|BIBLE STUDY SERIES #326, 327 and 328|
22 February, 1998
By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.
Our ongoing series of Bible Studies, which began several years ago with God's Call to Abram, has followed the history of his descendants as recorded in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and now Numbers, up to Numbers 5, at which we had halted on our last study.
We had covered two of the three portions of this chapter, and we had left the third portion of Numbers 5 for separate consideration on today's study. Numbers 5:1-4, dealt with the matter of physical uncleannesses of a medical sort, relating to leprosy, issues from the body, and those who had handled the dead. These persons were to be excluded from the camp in the nature of a quarantine.
The second portion, verses 5-10, related to matters of debt. The third, in verses 11-31, deals with the case of a woman who was accused of breaking her marriage vows by reason of extra-marital sexual activities, that is to say, of a married woman accused of sexual unfaithfulness. This relates to a judgment rendered by Jesus many centuries later, and I therefore find some partial disagreement with the general thrust of the page-long comments made by The New Bible Commentary, which would limit application of this law to the Sinai Wilderness, and the intense concentration of miracles needed at that precarious time. We are reading from Numbers 5:11-31.
11. And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
12. Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, If any man's wife go aside, and commit a trespass against him,
13. And a man lie with her carnally, and it be hid from the eyes of her husband, and be kept close, and she be defiled, and there be no witness against her, neither she be taken with the manner;
14. And the spirit of jealousy come upon him, and he be jealous of his wife, and she be defiled: or if the spirit of jealousy come upon him, and he be jealous of his wife, and she be not defiled:
15. Then shall the man bring his wife unto the priest, and he shall bring her offering for her, the tenth part of an ephah of barley meal; he shall pour no oil upon it, nor put frankincense thereon; for it is an offering of jealousy, an offering of memorial, bringing iniquity to remembrance.
16. And the priest shall bring her near, and set her before the LORD:
17. And the priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel; and of the dust that is in the floor of the tabernacle the priest shall take, and put it into the water:
18. And the priest shall set the woman before the LORD, and uncover the woman's head, and put the offering of memorial in her hands, which is the jealousy offering: and the priest shall have in his hand the bitter water that causeth the curse:
19. And the priest shall charge her by an oath, and say unto the woman, If no man have lain with thee, and if thou hast not gone aside to uncleanness with another instead of thy husband, be thou free from this bitter water that causeth the curse:
20. But if thou hast gone aside to another instead of thy husband, and if thou be defiled, and some man have lain with thee beside thine husband:
21. Then the priest shall charge the woman with an oath of cursing, and the priest shall say unto the woman, The LORD make thee a curse and an oath among thy people, when the LORD doth make thy thigh to rot, and thy belly to swell;
22. And this water that causeth the curse shall go into thy bowels, to make thy belly to swell, and thy thigh to rot: And the woman shall say, Amen, amen.
23. And the priest shall write these curses in a book, and he shall blot them out with the bitter water:
24. And he shall cause the woman to drink the bitter water that causeth the curse: and the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her, and become bitter.
25. Then the priest shall take the jealousy offering out of the woman's hand, and shall wave the offering before the LORD, and offer it upon the altar:
26. And the priest shall take an handful of the offering, even the memorial thereof, and burn it upon the altar, and afterward shall cause the woman to drink the water.
27. And when he hath made her to drink the water, then it shall come to pass, that, if she be defiled, and have done trespass against her husband, that the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her, and become bitter, and her belly shall swell, and her thigh shall rot: and the woman shall be a curse among her people.
28. And if the woman be not defiled, but be clean; then she shall be free, and shall conceive seed.
29. This is the law of jealousies, when a wife goeth aside to another instead of her husband, and is defiled;
30. Or when the spirit of jealousy cometh upon him, and he be jealous over his wife, and shall set the woman before the LORD, and the priest shall execute upon her all this law.
31. Then shall the man be guiltless from iniquity, and this woman shall bear her iniquity.
Here we must also read a parallel portion from the New Testament which portrays an occasion on which a woman thus accused is brought into the Temple, not to face the symbolism of the ritual which we have just read, but the reality of The Living God Himself in the person of Jesus Christ. As the woman could not be brought beyond the Court of the Women, we must imagine the scene to have been played out in that accessible area within the Temple. As we read this account, we must also remember that the prevailing civic authorities and laws are Roman, and Rome reserved to itself the sole prerogative of ordering an execution. Let us take the reading from John 8:3-11.
3. And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,
4. They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.
5. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?
That law is found in Deuteronomy 22:22, wherein we read "If a man be found lying with a woman married to an husband, then they shall both of them die, both the man that lay with the woman, and the woman: so shalt thou put away evil from Israel." That stoning is the means of execution is clear from the context of the whole passage, this verse being listed among sins of a parallel theme in verses 13 to 27.
6. This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.
Numbers 5:17, remember, had stipulated that "the priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel; and of the dust that is in the floor of the tabernacle the priest shall take, and put it into the water." Here we see Jesus Christ, the source of "Living Water", that is to say, "holy water", in His human flesh, which is the "earthen vessel" placing His finger amidst the dust of the temple floor to write. Doubtless this writing presented to the woman the Law of Deuteronomy 22:22 which we have just heard, and it was presented to her in the form shown to us in Numbers 5:24: "And he shall cause the woman to drink the bitter water that causeth the curse: and the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her, and become bitter." As the recognised Judge on this occasion, Christ then stood and rendered a judgment. He was not yet finished, however, for several stipulations had yet to be met..
7. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.
8. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.
Here, doubtless, Christ presented the pertinent Laws to the accusers, who were well aware that Rome would view this execution as a totally illegal and rebellious act under their laws, and treat them, in turn, as murderers should they actually proceed to carry out this execution. What Christ now wrote probably presented these scribes and Pharisees with the Laws of Exodus 23:1, "Thou shalt not raise a false report: put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness" and Deuteronomy 17:6-7 "At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death. The hands of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterward the hands of all the people. So thou shalt put the evil away from among you."
9. And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.
10. When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?
11. She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.
Now let us compare the two accounts in Numbers 5 and John 8. The scene in both is set in the Temple, and in the presence of The Almighty God. We ought to note, first, that the circumstances are not identical, but parallel. We must observe that there are, in this case, those who accuse this woman as witnesses, whereas the Law in Numbers 5 was designed to reveal a judgment when such were not to be found, But let us note at how very many places the two accounts show the exactitude with which Our Lord fulfilled totally the provisions of the Old Testament Law, not deviating one iota to bend or change that Law. This is as we would expect, for to deviate in any minutest jot or tittle of that law would be a sin because the very definition of sin is the transgression of the law (I John 3:4), and such an act would render Him a sinner and hence unfitted for the great task of becoming our Sinless sacrifice upon the Cross of Calvary, our Redeemer and our Saviour. Indeed, it was, we are told, for this precise purpose of testing Him in expectation that He might seek to "bend the rule", and by that act prove Himself a sinner, that this woman was dragged before Him for His judgment in the first place. Malachi 3:6 states "For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed. To change His holy Law would be impossible for God, because, should it happen, the descendants of Jacob could no longer rely on covenants He had established with their, and we British-Israelites maintain, also our, Patriarchal ancestors.
1 March, 1998
By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.
Our sequence of Bible Studies, beginning at Genesis 12 several years ago with the Call of The Almighty God to Abram in Ur of the Chaldees, has led us down the generations of his progeny to the Sinai Wilderness camp of the Tribes of Israel, directed by God, and with Moses as the national leader. We have reached Numbers 6:1-21, a passage which has as its focus the Levitical Law which was to be applied in the case of one performing the vow of a Nazarite. Here we will find out who might become one, and for how long, and the nature of the life so governed, and the services rendered before The LORD.
Before we examine the first portion, I think that The New Bible Commentary note might prove profitable. Under the heading "A Special Type of Separation - The Nazarite Vow", it states: "Nazarite (2; Heb. nazir) should be distinguished from Nazarene (from Heb. neser), the name applied to Christ in Mt. ii. 23. The middle consonants are quite different in Hebrew, although the words look so similar in English. The Nazarite was a man who desired for a period to set himself apart unto God in an unusual way. The vow represents special consecration for a limited time for unusual service to God. The Hebrew root means separation, or consecration. Nazir is used in this general sense in Dt. xxxiii. 16, to designate Joseph as one who was 'separated from his brethren.' The way the subject is introduced here suggests that it is regulating an institution already in existence, rather than instituting something new. Probably one reason for thus regulating it was to draw a sharp distinction between those who were Nazarites and those who were not, by fixing its requirements and making provisions for its termination. There is no reference after this to anyone taking upon himself a Nazarite vow which should last for the rest of his life. The case of Samson (Jdg. xiii-xvi) is quite different. He did not assume a vow; instead an obligation was laid upon him before his birth by the command that he should be a Nazarite (or separated one) all his life (Jdg. xiii. 5, 7, 13-14). Since the Nazariteship of Samson differs in these important features from the provisions of our present ordinance, there is no reason to think that it would agree with them in all other features, even though it is strikingly similar in a number of its characteristics. Cf. the case of Samuel whose life was consecrated to God by his mother even before his conception (I Sa. i. 11), and that of John the Baptist, where the angel made certain promises to Zacharias about his son's consecration, even before the child was conceived (Lk. i. 15). These regulations are important for the Christian as he considers his relation to things which are not wrong in themselves, but which may prove to be hindrances to his Christian service (cf. Heb. xii. 1). The spiritual life of some people may be greatly advanced by giving up certain things which are not harmful in themselves. In the case of others such a course makes their lives unbalanced and produces tensions that retard their spiritual progress. Much harm has been done by forcing on people who desire to serve the Lord vows of abstention from normal life, the implications of which were not realized by those taking them. The widespread corruption of medieval monasticism was a natural result. God desires most of His people to live normal lives."
Here, we may break in to read the first portion of Scripture, Numbers 6:1-8.
1. And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
2. Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When either man or woman shall separate themselves to vow a vow of a Nazarite, to separate themselves unto the LORD:
3. He shall separate himself from wine and strong drink, and shall drink no vinegar of wine, or vinegar of strong drink, neither shall he drink any liquor of grapes, nor eat moist grapes, or dried.
4. All the days of his separation shall he eat nothing that is made of the vine tree, from the kernels even to the husk.
5. All the days of the vow of his separation there shall no razor come upon his head: until the days be fulfilled, in the which he separateth himself unto the LORD, he shall be holy, and shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow.
6. All the days that he separateth himself unto the LORD he shall come at no dead body.
7. He shall not make himself unclean for his father, or for his mother, for his brother, or for his sister, when they die: because the consecration of his God is upon his head.
8. All the days of his separation he is holy unto the LORD.
The New Bible Commentary continues: "Verse 2 points out the voluntary nature of the Nazarite oath and defines it. It means that one separates himself to the Lord for a specific length of time. It may be noted that either a man or a woman can become a Nazarite. The obligations of the Nazarite are three in number. First, he separates himself entirely from any use of wine or strong drink. He must not use anything which comes from the grape vine at all, whether it be fermented wine, or vinegar, or even ordinary grape juice (mishrah, translated liquor (3), means simply 'juice'), or fresh grapes, or raisins. The second requirement is to let the locks of the hair of his head grow (5). This is contrary to ordinary usage and becomes a public indication of the fact that he is set apart. The third requirement is to keep himself from any contact with a dead body. ... His standard here is above that of the priest, and equals that of the High Priest (Lv. xxi. 1-3, 10-11). Not even his love for members of his family can lead him to make a break in this. He must not voluntarily touch any dead body. Touching a dead body was not sinful in itself. Ordinarily it was to be expected that the family of a dead person would touch his body. There were cases in which a Jew was considered as having done a very holy thing in defiling himself in order to give someone decent burial. Such an incident forms the beginning of the apocryphal book of Tobit. However, the Nazarite was specifically set apart to God and was forbidden voluntarily to enter upon any such uncleanness even in the case of his closest relative. All the days of his separation, he must be holy unto the Lord."
The next verses, 9-12, concern the penalty for involuntarily breaking the oath.
9. And if any man die very suddenly by him, and he hath defiled the head of his consecration; then he shall shave his head in the day of his cleansing, on the seventh day shall he shave it.
10. And on the eighth day he shall bring two turtles, or two young pigeons, to the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation:
11. And the priest shall offer the one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering, and make an atonement for him, for that he sinned by the dead, and shall hallow his head that same day.
12. And he shall consecrate unto the LORD the days of his separation, and shall bring a lamb of the first year for a trespass offering: but the days that were before shall be lost, because his separation was defiled.
Here, The New Bible Commentary says: "No remedy is given if the Nazarite uses a product of the vine, or if he cuts his hair. These are voluntary acts which he is obliged to avoid. The same is true if he voluntarily touches a dead body. However, there is the possibility that someone may suddenly die beside him so that he becomes ceremonially unclean, without any intentional breaking of the rule of the Nazarite. For this case, a special remedy is given. First, he must perform the same cleansing duties as anyone else who has become unclean through touching a dead body (cf. Nu. xix). Then he must shave his head on the seventh day, a procedure otherwise strictly forbidden during the period of Nazariteship. In addition to the turtle doves or pigeons which are the regular requirement for ending of uncleanness (cf. Lv. xv. 14), he must bring a lamb for a trespass offering. Worst of all, all the days of his separation previous to this time are lost. This requirement seems very severe for one who has become unclean through no fault of his own. It indicates the very strict standards of holiness which God requires of those who are set apart for special service to Himself. One who is consecrated to the Lord for special service must be particularly careful that he does not even unintentionally give an impression of wrong. When placed in a false light it is particularly important that he be cleansed in the fullest manner, in order that no taint or reproach shall come upon the work of the Lord."
We shall have to leave the third portion of this chapter for a later study, but perhaps it might serve for a meditation to consider how little such dedication appears to be followed today, and by how few people of note or prominence in the news. Can we find the zeal which would have lain behind such consecration in that former age? What today, might be the chief inhibitory factors which stand in the way of such an over-riding commitment? Has the Christian sense of fulfilment in Christ's Blood given rise to a similar position by other means? If so, how? If not, why? These questions may serve for a Bible Study theme, from which all manner of routes might develop, as the particular group discusses them. I leave this with you for your own personal meditation for this week.
8 March, 1998
By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.
Our sequence of Bible Studies, beginning at Genesis 12 several years ago with the Call of The Almighty God to Abram in Ur of the Chaldees, has led us down the generations of his progeny to the Sinai Wilderness camp of the Tribes of Israel, directed by God, and with Moses as the national leader. We have reached Numbers 6, and on the last study we examined Numbers 6:1-12, a passage which has as its focus the Levitical Law which was to be applied in the case of one performing the vow of a Nazarite. Here we had discovered who might become one, and for how long, and something of the nature of the life so governed, and the services rendered before The LORD.
The New Bible Dictionary item on this topic contains about a page of notes on the subject of a Nazarite. Some points made therein are these: the Hebrew word "nazir" is from "nazar", 'to separate, consecrate, abstain' and is very similar to "nezer", 'a diadem', the 'crown of God', sometimes identified with the Nazirite's uncut hair. The origin is pre-Mosaic and obscure. Abstinence from wine and intoxicating drinks, vinegar and raisins "may have been aimed at safeguarding the integrity and holiness of the Nazirite from possession by a spirit other than that of Yahweh (cf. Pr. xx. 1)." (That is a verse which reads "Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.") Other notes from The Dictionary mention these items: Like an officiating priest, the Nazirite renounced wine so as the more worthily to approach God. One commentator suggests that it might have been "a protest against Canaanite culture, and a desire to return to nomadic customs." Hair was left uncut, (cf. "Nazir" = 'unpruned vine', Lv. xxv. 5, 11). "The hair was regarded as the seat of life, 'the favourite abode of spirits and magical influences', to be kept in its natural state until its burning ensured its disappearance without fear of profanation." The prohibition against going near a dead body applied also to the High Priest. The Dictionary also sees evidence of the practice down to New Testament times, drawing attention to Paul's participation in the act of release by four members of the church of Jerusalem (Acts xxi. 23ff., cf. xviii. 18 for Paul's personal undertaking of a Nazirite vow.) Mention is included of a special tractate of the Mishnah (Nazir) which fixed the minimum duration of the Nazirate at thirty days. One further point might be added from this source, which states "From the references in Josephus it appears that Nazirites were a common feature of the contemporary scene."
Today, we will have a look at the last portion of this scripture, that contained in verses 13 to 21, in which we will find out how the period of such service was properly concluded. We will see that sacrifice was involved, and learn some of the particulars connected therewith. We might just review what was discovered last week. Any man or woman who felt led to dedicate a portion of his or her life wholly to the consecrated service of The LORD might become marked as such a dedicated person through the conventions of abstinence from any grape or grape-vine produce, and through allowing the hair to grow uncut. The third rule was that no dead body was to be touched, even though it be that of a near relative who had died. This was so because to touch the dead would render the person so doing ceremonially unclean. Let us now read the Scripture portion from Numbers 6:13-21.
13. And this is the law of the Nazarite, when the days of his separation are fulfilled: he shall be brought unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation:
14. And he shall offer his offering unto the LORD, one he lamb of the first year without blemish for a burnt offering, and one ewe lamb of the first year without blemish for a sin offering, and one ram without blemish for peace offerings,
15. And a basket of unleavened bread, cakes of fine flour mingled with oil, and wafers of unleavened bread anointed with oil, and their meat offering, and their drink offerings.
16. And the priest shall bring them before the LORD, and shall offer his sin offering, and his burnt offering:
17. And he shall offer the ram for a sacrifice of peace offerings unto the LORD, with the basket of unleavened bread: the priest shall offer also his meat offering, and his drink offering.
18. And the Nazarite shall shave the head of his separation at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and shall take the hair of the head of his separation, and put it in the fire which is under the sacrifice of the peace offerings.
19. And the priest shall take the sodden shoulder of the ram, and one unleavened cake out of the basket, and one unleavened wafer, and shall put them upon the hands of the Nazarite, after the hair of his separation is shaven:
20. And the priest shall wave them for a wave offering before the LORD: this is holy for the priest, with the wave breast and heave shoulder: and after that the Nazarite may drink wine.
21. This is the law of the Nazarite who hath vowed, and of his offering unto the LORD for his separation, beside that that his hand shall get: according to the vow which he vowed, so he must do after the law of his separation.
Here we might have a look, once again, at the related notes of The New Bible Commentary. Under the heading "Termination of the Nazariteship", it states this: "Verse 13 makes very clear the fact that Nazariteship normally is for a limited time. An extensive public ceremony is prescribed at its conclusion so that people can know very definitely whether one is a Nazarite or not. For this ceremony, the Nazarite must come to the door of the tent of meeting, bringing with him a number of special offerings, which are described in verses 14 and 15. The priest performs the ceremony (16-17); then the Nazarite shaves his head at the door of the tent of meeting and burns the long hair that has grown during his period of consecration in the fire under the sacrifice. Nothing can be kept to show as a trophy of the length of his consecration to the Lord. The priest performs additional ceremonies (19-20); after this the Nazarite vow has come to an end and the man or woman has become free from any restrictions which are not binding on ordinary people. Verse 21 is a concluding title, with special reference to the offering of the Nazarite. Beside that that his hand shall get (21; Heb. nasag, lit. 'reach'): an idiomatic expression meaning 'beside whatever he otherwise is able to afford'; i.e. in addition to the prescribed offering."
Keil and Delitzsch have some further notes which it would be well for us to consider in connection with the vows of the Nazarite also. There we find these observations: "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." With reference to the vow concerning the grape, it mentions that it meant abstinence "from the kernels even to the husk." "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...; but it goes much further, and embraces entire abstinence from all .. by which holiness could be impaired... ." The reference goes on to show us that grape cakes, as being the dainties sought after by epicures and debauchees, are cited in Hos. iii. 1 as a symbol of the sensual attractions of idolatry, a luxurious kind of feed, 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." Regarding the fact that no razor was to come upon his head, the note is added that "The free growth of the hair is called, in ver. 7, 'the diadem of his God upon his head,' like the golden diadem upon the turban of the high priest (Ex. xxix. 6), and the anointing oil upon the high priest's head (Lev. xxi. 12). By this he sanctified his head (ver. 11) to the Lord... ." Explaining the nature of the dedication of a Nazarite, they continue "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 (Ex. xix. 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... . At the completion of the vow, the hair, which had been worn in honour of The Lord had to be shaved off and handed over, to be burned on the altar under the peace-offering. The waving of the shoulder symbolically gave this portion to the Lord, and it was then , with a cake and wafer, symbolically part of the sacrificial meal and table-fellowship with the Lord and his priests. "And after that the Nazarite may drink wine." (verse 20), happened, probably at the sacrificial meal, after the Lord had received His share of the sacrifice, and the Nazarite's release from consecration had thus been completed.
I might add a personal observation. In this ceremony of Old Testament days, may we detect something pre-figuring the New Testament partaking of a morsel of bread, followed by the drinking of the wine in the Christian Communion Service by one who will, as Paul wrote in I Corinthians 11:28, "examine himself"? We have not the time today to read the whole of I Corinthians 11, but if you will do that as a group Bible Study, or perhaps a personal meditation for the week, comparing what is found therein with what we have said today, you may find some surprising parallels to contemplate!
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