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Numbers 6: The Nazarite Vow

Original Publication Date
March 26, 2016
Updated
Jan 10, 2023 1:33 AM
Tags
NumbersChapter StudySamsonJohn the BaptistOaths and VowsSamuelFastingClean and UncleanPaul
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Numbers 6
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Done
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Table of Contents
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This page was originally posted on my Blogger version of the blog on March 26, 2016 The content below has a few minor tweaks for clarity, and additional references, and some updated information.

Introduction

When I reread this chapter, I was surprised to find that it was less informative that I expected. The Nazarite Vow was often mentioned in the churches I attended growing up. Easily I can name Samson,[1] John the Baptist,[2] and Paul[3] as men who took the vow, but as I began reading Numbers 6, I realized I only had a vague idea of what that vow actually meant...

Requirements

The requirements for the Nazarite Vow are explained in Numbers 6. The vow itself is a period of separation, though the length of this period is not specified. Sources suggest the standard length for a vow was 1 month,[4] but people were free to chose longer or shorter periods of separationβ€”though I'm not sure how short of a period was considered legitimate by God. During this separation the person was to abstain from wine, as well as all other grape products, strong drinks, and vinegar. The Bible specifies that they were not to eat anything off the vine which leads me to question if that included tomatoes, kiwi, squash, etc. which all grow from vines. Of course none of these are native to Israel.[5][6][7]

In addition to more stringent dietary restrictions, a Nazarite was not to allow a razor to touch his head. Generally this is interpreted to mean that (s)he could not cut his or her hair at all. We see this manifested in Samson's famous locks. Today, Rastas cite this as the reason they keep long hair (usually worn in locks, as well).[8]

Photocredit: ShutterStock.com/Volt Collection
Photocredit: ShutterStock.com/Volt Collection

The one time a Nazarite was to shave their head, was if they touched a dead body (including family). This happened if they broke the last requirement given during the separation period: to avoid touching the dead. Touching a dead body, we have already read, causes a person to become unclean. Interestingly, God does not command them to abstain from any other activities that may cause them to become unclean. For instance, a woman who takes a vow for a month or greater would be considered unclean at some point during the vow due to her cycle. Both men and women who were married would be considered unclean for Temple duty after being intimate with their spouse. One way to look at it, is that touching a dead body is an individual choice whereas a woman's cycle or sex within a marriage (1 Corinthians 7:4) was not. Another thing to think about is that sex disqualified men from Temple duties and worship to discourage pagan customs of incorporating sex in worship. The act itself is not condemned (as long as it within a marriage), whereas touching a dead body is always condemned. Further, since Samson's mother took a Nazarite vow for Samson while pregnant with him, and Samson was permitted to marry, it seems that the Nazarite vow was open to those who were married. Therefore, we must conclude that it was simply preference that God forbade them from touching the dead but made no mention of other acts associated with uncleanness.

In any case, upon touching a dead body, including on accident, the Nazarite was considered unclean and forced to begin anew. Before they could restart their vow, they were to go through a cleansing ritual. On the 7th day their head was to be shaven and on the 8th day a sin offering was given in the form of 2 turtledoves or 2 pigeons. Also, a trespass offering of a lamb was to be given to consecrate the days of the vow. All days prior to the incident were rendered useless.

Once the time of the vow was fulfilled, the person was to bring 1 lamb (for a burnt offering), 1 ewe (for a sin offering)l, and 1 ram (for a peace offering); all were to be within their first year and without blemish. A basket of unleavened break, cakes, and wafers were required for a meat and drink offering. The hair grown was to be shaven off and placed into the fire with the peace offering. The meat offering and shoulder of the ram were also to be part of a wave offering.

Nazarites Are Not Like Monks & Nuns

In the beginning I mentioned that as a child I likened the Nazarite vow to nuns and monks, so I think it's important to discuss the differences between these three terms.

Nuns

Nuns are always women; there is no such thing as a male nun. Associated with the Roman Catholic church, nuns are required to take a vow of celibacy and cannot be married at the time they become a nun. A nun can't have dependent children, nor can they have debt. There is an age requirement for becoming a nun, though once someone becomes a nun, it is to be for life. There are non-Catholic nuns as well.[12][14]

In general, a nun takes a vow of poverty, celibacy, and obedience.[13] Of these, the only vow the Nazarites take is obedience. Parents could give their child to God to be a Nazarite for life (like Samson's mother), however the same is not true for a nun. Similarly, Nazarite vows can be brief or lifelong, whereas nuns are expected to commit to their vow for life.

While nuns are generally attributed to Roman Catholicism, they are not unique to Catholicism or Christianity. Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, and Taoists have nuns as well.[15]

Monks

I generally associate monks with Buddhism, though they are not specific to Buddhism, and the image that pops into my head is that of a bald man. The Greek term that gives us the word monk can mean male or female, but generally in English people use the term to mean male.[15] Like Christian nuns, Christian monks take a vow of obedience, poverty, and chastity. They live solitary lives, generally in a monastery with other monks.[16] However, there is no command that Nazarites abstain from interaction with living people who are not under a vow.

Female Nazarites

  1. Helena, Queen of Adiabene[9][10]
  2. Miriam of Palmyra[4][11]

An interesting point is that according to Jewish Encyclopedia only men were allowed to dedicate a minor, yet nothing in Numbers 6 suggests this.[4] Three men in the Bible were dedicated by their mothers: Samson, Samuel, and John the Baptist. Samson's father was involved, but the initial discussion of his dedication was through the mother (Judges 13), which could validate the law, in the sense that the dedication had to go through Samson's father before it became official (though the angel speaks the command as though Samson's father doesn't really have a choice). Hannah's husband, however plays no role in her plea to theΒ LordΒ for a child and subsequent promise of dedication (1 Samuel 1). Women were clearly influential in taking the vow as well as dedicating some of he most influential men of the Bible to the vow.

What Jesus A Nazarite?

There is much debate as to whether Jesus was both a Nazarite and a Nazarene or just a Nazarene. The word Nazarene comes from the word Nazareth, where Jesus grew up. Saying that Jesus is a Nazarene identifies His hometown; it isn't related the Nazarite vows, which can be confusing for many. On top of that, there are those who proclaim that Jesus was also a Nazarite. I'm not sure why certain people believe He was a Nazarite other than the confusion of Nazarene and Nazarite, but Luke 7:34 tells us that Jesus drank wine which would have been a breach of the Nazarite vow if He'd taken one. Since Jesus is perfect and we are never told of any consequences for His wine drinking, He couldn't have been under the Nazarite vow. One source goes through a few points the author thinks confirms Jesus as a Nazarite, but really they are revealing similarities between priestly separation and Nazarite separation. Since priests could touch their dead family members and drink wine while not performing their duties, but Nazarites could not, this only proves that Jesus is in fact our High Priest.[17]

The Nazarite Vow Today

How does the Nazarite vow relate to today (especially since it doesn't parallel nuns or monks)? We cannot fulfill a Nazarite vow today because we cannot give the offering required to conclude the separation, though we could call upon Jesus to pay the offering at the end. Paul is thought to have taken the Nazarite vow (shown ending in Acts 18:18), which would prove that it is still valid post-resurrection. Taking the vow of a Nazarite means to set yourself apart, for God, which is something we are to be doing anyway. We aren't supposed to be of the world, but of God.

Further Reading

  1. "Nazarite" β€” Jewish Virtual Library
  2. "Laws Concerning Nazarites" β€” Bible Gateway
  3. "What is the Nazirite/Nazarite vow?" β€” GotQuestions.org
  4. "The Nazarite Vow" β€” George Kirkpatrick

References and Footnotes

  1. Judges 13:5
  2. Luke 1:15
  3. Acts 18:18
  4. Barton, G.A., Blau, L., et. al."Nazarite".Β Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011
  5. Aggie Horticulture. "Squash".Β Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. 2016
  6. "Tomato".Β Veggie Care. 2005
  7. "Kiwi Fruit".Β California Rare Fruit Growers, Inc.. 1996
  8. Beyer, Catherine. "Why Do Rastas Smoke Ganja and Wear Dreadlocks?".Β About.com. December 2014
  9. Ilan, Tal. "Helene, Queen of Adiabene".Β Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. March 2009
  10. Mindel, Nissan. "Queen Helena".Β Chabad.org. 2016
  11. The Jewish Encyclopedia: A Descriptive Record of the History, Religion, Literature, and Customs of the Jesus People from the Earliest Times to the Present Day. Edited by Dr. Isidore Singer. 1905
  12. "How to Become a Catholic Nun".Β A Nun's Life. 2016
  13. "What is the difference between a sister and a nun?".Β A Nun's Life. 2016
  14. "Nun."Β Wikipedia. 2016
  15. "Monk".Β Wikipedia. 2016
  16. Thurston, Herbert. "Monk".Β The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911
  17. Moss, Mercedes.Β Was Jesus A Nazarite? – The Nazareth and Priestly Connections.Β Power of Prayer, Praise and the Word of God. March 2012

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