From Slaves to Soldiers

Chapter 6

The word Nazirite is from the root nzr (נזר)[1], and means to separate or dedicate oneself. When Jacob was dying he blessed Joseph by saying something like this: “blessings of grain and flowers, of the eternal mountains and the bounty of the everlasting hills may descend on Joseph’s head – on his crown because he is dedicated – nazir – from among his brothers.”[2]

The vow of the Nazirite allowed a person who wasn’t a hereditary member of the priesthood through the line of Aaron to offer special service to Yahweh. It expressed his or her special desire to draw close to Yahweh. If a man or woman wanted to totally dedicate their selves to the service of their God, Yahweh told Moses that he or she must not drink any wine or bear – no intoxicating drink of any kind – not even the juice of grapes. Generally, wine and grape products were thought of as a blessing and something to be gratefully received from Yahweh[3]. He said that a Nazirite must not even eat grapes, or any product from the grapevine, while he or she was consecrated to him. The Nazirite’s service to Yahweh was above all other functions in life. Abstaining from wine and all products of the vine separated the Nazirite from normal social occasions and the lure of secular opulence and overabundance.

The Nazirite was not to cut his or her hair for the time they were consecrated to the service of Yahweh. Since hair continues to grow throughout life and possibly for a time after death, the ancients considered it the seat of human vitality and life-force, and in ritual it often served as his or her substitute. The Nazirite’s long hair was to be a sign of his or her holy separation to Yahweh.

Because death is the effect of sin, it was to be avoided during the period of the vow. The priest had to abstain from wine during his period of service in the Sanctuary and was to avoid all defilement from coming in contact with the dead except in the case of his nearest relatives; however, for the entire duration of his or her consecration the Nazirite was holy to Yahweh. They were not go near a corps, even if it was mother, father, sister, or brother. If the vow was broken, perhaps because someone dropped dead next to the Nazirite, he or she would have to have the hair shaved off his or her head, make a sacrifice, and begin the vow over again. Separation from the corruption of death heightened the Nazirite’s holiness and the attachment to Yahweh, who is incorruptible.

In the New Testament parallel to the Nazirite vow[4] Paul urged his Christian brethren to keep Yahweh’s mercy our focal point of living and offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to Yahweh as our act of worship. Paul implored his brethren to no longer conform our lives to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds s so that we will be able to test and approve what Yahweh’s good, pleasing and perfect will is. The Nazirite vow is a symbol of our need to be separate from this world, a holy people consecrated to Yahweh[5]. All New Covenant believers serve Yahweh as perpetual Nazirites. We don’t have to follow the directions about coming into contact with a corps because we are not defiled by death since our Savior has conquered death.

The vow of a Nazirite ended with a public ceremony, that included substantial sacrifice – a healthy yearling lamb for the Whole-Burnt-Offering, a healthy yearling ewe for an Absolution-Offering, a healthy ram for a Peace-Offering, a basket of unraised bread made of fine flour, loaves mixed with oil, and crackers spread with oil, along with their Grain-Offerings and Drink-Offerings. The Nazirite vow was not something that could be entered into lightly.

At the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, the Nazirite was to shave off the hair he or she consecrated and put it in the fire that was burning under the Peace-Offering. Then the priest would take a shoulder from the ram that was boiled, a piece of unraised bread and a cracker from the basket and place them in the Nazirite’s hands. The priest would wave them before Yahweh as a Wave-Offering because they belonged to the officiating priest. After that the Nazirite was free to drink wine.

 

Yahweh told Moses to tell Aaron and his sons what the Aaronic Blessing[6] should consist of. After Aaron and his sons went through the seven day ceremony that inaugurated them into the priesthood, Aaron descended the altar and he and Moses went into the Tent of Meeting. When they came out they blessed the people as Yahweh had instructed them and the glory of Yahweh appeared to all the people in fire that blazed out and consumed the Whole Burnt Offering and the fat pieces on the altar. The congregation cheered and fell down on the ground in reverence.[7]

The ancient people would have heard something like this: “Yahweh bless you and keep you; Yahweh makes his face shine upon you, and is gracious to you; Yahweh lifts up his countenance upon you, and gives you peace.” Jeff A. Benner says that the Ancient Hebrew Research Center says that the ancient Hebrews would have understood it as follows. “Yahweh will kneel before you presenting gifts and will guard you with a hedge of protection, Yahweh will illuminate the wholeness of his being toward you bringing order and he will beautify you, Yahweh will lift up his wholeness of being and look upon you and he will set in place all you need to be whole and complete.”[8]

The English word “bless” comes from the Hebrew barak which means, “To kneel”. A berakah is a “blessing” but more literally, the bringing of a gift to another on a bended knee. When we bless Yahweh or others, we are in essence bringing a gift on bended knee. A true king is one who serves his people, one who will humble himself and come to his people on a bended knee.[9]

“That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for the many who are held hostage.”[10] This simple desire prefaces everything. Yahweh loves to bless His people, and He loves to have leaders long that the people be blessed. All blessing really come from Yahweh; and without his blessing, all is pointless. True blessing from Yahweh is higher than happiness or wealth or comfort. Moreover, like a good king, he keeps us. The Hebrew word for “keep” is “shamar” which literally means “to guard”.

To feel – or simply know without feeling – that Yahweh shows tender mercy and care for His people creates a deep, delightful calm within the soul.

To lift up one’s eyes or face means to pay attention, so we, along with the ancient Israelites, know that Yahweh pays attention to us.

The Hebrew word for peace is shalom, which is more than the cessation of hostility. Peace/shalom is Yahweh’s word for wholeness and goodness and total satisfaction in life – the abundant life that Jesus promised.[11]

The fruit of the blessing is that the priests were to put Yahweh’s name on the nation of Israel, and Yahweh would bless his people. To be blessed by Yahweh is to have his name on you – to identify with who he is and his nature.

Yahweh bless you and keep you,
Yahweh smile on you and gift you,
Yahweh look you full in the face
and make you prosper.

 

Summary of chapter 6

The Nazirite vow had existed for ages prior to the times of Moses and was known in pagan lands as well as among the Jews. The instructions Yahweh gave Moses did not initiate a new practice, they regulated a custom already prevalent. Both men and women who desired a stricter and more meaningful religious life than merely obeying the regular duties of every Israelite could be a Nazirite (someone separated to Yahweh’s service).

They were an honored and respected minority raised up by Yahweh himself[12] to further and deepen the spiritual life of the people, classed with the prophets by Amos.

Coffman’s Commentary says, “Nothing whatever pertaining to the grapevine was permissible to the Nazirite. The widespread use and cultivation of the grape among pagan populations justifies the conclusion that a rejection of pagan association with the vine and its products was included in the purpose of the Nazirite.”

The hair was dedicated to Yahweh as a symbol of life and vitality.

The prohibition against defilement by touching the dead was stricter for the Nazirite than the application of it to the priests, resembling more the very strict rules for the high priest himself. Besides having to shave his or her head and start the vow over the full gamut of the Levitical sacrifices was required if the Nazirite accidently was exposed to a dead body: the sin offering, the burnt-offering, and the trespass-offering. Jewish tradition says that the hair that was shaved off was buried because iot was defiled.

The days of the Nazirite’s separation included elaborate ceremonies, comprising the offering of a full list of the Levitical sacrifices. The peace-offerings which were normally consumed by the offeror and his friends, celebrated the lifting of the ban against drinking wine. The hair was shaved off and burned under the whole burnt offering part of the ceremony.

Yahweh instructed Moses how to instruct Aaron and his sons to bless his people.

Coffman said that “God, mark us with grace and blessing! Smile! The whole country will see how you work, all the godless nations see how you save. God! Let people thank and enjoy you. Let all people thank and enjoy you. Let all far-flung people become happy and shout their happiness because you judge them fair and square, you tend the far-flung peoples. God! Let people thank and enjoy you. Let all people thank and enjoy you. Earth, display your exuberance! You mark us with blessing, O God, our God. You mark us with blessing, O God. Earth’s four corners—honor him!”[13] was molded on the Aaronic Blessing.

This is my life blog spot posted a picture of Yahweh’s blessing that goes something like this: Yahweh, as the head of the house of Israel, strengthens his own work with his own hands. His work binds and overpowers the destroyer using the power that he holds in his hand. Yahweh is the Chief Ruler and he secures life and order with his teachings. His teachings strengthen the hedge around his people and he lifts up his strong hands over Israel. His work speaks out with vitality. His works strengthen his authority and his hand destroys chaos.[14]

 

Prayer: My gracious and loving God, Yahweh, I thank you and praise you for the gift of your blessing on my life. I may be ragged and worn out by life but, although I know I am unworthy of your blessing, you give it to me out of love. I praise you that you love me and send me into the world with your peace. May I always know—in good times and bad—with unwavering certainty that you are with me and will never leave me or forsake me. I want to live under your blessing and be a shining blessing to all the lives I touch.[15]

 

 

Things to think about

  1. How do you think the Nazirite vow relates to you and me today?
  2. Why do you think the Israelite would want to make a Nazirite vow?
  3. What would the fruit of the vine have to do with serving Yahweh?
  4. Why did the Nazirite grow his or her hair during the Nazirite vow?
  5. Why do you think the Nazirite’s hair was shaved off and burned under the Whole Burnt Offering at the end of the vow term?
  6. Why did Yahweh tell the Nazirite not to be defiled with death, even if it was the death of a close relative?
  7. We feel good when we hear the Aaronic blessing, but what does it tell you about the character of your God, Yahweh? What did the word picture of the blessing mean to you? What did you think is the difference between the way we hear the blessing and the message the ancient Israelites got?

 

 

[1] This word is inscribed on the crown of the High Priest; Exodus 29:6; 39:30; Leviticus 8:9

[2] Genesis 49:26; Deuteronomy 33:16

[3] Proverbs 3:10; Psalm 104:15

[4] Romans 12:1, 2

[5] 2 Timothy 1:9; 1 Peter 1:15

[6] Leviticus 9:22-24

[7] From Displaying Holiness by Allison Kohn, page 90

[8] http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/language_aaronic.html

[9] http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/language_aaronic.html

[10] Matthew 20:28

[11] John 10:10; Philippians 4:4

[12] Amos 2:11,12

[13] Psalm 67

[14] http://torahitisyourlife.blogspot.com/2012/01/aaronic-blessing-pictorial-meaning.htm

[15] From https://www.crcna.org/resources/church-resources/reading-sermons/holy-blessing

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