Numbers 6

The Nazirite Vow

This chapter can be divided into five sections: The vow is described in vv. 1–8, then the contingencies for defilement are enumerated in vv. 9–12, then there is a discussion of discharging the vows in vv. 13–20, and then a summary in v. 21; after this is the high priestly blessing (vv. 22–27). For information on the vow, see G. B. Gray, “The Nazirite,” JTS 1 (1899–1900): 201-11; Z. Weisman, “The Biblical Nazirite, Its Types and Roots,” Tarbiz 36 (1967): 207-20; and W. Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament (OTL), 1:303–6.
Then the Lord spoke to Moses:
“Speak to the Israelites, and tell them, ‘When either a man or a woman
The formula is used here again: “a man or a woman – when he takes.” The vow is open to both men and women.
takes a special vow,
The vow is considered special in view of the use of the verb יַפְלִא (yafli’), the Hiphil imperfect of the verb “to be wonderful, extraordinary.”
to take a vow
The construction uses the infinitive construct followed by the cognate accusative: “to vow a vow.” This intensifies the idea that the vow is being taken carefully.
as a Nazirite,
The name of the vow is taken from the verb that follows; נָזַר (nazar) means “to consecrate oneself,” and so the Nazirite is a consecrated one. These are folks who would make a decision to take an oath for a time or for a lifetime to be committed to the Lord and show signs of separation from the world. Samuel was to be a Nazirite, as the fragment of the text from Qumran confirms – “he will be a נָזִיר (nazir) forever” (1 Sam 1:22).
to separate
The form of the verb is an Hiphil infinitive construct, forming the wordplay and explanation for the name Nazirite. The Hiphil is here an internal causative, having the meaning of “consecrate oneself” or just “consecrate to the Lord.”
himself to the Lord,
he must separate
The operative verb now will be the Hiphil of נָזַר (nazar); the consecration to the Lord meant separation from certain things in the world. The first will be wine and strong drink – barley beer (from Akkadian sikaru, a fermented beer). But the second word may be somewhat wider in its application than beer. The Nazirite, then, was to avoid all intoxicants as a sign of his commitment to the Lord. The restriction may have proved a hardship in the daily diet of the one taking the vow, but it spoke a protest to the corrupt religious and social world that used alcohol to excess.
himself from wine and strong drink, he must drink neither vinegar
The “vinegar” (חֹמֶץ, homets) is some kind of drink preparation that has been allowed to go sour.
made from wine nor vinegar made from strong drink, nor may he drink any juice
This word occurs only here. It may come from the word “to water, to be moist,” and so refer to juice.
of grapes, nor eat fresh grapes or raisins.
Heb “dried” (so KJV, ASV, NRSV).
All the days of his separation he must not eat anything that is produced by the grapevine, from seed
This word also is rare, occurring only here.
to skin.
Here is another hapax legomenon, a word only found here. The word seems linked to the verb “to be clear,” and so may mean the thin skin of the grape. The reason for the strictness with these two words in this verse is uncertain. We know the actual meanings of the words, and the combination must form a merism here, meaning no part of the grape could be eaten. Abstaining from these common elements of food was to be a mark of commitment to the Lord. Hos 3:1 even denounces the raisin cakes as part of a pagan world, and eating them would be a violation of the oath.

“‘All the days of the vow
The parallel expression in v. 8 (“all the days of his separation”) lacks the word “vow.” This word is also absent in v. 5 in a few medieval Hebrew manuscripts. The presence of the word in v. 5 may be due to dittography.
of his separation no razor may be used on his head
There is an interesting parallel between this prohibition and the planting of trees. They could not be pruned or trimmed for three years, but allowed to grow free (Lev 20:23). Only then could the tree be cut and the fruit eaten. The natural condition was to be a sign that it was the Lord’s. It was to be undisturbed by humans. Since the Nazirite was to be consecrated to the Lord, that meant his whole person, hair included. In the pagan world the trimming of the beard and the cutting of the hair was often a sign of devotion to some deity.
until the time
Heb “days.”
is fulfilled for which he separated himself to the Lord. He will be holy,
The word “holy” here has the sense of distinct, different, set apart.
and he must let
The Piel infinitive absolute functions as a verb in this passage; the Piel carries the sense of “grow lengthy” or “let grow long.”
the locks of hair on his head grow long.

“‘All the days that he separates himself to the Lord he must not contact
The Hebrew verb is simply “enter, go,” no doubt with the sense of go near.
a dead body.
The Hebrew has נֶפֶשׁ מֵת (nefesh met), literally a “dead person.” But since the word נֶפֶשׁ can also be used for animals, the restriction would be for any kind of corpse. Death was very much a part of the fallen world, and so for one so committed to the Lord, avoiding all such contamination would be a witness to the greatest separation, even in a family.
He must not defile himself even
The vav (ו) conjunction at the beginning of the clause specifies the cases of corpses that are to be avoided, no matter how painful it might be.
for his father or his mother or his brother or his sister if they die,
The construction uses the infinitive construct with the preposition and the suffixed subjective genitive – “in the dying of them” – to form the adverbial clause of time.
The Nazirite would defile himself, i.e., ruin his vow, by contacting their corpses. Jesus’ hard saying in Matt 8:22, “let the dead bury their own dead,” makes sense in the light of this passage – Jesus was calling for commitment to himself.
because the separation
The word “separation” here is metonymy of adjunct – what is on his head is long hair that goes with the vow.
The genitive could perhaps be interpreted as possession, i.e., “the vow of his God,” but it seems more likely that an objective genitive would be more to the point.
his God is on his head.
All the days of his separation he must be holy to the Lord.

Contingencies for Defilement

“‘If anyone dies very suddenly
The construction uses the imperfect tense followed by the infinitive absolute, יָמוּת מֵת (yamut met). Because the verb is in a conditional clause, the emphasis that is to be given through the infinitive must stress the contingency. The point is “if someone dies – unexpectedly.” The next words underscore the suddenness of this.
beside him and he defiles
The verb is the Piel perfect with a vav (ו) consecutive; it continues the idea within the conditional clause.
his consecrated head,
The expression is figurative for the vow that he took; the figure is the metonymy because the reference to the head is a reference to the long hair that symbolizes the oath.
then he must shave his head on the day of his purification – on the seventh day he must shave it.
10 On the eighth day he is to bring
The imperfect tense in this verse is still instructional rather than a simple future. The translations can vary, but the point that it is directive must be caught.
two turtledoves or two young pigeons to the priest, to the entrance to the tent of meeting.
11 Then the priest will offer one for a purification offering
The traditional translation of חַטָּאת (khattat) is “sin offering,” but it is more precise to render it “purification offering” (as with the other names of sacrifices) to show the outcome, not the cause of the offering (see Lev 4). Besides, this offering was made for ritual defilements (for which no confession was required) as well as certain sins (for which a confession of sin was required). This offering restored the person to the ritual state of purity by purifying the area into which he would be going.
and the other
The repetition of “the one…and the one” forms the distributive sense of “the one…and the other.”
as a burnt offering,
The burnt offering (Lev 1) reflects the essence of atonement: By this sacrifice the worshiper was completely surrendering to God, and God was completely accepting the worshiper.
and make atonement
The verb וְכִפֶּר (vekhipper) is the Piel perfect with vav (ו) consecutive. The meaning of the verb is “to expiate, pacify, atone.” It refers to the complete removal of the barrier of fellowship between the person and God, and the total acceptance of that person into his presence. The idea of “to cover,” often linked to this meaning, is derived from a homonym, and not from this word and its usage.
for him, because of his transgression
The verb “to sin” has a wide range of meanings, beginning with the idea of “missing the way or the goal.” In view of the nature of this case – the prescribed ritual without confession – the idea is more that he failed to keep the vow’s stipulations in this strange circumstance than that he committed intentional sin.
in regard to the corpse. So he must reconsecrate
The verb simply means “to consecrate,” but because it refers to a vow that was interrupted, it must here mean to “reconsecrate.”
his head on that day.
12 He must rededicate
The same idea is to be found now in the use of the word נָזַר (nazar), which refers to a recommitment after the vow was interrupted.
to the Lord the days of his separation and bring a male lamb in its first year as a reparation offering,
The necessity of bringing the reparation offering was due to the reinstatement into the vow that had been interrupted.
but the former days will not be counted
Heb “will fall”; KJV “shall be lost”; ASV, NASB, NRSV “shall be void.”
because his separation
The similar expression in v. 9 includes the word “head” (i.e., “his consecrated head”). The LXX includes this word in v. 12 as well.
was defiled.

Fulfilling the Vows

13  “‘Now this is the law of the Nazirite: When the days of his separation are fulfilled, he must be brought
The Hebrew text has “he/one shall bring him”; since there is no expressed subject, this verb should be taken in the passive sense – “he shall be brought.” Since the context suggests an obligatory nuance, the translation “he must be brought” has been used. Some scholars solve the problem by emending the Hebrew text here, but there is no manuscript evidence to support the emendation.
to the entrance of the tent of meeting,
14 and he must present his offering
Heb “he shall offer his offering” – the object is a cognate accusative.
to the Lord: one male lamb in its first year without blemish for a burnt offering, one ewe lamb in its first year without blemish for a purification offering, one ram without blemish for a peace offering,
The peace offering שְׁלָמִים (shelamim) is instructed in Lev 3 and 7. The form is always in the plural. It was a sacrifice that celebrated the fact that the worshiper was at peace with God, and was not offered in order to make peace with God. The peace offering was essentially a communal meal in the presence of God. Some have tried to equate this offering with similar sounding names in Akkadian and Ugaritic (see B. A. Levine, In the Presence of the Lord [SJLA], 3–52), but the unique features of the Israelite sacrifice make this connection untenable.
15 and a basket of bread made without yeast, cakes of fine flour mixed with olive oil, wafers made without yeast and smeared with olive oil, and their
The suffixes in the MT are plural in this verse, whereas in v. 17 they are singular. This seems to be a matter of stylistic choice, referring to whomever may be taking the vow.
grain offering and their drink offerings.
The offerings for the termination of the Nazirite vow would not have been inexpensive. This indicates that the person making the short term vow may have had income, or have come from a wealthier section of society. Short term vows had to be considered carefully as this ruling required a good amount of food to be brought.

16  “‘Then the priest must present all these
“all these” is supplied as the object.
before the Lord and offer
Heb “make.”
his purification offering and his burnt offering.
17 Then he must offer the ram as a peace offering
The “peace offering” is usually written as “a sacrifice of peace” (זֶבַח שְׁלָמִים, zevakh shelamim). The word “sacrifice” is related to the word “to slaughter,” and so indicates that this is a bloody offering in celebration of peace with God.
to the Lord, with the basket of bread made without yeast; the priest must also offer his grain offering and his drink offering.

18  “‘Then the Nazirite must shave his consecrated head
Some versions simply interpret this to say that he shaves his hair, for it is the hair that is the sign of the consecration to God. But the text says he shaves his consecrated head. The whole person is obviously consecrated to God – not just the head. But the symbolic act of cutting the hair shows that the vow has been completed (see Acts 21:23–24). The understanding of the importance of the hair in the ancient world has been the subject of considerable study over the years (see R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel, 436; and J. A. Thompson, “Numbers,” New Bible Commentary: Revised, 177).
at the entrance to the tent of meeting and must take the hair from his consecrated head and put it on the fire
Some commentators see this burning of the hair as an offering (McNeile, Numbers, 35; G. B. Gray, Numbers [ICC], 68). But others probably with more foundation see it as destroying something that has served a purpose, something that if left alone might be venerated (see R. de Vaux, Israel, 436).
where the peace offering is burning.
Heb “which is under the peace offering.” The verse does not mean that the hair had to be put under that sacrifice and directly on the fire.
19 And the priest must take the boiled shoulder of the ram, one cake made without yeast from the basket, and one wafer made without yeast, and put them on the hands of the Nazirite after he has shaved his consecrated head;
The line does not include the word “head”; it literally has “after the consecrating of himself his consecrated [head].” The infinitive construct is here functioning in the temporal clause with the suffix as the subject and the object following.
20 then the priest must wave them as a wave offering
The ritual of lifting the hands filled with the offering and waving them in the presence of the Lord was designed to symbolize the transfer of the offering to God in the sight of all. This concludes the worshiper’s part; the offering now becomes the property of the priest – his priest’s due (or “raised/heave offering”).
before the Lord; it is a holy portion for the priest, together with the breast of the wave offering and the thigh of the raised offering.
The “wave offering” may be interpreted as a “special gift” to be transferred to the Lord, and the “heave offering” as a “special contribution” to God – the priest’s due. These two offerings have also inspired a good deal of study.
After this the Nazirite may drink
The imperfect tense here would then have the nuance of permission. It is not an instruction at this point; rather, the prohibition has been lifted and the person is free to drink wine.

21  “This is the law
Actually, “law” here means a whole set of laws, the basic rulings on this topic.
of the Nazirite who vows to the Lord his offering according to his separation, as well as whatever else he can provide.
Heb “whatever else his hand is able to provide.” The imperfect tense has the nuance of potential imperfect – “whatever he can provide.”
Thus he must fulfill
Heb “according to the vow that he vows, so he must do.”
his vow that he makes, according to the law of his separation.”

The Priestly Benediction

This brief section records the blessing of the priest, especially the high priest after he emerges from the holy of holies to bless the people (see Lev 9:22). The two main elements in the oracle are “grace and peace.” It is probable that the Apostle Paul based his salutations on this oracle. For additional information, see L. J. Liebreich, “The Songs of Ascent and the Priestly Blessing,” JBL 74 (1955): 33-36; P. D. Miller, “The Blessing of God: An Interpretation of Num 6:22–27, ” Int 29 (1975): 240-51; and A. Murtonen, “The Use and Meaning of the Words lebarek and berakah in the Old Testament,” VT 9 (1959): 158-77.
The Lord spoke to Moses:
23 “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is the way
Or “thus.”
you are to bless
The Piel imperfect has the nuance of instruction. The particle “thus” explains that the following oracle is the form to use.
the Israelites. Say
Here is the only use of the verb אָמַר (’amar) as an infinitive absolute; it functions as a verb form, an imperative or an imperfect of instruction. Several commentators have attempted to emend the text to get around the difficulty, but such emendations are unnecessary.
to them:

24  “The Lord bless you
The short blessing uses the jussive throughout, here the Piel jussive with a pronominal suffix. While the jussive has quite a range of nuances, including wish, desire, prayer, or greeting, the jussives here are stronger. The formal subject of the verb is the Lord, and the speaker pronouncing the blessing is the priest, notably after emerging from the holy of holies where atonement has been made. The Lord says in this passage that when the priest says this, then the Lord will bless them. The jussive then is an oracle, not a wish or a prayer. It is a declaration of what the Lord imparts. It is as binding and sure as a patriarchal blessing which once said officially could not be taken back. The priest here is then pronouncing the word of the Lord, declaring to the congregation the outcome of the atonement.
and protect
The verb “to keep” concerns the divine protection of the people; its basic meaning is “to exercise great care over,” “to guard,” or “to give attention to” (see TWOT 2:939). No doubt the priestly blessing informed the prayer and promise that makes up Ps 121, for the verb occurs six times in the eight verses. So in addition to the divine provision (“bless” basically means “enrich” in a number of ways) there is the assurance of divine protection.
25  The Lord make his face to shine upon you,
and be gracious to you;
Whereas the first line of the blessing had three Hebrew words, the second has five, and the third has seven. In this second line and the following third, the blessing takes the form of an emblem followed by the truth. For the Lord to make his face shine on them would mean to be gracious to them. M. Noth rightly calls this image of the shining face “a figure of speech for benevolence and favour” (Numbers [OTL], 59); see, for example, Pss 4:7; 31:17; 44:4; 67:2; 80:4, 8, 20; 119:135; Dan 9:17). The image may have its inspiration in the theophanies. The picture is of divine favor – the beaming face of a parent for his beloved.

26  The Lord lift up his countenance upon you
The last line of the blessing also has first the image and then the parallel interpretation – for God to lift up his face is for God to give peace. The idea of the fallen face is one of anger (see Gen 4:6, 7); and the idea of the hidden face is that of withholding support, favor, or peace (see Deut 31:18; Ps 30:8; Ps 44:25). If God lifts his face toward his people, it means he has given them peace – peace, prosperity, completeness, health, safety, general well-being, and the like.

and give you peace.”’
27  So they will put my name
The idea of their putting the name of Yahweh on the people is somewhat problematic. The pronouncing of the name of Yahweh in this context over the people was taken to be the effectual means of blessings. “Putting the name on them” is an expression that emphasizes the truth that he is their God and they are his people or that having his name is having his blessing.
on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”

Copyright information for NETfull