"Yahweh spoke to Moses and said, 'Speak to the Israelites and say:  If a man or a woman wishes to make a vow, the Nazirite vow, to vow himself to Yahweh, he will abstain from wine and fermented liquor, he will not drink vinegar derived from one or the other, he will not drink grape juice or eat grapes, be they fresh or dried.  For the duration of his vow he will eat nothing that comes from the vine, not even juice of unripe grapes or skins of grapes.  As long as he is bond by his vow, no razor will touch his head; until the time for which he has vowed himself to Yahweh, he will not go near a corpse, he will not make himself unclean for his father or his mother, or his brother or his sister, should they die, since on his head he carries his vow to his God.  Throughout the whole of his vow he is a person consecrated to Yahweh."Numbers 6:1- 8

The word Nazirite (can also be spelled Nazarite) is from the Hebrew term nazir, meaning "to consecrate" and is derived from the Hebrew root nazar, meaning "to separate".  The man or woman who took the Nazirite vow took an oath to separate himself or herself from the world and even from close kinship affiliation to serve only Yahweh (Numbers 6:2), making the Nazirite totally "holy unto Yahweh" (Numbers 6:8).  In terms of separation from one's family in service to Yahweh the term nazir is used of Joseph son of Jacob/Israel in Genesis 49:26 and in Deuteronomy 33:16, and therefore the special service of a Nazirite may predate the Sinai Covenant:

If the call of the Nazirite existed before the Exodus event, it is defined, regulated, and expanded as part of the Law of the Sinai Covenant, allowing one who is not a hereditary member of the ministerial priesthood through the line of Aaron to offer special service to Yahweh.  The vow of a Nazirite could be a special service performed for a certain length of time or the vow could tie the Nazirite to a lifetime of service.  According to the requirements of a Nazirite in Numbers 6:1-21 for the period of time of the vow the man or woman Nazirite must:

  1. Make a formal swearing of an oath of service to God [Numbers 6:2]
  2. Abstain from drinking wine and fermented liquor, including vinegar derived from either wine or any fermented liquor, and will abstain from eating grapes fresh or dried or eat anything that comes from the vine [Numbers 6:3-4].
  3. Let his hair grown uncut for the length of the vow [Numbers 6:5]
  4. For the entire period of the vow he must not come in contact with a corpse.  He is to remain ritually clean and cannot defile his ritual cleanliness even in the event a parent or sibling dies [Numbers 6:7].

In the order of the Nazirite there is not only the concept of separation and consecration of an individual to God but also the concept of ministerial service, and perhaps a link to the royal priesthood as found in the High Priest's vow of service.  The Hebrew word nezer, from the same root as the word nazir , which also means "consecrated" is inscribed on the holy crown worn on the mitre of the High Priest [Exodus 29:6; 39:30; Leviticus 8:9], on the "crown" of the holy anointing oil used to sanctify people and objects to Yahweh [Leviticus 21:12], and later in the days of the monarchy the term is applied to the royal crown of the Kings of Israel [see 2 Samuel 1:10; 2 Kings 11:12; Zechariah 9:16]. Therefore, in the order of the Nazirite there is the combined concept of:

  1. separation
  2. purity in holiness
  3. the "crown" of the royal priesthood

All three aspects closely connected to the oath of service to God above all other functions in life, each aspect corresponding to the Nazirite's oath of service:

  1. Abstaining from wine and all products of the vine separate him or her from normal social occasions and the lure of temporal luxury and excess and is perhaps a reminder of the "fruit" that led man into sin in the Garden of Eden.  The abstention from fermented drink signified that the Nazirite's acceptance of a life of service as opposed to a life of ease [see Jeremiah 35:5-8].
  2. Separation from the corruption of death accentuates his or her holiness and the attachment to that which is incorruptible.
  3. Not cutting the hair, the "crown" of one's head becomes a visible sign of the Nazirite's sworn oath and consecration to Yahweh who is his or her strength.  The hair uncut showed an unrestrained comment to ones vow, only allowing divine power to act in him and confidence in God's promise of strength to fulfill it. Samson's long hair was his God ordained strength [see Judges 13:5-7, 14; 16:17].

The swearing of a lifetime oath allowed a man to serve God without the necessary bloodline of Aaron to link him to ministerial service in the Temple.  The requirements of the Nazirite are in fact similar to those of the Levitical priesthood.  A priest had to abstain from wine during his period of service in the Sanctuary and he was to avoid all defilement from coming in contact with the dead except in the case of his nearest relatives.  The difference is that the Nazirite's vow imposed a more sever obligation in that the Nazirite had to abstain from wine and all products of the vine for the entire length of his oath; like a High Priest he could not even bury his parents [Leviticus 21:11; Numbers 6:7]; and he could not cut his hair for the length of the vow.  Like the ministerial Levitical priesthood the Nazirites were permitted to assemble within the precincts of the Temple and were provided with their own special enclosure known as the Nazirite's Chamber.

According to the Mishnah [Naz. vi], the oral tradition of the Old Covenant people, if a Nazirite took an oath of service for an indefinite period of time the vow lasted for 30 days, which was the shortest possible period of time for a Nazirite vow.  There were also perpetual Nazarites, like Samson and Samuel. The Mishnah distinguishes between lifetime or perpetual Nazirites who were ordinary perpetual Nazirites and Samson-Nazirites.  Both classes of Nazirites were for life, but the ordinary perpetual Nazirite could be defiled by coming in contact with the death and was allowed to occasionally shorten his hair provided he made the necessary sacrifices.  But the Samson-Nazirite, like the hero Samson in the Book of Judges, can not trim his hair and is allowed to come into contact with the dead without incurring ritual defilement, thus allowing a Samson-Nazirite to serve as a warrior [Judges 15:15].

Like a priest a Nazarite was to live a life of strict outward ritual purity that signified an inner purity of heart [for ritual purity of priests see Leviticus 21:1-2, 10-11]. There were temporary vows, such as the vow in Amos 2:11-12 and Acts 18:18; 21:23-26, or a child could be dedicated by his mother as in the case of Samson and Samuel [Judges 13:1-6 and 1 Samuel 1:9-11], or a vow could be for life [1Samuel 9:11;Judges 13:7].  Both the judge Samson [Judges 13:5-7; 14; 16-17] and the prophet/judge/priest Samuel [1 Samuel 1:11] were consecrated as Nazirites from the womb.

When a Nazirite completed a vow he was to cut his or her hair and present the locks of hair, which represented the duration of the oath of service, at the Temple in Jerusalem where it was to be burned on the sacrificial Altar with animal and grain sacrifices.  The sacrificial requirements for a completed vow were an expensive undertaking and often wealthy Jews would sponsor a poor Nazirite who had completed a vow.  The required offerings are described in Numbers 6:13-21:

  1. a ritually perfect male lambs to be entirely burnt up on the Altar
  2. a ritually perfect female lambs as a sin sacrifice which after having been roasted on the Altar the Old Covenant priests will eat.
  3. a ram to be boiled and then eaten by the offers and their families in the Holy Place as a communion offering
  4. along with unleavened bread and wine to accompany the sacrificial meal.
  5. the appropriate cereal offerings and wine libations for the Altar sacrifice and the sacrificial meal.

In addition to the "ram without blemish" for the communion (peace) offering, the Nazirite had to provide a basket of unleavened bread, cakes of fine wheat flour mixed with oil, and wafers of unleavened bread anointed with oil in addition to the regular meat offering and wine libation [Numbers 6:14, 15].  The Mishnah explains how and in what proportions the unleavened bread that accompanies the communion sacrifice was to be prepared and that all was to be offered in one vessel.  The sin offering [which the offerer could not eat but would be eaten by the priests] was the first sacrifice presented, then the holocaust sacrifice which would be wholly consumed in the fire of the Altar, and finally the sacrifice which was the communion or peace offering, which reestablished fellowship with Yahweh after He had accepted the offerer's atonement for sins in the sin sacrifice.

According to the Mishnah, after the required animal, grain and wine sacrifices, had been offered by the priest the Nazirite withdrew to the Nazirite's chamber which was located in the Court of the Women.  There the peace offering cut up and was boiled in a cauldron and cutting off the hair that had remained unshorn during the length of the vow, the hair was then thrown into the fire under the cauldron.  The priest then "waved" the offering as it is described in Numbers 6:19 & 20, and the fat was salted and burned upon the holy sacrificial Bronze Altar in the courtyard of the Temple.  The breast of the sacrificed animal, the fore-leg and the boiled shoulder of the peace offering as well as the waved cake and wafer of unleavened wheat flour belonged to the priests.  The loaves of unleavened bread and the remaining meat of the communion sacrifice were eaten by the Nazirite and his friends and family. 

In Acts 21:18-26, James the first Christian Bishop of Jerusalem requested that St. Paul, as a sign of good faith and solidarity with his Jewish brethren, sponsor 4 Nazirites who had completed their vow period:  So the next day Paul took the men along and was purified with them, and he visited the Temple to give notice of the time when the period of purification would e over and the offering would have to be presented on behalf of each of them."  Paul in obedience to James submitted to a Old Covenant ritual which no longer had any real meaning in the New Covenant of Jesus Christ for every Christian had now been consecrated to accepting a lifetime vow of service in the royal priesthood of believers who received the sacrament of baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.  The Latin word sacramentum is translated as "oath".  In the Sacraments we swear our oath of consecrated service to the Most Holy Trinity and claim that one perfect sacrifice that is ours for all time and eternity.  In the Book of Hebrews, St. Paul writes:"He says first You did not want what the Law lays down as the things to be offered, that is: the sacrifices, the cereal offerings, the burnt offerings and the sacrifices for sin, and you took no pleasure in them; and then he says: Here I am!  I am coming to do your will.  He is abolishing the first sort to establish the second.  And this will was for us to be made holy by the offering of the body of Jesus Christ made once and for all." Hebrews 10:8-10.

In this sense all New Covenant believers serve God as perpetual Nazirites who are not defiled by death for our Savior has conquered death.  In our vow of holiness we offer our lives as a living sacrifice in service to Christ: "I urge you, then, brothers, remembering the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, dedicated and acceptable to God; that is the kind of worship for you, as sensible people.  Do not model your behavior on the contemporary world, but let the renewing of your minds transform you, so that you may discern for yourselves what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and mature." Romans 12:1-2

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2006 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.