Matthew Henry's Complete Commentary

Verses 1-21 (Numbers 6:1-21)

After the law for the discovery and shame of those that by sin had made themselves vile, fitly follows this for the direction and encouragement of those who by their eminent piety and devotion had made themselves honourable, and distinguished themselves from their neighbours. It is very probable that there were those before the making of this law who went under the character of Nazarites, and were celebrated by that title as persons professing greater strictness and zeal in religion than other people; for the vow of a Nazarite is spoken of here as a thing already well known, but the obligation of it is reduced to a greater certainty than hitherto it had been. Joseph is called a Nazarite among his brethren (Gen. 49:26), not only because separate from them, but because eminent among them. Observe,

I. The general character of a Nazarite: it is a person separated unto the Lord, Luke 6:2. Some were Nazarites for life, either by divine designation, as Samson (Jdg. 13:5), and John Baptist (Luke 1:15), or by their parents? vow concerning them, as Samuel, 1 Sam. 1:11. Of these this law speaks not. Others were so for a certain time, and by their own voluntary engagement, and concerning them rules are given by this law. A woman might bind herself with the vow of a Nazarite, under the limitations we find, Num. 30:3; where the vow which the woman is supposed to vow unto the Lord seems to be meant especially of this vow. The Nazarites were, 1. Devoted to the Lord during the time of their Nazariteship, and, it is probable, spent much of their time in the study of the law, in acts of devotion, and instructing others. An air of piety was thereby put upon them, and upon their whole conversation. 2. They were separated from common persons and common things. Those that are consecrated to God must not be conformed to this world. They distinguished themselves, not only from others, but from what they themselves were before and after. 3. They separated themselves by vowing a vow. Every Israelite was bound by the divine law to love God with all his heart, but the Nazarites by their own act and deed bound themselves to some religious observances, as fruits and expressions of that love, which other Israelites were not bound to. Some such there were, whose spirits God stirred up to be in their day the ornaments of the church, the standard-bearers of religion, and patterns of piety. It is spoken of as a great favour to their nation that God raised up of their young men for Nazarites, Amos 2:11. The Nazarites were known in the streets and respected as purer than snow, whiter than milk, Lam. 4:7. Christ was called in reproach a Nazarene, so were his followers: but he was no Nazarite according to this law; he drank wine, and touched dead bodies, yet in his this type had its accomplishment, for in him all purity and perfection met; and every true Christian is a spiritual Nazarite, separated by vow unto the Lord. We find St. Paul, by the persuasion of his friends, in complaisance to the Jews, submitting to this law of the Nazarites; but at the same time it is declared that the Gentiles should observe no such thing, Acts 21:24; 25. It was looked upon as a great honour to a man to be a Nazarite, and therefore if a man speak of it as a punishment, saying for instance, ?I will be a Nazarite rather than do so or so,? he is (say the Jews) a wicked man; but he that vows unto the Lord in the way of holiness to be a Nazarite, lo, the crown of his God is upon his head.

II. The particular obligations that the Nazarites lay under. That the fancies of superstitious men might not multiply their restraints endlessly, God himself lays down the law for them, and gives them the rule of their profession.

1. They must have nothing to do with the fruit of the vine, Luke 6:3; 4. They must drink no wine nor string drink, nor eat grapes, no, not the kernel nor the husk; they might not so much as eat a raisin. The learned Dr. Lightfoot has a conjecture (Hor. Heb. in Luc. 1. 15), that, as the ceremonial pollutions by leprosy and otherwise represented the sinful state of fallen man, so the institution of the order of Nazarites was designed to represent the pure and perfect state of man in innocency, and that the tree of knowledge, forbidden to Adam, was the vine, and for that reason it was forbidden to the Nazarites, and all the produce of it. Those who gave the Nazarites wine to drink did the tempter?s work (Amos 2:12), persuading them to that forbidden fruit. That it was reckoned a perfection and praise not to drink wine appears from the instance of the Rechabites, Jer. 35:6. They were to drink no wine, (1.) That they might be examples of temperance and mortification. Those that separate themselves to God and to his honour must not gratify the desires of the body, but keep it under and bring it into subjection. Drinking a little wine for the stomach?s sake is allowed, to help that, 1 Tim. 5:23. But drinking much wine for the palate?s sake, to please that, does by no means become those who profess to walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (2.) That they might be qualified to employ themselves in the service of God. They must not drink, lest they should forget the law (Prov. 31:5), lest they should err through wine, Isa. 28:7. Let all Christians oblige themselves to be very moderate in the use of wine and strong drink; for, if the love of these once gets the mastery of a man, he becomes a very easy prey to Satan. It is observable that because they were to drink no wine (which was the thing mainly intended) they were to eat nothing that came of the vine, to teach us with the utmost care and caution to avoid sin and every thing that borders upon it and leads to it, or may be a temptation to us. Abstain from all appearance of evil, 1 Thess. 5:22.

2. They must not cut their hair, Luke 6:5. They must neither poll their heads nor shave their beards; this was that mark of Samson?s Nazariteship which we often read of in his story. Now, (1.) This signified a noble neglect of the body and the ease and ornament of it, which became those who, being separated to God, ought to be wholly taken up with their souls, to secure their peace and beauty. It signified that they had, for the present, renounced all sorts of sensual pleasures and delights, and resolved to live a life of self-denial and mortification. Mephibosheth in sorrow trimmed not his beard, 2 Sam. 19:24. (2.) Some observe that long hair is spoken of as a badge of subjection (1 Cor. 11:5); so that the long hair of the Nazarites denoted their subjection to God, and their putting themselves under his dominion. (3.) By this they were known to all that met them to be Nazarites, and so it commanded respect. It made them look great without art; it was nature?s crown to the head, and a testimony for them that they had preserved their purity. For, if they had been defiled, their hair must have been cut, Luke 6:9. See Jer. 7:29.

3. They must not come near any dead body, Luke 6:6; 7. Others might touch dead bodies, and contracted only a ceremonial pollution by it for some time; some must do it, else the dead must be unburied; but the Nazarites must not do it, upon pain of forfeiting all the honour of their Nazariteship. They must not attend the funeral of any relation, no, not father nor mother, any more than the high priest himself, because the consecration of his God is upon his head. Those that separate themselves to God must learn, (1.) To distinguish themselves, and do more than others. (2.) To keep their consciences pure from dead works, and not to touch the unclean thing. The greater profession of religion we make, and the more eminent we appear, the greater care we must take to avoid all sin, for we have so much the more honour to lose by it. (3.) To moderate their affections even to their near relations, so as not to let their sorrow for the loss of them break in upon their joy in God and submission to his will. See Matt. 8:21; 22.

4. All the days of their separation they must be holy to the Lord, Luke 6:8. This was the meaning of those external observances, and without this they were of no account. The Nazarites must be devoted to God, employed for him, and their minds intent upon him; they must keep themselves pure in heart and life, and be in every thing conformable to the divine image and will; this is to be holy, this is to be a Nazarite indeed.

III. The provision that was made for the cleansing of a Nazarite, if he happened unavoidably to contract a ceremonial pollution by the touch of a dead body. No penalty is ordered by this law for the wilful breach of the foregoing laws; for it was not supposed that a man who had so much religion as to make that vow could have so little as to break it presumptuously: nor could it be supposed that he should drink wine, or have his hair cut, but by his own fault; but purely by the providence of God, without any fault of his own, he might be near a dead body, and that is the case put (Luke 6:9): If a man die very suddenly by him, he has defiled the head of his consecration. Note, Death sometimes takes men away very suddenly, and without any previous warning. A man might be well and dead in so little a time that the most careful Nazarite could not avoid being polluted by the dead body; so short a step is it sometimes, and so soon taken, from time to eternity. God prepare us for sudden death! In this case, 1. He must be purified from the ceremonial pollution he had contracted, as others must, upon the seventh day, Luke 6:9. Nay, more was required for the purifying of the Nazarite than of any other person that had touched a dead body; he must bring a sin-offering and a burnt-offering, and an atonement must be made for him, Luke 6:10; 11. This teaches us that sins of infirmity, and the faults we are overtaken in by surprise, must be seriously repented of, and that an application must be made of the virtue of Christ?s sacrifice to our souls for the forgiveness of them every day, 1 John 2:1; 2. It teaches us also that, if those who make an eminent profession of religion do any thing to sully the reputation of their profession, more is expected from them than others, for the retrieving both of their peace and of their credit. 2. He must begin the days of his separation again; for all that were past before his pollution, though coming ever so near the period of his time set, were lost, and not reckoned to him, Luke 6:12. This obliged them to be very careful not to defile themselves by the dead, for that was the only thing that made them lose their time, and it teaches us that if a righteous man turn away from his righteousness, and defile himself with dead works, all his righteousness that he has done shall be lost to him, Ezek. 33:13. It is all lost, all in vain, if he do not persevere, Gal. 3:4. He must begin again, and do his first works.

IV. The law for the solemn discharge of a Nazarite from his vow, when he had completed the time he fixed to himself. Before the expiration of that term he could not be discharged; before he vowed, it was in his own power, but it was too late after the vow to make enquiry. The Jews say that the time of a Nazarite?s vow could not be less than thirty days; and if a man said, ?I will be a Nazarite but for two days,? yet he was bound for thirty; but it should seem Paul?s vow was for only seven days (Acts 21:27), or, rather, then he observed the ceremony of finishing that vow of Nazariteship from which, being at a distance from the temple, he had discharged himself some years before at Cenchrea only by the ceremony of cutting his hair, Acts 18:18. When the time of the vowed separation was out, he was to be made free, 1. Publicly, at the door of the tabernacle (Luke 6:13), that all might take notice of the finishing of his vow, and none might be offended if they saw him now drink wine, who had so lately refused. 2. It was to be done with sacrifices, Luke 6:14. Lest he should think that by this eminent piece of devotion he had made God a debtor to him, he is appointed, even when he had finished his vow, to bring an offering to God; for, when we have done our utmost in duty to God, still we must own ourselves behind-hand with him. He must bring one of each sort of the instituted offerings. (1.) A burnt-offering, as an acknowledgment of God?s sovereign dominion over him and all he had still, notwithstanding his discharge from this particular vow. (2.) A sin-offering. This, though mentioned second (Luke 6:14), yet seems to have been offered first (Luke 6:16), for atonement must be made for our sins before any of our sacrifices can be accepted. And it is very observable that even the Nazarite, who in the eye of men was purer than snow and whiter than milk, yet durst not appear before the holy God without a sin-offering. Though he had fulfilled the vow of his separation without any pollution, yet he must bring a sacrifice for sin; for there is guilt insensibly contracted by the best of men, even in their best works?some good omitted, some ill admitted, which, if we were dealt with in strict justice, would be our ruin, and in consequence of which it is necessary for us to receive the atonement, and plead it as our righteousness before God. (3.) A peace-offering, in thankfulness to God who had enabled him to fulfil his vow, and in supplication to God for grace to preserve him from ever doing any thing unbecoming one that had been once a Nazarite, remembering that, though he was now freed from the bonds of his own vow, he still remained under the bonds of the divine law. (4.) To these were added the meat-offerings and drink-offerings, according to the manner (Luke 6:15; 17), for these always accompanied the burnt-offerings and peace-offerings: and, besides these, a basket of unleavened cakes, and wafers. (5.) Part of the peace-offering, with a cake and wafer, was to be waved for a wave-offering (Luke 6:19; 20); and this was a gratuity to the priest, who had it for his pains, after it had been first presented to God. (6.) Besides all this, he might bring his free-will offerings, such as his hand shall get, Luke 6:21. More than this he might bring, but not less. And, to grace the solemnity, it was common upon this occasion to have their friends to be at charges with them, Acts 21:24. Lastly, One ceremony more was appointed, which was like the cancelling of the bond when the condition is performed, and that was the cutting off of his hair, which had been suffered to grow all the time of his being a Nazarite, and burning it in the fire over which the peace-offerings were boiling, Luke 6:18. This intimated that his full performance of his vow was acceptable to God in Christ the great sacrifice, and not otherwise. Learn hence to vow and pay to the Lord our God, for he has no pleasure in fools.

- Matthew Henry's Complete Commentary