The Nazarite Vow

M. A. Rudge, U.K.

"How is the gold become dim! How is the most fine gold changed! ... The precious sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold, how are they esteemed as earthen pitchers, ... Her Nazarites were purer than snow, whiter than milk; .." (Lamentations 4: 1,2,7).

Any consideration of the Nazarite vow must first direct our thoughts to One who did not need the distinctive features of external ceremonial to distinguish Him from all others in His devotedness to the Father's will. As the Son, He could speak of Himself as the One who was set apart and sent, 'sanctified and sent into the world' (John 10:36; Num. 6:2); "Thy vows are upon Me, 0 God.' (Psa. 56: 12). His joy was not the mere human earthly joy represented by the wine which was forbidden under the Nazarite vow (Num. 6:3, 4). John the Baptist, who was sent before Him, drank "neither wine nor strong drink"; the Son of man "came eating and drinking" and they said, 'Behold a man gluttonous and a winebibber.' But in the true spirit of Nazariteship, He did not need any earthly stimulant in His voluntary, delighted obedience and the incomparable joy of accomplishing all that He was sent to do. "I delight to do Thy will, 0 My God" (Psa. 40:7; Heb. 10:5-10). He did not "let the locks of the hair of His head grow" (Num. 6:5), as in the imaginative portrayal of artistic works, but He was fully prepared to accept what was represented by the Nazarite vow, the loss of human esteem and the indignity of suffering reproach and shame (Isa. 53:2,3; 50:6). The "joy that was set before Him," was the joy of finishing the work that the Father had given Him to do and it was this which also enabled Him to "endure the cross, despising the shame." (Heb. 12:2). The Nazarite must 'come at no dead body," lest he be defiled (Num. 6:6-8) but He could halt the funeral procession and touch the bier of the widow of Nain's son. He could take jairus's daughter by the hand on her deathbed and yet, throughout His earthly course, He was "holy, harmless and undefiled."

At the end of His earthly course, He used the language of the Nazarite vow, "when the days of his separation are fulfilled ... and after that the Nazarite may drink wine' (Num. 6:13,20). At the last Passover, He said, "I will not drink henceforth of the fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom" (Matt. 26:29; Mark 14:25). In "that day,' the days of true Nazariteship will come to an end and this aspect of the ordinance and other typical foreshadowings "will be fulfilled in the kingdom of God" (Luke 22:15,18). The Passover will be celebrated again, as one of the two feasts to be observed during the kingdom age (Ezek. 45:21-24) and the occasion will be safe for the expression of earthly joy in the highest sense of the word.

During the present era and as we await that coming day, the Lord Jesus is "separated from sinners and made higher than the heavens." "And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also might be sanctified by the truth' (John 17:19) expresses the truth of His Nazariteship in its heavenly aspect and it is for our sakes. The true power of Nazariteship today is found in Christ, as the object of hearts which are devoted to Him, and in lives which are lived in the power of the Spirit for Him, and which are sanctified by the practical application of the truth. He has taken up a position of Nazariteship in heaven in order that we might be Nazarites on earth.

"And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, "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..." (Num. 6:1-3). The opening word of the Nazarite vow, "When", could be translated "If" (Keil and Delitzsch; JND), which confirms that the vow was voluntary and that it was for a limited period. It was open to "either a man or a woman" and the outcome of a definite exercise of heart to consecrate themselves unto the Lord," The expression "unto the Lord," occurs eight times in the chapter.

Certain aspects of the vow, such as abstinence from wine, were the same as the requirements for the priesthood when they were serving in the tent of meeting (Lev. 10:9). The standard of ceremonial purity, to 'come at no dead body" and not to 'make himself unclean for his father or mother...' (vv. 6,7), was at a level reserved for the high priest alone (Cp. Lev. 21:1-4 and 10,11). The word "consecration," "the consecration [separation] of his God upon his head" (v. 7), is a form of the word "Nazarite," and is elsewhere translated "crown.- It is used to describe the Nazarite's long hair (vv. 7,9,11) and 'the holy crown" upon the high priestly mitre (Exod. 26:9) and "the crown" of the anointing oil upon the high priest's head (Lev. 21:12). These are reminders that the Nazarite vow provided the opportunity to rise to the standard set by God's original purpose for all His peoples to be unto Him "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation' (Exodus 19:6).

Today, it is obligatory for all the people of God, men and women, to 'lead a separate life for the Lord and His service" and it is obligatory for the whole of our lifetime, down here. Nevertheless the voluntary aspect of the Nazarite vow does have its place in Christian experience. The voluntary aspect is important, because we cannot lead lives of practical sanctification unless it is an exercise of delighted obedience and not a matter of duty. Nazariteship is something quite different to a puritanical-type, legal adherence to a personal or party shibboleth. The order of the opening words in the vow is of great importance. If anything less than separation "unto the Lord' is the motivation of our lives and service, it will fall short of true Christian experience and we need not be surprised if our lives are not marked by true separation from all that was required by the Nazarite vow.

Today, God's purpose for His people, to lead sanctified lives, is His purpose for all His people and not an original ideal which has lapsed and only to be sought after by some of His people. This is considered to be normal Christian experience and obligatory upon all. We need to disabuse our minds of the idea that two classes of believers is either acceptable or envisaged as normal, in the light of New Testament teaching. And yet it does appear at times, as though the type of life foreshadowed in the Nazarite vow, is either considered to be 'a higher life,' an almost unattainable ideal or a standard required only by some who are specially engaged in public service. Something less for others is considered acceptable as long as a certain standard of outward, routine conformity is maintained. Under this lower standard many things are considered acceptable which fall far short of God's purpose for all His people and which are not in keeping with the spirit of the Nazarite vow.

It is clear from the book of Acts, that in the early period of the history of the testimony, it was generally true that "all that believed were together and had all things common," including steadfast continuance in the apostles doctrine and in the fellowship and in the breaking of bread and in the prayers. When Barnabas sold land and "brought the money and laid it at the apostle's feet," he was one example of what the grace of God had wrought, and which was true of all, "for great grace was upon them all ... as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them and brought the price of the things that were sold and laid them at the apostle's feet" (Acts 4:33-35). When Ananias and Saphira made a pretence of acting as though they were the same as everybody else, it was an exceptional case and soon exposed. They all held material things with a light hand and shared in a common Christian experience, which set them apart from the world, "and they were all of one accord ... and of the rest durst no man join himself to them: but the people magnified them" (Acts 5:12,13). They all shared in a common experience of suffering at the hands of the authorities, "both men and women" and when there arose a great persecution against the church at Jerusalem after Stephen's death, they all shared in the uprooting of home and loss of possessions, when they were "all scattered abroad" (8:1). The earlier sale of land and houses proved to be faithful and wise stewardship.

However, it is equally clear in our reading of the New Testament epistles, especially the later epistles, that a period of decline set in and individual men and women who distinguished themselves by their devotedness to the Lord and obedience to His word, are often seen as a minority. The word "all" was no longer used to describe what was generally true of all in devotion to the Lord, but to describe "all" or a sizeable majority, in their departure from the ways of God. Individual faithfulness in maintaining the earlier standard of devotedness, became an exception to the general trend. We have only to read these epistles to note this sad trend. Paul wrote of Timothy, "For I have no man like-minded, who will naturally care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's' (Phil. 2:20,21). Again, he wrote to Timothy from prison, "This thou knowest that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me; of whom are Phygellus and Hermogones" (2 Tim 1:15). And again from Rome, he wrote to Colosse, "These only are my fellow-workers, which have been a comfort unto me.' (Col. 4:11).

The churches of Macedonia showed what the grace of God could enable saints to rise to and set us an example of faithful stewardship in material things. Their willing-hearted devotedness to the Lord was exceptional and they went far beyond, evert what might have been expected of them, in view of their circumstances. In a great trial of affliction, the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves; praying us with much entreaty that we would receive the gift ... And this they did, not as we hoped ("expected"), but first gave themselves to the Lord and unto us by the will of God" (2 Cor. 8:1-5).

The words of Jeremiah remind us of days of decline in Israel's history - "Her Nazarites were purer than snow, they were whiter than milk..." (Lam 4:7). The prophet spoke of a day when things had been different. Things were no longer the way they once were. It is humbling to think of many in our own day, who once ran well but who have been turned aside from that simplicity towards Christ and single-hearted devotedness which once marked them.

In spite of this spiritual decline, it still remains true that whilst all do not have the same abilities (Matt 25:14-30), all have the same opportunity and the same responsibility in what has been entrusted to them by the Lord (Matt 20:1-16; Luke 19:11-27). Those opportunities and responsibilities may well come to an end shortly and the way that we have handled them will come under review at the judgment seat of Christ. Possibly, there is nothing which provides greater motivation for true Nazariteship than the prospect and imminence of the Lord's return.