Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
The Nazarite. - The legal regulations concerning the vow of the Nazarite are appended quite appropriately to the laws intended to promote the spiritual order of the congregation of Israel. For the Nazarite brought to light the priestly character of the covenant nation in a peculiar form, which had necessarily to be incorporated into the spiritual organization of the community, so that it might become a means of furthering the sanctification of the people in covenant with the Lord.
(Note: The rules of the Talmud are found in the tract. Nasir in the Mishnah. See also Lundius, jd. Heiligthmer, B. iii. p. 53. Bhr, Symbolik, ii. pp. 430ff.; Hengstenberg, Egypt and the Books of Moses, pp. 190ff. My Archaeologie, i. 67; and Herzog's Cyclopaedia.)
The words, "if a man or woman make a separate vow, a Nazarite vow, to live consecrated to the Lord," with which the law is introduced, show not only that the vow of the Nazarite was a matter of free choice, but that it was a mode of practising godliness and piety already customary among the people. Nazir, from נזר to separate, lit., the separated, is applied to the man who vowed that he would make a separation to (for) Jehovah, i.e., lead a separate life for the Lord and His service. The origin of this custom is involved in obscurity. There is no certain clue to indicate that it was derived from Egypt, for the so-called hair-offering vows are met with among several ancient tribes (see the proofs in Spencer, de legg. Hebr. rit. iv. 16, and Knobel in loc.), and have no special relationship to the Nazarite, whilst vows of abstinence were common to all the religions of antiquity. The Nazarite vow was taken at first for a particular time, at the close of which the separation terminated with release from the vow. This is the only form in which it is taken into consideration, or rules are laid down for it in the law before us. In after times, however, we find life-long Nazarites among the Israelites, e.g., Samson, Samuel, and John the Baptist, who were vowed or dedicated to the Lord by their parents even before they were born (Jdg 13:5, Jdg 13:14; Sa1 1:11; Luk 1:15).
(Note: This is also related by Hegesippus (in Euseb. hist. eccl. ii. 23) of James the Just, the first bishop of Jerusalem. On other cases of this kind in the Talmud, and particularly on the later form of the Nazarite vow, - for example, that of the Apostle Paul (Act 18:18), - see Winer, bibl. R. W. ii. pp. 138-9, and Oehler in Herzog's Cycl.)
The vow consisted of the three following points, Num 6:1-4 : In the first place, he was to abstain from wine and intoxicating drink (shecar, see Lev 10:9); and neither to drink vinegar of wine, strong drink, nor any juice of the grape (lit., dissolving of grapes, i.e., fresh must pressed out), nor to eat fresh grapes, or dried (raisins). In fact, during the whole period of his vow, he was not to eat of anything prepared from the vine, "from the kernels even to the husk," i.e., not the smallest quantity of the fruit of the vine. The design of this prohibition can hardly have been, merely that, by abstaining from intoxicating drink, the Nazarite might preserve perfect clearness and temperance of mind, like the priests when engaged in their duties, and so conduct himself as one sanctified to the Lord (Bhr); but it goes much further, and embraces entire abstinence from all the deliciae carnis by which holiness could be impaired. Vinegar, fresh and dried grapes, and food prepared from grapes and raisins, e.g., raisin-cakes, are not intoxicating; but grape-cakes, as being the dainties sought after by epicures and debauchees, are cited in Hos 3:1 as a symbol of the sensual attractions of idolatry, a luxurious kind of food, that was not in harmony with the solemnity of the worship of Jehovah. The Nazarite was to avoid everything that proceeded from the vine, because its fruit was regarded as the sum and substance of all sensual enjoyments.
Secondly, during the whole term of his vow of consecration, no razor was to come upon his head. Till the days were fulfilled which he had consecrated to the Lord, he was to be holy, "to make great the free growth (see Lev 10:6) of the hair of his head." The free growth of the hair is called, in Num 6:7, "the diadem of his God upon his head," like the golden diadem upon the turban of the high priest (Exo 29:6), and the anointing oil upon the high priest's head (Lev 21:12). By this he sanctified his head (Num 6:11) to the Lord, so that the consecration of the Nazarite culminated in his uncut hair, and expressed in the most perfect way the meaning of his vow (Oehler). Letting the hair grow, therefore, was not a sign of separation, because it was the Israelitish custom to go about with the hair cut; nor a practical profession of a renunciation of the world, and separation from human society (Hengstenberg, pp. 190-1); nor a sign of abstinence from every appearance of self-gratification (Baur on Amo 2:11); nor even a kind of humiliation and self-denial (Lightfoot, Carpzov. appar. p. 154); still less a "sign of dependence upon some other present power" (M. Baumgarten), or "the symbol of a state of perfect liberty" (Vitringa, obss. ss. 1, c. 6, 9; cf. Num 6:22, Num 6:8). The free growth of the hair, unhindered by the hand of man, was rather "the symbol of strength and abundant vitality" (cf. Sa2 14:25-26). It was not regarded by the Hebrews as a sign of sanctity, as Bhr supposes, but simply as an ornament, in which the whole strength and fulness of vitality were exhibited, and which the Nazarite wore in honour of the Lord, as a sign that he "belonged to the Lord, and dedicated himself to His service," with all his vital powers.
(Note: In support of this explanation, Oehler calls to mind those heathen hair-offerings of the Athenian youths, for example (Plut. Thes. c. 5), which were founded upon the idea, that the hair in general was a symbol of vital power, and the hair of the beard a sign of virility; and also more especially the example of Samson, whose hair was not only the symbol, but the vehicle, of the power which fitted him to be the deliverer of his people.)
Because the Nazarite wore the diadem of his God upon his head in the growth of his hair, and was holy to the Lord during the whole period of his consecration, he was to approach no dead person during that time, not even to defile himself for his parents, or his brothers and sisters, when they died, according to the law laid down for the high priest in Lev 21:11. Consequently, as a matter of course, he was to guard most scrupulously against other defilements, not only like ordinary Israelites, but also like the priests. Samson's mother, too, was not allowed to eat anything unclean during the period of her pregnancy (Jdg 13:4, Jdg 13:7, Jdg 13:14).
But if any one died suddenly in a moment "by him" (עליו, in his neighbourhood), and he therefore involuntarily defiled his consecrated head, he was to shave his head on the day of his purification, i.e., on the seventh day (see Num 19:11, Num 19:14, Num 19:16, and Num 19:19), not "because such uncleanness was more especially caught and retained by the hair," as Knobel fancies, but because it was the diadem of his God (Num 6:7), the ornament of his condition, which was sanctified to God. On the eighth day, that is to say, on the day after the legal purification, he was to bring to the priest at the tabernacle two turtle-doves or young pigeons, that he might make atonement for him (see at Lev 15:14-15, Lev 15:29., Num 14:30-31, and Num 12:8), on account of his having been defiled by a corpse, by preparing the one as a sin-offering, and the other as a burnt-offering; he was also "to sanctify his head that same day," i.e., to consecrate it to God afresh, by the unimpeded growth of his hair.
He was then "to bring a yearling sheep as a trespass-offering;" and the days that were before were "to fall," i.e., the days of consecration that had already elapsed were not to be reckoned on account of their having fallen, "because his consecration had become unclean." He was therefore to commence the whole time of his consecration entirely afresh, and to observe it as required by the vow. To this end he was to bring a trespass-offering, as a payment or recompense for being reinstated in the former state of consecration, from which he had fallen through his defilement, but not as compensation "for having prolonged the days of separation through his carelessness with regard to the defilement; that is to say, for having extended the time during which he led a separate, retired, and inactive life, and suspended his duties to his own family and the congregation, thus doing an injury to them, and incurring a debt in relation to them through his neglect" (Knobel). For the time that the Nazarite vow lasted was not a lazy life, involving a withdrawal from the duties of citizenship, by which the congregation might be injured, but was perfectly reconcilable with the performance of all domestic and social duties, the burial of the dead alone excepted; and no harm could result from this, ether to his own relations or the community generally, of sufficient importance to require that the omission should be repaired by a trespass-offering, from which neither his relatives nor the congregation derived any actual advantage. Nor was it a species of fine, for having deprived Jehovah of the time dedicated to Him through the breach of the vow, or for withholding the payment of his vow for so much longer a time (Oehler in Herzog). For the position of a Nazarite was only assumed for a definite period, according to the vow; and after this had been interrupted, it had to be commenced again from the very beginning: so that the time dedicated to God was not shortened in any way by the interruption of the period of dedication, and nothing whatever was withheld from God of what had been vowed to Him, so as to need the presentation of a trespass-offering as a compensation or fine. And there is no more reason for saying that the payment of the vow was withheld, inasmuch as the vow was fulfilled or paid by the punctual observance of the three things of which it was composed; and the sacrifices to be presented after the time of consecration was over, had not in the least the character of a payment, but simply constituted a solemn conclusion, corresponding to the idea of the consecration itself, and were the means by which the Nazarite came out of his state of consecration, without involving the least allusion to satisfaction, or reparation for any wrong that had been done.
The position of the Nazarite, therefore, as Philo, Maimonides, and others clearly saw, was a condition of life consecrated to the Lord, resembling the sanctified relation in which the priests stood to Jehovah, and differing from the priesthood solely in the fact that it involved no official service at the sanctuary, and was not based upon a divine calling and institution, but was undertaken spontaneously for a certain time and through a special vow. The object was simply the realization of the idea of a priestly life, with its purity and freedom from all contamination from everything connected with death and corruption, a self-surrender to God stretching beyond the deepest earthly ties, "a spontaneous appropriation of what was imposed upon the priest by virtue of the calling connected with his descent, namely, the obligation to conduct himself as a person betrothed to God, and therefore to avoid everything that would be opposed to such surrender" (Oehler). In this respect the Nazarite's sanctification of life was a step towards the realization of the priestly character, which had been set before the whole nation as its goal at the time of its first calling (Exo 19:5); and although it was simply the performance of a vow, and therefore a work of perfect spontaneity, it was also a work of the Spirit of God which dwelt in the congregation of Israel, so that Amos could describe the raising up of Nazarites along with prophets as a special manifestation of divine grace. The offerings, with which the vow was brought to a close after the time of consecration had expired, and the Nazarite was released from his consecration, also corresponded to the character we have described.
The directions as to the release from consecration are called "the law of the Nazarite" (Num 6:13), because the idea of the Nazarite's vows culminated in the sacrificial festival which terminated the consecration, and it was in this that it attained to its fullest manifestation. "On the day of the completion of the days of his consecration," i.e., on the day when the time of consecration expired, the Nazarite was to bring to the tabernacle, or offer as his gifts to the Lord, a sheep of a year old as a burnt-offering, and an ewe of a year old as a sin-offering; the latter as an expiation for the sins committed involuntarily during the period of consecration, the former as an embodiment of that surrender of himself, body and soul, to the Lord, upon which every act of worship should rest. In addition to this he was to bring a ram without blemish as a peace-offering, together with a basket of unleavened cakes and wafers baked, which were required, according to Lev 7:12, for every praise-offering, "and their meat and drink-offerings," i.e., the gifts of meal, oil, and wine, which belonged, according to Num 15:3., to the burnt-offerings and peace-offerings.
The sin-offering and burnt-offering were carried out according to the general instructions.
The completion of the consecration vow was concentrated in the preparation of the ram and the basket of unleavened bread for the peace-offering, along with the appropriate meat-offering and drink-offering.
The Nazarite had also to shave his consecrated head, and put the hair into the altar-fire under the peace-offering that was burning, and thus hand over and sacrifice to the Lord the hair of his head which had been worn in honour of Him.
When this had been done, the priest took the boiled shoulder of the ram, with an unleavened cake and wafer out of the basket, and placed these pieces in the hands of the Nazarite, and waved them before Jehovah. They then became the portion of the priest, in addition to the wave-breast and heave-leg which fell to the priest in the case of every peace-offering (Lev 7:32-34), to set forth the participation of the Lord in the sacrificial meal. But the fact that, in addition to these, the boiled shoulder was given up symbolically to the Lord through the process of waving, together with a cake and wafer, was intended to indicate that the table-fellowship with the Lord, shadowed forth in the sacrificial meal of the peace-offering, took place here in a higher degree; inasmuch as the Lord directed a portion of the Nazarite's meal to be handed over to His representatives and servants for them to eat, that he might thus enjoy the blessedness of having fellowship with his God, in accordance with that condition of priestly sanctity into which the Nazarite had entered through the vow that he had made.
"After that the Nazarite may drink wine" (again), probably at the sacrificial meal, after the Lord had received His share of the sacrifice, and his release from consecration had thus been completed.
"This is the law of the Nazarite, who vowed his sacrificial gifts to the Lord on the ground of his consecration," i.e., who offered his sacrifice in accordance with the state of a Nazarite into which he had entered. For the sacrifices mentioned in Num 6:14. were not the object of a special vow, but contained in the vow of the Nazarite, and therefore already vowed (Knobel). "Beside what his hand grasps," i.e., what he is otherwise able to perform (Lev 5:11), "according to the measure of his vow, which he vowed, so must he do according to the law of his consecration," i.e., he had to offer the sacrifices previously mentioned on the ground of his consecration vow. Beyond that he was free to vow anything else according to his ability, to present other sacrificial gifts to the Lord for His sanctuary and His servants, which did not necessarily belong to the vow of the Nazarite, but were frequently added. From this the custom afterwards grew up, that when poor persons took the Nazarite's vow upon them, those who were better off defrayed the expenses of the sacrifices (Act 21:24; Josephus, Ant. xix. 6, 1; Mishnah Nasir, ii. 5ff.).
The Priestly or Aaronic Blessing. - The spiritual character of the congregation of Israel culminated in the blessing with which the priests were to bless the people. The directions as to this blessing, therefore, impressed the seal of perfection upon the whole order and organization of the people of God, inasmuch as Israel was first truly formed into a congregation of Jehovah by the fact that God not only bestowed His blessing upon it, but placed the communication of this blessing in the hands of the priests, the chosen and constant mediators of the blessings of His grace, and imposed it upon them as one portion of their official duty. The blessing which the priests were to impart to the people, consisted of a triple blessing of two members each, which stood related to each other thus: The second in each case contained a special application of the first to the people, and the three gradations unfolded the substance of the blessing step by step with ever increasing emphasis. - The first (Num 6:24), "Jehovah bless thee and keep thee," conveyed the blessing in the most general form, merely describing it as coming from Jehovah, and setting forth preservation from the evil of the world as His work. "The blessing of God is the goodness of God in action, by which a supply of all good pours down to us from His good favour as from their only fountain; then follows, secondly, the prayer that He would keep the people, which signifies that He alone is the defender of the Church, and that it is He who preserves it with His guardian care" (Calvin). - The second (Num 6:25), "Jehovah make His face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee," defined the blessing more closely as the manifestation of the favour and grace of God. The face of God is the personality of God as turned towards man. Fire goes out from Jehovah's face, and consumes the enemy and the rebellious (Lev 10:2, cf. Num 17:10; Num 20:3; Exo 13:22; Psa 34:17), and also a sunlight shining with love and full of life and good (Deu 30:20; Psa 27:1; Psa 43:3; Psa 44:4). If "the light of the sun is sweet, and pleasant for the eyes to behold" (Ecc 11:7), "the light of the divine countenance, the everlasting light (Psa 36:10), is the sum of all delight" (Baumg.). This light sends rays of mercy into a heart in need of salvation, and makes it the recipient of grace. - The third (Num 6:26), "Jehovah lift up His face to thee, and set (or give) thee peace" (good, salvation), set forth the blessing of God as a manifestation of power, or a work of power upon man, the end of which is peace (shalom), the sum of all the good which God sets, prepares, or establishes for His people. אל פּנים נשׁא, to lift up the face to any one, is equivalent to looking at him, and does not differ from עינים נשׁא or שׂים (Gen 43:29; Gen 44:21). When affirmed of God, it denotes His providential work upon man. When God looks at a man, He saves him out of his distresses (Psa 4:7; Psa 33:18; Psa 34:16). - In these three blessings most of the fathers and earlier theologians saw an allusion to the mystery of the Trinity, and rested their conclusion, (a) upon the triple repetition of the name Jehovah; (b) upon the ratio praedicati, that Jehovah, by whom the blessing is desired and imparted, is the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; and (c) upon the distinctorum benedictionis membrorum consideratio, according to which bis trina beneficia are mentioned (cf. Calovii Bibl. illustr. ad h. l.). There is truth in this, though the grounds assigned seem faulty. As the threefold repetition of a word or sentence serves to express the thought as strongly as possible (cf. Jer 7:4; Jer 22:29), the triple blessing expressed in the most unconditional manner the thought, that God would bestow upon His congregation the whole fulness of the blessing enfolded in His Divine Being which was manifested as Jehovah. But not only does the name Jehovah denote God as the absolute Being, who revealed Himself as Father, Son, and Spirit in the historical development of His purpose of salvation for the redemption of fallen man; but the substance of this blessing, which He caused to be pronounced upon His congregation, unfolded the grace of God in the threefold way in which it is communicated to us through the Father, Son, and Spirit.
(Note: See the admirable elaboration of these points in Luther's exposition of the blessing. Luther refers the first blessing to "bodily life and good." The blessing, he says, desired for the people "that God would give them prosperity and every good, and also guard and preserve them." This is carried out still further, in a manner corresponding to his exposition of the first article. The second blessing he refers to "the spiritual nature and the soul," and observes, "Just as the sun, when it rises and diffuses its rich glory and soft light over all the world, merely lifts up its face upon all the world;...so when God gives His word, He causes His face to shine clearly and joyously upon all minds, and makes them joyful and light, and as it were new hearts and new men. For it brings forgiveness of sins, and shows God as a gracious and merciful Father, who pities and sympathizes with our grief and sorrow. The third also relates to the spiritual nature and the soul, and is a desire for consolation and final victory over the cross, death, the devil, and all the gates of hell, together with the world and the evil desires of the flesh. The desire of this blessing is, that the Lord God will lift up the light of His word upon us, and so keep it over us, that it may shine in our hearts with strength enough to overcome all the opposition of the devil, death, and sin, and all adversity, terror, or despair.")
This blessing was not to remain merely a pious wish, however, but to be manifested in the people with all the power of a blessing from God. This assurance closes the divine command: "They shall put My name upon the children of Israel, and I will bless them."