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#1 Posted : Friday, December 12, 2008 11:08:30 PM(UTC)
Joined: 6/13/2007(UTC)
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What exactly were these Nazirite Laws? Why were these vows important? Who should consider taking such a vow? Do they have relevance today?

Numbers 6 (New Living Translation)

Nazirite Laws

1 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Give the following instructions to the people of Israel.

2 “If any of the people, either men or women, take the special vow of a Nazirite, setting themselves apart to the Lord in a special way, 3 they must give up wine and other alcoholic drinks. They must not use vinegar made from wine or from other alcoholic drinks, they must not drink fresh grape juice, and they must not eat grapes or raisins. 4 As long as they are bound by their Nazirite vow, they are not allowed to eat or drink anything that comes from a grapevine—not even the grape seeds or skins.

5 “They must never cut their hair throughout the time of their vow, for they are holy and set apart to the Lord. Until the time of their vow has been fulfilled, they must let their hair grow long. 6 And they must not go near a dead body during the entire period of their vow to the Lord. 7 Even if the dead person is their own father, mother, brother, or sister, they must not defile themselves, for the hair on their head is the symbol of their separation to God. 8 This requirement applies as long as they are set apart to the Lord.

9 “If someone falls dead beside them, the hair they have dedicated will be defiled. They must wait for seven days and then shave their heads. Then they will be cleansed from their defilement. 10 On the eighth day they must bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons to the priest at the entrance of the Tabernacle.[a] 11 The priest will offer one of the birds for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. In this way, he will purify them[b] from the guilt they incurred through contact with the dead body. Then they must reaffirm their commitment and let their hair begin to grow again. 12 The days of their vow that were completed before their defilement no longer count. They must rededicate themselves to the Lord as a Nazirite for the full term of their vow, and each must bring a one-year-old male lamb for a guilt offering.

13 “This is the ritual law for Nazirites. At the conclusion of their time of separation as Nazirites, they must each go to the entrance of the Tabernacle 14 and offer their sacrifices to the Lord: a one-year-old male lamb without defect for a burnt offering, a one-year-old female lamb without defect for a sin offering, a ram without defect for a peace offering, 15 a basket of bread made without yeast—cakes of choice flour mixed with olive oil and wafers spread with olive oil—along with their prescribed grain offerings and liquid offerings. 16 The priest will present these offerings before the Lord: first the sin offering and the burnt offering; 17 then the ram for a peace offering, along with the basket of bread made without yeast. The priest must also present the prescribed grain offering and liquid offering to the Lord.

18 “Then the Nazirites will shave their heads at the entrance of the Tabernacle. They will take the hair that had been dedicated and place it on the fire beneath the peace-offering sacrifice. 19 After the Nazirite’s head has been shaved, the priest will take for each of them the boiled shoulder of the ram, and he will take from the basket a cake and a wafer made without yeast. He will put them all into the Nazirite’s hands. 20 Then the priest will lift them up as a special offering before the Lord. These are holy portions for the priest, along with the breast of the special offering and the thigh of the sacred offering that are lifted up before the Lord. After this ceremony the Nazirites may again drink wine.

21 “This is the ritual law of the Nazirites, who vow to bring these offerings to the Lord. They may also bring additional offerings if they can afford it. And they must be careful to do whatever they vowed when they set themselves apart as Nazirites.”

The Priestly Blessing

22 Then the Lord said to Moses, 23 “Tell Aaron and his sons to bless the people of Israel with this special blessing:

24 ‘May the Lord bless you
and protect you.
25 May the Lord smile on you
and be gracious to you.
26 May the Lord show you his favor
and give you his peace.’

27 Whenever Aaron and his sons bless the people of Israel in my name, I myself will bless them.”


1. Numbers 6:10 Hebrew the Tent of Meeting; also in 6:13, 18.
2. Numbers 6:11 Or make atonement for them.
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#2 Posted : Saturday, December 13, 2008 4:07:32 AM(UTC)
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(588)A Nazirite shall not drink wine, or anything mixed with wine which tastes like wine; and even if the wine or the mixture has turned sour, it is prohibited to him. “When either a man or woman consecrates an offering to take the vow of a Nazirite, to separate himself to Yahweh, he shall separate himself from wine and similar drink; he shall drink neither vinegar made from wine nor vinegar made from similar drink; neither shall he drink any grape juice, nor eat fresh grapes or raisins.” (Numbers 6:2-3) The Nazirite vow is the purest form of personal consecration prescribed in the Torah that’s available to any Israelite—that is, to one who was not born a priest or Levite (whose “consecration” was assigned to them by being born into a particular tribe or family in Israel). As we shall see, the Nazirite vow is symbolic of the life of the believer, the child of God—a voluntary, purposeful, meaningful life of separation to Yahweh. Leave it to Maimonides to suck all the life out of it by reducing it to a list of rules. This mitzvah and the next four center on the avoidance of anything grown on a grapevine. There are also prohibitions against cutting one’s hair and touching a dead body, which we’ll address in due time. But first, we should explore the vow itself, its purpose and significance.

The word we render “Nazirite” is the Hebrew noun nazir. It is derived from the verb nazar, meaning “to separate.” Depending on what preposition it’s paired with, it can mean “to keep oneself away from something,” “to abstain from something,” or “to be separated to something.” A Nazirite, then, is someone who is separated from the world and consecrated instead to Yahweh, the sign of which being his or her abstinence in several well-defined areas. Except for the abstinence component, it is quite similar to the concept of being qodesh, or “holy,” (literally, set-apart) a word that was supposed to describe the entire nation of Israel. One normally became a Nazirite by voluntarily taking a vow of consecration to Yahweh for a specific and limited time duration, after which his or her normal mode of life was resumed. But there are at least three instances in Scripture where the Nazirite was consecrated for a lifetime in his mother’s womb: Samson, Samuel, and John the Baptist.

This was not monasticism. The Nazirite did not retreat from society, cloistered behind locked doors in order to shelter himself from the influence of the world. Nor were the signs of the Nazirite a penance to be performed in an attempt to bring himself closer to God. There was no shame in not taking a Nazirite vow, and it was not designed to give the devotee any special religious status or authority in the community (though both Samson and Samuel were Judges of Israel, and John the Baptist was the last and most privileged prophet of the Old Covenant period). Ordinarily, the Nazirite would continue his or her daily occupation, unless, of course, it conflicted with the vow. (For example, a soldier might be called upon to slay an enemy, and an undertaker prepared corpses for burial, either which would have made it impossible to keep both the vow and the occupation at the same time.)

Notice the contrast in the text: “separate himself to Yahweh” as opposed to “separate himself from wine....” What’s being pictured is a conscious, purposeful, transfer of affiliation from one thing to another. At first glance, it would seem that the prescribed abstinence from the fruit of the vine is merely a requirement for sobriety. Though that’s included (the phrase rendered “similar drink” is sekar—“strong drink” or liquor capable of making somebody drunk), one cannot get inebriated by nibbling raisins. There’s more to it. Read on....

(589)He shall not eat fresh grapes. “Neither shall he...eat fresh grapes.” (Numbers 6:3) I don’t care how many grapes you eat; they won’t make you tipsy. We need to look at this in view of the contrast “separated to” versus “separated from.” What do grapes symbolize? When the twelve spies returned from their excursion into Canaan, they brought back a cluster of grapes so big they had to carry it on a pole between two of them. The vineyard they had raided was obviously well established—it takes many years of hard work to produce a crop like that. And that’s the point of the Nazirite vow: grapes represent being settled in this world, tied to it, invested in it. Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing in itself. The promised land was a gift from God, a good and bountiful place. But it was not God Himself. The Nazirite was choosing to forsake the good in favor of the perfect, if only symbolically (and temporarily). He was saying, “I am but a pilgrim in this land—my real home is in Yahweh.”

(590)He shall not eat dried grapes (raisins). “Neither shall he...eat raisins.” (Numbers 6:3) Changing the form of the grape didn’t change the fact that partaking of the fruit of the vine implied an investment in the world, an attachment to it. Thus grapes in any form symbolized for the Nazirite a state of peace, even compromise, with the world he lived in. The clearest example I can think of that demonstrates this state of affairs is Lot’s life in Sodom. Though he was “oppressed with the filthy conduct of the wicked” (II Peter 2:7), Lot opted to stay there nevertheless, “tending his vineyard,” so to speak. While his neighbors drank their share of “wine and strong drink,” Lot (if I may stretch the metaphor) used his grapes to make raisins—doing what he could to make his settled life secure and impervious to the ravages of time, even if it did render his spiritual existence dry and wrinkled. Of course, merely being under a Nazirite vow didn’t automatically make you perfect either. The classic example of that is Samson, who for the most part ignored his holy calling. We’ll have more to say about him (and his hair) when we get to Mitzvah #594.

Nor did one have to take a Nazirite vow to live a life pleasing to God. The ultimate example of this is the life of Yahshua, who though fully consecrated to Yahweh (because He was Yahweh) never took any vow that we know of. He drank wine (and even made it on occasion), demonstrating a connection with humanity that was essential for Him—as the rightful Lord of Heaven—to possess if He were to have empathy with our plight on earth. And He was witnessed touching a dead body (see Matthew 9:25), though the corpse of the young girl had no choice but to reawaken at his touch. Indeed, anyone who is touched by Yahshua will find it impossible to remain dead.

Perhaps you’re wondering, as I was, if there was any connection between the Hebrew root of the word we translate Nazirite (nazar, meaning “to separate”) and the name of Yahshua’s home town, Nazareth (Greek: Nazoraios), especially in light of Matthew’s observation: “And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, ‘He shall be called a Nazarene.’” (Matthew 2:23) As it turns out, the answer is no—it’s a transliteration artifact. Matthew was referring to this Messianic prophecy: “There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch [that’s the word] shall grow out of his roots. The Spirit of Yahweh shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of Yahweh.” (Isaiah 11:1-2) The word translated “branch” here is the Hebrew netser, which denotes a branch, bough, or limb, and by extension a shoot, scion, or root stock—in other words, one of the same kind of a succeeding generation. The “rod” here is King David, son of Jesse; the Messiah was thus prophesied to be a direct descendent of David.

It is not insignificant that we “Christians” were first called “Nazarenes,” being identified with Yahshua of Nazareth. (See for example Acts 24:5.) We believers are “branches” whose root and stem is Yahshua, whether we grew there naturally (as Jews) or were grafted in (as gentiles). This state was prophesied as well in reference to the restored Israel in Christ’s Millennial kingdom: “Also your people shall all be righteous. They shall inherit the land forever, the branch [netser] of My planting, the work of My hands, that I may be glorified.” (Isaiah 60:21) Alas, while all believers in this life are netserim—branches of God’s Messiah—it seems that few are nazar—totally separated from the world and consecrated to Yahweh.

(591)He shall not eat the kernels of the grapes. “All the days of his separation he shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, from seed to skin.” (Numbers 6:4) Grapes aren’t all juicy sweetness. They’ve got seeds and skin that, though necessary and functional, aren’t something you’d want to eat for their own sake. We’ve already established the principle that a Nazirite’s abstinence from the fruit of the vine is symbolic of not becoming settled in the world—of maintaining a pilgrim mentality. The idea of eating grape seeds reminds us that some people, thoroughly rooted in this world, know nothing of its sweetness, for they know nothing of Yahshua’s love. They experience nothing but its bitterness, frustration, and pain. It’s why so many young Muslims can think of nothing better to do than kill as many people as they can, along with themselves. It’s why devotees of Buddhism long for release from the cycle of life—achieving “nirvana,” a state of nothingness, the extinction of the soul. The Nazirite abstains not only from whatever appealing sweetness the world can offer, but also its bitterness. He is set apart to God.

(592)The Nazirite shall not eat of the skins of the grapes. “All the days of his separation he shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, from seed to skin.” (Numbers 6:4) In the same way that the seeds of the grape aren’t really what you’re after when you eat one, neither is the skin. If the seeds represent the bitter core of a merely mortal life (I realize I’m stretching the metaphor to its breaking point here) then the skin represents the humdrum functionality, the boring but necessary routine of life in the world—earning a living, getting the job done, being responsible, holding it all together. The point is, if that’s all there is to life, it’s not much of a life. If you’re going to be settled in the promised land—a land, after all, to which Yahweh has led you, you should expect to experience the “whole grape,” a little work, a little pain or disappointment at times, but more sweetness and nourishment than anything else. The Nazirite, however, sets himself apart from all that—the good and the bad—in favor of a more intense encounter with his God. He is the one of whom Isaiah lamented his absence in the passage with which we opened this chapter: the man “who stirs himself up to take hold of [Yahweh].” You’ve heard of extreme sports; this is extreme spirituality. It’s like the difference between taking a walk in the park and climbing Mt. Everest. It’s not something you’d do on a whim.

(593)The Nazirite shall permit his hair to grow. “All the days of the vow of his [the Nazirite’s] separation no razor shall come upon his head; until the days are fulfilled for which he separated himself to Yahweh, he shall be holy. He shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow.” (Numbers 6:5) Here Yahweh is using the hair of our head as a symbol of a significant truth. Hair is funny stuff. We can’t cause it to grow (or stop it from growing), though we might like to. We can’t change its rate of growth, texture, or color without tampering with it externally—cutting, curling, coloring it, or whatever. So our hair is a ready metaphor for God’s provision, His work in our lives. It comes on God’s terms, by His grace, and on His schedule. By abstaining from cutting his hair, the Nazirite is saying, “I will not stand in the way of Yahweh’s plan; I will not tamper with what He has provided or alter His modus operandi by imposing my will or “style” upon it.

(594)The Nazirite shall not cut his hair. “All the days of the vow of his separation no razor shall come upon his head; until the days are fulfilled for which he separated himself to Yahweh, he shall be holy. He shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow.” (Numbers 6:5) This isn’t really a separate mitzvah, but merely the negative restatement of the previous affirmative thought. Maimonides is padding the list so he can come up with the magic number 613.

The Nazirite we immediately think of in regard to this precept, of course, is Samson, whose story is told in Judges 13-16. We’ve all heard how Delilah tricked him into revealing the source of his strength so she could betray him. But it’s pretty clear that not even Samson himself recognized that his Nazirite vow had anything to do with it. Twice in the record of his life we read, “Then the Spirit of Yahweh came mightily upon him,” after which he went out and did something rude to a bunch of Philistines. Nowhere do we read of a connection between his hair and his strength until Delilah called for the barber—after she had proved her willingness to betray him on three separate occasions. The record plainly says that Samson was surprised to find his strength gone when his hair was cut off.

What had happened? I believe this is one of those rare occasions when Yahweh allowed one of the Torah’s many metaphors to get up and walk on all fours—giving substance to the symbol. Samson clearly didn’t have as much of a desire to remain as holy—set apart for God’s purposes—as his Nazirite status would have indicated. Every time he got in trouble it seems, there was a Philistine—read: enemy—woman in the picture. The Nazirite vow required (as we shall see) that he not touch any dead body. But killing a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of an ass pretty much proves that Samson didn’t take that part of his Nazirite vow very seriously, even if they needed killin’. Furthermore, as we saw in Mitzvah #589, the Nazirite was not to eat grapes or drink wine, for this was a picture of being “settled in the land” instead of being settled in Yahweh. But Samson was apparently quite comfortable living among the enemies of his people and his God. So Yahweh tied the terms of the vow to the gifts that came with it—if his hair (symbolic of what God had provided) was cut, then his strength (the actual God-given gift) would be cut off as well. God takes His symbols seriously.

(595)He shall not enter any covered structure where there is a dead body. “All the days that he [The Nazirite] separates himself to Yahweh he shall not go near a dead body.” (Numbers 6:6) Yahweh’s instruction is more general than the rabbis’ because He’s interested in the heart’s attitude, while they’re looking for a loophole. The death of the body is in itself merely a symbol of something far more tragic—the death of the soul. Just as physical death is marked by the final departure of the soul from the body (something every living creature experiences at the end of its life), spiritual death is marked by the departure of the spirit from the soul. It is this death that Adam and Eve suffered when they ate the forbidden fruit. When they sinned, God’s living Spirit left them—the neshamah, or “breath of life” that had made them “living beings” in the Garden (see Genesis 2:7) departed or was emptied, though their physical bodies did not succumb for quite some time. And it is because of this death that we, their children, must be born anew—born spiritually from above, re-indwelled with the Holy Spirit—if our souls (nephesh) are to survive their separation from the body at our physical deaths. (See Future History, Chapter 29: “The Three Doors” for a full explanation).

The Nazirite’s separation to Yahweh reflects and foreshadows this new birth. By observing this vow, he is proclaiming in effect, “Death cannot touch the one who is consecrated to Yahweh.” In Yahweh’s world, life cannot coexist with death any more than light can coexist with darkness. Whether he knows it or not, that’s what the Nazirite is so eloquently saying by observing this part of his vow.

(596)A Nazarite shall not defile himself for any dead person (by being in the presence of the corpse). “All the days that he separates himself to Yahweh he shall not go near a dead body. He shall not make himself unclean even for his father or his mother, for his brother or his sister, when they die, because his separation to God is on his head. All the days of his separation he shall be holy to Yahweh.” (Numbers 6:6-8) Back in Mitzvah #375, we learned that priests were not to touch dead bodies, for they were set apart for the service of Yahweh and thus must not become defiled. There, however, exceptions were specified: attending to the corpse of the priest’s nearest relatives (mother, father, son, daughter, brother or virgin sister) would not render him unclean, that is, ceremonially unfit to perform his priestly duties at the Sanctuary. Not so with the Nazirite. His (or her) separation was to be complete. And if contact with a dead body was unavoidable, the Nazirite’s vow went back to square one—he had to start all over again, offering both sin and trespass offerings and cutting his hair as at the inception of the vow (see verses 9-12).

Why the difference? The same symbol (a close encounter with a corpse) symbolized slightly different things for the priest and the Nazirite. For the priest, being defiled like this signified contamination by sin (an inevitable component of the human condition) that rendered one unfit (if only temporarily) for service to God and man. Cleansing through washing in water and the passage of time were required to rectify the situation. But with the Nazirite, contact with a dead body symbolized identification with spiritual death—something that was altogether incompatible with being set apart to Yahweh, who personifies life. Contact with death, then, rendered the vow moot.

Maimonides didn’t understand any of this fundamental difference between priests (prophetic of the Messiah as mediator between men and God) and Nazirites (symbolic of the redeemed believer). In his massive tome, the Mishneh Torah, he intimated that one can make himself a priest or Levite (which as we know are callings Yahweh assigned strictly on the basis of ancestry, so no one could logically aspire to a position of religious authority). The Rambam wrote: “Every person who enters this world, whose spirit moves him and his intellect instructs him to separate himself in order to stand before God, to truly serve Him, to be responsible to Him, to know Him, and to walk upright and straight in His paths as God created him; and he has freed himself from the yoke of petty human considerations that other people pursue—such a person has sanctified himself as being holy of holies, and the Lord is his share and inheritance for all time and all worlds, and he will receive in the World to Come his proper and fulfilling reward as God has given such to the Priests and the Levites.” The man Maimonides has so eloquently described, however, is not the priest or Levite, bound by Yahweh’s symbolic instructions for them; rather, he is defined by the vows of the Nazirite, for whom the Torah’s defining symbols mean far more: (1) avoidance of becoming settled in this world, (2) refusal to thwart or alter the plan and provision of Yahweh, and (3) the total reversal of the spiritual death that was brought upon mankind by the fall of Adam—in other words, the second birth into Yahweh’s family.

(597)The Nazarite shall shave his hair when he brings his offerings at the completion of the period of his Nazariteship, or within that period if he has become defiled. “And if anyone dies very suddenly beside him, and he defiles his consecrated head, then he shall shave his head on the day of his cleansing; on the seventh day he shall shave it.” (Numbers 6:9); “Now this is the law of the Nazirite: When the days of his separation are fulfilled, he shall be brought to the door of the tabernacle of meeting. And he shall present his offering to Yahweh: one male lamb in its first year without blemish as a burnt offering, one ewe lamb in its first year without blemish as a sin offering, one ram without blemish as a peace offering, a basket of unleavened bread, cakes of fine flour mixed with oil, unleavened wafers anointed with oil, and their grain offering with their drink offerings. Then the priest shall bring them before Yahweh and offer his sin offering and his burnt offering; and he shall offer the ram as a sacrifice of a peace offering to Yahweh, with the basket of unleavened bread; the priest shall also offer its grain offering and its drink offering. ” (Numbers 6:13-17) The Nazirite vow wasn’t designed to be a lifelong endeavor. Normally, one would take the vow for a certain specific period of time, after which the devotee would resume his or her normal life spiritually refreshed. Symbols aside, it’s intended to be kind of a mountain-top experience, life-changing, focusing, and renewing.

And what was to happen when the vow had been fulfilled? The Nazirite was to perform a ceremony whose every facet reflected the condition of the redeemed soul. If you’ll recall the various types of sacrifice we discussed in Chapter 12, an olah (a burnt offering) of a year-old male lamb prefigured the sacrifice of God’s Messiah on his behalf. The sin offering (or chata’t) of a ewe lamb signified the Nazirite’s indwelling by Yahweh’s Holy Spirit (the “sin” being our failure to heed Her counsel). The selem—the peace offering—symbolized the Nazirite/believer’s outpouring of thanks to Yahweh. The appropriate minha, or grain offering with oil, was brought as well, a reminder of Yahweh’s provision. And a nesek, or drink offering (which would have normally accompanied any of these various types of offerings), stood for the blood of the Messiah Yahshua spilled for us at Calvary. Conspicuously absent from the list of sacrifices the Nazirite was to offer was the asham, or trespass offering, which ordinarily covered “mistakes.” It was deemed inappropriate apparently because of the purposeful, thoughtful, and voluntary nature of the Nazirite vow. The Nazirite was to have no “Oops, my bad” moments.

“Then the Nazirite shall shave his consecrated head at the door of the tabernacle of meeting, and shall take the hair from his consecrated head and put it on the fire which is under the sacrifice of the peace offering.” The devotee’s hair, which had been allowed to grow for the entire duration of the vow, was now shorn and burned up with the peace offering—a statement that whatever God had provided was offered back to Him in thankfulness. “And the priest shall take the boiled shoulder of the ram, one unleavened cake from the basket, and one unleavened wafer, and put them upon the hands of the Nazirite after he has shaved his consecrated hair, and the priest shall wave them as a wave offering before Yahweh; they are holy for the priest, together with the breast of the wave offering and the thigh of the heave offering. After that the Nazirite may drink wine. This is the law of the Nazirite who vows to Yahweh the offering for his separation, and besides that, whatever else his hand is able to provide; according to the vow which he takes, so he must do according to the law of his separation.” (Numbers 6:18-21) The conclusion of the vow ends up being a party, a celebration in honor of Yahweh. The priest (again, prophetic of Yahshua in his role as mediator) is an honored guest. Since it is becoming increasingly clear that the Nazirite vow is prophetic of the life of the believer in God’s Messiah, this “post-game party,” unless I miss my guess, is prophetic of the Millennial reign of Christ. Wine is back on the menu at this point, for this is the land in which we should be settled—our promised rest, our permanent home, the final destination marking the end of all our pilgrim wanderings. It is our final and complete break with the world.
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