Good morning! Happy Valentine’s Day, for those who are celebrating. We have a distinctly unromantic reading today from Numbers 5, and then Numbers 6 introduces us to a class of people called the Nazirites.
To the mental image with which we finished yesterday’s passage (precise tribal regiments moving in formation), add an accompanying ragtag group of stragglers and hangers-on. These are all those who for one reason or another have been found unclean and cast outside camp so as to preserve the purity of the rest. Adding to this chapter of instructions regarding various “problems”, note that when one person does wrong against another, the offense is considered an incursion against God. The rest of the chapter describes how to handle the situation where a jealous man accuses a wife of cheating, but there’s no proof. God is essentially invoked as judge, through the means of polluted, bitter water. The wife is made to swallow muddy water and will suffer from the bitter water whether or not she is guilty—but if she suffers a discharge from her uterus she has been found guilty. Even aside from the barbarity of this test, it’s troubling in our egalitarian society that there’s no similar test for a woman who suspects her husband of cheating. Was it not a problem when men did that—it was simply assumed in a culture where men had multiple wives? Regardless, the space given to this fault-finding procedure suggests that this situation was a fairly common occurrence.
Numbers 6 concerns a class of people named Nazirites. They took special oaths for a certain period of consecration and holiness. (Think of someone who declares themselves vegetarian, at least for awhile.) Abstaining from wine and letting hair grow long were the most visible marks of a Nazirite. Like high priests, Nazirites would be defiled if they went near corpses, so they were to avoid approaching the bodies of even close relatives. (Unlike priests, the Nazirite way of life was temporary.) Hair was considered a porous part of the body to which uncleanness would cling, so shaving the head was the only way to get ritually clean. We’re not sure what Nazirites did or why they existed, though they are rumored to have been unusually strong (perhaps arising from the fact that Samson was a Nazirite). With the prohibition against cutting hair, the fact that it was open to male or female, and the permission given for these folks to be set aside by their vows, I wonder if this would have been a way of life for those who don’t fit in a classic gender to escape the rigid roles of ancient Israelite society. That’s purely my speculation, but I’m curious to know what you find about Nazirites from other sources.
The priestly benediction that closes out chapter 6 is lovely, and is still used every week in many Jewish and Christian communities today. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. Tomorrow’s passage is Numbers 7. Thanks for reading!