Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Long-haired Freaky People: Numbers 6

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign….(by Les Emmerson, as recorded by Five Man Electrical Band).

I will not pretend to really understand all that went into the hippy song that is the oft-covered “Sign” song. I know this: there were long-haired freaky people long before there were hippies. And there were reasons to be long-haired more than just to be against everything.

In fact, the goal was to be for something in particular. What for? Well, the Nazarite vow section of Numbers 6 actually does not say specifically why people took the Nazarite vows. There is simply the statement that “when a man or woman makes a special vow…” (Numbers 6:2).

Then we have the instructions on how to fulfill that vow. Let’s take this apart and see what happens with it, shall we? Starting with Numbers 6:1:

  • Numbers 6:1 reflects that this passage is instruction from God, the covenant God of Israel, revealed in name as YHWH (see the Nerd Note here). This is not Moses’ idea of fun things to demand of someone who wants to take a step of dedication. These are the words of God on how those vows are to be fulfilled.

Always be certain that any vow you make is based on God’s Word and not on man’s ideas. The latter bring precious little to your life, while the former is greater than anything else.

  • Numbers 6:2 gives us an important insight: this vow was available to any adult within the community of faith. We should be cautious not to obstruct any individual of competent age from making a commitment to God that falls within the parameters of the above point: those based on God’s Word. To tell someone that they cannot make a commitment that is in-line with the Word of God simply because of their gender is nonsense, and has been for 3500 years.

Be careful not to cut lines that God has not endorsed, or build fences that exclude those God has included. At the same time, do not suggest that a temporary vow substitutes for being a part of the covenant community.

  • Numbers 6:3-21 shows us this: making an extended vow to God is not going to be easy. You are going to have a different appearance than those around you, so your commitment will be obvious. You are going to have a different diet than those around you, so your commitment could be obnoxious. You are going to have an unbalanced social life from your non-committed times, so your commitment might be offensive.

Continuing in your commitment will be a major challenge. However, what are your alternative options? You must stand for what you said you would do. This is part of being people of our word as we strive to be people of the Word who belong to the One who is the Word.

Rarely was the Nazirite vow a lifetime commitment, though we often think of it as such because the one named Nazirite in Scripture was called to be one from birth: Samson. However, extra-biblical sources suggest that the typical time of consecration was 30 days.

What about us? Can we be freaky people for 30 days? What would happen if we made a commitment to let nothing separate us from our focus on God for a month? No concerns about our appearance, save for ensuring decency and hygiene. No concerns for social norms, no concerns for typical dietary patterns. Might be interesting.

Today’s Nerd Note: The chapter closes with the “Aaronic Blessing” or the “Priestly Blessing” on the people. This is an interesting end to the section on individual vows and responsibilities, and a curious segue into the next section of Numbers. Why?

It is completely inclusive of the entire covenant people of Israel. Rather than focusing on any one group, this is for all of them. Now, some interpreters see varied uses for this passage and differing moments when it would be used, but there is little here to define it.

Instead, this is simply given as a blessing to be used, we know not when. It makes for a good close to a worship service. Yet occasion, here, I think is secondary to the message.

Look at this: it is personal, about being in front of God, in the view of God, and greeted with His pleasure. What greater blessing could there be at any time?

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