Bible Commentary: Numbers 6

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Numbers 6

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The Nazirite Vow 

We usually think only of men as Nazirites, as John the Baptist apparently was (compare Luke 1:15 Luke 1:15For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb.
American King James Version×
). But, surprisingly, women too could take the vow of a Nazirite (Numbers 6:2 Numbers 6:2Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, When either man or woman shall separate themselves to vow a vow of a Nazarite, to separate themselves to the LORD:
American King James Version×
). However, in the case of the woman, her husband or father could disallow the vow and God would not hold her to it (Numbers 30:5 Numbers 30:5But if her father disallow her in the day that he hears; not any of her vows, or of her bonds with which she has bound her soul, shall stand: and the LORD shall forgive her, because her father disallowed her.
American King James Version×
). Nazirites neither drank wine or strong drink, and stayed away from grapes altogether for the duration of the vow. They were to let their hair grow long, and bring special offerings to the tabernacle. The vow was for a set time, at the end of which they were to be purified for seven days (compare Numbers 6:9 Numbers 6:9And if any man die very suddenly by him, and he has defiled the head of his consecration; then he shall shave his head in the day of his cleansing, on the seventh day shall he shave it.
American King James Version×
; Acts 21:27 Acts 21:27And when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews which were of Asia, when they saw him in the temple, stirred up all the people, and laid hands on him,
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), cut their hair and burn it, and partake of certain offerings, including unleavened bread and oil. When the vow was fulfilled they could, once again, drink wine and eat grapes. The vow was usually voluntarily taken for the purpose of making a special request of God, to give thanks to God, or to dedicate themselves to some other such purpose. There are biblical examples of the vow being a lifelong one (Judges 13:5 Judges 13:5For, see, you shall conceive, and bear a son; and no razor shall come on his head: for the child shall be a Nazarite to God from the womb: and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.
American King James Version×
). A vow was often made in thanksgiving to God; it was not something to replace weakness of character in the sense of someone needing the vow and its visibility to others in order to be kept in line with God’s way.

Incidentally, we should not confuse the words Nazirite and Nazarene. The word Nazirite comes from the root nazir, meaning to “separate” or “keep away from,” while Nazarene denotes a resident of Nazareth. Confusing the words, some have argued that Jesus Christ was under a Nazirite vow, and they employ this reasoning to argue for Him having had long hair. But Jesus was not a Nazirite, for He drank wine (Matthew 11:18-19 Matthew 11:18-19 [18] For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He has a devil. [19] The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a drunkard, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children.
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) and on at least one occasion touched a dead body (Luke 8:51-54 Luke 8:51-54 [51] And when he came into the house, he suffered no man to go in, save Peter, and James, and John, and the father and the mother of the maiden. [52] And all wept, and bewailed her: but he said, Weep not; she is not dead, but sleeps. [53] And they laughed him to scorn, knowing that she was dead. [54] And he put them all out, and took her by the hand, and called, saying, Maid, arise.
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). And thus, He would not have had long hair (compare 1 Corinthians 11:14 1 Corinthians 11:14Does not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame to him?
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). The apostle Paul actually did take a Nazirite vow, not cutting his hair until the vow’s completion (Acts 18:18 Acts 18:18And Paul after this tarried there yet a good while, and then took his leave of the brothers, and sailed there into Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila; having shorn his head in Cenchrea: for he had a vow.
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). And he later paid for and shared in the purification rites of four others completing a Nazirite vow (Acts 21:23-27 Acts 21:23-27 [23] Do therefore this that we say to you: We have four men which have a vow on them; [24] Them take, and purify yourself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads: and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning you, are nothing; but that you yourself also walk orderly, and keep the law. [25] As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication. [26] Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them entered into the temple, to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification, until that an offering should be offered for every one of them. [27] And when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews which were of Asia, when they saw him in the temple, stirred up all the people, and laid hands on him,
American King James Version×

Interestingly, since “Nazirite” means “separated one,” Christ and all Christians are Nazirites in a spiritual sense—our lives being consecrated to God. The Nazirite vow is one of a number of Old Testament actions or rites that can be viewed as parallels to the Christian’s commitment to God at baptism.

Priestly Blessing 

“In 1979 the Israeli archaeologist Gabriel Barkay was excavating some ancient burial caves overlooking the Hinnom Valley, just to the south-west of the Old City of Jerusalem, when to his surprise he found one that was undisturbed. It contained the bones of at least ninety-five people, some with pottery, arrowheads, pieces of gold and silver jewellery buried alongside them. But Barkay’s most spectacular find in this cave was a pair of small cylindrical scrolls made of pure silver. Although insignificant-looking when first found, the largest no more than 4 inches long, they were both found to bear eighteen lines of Palaeo-Hebrew script when unrolled, including the words:

“May Yahweh bless you and keep you

“May Yahweh cause his face to shine upon you and grant you peace.

“As palaeographic specialists are generally agreed, the date when these words were incised on the scrolls can be no later than the 7th century BC, i.e. the time of [the prophet] Jeremiah. Since they are none other than the ‘priestly blessing’ of Numbers 6:24-26 Numbers 6:24-26 [24] The LORD bless you, and keep you: [25] The LORD make his face shine on you, and be gracious to you: [26] The LORD lift up his countenance on you, and give you peace.
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, still used in both Jewish and Christian liturgies, they are by far the oldest portion of Biblical text yet discovered” (Ian Wilson, The Bible Is History, 1999, p. 173).

This discovery was a major blow to those scholars and other Bible critics who claim that the books of Moses were actually not written until the Hellenistic period in the third century B.C.

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