God’s Word for You
Numbers 6:6-8 The Nazirite (Part 3)
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, June 28, 2021
6 During the entire time that he separates himself to the LORD he may not go near a dead body. 7 He may not defile himself even for his father or his mother or for his brother or his sister when they die, because his sign of separation for God is on his head. 8 During the entire time of his separation he is set apart as holy to the LORD.
The third leg of the Nazirite stool is to keep away from any contact with a dead body. This is so important that the prohibition is the same for a Nazirite that it was for a high priest. He could not even make an exception for his parents or a brother or sister. The only person not specifically mentioned is one’s spouse. It must be assumed that a Nazirite (or high priest) would not be able to avoid the death of a spouse (living in the same tent, sleeping in the same bed), but in that case, the vow would need to begin again.
The reason for avoiding a corpse is clear enough from the judgement of God about the curse of death: “Death came through a man. In Adam all die” (1 Corinthians 15:21,22). Death is the result of sin, of disobedience to God: “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin” (Romans 5:12). God warned Adam when he established the Church, the first estate: “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Since the High Priest was to keep himself holy at all times, and the Nazirite throughout the term of his vow, that meant that contact with a dead body was by its very nature contact with the result of sin.
When death occurs, the soul leaves the body, as Solomon teaches: “the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7). Peter talks about setting aside “the tent of this body” (2 Peter 1:13), as does Paul (2 Corinthians 5:1,4,8). As our dogmatician Hoenecke said, “The present, earthly nature of the body is not fit for an eternal, imperishable existence. God delivers up each body to death for dissolution and deprivation of the earthly element” (Ev. Luth. Dogmatics II:435). The prohibition for the Nazirite was to keep clear of sin, and this was shown in a more visible way by keeping clear even of the results of sin.
Yet it should be said clearly and immediately that the Bible nowhere forbids grieving for those who have died. When Aaron’s sons were put to death by the Lord for disobeying his regulations for priests, Aaron was permitted to grieve in his own way. We see this in the exchange between Moses and Aaron about the sin offering on the day that Nadab and Abihu died (Leviticus 10:16-20). We also see it in the way Jesus grieved and wept for his friend Lazarus when he died (John 11:33-36). The famous words, “Jesus wept” (surely the shortest passage in the Gospels) express a simple statement of fact: God himself, Jesus Christ, grieved for his friend at the graveside.
Although we have some verses yet to read concerning this vow, during which we will also address vows taken in our present time, this is a good time to reflect a little on death, especially the death of a Christian. On account of sin, and on account of our own sins, we are mortal and subject to death. But when a Christian dies with faith in Jesus, there is the hope that is also the certainty of the resurrection and eternal life, because Jesus is the one who promised: “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). In the resurrection we can look forward to many reunions: body with soul, Christian with Christ, and each one united with family and friends, and now friends made in the resurrection, as we see in the familiar conversation of Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration of the Lord (Matthew 17:3-4; Mark 9:4-5; Luke 9:30-31). We also see this in the account of the beggar Lazarus when he is taken to heaven by angels to sit at the side of Abraham (Luke 16:22). We are told about that man, “He is comforted here,” that is, in heaven (Luke 16:25). This is the comfort we have waiting for us. So although death hurts us terribly when a loved one dies, we know that they and we will be comforted in heaven.
Those readers who know me well will indulge this quote from Dr. Martin Luther: “There is no sweeter union than that in a good marriage. Nor is there any death more bitter than that which separates a married couple. Only the death of children comes close to this; how much this hurts I have myself experienced” (LW 54:33; his daughter Elizabeth died before her first birthday in 1528).
I have included this because some people need to be told that when a loved one dies, it is not good to put off grieving, to stay away from those who mourn, or to avoid a Christian funeral. The funeral and the burial of those who are dearest to us is part of the healing process. A scientist would try to explain this with the symbolism of closure, but it is the gospel that heals; the promises of God are the ingredients of the only medicine that binds up our wounds and sets our hearts firmly on the resurrection and the certainty of reunion in heaven. Jesus said that husbands and wives are no longer joined in the physical union of marriage in heaven (Luke 20:35-36), but there is no passage that says that those who were bound in the companionship of marriage here on earth will not still enjoy the delights of such friendship in paradise. So grieve and mourn when the time comes (Ecclesiastes 3:4), but be comforted by the gospel of the resurrection and the forgiveness of sins, and be at peace.
Pastor Timothy Smith