September 14, 2015.
Daily Reading: Numbers 5-8.
Background: Numbers 1-4.
Concepts and Connections.
1. Uncleanness, confession and restitution: The first half of this chapter deals with some of the social aspects of the law, opening with the command to have all the people who were unclean in terms of the law to go outside of the camp, so that they would not defile the children of Israel who resided inside the camp (see Leviticus 13, 15, Numbers 19). The children of Israel did so as the Lord commanded. Then they were given a command about confession and restitution. Whenever someone committed sin and realized his or her guilt, they were to confess their sin and make restitution by adding a fifth to whatever it was that he or she did wrong (in the context of the sin costing a brother something) and restore it to whoever they sinned against. If there was no next of kin to do so, the restitution was to be made to the priest.
2. A test for adultery: The latter half of this chapter gives an interesting insight to the test that the children of Israel were given if a man felt like his wife had committed adultery, but there were no witnesses to it. To test to see if the woman had committed adultery, she was to be brought before the priest with an offering of a tenth of an ephah of barley flour, and the priest would preform the test by taking holy water in an earthen vessel and putting some dust from the ground of the temple in it, making the woman take an oath that the curse of the water of bitterness would come upon her if she had indeed cheated on her husband. Then she was to drink the water of bitterness, complete the ritual of the grain offering, and if she had committed adultery, the curse would come upon her, making her thigh to fall away and her womb to swell. There seems to be an implicit curse that we might not recognize right away being removed from this culture that the real curse might have been that she would become barren, as the text says that if the woman had indeed not committed adultery, she would conceive children.
The Nazarite vow: The concept of the Nazarite vow is very interesting. There are three well known examples of this vow in scripture, Sampson, Samuel and John the baptizer (see Judges 3:2-5, I Samuel 1:9-11 and Luke 1:12-17, respectively) and perhaps one more, lesser known instance of a nazarite vow found in Acts 21:17-26). It would seem there are several instances in scripture that designate certain positions that take on a higher responsibility than the rest of the people, usually in the form of leadership. Such designations include priests of the Old Law, Nazarites (which seem to have even more responsibility than priests), prophets, teachers (see James 3:1), and the offices of deacons and elders. These offices go beyond the guidelines of Judaism and Christianity and are reserved only for certain people who decide they want (and have the ability) to dedicate themselves to the Lord in a higher capacity than what is necessary to be a faithful servant. The vow of the nazarite had several aspects to it, each with their own purpose, which set them apart from the rest of the people:
Holy to the Lord: Consecration.
The point of the Nazarite vow was to separate oneself in devotion to the Lord. The Hebrew term for Nazarite is ‘nazir,’ meaning “to consecrate” and is derived from the root ‘nazar’ which means “to separate.” Though the durations of this vow aren’t mentioned in this section (simply referring to a generic length), Jewish history and culture holds that the shortest amount of time that one could take the Nazarite vow was for thirty days. The vow could indeed last much longer than that, as most of the examples of Nazarites we have in scripture are lifelong vows. The reason for the strict guidelines that were set out for this vow was due to the holy and righteous nature of God. The Nazarite was to be holy and blameless before the Lord, so the way to accomplish this consecration was to lay down rules to protect against defilement. Since these rules came from the Lord, they were indeed able to separate one as dedicated to the Lord so long as the vow was kept.
Abstinence from alcohol.
The first thing that a Nazarite was required to do was abstain from alcohol. It is interesting that this the first thing that God wanted someone who was dedicated to Him to do, as it indicates that the judgement that a Nazarite would need to constantly avoid clouding if he were to lead the people of God (though this didn’t work well for Samson). But even beyond this, the vow required not only abstinence from alcohol itself, but even grape juice or grapes. Perhaps this was a prohibition put into place to protect against accidental consumption of alcohol, as they probably would not have had very good ways to preserve grape juice without it fermenting (at least a little bit). Thus, it would be conceivable that a Nazarite could accidentally drink wine when he or she thought that it was just grape juice. Regardless, the point is that the Nazarite was to completely abstain from alcohol. Note, however, that the Nazarite vow was something that one could take for a definite amount of time, and after a final sacrifice at the end, the Nazarite could then go back to the normal life as a child of Israel, dropping this complete abstinence of wine.
No razor to come to the head: an outward sign.
One reason, perhaps even the main reason, that a Nazarite was not allowed to shave their head could be to show that they are under the vow. It was an outward sign that they were separated and devoted to God, a sign that their fellow brethren could see and recognize. When the vow was complete, they were to shave their head, which would indicate their status to the people (see Acts 21:24). Incidentally, they were also to shave their head if they were defiled accidentally by touching a dead body. It seems that there is a strong link between the duration of the vow and the appearance of the one taking the vow.
Pure and holy, undefiled.
Under Levitical law, who touched a dead caucus, whether of a human or animal, became unclean until they went through the process of cleansing themselves (see Numbers 19). Priest held a higher responsibility in this in that they were not allowed to touch a dead body even to bury them, lest it be a very close relative (see Lev. 21). Nazarites (and chief priests) were not even allowed this provision. Even if their father, mother, brother or sister died, they were not allowed to touch the body, lest they become unclean. They had been set aside for the Lord, being called to be holy and clean.
The vow of the nazarite was to be adhered to strictly, and even if a nazarite touched a dead body on accident (i.e. someone died suddenly and fell on them), the Nazarite was still defiled and even had sinned. This was a serious vow, one that was not to be taken lightly. Taking a vow or an oath before God was/is always a serious manner. It is interesting to note here that sin was still sin even if it was an accident. There was a process set in place to take care of that sin and set things right, but there was still consequences (the first time period of the vow before coming unclean would be maid void).
Above and beyond.
It is notable to see that even with the strict guidelines and rules of the Nazarite vow, one could still go above and beyond the vow and give even more to the Lord if he or she so chose. We can always do more for the Lord if we want to, but we must never bind such on other people as a necessity. This was a free will offering.
Offerings at the consecration of the tabernacle: When Moses completed setting up the tabernacle, anointing and consecrating its furnishings, the chiefs of Israel brought an offering before the Lord, 12 oxen (one for each chief) and 6 wagons (one for every two chiefs), and the Lord told Moses to accept them and use them in service in the tent of meeting. Thus, Moses gave two wagons and four oxen to sons of Gershon, for their service, and four wagons and eight oxen to sons of Merari, according to their service. No wagons or oxen were given to the sons of Kohath, for the things they carried were to be carried on shoulder, not in wagons (see Numbers 4 for the division of duties for each clan in the tribe of Levi). Then each the chiefs offered offerings for the dedication of the altar, one per day. Each chief offered one silver plate weighing 130 shekels, a silver basin of 70 shekels, a golden dish of 10 shekels, a bull from the herd, a ram, a male lamb a year old, a male goat, two oxen, five rams, five male goats, and five male lambs a year old.
Instruction to the Levites: This chapter deals with special instructions that were given to Moses concerning the Levites at the consecration of the tabernacle and beyond. First, Aaron is given a command to set up seven lamps to give light in front of the lamp stand, which was made of hammered work of gold according to the pattern given Moses on the mountain (see Exodus 25:31). Then the Lord gave Moses instructions for the cleansing of the Levites, consecrating them to His service. They were to be sprinkled with the water of purification, shave their whole body, wash their clothes and cleanse themselves. Offerings were made for the Levites, and interestingly, the whole congregation of the children of Israel were to come together around the Levites and lay their hands on them as Aaron offered a wave offering before the Lord. Through this process, the Levites were separated from the rest of the children of Israel and consecrated to the Lord as the firstborn wholly given to the Lord. There is an interesting note at the end of this chapter, where God gives a retirement plan of sorts to the Levites, as those who served in the temple were to be ages 25 to 50, and at age 50 they were to retire from the service of the tent of meeting, only to guard it with the rest of their people from then on out.
Tomorrow’s Reading: I Chronicles 10-14.
Strive to live for Christ.