The Pulpit Commentary

Numbers 6:1-21 (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 ).

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Numbers 6:15 (Numbers 6:15)

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. ) .

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

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

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

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 , Matthew 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.

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

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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Numbers 6:3-21 (Numbers 6:3-21)

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

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.

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