THE REPROACH OF THE NAZARITE
Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When either man or woman shall separate themselves to vow a vow of a Nazarite, to separate themselves unto the LORD?Numbers 6:2 (KJV)
The verse quoted above is the beginning of instructions to believers in how to take a special vow of consecration unto God. Although it is from the Old Testament, it has special relevance for Christians today, for God reveals deep truths from heaven in the details of Old Covenant ceremonies and celebrations, and this vow was one of the most important.
First let us notice that either a man or a woman could take this vow. We may wonder why, when everything regarding the priesthood was exclusive to men, we here have women mentioned. Part of the explanation is that the vow of the Nazarite was of such deep consecration that it superseded the earthly designation of gender. We also read in the New Testament that, “?there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28 (NKJV), and in Mark 12:25 (NKJV) “For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” Moreover, this gave special recognition to anyone who wanted to be especially set apart for God. A person did not have to be a Levite or part of the priestly class to take this vow ? it was open to all. It was, in fact, a precursor of the truth that all overcomers will be part of the “royal priesthood.”
Separated in Several Ways
We see in Number 6:2, quoted above, that the word “separate” is used twice. However, what is not apparent is that two different Hebrew words for separate are used in this same sentence; consequently there is an expansion in the meaning pertaining to the uniqueness of the Nazarite that is revealed from the Hebrew. “?When either man or woman shall separate themselves to vow a vow of a Nazarite?” we read in the first part of Numbers 6:2, and in this sentence the word separate is the Hebrew word “pala.” This word itself means several remarkable things ? it means to be wonderful, marvelous, surpassing, and extraordinary by a distinguishing action. It also means to be beyond one’s power, and to be difficult to understand, and to do an extraordinary, hard or difficult thing. This speaks of the relationship of the Nazarite to the vow that he or she was taking.
It is interesting to consider that there lies herein the understanding that a person could exceed their abilities (note the definition “to be beyond one’s power”) as he or she entered into this vow. And in doing so that person would be “difficult to understand.” Is this not always the case with spiritual matters? Is it not typical that as we get closer to God, and seek to please Him and not man, the more others around us will consider us strange and unique? There is evidently a good reason why Peter wrote in 1Peter 2:9 (KJV) “But ye are a chosen generation?a peculiar people?” Here we have the wonderment of the Christian life mixed with the anticipation of being considered quite different from others, and not only by the world, but also by worldly believers.
Furthermore, that peculiarity brings a reproach which one might label what Detrich Bonhoeffer called “the cost of discipleship.” Bonhoeffer seemed peculiar, not only to the world, but also to many Christians, when, as a visiting German theologian in America, he insisted on leaving its safe shores to return to his motherland to help support the remnant of believers who resisted Hitler’s Third Reich. As one of the few ministers who opposed the Nazi regime, he was eventually executed by Henrich Himmler just before the war ended.
Separated by the Vow and Separated Unto God
The second word for separation is in the portion of the Scripture in Numbers 6:2 which says, “to separate themselves unto the LORD.” The word used here is the Hebrew word, “nazar.” It literally means, to consecrate or dedicate, to devote oneself, to keep sacredly separate. (Some newer versions do differentiate between the two words for separate which are the same in the King James Version. However, most use words that fail to communicate the full depth of meaning.)
Let us consider why these words are different, and what they mean for us today. The Nazarite, through the vow he or she took, would be blessed by being able to do more than a human being could accomplish without God’s supernatural ability, as communicated through the first word for separate, in relation to the vow. However, through the second word for separate, we see that the person was consecrated unto God. The first use of the word separate speaks to us of the outward aspect of this commitment ? there were things the Nazarite, once covenanted as such, could do and could not do. The second separate speaks to us of the deep relationship the person would enter into with God, and it is the spiritual aspect of this solemn dedication, which was a matter of the heart.
Jesus was a Nazarene, Not a Nazarite
We know that Jesus was not a Nazarite, because He drank of the fruit of the vine. John the Baptist was a Nazarite, even from birth, and he did not partake of any derivative of grapes. In this manner we see types that reveal aspects of this vow. Jesus represents the nazar aspect of the separation, which is the spiritual aspect, and John the Baptist, represents the pala aspect. We see then the comparison of the literal, physical separation and the spiritual separation from the world and its sin and enticements. For the Jews, neither separation was discerned, nor were they respectful of either. In fact if a person was separated in either way, they were open to criticism. For we read the words of Jesus:
“But to what shall I liken this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their companions, “and saying:
`We played the flute for you,
And you did not dance;
We mourned to you,
And you did not lament.’ “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, `He has a demon.’ “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, `Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom is justified by her children.” Matthew 11:16-19 (NKJV)
First let us understand that the children represent the Jews, and the companions they speak to represent John the Baptist and Jesus Christ, and their followers. These Jews are infantile in their criticism of John and Jesus, and because the messages that both preach do not appeal to them, they vehemently criticize them by saying the worst they can about them.
Jesus is essentially saying here that God had given the Jews both extremes of personality and manner regarding the Gospel. They had heard the strong call for repentance under the Law from John, who exemplified the Mosiac system by living the life of an ascetic. He renounced the earthly pleasures of life to be a holy man of God. From the other extreme within the realm of holy men, we have Jesus communicating the truth from the standpoint of Him becoming the ultimate fulfillment of the Law, which opened the door to salvation without the legalistic pressures that were necessary before He arrived. John drove; Jesus drew. John thundered the judgment of God; Jesus was the walking revelation of His mercy. But the Jews responded to neither; rather they were like petulant children. They “played the flute” to the stern and solemn message that John preached, but he would not dance. John would not lessen his seriousness, and they all knew that he took the Old Covenant commands more literally and earnestly then they did.
In their fickleness they switched sides when Jesus spoke to them – they insisted that the mournful conditions of legalism and strictness be adhered to by Him. This is exemplified in their criticism of Christ’s healing on the Sabbath. However, when they mourned to Him, He did not lament. He would not accept the unhappy legalism without the Spirit which they, themselves, only used for their own purposes. The Law was made for man, and not man for the Law, and Jesus would not allow belief in God to be a system of rules and regulations without a spiritual, emotional relationship with God. There was joy in knowing God, and Jesus promised no person could steal a believer’s joy.
To reiterate, it really did not matter which type the Jews were presented with; they simply did not have a heart for God ? for they could not discern God in either personage. Not in John, the best man who had ever lived, who represented one who was the closest mankind might come in obeying each jot and tittle in the Law which they claimed to so greatly revere. Nor in Jesus, the God-man who was perfect, but Who also revealed that human pleasures were allowed in the grace of the Gospel, as long as they did not contravene God’s perfect will, and that a new era was dawning, in which man would be justified by His perfect sacrifice.
Nevertheless, let us not consider the Jews to be different than any of us because they did not recognize the Messiah. The first believers were Jews; it was from their seed that the truth of Christ was first preached. In fact, for about the first twenty years of the church, a Gentile believer was an oddity. We should understand that the Jews were a microcosm of the world. Only a small percentage of them embraced Christ, even as only a small percentage of the world at large embrace Jesus today. If the Jews had been Scottish, Cherokee, or any other group, the result would have been the same, for as Jesus said in John 7:7 (NKJV) “The world?hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil.” Therein lies the reproach to all mankind, regardless of ethic origin.
One more note regarding the last verse in this Scripture. We read “But wisdom is justified by her children.” There is a child ? that is, some ramification for everything we do. We are told we reap what we sow, however, crops take time to grow. Sacrifices such as the Nazarite made might not yield an instantaneous response; but there would be fruit in the future. What John the Baptist did and what Jesus did changed the world, but this is seen only in hindsight. The salvation of mankind unfolded from the acts of Jesus Christ. John’s ministry, as the “Elijah to come,” also played no small role in the unfolding of it. Everything they did for God is now “justified,” but this was not clear at the time. We might soberly consider what “children” we are birthing in the world. What will be the ramifications of our actions? What eternal mark will be left on the world as a consequence of our lives?
Commands to the Nazarite
“All the days of the vow of his separation no razor shall come upon his head; until the days are fulfilled for which he separated himself to the Lord, he shall be holy. Then he shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow.” Numbers 6:5 (NKJV)
One of the reproaches the Nazarite had to bear, was having long hair. Some might protest that Jesus had long hair so how could this be the case? In the same era when Jesus appeared on earth, the Apostle Paul wrote the following:
“Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him? But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering.” 1Corinthians 11:14-15 (NKJV)
Moreover, let us also read the command given in Ezekiel regarding the priests:
“They shall neither shave their heads nor let their hair grow long; but they shall keep their hair well trimmed.” Ezekiel 44:20 (NKJV)
There is no Scripture that states that Jesus had long hair. Nevertheless, Jesus bore greater reproach than any Nazarite; however that is not the subject of this teaching.
We see then that the long hair was a reproach to a man, but certainly it was not to a woman. The Scripture even says that a woman’s long hair is a glory to her. Nevertheless, after the vow was broken, we read that the head was to be shorn ? and it was then that she would bear this particular reproach. A shaved head for a woman has been a sign of shame for thousands of years. Female collaborators with the Nazis in countries such as Holland were shorn and paraded in the streets when the war ended. The female Nazarite would bear this for many months after the vow was consummated. Moreover, the hair was a covering of beauty for the woman, so her vanity was also an issue. To some extent this might be ameliorated if she wore a head covering, but the shaving was to take place in public at the Tabernacle of Meeting (Numbers 6:18).
Understanding the types we see in both John the Baptist and in Jesus Christ, we realize that the Nazarite vow was exceedingly broad. In other words, God used both of these words for separateness to indicate the extremity of the vow that was taken. It was not simply a vow in which the outward appearance would be significant ? although it was certainly that, also. The Pharisees could not stomach such a vow, because it encompassed more than the outward appearance, and they were concerned only with cleansing the “outside of the cup.” No, this vow required more than a superficial separation; it was also a vow where the person was separated unto God in a spiritual manner, indicated by the very word used. If the Old Covenant represented the letter of the Law, and the New Covenant the Spirit of the Law, the Nazarite seemed to be beholden to both. Nevertheless, in 1Corinthians 15:46 (NKJV) we read, “However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual.”
The vow foreshadowed, as the Old Testament does in so many ways, the fact that the spiritual is greater than the natural. This is why the Law was essentially broken through the vow. Hair was grown long and hair was shaved, both prohibited for priests in Ezekiel 44:20. Women were included in this vow, which ignored the hierarchy of the human chain of command in which they were not allowed into the priesthood. The vow contained the need for physical, literal separation from the world, but it augmented that separation with spiritual commands that superseded the natural ones. Like King David, who ate the showbread that was not “legal” for him to do, it revealed God’s desire to show man that the Law was only used to bring him an understanding of deep spiritual truths ? it was not an end in and of itself.
The vow also brought forth many outstanding and even startling ministries. John the Baptist was a lifetime Nazarite. Samson and Samuel were also Nazarites from birth, but their ministries were not as fiery John’s. Most seminaries would not recommend that pastors begin a baptismal service by addressing the congregation by saying, “‘Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?'” Luke 3:7 (NKJV). This does not quite fall in line with today’s books on being “seeker sensitive.” However, John was called to this ministry. It was different from others; and that is entirely the point we should see. John, single minded in the ministry that God had ordained him to, accomplished much. Engineers who work on one machine or one portion of it become very effective in inventing new ways for it to function. They are not considered narrow-minded, because everyone knows that this is their job.
So it is with some particular ministries in the Body of Christ. Some ministers have a calling regarding certain aspects of the church. Their ministries may not be balanced, but they bring balance. A famous evangelist may seem to lack discernment, but he is able to interact with famous personalities that a current “John the Baptist” would only repel. A prophetic ministry may continue to warn of the “wrath to come” and irritate some believers with the same message, but the repetition of it may be necessary for the Body of Christ to hear, because they would otherwise ignore it. In our limited understanding of how God works, it might have been hard for us to observe the ministries of both John the Baptist and Jesus Christ and understand how they were both in God’s will, and that both revealed different aspects of God’s truth. So it is today. Therefore, let us be careful regarding criticism, as we realize that various ministries can be in God’s will and yet emphasize different colors of His magnificent rainbow.
Abstinence From Worldly Pleasures
He shall separate himself from wine and strong drink?neither shall he drink any liquor of grapes, nor eat moist grapes, or dried?nothing that is made of the vine tree, from the kernels even to the husk. Number 6:3-4 (KJV)
The complete abstinence from grapes was representative of giving up worldly pleasures, for the fruit of the vine symbolized life’s frivolity. Not only was intoxicating drink withheld, (which should always be the case for a person of God) but also the chamar, which was a sweet grape juice which symbolized the sweet things of life, and which is the Hebrew word used here for wine. In other words, intoxicating drink, which is made from rotten (fermented) grapes, is represented as worldly pleasures found in the rotten, putrefied areas of life. It was of course forbidden, as it would normally be for anyone serving God. Nevertheless, God-given pleasures that a person might partake of without guilt of sin, represented by the chamar, were likewise excluded. This was a fast of pleasure ? a self-imposed austerity that was engaged in to keep a man or woman from being distracted by worldliness in order to draw close to God and perform extraordinary exploits for Him.
There is a story of something that occurred during World War 2 in Germany which reflects the nobility of being misunderstood for a grand cause. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is again the subject ? he was one German theologian who was willing to stand up against Hitler, and he taught his seminary students not to capitulate to Nazi pressure for the church to become part of the Third Reich’s propaganda machine. For a man of his stature to take such a position was quite encouraging for these young men, for Bonhoeffer was not only one of Germany’s premier theologians, he was also the son of a wealthy physician and his family was well-known in the elite social circles of Germany. When the German government tried to disband Dietrich’s seminary, he continued to teach his students unofficially, and they made sacrifices to stay under his tutelage. Finally, however, the pressure became so great that they could no longer continue, and they went their separate ways.
Imagine how Dietrich’s students must have felt later, when they found that he had joined the Nazi’s church organization! Dietrich, the one who taught them to never sell out had become part of what he had vehemently denounced! Dietrich, himself, went through much anguish over his decision, but he was willing to be considered a traitor, and to be misunderstood, so that he might save many Jewish lives. For by taking that position he had the authority to get many Jews out of the country. He also helped the underground movement which had formed against Hitler, and which ultimately attempted to assassinate him. Bonhoeffer was willing to bear the reproach and to be held in derision by others, so that he might save many. He sacrificed his own reputation and the reproach of being considered a blatant hypocrite, to do God’s work.
“Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake.” Luke 6:22 (KJV)
Separation From Worldly Associations
“Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.” 2Corinthians 6:17 (KJV)
Sinful deeds love company. There is power in numbers, and corporate sin makes the people involved in it more comfortable. A child comes home asks to do something, justifying it by explaining that “everyone else is allowed to.” It is hard not to go along with the crowd, for peer pressure has tremendous impact, and when the “prince of the power of the air” is behind it, he attempts to bring all into his perverse and fallen circle of influence. Young people are constantly offered “free” drugs by acquaintances ? and this not for a future sale, but simply because those involved in the sin feel better if others join in ? especially those who appear to have a degree of purity. Peter explains this truth to new believers in the following Scripture:
“For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles–when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries. In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you.” 1Peter 4:3-4 (NKJV)
There is then a strong power in being physically separated. It is a very important way to be the salt and the light ? and the Nazarite represented the quintessence of this. Are you criticized because there is a going away party after work for another employee, and since they choose a tavern you decide not to go? Do people tell you that you are hurting your children because you are home-schooling them and they will become social misfits? Are you considered legalistic because you will not go to movies everyone else keeps talking about? Quite frankly, if you are a Christian today and do not receive some criticism, you are failing in your walk for you look, act and seem like the world. The Scripture is clear about this in 2Timothy 3:12, where we read, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” All leaves no one out.
Breaking the Earthly Ties
The Nazarite vow goes even deeper than the breaking of ungodly relationships ? it cuts to the heart of the very natural and even laudatory familial relationships. It commands the following:
“All the days that he separates himself to the Lord he shall not go near a dead body. He shall not make himself unclean even for his father or his mother, for his brother or his sister, when they die, because his separation to God is on his head. All the days of his separation he shall be holy to the Lord.” Numbers 6:6-8 (NKJV)
It is hard to understand how important funerals were in the Hebrew culture. During the time of Jesus professional mourners and wailers were paid to grieve for the dead. We might consider this very foolish, but it was an important part of honoring the dead. For a person not to attend the funeral of his or her own mother or father was virtually unthinkable. In fact, only the Nazarite vow, (and the direction to the high priest in Leviticus) would stop a normal person from attending.
The point of all this was that the person who vowed was to become dead to the passions of the world, which even included the emotional attachments to those whom he or she loved. God had to become preeminent not only in what they espoused, but also in their actions. Does this not remind us of what Jesus said, when He preached the following?
“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.” Luke 14:26 (NKJV)
The Vow of the Nazarite
The vow of the Nazarite is a pattern for Christians to follow today. Not the growing of the hair, etc., but the spiritual representation of it. God is calling the Church to something that is quite foreign to many of us ? a turning from self-indulgence, and a desire to take whatever reproach may come so that we may be holy vessels that God can use to do things beyond our own power. He wants us to be wonderful, marvelous, surpassing, and extraordinary by a distinguishing action.
We want these things too, but desire for God to bless us with them without the commitment that must come first. We desire to see the miracles of the early church, but we would rather pray the prayer of Jabez and ask for more from God than take the vow of the Nazarite and give Him more. Some day we may look back on this fleeting life, and wish we had been willing to give more, so that He could accomplish more through us. But why have such regrets? The vow is available to all ? male or female, minister or one in the congregation ? we are all equal at the foot of the cross.