egypt, they might have been turned loose in the wilderness, but instead they were guided through into the promised land.
(3) He gives peace. His lifted countenance and benignant eye speak reconciliation so soon as the atonement is offered and the fruits meet for repentance brought forth. If his people are at peace with him, in hearty and diligent obedience, what matter all other foes? God's benediction then, thus considered, appears suitable to man's needs, and perfectly definite. Our trust and expectation should agree with what is a benediction to us through Christ, as much as it was to the Israelites through Aaron.—Y.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Numbers 6". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20