Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The Law of the Nazirite
The passage consists of two distinct parts: (a) Numbers 6:1-12. Three regulations, the observance of which constituted the Naziriteship. (b) Numbers 6:13-21. The sacrificial ceremonies to be performed at the completion of the vow.
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When either man or woman shall separate themselves to vow a vow of a Nazarite, to separate themselves unto the LORD:2. shall make a special vow] as in Numbers 15:3; Numbers 15:8, Leviticus 22:21; Leviticus 27:2. The exact force of the term is not clear, but it does not seem to differ from ‘make a vow.’
a Nazirite1 [Note: The spelling Nazarite, of the A.V., is erroneous.] ] Heb. Nâzîr, denotes ‘one separated’ (as R.V. marg.). The full form is ‘a Nazir of God’ (Jdg 13:5; Jdg 13:7), i.e. a religious devotee. Two kinds of Nazirites are mentioned in the O.T.2 [Note: See art. Nazirite in Hastings’ DB. iii.] , (1) those who were bound for life, (2) those who took the vow for a specified time. There is no evidence that the latter class existed before the exile. Of life-long Nazirites Samson is the clearest instance; and see Amos 2:11 f., and perhaps 1 Samuel 1:11, Luke 1:15. The Rechabites (Jeremiah 35:6-10) may have been devotees of a somewhat similar type. Temporary Nazirites were very numerous in later Jewish history. They are probably referred to in Acts 18:18; Acts 21:23 f. ‘The Nazirites who had accomplished their days’ are spoken of in 1Ma 3:49. And in the Mishna, the authoritative compendium of rabbinic regulations, one section or ‘tract’ is called Nazir, and deals exclusively with the subject. The temporary vow was frequently taken for purely private and personal reasons, such as thanksgiving for recovery from illness, for the birth of a child, and so on. The present passage deals with an already established custom, and is written chiefly with the object of prescribing the offerings to be made at the conclusion of the vow.
He shall separate himself from wine and strong drink, and shall drink no vinegar of wine, or vinegar of strong drink, neither shall he drink any liquor of grapes, nor eat moist grapes, or dried.3. vinegar] Prepared from wine and other intoxicants which have gone sour.
liquor of grapes] Fresh wine, as distinct from the foregoing.
or dried] Raisins compressed into a cake (’ashîshâh) were a common article of food (2 Samuel 6:19, Hosea 3:1).
3, 4. First regulation. Abstinence from intoxicating liquors and from any produce of the vine, liquid or solid.
All the days of his separation shall he eat nothing that is made of the vine tree, from the kernels even to the husk.4. nothing that is produced by the grape-vine] R.V. ‘made of the grape-vine,’ though a literal rendering of the Hebrew, is misleading. The meaning is evidently that of Jdg 13:14 ‘nothing that cometh forth (יצא) from the grape-vine.’ This meaning of עשה ‘to make,’ or ‘produce,’ in the course of nature is found with some frequency; e.g. Genesis 1:11 f., Genesis 41:47, Isaiah 5:2; Isaiah 5:4; Isaiah 5:10.
from the kernels even to the husk] The Heb. idiom ‘from … to …’ frequently represents the English ‘either … or …’ or ‘neither … nor …’ Cf. Genesis 14:23, lit. ‘from a thread to a shoe-latchet’; Genesis 31:24; Genesis 31:29 ‘from good to bad.’
The words rendered ‘kernels’ (ḥarẓannîm) and ‘husk’ (zâg) are not found elsewhere in the O.T. and their meaning is uncertain.
It is not very natural to speak of the kernels (i.e. the stones or pips) and the husk (i.e. the skin) of the grape as produced by the vine. But no better rendering of the words has been proposed. The general sense, however, is clear. The eating of any sort of grape product is prohibited, even the most trifling or unpalatable parts of the produce of the vine.
The custom of abstaining from wine and intoxicants may have arisen in a remote past from a primitive belief that the spirit or numen of the vine entered into a man when he drank (see Frazer, Golden Bough, i. 359 f.); or, as Jeremiah 35:6 f. suggests in the case of the Rechabites, it arose from a desire to conform closely to ancient nomadic habits after the nation as a whole had become an agricultural community (W. R. Smith, Prophets of Israel, 84 f.). Whatever the origin may have been, the Naziriteship had, in prophetic times, a valuable moral significance as a protest against luxury and sensuality. See Driver on Amos 2:11.
Again, the prohibition of wine is distinct from that of all intoxicants1 [Note: On intoxicants other than wine see Hastings’ DB. ii. 33b.] . The former is probably the more primitive. And the form of the regulations found here may very possibly have been the result of the fusion of ancient practices which were at one time unconnected, and not all observed by earlier Nazirites.
All the days of the vow of his separation there shall no rasor come upon his head: until the days be fulfilled, in the which he separateth himself unto the LORD, he shall be holy, and shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow.5. Second regulation. The hair to be left uncut. This is found in every reference to the Nazirites, both in early and late times. Long hair was the visible mark of consecration.
All the days that he separateth himself unto the LORD he shall come at no dead body.6, 7. Third regulation. Avoidance of pollution from contact with a dead body, even that of the nearest relative.
He shall not make himself unclean for his father, or for his mother, for his brother, or for his sister, when they die: because the consecration of his God is upon his head.7. The stringent rule here laid down was applicable to no one else except the High Priest (Leviticus 21:11); in the case of the ordinary priest the nearest relatives are expressly excepted. It is to be noticed that Samson did not scruple to come into frequent contact with the dead. The regulation was probably not in force in early days, but was added when the sanctity attributed to a Nazirite had increased.
his separation] Heb. nçzer (connected with nâzîr) denotes either the state of separation (Numbers 6:4; Numbers 6:6 R.V. marg. ‘Naziriteship’), or, as here, the symbol of separation, i.e. the long hair. Cf. the similar ellipse in 1 Corinthians 11:10, ‘the woman ought to have [the symbol of] authority on her head.’ In Leviticus 25:5; Leviticus 25:11 nçzer is even used for an untrimmed vine, with its long tendrils like uncut hair.
All the days of his separation he is holy unto the LORD.
And if any man die very suddenly by him, and he hath 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.9. the head of his separation] i.e. his head with the long hair, the symbol of his consecration.
in the day of his cleansing] Better of his cleanness, i.e. in the day when he became clean.
shall he shave it] The hair, being polluted, must be got rid of in some way that would prevent it defiling other objects. The present law does not mention this; but in accordance with ancient practice it would probably be buried (W. R. Smith, Rel. Sem. 2 369 ff.); and this is laid down in the Mishnah.
9–12. The third regulation might be unavoidably infringed if a sudden death occurred in the Nazirite’s presence. He was then unclean for seven days. At the end of that period he shaved close his polluted hair, and on the next day brought an offering. He was now considered free from pollution, and he began the whole period of his vow afresh.
And on the eighth day he shall bring two turtles, or two young pigeons, to the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation:10. The prescribed birds were an inexpensive form of offering; cf. Leviticus 5:7; Leviticus 12:8; Leviticus 14:30 f., Numbers 15:14 f., Num 15:29 f.; Luke 2:24.
And the priest shall offer the one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering, and make an atonement for him, for that he sinned by the dead, and shall hallow his head that same day.11. a sin-offering] A form of sacrifice not mentioned in the historical or prophetical books. Its purpose was the removal of defilement, separation from all that was not holy. It was thus used at the consecration of places (Exodus 29:36, Leviticus 8:14 f.), and of persons—priests (Exodus 29:14, Leviticus 4:3; Leviticus 8:2; Leviticus 8:14 &c.), and Levites (Numbers 8:8; Numbers 8:12); and also to make atonement for inadvertent transgressions (Numbers 15:24; Numbers 15:27, Leviticus 4:2; Leviticus 4:13 &c.), and for ceremonial uncleanness (here, Leviticus 12:6; Leviticus 12:8; Leviticus 14:19; Leviticus 15:15).
Before the exile the sin-offering appears only as a fine levied by the priests at the sanctuary (2 Kings 12:16).
a burnt-offering] A very ancient rite, expressing self-dedication to God.
hallow his head] It had become free from pollution on the previous day, but needed re-hallowing for the purposes of the vow.
And he shall consecrate unto the LORD the days of his separation, and shall bring a lamb of the first year for a trespass offering: but the days that were before shall be lost, because his separation was defiled.12. he shall separate &c.] He shall separate anew the whole period of the vow upon which he had originally entered.
a guilt-offering] This was the most expensive part of the ritual. Opinions differ as to the exact force attaching to it. But the distinctive feature of the offering in other cases seems to have been that it involved an act of reparation for wrong done (see on Numbers 5:6-8). In the present case it is probably reparation for the delay in the completion of the vow and therefore of the sacrifices which consummated it.
And this is the law of the Nazarite, when the days of his separation are fulfilled: he shall be brought unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation:13–21. The ceremony at the completion of the vow. This consisted of three parts: (a) The Nazirite brought a burnt-offering, sin-offering, and peace-offering, with the usual meal-offering and libations attached to the burnt-offering and the sin-offering (see Numbers 15:4-6), and the priest offered them (Numbers 6:13-17). (b) He shaved his head, standing near the door of the Tent by the altar in the court, and threw the hair into the fire on the altar that was consuming the fat of the peace-offering (Numbers 6:18). (c) After the fat was burnt, the priest waved the shoulder of the peace-offering and part of the meal-offering, and took them as his own perquisite, together with the breast and the ‘thigh of contribution’ which usually fell to him. A sacrificial feast, not here mentioned, must have followed, at which the meat was eaten, and perhaps the Nazirite joined in it, for the worshipper in all other cases had a share in the peace-offering (see art. ‘Sacrifice’ in Hastings’ DB. iv. 338).
And he shall offer his offering unto the LORD, one he lamb of the first year without blemish for a burnt offering, and one ewe lamb of the first year without blemish for a sin offering, and one ram without blemish for peace offerings,14. peace-offerings] Heb. shelâmîm. The meaning is uncertain. Some connect it with shâlôm ‘peace,’ and explain it as ‘the sacrifice offered when friendly relations existed towards God, as distinct from piacular offerings which presupposed estrangement.’ So LXX. θυσία εἰρηνική. Others derive it from a verb shillçm denoting to ‘make restitution,’ and so ‘to pay what is due’; hence a thank- or votive-offering. It was generally offered on joyful occasions, God and the worshipper partaking together of the sacrifice. God’s portion comprised the fat and viscera of the victim, which were offered to Him by being burnt.
And a basket of unleavened bread, cakes of fine flour mingled with oil, and wafers of unleavened bread anointed with oil, and their meat offering, and their drink offerings.
And the priest shall bring them before the LORD, and shall offer his sin offering, and his burnt offering:
And he shall offer the ram for a sacrifice of peace offerings unto the LORD, with the basket of unleavened bread: the priest shall offer also his meat offering, and his drink offering.
And the Nazarite shall shave the head of his separation at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and shall take the hair of the head of his separation, and put it in the fire which is under the sacrifice of the peace offerings.18. The burning of the hair is of the nature of an offering, and also prevents its desecration. The custom is not confined to the Hebrews, but finds many parallels in antiquity and in primitive races to-day. The hair is considered to be the special seat of the life and strength of the man, and thus represents the man himself when it is offered to the deity.
And the priest shall take the sodden shoulder of the ram, and one unleavened cake out of the basket, and one unleavened wafer, and shall put them upon the hands of the Nazarite, after the hair of his separation is shaven:19. the sodden shoulder] It had been previously sodden, i.e. boiled, elsewhere in readiness.
And the priest shall wave them for a wave offering before the LORD: this is holy for the priest, with the wave breast and heave shoulder: and after that the Nazarite may drink wine.20. shall wave them] The portions of a peace-offering which fell to the priest were not appropriated by him until a peculiar ritual had been performed. The breast—and in the present case the boiled shoulder and part of the meal-offering also—were waved or swung, that is, apparently, moved towards the altar and back, as a symbol that the priest first gave them to God, and that God then gave them back to him for his own use (cf. Numbers 5:25, Exodus 29:27). The word ‘wave,’ however, is sometimes employed more loosely, and denotes simply ‘to offer’; see Numbers 8:11; Numbers 8:13; Numbers 8:15; Numbers 8:21.
heave thigh] thigh of contribution. See on Numbers 5:9.
This is the law of the Nazarite who hath vowed, and of his offering unto the LORD for his separation, beside that that his hand shall get: according to the vow which he vowed, so he must do after the law of his separation.21. and of his oblation] namely his oblation. The word is loosely in apposition to ‘the law.’ The oblation formed the most important factor in the regulations. On the word tôrâh ‘law’ see Chapman, Introd. Append, vi.
beside that which he is able to get] i.e. beside what his means enable him to offer further. The law prescribes only the minimum offering. The Nazirite was free, and was probably encouraged, to vow something larger; and he must faithfully do ‘according to the vow which he voweth.’ The warning given at a later time in Ecclesiastes 5:4 f. shews that vows were not always paid.
Numbers 6:22-27The Priestly Blessing
This fragment of priestly tradition has no connexion with what precedes or follows it. The simple and beautiful three-fold petition probably dates from a time anterior to P ; but Numbers 6:22 f., 27 are a setting or framework in which P places it. The priestly function of blessing is recognised in Leviticus 9:22 f., Deuteronomy 10:8; Deuteronomy 21:5, 2 Chronicles 30:27; cf. Psalm 118:26, Sir 36:17; Sir 45:15; Sir 50:21. In the thrice repeated name ‘Jehovah’ the writer did not, of course, contemplate the doctrine of the three Persons in the Godhead. But the words may nevertheless be regarded as an unconscious foreshadowing of the fuller Christian revelation. The form of the prayer is due to the parallelism which distinguishes Hebrew poetry. The words, which find an echo in Psalm 67:1, may be literally rendered:
Jehovah bless thee, and guard thee.
Jehovah light up His face towards thee, and favour thee.
Jehovah lift up His face towards thee, and appoint for thee welfare.
27. put my name upon] This denotes that they are Jehovah’s possession, and stand in the closest relationship with Him. Cf. Deuteronomy 28:10, Jeremiah 14:9.
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Speak unto Aaron and unto his sons, saying, On this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel, saying unto them,
The LORD bless thee, and keep thee:
The LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee:
The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.
And they shall put my name upon the children of Israel; and I will bless them.