Q: #193. What is a Nazarite (Nazirite) vow?
A: The word Nazarite (or Nazirite) comes from the root Hebrew word “nazir” which means “separate” or “one who is separated.” We can see this word used this way in several places in the Old Testament (see: Gen 49:26, Deut 33:16). The word Nazarite is used 9 times in the Old Testament, primarily in Numbers 6. (Num 6:1-21) describes what a Nazarite vow entails. Following are the key details:
1. A man or woman could make this (voluntary) vow to dedicate themselves to the Lord.
2. During the vow, they could not drink wine, vinegar, grape juice, or similar drink, nor could they eat vine products such as grapes or raisins.
3. They could not cut their hair.
4. They could not touch, or even go near, a dead body, not even a grave or building containing a dead body. This included father, mother, brother, or sister.
5. When the vow was completed, 4 different offerings were to be made at the Tabernacle: burnt, peace, sin, drink/meal. He, or she, were also to shave their head, and the hair was to be burned (as part of the peace offering).
Afterwards, the person was released from their vow.
The Bible does not say how long these vows were to be. According to Jewish tradition, they were generally 30 days, but could run to 100 days. However, it appears that several men in the Bible were dedicated to be under a Nazarite vow for their whole lives before they were even born: Samuel (1 Sam 1:9-11), Samson (Judg 1:7-14), and John The Baptist (Lk 1:13-17)(Mt 11:18-19).
***Note: I speak more about Samson’s Nazarite vow, and if he abused it here.
We may also have an example of a Nazarite vow being taken by Paul in the New Testament (See: Acts 18:18).
Why did God choose these 3 prohibitions? I believe that they represented 3 key “worldly” areas that we must be willing to sacrifice for the Lord.
Wine: It often represents human joy, abundance, prosperity, and material blessings in the Bible (Ps 104:15)(Joel 3:18)(Song 5:1). We must be willing to sacrifice “worldly” pleasures for the Lord (Jas 1:27)(Rom 12:2)(1 Jn 2:15-16).
Long Hair: In general, to have long hair has been considered shameful for a man (i.e. 1 Cor 11:14). It can be a sign of humiliation. We must be willing to sacrifice pride, and be humble (Jas 4:6)(1 Pet 5:5-6). God hates pride (Prov 6:6-19)(Prov 21:4)(Prov 16:18).
Dead Bodies: A dead body represents defilement. Death came about as the result of sin (Gen 2:17)(Gen 3:3,16-19)(Rom 5:12)(Rom 6:23)(1 Cor 15:21-22). We must be willing to turn from sin.
Three other interesting points should be noted concerning the Nazarite vow.
1. God said that if a man had made this vow, and a person suddenly died beside him, thereby “defiling his dedicated head of hair,” he was to shave his head on the 7th day, sacrifice 2 doves or pigeons and a year-old male lamb, and then start his vow all over again (Num 6:9-12)!
2. A father could annul his daughter’s vow, and a husband his wife’s (Num 30).
3. These restrictions seem to parallel very closely the restrictions given to the High Priest. The High Priest could not drink wine while serving in the Tabernacle (Lev 10:9). He could not touch a dead body (Lev 21:11). The long hair may also parallel the High Priest’s crown (Ex 29:6)(Lev 8:9).
In addition, both the High Priest (Ex 28:36)(Ex 39:30) and the Nazarite (Num 6:8) were called “holy” to the Lord.