Consecration and Consistency
(Leviticus 19:1-2, 19; 27:1-34)
(Numbers 6:1-21; 30:1-16)
(Deuteronomy 22:9-11; 23:1-8, 21-23)
Samson the Nazirite
Today’s readings outline certain Old Testament vows and dedications. In particular, the vow of the Nazirite is described in detail.
What was the Nazirite vow?
In the Old Testament, the Nazirite vow was a commitment to ascetism, or self-deprivation, during which an individual was consecrated, or set apart, for God’s purpose for a predetermined period of time.
A Hebrew taking a Nazirite vow was expected to abstain from wine and anything containing grapes. He was not to cut his hair throughout the duration of his vow. And he was not allowed any contact with dead persons, graves or anything that had come into contact with a corpse.
Vow-makers could make limited or lifetime commitments, known as Nazaraei Votivi (Nazarites of Days) or Nazaraei Nativi (Perpetual Nazarites). The Nazirite vow lasted at least 30 days. Some individuals took Nazirite vows that lasted for the duration of their lifetimes.
Upon completion of this commitment, the individual was expected to participate in a ritual cleansing (known as the mikvah) and to make a series of sacrificial offerings (including the burnt offering, the peace offering and the sin offering) and to cut and burn his hair with the sacrifice.
Who took a Nazirite Vow?
Certain key figures in the Bible seem to have taken the Nazirite vow. In the Old Testament, both Samson the strongman (see Judges 13:5) and the prophet Samuel (see 1 Samuel 1:11) took Nazirite vows. Samuel’s vow apparently originated in his mother Hannah’s dedication of him to the Lord. Quite possibly, King David also took the Nazirite vow.
In the New Testament, it appears that John the Baptist (see Luke 1:13-15) and the Apostle Paul (see Acts 18:18) probably did as well. Some Scriptural studies and historians suggest that the Apostle James (known as James the Just and James the Ascetic) also took a Nazirite vow.
Many Bible scholars believe that Jesus Himself took a Nazirite vow at the Last Supper, which would have lasted until after His ascension to Heaven (see Mark 14:22-25).
How important are vows to the Lord?
Throughout the Bible, God makes it clear that He demands truthfulness and integrity from those who would follow Him. Consider these convicting statements:
“When you make a vow to the Lord your God,
be prompt in fulfilling whatever you promised Him.
For the Lord your God demands
that you promptly fulfill all your vows,
or you will be guilty of sin.
However, it is not a sin to refrain from making a vow.
But once you have voluntarily made a vow,
be careful to fulfill your promise to the Lord your God.”
In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus cautioned His followers from taking vows and making oaths, unless they could be sure to keep them:
"Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago,
'Do not break your oath,
but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.'
But I tell you, Do not swear at all:
either by heaven, for it is God's throne;
or by the earth, for it is his footstool;
or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King.
And do not swear by your head,
for you cannot make even one hair white or black.
Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No';
anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”
The Apostle James (perhaps also a Nazirite vow-maker), echoes this truth:
Above all, my brothers, do not swear -
not by heaven or by earth or by anything else.
Let your ‘Yes’ be yes, and your ‘No,’ no,
or you will be condemned.”
Integrity is important.
The central point seems to be a simple one: It is easy for vow-makers to become vow-breakers. How careful we must be before we make promises that will raise the standards to which we may be held. How grateful we are that the Lord’s grace will cover us all and that His mercy depends upon His own love for us, rather than our own worth.
In the closing portion of today’s Bible readings, we find a list of rules for consistency. These curious statements include warnings against mixing unlike items:
1) Two types of seeds were not to be planted together. Are we wholly devoted to God, or do we try to mix a bit of worldliness with our commitment?
2) An ox and a donkey could not plow together in one yoke. Are we fighting against the Lord’s leading by being willing servants and stubborn rebels at once?
3) Wool and linen garments were not to be worn simultaneously. How might we be trying to wear our old, coarse and earthy garb, along with the Lord’s glorious and holy clothes of righteousness?
4) Two variant species of animals could not be bred with one another. If our old self has indeed died with Christ, why would we try to mix it with the new people we have become in His grace?
What is the point here? The message points to holiness, consistency and integrity.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ,
he is a new creation;
the old has gone, the new has come!”
May the Lord hold us in His great hands of love, mercy and grace. Hallelujah!
Will you pray with me?
Great God of grace and glory,
How blessed we are
To be called as Your own.
Only through Your mercy
May it be so.
Guard our hearts from evil
And our lips from making vows
We cannot keep.
To belong to You
Is calling enough.
May we honor You
All the promises we make to You,
Even as You keep Your promises
You are truth.
Teach us truthfulness.