Numbers 6

The Word Made Fresh

1The LORD said, “Moses, tell 2the Israelites that if a man or woman wants to take the special vow of a Nazarite and be consecrated, 3they must refrain from drinking wine or any alcohol. They must also refrain from using wine vinegar or other vinegar and must not drink any grape juice or eat grapes whether freshly picked or dried.

4“As long as they are Nazarites and set apart, they must not eat anything from the grapevine, not even seed nor peel. 5They may not shave their hair until their term is completed, during which they separate themselves for the LORD. They must be set apart; they must let their hair grow long. 6As long as they are separated for the LORD they must not go near a dead body, 7even if it is their own father or mother or sister or brother, they may not ignore this rule because they have made a promise to God, as is evident on their heads. 8As long as their vow as a Nazarite lasts, they are to be set apart for the LORD.

9“If someone should die suddenly in their presence and their vow, represented by their uncut hair, is compromised, they must then shave their hair on the seventh day and thus be cleansed. 10On the eighth day they must bring two doves or two young pigeons to the priest at the entrance of the meeting tent, 11and the priest will offer one as a guilt offering and the other as a burnt offering and make things right for them with God after having been exposed to a dead body. The priest will announce that they are set apart again on that same day. 12They will separate themselves to the LORD again for the duration of their vow as Nazarites and bring a year-old male lamb as a guilt offering, and their vow as Nazarites will start anew.

13When a Nazarite’s vow is completed they must be brought to the meeting tent entrance. 14They must offer their gift to the LORD – a year old male lamb without flaw as a burnt offering, a flawless year-old female lamb as a guilt offering, a ram without flaw as a thanksgiving offering, 15and a basket of unleavened bread made of pure flour, containing cakes mixed with oil and wafers spread with oil, along with their grain and drink offerings. 16The priest shall give them to the LORD and present their guilt and burnt offering. 17He shall also present the ram as a thanksgiving offering to the LORD, along with the basket of bread; then he will present the grain and drink offerings.

18“Then the Nazarite shall shave his or her head and take the hair and place it on the fire beneath the thanksgiving sacrifice. 19The priest will then take the ram’s shoulder, boiled, and one cake and one wafer from the bread basket, and place them in the Nazarite’s hand after he or she has shaved his or her head. 20Then the priest will raise those items before the LORD as a sacred portion for the priest along with the breast and thigh that have been raised to the LORD.

“After this ceremony the Nazarite may enjoy a cup of wine.

21“These are the rules for the man or woman who takes the vow as a Nazarite. They must offer the items described above along with any other offering they might have promised when they took their vow.”

22The LORD said to Moses, 22“Tell Aaron and his sons to bless the Israelites with these words: 24‘May the LORD bless you and keep you; 25may the LORD look favorably upon you and be kind to you; 26may the LORD watch over you and give you peace.’ 26In this way, they will stamp the Israelites with my Name, and I will take care of them.”

Commentary

1-21: Most of chapter 6 has to do with a particular kind of vow called the “Nazarite” vow. It is from a Hebrew word (nazar) which means to be separate or consecrated. By taking such a vow, an ordinary Israelite could be considered holy like the priests – set apart for God’s service. It is doubtful that they could assume any duties in the tabernacle, however. I suspect such vows are similar in purpose to our fasting vows during Lent, but with much stricter provisions.

Three things are required of the person who takes such a vow: 1) they cannot consume wine or any other product from the grape; 2) they cannot cut their hair; and 3) they cannot touch a corpse, even of a family member. To do any of these things nullifies their vow and requires them to make an offering, shave their head, and start over again.

At the end of the period of time vowed (it is not clear who sets the length of time – a priest or the individual making the vow), certain sacrifices are required, and the head is shaved, and then the person is returned to normal life inside the camp.

There are some examples also in the OT of people who were permanent Nazarites – Samson, for example, and Samuel. Paul in the New Testament seems to have made a similar vow in Acts 21.

22-27: It is not readily apparent why this instruction is placed at this particular point in the narrative, unless the “Aaronic blessing,” as it has come to be called, is originally intended as part of the ritual that completes the Nazarite vow. In other words, the text may intend that Aaron should use this specific blessing for those Israelites who have completed a vow and not as a general blessing as we use it today. Such a formal blessing would certainly be a fitting way to acknowledge the personal discipline of one who has completed the requirements of the Nazarite vow, especially if the length of time the person has observed the restrictions has been set by a priest, and thus the blessing should be given by the priest.

Takeaway

The Nazarite vow was unique to Israel, and so far as I know, is no longer practiced among the Jews – there is no longer the practice of sacrificing animals on an altar. I think our Lenten vows are similar in nature: we refrain from some act or habit or routine in order to stay focused on the story of Christ’s sacrifice for us.