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