The Nazarite Vow - Part 2

M. A. Rudge, U.K.

"And I raised up of your sons for prophets, and of your young men for Nazarites.... But ye gave the Nazarites wine to drink; and commanded the prophets, saying, prophesy not." (Amos 2:11,12).

"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 wine and strong drink, ...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: 1-4).

"Nazarite" is Heb nahzir, "one who is separated," from nahzar, to separate. In later times, Samson, Samuel and John Baptist are examples of those who were marked out by God to be a Nazarite unto God from the womb (judges 13:5). They were life-long Nazarites. In the case of Samuel, it was his mother Hannah, who took the initiative and "vowed a vow" that if she was given "a man child", she would "give him unto the Lord all the days of his life and there shall come no razor upon his head." (I Sam 1: 1 1). Is this a principle for Christian parents and a reminder of the need to guard against worldly ambition for the children? (Ex. 10: 7-1 1).

Firstly, the Nazarite separated himself or herself, 'unto the Lord' (v. 2). Cp "a Nazarite unto God" (judges 13:5,7; 16:17). We have already seen that the expression "unto the Lord", occurs eight times in Numbers 6. It is the key expression in the chapter. "All the days of [the vow of] his separation,' occurs four times (vv. 4,5,6 and 8). It was only after a man or a woman had separated themselves unto the Lord", that they could be truly separated in a threefold way from the fruit of the vine (vv. 3,4), natural human esteem (v. 5) and the dead (vv. 6-8). The voluntary aspect of the Nazarite in his separation of himself or herself to the Lord emphasizes the positive, practical power of separation, which was followed as a matter of course by separation from the three more outward, negative aspects, which are detailed. 'The voluntary character gives here a special force, for all true sanctification must come from the heart freely devoting itself" (FW Grant).

'…he shall separate himself from wine and strong drink,…" (v. 3). Wine is used in Scripture as a figure of joy, which like other figures or aspects of truth, admits to degrees or may be viewed in a good sense or a bad one. There are a number of instances where this occurs but perhaps a very close parallel is the honey which was excluded from the meal offering but included in the description of the promised land, as a land "flowing with milk and honey." Similarly, "separation" in its good sense is a Divine principle, as seen in this chapter, but it also occurs in a bad sense, as in Pharisaism (lit. 'separated'), and apostasy (Jude 19). By way of contrast to this double representation, leaven is only used as a symbol of evil in Scripture.

The wine of the drink offering typified the joy which found unique expression in the delight of God in the Person and Work of Christ, and His own joy, as the One who "poured out His soul unto death." In this sense it represents spiritual and heavenly joy (Judges 9:12,13; Psa 104:15), and it is seen in this way when the Nazarite ended his vow, "and after that the Nazarite may drink wine." In another sense, wine represents natural and earthly joy, where enjoyment of communion with the Lord and devotedness to His will becomes secondary or entirely absent and it is simply the enjoyment of what is naturally pleasing. In this aspect, wine is seen as a stimulant, which takes the place of Divine joy in the soul and has the Potential to dominate and control the life. (Eph. 5: 18).

In a more extreme sense, wine is used to symbolize the dangerous and damaging intoxication and excitement of worldly pleasures and human religion (Prov 20:1; 23:30-32); "Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the heart." (Hosea 4:11; 1 Pet 4:3; Rev 17:20). The priest was not to drink wine nor strong drink while on duty, "that ye may put difference between holy and unholy, and between cleati and unclean, that ye may teach the children of Israel..." (Lev. 10:9-11). Spiritual discernment and the instruction of others, calls for sobriety and the ability to be calm and unaffected by natural influences. In this context, wine is associated with religious excitement and the delusive effect of error ("recover themselves", "wake up as from drunkenness" - 2 Tim. 2:26 Newb. marg.).

Other Israelites might drink wine or strong drink (Deut. 14:22-27) but not to excess, or they might take pleasure in their vineyards but the Nazarite must not. He knew something better than even the chiefest of earthly joy, by itself, can provide (Psa. 4:7; Song of Song 1:2-4). (Cp Deut 29:6). It was the unique and incomparable joy of being a Nazarite. "No need for him to preach; his whole life is a testimony to some secret source of joy. This is not to suggest that normal earthly joys are absent in the life of believers who separate themselves unto the Lord. It does indicate that it is evident they know something of a higher joy because the Lord has the first place in their lives and that all other joy is secondary. It is this principle which exercises a sanctifying and controlling influence and elevates the most ordinary, every day affairs of life. (Cp I Tim 4:3-5).

"...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." (vv. 3,4).

There were seven different forms of the fruit of the vine which called for abstention. This provides us with a comprehensive view of what might be termed "earthly" or "natural" pleasure. The seven forms are divided into two groups of four and three, as elsewhere in Scripture. The first four show an increasing intensity in what proves to be a disappointing experience. "Strong drink' is stronger than "wine". "Vinegar of wine" is stronger than "wine". The last three are arranged in a decreasing order of refreshment and satisfaction. A dried grape does not provide the same refreshment as liquor of grapes!

In the first form, wine represents a simple form of pleasure which is harmless in itself but which always carries the potential to develop into something else. Strong drink is a symbol of those pleasures which are more intoxicating. It would tend to a loss of discernment, sobriety, self-control, the calmness of spirit and behaviour which is required in those whose lives are lived in the presence of God. The third form introduces the element of vinegar, which is the same word as "leaven'. Wine and strong drink have failed to satisfy and there is a craving for something with more stimulus, which answers to "vinegar of wine" and when that situation is reached, it leads into even greater excess, "vinegar of strong wine" and even greater disappointment. On a practical level, there are many things in the family circle, in the domestic sphere, in daily life in the world and in assembly-life, which possess the potential to lead from one situation to another, to escalate and take over until they become the controlling and dominating influence.

The first four forms may be seen in terms of human experience, with an increase in intensity and also in disappointment and dissatisfaction, when an insight has been gained into something better (Eccl. 2:3-11). These are things which are normally learnt only by personal experience and this is universally true as the number four suggests. The second three forms show us how matters are viewed from the Divine standpoint This can be compared with the seven parables in Matthew 13, where the first four are spoken to the multitudes but the last three are the subject of instruction to disciples "in the house".

The first form in the second group is "liquor of grapes,' what we might call grape juice, which is not wine at all. The juice of the grape requires fermentation before it becomes wine. It is refreshing in itself but does not provide the stimulus of wine. Grape juice is not the wine which cheers the heart of God and man. It has been suggested that in this instance, "wine" represents true joy and by comparison, "grape juice" represents the best of natural or earthly pleasure, without God. How often has it been seen that some fleeting pleasure provides a temporary escape from reality but has failed to provide lasting pleasure? It is this disappointing experience which leads to disillusionment and even despair of life, in the endless search for what is lacking. The grape juice diminishes into moist grapes, a much lower form and eventually to "dried', i.e. raisins. Imagine sucking a dried grape to satisfy the equivalent of the thirst of the human heart! The second group represents the best of earthly joy, by itself, from the Divine standpoint.

How solemn are the words of Amos, "young men ... Nazarites ... but ye gave the Nazarites wine to drink.' Have we not seen that this is what has happened today, in the various forms of separate arrangements for young people, where the first taste for a worldy line of things often begins and must be catered for by ever-increasing forms of worldliness? In spite of all the loud claims for the need of such arrangements, have not the results been disappointing, again and again? We should not expect anything other than it being devoid of result.

"All the days of the vow of his separation there shall no razor come upon his head: ... he shall be holy and shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow' (v. 5).

In order to understand the significance of the second part of the Nazarite vow, we need to read the words of 1 Corinthians. "Doth not even nature itself teach you, that if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair it is a glory to her..." (11:14,15). The Nazarite was called upon to bear what was a matter of shame and reproach from a purely natural standpoint. It may suggest that his devotion was something that nature was unable to appreciate and it would also give the appearance of weakness. But as the life of Samson shows, to be a Nazarite and let the locks of the hairs of the head grow, with all that it symbolized, was the secret of his strength. (See also verse 18).

There are many examples in Scripture where the ability to bear reproach and apparent weakness are seen as a matter of strength and purpose of heart and are associated with the privilege of true Christian position (Matt 5:11, 27:44 [RV]; Luke 14:25-35; Acts 5:41,42; Rom 1: 16, 15:3; Psa 69:9; 1 Cor 1:25-29, 2:3-5, 4:9-13; 2 Cor 11:21, 12:8-10, 13:3,4; 2 Tim 1:8,12,16; Heb 10:32-37; 1 Pet 4:16). These passages would strengthen our resolve to follow the example of those whose lives showed the character of true Nazariteship and act as a preservative against succumbing to pressure for change, with all its weakening influence, until the testimony is as weak and pitiful as the sight of Samson blind, bound and grinding in the Philistine prison-house.

It was strength of character, spiritual stature and evidence of faith, that enabled Moses to "refuse to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, ...esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt, for he had respect unto the recompense of reward." (Heb 11:24-26). This was long before our own day. Today, it is not simply a matter of forsaking "Egypt", but going "outside the camp". 'Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach' (Heb 13:13,14).

"All the days that he separated himself unto the Lord he shall come at no dead body. He shall not make himself unclean for his father or his mother when they die: because the consecration of his God is upon his head...' (vv. 6-8).

The first lesson to be learned in the application of the third aspect of the Nazarite vow, is that the believer must live morally apart from himself. "Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die..." (Rom 8:12,13). We learn that although we are no longer "in the flesh" as to our standing before God, it is only too easy to "live after (or 'according to') the flesh," in practical experience. This is the equivalent of a Nazarite coming "at a dead body". It is the defiling influence of our own nature (Matt. 15:18-20; Mark 7:2023).

Then by what power can the spiritual Nazarite hold himself aloof from the "dead body" of his former self as a man in the flesh? Only by the Spirit of God. "If we had not the Spirit, or if, having Him, we grieve Him, nothing can preserve us from living after the flesh" (CA Coates). What we must learn as a matter of practical experience is 'if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify (put to death) the deeds of the body, ye shall live' (Rom. 8:13). (Cp Gal. 2:20, 6:8).

We also notice that a Nazarite was not to make himself unclean "for his father or for his mother or for his brother or for his sister when they die.' This provided an even greater test for the devotedness of the Nazarite, which requires further consideration.

Thus the Nazarite was, and is, an enigma to the children of this world. To be joyful, he withdrew from joy; to be strong, he became weak; and in order to love his relatives, he "hated" them (Luke 14:26). (William's Students Commentary).