Naso — “Elevate”

Portion for the week leading up to June 3, 2017

The Nazirite

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One of the ways the Israelites could assume an extra level of dedication to God was to take on a Nazirite vow. There were special regulations which applied to this person for a predetermined period of time, and during this time they were devoting themself to God in a special way. Let's take a closer look.

God begins by saying to Moses, "Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, 'When a man or woman makes a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to dedicate himself to the Lord, he shall abstain from wine and strong drink; he shall drink no vinegar, whether made from wine or strong drink, nor shall he drink any grape juice nor eat fresh or dried grapes" (Numbers 6:2-3). The word Nazirite is based on the Hebrew word nazir which means "consecrated, devoted." While the word Nazirite looks similar to the words Nazarene and Nazareth, they are not from the same root word. The purpose of a Nazirite vow was to separate oneself to the Lord. Some have made the claim that taking this vow was a way for an ordinary person to attain a level of holiness equal to that of the priesthood, even the high priest.

The first standard for a Nazirite is that they are not to consume any alcohol or grape products. There are several other regulations: "All the days of his vow of separation no razor shall pass over his head... All the days of his separation to the Lord he shall not go near to a dead person... All the days of his separation he is holy to the Lord" (Numbers 6:5-6, 8). The person taking the vow would set aside a particular period of time where they would follow these rules. After this time, the person would go to the temple, offer sacrifices, and have their head shaved, after which the person would return to their regular status.

We see that while the Nazirite vow was a voluntary one, there were important people who God called to be Nazirites. Samson, Samuel, and John the Baptist were all bound to a lifelong Nazirite vow from the womb (Judges 13:7, 1 Samuel 1:11, Luke 1:15). This was God's way of showing His specific calling upon those peoples' lives and the important role they would each play in the history of Israel.

What may surprise us, however, is that the Nazirite vow did not come to an end in the Old Testament. When Paul returned from travelling throughout the world preaching, he tells of his travels to the apostles there: "And when they heard it they began glorifying God; and they said to him, 'You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Torah; and they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. What, then, is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. Therefore do this that we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; take them and purify yourself along with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads; and all will know that there is nothing to the things which they have been told about you, but that you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the Torah" (Acts 21:20-24).

Here, we see that rumors had gone around about Paul that he was preaching that Jews should not keep the Torah. In order to lay these rumors to rest, the believers come up with a good solution: there are some believers among them who have taken a Nazirite vow and are coming to the time of their completion. Paul will accompany them to the temple, where he will pay the costs for their sacrifices. It was a rule that one who travels outside of the land of Israel must purify themself, and so this is likely the purification that Paul himself was going to go through. An alternative to this idea is that Paul himself had taken a Nazirite vow as we see in Acts 18: "Paul, having remained many days longer, took leave of the brethren and put out to sea for Syria, and with him were Priscilla and Aquila. In Cenchrea he had his hair cut, for he was keeping a vow" (verse 18). If this is the case, then he shaved his head outside of Israel and was now coming to offer the necessary sacrifices to complete the vow. While this is not the way which the vow was traditionally completed, it may be possible that this is the case.

So we see that among the early believers in Yeshua (Jesus), the Torah was still being kept, so much so that believers were eager to take advanced vows which required greater responsibilities, but which also afforded an advanced connection with God. Since the temple services are no longer in operation, a person taking a Nazirite vow would have to continue with their Nazirite behavior uninterrupted for their entire life. Because of the near-impossibility this entails, Nazirite vows are no longer taken today. Other forms of dedication are commonplace, however, such as fasting from food or luxuries for a predetermined period of time. Regardless of what level of service we feel God is calling us to individually, let us pursue it and Him with our whole being.

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