Numbers: Introduction – Numbers 6

Read the Passage: Numbers 6

Authorship and Date: Since the fourth book of the Bible contains the results of several censuses taken in Israel (cf. Num. 1–4, 26), this book is referred to, in English, as the book of Numbers. This often-overlooked book was written by Moses (cf. Num. 33:2; 36:13), a fact that is attested to elsewhere in the Old Testament (cf. 2 Ki. 14:6; Neh. 8:1), as well as in the New Testament (cf. Mark 12:26–27; John 7:19). Since this book ends with Israel on the precipice of the Promised Land, it was likely written in the last year of Moses’ life, which was around 1405 BC. Chronologically speaking, most of the events in the book of Numbers take place in the second year of the exodus event (cf. Num. 1–14), which was ~1444 BC, and in the fortieth year of the exodus event (cf. Num. 20–36), which was 1405 BC. Note that Numbers chapters 15–19 largely contain miscellaneous ceremonial and civil laws.

Theme and Purpose: Moses writes this book to recount the history of Israel during the 38 years of wilderness wanderings that transpired between the exodus event, which is recorded in the book of Exodus, and Israel’s entrance into the Promised Land, which is recorded in the book of Joshua. Indeed, the term “wilderness” occurs 48 times in this book, and the Hebrews entitled this book bemidbâr, which is the fifth word in the text of this book and means “in the wilderness.” The term “wilderness” refers to an uncultivated wasteland area, with few trees and shrubs, which was only useful for tending livestock, if sources of water were available. Note that Moses structured this book around three great wildernesses: the wilderness of Sinai, the wilderness of Paran, and the wilderness of Zin. Beginning in Num. 21, Israel is encamped on the eastern bank of the Jordan River on the plains of Moab. Three recurring themes this book are: (1) the obedience and disobedience of Israel, (2) the anger and judgment of God, and (3) the faithfulness and promises of God.

Structure and Outline: The main event in the book of Numbers is Israel’s refusal to enter into the Promised Land (cf. Num. 14), which resulted in the first generation of Hebrews being sentenced to die. This first generation, whose story began in Exod. 2, passes away by the end of Num. 25, with the exceptions of Caleb and Joshua. Note the story of the second generation of Hebrews begins in Num. 26 and goes through the end of the book of Joshua. This book has lists, laws, narratives, poetry, prophesies, and dialog; yet, this text is mostly historical in nature. As a history book, then, the narrative of Numbers is generally chronological in format and can be thematically outlined as follows:

  • The First Generation (Num. 1–25)
    • Obedience (Num. 1–10)
    • Disobedience (Num. 11–25)
  • The Second Generation (Num. 26–36)
    • Preparations (Num. 26–32)
    • Anticipation (Num. 33–36)

Requirements (6:1–12)

Num. 6 contains laws governing Nazirites. Whereas only Levites could be priests, every Israelite could be consecrated as a Nazirite, either for a time or for a lifetime, by taking a vow. The term “Nazirite” means “dedication by separation.” Samson is the only explicit example of a Nazirite in Scripture (cf. Judg. 13:1–5; Amos 2:11–12), although we can deduce that Samuel (cf. 1 Sam. 1:11), the Rechabites (cf. Jer. 35:6), and John the Baptist were also Nazirites (cf. Luke 1:13–17). Num. 6:1–12 describes the purity required of a Nazirite, which is illustrative of Christ (cf. Heb. 7:26), noting that Nazirites were to avoid grape products, refrain from cutting their hair, and not to have contact with a corpse. These conditions speak to clarity of mind, dignity of position, and purity of spirit. Each of these requirements parallel the office and actions of the High Priest (cf. Lev. 8:9; 10:9; 21:11).

Offerings (6:13–21)

While Nazirites could be set apart for life, oftentimes these vows were for a set period of time. In Jewish practice, Nazarite vows were usually for 30 days. Although not explicitly labeled as such, Paul may have concluded a Nazirite vow at Acts 18:18; 21:24. Num. 6:13–21 specifies that at the expiration of a Nazirite vow, the individual was to make several offerings, including a burnt offering (cf. Num. 6:14a), a sin offering (cf. Num. 6:14b), a peace offering (cf. Num. 6:14c), a grain offering (cf. Num. 6:15a), and a drink offering (cf. Num. 6:15b). General details of these offerings were given earlier in Lev. 1–7. While all Israelites made offerings, an offering required of Nazirites was the shaving of their head and the burning of their hair under the peace offering (cf. Num. 6:18). At the conclusion of these offerings, then, the individual in view was released from Nazirite requirements.

Blessings (6:22–27)

Num. 6:22–27 contains one of most quoted priestly blessings from the Bible. This passage reads, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘This is the way you shall bless the children of Israel. 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 lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.” So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them.’” While this blessing may seem out of place at the end of the discussion of Nazirite vows, it is appropriate here, for it concludes the larger section of Num. 1–6 in which God was describing the ordering of Israel before His presence. Indeed, if God’s people did live properly before Him—which entailed the Levites and the Nazirites keeping God’s laws and their vows—then they would experience God’s favor, grace, and peace.

Application Questions:

  1. Why were Nazirites prohibited from consuming grape products, cutting their hair, and touching a corpse?
  2. Is the Nazarite prohibition of alcohol a universes biblical principle that applies to the New Testament church?
  3. If the Nazirite vows paralleled the requirements of priests, and Christians are a royal priesthood, ought believers to be set apart as were the Nazirites?
  4. Is there any in spiritual danger in believers adopting a Nazirite-type lifestyle (cf. Col. 2:20–23)?
  5. Why do you believe the Aaronic priestly blessing is given at Num. 6:22–27, just after the material on Nazirites?