Numbers 6
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
(the law of the Nazarite). This passage, barren and unpromising as it looks, is nevertheless invested with an undying interest by the circumstance that three of the most famous men in the sacred history belonged to the order whose rule is here prescribed. Samson, with all his faults, was a heroic character, and he was a Nazarite from his mother's womb. Samuel, his contemporary, was a hero of a purer and higher type, the earliest of the great prophets after Moses, and he too was a Nazarite, by his mother's consecration, before he was born. As Samuel was the first, John the Baptist was the last, of the old prophets, and he likewise was a Nazarite from his birth.

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, 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 (verses 3, 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 (verse 5; cf. 1 Corinthians 11:10, marg.). 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.

Though the Israelites had a priesthood, they were themselves "a kingdom of priests." Individual responsibility toward God was pressed upon their consciences in many ways; e.g., Deuteronomy 26:1-14, etc. And private persons might aspire to the honour of an especial priestly consecration. Since temporary vows were acceptable to God under the old covenant, they may be under the new covenant, if taken for a limited time and for Christian ends; e.g. celibacy or abstinence (cf. Acts 18:18; Acts 21:6). But a higher form of vow is that of entire consecration for life, that we may be daily led by the Spirit of God, and live the life of faith on the Son of God. Our Nazarite state is to be lifelong. None can disallow the Christian's vow to Christ (cf. chapter Numbers 30:1-5 with Matthew 10:37). The consecration which we avow must be marked by three facts, of which we see symbols in this chapter -

I. SELF-DENIAL (verses 3, 4);


III. PERSONAL PURITY (verses 6-8).

I. The priests had, when "on duty," to exercise the self-denial required of the Nazarite (Leviticus 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, 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, 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, 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 (verse 12; Ezekiel 33:12, 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.

When either man or woman shall separate themselves to vow a vow of a Nazarite, etc. Here we meet with the Nazarite's vow as something already in existence, and needing to be regulated. The fact that such regulations were necessary points to a class of persons, not perhaps very large, but likely to be permanent in Israel, who felt it laid upon them to be separate for a while from the common track of their neighbours. There are several instances of vows recorded in Scripture. A person might vow that if a certain wish were granted, a certain thing would be done in return; e.g., Hannah, Jephthah. Here we are on different ground. There is nothing like a bargaining with the Almighty. The Nazarite's vow is of a higher kind, and demands special consideration. It does not rise among such natural feelings as are common to all human breasts The motive shows a class of men to whom the common level of their neighbours' thoughts concerning religion was quite insufficient.

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, 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, 2; Philippians 3:12-15). - Y.

As a vow of separation, it was to be observed in as significant a way as possible. It was not only a separation in heart and sympathy, but it had its signs, which plainly indicated the separation to others. These regulations were also helpful to the Nazarite himself as remembrancers. We may conclude that not only the details of them, but the very substance, was of God's appointment. Thus security was taken that all should be in harmony with the great body of the law, and also give the greatest chance of profit to the Nazarite himself, and the greatest chance of instruction to the people.


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, 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.

So far as I have observed, the blessing of the people has less consideration bestowed upon it than any other of the stated ordinances of Divine service. It is seldom made the subject of discourse from the pulpit; divines seldom treat of it in their books; there is reason to fear that it seldom gets its due place in the minds and hearts of the people. The Benediction occurs in Scripture in several forms. Of these, two are in most frequent use in our Churches: the "Apostolic benediction" in 2 Corinthians 13:14, and the "Aaronic benediction" in the text. Properly these are not two benedictions, but only two forms of one and the same. The benefits expressed are, in substance, the same. The principal difference is that the thrice-holy Name, and the benefits of God's salvation, are declared more plainly and articulately in the later than they could well be in the earlier form. There is nothing expressed in the apostolic benediction which was not implied in the Aaronic. "What mean ye by this service?" When our children ask this question, what are we to reply?

I. IT IS A PROCLAMATION OF THE NAME OF GOD. In blessing the people Aaron was to "put the name of the Lord upon the children of Israel" (verse 27), thus constituting them his witnesses. Compare Micah 4:5. This design is plain in the case of the apostolic form. Every time that form is used in the Church, it is as much as to say, Let all men know that the Name called upon in this place is the name of the Father Almighty, and of Jesus Christ his only-begotten Son, and of the Holy Ghost. The older form fulfilled the same purpose for the older time. There lurked in it a suggestion of the Trinity, to be brought to light in due time; and for the time then present, it loudly proclaimed at once the Unity and the personality of God - a proclamation sorely needing to be repeated in our time also. There is a philosophy walking abroad, which invites us to substitute for the living God, whose name is Love, an impersonal "tendency that makes for righteousness." It is the old Pagan substitution of nature for God. In opposition to it and to all similar error, the Aaronic benediction is a standing witness, that the God in whom all things live and move and subsist, is the LORD, a personal God, who can think upon us, and be gracious to us.

II. A DECLARATION OF THE BENEFITS GOD HAS LAID UP FOR THEM THAT SEEK HIM. If you would understand its true intention, you must bear in mind that the benediction is not spoken to men indiscriminately. It is for the Israel of God; for those on whom Christ's name is called, and who walk in his name. It is a solemn and authoritative declaration of the relation which subsists between him and them; and of the benefits flowing therefrom.

1. "The Lord bless thee, and keep thee," q.d. The Lord is the keeper of Israel. He will care for thee. He will keep thy land and thine house; he will preserve thy going out and coming in, and will guard thy life; he will keep thy soul. He will deliver thy soul from death, thy feet from falling, thine eyes from tears. Compare Psalm 121, where the Church, opening its heart and drinking in the benediction, turns it into a song, "Jehovah Shomer."

2. "The Lord make his face shine upon thee and be gracious unto thee;" q.d. There is grace in God's heart for thee. He has given proof of this times without number. To many a man stained with sin and utterly cast down, be has said, Live; has taken him by the hand, and brought him near, and made him glad with his loving countenance. The best commentary on this, also, is to be found in the Psalms. A glance at the references in the margin will show that the benediction - and especially this particular member of it - was welcomed in many hearts in Israel, and was responded to with peculiar ardour. From it the Church borrows the refrain of the eightieth psalm (verses 3, 7, 19). Peculiar interest attaches to the form which the Church's response takes in Psalm 67: "God... bless us, and cause his face to shine upon us; that thy way may be known on earth, thy saving health among all nations: "q.d. Not for our own sakes alone do we beseech thee to make us glad with thy face, but that we, being sanctified and gladdened, may bear thy name to the nations who know thee not.

3. "The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace." Take this member and the foregoing, and what do they amount to but this, "Grace be to you, and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:3, etc. etc.). There is a look of God which fills with dismay, and makes men call to the mountains to hide them from his presence. But there is a look of God which fills the soul with peace. The Lord can, with a glance of his eye, say to the soul, "I am thy salvation:" he can so lift up his countenance upon us as to give us rest.

III. A CALLING DOWN OF GOD'S BLESSING ON THOSE WHO SEEK HIM. A Benediction is a Beatitude. It is also a Prayer. But it is more than either or both of these. To speak of the latter only, every benediction is a prayer, but every prayer is not a benediction. Into a benediction there enters an element of authority not found in every prayer. Joseph's sons may very well have prayed for Jacob; but we cannot fancy the lads putting their hands on the head of the venerable patriarch and blessing him. "Without all contradiction, the less is blessed of the better" (Hebrews 7:7). The case of Jacob may remind us, that it was not the priests only who blessed the congregation. Moses did it; David and Solomon did it; any aged saint may bless his younger brethren. So, also, the minister of the gospel, when the Lord calls him to preside in public worship, may bless the people in the name of the Lord, in the assured hope that the Lord will indeed bless them, and keep them, and give them his grace and peace. - B.


1. One of the special duties of the priests was to be the medium of blessing (Deuteronomy 21:5). The priests had much to do with slaughter and sacrifice; here we have a pleasant view of one of their higher functions. Yet to enter heartily into this duty required an elevation of character which the mechanical duties of the altar did not call for. Every servant of God who is faithful in that which is least may find opportunities for higher spiritual services (Matthew 13:12; Matthew 25:29).

2. The triple repetition of the name Jehovah was supposed by the Jews themselves to contain some mystery. At any rate it suggested that as there was in God an infinity of holiness that no one term could express (Isaiah 6:3), so God has for his people a fullness of blessing beyond what any single utterance of his favour would have suggested (cf. Exodus 33:19; Exodus 34:6, 7; Isaiah 63:7; Ephesians 2:4-10). To us the mystery is further revealed by the doctrine of the Trinity. For it is to be noted that in the New Testament that doctrine is always presented in some practical aspect, often in connection with privileges conferred by the triune "God of our salvation" (e.g. John 14:16, 17; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Ephesians 2:18, etc.).

3. The Divine blessing, though uttered on the nation, was designed for each individual. The "thee" brings the blessing home to each house and heart. God, who has blessings full enough for the whole world, has an appropriate benediction for the neediest of his children (Psalm 40:17). The sunlight is for the sake of the tiniest insect and seed- ling as well as for the whole human race; and God's blessing is for the sick child in the cottage as much as for "the holy Church throughout all the world" (Psalm 25:10: Romans 8:28).

4. This priestly benediction supplied or suggested the sub- stance of many prayers and benedictions in later days. Echoes of it are heard repeatedly in the Book of Psalms (e.g., Psalm 4:6; Psalm 29:11; Psalm 31:16; Psalm 67:1; Psalm 80:3; Psalm 121; Psalm 134). As God's mercies are from everlasting to everlasting, and are "new every morning," so God's words of benediction are like germs of beauty and fruitfulness, reproducing themselves from generation to generation in new and precious forms. "The form of sound words" may be a valuable heritage in the Church of God.

II. THE PARTICULARS OF THE BLESSING. Each clause of the triple blessing contains a promise from God. Combining these, we find that the blessing includes these three favours: protection (verse 24), pardon (verse 25), peace (verse 26).

1. Protection. "The blessing of God," says Calvin, "is the goodness of God in action, by which a supply of all good pours down to us from his favour, as from its only fountain." We can confidently commend ourselves, and all who are the "blessed of the Lord," to his keeping, both in regard to spiritual preservation (1 Thessalonians 5:23, 24) and temporal deliverances (Psalm 91:11; Isaiah 27:3). Because our High Priest has offered the prayer (John 17:11), we may utter the doxology (2 Timothy 4:18; Jude 1:24, 25).

2. Pardon (verse 25). The face of the Lord represents the aspect which God bears towards man, whether of sunshine and favour (Psalm 21:6; Psalm 34:15; Psalm 119:135; Daniel 9:17) or cloud and wrath (Exodus 14:24; Psalm 34:16; Leviticus 17:10; Leviticus 20:3). The shining of God's countenance is an assurance that God will be gracious; its shining upon "thee" a pledge that we have received the grace and pardon we need (Psalm 31:16; Psalm 80:3). The little child feels the difference between the shining and the averted face of the mother, and the Christian cries, Psalm 143:3, 7. If God grants us to hear "the joyful sound" of forgiveness, we "walk all day long in the light of his countenance."

3. Peace (verse 26). The lifting up of God's countenance may suggest his active intervention to secure to us the blessing of peace. Illustrate, sun rising on the world, "with healing in its wings." Such looks from God will compensate for earthly privations (Psalm 4:6, 7), and the expectation of them may sustain us in the night of trouble (Psalm 42:5). The Christian's peace is "the peace of God," "my peace," communicated by Divine power to the soul (John 14:27; John 15:11; Philippians 4:6, 7). These prayers of blessing remind us that all the relations of life may be thus sanctified, and our warmest wishes breathed forth in the form of prayers: e.g., pastor for flock (Ephesians 6:23, 24; 2 Thessalonians 3:16); Christian for fellow-worshipper (Psalm 118:26; Psalm 134:3); master for servants (Ruth 2:4; 2 Samuel 6:18 20); friend for correspondent (2 Timothy 4:22). But our words of blessing avail not unless God adds his "Amen," as he promises in verse 27. Our benediction, whether of men or God, is only in words; God's blessing is in deeds. His blessing when pledged cannot be reversed (Genesis 22:15-18; Numbers 23:19, 20). Spiritual blessings are part of the new covenant, which by faith we may enjoy for ourselves and invoke on others (Ephesians 1:1-3, 15-19). - P.

A beautiful and touching benediction, and more beautiful for the place in which we come upon it. It is found in the midst of stern commandments and restrictions, minute specifications of duty, dreadful punishments for disobedience and rebellion. How clearly it thus shows that all Jehovah was requiring and doing was for the people's good. Note -

I. THE VERBAL CHANNEL OF THIS BENEDICTION. Spoken through Aaron and his sons. It became an office of the priest as much as were any of the sacrifices. He was not only the way from men to God, but very tenderly from God to men. It was not a blessing to each tribe to be pronounced by its head, nor for each household to be spoken by the father, though doubtless in many families it was repeated, explained, and impressed. Aaron was the great official mediator between God and the people. Doubtless this benediction was to form a part in all solemn approaches of the priest to the people. It would come to them when in the discharge of sacred duties, at times of holy festival and Divine forgiveness. Others might utter idle, powerless good wishes, sinking with oft petition into mere politeness. The priest's words official, solemn, spoken from the tabernacle. Thus they expressed the permanent good will of God, in spite of all negligence and forgetfulness towards him. We have a better Aaron, seeing perfection was not by the Levitical priesthood. The life and work of Jesus give one long and various utterance of this benediction. He the Minister of the sanctuary and true tabernacle which the Lord pitched, and not man. God's good will to the true Israel is expressed in no doubtful, grudging way in Jesus. All that Aaron said to the people in respect of temporal blessings, Jesus says to the spiritual seed of Abraham in respect of spiritual blessings.


1. As to the attitude of God.

(1) He blesses, which we may take to mean an expression of his favourable disposition, in the most general sense of the term. "Let it be an understood thing, O Israel, that God favours you." In the eyes not only of Israelites, but of other nations, it was a serious thing to be under the favour or frown of Deity. Favour meant the best of good, frown the worst of evil. Balak thought all his ends would be served if he could get Balaam only to curse the Israelites. Thus there would come on them in some mysterious but certain way an irresistible blight.

(2) He makes his face to shine. The sun may and does bless even when not shining, but shining it speaks for itself. The Lord is a sun as well as a shield, a sight that is sweet, and a pleasant thing for the eyes to behold. The face of Jesus shone as the sun upon the mount of transfiguration.

(3) He lifts up his countenance. What expressiveness there is in the face! The language of men's tongues was confounded at Babel, but the language of the countenance all Babel's confusion could not touch. The language of the face needs no interpreter. When we see the face of a fellow-man shining, and his countenance lifted on us, then we know he will help us if he can. Just so sure were the Israelites to be of God's interest in them. No intermediate voice was needed to maintain the reality of his good will. And we are to behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus. "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." And he who has seen Jesus knows all the grace in those features, how his countenance is ever lifted on the unstable, wandering children of men.

2. As to the communications which God makes.

(1) He keeps his people. Security the first of blessings to those who have much to lose. The rich man had increase of goods, and built bigger barns, but the barns could not keep him against death. Perhaps it is worthy of note that in Matthew 6 is the warning to keep our treasures in heaven. Not until we come to Matthew 13 is the pearl of great price set before us. Insecurity was the mark of Eden. God's face shone, his countenance was lifted up on Adam and Eve, but he warned them there was danger in the midst of all their blessings. Perfect security belongs to the New Jerusalem. He who crept into Eden can never be found where entereth nothing that defileth or maketh a lie.

(2) He is gracious to them. He heaps on them tokens of his favour, just as one friend heaps presents on another. If we see one person enjoying a great number of gifts from another, we judge that he is regarded with special interest. There are gifts to the evil and the good, the common attendants of nature, but there are special gifts for God's own people. Saved from Egypt, they might have been turned loose in the wilderness, but instead they were guided through into the promised land.

(3) He gives peace. His lifted countenance and benignant eye speak reconciliation so soon as the atonement is offered and the fruits meet for repentance brought forth. If his people are at peace with him, in hearty and diligent obedience, what matter all other foes? God's benediction then, thus considered, appears suitable to man's needs, and perfectly definite. Our trust and expectation should agree with what is a benediction to us through Christ, as much as it was to the Israelites through Aaron. - Y.

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