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). But, surprisingly, women too could take the vow of a Nazirite (Numbers 6:2). 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). 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; Acts 21:27), 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). 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) and on at least one occasion touched a dead body (Luke 8:51-54). And thus, He would not have had long hair (compare 1 Corinthians 11:14). The apostle Paul actually did take a Nazirite vow, not cutting his hair until the vow's completion (Acts 18:18). And he later paid for and shared in the purification rites of four others completing a Nazirite vow (Acts 21:23-27).

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, 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.