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The Nazirites


The L ord spoke to Moses, saying: 2Speak to the Israelites and say to them: When either men or women make a special vow, the vow of a nazirite, to separate themselves to the L ord, 3they shall separate themselves from wine and strong drink; they shall drink no wine vinegar or other vinegar, and shall not drink any grape juice or eat grapes, fresh or dried. 4All their days as nazirites they shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, not even the seeds or the skins.

5 All the days of their nazirite vow no razor shall come upon the head; until the time is completed for which they separate themselves to the L ord, they shall be holy; they shall let the locks of the head grow long.

6 All the days that they separate themselves to the L ord they shall not go near a corpse. 7Even if their father or mother, brother or sister, should die, they may not defile themselves; because their consecration to God is upon the head. 8All their days as nazirites they are holy to the L ord.

9 If someone dies very suddenly nearby, defiling the consecrated head, then they shall shave the head on the day of their cleansing; on the seventh day they shall shave it. 10On the eighth day they shall bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting, 11and the priest shall offer one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering, and make atonement for them, because they incurred guilt by reason of the corpse. They shall sanctify the head that same day, 12and separate themselves to the L ord for their days as nazirites, and bring a male lamb a year old as a guilt offering. The former time shall be void, because the consecrated head was defiled.

13 This is the law for the nazirites when the time of their consecration has been completed: they shall be brought to the entrance of the tent of meeting, 14and they shall offer their gift to the L ord, one male lamb a year old without blemish as a burnt offering, one ewe lamb a year old without blemish as a sin offering, one ram without blemish as an offering of well-being, 15and a basket of unleavened bread, cakes of choice flour mixed with oil and unleavened wafers spread with oil, with their grain offering and their drink offerings. 16The priest shall present them before the L ord and offer their sin offering and burnt offering, 17and shall offer the ram as a sacrifice of well-being to the L ord, with the basket of unleavened bread; the priest also shall make the accompanying grain offering and drink offering. 18Then the nazirites shall shave the consecrated head at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and shall take the hair from the consecrated head and put it on the fire under the sacrifice of well-being. 19The priest shall take the shoulder of the ram, when it is boiled, and one unleavened cake out of the basket, and one unleavened wafer, and shall put them in the palms of the nazirites, after they have shaved the consecrated head. 20Then the priest shall elevate them as an elevation offering before the L ord; they are a holy portion for the priest, together with the breast that is elevated and the thigh that is offered. After that the nazirites may drink wine.

21 This is the law for the nazirites who take a vow. Their offering to the L ord must be in accordance with the nazirite vow, apart from what else they can afford. In accordance with whatever vow they take, so they shall do, following the law for their consecration.

The Priestly Benediction

22 The L ord spoke to Moses, saying: 23Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them,


The L ord bless you and keep you;


the L ord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;


the L ord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

27 So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.

2 When either man, or woman shall separate themselves. God recently appointed a tribute for every soul, whereby the Israelites were to acknowledge that they were His children. By that profession, then, he bound them all to Himself from the least to the greatest. A closer tie of obligation is now treated of, when any should voluntarily devote himself to God for a season. These were called Nazarites, which is equivalent to separate or select, because there was greater dignity or excellence in them than in the common people. For they were as ornaments to the Church, and God willed that His peculiar glory should shine brightly in them. When, therefore, Amos expostulates with them (Amos 2:11) because they had prevented the prophets from exercising their office, and had corrupted the Nazarites with wine, he says, in amplification of their crime, that they bad been honored with a special blessing, when God had created of their sons Nazarites and prophets. And when Jeremiah deplores the desolation of the Church, he insists on this corruption, that their Nazarites no longer appeared as of old, “purer than snow,” etc. (Lamentations 4:7.) Nor is it to be doubted, that when Jacob distinguished Joseph his son by the title of a Nazarite331331     The Hebrew word rendered separate in the A. V of Genesis 49:26, is נזיר, Nazir. W. Vide C. in loco. among his brethren, (Genesis 49:26,) he alluded in the spirit of prophecy to that degree of honor in which afterwards, under the Law, they stood who separated themselves unto God, as the lights of the Church. Therefore, although this consecration pertained not to the whole people, yet it should be deservedly reckoned amongst the exercises of piety, because the Nazarites were like standard-bearers to shew others the way; and though they did not attract all to follow their example, yet the ardor of their zeal was of no little advantage to the weak and inexperienced, exciting them forwards according to their capacity.

Now, because God abominates all fictitious worship, he put a restraint on their licentiousness, by giving them a clear and certain rule. And, from the testimony of Amos which I have just quoted, it is gathered that God alone was the appointer of the Nazarite vow. We must remember, then, that the Nazarites shone among the people of God like precious jewels, and although few imitated them, yet that they were as standard-bearers and leaders to awaken zeal amongst the multitude for the service of God. We must observe, by the way, that Samson was a Nazarite of another kind, because he did not take the vow upon him only for a season, but was sanctified from the womb for his whole life, and separated from the rest of the people; in which respect, too, he was a type of Christ, and represented Him, as it were. And surely whatever is here taught should be referred to the sole Fountain of sanctity, as if the image of Christ had been set before the eyes of the Jews in a mirror. For the nearer any one under the Law approached to God, the more did Christ shine forth in him. We know that the whole priesthood of the Law was nothing but His image. The same may be said of the Nazarites, whose purity and abstinence ornamented them with peculiar dignity.

3. He shall separate himself from wine. The first injunction is, that they should not only abstain from wine, but that they should not even taste grapes or anything connected with wine. The simple observance was, that they should not drink wine or anything inebriating; but, because men are crafty in inventing subterfuges, it was necessary to express specifically the means whereby the Law might be defrauded. Thus, in abstaining from wine, they would not have deprived themselves of luxuries, either by indulging in fresh or dried grapes, or by mixing water with grapes and expressing their juice, or by imitating the sweetness of wine by other delicate preparations. Hence it appears how many secret recesses and lurking-places are possessed by man’s hypocrisy, whilst it shamelessly imagines stupid means of deception for cheating God himself. But, at the same time, we must remark that this subtlety was intolerable to God, who is pleased by nothing so much as sincerity. We shall also see elsewhere that the priests, when they were executing their office by turns in the Temple, were forbidden the use of wine. This similarity proves what I have already said, that the Nazarites were thus separated from the multitude, that they might approach to the honor of the priesthood. But abstinence from wine was enjoined not only that they might avoid drunkenness, but that their whole mode of living might be more temperate and frugal; for the drinking of wine is well known to be among the chief pleasures of the table, and those who are not abstentious will rather content themselves with moderate and common food than bear to be deprived of wine. We may, then, learn from hence, that a sober use of wine is a most important part of temperate living; and in all gluttony and intemperance, this is most to be condemned, when men have too great a love of excess in wine-drinking. It is then astonishing that when the monks under the Papacy boast of their angelical perfection, they should with one accord refuse to abstain from wine. With many332332     “Aux Chartreux;” with the Carthusian monks. — Fr. it is sinful to touch during their whole life a bit of beef or pork, and they would glory in being martyrs, if they obstinately preferred to die rather than to eat meat in a case of necessity; but their temperance is so inconsistent, that this austerity as to food acquires for them the greater license in drinking, as if they purposely avenged themselves in this way.333333     Addition Fr. — Sur le gobelet. Wherefore nothing can be more insufferable than their boasting, since this abstinence in eating alone is a mere mockery of God.

5. There shall no razor come upon his head. It cannot be certainly determined why God would have the Nazarites let their hair grow, except that by this present mark of their consecration, they might be more and more reminded of their vow. Some think that it was a mark of honor, as if they wore a crown on their heads. In this the Popish clergy are more than ridiculous, comparing themselves to the Nazarites by their circular tonsure.334334     “Sous l’ombre de la couronne, qu’ils appellent, quand ils ne sont pas rasez par les bors;” with reference to the crown, as they call it, when their heads are not shaved round the edges — Fr. But this reason satisfies myself, that God would constantly exercise them in the faithful performance of their vow by this visible sign. It is a mark of manhood to cut the hair, and this, as Paul says, a natural feeling dictates. (1 Corinthians 11:14.) Therefore, the dedication of the Nazarites was shewn conspicuously by their heads, lest they should fail in their own vows through carelessness or forgetfulness. A question arises respecting the women, for whom this command appears superfluous; but this is easily answered, that they were thus bound to let their hair grow, so as to have it long not only from custom, but in accordance with their vow. Yet there will be nothing absurd in the synecdoche, whereby that is spoken of both the sexes which applies only to the males. Here also the devil formerly played his game, when he persuaded certain monks, as Augustine relates,335335     De opere Monachorum, 40. (Edit. Benedict. t. 6:501.) “Jam illud, si dici potest, quam luctuose ridiculum est, quod rursus invenerunt ad defensionem crinium suorum. Virum, inquiunt, prohibuit Apostolus habere comam; qui autem se ipsos castraverunt propter regnum coelorum, jam non sunt viri. O dementiam singularem! etc.” to make a shew of sanctity by wearing long hair; for, in order that the celibacy which they had vowed might be more conspicuous, they would not allow themselves to be men, having “made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake;” (Matthew 19:12;) and, therefore, their long hair was a sign of their virginity. This example teaches us to beware of the wiles of Satan, lest our κακοζηλία make us rather the apes than the imitators of the ancients.

6. He shall come at no dead body. This, too, they had in common with the high-priest, that they were not even to mourn for their relations. Although Moses enjoins two things, that the Nazarites should make themselves unclean neither by entering the house of mourning, nor by mourning themselves, it was indeed a duty of humanity to bury the dead; but if any of the people had touched a dead body, or had come near a death-bed or bier, they were polluted. But God demands more of the Nazarites, lest, they should contract uncleanness; for it was not sufficient for them (as will be seen again presently) to purify themselves according to the accustomed means, but it behoved them to be far removed from all things that would pollute them. But why the touch of a dead body was a pollution, we shall consider more at large in its proper place. Now it must be briefly concluded, that because by death is represented God’s curse, the wages of sin, the Israelites were thus admonished to beware of dead works.336336     “Comme l’Apostre les nomme;” as the Apostle calls them. — Fr. As to the mourning, the reason of the prohibition was different, viz., that those who professed the special service of God, should set, an example to others of magnanimity and submission. If it were sinful to weep and lament when our friends are taken from us, Christ would not, have wept. at the tomb of Lazarus; but because perturbation is always associated with grief, and men in their mourning are too apt to give way to ambition and pomp, and voluntarily and purposely provoke themselves to excess, as though nature did not already carry them further than is right, the Nazarites could not give an example of moderation, if they had mixed themselves with mourners. Wherefore, as they were before restrained from daintiness, so now a remedy is applied to the opposite disease, viz., to sorrow. But, although all ought, to seek to indulge it moderately, yet something more is prescribed to the Nazarites, that, as if disentangled and stripped from earthly affections, they should go further than the rest of the people; as we shall see hereafter with respect to the priests.

9. And if any man die very suddenly. Here is prescribed what must be done, if a defilement should have been contracted which no precaution could have prevented. If a Nazarite should have willingly and knowingly entered a house of mourning, or should have come near a dead body, his consecration would have been violated not without, sin; but, in the case of a sudden death, the error was excusable, though God commands that it should be expiated; for whatever time of the vow had passed He counts for nothing, nor will it be taken into account. This was no light punishment, that he, who had been guilty of no fault, should begin to pay his vow altogether afresh. Besides the loss of the time, a sacrifice is also added, whereby he who was polluted should prepare himself for a new consecration. But, because this consecration was voluntary, none could complain of the immoderate rigor to which he had subjected himself of his own accord. Meanwhile, it was shewn how precious to God is the purity of His worship.337337     פתע פתאם Each means suddenly. A. V., very suddenly. It is a rule of Hebrew Grammar that the use of two synonymous words is to be considered as a mode of expressing a superlative. — W. Two Hebrew words from different roots, though they are of kindred signification, are used, by which mode of speaking Moses wished more fully to express the unexpected nature of the death. For, in my opinion, it is puerile of the Jews to understand the first of a bloody murder, the other of a sudden death.

15. Then shall the man bring his wife to the priest. This offering is different from the rest, which have been heretofore mentioned, because it is a kind of adjuration, whereby the woman exposes herself to be accursed. Pure meal without frankincense or oil is therefore offered, since the rite 8080     “Litandi ritus.” — Lat. “La facon d’obtenir grace devant Dieu, et se reconcilier.” — Fr. of expiation would not be in accordance with the curse. That the woman may be more afraid of perjuring herself, she is presented before God, with her head uncovered too, as if the priest would drag her from her lurking-place; for it seems incongruous that, as some suppose, the veil was removed from her head in token of her infamy, since thus she would have been condemned before her case was heard. She is, then, brought before God’s face with her head bare, that she may be seriously alarmed; and then follows the mode of absolution or condemnation. The priest is commanded to take holy water in an earthen vessel, to throw in some dust from the floor, and then a book or scroll, on which were written the words of the curse, so that the blots should remain in the water, and so to give the cup to the woman. Some interpret the holy water to be that which was kept ill the brazen laver, to be always ready for the ablution of those engaged in duly offering sacrifices. Let my readers, however, consider whether he does not rather mean the water in which the ashes of the red heifer were sprinkled, and whereby solemn purifications were made, (Numbers 19:1,) as we have already seen. For thus the woman was admonished that, if she perjured herself, no further means of expiation remained. The dust collected from the floor was also a sign of detestation: in short, the whole proceedings were calculated to humble her, so that she might not double her offense by perjury. Besides, the priest is commanded to repeat the words of the curse, lest she should seek to escape by some subterfuge or other. The question, however, arises, why she should be compelled to imprecate evil upon herself rather than others were who were suspected of murder or other atrocious crimes? and I think it was for this reason, because no other offense can be so easily concealed. Lest, therefore, women should grow hardened from their cunning and evil arts, a remedy is provided against their various deceptions; and thus God shows that the marriage-bed is under His protection and safeguard. We must remember, too, that this was not a mere empty bugbear, inasmuch as God undoubtedly appeared as the open avenger of unfaithfulness, according to His declaration. Nor is the threat added in vain, that if the woman be a deceiver, she should be a curse among the people, because her belly should swell and her thigh dissolve; whilst, on the other hand, He does not promise in vain, that if she be innocent, she should not only be free, but prolific also; so that God’s blessing would be the seal of her absolution. For this is the meaning of the expression, “she shall be sown with seed;” 8181     A. V., “and shall conceive seed.” “Heb., shall be sown with seed; which the Chaldee expoundeth, shall prove with child.” — Ainsworth. as, on the contrary, it was said that her thigh 8282     “Thy thigh to fall. Heb., thy thigh falling; in Greek, thy thigh fallen; in Chaldee, thy thigh dissolved. — Ibid. “Something similar to the disease called prolapsus uteri.” — Adam Clarke. should dissolve when she wasted away with barrenness. We infer, from the opposite effects of the same water, that by the outward symbol God wrought with His secret power as the occasion demanded.

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