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Lessons From The Nazirite

Please read Numbers chapter 6.

Amongst the people we mix with each day we may have noticed very different attitudes displayed towards work. Some seem to do as little as possible to avoid trouble, whilst others put all their energy and enthusiasm into every task.

In Israel, there were certain offerings required by God. But a grateful person, one who wanted to draw close to God, had the opportunity to give Him far more than this bare minimum.

These are the LORD's appointed feasts ... for bringing offerings made to the LORD... in addition to those for the LORD's sabbaths and in addition to your gifts and whatever you have vowed and all the freewill offerings you give to the LORD (Lev. 23:37-38).

To make any vow to the Lord was a very serious matter. The standard of offerings required was correspondingly high. "You may, however, present as a freewill offering a cow or a sheep that is deformed or stunted, but it will not be accepted in fulfilment of a vow" (Lev. 22:23).

The vow of a Nazirite was "a special vow" (Num. 6:2). The word "special" is used here in the sense of "wonderful, outside of normal human experience". In Scripture, the Hebrew word is most often associated with God's wonderful

works. However, it was not a vow made by wonderful people. It was for ordinary people longing to know a closer fellowship with a wonderful God.

Beware of Imitations

The separation of the true Nazirite was a divine institution. In contrast, the Pharisees prided themselves on their separated position (for the name "Pharisee" also means "the separated ones").

The origin of this sect is obscure and their code of practice was clearly of human origin. We can clearly see their shallowness which the Lord, by His words and actions, so often put to shame.

The Nazirite's separation was positive and meaningful. Above all else, it was "unto the LORD" (Num. 6:1 RV). Unless the man or woman making the vow had God's honour and the advancement of His kingdom in the very forefront of their minds, the outward observances would become a parody of the divine intention.

The Jewish historian Josephus informs us that the court of Herod Agrippa supported a large number of Nazirites. One wonders how anyone could be truly separate "unto the LORD" under the patronage of an Edomite king.

In genuine cases, a vow was entered into as the result of a desire placed in the heart by God Himself. It was used by women, deeply cast upon the Lord for the birth of a child. It was the positive alternative to morbid despair in the case of those wrongly accused of evil. In many other sorts of distress and trouble, godly Israelites were drawn far closer to God in such times than in less troubled days.

Counting the Cost

To be a Nazirite involved a tremendous cost. Firstly, there was the price involved in loss of freedom of action. Although the decision to take the Nazirite vow was purely voluntary, once the decision was made, all its conditions were mandatory. No modifications to the divine instructions could be tolerated. "Whatever your lips offer you must be sure to do, because you made your vow freely to the LORD your God with your own mouth" (Deut. 23:23).

Secondly, there was a cost in terms of natural affection. The provisions of the vow took priority over family considerations even at the time of bereavement of a close relative. "Even if his own father or mother or brother or sister dies, he must not make himself ceremonially unclean on account

of them" (Num. 6:7).

Thirdly, there was a heavy financial cost. The eventual termination of the vow involved considerable expense. Two lambs and a ram, all of high quality, needed to be provided, together with grain and drink offerings (see Num. 6:14-15).

Following the Pattern

1. There was a prohibition of all products from the grapevine (see Num. 6:34). God called out a separated people for Himself, a people who had entered, in a measure, into the joy of "God's rest" in Canaan. Even the land itself enjoyed its rest every seventh year. The vines stood unpruned, their grapes unharvested. "Do not ... harvest the grapes of your untended (or Nazirite) vines" (Lev. 25:5).

The abstention of the Nazirite told out the same lesson as the unpicked grapes of the "Nazirite vine". A picture of the joy of the Lord's provision, in no way blemished like the wine from even Canaan's ground. Is it not thrilling to think of the wedding guests in Cana who drank of the wine of the Master's provision where no planting, pruning or crushing had taken place? The perfect provision of the Creator, by-passing a cursed earth. And, because of its origin, despite the large stone jars full to the brim for the consumption of the guests, may I suggest that there was no drunkenness that day, or ill effects the next morning? Yet we cannot forget that He drank of the fruit of an earthly vine in the Upper Room for He had taken the lifeblood of a cursed race and become a curse that these blessings might be available.

2. There was a prohibition on cutting the hair (see Num. 6:5).

The Nazirite's thoughts, in his separation to God, were to be concentrated away from the decay which sin brings and led to the renewing brought about by separation to God. Paul concisely stated this truth in his day!

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day" (2 Cor. 4:16).

3. There was a prohibition on contact with dead bodies (see Num. 6:6-12).

In the separation to God of the Nazirite, he was to look beyond the valley of death to the glorious peaks of God's provision of eternal life. He was pointed forward in measure to the life of which the Lord Jesus spoke to

Martha: "Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die" (John 11: 25-26).

For a while, the Nazirite was taken away from contact with death in order to glimpse the purposes of God which could not be ruined by the entrance of sin into the world. This would bring reassurance and hope to him in the besetting problems of his own experience.

Lessons for the twentieth century

The vow of the Nazirite is one of those provisions of the law which no longer has a direct application to those saved by the finished work of Christ., However, several principles are of lasting relevance.

i. To know the full blessing of God's rest in our day requires continuing obedience in separation to Him.

Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their (Israel's) example of disobedience (Heb. 4:11).

ii. This requires a reliance on the indwelling Spirit for strength and fulfilment in life. This will be in distinct contrast to non Christians who are increasingly turning to things which cannot satisfy. In our day, some three million people in Britain suffer the catastrophic medical and social effects of alcohol abuse. The problem among young people is escalating frighteningly. Let us take care that none amongst us are vainly seeking to find in drink the stimulus and meaning in life which a close communion with the Lord can alone give.

iii. Denying ourselves what is legitimate for a time in order to serve the Lord better can be a helpful exercise. An example might be, in a particular time of trial, the deprivation of a period of leisure activity to allow more time for prayer. All such exercises need wisdom before the Lord. For example, the apostle Paul realized that a lengthy abstinence from legitimate marital relations could have the opposite effect to that desired (I Cor. 7:5).

iv. Two important principles in Paul's words to Timothy are helpful. We should seek to always see through to the finish what we've promised to do for the Lord and not allow other things to distract us. "No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs - he wants to please his commanding officer". Nor should we embark on anything for the Lord which is not in agreement with the pattern of His Word. "Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor's crown unless he competes according to the rules" (2 Tim. 2:4,5).

v. Above all, we must realize that true separation to God will cost us something. In the past, brethren and sisters in the assemblies have often paid a heavy price in the unnoticed sacrifices they have made in order that there might be growth in God's house. The value which this has been to the churches of God over the years cannot be over-estimated.

Conclusion

When, at the end of his long life, Jacob gathered his sons together and spoke to each in turn, sometimes his face would have been dark and troubled as his mind reflected on their many failures. But, when he turned to Joseph, we can imagine the joy in his eyes as those many expressions of blessing in Genesis chapter 49 were showered upon him. Joseph stood out from his brothers not because he was prime minister of Egypt and they were manual labourers nor because in intellect, wealth and esteem he was in a different class from them.

Whether we view Joseph in his early days in his father's home, or later on in Potiphar's house, in prison or in Pharaoh's palace, we gee that high degree of personal separation which marked him out from his brothers. Without that separation, not only would Joseph's life have been a failure, but many thousands in Egypt and beyond would have perished in the years of famine.

God is looking today for men and women who will not be content to take their life-style from those around. If we are among those, our lives too will be blessed of God in all the circumstances we may pass through. Then, when our lives are reviewed by a far more searching eye than Jacob's, we shall bring joy to the One who gave so much to purchase us unto Himself.

Quotations are from NIV unless otherwise stated.