Numbers 6 – What is a Nazarite/Nazirite?

Nazirite

The LDS Bible Dictionary states the following:

A consecrated man. A man under a vow to abstain from wine, from any cutting of the hair, and any contact with the dead (Judg. 13:5; 16:17; 1 Sam. 1:11; Amos 2:11–12; for full regulations see Num. 6). The vow might be lifelong, or for a short, definite period.

From the book The Jewish Religion: A Companion, we read the following:

A man or woman who had vowed to be in a state of separation (from the root nazar, ‘to separate’). The Nazirite vow was binding for as long as the one making it decided, but it could not be less than thirty days. The laws of the Nazirite are stated in the book of Numbers (6:1-21) from which it emerges that the Nazirite was not allowed to drink wine or even eat grapes; he had to let his hair grow long; and he was not to come into contact with a corpse. Elaborate rituals are recorded for the terminations of the Nazirite state. Once his term had been completed the Nazirite was obliged to bring to the Sanctuary a male lamb for a burnt-offering, a ewe lamb for a sin-offering, a ram for a peace offering, and a basket of unleavened cakes and wafers spread with oil. It follows that the whole institution could only be in operation in the Temple period. Nevertheless, some few Jews, even after the destruction of the Temple, still undertook Nazirite vows, although this was then of the order of any other vow and did not fall under the heading of the Nazirite…

No reasons are stated explicitly for why people undertook to be Nazirites but it seems fairly obvious that the Nazirite vow was often undertaken as a discipline against temptation. When a man felt that he was in danger of becoming addicted to wine, for example, he might resolve to become a Nazirite as an exercise in self-control. A whole tractate of the Talmud, tractate Nazir, is devoted to the Nazirite laws. The Talmudic Rabbis used the institution of the Nazirite, no longer in vogue in their day, as a paradigm for fasting and for asceticism in general. 1

The Jewish Study Bible states:

By taking the vow of a Nazirite an Israelite becomes consecrated to God for a limited time period, becoming a type of lay priest, with restrictions similar to those of priests. The vow entails a number of restrictions: abstaining from fermented drinks and grape products, abstaining from cutting the hair, and abstaining from coming in contact with the dead. (This explains why Samson, who was a Nazirite, was not supposed to cut his hair.)

The Rabbis explain that the passage on Nazirite vows follows the section on the suspected adulteress to teach that abstinence from drink is commendable, since drinking intoxicants can lead to adultery. Modern critical approaches connect the sections by their emphasis on the key roles of the priests…

The rites that the Nazirite undergoes at the completion of the vow not only commemorate the fulfillment of the vow but function as a transitional ritual that allows the person to return to his or her former status. In this Priestly passage, the role of the priest in the ceremony is central to the discussion of the Nazirite. These verses concern a Nazirite for a prescribed period of time; Judges chapter 13 depict Samson as a lifetime Nazirite, with similar restrictions. However, Samson’s warrior ventures are inconsistent with Nazirite vows as outlined in Numbers. 2

Nazirite vows in the Bible

Two examples of Nazirites in the Hebrew Bible are Samson (Judges 13:5), and Samuel (1 Samuel 1:11). Both were born of previously barren mothers and entered into their vows through their mothers’ oaths rather than their own volition:

In the first case, God sent an angel to make the vow known to the mother for her not-yet-conceived son, Samson, of what He wanted the child to be like in his life.

And the woman came and said to her husband, saying, “A man of God came to me, and his appearance was like the appearance of an angel of God, very awesome; and I did not ask him from where he was and his name he did not tell me. And he said to me, ‘Behold, you shall conceive and bear a son; and now do not drink wine and strong drink, and do not eat any unclean (thing), for a Nazirite to God shall the lad be, from the womb until the day of his death’ (Judges 13:6-7).

In the second case, the mother (Hannah) made the vow before Samuel was even conceived, because she was barren. (1 Samuel 1:11)

These vows required Samson and Samuel to live devout lives, yet in return they received extraordinary gifts: Samson possessed strength and ability in physical battle against the Philistines, while Samuel became a prophet.

Notes

  1. Louis Jacobs, The Jewish Religion: A Companion, Oxford University Press, p. 364-365.
  2. Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, The Jewish Study Bible, The Jewish Publication Society, Oxford University Press, 2014, p. 281-282.

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