The Vow of the Nazirite
Why did God create you? Why does He give you life, and provide you with the resources for living? Certainly, many people go through their lives without even a single thought concerning such questions. Many people will testify that that they “believe” in the existence God, and yet have no idea of how to respond to that belief. Yet others, in an attempt to respond to their belief in His existence will become a part of some organized group that also recognizes His existence. However, many of these groups seek after a form of God other than the One True Jehovah, making commitments in the hopes of receiving some form of approval from their god. History is filled with the experiences of various religious groups as they zealously search for or serve their understanding of their god. Certainly the zeal and devotion that some cultures expressed towards the gods that they themselves formulated cannot be understated. Several ancient civilizations instinctively understood the concept of submission and sacrifice without understanding either its purpose or context, and willingly took part in practices that would certainly be considered inappropriate, practices that included child sacrifice and temple prostitution. Still, many of these took part in these practices out of ignorance, fully believing that they were serving their gods in the way that those gods demanded.
If anyone should have the resources to respond to God appropriately, it should be those who claim faith in Christ. Those who have heard the message of the gospel have a wonderful advantage when it comes to responding to God’s purposeful call. Why did God create you? He created you to love and glorify Him as you seek to be obedient to Him, who is your LORD and savior. These are wonderful words to those who love the LORD, yet sometimes it is far more difficult to actually love, glorify, and obey than it is to say those words. Yet the biblical message is clear and instructive. Faith in God is characterized by submission to Him as LORD. Paul states,
How do we respond to this call to Lordship? Ever since God has made Himself known to mankind, we have sought ways to demonstrate our devotion. The ancient Israelites heard the gospel message, presented by the early patriarchs and from the prophets, and though many did not understand and followed after the gods of the pagans, there were still those who sought to be obedient and to express their devotion in a special way. Not much has changed over the years. Many who claim to be Christians, like the disobedient among the Israelites, prefer to be fully immersed in the world culture, and give God little thought, and have no interest in the concept of His Lordship. Yet, the remnant of faithful has always remained. In the following passage in the Old Testament book of Numbers, Moses records some instruction on a way that those who wish to express their devotion to God may do so in an appropriate manner.
A commitment to the LORD cannot contain compromise.
It may be of note that the first step that God reveals to Moses is that of separation from this wicked world. Responding to our faith in obedience to the LORD involves a choice of “holiness.” Holiness does not refer to “sinless perfection,” though God does exhibit this character of holiness, but rather the word from which this word is drawn refers to separation, particularly, separation from the nature of this world as one seeks obedience to the LORD. Some may argue that because of our sin nature, we can never be holy. However holiness refers to being separated from this world so that one can serve God, and some encouraging words are given in scripture to assure us that holiness is not just possible: it is an imperative that was given to the Israelites in the Law, and again quoted in the New Testament.
Also, the act of separation is in itself the result of a deliberate decision, a “vow.” Paul referred to this choice as a “confession” of faith, a decision to follow Christ as LORD. A commitment to the LORD always involves separation from this world culture as one replaces this world as their authority with the One who is the true Authority: Jehovah God, the LORD, Jesus Christ.
This separation involves a lifestyle change. Paul also wrote,
Like people of faith today, the ancients sought ways to show their devotion to the LORD and tended to copy the methods that were used by their pagan neighbors, methods that were not an appropriate expression of one’s love for the LORD. So, the LORD gave to Moses an example of a process that one can follow if they choose, a process that honors the LORD through their actions.
This passage refers to the vow of a “Nazirite.” Some characteristics of this word should be understood prior to digging deeper into the actions that one would take to demonstrate this vow. “Nazirite” does not refer to a nationality or tribal affiliation. Hebrew language uses the suffix “ite” to refer to one who is associated with the first part of the word. The title refers to one who is “nazir,” meaning consecrated, a derivative of the word “nasir,” which refers to being separated. We first encounter the application of the word in the consecration demonstrated in the life of Joseph.
As is true today through a profession of faith, any individual, man or woman, may take the vow of consecration. However, a true vow to the LORD always involves more than simple words. A life that is consecrated to the LORD is a life that is changed. Demonstrating the character of that change was an important part of the Nazirite vow.
One might note that the vow of the Nazirite was similar to the life-long vow of a Levite, the ordained tribe of Jewish priests, and was the same set of restrictions placed upon the High Priest. Those who were not Levites were not generally allowed the ministerial duties of the Levite. However, it was common practice to allow those who were under the Nazirite vow to share in Levitical service, and access to the temple was not only given to the Nazirite during the period of his/her vow, the temple included a “Nazirite’s Chamber” reserved for them.
1. Dedication to a life of service to others.
Drink made from grapes was the most common drink available to the ancients. Though they did not have any knowledge of the reasons for sickness that followed drinking polluted water, they did recognize the dangers. Consequently, in the ancient Near East, as well is in just about every other area of the world, the primary social drinks were made from the fruit of vineyards. When one was engaged in social events, it was common and expected that wine would be served. Consequently, separation from the fruit of vineyards was a parallel and applicable metaphor for being separated from the world’s common social activities. The presence of a Nazirite in a social event would be identical in context to the presence of an obedient Levite, or even the High Priest, one who has been called by God to a lifetime of service. Since this abstinence refers to all products of the vineyard there is little justification for limiting the abstinence to fermented wine, though of course, “liquor of grapes” is included. Simply the abstinence from all fruit of the vineyard imposed upon the Nazirite a life of service to the LORD.
2. Dedication to a life of submission to the LORD.
The abstinence of trimming of the hair made the commitment of the Nazirite visible to all. This made their statement of commitment public, providing accountability. A life that is dedicated to the LORD cannot be successfully lived in secrecy. We may be reminded of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount when He stated of His disciples, “you are the light of the world,” and “let your light so shine among men that they may see your good works and glorify God who is in heaven.”
We may recall that the Judge, Samson, was famous for his great strength that he thought was lost when his hair was cut. Samson was dedicated as a Nazirite by his mother before his birth. The unshorn head came to represent, because of its testimony of one’s submission to the will of God, that the LORD would work his will in the life of the consecrated one, bestowing the LORD’s strength in the Nazirite. Samson simply took this concept quite literally, thinking that when his hair was cut, his vow was terminated, causing him to lose his strength.
Consequently, the unshorn head is a sign of one’s total submission to the LORD.
3. Dedicated to a life of uncompromised holiness.
The abstinence from touching a dead body may sound odd in today’s culture, but was quite significant to those who took the vow in the ancient near-east. First, it was a rather obvious prohibition that like the others, was also required of the High Priest, identifying the disciple with that office. However, the reason for the prohibition for both the Nazirite, Levite, and High Priest is related to their call to holiness. A dead body was, according to their tradition, unclean. Those whose lives were dedicated to the LORD are to abstain from anything that is unclean. Though the restriction specifically denies contact with any dead body, it is also a metaphor for anything else that is likewise unclean. Tradition held that to touch anything that is unclean would defile oath, requiring some specific action to provide atonement.
One can observe that of one is to be holy, one is to be set apart from that which is unclean. Consequently, one who had declared that they are giving their life to the LORD will, by choice, avoid those things that the Holy Spirit would illuminate as unholy. One who lives a holy life will avoid participating in that which evil without compromise.
The requirement for holiness without compromise is emphasized by the requirements placed upon the Nazirite for a breach of one’s vow. The shaving of the head is an indication to all that the vow was broken. This is both a public demonstration of their compromise, and an indication that, because they are no longer under the LORD’s protection, the LORD’s power has left them. Disobedience to the LORD’s command comes with a cost. Three offerings must be bought to the Temple for sacrifice, one of two birds, and a spotless yearling lamb. Note that the three offerings, the sin offering, the burnt offering, and the trespass offering are similar to that brought to the LORD when the nation would commit an unintentional sin. There is no necessity that the breaking of the vow by the Nazirite was intentional, since none of the offerings given in the Old Testament Law were capable of atoning for purposeful, intentional sin.
The seriousness of the offense is capitalized by the requirement that the disciple restart the period of the vow from its beginning. Though a vow could be taken for any specific period of time, the customary period was a minimum of thirty days. This emphases that the LORD takes this vow seriously, and holds the one voicing the vow to complete their commitment.
Termination of the vow comes at a great cost.
When one gives their life to the LORD, there is no expectation by the LORD that one would take their life back. If one is to declare that God is their LORD, they have stated that God is the sole authority in their life. If one can take their life back, then God was never truly their LORD in the first place. Christians today might find it difficult to understand how the Law provided for the termination of the period of commitment, since to reject the Lordship of God is to reject who God is. The writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews states in Chapter four that if one has tasted the truth of the gospel and still rejects it, they cannot be saved. We might be reminded that the vow of the Nazirite was taken by people who were not necessarily “filled with the Holy Spirit” as all true Christians are today.
To emphasize the cost of ending the period of their vow, the Nazirite had to bring several sacrifices to the temple, sacrifices that were very expensive and often far too costly for an average person to bring. Consequently, it was common practice for the Vow of the Nazirite to be sponsored by another person who had the means to meet the demands of the sacrifice.
In practice the termination of the period of the vow became a time of celebration. Those sacrifices that were not burned were made available, depending upon the nature of the sacrifice, to either the Priest and temple workers, and to the Nazirite and his/her family. Since the meat was freshly prepared, the closure ceremony included a feast, leading to this tradition of celebration. The real purpose of the sacrifices may have been lost in the hearts and minds of the celebrants since those sacrifices were provided in the first place for the atonement of sin. To leave a commitment to the LORD is to return to a life of sin. If one rejects their own profession of faith in the LORD, they are returning to a life of sin that they never really left behind in the first place. Luke drove this idea home when he stated, “Remember Lot’s wife!”
The lifetime Vow of the Nazirite is taken by every Christian.
Jewish tradition held that there were three types of Nazirites. The first is that which has been described in these verses, one who declares the duration of their vow for a preset period of time. The second is one who takes the vow for life. The third is a “Nazirite like Samson” who had, by the nature of our understanding of his life, was less restricted. For example, Samson did not abstain from the products of the vineyard.
God has promised His blessing of eternal life to all who place their faith and trust in Him. There is no such promise given to those who make such a profession, and then take it back. When one truly submits their life to the LORD, God becomes their LORD, and for Him to be so, the one submitting to Him will strive to be obedient to their Master and Savior, the LORD. The act of turning from the evil of this world and turning to the LORD in faith is referred to as “repentance.” The act of turning away from God is referred to as “apostasy,” a sin that was demonstrated by Israel and Judah when they turned to pagan gods and were destroyed as nations.
I once had a very close Christian friend who decided that he wanted to take the vow of the Nazirite and did so. He may have found his experience less than what he expected when the only thing that changed in his life was the length of his hair. He already abstained from the fruit of the vineyard by choice as he felt that to do so honored the LORD. During his vow he never had the occasion to avoid close contact with that which is unclean. His lifestyle of faith was such that he already avoided evil when it appears. When he shared his experience with us we both came to the understanding that there is an important message in the Vow of the Nazirite that every Christian should know.
1. The requirements of the Old Testament vow served to illustrate the character of a life that has been changed by a commitment to the LORD.
2. The Nazirite sacrifices pointed to the simple fact that most of those who took the ancient vow did so for a short duration of time, so their commitment to the LORD was never intended to be permanent.
Consequently, the vow taken by a faithful Christian differs from the Old Testament Law in only one, but very important, characteristic: A profession of faith, to be true, is a lifetime commitment.
In the Nazirite vow it is evident that every person who professes faith in God, finding forgiveness of their sin through the atoning sacrifice of the LORD, Jesus Christ, has in that profession taken the Vow of the Nazirite, as they are called by the LORD to:
1. I life of submission to the LORD,
2. A life of service to others, and
3. A life of uncompromised holiness.
Just as the unshorn hair of the Nazirite is the public indication of their vow, the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer is the indication of the voracity of their faith. The unshorn hair is demonstrated in fruit of the Spirit that becomes evident in their lives: unconditional love, kindness, patience, gentleness, peacefulness, etc. Just as the growth of unshorn hair cannot be stopped, the fruit of the Spirit that is borne by a person of faith never stops.
We find in the example of Samuel, an individual who was a permanent Nazirite. His Nazirite vow, like that of Samson, was actually made by his mother, Hannah. However, by living up to that vow by his own choice, that vow became his own. We also find the lifetime vow of a Nazirite taken by John the Baptist, again voiced by his mother and lived by choice throughout his own life. Both of these individuals exemplify one who makes a true profession of faith in God. Other Biblical examples include David and Daniel.
The study of this passage might bring a good opportunity to examine our own profession of faith. Is it one that fails to sincerely submit ourselves to the LORD, doing so only on one’s own terms as one suffers the consequences of an incomplete profession? Or is your profession of faith a true submission of your life to the LORD?
The Christian life is nazir, consecrated and nasir, holy. If you are a Christian, you are a Nazirite and your profession of faith is characterized by a life that is bound by choice to the requirements of the Nazirite Vow with only one small exception. Since the Holy Spirit is the evidence and seal of your salvation….. you may cut your hair.
 Note that the spelling “Nazirite” and “Nazarite” are both considered correct, though the former spelling is a more literal representation of the original Hebrew term.
 Genesis 49:26, Deuteronomy 33:16.
 Leviticus 10:8, Ezekiel 44:21.
 John 2:1, ff. e.g.
 Matthew 5:14-16.
 Judges 13, 16:17.
 1 Thessalonians 5:22.
 Leviticus, Chapters 1 – 4.
 Mishneh Torah 3:1-2.
 Luke 17:32.
 1 Samuel Chapters 1, 11.
 Catholic Encyclopaedia: Nazarite.