Thursday, April 05, 2007

Numbers 6

Numbers 6: Rules for becoming a Nazirite; the Priestly Blessing

Synopsis

This chapter starts out by providing rules for Israelites who wanted to become a Nazirite. That is, Israelites who wanted to dedicate their lives to the LORD’s service, in a very specific way. I did some searching online, and could find very little information about the purpose of becoming a Nazirite, or what a Nazirite was to do; all I could find are the rules for how to become one, as outlined in this chapter. So I guess the description in verse 2 will have to do: “a man or woman want[ed] to make a special vow, a vow of separation to the LORD as a Nazirite.”

So, with that preamble out of the way, here is what an Israelite had to do, if s/he wanted to become a Nazirite:

  • Nazirites were to abstain from any food or drink made from grapes, for as long as they remained Nazirites. That applied to wine, non-alcoholic grape juice, vinegar made from wine, or just simply eating grapes or raisins.
  • Nazirites were not to cut the hair on their heads, for as long as they remained Nazirites.
  • Nazirites were not to be near dead bodies—even if the person who had died was a close relative.
    • If someone died suddenly, in the presence of a Nazirite, according to verse 9, it would defile the hair the Nazirite had dedicated. (I find this focus on the hair to be interesting.) On the day of the Nazirite’s cleansing (the seventh day), s/he was to shave all of the hair off, and then the next day bring two doves (or two young pigeons) to the priest, who would sacrifice one as a sin offering, and the other as a burnt offering. S/He was then to consecrate his/her head, and bring a year-old lamb as a guilt offering. The days of being a Nazirite would then start over at the beginning.
  • At the end of the time of being a Nazirite—the “period of separation” (verse 13)—the person was to be brought to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. S/He was to present to the LORD: a year-old male lamb without defect, for a burnt offering; a year-old ewe lamb without defect, for a sin offering; a ram without defect, for a fellowship offering; and grain, drink, and bread offerings. The priest would then make the offerings.
  • The Nazirite was then to shave off all of the hair that had been dedicated—again, this emphasis on the hair—and put it in the fire where the fellowship offering had been sacrificed. (Verse 18 says that he was to put it “under the sacrifice of the fellowship offering,” which I guess means that the animal would still be burning, when the hair was placed in the fire.)
  • After all of this, the priest was to place in the Nazirite’s hands a boiled shoulder, from the ram, and some of the bread/grain offerings. The priest would then wave these things before the LORD, but after that, they belonged to the priest.
  • After this, the person would no longer be a Nazirite. Verse 20 says “After that, the Nazirite may drink wine.”
The text seems to indicate that the period for being a Nazirite is variable; the text talks about what to do at the end of the “period of separation,” which means that the vow wasn’t necessarily for life. According to the Wikipedia Nazarite article, the period of separation would be specified in the individual’s vow, but was not to be less than thirty days. The text in Numbers 6 doesn’t mention this thirty-day limit, but it’s possible that Jewish law, other than the Old Testament, has/had that clause.

After these rules for the Nazirite, we come to the Priestly Blessing. I’ll simply quote this part:

The LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:

“‘“The LORD bless you
and keep you;

the LORD make his face shine upon you
and be gracious to you;

the LORD turn his face toward you
and give you peace.”’

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

(verses 22–27)


You may have heard this quoted before, because it’s a pretty well-known piece of text. It’s used by Christians, as well as Jews. (Actually, I only assume it’s used by Jews.)

Thoughts

I found an interesting article from MyJewishLearning.com about the Nazirite rules. I was going to quote the article here, and then realized that I’d be quoting the whole thing, so you can just go and read it yourself. (It’s not long—only five paragraphs.)

Some of the articles I read online mentioned controversy, around the Nazirite rules, because the text in Numbers 6 refers to the Nazirite’s sin, even though the Nazirite was considered “holy.” Some consider this a contradiction—if the Nazirite was holy, what sin could there be to atone for? However, for the Christian, this isn’t contradictory at all; all humans are sinful. Even the High Priest was sinful! That’s why he had to make atonement for his sin every year.

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