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The Nazarite Vow

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THE NAZARITE VOW  

And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When either man or woman shall separate themselves to vow a vow of a Nazarite, to separate themselves unto the LORD:  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.  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 the LORD, he shall be holy, and shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow. All the days that he separateth himself unto the LORD he shall come at no dead body. He shall not make himself unclean for his father, or for his mother, for his brother, or for his sister, when they die: because the consecration of his God is upon his head.  All the days of his separation he is holy unto the LORD. And if any man die very suddenly by him, and he 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. And on the eighth day he shall bring two turtles, or two young pigeons, to the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation: And the priest shall offer the one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering, and make an atonement for him, for that he sinned by the dead, and shall hallow his head that same day. And he shall consecrate unto the LORD the days of his separation, and shall bring a lamb of the first year for a trespass offering: but the days that were before shall be lost, because his separation was defiled.  And this is the law of the Nazarite, when the days of his separation are fulfilled: he shall be brought unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation: And he shall offer his offering unto the LORD, 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 offering, and their drink offerings. And the priest shall bring them before the LORD, and shall offer his sin offering, and his burnt offering: And he shall offer the ram for a sacrifice of peace offerings unto the LORD, with the basket of unleavened bread: the priest shall offer also his meat offering, and his drink offering. 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. And the priest shall take the sodden shoulder of the ram, and one unleavened cake out of the basket, and one unleavened wafer, and shall put them upon the hands of the Nazarite, after the hair of his separation is shaven: And the priest shall wave them for a wave offering before the LORD: this is holy for the priest, with the wave breast and heave shoulder: and after that the Nazarite may drink wine. This is the law of the Nazarite who hath vowed, and of his offering unto the LORD for his separation, beside that that his hand shall get: according to the vow which he vowed, so he must do after the law of his separation.

(Numbers 6:1-21) 

The word “Nazarite” means “set apart” “separated”, and “sanctified”.  Jesus was a “Nazarene”, that is, from Nazareth, He wasn’t a “Nazarite”, as some have mistakenly claimed.  Jesus ate the fruit of the vine, which was forbidden to the Nazarite.  Virtually all of the portraits and images that men have created of Jesus, depict Him with long, flowing hair.  The only men in the Bible that God allowed to have long hair were the Nazarites, and He was not one, so it’s quite doubtful that Jesus had long hair.  Most of the artistic depictions of Jesus have Him looking like a hippy.  Some of you may have seen the “Jesus Video”.  In it, He again has long hair, and His humanity is over-emphasised while His deity is diminished (just like Satan wants it, (“if thou be the Son of God…”).  The actor who “plays Jesus” (doesn’t that sound sick), is not even saved (he is a non-practising catholic), so we would do well to stay away from such trash. 

Some famous Nazarites in the Bible are Samson, Samuel, and John the Baptist (though not explicitly called a Nazarite, John bore the characteristics of one).  It is interesting that these Nazarites did not themselves make the vow to be Nazarites, but, in Samson and John’s case, they were divinely called, and Samuel was set apart by his parent’s vow.  It appears, however, that this is the exception to the rule, as here in Numbers 6 God speaks of people separating themselves with a vow.  

The Hebrew word that is translated “Nazarite” here, is first used in Genesis 49:26, where Jacob blesses Joseph and calls him “him that was separate from his brethren”. 

Now, the question is, how shall we apply this Old Testament vow to a New Testament Christian?  I see in the Nazarite vow, the type of a spiritual Christian.  There are plenty of Christians who get saved, then fail to do any growing, remaining worldly and carnal.  But there are some who choose to be obedient to their Saviour, separating themselves from the world, unto holiness.  It is the difference between remaining simply as an Israelite, or taking the step to becoming a Nazarite.  There are three obligations given to the Nazarite, and as we examine each one now, and apply them to ourselves, we should see that if we follow these steps of separation, we should be well on the way to becoming those whom Paul calls “ye which are spiritual”. (Gal 6:1). 

I. 

The first obligation for the Nazarite is found in verses three and four:

 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.  (Numbers 6:3-4) 

He must drink no wine, neither fermented or unfermented, nor eat anything whatsoever from the vine.  I think to myself when I read this: why is God forbidding something that in itself is not sinful?  It’s clear that He should forbid alcoholic wine…God many times speaks against it in the Bible, calling it a “mocker” and saying it “biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder”, so it is obvious why He would forbid the Nazarite from such.  But why forbid them also from the pure, uncorrupted, fruit of the vine? 

For us, the vine symbolises those pleasures that we have in this life.  So let us call this first duty,

The Duty of Self-denial.

Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. (Matthew 16:24)

There are some things that clearly forbidden for the Christian.  Eg, fornication, adultery, drunkenness, etc.  But there are other earthly pleasures that may not be sinful in themselves, yet should be avoided by the spiritual Nazarite.  Why?  For a number of reasons, 

1. There are some things that may not be evil, but may appear to be evil.

Paul says to “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” (1 Thessalonians 5:22)  Not only are we to avoid evil, but the very appearance of it.  How does it look when you are drinking that bottle of ginger beer that looks just like a beer stubbie?  Nothing wrong with ginger beer, but how does it look to the passer by?  By the way, if you have an NIV, you will find that we must only avoid “every KIND of evil”.  According to the NIV it doesn’t matter if it appears to be evil, just as long as it isn’t actually evil.  

I hear someone ask, “How do we know what we should be avoiding?  I want to do the right thing and keep myself from sin, but how do I discern what is permissible and what isn’t?” 

There was a Scotsman, and being a Scotsman he was loathe to spend more than the absolute minimum on anything, and this included his laundry expenses.  On occasions when he wore his best clothes, he would come home and carefully put his shirt back in the wardrobe without washing, for future use.  One night he was dressing, and took out his shirt from the wardrobe and examined it.  His wife saw him shaking his head, as if it was not quite up to standard, and called to him, “Remember if it’s doubtful, it’s dirty.”  He agreed and discarded the shirt. 

That catchcry of “If it’s doubtful, it’s dirty,” should come to our minds when we confront a situation where our conscience puts a question in our minds as to whether it is proper behaviour for the servant of the Most High God. 

2.  We must be vigilant that we do not put a stumblingblock in front of other Christians.

“But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.”  (1 Corinthians 8:9).  In this passage, we see a situation where have a choice: we can exercise our “liberty”, which may cause a brother to stumble, or we can abstain, and deny ourselves, so that our weaker brother will not stumble though our example.  Basically it is a choice between putting ourselves and our desires first, or putting the welfare of others first.

 “Let no man seek his own, but every man another's wealth.” (1 Corinthians 10:24)

 

3.  There is a danger that we can become enslaved to these pleasures.  Paul says that “…all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” (1 Cor 6:12b) and again, “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection…” (1 Cor 9:27a)  Either we rule our bodies, the flesh and its lusts, or the flesh has rule over us.  It is a good practice to deny ourselves of things from time to time, even things that are harmless, just to prove to ourselves that we are keeping our bodies under subjection. 

4. Nothing must be allowed to come between our relationship with God.  What is that thing we love that occupies our thoughts and our time.  What earthly thing makes us get behind in our Bible reading; that makes our prayer time 10 minutes shorter?  Just as God tested Abraham’s love for Him by requesting the sacrifice of his only son, so God requires us to be willing to sacrifice those things that are precious to us.  Those “gods” in our lives.

 “For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God:” (Exodus 34:14)

 God wants the Number 1 position in our lives, and He deserves it.

Albert Barnes makes these strong comments:

“The man that has not courage and firmness enough to act on this rule [of self-denial] should doubt his piety. If he is a voluntary slave to some idle and mischievous habit, how can he be a Christian? If he does not love his Saviour and the souls of men enough to break off from such habits which he knows are doing injury, how is he fit to be a minister of the self-denying Redeemer?” 

II.

 The second obligation of the Nazarite is found in verse 5:
“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 the LORD, he shall be holy, and shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow.” 

In Leviticus 14:8 we see that the shaving of the head was associated with uncleanness and was part of the procedure to purify a man from that uncleanness.  So, in a sense, the long hair of the Nazarite was an emblem of his purity and his abstinence from things that would make him unclean.  We could call this duty the Duty of Righteous Living

Verse seven in our passage says that “…the consecration of his God is upon his head.”  This outward sign of his vow of holy separation unto the Lord would have been obvious to all his brethren.  It could not be hidden or covered up.  How evident is our purity and holiness to others?  Do we even have any Nazarite locks to show the world who we are, and where we stand?  Some may have only just started their journey as a spiritual Nazarite, and their locks may only just be starting to become obvious.  Others may have been under the pledge for years, and been faithful to it, so their righteous walk is evident to all.  Still others may have defiled themselves and had to shear those locks and start the vow over again. 

In Leviticus 25:11, the Hebrew word that is translated “Nazarite” here, is used in reference to the vine, and is translated the “vine undressed”.  Every winter we dress, or prune, our trees in the orchard, and occasionally it may happen that a tree is missed as we go through the patch pruning them.  That unpruned tree will stand out from a great distance away, because the surrounding trees have been pruned.  The Nazarite, with his long hair is like the undressed vine, and you can picture the Nazarite with his flowing locks, in the midst of his brethren, and how he must have stood out in the midst of them.  When we get serious about personal holiness in our everyday life, we are going to stand out like the light in the darkness…like the undressed vine.

 We must take note that the Nazarite’s hair did not become long the moment he made the vow.  The process of gaining those locks was a slow and gradual one.  In the same way, the road to spiritual maturity is life-long.  I remember years ago, I would go and help dad in the control of the noxious weeds that seek to establish themselves on the orchard.  I remember sometimes we would be out in the paddock and dad would say, “There’s one over there”, and point to it, and try as I might, I could not make out the weed amongst the surrounding grass.  Only when I was up close, could I discern the weed from the grass.  Over the years, however, I found it more and more easy to spot the weeds.  Why?  Because each time I went weed-hunting, my eyes became trained to see them better. 

When we are newly saved, we are what the Bible calls “babes”.  At the beginning, we sometimes have trouble discerning what is sinful behaviour and what isn’t.  Some of those sins we committed when we were unsaved may linger amongst the surrounding grass, because we have not the discernment to see them.  But what happens?  How do we get this discernment? 

“For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.  But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”  (Heb 5:13-14) 

What is the “reason of use” referring to?  It is the use of the “strong meat” of the “word of righteousness”.  When we immerse ourselves in the Word of God, our senses are exercised, just as my eyes have become trained to spot the weeds in the orchard, and we can discern both good and evil.  The long hair of the Nazarite took time to grow, and the personal purity and holiness of the spiritual Nazarite takes time and nourishment to grow. 

We find another aspect of the Nazarite’s long hair in I Corinthians 11:14:

“Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?” 

When Paul talks about “nature” being the justification for this statement, he is saying that this principle has applied from the beginning of creation, ie. it is not a new teaching.  That should lay to rest any argument that Paul was addressing a “cultural situation”, and that it “doesn’t apply to us”.  Why does God care that men have short hair and women have long?  Because, all throughout the Bible, God has made it clear that He wants a distinction between men and women.  He wants a distinction in our dress (Deut 22:5); our hair (I Cor 11:14); and in the roles we fulfil in our daily life, including the church (I Tim 2:11,12).  There are some things that God wants men to do, and not women.  We can see clearly Satan’s influence in modern society which seeks to undermine this principle of distinction that God has given, by its philosophy that there is no difference between men and women. 

So, knowing that God sees long hair on men as a “shameful” thing, why does He bestow it on the consecrated Nazarite?  Let’s look at Hebrews 11:24-26: 

“By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward.” 

Don’t for a moment think that when you take that vow that the road is going to be easy…that there won’t be any opposition.  Don’t believe that your choice to reject the pleasures of sin for a season will sit well with the world.  In Hebrews 12:2 we find that Jesus edured the cross and despised the shame.  Just as the Nazarite was called to bear his long hair, so the Christian is called to bear the cross and the shame that it brings.  What is the old rugged cross, but the “emblem of suff’ring and shame”, as the hymn says.  “Take up the cross, and follow me.” (Mark 10:21) says Jesus to each of us.  We might well call this duty, The Duty of Bearing our Cross

Any person who takes up the cross is as good as dead.  To the world he is a dead man.  What esteem does the world have for such a one as this?  The world will only mock the cross-bearer, will spit in his face, and call him to forsake such a burden.  Becoming a Nazarite is by no means an easy road.  Be prepared for opposition and reproach and shame, even from the brethren.  Look at Hebrews 13:13:

“Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach.”

Who is it in the camp but our own kinsfolk?  This is not the world spoken of here, but of fellow Christians.  We are called to separated from the compromising “Christianity” that makes up the majority of churches today.  Be ready for the reaction… “Legalist! Extremist! Pharisee! Narrow-minded!”  You have heard it, and you will keep on hearing it if you will be true to your vow.  Amen!

 III.

 Now the third and final obligation is found in verses six and seven:

“All the days that he separateth himself unto the LORD he shall come at no dead body. He shall not make himself unclean for his father, or for his mother, for his brother, or for his sister, when they die: because the consecration of his God is upon his head.” 

As I considered these verses during the week and the implications of them for us, the Lord brought Galatians 6:14 to my mind:

“But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” 

What is the “dead body” for us?  “The world is crucified unto me”, and as we considered before, that which is crucified is dead.  The world, and all that it offers to us is nothing but a corrupt, decaying, unclean dead body that can do no good for us, only defile us.  Here is our final duty: The Duty of Unworldliness.

 We find the definition of “pure religion” in James 1:27

“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. 

If we are in Christ, we are “not of this world”.  We were once “children of wrath”, fulfilling the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, which are of the world.  But now we have been quickened, made new creatures, and we are told “put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”  (Ephesians 4:22-24) 

Paul entreats us to separate from this dead world.

“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)

 “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Rom 12:2)

 Jude goes even a step further and says we should “hate even the garment spotted by the flesh.” (Jude 23).  Under the law, when there was a dead body in a tent, everything in that tent was unclean, garments and all.  We must not only separate from that dead body that is the world, but even from that which the world has spotted.  There are born again, saved believers who we do not consider to be “the world”, but through compromise and low standards, have become spotted by the world.  He shall not make himself unclean for his father, or for his mother, for his brother, or for his sister.”  II Thess 3:6 says we must “withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly.” 

As we consider the defilement of the Nazarite, let’s look at an example of this in the Old Testament.

“And I raised up of your sons for prophets, and of your young men for Nazarites. Is it not even thus, O ye children of Israel? saith the LORD. But ye gave the Nazarites wine to drink; and commanded the prophets, saying, Prophesy not.” (Amos 2:11-12)

 What I thought of when I read this was this so-called “pastor” here in Toowoomba and his so-called “pub church”.  I think of those poor young Christians under his leading who want to serve God and do the right thing, being given “wine to drink”, and being led astray by the very one who is supposed to be shepherding them in the paths of righteousness.

 And so I say to you Nazarites here today, beware.  Beware of the vine and those who would entice you to drink from it.  Beware that no dead body touches you and defiles you.  And beware that your unshorn locks remain that way, that all may see and know that “All the days of his separation he is holy unto the LORD.”

 Finally, let’s briefly look at the procedure for the fulfilment of the vow.  Verses 13-21 outline the steps that are to be followed when the Nazarite successfully finishes his vow.  He is brought to the tabernacle door and there he offers a burnt offering, a sin offering, a peace offering, a meat offering and a drink offering.  And finally he must shave his head and burn the hair on the altar with the offering. 

This is the Nazarite that has fought a good fight, finished his course, and kept the faith.  When the faithful believer is received up into glory, having fulfilled his vow to the end, the Lord Jesus will remove those locks from his head.  He will take away the reproach and shame that His servant has gladly borne for His Name and say “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” (Matthew 25:21)

 I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it some day for a crown.  Why did Moses esteem the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt?  Because he had respect unto the recompense of the reward.  It truly will be worth it all when we see Christ.  Notice right at the end of the vow, in verse 20, God says “and after that the Nazarite may drink wine.”  Deny yourself now, O Christian, for there is a day coming when we shall eat of the fat of the land.  Decide this day to take the Nazarite vow; to purpose in your heart not to defile yourself; to take up your cross; to be separated; to be holy unto the LORD.  Amen.