Christ and the Nazirite vow today

Text Numbers 6:1-21 Time 18/03/12 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
As we continue to look at the Book of Numbers we come this week to Numbers 6:1-21 and the Nazirite vow. I want to say three things to you.
1. Understand the Nazirite vow as found in the Bible
This is the only place where the Nazirite vow is spelled out. As you know, Samson, one of the judges, was later supposed to be under this vow throughout his life – although he spectacularly failed to keep it. It may be that Samuel and John the Baptist were also under it. There is also an interesting reference in Acts 18 which suggests that Paul may have taken the vow at one point.
The vow was normally to be voluntary and for a limited period and was open to men or women. It was a way of consecration to the LORD. The phrase to the LORD occurs eight times in the chapter.
1. Note the circumstances of the vow
Chapter 6 begins The LORD said to Moses, Speak to the Israelites and say to them: If a man or woman wants to make a special vow, a vow of dedication to the LORD as a Nazirite, …. The word Nazirite appears to come from a term meaning to separate, dedicate or consecrate. The Israelites were all already set apart to God, dedicated to him, an there were various ceremonies that underlined that. First born sons and Levites and priests were set apart to God in a special way as later were prophets and kings. Here we are thinking of an Israelite who wants to set themselves apart to God in a special way for a period.
2. Understand the requirements of the vow
Three things were required for a Nazirite vow.
1 Strict avoidance of the grape or any intoxicating drink
3, 4 they must abstain from wine and other fermented drink and must not drink vinegar made from wine or other fermented drink. They must not drink grape juice or eat grapes or raisins. As long as they remain under their Nazirite vow, they must not eat anything that comes from the grapevine, not even the seeds or skins.
In that culture grapes were common and wine was generally safer to drink than water and so was an every day drink. How alcoholic it was and how much it was watered down is unclear but it was undoubtedly alcoholic. There were other alcoholic drinks around too such as beer.
2 Strict avoidance of a razor on one's head, the hair being allowed to grow long
5 During the entire period of their Nazirite vow, no razor may be used on their head. They must be holy until the period of their dedication to the LORD is over; they must let their hair grow long.
This would be the most obvious thing about a Nazirite. So obvious in fact that in Leviticus 25:5, 11 the term Nazirite is used to describe an unpruned vine. Issues to do with the hair often come up in religious ceremony. Sikhs are never to cut their hair. In other religions the shaving of the head, or certain parts of it, often has significance.
3 Strict avoidance of dead bodies
6, 7 Throughout the period of their dedication to the LORD, the Nazirite must not go near a dead body. Even if their own father or mother or brother or sister dies, they must not make themselves ceremonially unclean on account of them, because the symbol of their dedication to God is on their head.
This appears to be the same as the prohibition on the High Priest. Touching a dead body, of course, meant ceremonial uncleanness in the ordinary course of things. Hair cutting is sometimes connected with mourning in the ancient near east.
3. Consider the interrupting of the vow
Verse 8 says that Throughout the period of their dedication, they are consecrated to the LORD. We are then told what is to happen if the vow is inadvertently broken. 9-11 If someone dies suddenly in the Nazirite's presence, thus defiling the hair that symbolises their dedication, they must shave their head on the seventh day - the day of their cleansing. (This refers to the period of cleansing from uncleanness for touching a dead body). Then on the eighth day they must bring two doves or two young pigeons to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting. The priest is to offer one as a sin offering (dealing with his sin) and the other as a burnt offering (dealing with acceptance to God) to make atonement for the Nazirite because they sinned by being in the presence of the dead body. That same day they are to consecrate their head again. It goes on (12) They must rededicate themselves to the LORD for the same period of dedication and must bring a year-old male lamb as a guilt offering (for asin to do with the Temple). The previous days do not count, because they became defiled during their period of dedication.
So if there is an inadvertent break, there must be sacrifices and a fresh start under the same rules. The least expensive animals are mandated for the sin offering and burnt offering so that the exercise does not begin to cost an exorbitant amount.
4. Understand the ending of the vow
First there is to be a complete set of sacrifices at the Temple. The fellowship offering was a joyful one in which the giver ate of the meat himself. He also eats the bread. 13-17 Now this is the law of the Nazirite when the period of their dedication is over. They are to be brought to the entrance to the tent of meeting. There they are to present their offerings to the LORD: a year-old male lamb without defect for a burnt offering, a year-old ewe lamb without defect for a sin offering, a ram without defect for a fellowship offering, together with their grain offerings and drink offerings, and a basket of bread made with the finest flour and without yeast - thick loaves with olive oil mixed in, and thin loaves brushed with olive oil. The priest is to present all these before the LORD and make the sin offering and the burnt offering. He is to present the basket of unleavened bread and is to sacrifice the ram as a fellowship offering to the LORD, together with its grain offering and drink offering.
Then (18) at the entrance to the tent of meeting, the Nazirite must shave off the hair that symbolises their dedication. They are to take the hair and put it in the fire that is under the sacrifice of the fellowship offering.
19, 20 After the Nazirite has shaved off the hair that symbolises their dedication, the priest is to place in their hands a boiled shoulder of the ram, and one thick loaf and one thin loaf from the basket, both made without yeast. The priest shall then wave these before the LORD as a wave offering; they are holy and belong to the priest, together with the breast that was waved and the thigh that was presented.
At the end of verse 20 it says After that, the Nazirite may drink wine. This may mean that he drinks wine as part of the ceremony. The section closes with a summary as with the last law (21) This is the law of the Nazirite who vows offerings to the LORD in accordance with their dedication, in addition to whatever else they can afford. They must fulfil the vows they have made, according to the law of the Nazirite.
2. Consider the Nazirite vow and the Lord Jesus Christ
Whenever we come to any passage of Scripture we should think of how it relates to Christ. There are no doubt a number of ways in which what Christ has done can be thought of in Nazirite terms. In Psalm 56:12 Messiah says I am under vows to you, my God. He is the one (John 10:36) the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world?
Unlike John the Baptist Jesus did not forsake wine indeed he was called a drunkard and a glutton, nevertheless he sought the joy that lay ahead of him beyond the cross and delighted to do God's will.
You sometimes see pictures of Jesus with long flowing locks but there is no evidence that his hair was long or left uncut. Nevertheless his kingdom was not of this world and he was willing to suffer the shame of honouring the Lord regardless of what it cost him.
He certainly touched dead bodies as when he raised the widow of Nain's son and the daughter of Jairus. However, there was nothing impure in him only total holiness.
Hallelujah! What a Saviour!
Isn't his statement in Matthew 26:29 an interesting one? I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom. We can see this in Nazirite terms.
3. Consider the Nazirite vow and what it has to teach us today
As for the Nazirite vow today, the first thing we must say is that under the new covenant vows are much less a feature. It is not that we cannot take vows but that with the freedom that is found in Christ we must be very careful not to entangle ourselves again, which vows can so easily do. Personally the only vows I an aware of having made are those to my wife and those that set me apart as a minister of the gospel. If we do make a vow we must be very careful to keep it. Better not to make a vow than to make it and fail to keep it.
If you are going to make a vow this chapter teaches that we need to think carefully what we vow, we need to make clear the time scale and we ought to consider what we will do if we inadvertently break it. So, for example, it would not be good for a man or woman to vow to remain single, though it may be acceptable to vow to remain single for a certain limited period.
Perhaps the main thing is to learn is that as Christians we are all under a sort of Nazirite vow.
1. Just as the Nazirite was to avoid wine, which stands for joy (wine that gladdens men's hearts Psalm 104:5) but also is able to intoxicate and either make a man drowsy and forgetful of things (see Proverbs 31:5) or inflame his passions so the believer must be a very temperate person, holding back from certain enjoyments in order to remain sober and alert and ready to serve. He must keep himself sober, everything under control. You know how policemen do not drink on duty. So the Christian is always on duty and so though he may choose to drink wine sparingly he abstains from whatever will distract him from the task in hand - to serve the Lord.
2. Just as the Nazirite's hair was not to be cut, which spoke of a certain bodily neglect and even some public shame so the Christian is to be decidedly otherworldly in his thinking. As with wine it is not that he cannot cut his hair but the principle is a very important one to keep to the fore.
3. Thirdly, just as the Nazirite was to avoid all contact with the dead so the believer must let the dead bury the dead and avoid all contact with anything that would defile him or draw him away from the purity that the Christian life demands.
If we fail to keep to these high ideals then the moment we fail we must begin again re-consecrating ourselves to the Lord with much prayer and looking to our Saviour.
One day we will sit down at the marriage supper of the Lamb and we will drink the new wine of the kingdom as it were. Until then these things – temperance, otherworldliness and purity must characterise us.
No doubt there are also times or seasons when we can particularly devote ourselves to the Lord as Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 7:5 but do note his warning there too (Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.) Whether we are able to do this or not the quest for temperance or self-control, otherworldiness and self-denial and purity must be part of our every day lives in Christ.