Set Apart for Blessing

Set Apart for Blessing

Number six, begins with another curiosity for modern readers, the Nazareth vow. How does this fit into the flow of numbers? Then Chapter 6 ends with a very familiar blessing to us, the blessing of Aaron. As we look through the reading of God’s Word, though, if you’d please join me in prayer. Our Father, Majesty and Bounded, worthy of all worship, and you, Christ, are the King of glory, the eternal Son of the Father. And you, Holy Spirit, our advocate and guide. We praise you and declare your great worth, triune God. And from your Word today, reveal to us your truth for our lives, that your truth would conquer our anxious hearts. And this we pray through Christ Jesus. Amen. Beginning in verse 1, And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, speak to the people of Israel and say to them, when either a man or a woman makes a special vow, the vow of a Nazareth, to separate himself to the Lord, he shall separate himself from wine and strong drink. He shall drink no vinegar made from wine or strong drink, and shall not drink any juice of grapes or eat grapes fresh or dried. All the days of his separation, he shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, not even the seeds or the skins.

All the days of his vows of separation, no razor shall touch his head. Until the time is complete for which he separated himself to the Lord, he shall be holy. He shall let the locks of hair of his head grow long. Verse 22, The Lord spoke to Moses saying, speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, thus you shall bless the people of Israel. You shall 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 shall they put my name upon the people of Israel and I will bless them. The word of the Lord, you please be seated. Apparently in ancient times, long, long ago, people could be envious of one another. My surprise you to know that even in families, brothers and sisters could think that they weren’t being treated as well as or as fairly as their siblings. Very strange for us to consider. We’ve gone so far since then. But there were moments that Israel faced where that type of resentment was a problem. The office of priest was unattainable for most of Israel.

One of the benefits of the Nazareth vow, certainly not the only one, but one of them, was it would give any man or woman from any tribe an opportunity to dedicate themselves to the Lord in a special way that was similar to the priest. I mentioned before a friend of mine, Pastor David Klein, he mentioned this to me. He said the Bible gives ways to guard people from resentment. The Bible gives ways to guard people from resentment that can come from their differing life circumstances. Why is that important? Well, life is filled with inequalities. We see that everywhere. Life is filled with inequalities that the Lord in his providence gives to us. I know this is out of step with much of our current social beliefs. But the solution isn’t to try to flatten them out, but to learn to flourish with what the Lord has handed you. A unity that allows for diversity without insisting that everything must be the same or it’s not fair. And into this difference, the Lord brings His blessing to cause us to shine upon us where He has placed us in the very spots, often that seem unfair. And because Jesus has set us apart, has put us has concentrated us for life in himself.

We receive the Father’s favor. There’s no limitation through his grace and his mercy. So an overview of where we’ve been. Last week we saw chapter five, how messy lives can maintain order in living together. And then we saw this idea of religious purity and defilement, which can seem really like a strange concept to us. Other than when we look back and see that all of us have beliefs of purity and defilement just in different forms. Think about it, our current cancel culture. You can def friend people. You can block people on social media based on ideas of social purity and defilement. What we saw was that the Bible does not make issues of purity based on race, nationality, social class or gender. We do that, but the Bible doesn’t. Chapter 6 comes along and it could almost seem again like a non sequitur, the Nazareth vow. How does that fit? In this vow, anyone could set themselves apart special to the Lord for a season. And in this setting apart, we’re told not really why a person would do this, but the rules and regulations governing it. It was a popular option, it seems, that people were doing.

And these rules are very similar to rules for the priest. We ask that question, well, why here in the text? You’ve heard me mention several times, they’re ceiling ethics and floor ethics. Well, Chapter 5 was a lot about the floor. Here are the base things. Don’t do these types of things for living in community with one another. You’re a holy people. Here are some things you ought not to do. Now in Chapter 6, you see here are some special things that you can do, an elevated sense of separation and holiness. And as I mentioned before, only the tribe of Levi would have been able to serve the tabernacle in that special way. And only one small family of the tribe of Levi was allowed to be priest. They were exempt from war. They were not included in the tribe of land inheritance. And it’s just human nature. We know this. It’s easy to be resentful of others when we’re left out of something we consider special. And I’m sure, again, there were Levi’s who resented the fact that they had to do it. One group wants to do it. The other group is mad they have to do it.

That’s human nature, sinful human nature. And into the midst of this, we have the Nazareth vow. The Nazareth vow was a temporary vow that a man or a woman from any tribe could do. And it was a special vow dedicated to the Lord for a particular time. That Hebrew word Nazareth, it just means to separate. Sometimes your translations will say dedicated or consecrated ones. Someone is setting themselves apart to the Lord by making a special or remarkable vow. That word Nazareth and Nazareth are two different word stems in Hebrew. Jesus was not a Nazareth in the textical sense, so he was from Nazareth. Similar sounds, but very different meanings. Nazareth, to set yourself apart. Those taking this temporary vow would be visible members to the whole community of this special calling that the Lord God had given to Israel as a people. Exe us 19, the Lord said, You will be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Israel is to be separate and distinct from all the nations of the world. The Nazareth in midst of them would be a visible reminder to them of that. He says in verse 2, Speak to the people of Israel, whether a man or a woman makes a special vow, the Nazareth Vow, to separate themselves from the Lord.

Then they agreed to three lifestyle restrictions while under this vow. First was food, no alcohol or anything to do with the great product. Second, no haircut. Third, no funerals, specifically proximity to the dead. We see that in verse 3, they separate himself from the wine and strong drink. He shall drink no vinegar or wine. Strong drink shall not drink any juice of grapes. Eat grapes fresh or dried, even to the point of the seeds or the skin. Wine was a sign and a symbol of joy and celebration. So to abstain was an act of self denial. I will intentionally give up this good thing for a time in order to sharpen my focus, my devotion to the Lord. Along with that, verse 5, no haircut, no razor shall touch his head. He shall let the locks of the hair of its head grow long. And at the end of that, they were to shave that all off and then offer that to the Lord. And this restriction was unique to the Nazareth vow. The unkept hair was a visible reminder to everyone that you had taken this vow. In the ancient world, hair was thought to be connected to a person’s vitality, to their life.

Now, before you think that’s weird, it might help you to know the current hair care industry sits around $86 billion. Hair has always been important to all cultures. This was a symbolic act highlighting a person’s dedication and self denial in keeping an unkept appearance. So who knew? Bedhead was a sign of religious concentration. All these middle school boys are going, yes. But more than that, they are also to separate themselves from anybody who was dead. So it would include a funeral being in proximity, whether it’s your father, your mother, your brother or your sister. You shall not make yourself unclean because of his separation to God on his head. All the days of separation, he is holy to the Lord. And the issue was one of Holiness. The matters of purity and defilement we looked at last week, it’s centered on the nature of life. Simples of death are not to be brought into the presence of the living God. These prohibitions even are stricter than that regarding regular priests. A priest was not allowed to drink while on duty. Now, part of that we understand it’s like, okay, there’s no intoxication while you’re serving the Lord.

But the other aspect of that is fermentation is a product of death. So that’s also a consideration. And the removal of even a funeral from family members of father and mother and people really close. That was only for the high priest. That was more than just the regular priest. And then Nazareth was making that dedication and the issue of no haircut unique to the Nazareth vow. We see lifelong Nazareth in Scripture. Samson, it was certainly called that, but also likely Samuel and probably even John the Baptist. Otherwise, the time of the vow was set for a specific time. Later, the default setting was 30 days, but you could make it for any time period. So verses 9 to 21, it covers what’s to be done if the Nazareth somehow was defiled during his vow, what he should do. Then the completion of the vow, which ended with a peace offering, a sacrifice meal. So a man or a woman could enter into a time of special devotion to the Lord. They were not hermits living off by themselves. They still were in the midst of normal life. Later writers actually tell us in the time of the New Testament, this was really popular.

Men and women were regularly taking the Nazareth vow. In Acts 21, Paul takes a special vow along with four others, and it’s very likely it also is a Nazareth vow. You think, well, why would he do that? P ossibly to show the Jews in Jerusalem when he went back of his faithfulness to God and to the law, which they questioned. And the offering was an expensive one at the end of it. Like Paul did for these other four, there are also members of the community who would pay for the Nazareth vow for the offering. And so people in the community would recognize this special devotion, and they would chip in to help people carry through to the end. So the whole community could participate in this vow. And then at the end, this meal was done before the Lord. You could do that with friends and family to end this special time. Now, it has been the case through history that men and women have dedicated themselves to the Lord in a more serious or committed way. Becoming a monk or a nun might be on one end of the spectrum, but otherwise, some have taken the season of Lent as an opportunity for self denial and prayer.

Fasting could also fall into the same category. But living in an indulgent and self focused society that we do, we can take time to set ourselves apart through intentional devotion and self denial for a time, a special focus and a honing of the heart. It’s important to know that this is never to try and impress the Lord so that he blesses us so that you earn favor. This isn’t one of those things like, God, I’m willing to give this up if you will give me this. Trying to make a deal with God. No, it’s an opportunity to have your heart honed and focused in a more intentional way. What leads to blessing is the Lord’s desire to bless his people. And we see that next in number 6, the Lord blessing his people. And we ask, well, why is it here in the text? I think possibly to remind Israel, after speaking of the Nazareth Vow, that it’s not a mean of earning favor. God’s not saying, You got to do this for me to bless you. No, blessing comes from the Lord and he desires to bless his people, period. Not just because you did this special thing.

And we see this threefold blessing. It’s a wonderful poetic blessing in Hebrew. Verse 22, he tells Moses, he said, Tell Aaron and his sons, thus you shall bless the people of Israel. You shall say to them this. And then we get these three lines of blessing that elevate at each one. And the covenant name of the Lord, YAW, is mentioned in each line. And while it’s the priest who had pronounced this blessing, he’s simply just a conduit for God’s blessing. It’s the Lord who blesses his people. He is the source of blessing. One writer tells us that this simple fact in one way means to us that we do not create goodness that we give to others, but rather we pass on from the Lord what we have received to others. The same idea. Aaron is not giving this blessing. He’s not making it happen. He’s passing on what the Lord is desiring for his people. In verse 24, the Lord bless you and keep you. Keep could also be translated as guard or protect. It’s interesting to note that this blessing is said over all the people, but it’s given in the singular. He’s not saying the Lord bless you, you all, or in the King James, ye, plural.

He’s saying, The Lord bless you, individual specific. And that’s surprising in the midst of what he just said. One rabbi put it this way, divine blessing is not generic, but specific to each individual and his or her needs, dreams, and yearnings. And he went on to say that the Lord protect you speaks to the need to have the Lord keep the very blessings he gives you from being a stumbling block to us. What does that mean? Wealth can lead to greed, leadership to corruption of power, abundance to anxiety over keeping it. Even the blessing of understanding the word, a person can use in a pharisaical way in life that you can’t see God’s Grace right in front of you. There are those who read their Bibles daily, pray, have quiet time, set themselves apart, study, use all of this only to keep God at a distance and ask in their own self righteousness. A good gift of God becomes a curse when it’s separated from him. God’s blessing then includes him in the midst of it. He goes on, verse 25, The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord personally looks upon his people.

He illuminens them with his goodness and his grace. Then it moves forward again. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. Countenance in English is the same word in Hebrew for face. It’s more of a poetic way for us to say that back to back, but it’s the same word. It carries the idea forward as an active completion. To have the Lord smile upon you a face to face encounter with YAO whose desires to bless his people with his presence to grant peace. That’s an amazing gift from God. That word peace, you may be aware, shalom, it means more than the absence of conflict. God’s peace, it speaks to fullness, to flourishing. His peace includes right relationship with him, right relationships with one another. That’s a blessing from God. In verse 27, So shall they, the priest, put My name upon the people of Israel and I will bless them. This I is emphatic. I myself will bless them. The priest, again, just the conduits the Lord who places his name upon them. We certainly see reflection to this in the declaration of baptism, the Lord’s name being pronounced over the person, God’s blessing given, not earned, a gift bestowed.

And this provision for the Priestley blessing of the whole community, it finishes out this section of numbers. Combined with the immediate concerns for the holiness of the camp is also the enjoyment of God’s blessing who is present with them. So we’ve asked this question all along, how do we see this fit into redemptive history? How do we see this moving forward to Paris for the person and work of Jesus? Certainly, we know that Jesus was set apart from his birth to be the true Israel of God. He is the beloved son in whom the father is well pleased. Jesus is the true vine. John 15, and in the supper, Jesus reminds us, speaking of the cup, the cup at the Passover, the cup of wine. He said, drink all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Then He says something rather curious, I tell you, I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until the day that I drink it new with you in my father’s Kingdom. Even when Jesus returned and was raised from the dead, this joy, this blessing is abstined from until his return.

That he is waiting for the culmination of all things when he will fully enter into joy with us in celebration symbolized in wine. But until then, there’s this abstaining because there is yet to be the fulfillment and completion of all that he has done. We look forward to that in Christ. Beyond that, Jesus was the one who touched the dead to bring them to life. He wasn’t defileded. He didn’t have to start his vow all over again. He brought life. He cleansed the defileded and he drank the cup of God’s wrath so that we would have that cup of blessing. His life force was sacrificed on our behalf. He was shorn. He was cut off from the land of the living to be our peace. Jesus is God’s presence with us. Even as he told Philip, whoever has seen me has seen the Father. In Christ, we see the smile of the Father and through Him receive his blessing. In him then there is no room for resentment or unforgiveness to others. For no one can truly stand in our way of God’s blessing other than us. The limitations that we might feel for the circumstances in our life that we don’t like are not stumbling blocks to the Lord.

The specific blessings that somebody else has, we can celebrate and not envy them. That is a transformative work of the Holy Spirit. Who doesn’t struggle at times with that? What do you generally do when someone is receiving a blessing in their life in a way that you long for but don’t have? It’s really hard to rejoice and not go, That’s not fair. Why did they get that and I don’t? The reality is that he has given us life and we have it with the circumstances that he also gives to us, that we should dedicate ourselves to him in the midst of those very things, knowing that it is his desire to bless us right where we are. It causes us then to keep coming back to Him. I say, Lord, I don’t understand this thing, but Father, you can turn what I think is a curse into a blessing. Conversely, the blessings of God, apart from him, can become a curse to us. The ability to enjoy God’s gifts, Scripture tells us, is also a gift of God. He gives us the ability to enjoy. And so when we look at God, the one who is overseeing our lives and has put us in the places that he has, and we look at that and go, Father, for your purposes, you are bringing about my good because you desire to bless me.

I don’t see it very clearly now. This is a dark hand of providence. Father, help me to see beyond that. Help me to enjoy your presence here and now in the midst of that and to come along others and to be excited and thrilled with what God is doing in their life and maybe even reminding them of that in a kind way. Because even as you see with the Nazareth, people paying their vows, they were entering into the dedication, the separation that they had as a community, encouraging one another. This would be good for you. I want to help support this work of God in your life. That’s a part of what we’ve been called to is the body of Christ. It is in Jesus that we feel the pleasure of the Father, the fullness of his face shining upon us, of his graciousness, of his peace, his shalom. It comes through Jesus. Regardless of our circumstances, regardless of the inequities of life that we struggle with, no one can rob us of that joy. We’re not separated because of those things. We’re separated dedicated, concentrated because Jesus has called us to himself and his holiness becomes our holiness.

Therefore, the joy and the blessings of the Father now come to us. If you have seen Jesus, you have seen the Father. Those are good and great promises that we hold on to. With whatever circumstance that you are in, embrace the blessing that God has brought you. Look beyond the circumstance and see the smiling face of the Father who’s willing to embrace you, to draw you in through his Son. Pray with me. Father, we do thank you that you have given us an ability indeed to separate ourselves from a sinful and crooked generation through saving faith in your Son. Father, we thank you for that. Lord, we also ask that you would forgive us for all the times when we’ve seen our circumstances and complained about them bitterly and have failed to see your kindness. Lord, we would pray that only you forgive us, but that you would continue to give us the eyes of faith to see beyond struggling in difficult times. Father, that you would help us to look forward to the coming of Christ when he will fulfill his joy with us at the culmination of all things. We bless you and we praise you.

Father, Son and Spirit, Amen. We please stand together as we sing all to Jesus I surrender.

Disclaimer: Automated Sermon Transcription