The Nazirite vow: Numbers 6

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Samson was raised as a Nazirite from birth. The book of Judges tells his story, but Numbers lays out the specifics of the Nazirite vow. Understanding it now will make the source of Samson’s power more clear when we come to his story.

What set the Nazirite apart?

  • their hair was left uncut
  • they could not eat or drink any product of grapes, including juice, wine, raisins, or fresh grapes
  • they had to stay away from dead bodies, even when it involved the death of family
  • the vow could be any length, from weeks to years, or even for a lifetime. If interrupted, the person could shave their head and begin the vow again.
  • they would make an expensive offering and shave off their hair at the end of the vow

Nazirite comes from the Hebrew word for separation or consecration. It’s not a place but a way of life (no connection to Nazareth or Nazarene). There is a connection with the grape-vine that goes unpruned every seventh year (Sabbath year) according to God’s command (Leviticus 25:5). The Sabbath year grape-vine was separated from common use and consecrated to God. In a similar fashion the man or woman who took a Nazirite vow was separated from the usual actions of his companions and consecrated to God. The unpruned grape-vine and the uncut hair of the Nazirite were both visual signs of their consecration.

In addition to Samson, Samuel lived partially as a Nazirite. John the Baptist appears to have been a Nazirite. Some people became Nazirites by their own choice, in order to strengthen their devotion to God. Others were devoted before birth and raised as Nazirites. The command to leave the hair uncut provided a visible sign of their devotion. Avoiding grape products served as a form of self-denial, much as we might give up a favorite food during Lent. The Nazirite avoided dead bodies because of the association between death, sin, and uncleanness.

God calls people to a closer walk with him. Some answer the call, and the Nazirite vow was one way that people in former times could live out a life of deeper devotion. You and I can follow a similar path by:

  • living holy lives by avoiding sin
  • living set-apart lives by controlling our appetite for worldly pleasures
  • showing visible evidence of the inner change in our hearts by the outward expression of joy, peace, contentment, and courage that comes from trusting God

Our devotion waxes and wanes, but times of deeper devotion, even if temporary like a Nazirite vow, can show us the power and possibility of a heart given wholly to God.

Image by dklimke on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0

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Taking matters into your own hands: Numbers 5

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Today’s reading: Numbers 5-6.

You’ve been wronged, or at least you think you have. How do you react? Do you take matters into your own hands, or do you give God a chance to act? What if the situation involves your husband or wife and your belief that they have been unfaithful?

Numbers 5 focuses on the problem of suspected adultery. A husband believes his wife has been unfaithful and wants something done about it. Perhaps the original problem was that jealous men were doing something, something violent, which led to the procedure described in chapter 5:

…if feelings of jealousy come over her husband and he suspects his wife and she is impure–or if he is jealous and suspects her even though she is not impure–then he is to take his wife to the priest. He must also take an offering of a tenth of an ephah of barley flour on her behalf. He must not pour oil on it or put incense on it, because it is a grain offering for jealousy, a reminder offering to draw attention to guilt. The priest shall bring her and have her stand before the LORD. Numbers 5:14-16

The priest interviews the woman, and if she maintains her innocence she is given a drink of water with a curse on it. There are no poisons in the water, only words of a curse that will fall with sickness upon a guilty person and fall away harmlessly from the innocent. Before you say, “how weird,” think about what might have been going on as jealous men acted on their own without consulting God:

  • Continuing jealousy
  • Broken marriages
  • Enmity between one man and another, even when nothing wrong had happened
  • Violence against the supposedly guilty woman and the other man
  • All this even though there was no proof of adultery and at times complete innocence

On the other hand, look what happens when the people allow God to act:

  • Charges are not made hastily since there will be a public hearing with a cost (the grain offering)
  • Guilt or innocence is proven
  • Grounds for jealousy are removed when innocence is proven
  • Violence is circumvented by the trial
  • Marriages can be restored when innocence is proven, though it seems that this would only be the beginning of a long and difficult process

I’m not recommending this process for our disputes today, but God has laid down a principle we can follow. When we feel we have been wronged, don’t rush to judgement and punishment. First put the matter in God’s hands and give him a chance to act. He can reveal the truth, bring about contrition and confession, or initiate his own justice. His knowledge of the matter is perfect; ours is limited. His emotions are controlled; our passions are high. He cares about all the people in the situation; we may only care about our own hurt.  As for me, if I am ever wronged, I hope I will first put the matter into God’s hands rather than trying to solve it immediately by myself. There will still be time for me to act once God has finished.

Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small; Though with patience he stands waiting, with exactness grinds he all.
1845, “Retribution,” in The Belfry of Bruges and Other Poems, Longfellow

Image by stuant63 on Flickr, CC by-nc 2.0