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Numbers 6:1-8

Context
The Nazirite Vow

6:1 1 Then the Lord spoke to Moses: 6:2 “Speak to the Israelites, and tell them, ‘When either a man or a woman 2  takes a special vow, 3  to take a vow 4  as a Nazirite, 5  to separate 6  himself to the Lord, 6:3 he must separate 7  himself from wine and strong drink, he must drink neither vinegar 8  made from wine nor vinegar made from strong drink, nor may he drink any juice 9  of grapes, nor eat fresh grapes or raisins. 10  6:4 All the days of his separation he must not eat anything that is produced by the grapevine, from seed 11  to skin. 12 

6:5 “‘All the days of the vow 13  of his separation no razor may be used on his head 14  until the time 15  is fulfilled for which he separated himself to the Lord. He will be holy, 16  and he must let 17  the locks of hair on his head grow long.

6:6 “‘All the days that he separates himself to the Lord he must not contact 18  a dead body. 19  6:7 He must not defile himself even 20  for his father or his mother or his brother or his sister if they die, 21  because the separation 22  for 23  his God is on his head. 6:8 All the days of his separation he must be holy to the Lord.

1 sn This chapter can be divided into five sections: The vow is described in vv. 1-8, then the contingencies for defilement are enumerated in vv. 9-12, then there is a discussion of discharging the vows in vv. 13-20, and then a summary in v. 21; after this is the high priestly blessing (vv. 22-27). For information on the vow, see G. B. Gray, “The Nazirite,” JTS 1 (1899-1900): 201-11; Z. Weisman, “The Biblical Nazirite, Its Types and Roots,” Tarbiz 36 (1967): 207-20; and W. Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament (OTL), 1:303-6.

2 tn The formula is used here again: “a man or a woman – when he takes.” The vow is open to both men and women.

3 tn The vow is considered special in view of the use of the verb יַפְלִא (yafli’), the Hiphil imperfect of the verb “to be wonderful, extraordinary.”

4 tn The construction uses the infinitive construct followed by the cognate accusative: “to vow a vow.” This intensifies the idea that the vow is being taken carefully.

5 tn The name of the vow is taken from the verb that follows; נָזַר (nazar) means “to consecrate oneself,” and so the Nazirite is a consecrated one. These are folks who would make a decision to take an oath for a time or for a lifetime to be committed to the Lord and show signs of separation from the world. Samuel was to be a Nazirite, as the fragment of the text from Qumran confirms – “he will be a נָזִיר (nazir) forever” (1 Sam 1:22).

6 tn The form of the verb is an Hiphil infinitive construct, forming the wordplay and explanation for the name Nazirite. The Hiphil is here an internal causative, having the meaning of “consecrate oneself” or just “consecrate to the Lord.”

7 tn The operative verb now will be the Hiphil of נָזַר (nazar); the consecration to the Lord meant separation from certain things in the world. The first will be wine and strong drink – barley beer (from Akkadian sikaru, a fermented beer). But the second word may be somewhat wider in its application than beer. The Nazirite, then, was to avoid all intoxicants as a sign of his commitment to the Lord. The restriction may have proved a hardship in the daily diet of the one taking the vow, but it spoke a protest to the corrupt religious and social world that used alcohol to excess.

8 tn The “vinegar” (חֹמֶץ, homets) is some kind of drink preparation that has been allowed to go sour.

9 tn This word occurs only here. It may come from the word “to water, to be moist,” and so refer to juice.

10 tn Heb “dried” (so KJV, ASV, NRSV).

11 tn This word also is rare, occurring only here.

12 sn Here is another hapax legomenon, a word only found here. The word seems linked to the verb “to be clear,” and so may mean the thin skin of the grape. The reason for the strictness with these two words in this verse is uncertain. We know the actual meanings of the words, and the combination must form a merism here, meaning no part of the grape could be eaten. Abstaining from these common elements of food was to be a mark of commitment to the Lord. Hos 3:1 even denounces the raisin cakes as part of a pagan world, and eating them would be a violation of the oath.

13 tc The parallel expression in v. 8 (“all the days of his separation”) lacks the word “vow.” This word is also absent in v. 5 in a few medieval Hebrew manuscripts. The presence of the word in v. 5 may be due to dittography.

14 sn There is an interesting parallel between this prohibition and the planting of trees. They could not be pruned or trimmed for three years, but allowed to grow free (Lev 20:23). Only then could the tree be cut and the fruit eaten. The natural condition was to be a sign that it was the Lord’s. It was to be undisturbed by humans. Since the Nazirite was to be consecrated to the Lord, that meant his whole person, hair included. In the pagan world the trimming of the beard and the cutting of the hair was often a sign of devotion to some deity.

15 tn Heb “days.”

16 tn The word “holy” here has the sense of distinct, different, set apart.

17 tn The Piel infinitive absolute functions as a verb in this passage; the Piel carries the sense of “grow lengthy” or “let grow long.”

18 tn The Hebrew verb is simply “enter, go,” no doubt with the sense of go near.

19 tn The Hebrew has נֶפֶשׁ מֵת (nefesh met), literally a “dead person.” But since the word נֶפֶשׁ can also be used for animals, the restriction would be for any kind of corpse. Death was very much a part of the fallen world, and so for one so committed to the Lord, avoiding all such contamination would be a witness to the greatest separation, even in a family.

20 tn The vav (ו) conjunction at the beginning of the clause specifies the cases of corpses that are to be avoided, no matter how painful it might be.

21 tn The construction uses the infinitive construct with the preposition and the suffixed subjective genitive – “in the dying of them” – to form the adverbial clause of time.

sn The Nazirite would defile himself, i.e., ruin his vow, by contacting their corpses. Jesus’ hard saying in Matt 8:22, “let the dead bury their own dead,” makes sense in the light of this passage – Jesus was calling for commitment to himself.

22 tn The word “separation” here is metonymy of adjunct – what is on his head is long hair that goes with the vow.

23 tn The genitive could perhaps be interpreted as possession, i.e., “the vow of his God,” but it seems more likely that an objective genitive would be more to the point.



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