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B'Midbar/Numbers 6:2 If a man or a woman dedicates [themselves] to vow the vow of a nazarite, to consecrate themselves to the L-rd ...
This verse starts the Torah's description of the nazirite vow: a time of being set apart or holy toHaShem. Unlike the priests, who are called to be holy throughout their entire lives and ministry, the nazirite vow is a temporary condition, taken on voluntarily for a set period of time. The Bekhor Shor, based on gematria (the numerical value of the phrase 'he shall be holy' in verse 5 is thirty), says that the basic minimum term for a nazirite vow is thirty days. The Jewish writings record some who maintained a nazirite vow for many years, such as Queen Helena of Adiabene, a first century convert to Judaism who observed the vow in gratitude for her son's safe return from war (m. Nazir 3:6). Jospehus relates that Berenice, the sister of King Agrippa II (see Acts 25:13 ff.) also took the vow when she recovered from illness (Wars 2.15.1). John the Baptist was declared a nazirite before birth - "he must not drink wine or strong drink" (Luke 1:15, ESV) - and it is most likely that Rav Sha'ul took a nazirite vow during his second missionary journey: "At Cenchreae [Sha'ul] had cut his hair, for he was under a vow" (Acts 18:18, ESV).
It appears that the text requires that the vow should be explicit. The verb a 3ms Hif'il from the root , "to be or make extraordinary" - is used several times with that sense, for example, "When a man offers, from the herd or the flock, a sacrifice of well-being to the L-RD for an explicit vow" (Vayikra 22:21, JPS); this may imply that the vow should not be silent, but must be articulated.Targum Onkelos changes this to - he utters - from the root , "to decide, determine or declare" (Davidson). Jacob Milgrom suggests that the noun is probably an abbreviation of : one who is separated or consecrated to G-d. The repetition of the root in the phrase , "to vow a vow" is typical of biblical Hebrew technique to follow a verb with a noun from the same root as its direct object.
The following verses indicate the three principle ways in which someone who is under the nazirite vow is separate or different from other Israelites: not to touch wine, grapes or any grape product (vv. 3-4); not to shave or cut the hair on the head (v. 5); not to have any contact with dead bodies (vv. 6-7) even of the closest family members. This is very similar to the restrictions of the priests and the high priest who are forbidden alcohol (Vayikra 10:9) and not allowed contact with bodies (Vayikra 21:1-3 and 10-11). The hair restriction, however, is the exact opposite of the instructions later to be given for the priests: "They shall not shave their heads or let their locks grow long; they shall surely trim the hair of their heads" (Ezekiel 44:20, ESV). TheSforno comments that "he separates himself from the vanities and pleasures of man", while Ibn Ezra adds, "They must keep apart from what their appetites urge and set themselves apart for the service of HaShem. Wine most certainly destroys one's reason and makes it impossible to serve G-d properly".
The position of the nazirite is seen by some as higher in holiness even than the High Priest. Richard Elliott Friedman explains that "there is a general idea in the Torah that all the people are holy - Moshe is told, "Speak to the whole Israelite community and say to them: You shall be holy, for I, the L-RD your G-d, am holy" (Vayikra 19:2, JPS) - but the nazirite vow refers to a singular state that exceeds that."Rashi observes that the phrase "to consecrate themselves to the L-rd" means "to separate himself for the sake of heaven." Sforno amplifies this, defining consecration as "to be totally committed to G-d; to occupy himself in His Torah, to walk in His ways and to cleave to Him". Hirsch provides the textual foundation: "These three restrictions are just the external manifestations by which and in which Nazaritism declares itself. The real purpose is given in verse B'Midbar 6:8 - , "he is holy to HaShem" - and the three restrictions appear only as a result of this holiness."
Another very significant difference between the priesthood and the nazirite vow is that the latter is open to men and women, although women would need the approval of their father or husband as the vow would be subject to the general rules about vows given in Vayikra 30:4-16, and a matter of choice rather than inheritance. Friedman comments that "the clergy in Israel is not open to most Israelites to choose, but only to members of the tribe of Levi by heredity, and then only to males." Milgrom notes that "the inclusion of the woman [in this text] indicates that the nazirite vow was widely practised." It is noteworthy also that while Orthodox Judaism does allow entry to the rabbinate based on choice and ability, it nevertheless maintains a male-only gender bar.
It is not possible to take the nazirite vow these days, since everyone is considered already to be ritually impure. This includes all those who are priests, so that even if there were a temple where sacrifices could be physically offered, there is no way to become ritually pure or to offer the sacrifices at the end of the period of the vow. Nevertheless, the injunction to be holy remains upon all believers, since it is affirmed by Peter - "As he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy'" (1 Peter 1:15-16, ESV) - and Sha'ul: "He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him" (Ephesians 1:4, ESV). If we are to follow James's advice - "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you" (James 4:8, NASB) - then the nazirite vow has something to teach us. Out of joyful obedience to His love and grace, we can have the same three manifestations of Holiness in our lives: separation from the things of drunkenness, the things of death and the marks of the world's authority.
With regard to drunkenness, Sha'ul tells us, "Don't get drunk with wine, because it makes you lose control. Instead, keep on being filled with the Spirit" (Ephesians 5:18, CJB). Drunkenness is but one of the manifestations of consumption, be that food, drink or other product in which we over-indulge: "Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags" (Proverbs 23:20-21, ESV). In all cases, they consume our substance and our character, leaving us out of control.
The things of death are those things that deny us life. Sha'ul again: "put to death the earthly parts of your nature - sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed (which is a form of idolatry)" (Colossians 3:5, CJB). Instead of being put to death by them, we are to put them to death in our lives so that they have no part of us and no contact with us. This includes reading in the media about the things that other people do and assuring ourselves that, "of course", we would never do anything like that. The word warns us firmly that, "those who do such things will have no share in the Kingdom of G-d!" (Galatians 5:21, CJB).
The marks of the world's authority are not limited to the "mark of the beast" (Revelation 13:17), but include attitudes and behaviour that show that we are not following Yeshua's lead and standards. Yeshua told the disciples that "Those who are not with Me are against Me, and those who do not gather with Me are scattering" (Luke 11:23, CJB); we must take care that we consistently demonstrate that we under Yeshua's authority and acknowledge His ownership over our lives, "always ready to give a reasoned answer to anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you" (1 Peter 3:15, CJB).
We are in a delicate position: in but not of the world. After telling the Corinthians not to associate with people who engage in sexual immorality, Sha'ul has to explain: "I didn't mean the sexually immoral people outside your community, or the greedy, or the thieves or the idol-worshippers - for then you would have to leave the world altogether!" (1 Corinthians 5:10, CJB). As Yeshua pointed out to those who wanted to stone the woman caught in adultery, "The one of you who is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her" (John 8:7, CJB); we have all been in sin at one point or another in our lives - sin is totally endemic in this world and if we never go anywhere near it, then we will have no opportunity to speak to people who need to hear the good news. But we must be totally separate from sin, not engaging in it, talking about it, flirting with it, admiring or condoning those who seem to get away with it; instead we should be helping those who are desperate to get away from it and are seeking to enter the kingdom of G-d (even if they wouldn't describe themselves that way yet). The man who was healed by Yeshua after having been born blind was very clear: "Once I was blind, but now I see" (John 9:25). There was no going back: he knew the difference sight had made in his life; even though people might not have wanted to hear, he wasn't going to pretend that he was blind again and was not ashamed to say so. So should we be!
Further Study: D'varim 14:1-2; John 15:17-19; Revelation 3:15-16
Application: Can you affirm that you are separated from the things of the world and dedicated wholly to the service of G-d in Yeshua? Is more work needed to make the boundary clear? Then start on it today!
© Jonathan Allen, 2014
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