THE NAZARITE VOW
In the first chapter of the Epistle that bears his name, Peter describes the position of Christ’s ecclesia thus:
“Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:5).
Here, the word “holy” literally means “set apart” and describes how the believers are set apart from the present evil world, to be priests, devoted to the doing of the Divine Will. Again, he further writes under Spirit influence:
“ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a purchased people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Pet. 2:9).
We are then, in the privileged position of being a “holy”, or set apart “nation”, “chosen” by the Lord to be vessels to honour. And as such, we must be found holding forth the word of life before those who would turn in from the darkness to the glorious light of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
AN HOLY NATION
Under the Old Testament arrangement of things, the “holy nation” was Israel. We learn this from Exodus Chapter 19, to which the Apostle is alluding:
“Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a purchased treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine. And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel” (Exo. 19:5-6).
Notice, we have these three things coming together again: a national treasure, a priesthood, and a set-apart nation. Under the Mosaic Law, only certain who were of the tribe of Levi were permitted to be priests, yet here we read that in a certain sense, they were all a “kingdom of priests”. And when we consider the Nazarite vow, it has truly been said that this was the closest that the average man or woman in the camp could get to being a priest. It’s rules and ordinances echoed those principles exhibited by the priesthood as we shall shortly see, and it is those principles that marked out the nation as being “holy”. And it is only logical that if we would also be part of a holy nation, and a royal priesthood, that we also must give attention to those principles, and learn to enact the spirit of them in our daily lives.
Numbers chapter 6 describes the commandment to Moses:
“Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, when either a man or a woman shall separate themselves to vow a vow of a Nazarite, to separate themselves unto Yahweh …” (Num. 6:2).
There are several principles being established here: either a man or a woman could choose to “separate themselves unto Yahweh” for a period of time of their own choosing. It was a vow that they made to be “separate” and to be devoted to holy things. And we also are under a vow of separation: we voluntarily choose to be holy to our Lord for a period of time – the rest of our lives. When we were baptised, we made that decision and vow, and are under the commandment to be separate: “wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you” (2 Cor. 6:17). Interestingly, Samson was to live a life long service as a Nazarite, as his mother was told before his birth: “… lo, thou shalt conceive and bear a son; and no razor shall come upon his head; for the child shall be a Nazarite unto God from the womb …” (Jug. 13:5). In Samson’s case, his position as a Nazarite was imposed upon him from the day of his birth. It became a life-long commitment, and so foreshadows our life-long commitment to be holy to our Lord.
RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE NAZARITE
There were various responsibilities to be followed, each one of which was designed to be a token of separateness. The first was that he/she was to abstain from alcoholic beverages, and even the ingredients used for their production:
“he shall separate himself from wine and strong drink, and shall drink no vinegar of wine, or vinegar of strong drink, neither shall he drink any liquor of grapes, nor eat moist grapes or dried. All the days of his separation shall he eat nothing that is made of the vine tree, from the kernels even to the husk” (Num. 6:3-4).
In his/her separation therefore, they were to separate themselves from alcoholic drink: this is also a requirement of the Priests. Following the sad occasion of Nadab and Abihu’s presumptuous offering of uncommanded fire, and their subsequent judgment, it was written concerning the priests: “do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations” (Lev. 10:9). Given that this commandment was made immediately after Nadab and Abihu’s trespass, some have concluded that wine or strong drink was a factor in their behaviour. Wine dulls the senses and releases the inhibitions of a man, and it may well be so that these two were under the influence of alcohol when they took it upon themselves to offer incense other than what was required of them.
Interestingly, the Rechabites were also commanded by their Father to avoid wine. In obedience to the word of Yahweh, Jeremiah “set before the sons of the house of the Rechabites pots full of wine, and cups, and I said unto them, Drink ye wine. But they said, We will drink no wine: for Jonadab the son of Rechab our father commanded us, saying, Ye shall drink no wine, neither ye nor your sons for ever … nor plant vineyards, nor have any; but all your days ye shall dwell in tents, that ye may live many days in the land where ye be strangers …” (Jer. 35:5-7). Not only were they to abstain from wine, but they also could not even plant or possess vineyards: also as a token of their separation.
During the days of their separation, however long it was to be, the Nazarites were not to shave, nor cut their hair:
“all the days of the vow of his separation, there shall no razor come upon his head, until the days be fulfilled, in the which he separateth himself unto Yahweh, he shall be holy, and shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow”
This was also a requirement of the priest:
“… and they shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard, not make any cuttings in their flesh. They shall be holy unto their God …” (Lev. 21:5-6).
In Scripture, the shaving of the head is associated with mourning and lamentation. So Israel were told: “Cut off thy hair and cast it away, and take up a lamentation on high places; for Yahweh hath rejected and forsaken the generation of his wrath” (Jer. 7:29). As evidenced by Aaron not being able to mourn for his two sons, the priests were not to mourn nor lament their circumstances, but were to continue their service with joy and gladness. Similar to Aaron’s example, the Nazarites were under the commandment: “he shall not make himself unclean for his father, or for his mother, or for his sister, when they die: because the consecration of God is upon his head” (Num. 6:7).
HAIR OFFERED WTH THE PEACE OFFERINGS
However, for the Nazarites, at the end of the appointed days, they were to shave off all their hair from their head, and offer it with the peace offerings:
“… and the Nazarite shall shave the head of his separation at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and shall take the hair of the head of his separation, and put it in the fire which is under the sacrifice of the peace offerings” (Num. 6:18).
The growth of hair during the period of separation represented the number of days for the vow to be accomplished. This is also seen in that if the vow was interrupted, the hair had to be cut, and the vow would start again: “… if any man die suddenly by him, and hath defiled the head of his consecration; then he shall shave his head in the day of his cleansing, on the seventh day shall he shave it” (Num. 6:9). The growing of the hair was the only outward sign that the vow was being enacted, and each day’s growth represented a further day in the service and separation to Yahweh.
Back in Numbers chapter 6, the next ordinance was stated thus:
“all the days that he separateth himself unto Yahweh, he shall come at no dead body …” (Num. 6:6).
Again, this reflected the duties for the priests to observe: “he that is the High Priest among his brethren … shall not uncover his head, nor rent his clothes; Neither shall he go in to any dead body, nor defile himself for his father, or for his mother” (Lev. 21:10-11). As we have already seen, the priest were not permitted to engage in the usual fashion of morning for the loss of even a close relative. They were not to have any physical contact with the dead at all: one reason for that, is that the Nazarite was to be holy, but death is the condemnation of sin. Death is evidence that sin has taken place, and that the person who had died was a sinner, worthy of death. Whereas the Nazarite was to be separate from sinners in his/her desire to be holy to Yahweh.
Again, there is a principle for Messiah’s sanctified ones to observe. Jesus asked a certain man to “follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God” (Lu. 9:59-60). We must not be joined to those who are dead in their sins, as we saw earlier, the commandment is to “come out from among them and be ye separate”. Not that we are arrogant with a “holier than thou” attitude of mind, but rather we recognise the highly exalted position that we have in Christ – a position which requires the utmost humility and meekness to maintain. We are called upon to be holy, and we ought take care as to what kind of men we mingle and associate with: leaving the dead to bury the dead, we are called upon to give first priority to the things of the Kingdom: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness”, and all other things shall be added to us (Mat. 6:33).
We already saw that upon completion of the Vow, the Nazarite man or woman would shave their head, and burn the hair upon the altar, beneath the fat of the Peace offering. The Peace offering, spoke of fellowship: it was essentially a meal with Yahweh. He consumed the sacrificed elements upon the altar first, and then the offeror could partake of his portion afterwards. Burning the hair represented how that there was a voluntary submission to Yahweh for a set period of time: each day’s growth represented a further day in which the vow was being kept. How appropriate then, for it to be associated with the Peace offering: our voluntary separateness to Yahweh brings us to the Altar, where we present our lives of service in fellowship before the Almighty!
There were other sacrifices to be made upon completion of the Vow, which are described as follows:
“… he shall offer his offering unto Yahweh, one he lamb of the first year without blemish for a burnt offering, and one ewe lamb of the first year without blemish for a sin offering, and one ram without blemish for peace offerings. And a basket of unleavened bread, cakes of fine flour mingled with oil, and wafers of unleavened bread anointed with oil and their meat offerings, and their drink offerings” (Num. 6:14-15).
The Burnt offering involved the consumption with fire of the entire animal, and denotes the entire life being offered up in service to Yahweh. Hence, the apostle gives the appeal: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1). Our reasonable service is that our bodies are presented in use to the doing of the Divine command, as we lay down our lives in service before Him. The Lord does not require a dead sacrifice, but a living one, made up of the individual lives of those who love Him, and look for the appearing of His Son. We offer up our entire being, as Messiah commanded: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Mat. 22:37).
The Sin offering was more than the acknowledgment of personal transgressions and moral failures. In the offering of the animal, it spoke of the destruction of the flesh – i.e. the fleshly/carnal desires of the natural man. That fact that a Sin offering was offered to conclude a period of devotion to Yahweh demonstrates several things. Firstly, the offeror was still a sinner. Despite his/her very best endeavours, they were still sinful; they could not save themselves. If the vow was broken due to touching death, both a burnt offering and a sin offering had to be made, to “make an atonement for him, for that he sinned by the dead …” (Num. 6:11). There was not necessarily a personal shortfall if a person died next to him, and he inadvertently touched the dead, but the principle as we saw earlier, was that the vow to Yahweh had been broken, and needed to begin again. Indeed, we find that in our own lives we constantly need to restart our devotion to Yahweh, with the dawning of every new day. Defilement by the law of sin brings us down into trespass, despite the very best of our endeavours. But though the renewal of our baptismal vow, we resolve to put to death the old man of the flesh upon the principle of the Christ-Altar. As Paul expresses it: “… our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin …” (Rom. 6:6). The destruction of the body of the animal that comprised the sin offering demonstrated this same principle.
The Meal offering and the Drink offering both spoke of the dedication of labour. Man had to take that which Yahweh had provided (i.e. the grapes of the vine, and the grain from the ground), and make it into something which could represent them before the Almighty. The grapes had to be pressed and fermented, the grain had to be harvested and beaten very small – both involved a labour-intensive process. The Apostle described his forthcoming death as being a Drink Offering: “Yea, and if I be poured forth (Greek) upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy and rejoice with you all. For the same cause also do ye joy and rejoice with me” (Phil. 2:17-18). Here, the provision of the Philippians to meet the Apostle’s needs was like the sacrifice of the Peace offering (Phil. 4:18), and Pauls work and the dedication of his labours was like the drink offering that was poured out upon that sacrifice
The key aspect to the Nazarite vow for both men and women, was separation. That separation was manifest in various ways, each of which echoed the responsibilities of the Priests – and if we wish to be a set-apart nation, we must demonstrate those principles in our lives. They were to abstain from wine and strong drink: even so we must abstain from the wine of wrong doctrine and all of it’s influence. We must have our spiritual senses at all time, to successfully war against sin. They were to devote the very hairs of their head as a representative of the number of days that their vow included. We, like Samson must strive to give a life-long service to Yahweh. They were to avoid contact with death: even so we must strive to be separate from those who are dead in their sins and trespasses. And various offerings had to be made upon completion of the vow: Burnt offering = devotion and full service. Sin offering, a recognition of personal unworthiness, and the need for sacrifice for the days of their vow to be accepted. The peace offering, signified fellowship with the Almighty on the basis of a voluntary separation in holiness, and the meal and drink offering both spoke of the produce of labour devoted to the Lord.
We come to consider our Master in the emblems of bread and wine – not dissimilar to the wine and meal offering in Old Testament times. In him, we see one who lay down his life as a sacrifice, which marked a whole hearted devotion to divine things. He laboured durin g the days of his separation. So it is written: “He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied” (Isa. 53:11). Under the Law, the Nazarite Vow could only be accepted by sacrifices being offered when the specified time came to an end. Even so, our Master is the sacrifice through which our vow of allegiance and sacrifice will be accepted. So might we exclaim with the Apostle: “… who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 7:24-26).