Q: #471. Did Samson break his Nazarite (Nazirite) vow?
By: Steve Shirley
A: When I originally began to write this study, I did not expect to end up defending Samson. This study was originally titled, "How many times did Samson break his Nazarite (Nazirite) vow?" I had a chart showing the number of times he did this. However, as I began to look more deeply into his story, I began to question things. Yes, Samson broke his Nazarite vow on several occasions, but he may not be as guilty of trashing it as I originally thought. Let's look at this.
Samson was the 12th judge of Israel. His life is mentioned in Judges chapters 13-16, and is one of the best known individual stories in the Bible. It is a fascinating story, and I would love to go into great detail about it, but let's stick to this topic. In 1st Samuel chapter 13, we see that "the Angel of the Lord" appeared to Samson's mother twice. First. she spoke with him alone, but the second time she ran to get her husband Manoah. It was during these encounters that the "Angel of the Lord" (almost certainly a pre-incarnate visit from Jesus) told them that they were going to have a child who would deliver Israel, and that child was to be under a Nazarite vow for life.
I am not going to go into everything this vow entailed since I explain this in detail here, however, for the purpose of this study, three parts of this vow are important.
1. They could not ingest anything from the grapevine. This meant they could not drink wine, vinegar, grape juice, or similar drink, nor could they eat grapes or raisins (Num 6:3-4).
2. They could not cut their hair (Num 6:5).
3. They could not touch, or even go near, a dead body. This included the dead body of a father, mother, brother, or sister (Num 6:6-7).
Keeping these in mind, as we look at Samson's life, it certainly "appears" that he broke this vow on at least 8 occasions. Following is a chart showing these 8 occasions.
|Broke His Nazarite (Nazirite) Vow?||Verses|
|1. Near the dead body of a lion||(Judg 14:5-6)|
|2. Touched the dead body of a lion||(Judg 14:8-9)|
|3. Killed 30 men, then took the clothes off their dead bodies (touching them)||(Judg 14:19)|
|4. (Likely) drank wine||(Judg 14:10,17)|
|5. Near the bodies of an unknown number of dead men||(Judg 15:7-8)|
|6. Near the bodies of 1000 dead men||(Judg 15:14-16)|
|7. Touched the jawbone of a donkey (something dead)||(Judg 15:15-17)|
|8. Cut his hair||(Judg 16:17-20)|
Ok, he broke his Nazarite vow, right? He did. He was near the dead body of a lion in #1, near dead bodies in #5 and #6 (and maybe touched them), touched dead bodies in #3, and touched the jawbone of a donkey in #7 (something dead). But, notice what is said in conjunction with these killings (except for #5.): "the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him." In other words, before Samson killed the lion (Judg 14:6), killed (and touched) the 30 men (Judg 14:19), and killed the 1000 men with the jawbone of a donkey (Judg 15:14), God empowered him with the Holy Spirit to do so. This being the case, can we logically say that God would empower him, know that he would kill and how he would kill, and then hold Samson responsible for breaking his Nazarite vow by being near dead bodies, and touching them? Yes, Samson broke his vow on these occasions, but "God empowered" him to do it. This being the case, I do not believe we can hold Samson responsible breaking his vow in these instances, nor do I think God did.
In continuing to defend Samson, let's look at several more things.
Samson is often accused of breaking his vow by touching the body of the dead lion (#2), and less often by touching the jawbone of a donkey (something dead) (#7). This clearly breaks the vow, right? Perhaps not! Take a look again at what the Nazarite vow states in (Num 6:6-7). What dead bodies was the person under a Nazarite vow not to touch? Dead human bodies are mentioned, but not the bodies of dead animals. "Human" bodies seem to be emphasized when it says father, mother, brother, or sister in (Num 6:7), and again in (Num 6:9) when it says "if a man dies very suddenly beside him," he is defiled. Are the bodies of dead animals "implied" when it says not to "touch any dead body?" Perhaps, but this is not explicitly clear. So, it is possible that Samson did not break his Nazarite vow by touching dead animals.
In conjunction with the above, it is worth noting that Samson, as a Jew, did make himself unclean by touching a dead animal. God forbid the Jews to touch the dead body of an "unclean" animal (Lev 11:8)(Lev 5:2)(Deut 14:8), or "clean" animal which had died (Lev 11:39-40). If they did so, they were made unclean until evening (Lev 11:24-28,31,39-40). However, while Samson might have been made unclean as a Jew by touching a dead animal, he may not have broken his Nazarite vow in doing so.
***Note: God also forbid Jews to touch a dead human body (Num 19:11-16)(Num 9:6-7)(Num 31:19), but again, when Samson did so, he was under the power of the Holy Spirit.
***Food for thought: If simply touching a dead animal was breaking a Nazarite vow, wouldn't the person under the vow have to have been a vegetarian?
Next, we have (#4): "(Likely) drank wine." This is based upon Samson's wedding feast. Evidence is clear from the Bible, and history that Jewish wedding feasts usually involved wine (i.e. remember the Jewish wedding feast at Cana where Jesus turned water into wine: Jn 2:1-11). However, assuming there was wine at Samson's wedding feast, there is no clear evidence that he actually drank it. Therefore, we can't say for sure that Samson broke his vow here.
Finally, in (Judg 16:17-20), we have Samson's hair cut (#8). A person who cut his hair clearly broke his Nazarite vow. However, it was not Samson who cut his hair, it was cut by a Philistine man who did it while Samson was asleep on the lap of Delilah. (Good trivia question: Who cut Samson's hair? - most say Delilah, but it was a Philistine man.) Therefore, Samson did not break his Nazarite vow by cutting his hair. (However, based on what had previously occurred [Judg 16:6-14], he was pretty dumb to tell Delilah about his vow.)
***Note: This haircut resulted in a loss of Samson's super-strength, but it is not clearly said that this was the result of his haircut. It might have been for other reasons (i.e. God may have finally had enough of Samson's loose lifestyle, and He sought to humble Samson).
Based on the above, I have come to a new conclusion: Samson may not have trashed his Nazarite vow as much as I previously thought. Much of Samson's supposed guilt is based upon conjecture rather than solid proof. In fact, at least in God's eyes, perhaps he may not have been guilty of breaking his vow at all. Nevertheless, having said this, Samson's life was one of wasted potential. He was foolish on many occasions, impulsive, and I believe he was a sex addict (see: Judg 14:1-3, 16:1, 16:4). However, if you look at (Heb 11:32), God places Samson amongst the "Heroes of the Faith" in Hebrews Chapter 11. Therefore, God clearly saw great "faith" and good in Samson's life.