Friday, February 7. Numbers 5 – 7

Why would anyone want to be a Nazirite (Numbers 6)?

Though this special vow could be undertaken by men or women, there is no place in the Bible where such a vow is commanded.

And it was, quite frankly, a burden.

In the first place, it was restrictive. The priests were not allowed to drink wine before going on duty in the tabernacle, but Nazirites were to have nothing to do with wine or grapes or anything associated with wine-making for the entire period of their commitment. In the second place, it was separative. The long hair (or, baldness after the vow) made a distinction between them and their brethren. The inability to “weep with those who weep,” or have anything to do with a dead body or even be around one made the Nazirites distinctive among a people where community was prized (even by God). In the third place, it was grueling. Because this was a vow, and because any vow was special to the Lord and had to be performed, once made, there was no way out. If you messed up, it wasn’t like not keeping a New Year’s resolution; you had to start all over from scratch until the vow was fulfilled.

Finally, the vow was expensive. Fail at completing the vow and the offering required a sin offering, a burnt offering, and a guilt offering – and you had to start all over. If you completed the vow, you offered the same offerings as were made when the High Priest was consecrated. This is not a vow to be entered into lightly.

So why do it?

The Bible is not plain. There are other vows in the Bible, but this one was special. It bound a person to God in a special way for a period of time (no one was able to keep it as a life-long commitment).

The Nazirite vow regulations are found only in Numbers 6 and come at the end of the section dealing with the lives of the priests. Perhaps the Nazarite vow was a way to become “like” a priest, even if you weren’t a part of the priestly family. After all, God called Israel to be a nation of priests (Exodus 19:6). Here was an opportunity for everyone to participate – if not in the ritual, then in the life.

And why participate? To understand what it truly meant to be “holy to the Lord.” Vows in the ancient world were primarily made in order to get the gods to do something for the supplicant. But there is no evidence that the Nazirite vow was made for that reason. It was wholly about holiness.