1 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When either a man or a woman makes a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to separate himself to the Lord, 3 he shall separate himself from wine and strong drink. He shall drink no vinegar made from wine or strong drink and shall not drink any juice of grapes or eat grapes, fresh or dried. 4 All the days of his separation he shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, not even the seeds or the skins.
5 “All the days of his vow of separation, no razor shall touch his head. Until the time is completed for which he separates himself to the Lord, he shall be holy. He shall let the locks of hair of his head grow long.
6 “All the days that he separates himself to the Lord he shall not go near a dead body. 7 Not even for his father or for his mother, for brother or sister, if they die, shall he make himself unclean, because his separation to God is on his head. 8 All the days of his separation he is holy to the Lord.
9 “And if any man dies very suddenly beside him and he defiles his consecrated head, then he shall shave his head on the day of his cleansing; on the seventh day he shall shave it. 10 On the eighth day he shall bring two turtledoves or two pigeons to the priest to the entrance of the tent of meeting, 11 and the priest shall offer one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering, and make atonement for him, because he sinned by reason of the dead body. And he shall consecrate his head that same day 12 and separate himself to the Lord for the days of his separation and bring a male lamb a year old for a guilt offering. But the previous period shall be void, because his separation was defiled.
13 “And this is the law for the Nazirite, when the time of his separation has been completed: he shall be brought to the entrance of the tent of meeting, 14 and he shall bring his gift to the Lord, one male lamb a year old without blemish for a burnt offering, and one ewe lamb a year old without blemish as a sin offering, and one ram without blemish as a peace offering, 15 and a basket of unleavened bread, loaves of fine flour mixed with oil, and unleavened wafers smeared with oil, and their grain offering and their drink offerings. 16 And the priest shall bring them before the Lord and offer his sin offering and his burnt offering, 17 and he shall offer the ram as a sacrifice of peace offering to the Lord, with the basket of unleavened bread. The priest shall offer also its grain offering and its drink offering. 18 And the Nazirite shall shave his consecrated head at the entrance of the tent of meeting and shall take the hair from his consecrated head and put it on the fire that is under the sacrifice of the peace offering. 19 And the priest shall take the shoulder of the ram, when it is boiled, and one unleavened loaf out of the basket and one unleavened wafer, and shall put them on the hands of the Nazirite, after he has shaved the hair of his consecration, 20 and the priest shall wave them for a wave offering before the Lord. They are a holy portion for the priest, together with the breast that is waved and the thigh that is contributed. And after that the Nazirite may drink wine.
21 “This is the law of the Nazirite. But if he vows an offering to the Lord above his Nazirite vow, as he can afford, in exact accordance with the vow that he takes, then he shall do in addition to the law of the Nazirite.” – Numbers 6:1-21 ESV
God had set apart Aaron and his sons to serve as priests. The male members of the tribe of Levi had been set apart to serve as assistants to the priests and as caretakers of the tabernacle. But in Numbers 6, we read of God’s provision for individual volunteerism. Any member of the faith community could choose to offer themselves in service to God by taking what was called the Nazirite Vow.
The Hebrew word nāzîr simply means “consecrated or devoted one.” These individuals took an oath of fealty to God, setting themselves apart as His servants. This period of consecrated service was usually for a specific length of time but, in some cases, it could last a lifetime. This commitment was not to be entered into lightly because they were “setting themselves apart to the Lord in a special way” (Numbers 6:2 NLT). God took their vow seriously and expected them to keep their oath at all costs.
To emphasize the gravity of taking the Nazirite vow, God attached strict requirements that were intended to discourage the uncommitted. To dedicate oneself to God was a serious matter and it required sober introspection. While a certain amount of prestige could come from making the commitment to dedicate yourself to the service of God, it was not about improving one’s social standing. Taking the vow was easy. Fulfilling it was another matter altogether. So God outlined the cost of commitment associated with becoming a Nazirite. He wanted everyone to carefully consider whether they were willing to accept the severe standards that came with the vow.
God prescribed clear requirements for anyone wishing to dedicate themselves to His service. This consecration came with outward commitments that were designed to differentiate a Nazirite from the rest of the faith community. Not only were they set apart as God’s servants, but they were also to stand out from the crowd. First of all, they were prohibited from drinking wine.
“…they must give up wine and other alcoholic drinks. They must not use vinegar made from wine or from other alcoholic drinks, they must not drink fresh grape juice, and they must not eat grapes or raisins.” – Numbers 6:3 NLT
In a society where wine was a staple at every meal and a ubiquitous part of daily life, this would have proven to be a difficult concession to make. This requirement of abstinence was not because God considered the consumption of wine to be sinful, but because there was always the risk of drunkenness. The Scriptures are filled with stories of individuals who allowed alcohol to blur their decision-making and cause them to violate God’s will. The book of Genesis describes how Noah “drank some wine he had made, and he became drunk and lay naked inside his tent” (Genesis 9:21 NLT). God considered Noah to be “a righteous man, blameless in his generation” (Genesis 6:9 ESV), but this godly man allowed alcohol to dull his senses and that decision had serious and long-lasting consequences (Genesis 9:18-25).
The apostle Peter referred to Lot as “a righteous man” (2 Peter 2:7), yet the book of Genesis describes how Lot’s daughters got him drunk with wine and then proceeded to have sex with him.
“There are no men left anywhere in this entire area, so we can’t get married like everyone else. And our father will soon be too old to have children. Come, let’s get him drunk with wine, and then we will have sex with him. That way we will preserve our family line through our father.” – Genesis 19:31-32 NLT
The end result of these two incestuous encounters was the birth of two sons who would later become the fathers of the Moabites and Ammonites, two nations that would become the sworn enemies of Israel.
The fruit of the vine was intended to be a sign of God’s blessing but, like all of God’s blessings, it could be abused and misused. So, the Nazirites were strictly prohibited from consuming alcohol for as long as they remained in service to God.
Secondly, all Nazirites were prohibited from cutting their hair.
“They must never cut their hair throughout the time of their vow, for they are holy and set apart to the Lord. Until the time of their vow has been fulfilled, they must let their hair grow long.” – Numbers 6:5 NLT
The length of their hair was intended to act as a sign or symbol of their set-apart status. There is no explanation given for this particular prohibition. Both men and women were required to allow their hair to grow for as long as they remained in service to God. Perhaps it was intended as a demonstration of their willingness to place their personal preferences on hold while they were in God’s service. Any concern they had for their outward appearance was to take a back seat to their commitment to God’s will. It’s interesting to note that Samson, one of the judges of Israel and a Nazirite, had come to the conclusion that his long hair was the source of his superhuman strength.
“A razor has never come upon my head, for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother’s womb. If my head is shaved, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak and be like any other man.” – Judges 16:17 ESV
Samson’s long hair had been intended to serve as a sign of his commitment to God, not a source of his strength. He had been set apart for God’s service but lived his life according to his own selfish standards. He was driven by his passions and given to living a life of excess. And when Samson’s hair was cut by Delilah, he lost his strength, not because he had lost his hair but because he had been abandoned by God.
…he didn’t realize the Lord had left him. So the Philistines captured him and gouged out his eyes. They took him to Gaza, where he was bound with bronze chains and forced to grind grain in the prison. – Judges 16:20-21 NLT
Samson lost his strength because he had long ago abandoned his commitment to God. He had repeatedly violated his vow to God and his shaved head was a sign that God no longer considered Samson to be set apart for His service. As the text clearly states, “the hair on their head is the symbol of their separation to God” (Numbers 6:7 NLT).
The third requirement had to do with defilement from personal contact with the dead. As a servant of God, the Nazirite was expected to remain ceremonially pure. Any physical contact with a human corpse would result in immediate defilement and require purification. What is interesting to note is how God highlights the role of the hair in the defilement process.
“If someone falls dead beside them, the hair they have dedicated will be defiled. They must wait for seven days and then shave their heads. Then they will be cleansed from their defilement.” – Numbers 6:9 NLT
The longer length of the hair would present a problem if someone came in close proximity to a dead body. While they might refrain from touching the corpse with their hands, their hair could easily come into contact with the diseased, rendering the Nazirite ceremonially unclean. The only remedy was to shave their heads and then offer a sacrifice at the tabernacle. Once purified, he or she was free to complete their vow to God. The whole point was that God expected each Nazirite to maintain their holiness as long as they were in His service.
“All the days of his separation he is holy to the Lord.” – Numbers 6:8 ESV
When each individual had completed the terms of their vow, there was a ceremony conducted that officially released them from their commitment to God. It was called “the law of the Nazirite” and required each individual to shave their head and then burn the hair on the brazen altar as part of a sacrifice to God. This elaborate ritual brought the Nazirite’s service commitment to a close and allowed them to return to their former life.
But as long as the Nazirite’s vow was in place, they were expected to keep their commitment to God without fail.
“And they must be careful to do whatever they vowed when they set themselves apart as Nazirites.” – Numbers 6:21 NLT
While the Nazirite vow no longer exists or applies, there is a similar calling issued to every child of God today. The apostle Paul outlines this non-negotiable commitment in his letter to the believers in Rome and it still calls God’s people to maintain their commitment to moral purity and holiness – at all times and at all costs.
And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. – Romans 12:1-2 NLT
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.