Posts Tagged 'Nazarite Vow'

By the Numbers, 4

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ARE YOU A NAZARITE?

You can laugh at the question, but it is a valid one. Are you a Nazarite? You probably don’t know how to answer that question, so let me help you out a little. In the Bible, a Nazarite is somebody who comes from a town called Nazareth. But the word “nazarite” means “separated” or “sanctified.” So, now can you answer the question, Are you a Nazarite?

Before you answer that question, you should know that not everybody thinks being a Nazarite is a good thing.

Nazareth! Can anything good come from there? (John 1:46 NIV)

After reading that question and knowing what “nazareth” really means, the question asked by Nathanael is kind of shocking. Notwithstanding his opinion, who wouldn’t be impressed with meeting a “sanctified” or “consecrated” or “separeated” person? Surely such a person would be the salt of the earth; a person completely devoted to God. So maybe the real question ought to be, not Are you a Nazarite? but What’s the point in being a Nazarite?

Indeed. In the 21st century, is there anything to be gained from being a sold-out Christian? Can a modern Christian be sanctified, devoted, consecrated to Jesus Christ? Is such a relationship possible these days?

Of course, there aren’t really any Nazarites around these days, but there are Christians, and all Christians should aspire to be like the Nazarites who lived so long ago. Unfortunately, most Christians are not at all like the ancient Nazarites. Most Christians are not all that devoted, sanctified, or consecrated to Jesus Christ. Most Christians, instead of separating themselves from the world, find creative way to keep one foot in Heaven and the other in the world. Which explains why there are so many disappointed Christians these days. Their prayers go unanswered. Others get blessed by they don’t. God seems to be a million miles away from Christians who live a million miles away from Him. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Let’s see what we can learn from the Nazarite vow. It was –

Voluntary

When either a man or a woman takes the special vow of a Nazirite, consecrating himself to the Lord in a special way… (Numbers 6:2 TLB)

The “Nazarite vow” was one of the truly unique provisions God made for His people. It wasn’t just for residents of Nazareth; any Israelite, man or woman, from any tribe could take this vow. The person who took this vow could do so for a certain period of time or for a lifetime. It was a means by which the average Israelite could get closer to God; to have a deeper, more meaningful walk with Him.

The thing about this vow was that it was far stricter than even the vows taken by priests. Among the more famous Israelites that took this special vow were Samson, Samuel, and John the Baptist.

In this vow we see the stage being set for the New Testament Gospel; the fact that the possibility of living a life utterly and completely devoted to Jesus Christ was for anybody. Anybody can enter into a close, personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

This is not insignificant. So many people, even some Christians, think of God as the One who is always out to get them; He’s always looking for a way to judge them and punish them. But, in fact, God is always on the lookout for somebody – anybody – who wants to do His will and live for Him. That’s who He’s looking for!

For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him. (2 Chronicles 16:9 NKJV)

And entering into that kind of relationship is completely voluntary. God never forced anybody to take the old Nazarite vow and He doesn’t force anybody to devote themselves to Jesus Christ. If you want God to “show Himself strong” on your behalf, you must show yourself devoted, consecrated, and separated on His behalf. It’s not rocket science. If you call yourself a Christian yet seem distant from God, you’re the problem, not Him.

Complete

Devotion, separation, and consecration to God must be complete. You can’t be partly devoted. You can’t be partly consecrated. And you can’t be partly separated to God. It’s an all or nothing proposition. In the case of the Nazarite vow, its separation included:

[No] strong drink or wine or even fresh wine, grape juice, grapes, or raisins! He may eat nothing that comes from grapevines, not even the seeds or skins! (Numbers 6:3, 4 TLB)

The one who took the vow couldn’t get close to anything produced by a vine. What was the big deal about grapes, raisins, or wine? Actually, it all has to do with the principle of “separation.” This included:

…he must never cut his hair, for he is holy and consecrated to the Lord; that is why he must let his hair grow. (Numbers 6:5 TLB)

And it included this:

And he may not go near any dead body during the entire period of his vow, even if it is the body of his father, mother, brother, or sister… (Numbers 6:6, 7 TLB)

None of these were bad; not grapes or wine or hair or dead bodies. The principle of separation had nothing to do with avoiding bad or sinful things. It had little to do with principles of right and wrong. The principle of separation as far as the Nazarite was concerned had to do with an attitude; with something on the inside of the person, not on the outside. And it’s the same with a Christian. Christians are supposed to live separated from the world. We can see that in the way Quakers live, for example. But it’s what’s on the inside that matters to God – it’s your attitude toward the things of the world that counts. That Quaker, for example, who abstains from AM radio yet finds joy in hand-rolled cigarettes, has accomplished nothing for God. In other words, if you are a Christian, you need to consider where your joy comes from. It’s not, “alcohol is bad,” but rather, “why do you drink it?” It’s not, “that certain friendship is bad,” it’s “does that relationship mean more to you than God does?” The principle of separation has to do with keeping your priorities straight. If something in the world gives you more joy than God does, you need to separate yourself from it.

The Nazarite vow is very illustrative of how Christians should be living. We should be wholly devoted to Jesus Christ, so that if anything or anybody causes a rift to develop in our relationship with Him, then it has to go.

To the Lord

…and he is consecrated to the Lord throughout the entire period. (Numbers 16:8 TLB)

So you see, it’s not a matter of “giving this up” or “giving that up.” It’s a matter of devoting yourself to the Lord. Giving something up for the sake of giving something up is useless. Giving something up because you think it makes God happy is not what this is about. The Nazarite person was a separated person – separated from certain activities of the world so that they could take more time in serving God. It’s not that God derives some kind of strange joy in wanting to keep certain things away from certain people. It’s that He wants to spend more time with His people. He wants His people to get to know Him in a more profound way. Our Lord described it this way:

Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Mark 8:34 NIV)

Did you see that? It’s not just “denying,” it’s “following.” But you shouldn’t think that Jehovah or Jesus thinks that devotion to Him is all about legalistic works apart from the right attitude of the heart. Remember, the vow was completely voluntary; it was a matter of the heart. How long it lasted was up to the individual. Serving the Lord is up to you. And that’s how God wants it to be. He wants you to want to serve Him. He coerces no one.

Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God. (2 Corinthians 7:1 NIV)

God wants all of His children to be Nazarites in their heart and in spirit.

Public

The nature of the Nazarite vow was that it was completely out in the open, for all to see. You could spot a Nazarite a mile away. He was the guy with messy, unkempt hair. His hair, so to speak, was a public testimony to his character. You couldn’t hide the fact that you were a Nazarite. The consecrated, dedicated, and separated life of the believer cannot be hidden, either.

Don’t hide your light! Let it shine for all; let your good deeds glow for all to see, so that they will praise your heavenly Father. (Matthew 5:15, 16 TLB)

You shouldn’t brag about your relationship with Jesus Christ, but you shouldn’t hide it either. You shouldn’t keep your faith from anybody, for any reason.

For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:26 NKJV)

A special benediction

May the Lord bless and protect you; may the Lord’s face radiate with joy because of you; may he be gracious to you, show you his favor, and give you his peace. (Numbers 6:24 – 26 TLB)

Following all the verses concerning the Nazarite law of separation, we read about the grace of God. The so-called Aaronic blessing (verses 22-27) was given to all Israelites, but it was especially relevant to the Nazarites. If God promised to bless the average Israelite, how much more would He bless the ones completely devoted to Him?

In this benediction, we see the attitude of God. We’ve looked at what the attitude of His people should be toward Him and what He wants, and now we see His attitude. And what is God’s attitude toward His people? He blesses them. God isn’t “out to get them.” He blesses them. Or more accurately, He wants to bless them.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. (James 1:17 NKJV)

If we take this verse literally, and we should, God blesses His people and that’s all He does. “There is no variation of shadow of turning.” God won’t change His mind regarding the people He loves and blesses.

But there’s more to this blessing:

…the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you (Numbers 6:25 NIV)

What a beautiful statement. There’s nothing for you to fear in God’s presence. He’s not scowling at you. He’s not making a mean face when He looks at you. If you are His child, His face is beaming.

Lastly, we come to this:

…the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:26 NIV)

The Lord will never turn His back on the ones He loves. Isn’t that a wonderful thought? And not only that, God gives His people peace. Peace of mind. Peace of heart. Peace with Him.

The Bible is a divine Book. It’s divinely authored and ordered. There’s a reason why this benediction follows details concerning the Nazarite vow. God wants us to make the connection between complete consecration, dedication, and separation and God’s blessing. God’s very best is for those who love Him the most.

JEREMIAH AND THE RECABITES

Jeremiah 35

The book of Jeremiah is special. It is the only prophetic book in the Bible that records the fulfillment of its main prophecy: the fall of Jerusalem and the captivity of the Jews in Babylon. Chapters 34 through 44 tell that part of the story; the siege of Jerusalem is in chapters 34—38, its fall in chapter 39, and the events after the fall are found in chapters 40—44.

The prophet Jeremiah is just as special as the book that bears his name. He not only preached and foretold future events, he used his imagination in trying to get his message across to the people. Jeremiah’s favorite technique was to take everyday things or people –like the potter and his clay—to illustrate deep, spiritual truths. Here, in chapter 35, he used a whole tribe of people to teach a singular lesson to the people of Judah.

The people were known as Recabites. This was a separatist, nomadic family that descended from the Kenites. They are first mentioned back in 1 Chronicles 2:55—

...and the clans of scribes who lived at Jabez: the Tirathites, Shimeathites and Sucathites. These are the Kenites who came from Hammath, the father of the house of Recab.

In spite of the fact that the Recabites lived on the outskirts, in the desert, they were followers of Yahweh, as far back as the days in Egypt, where they joined the Hebrews in their Exodus. Being related to the Kenites, they were actually part of Jethro’s family—the same Jethro who was Moses’ father-in-law. They were instrumental in purging the Northern Kingdom, Israel, of Baal worship during the time of Jehu.

Jonadab, was their spiritual father (see 2 Kings 10, 15, 16). He was a wise, strong man who had taken the vows Nazarite; whose life and testimony glued the tribe together. His whole life was a protest against the sins of his generation: Baal worship and rebellion against God.

Jonadab was absolutely zealous for the cause of God and, like any good father, consistently set a good, positive example for his people to follow. To paraphrase as well-known saying, “The good, and the evil, that men do live after them in their children.”

And Jeremiah was about to use the whole tribe to both rebuke Judah and teach them a lesson. In doing so, believers of the 21st century may learn some priceless lessons about the Christian life.

1. They were severely tested, verses 1—5

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord during the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah: “Go to the Recabite family and invite them to come to one of the side rooms of the house of the Lord and give them wine to drink.” (verses 1, 2)

Chapter 35 has one purpose: to contrast the remarkable obedience of the Recabites with the consistent disobedience of Judah. The Recabites had come come to Jerusalem at this time seeking refuge from the Babylonian armies. Under the direction of God, Jeremiah was to go to the Recabites, offer them sanctuary in one of the rooms in the Temple and a drink of wine.

Some churches like to use the Recabites and their temperance as a way to teach abstinence from alcohol, but that’s not the purpose of this chapter. The Recabites had taken the Nazarite vow, which forbade them from consuming alcohol. It was their personal choice, just as living in the desert and avoiding life in the city was their personal choice.

Still, they had this set of beliefs and practices that they took very seriously and at God’s express direction, Jeremiah was to offer them a drink, in the Lord’s Temple. Talk about temptation! Imagine, turning the House of the Lord into a saloon! Especially troubling about what God asked Jeremiah to do is this verse in James 1:13—

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone…

Two points need to be remembered here. First, God was not tempting the Recabites to sin against their consciences. The Recabites, like Job, were strong in their convictions. God, in His omniscience, knew they would never take that alcohol.

Second, because God knew how the Recabites would respond, God trusted them to provide the perfect living example for the people of Judah. This is another classic example of God’s sovereignty.

2. They remained faithful to their convictions, verses 6—11

But they replied, “We do not drink wine, because our forefather Jonadab son of Recab gave us this command: ‘Neither you nor your descendants must ever drink wine.” (verse 6)

No matter who was tempting them, these Recabites would not be tempted to go against the commands of their ancestor. Not only did they refuse to drink, they went so far as to instruct the prophet on why they would abstain. They reminded Jeremiah why they lived the way they lived and why they came to Jerusalem:

But when Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon invaded this land, we said, ‘Come, we must go to Jerusalem to escape the Babylonian and Aramean armies.’ So we have remained in Jerusalem.” (verse 11)

They had come to Jerusalem for safety, not to indulge in the very things they were avoiding. They avoided the things that they perceived caused people to sin and rebel against God. Things like alcohol, living in big cities, building homes, and so on. For hundreds of years these people lived precisely the way their ancestors wanted them to.

These were the people God was using to teach Judah a lesson. The lesson had nothing to do with their lifestyle per se. God was not a teetotaller. He was not against people living in a house or even in a city, necessarily. God has never been big on the idea of asceticism. What impressed God, and what God wanted Jeremiah to impress upon his people, was how the Recabites remained faithful to their ancestor Jonadab:

We have lived in tents and have fully obeyed everything our forefather Jonadab commanded us. (verse 10)

3. Their example, verses 12—17

“Jonadab son of Recab ordered his sons not to drink wine and this command has been kept. To this day they do not drink wine, because they obey their forefather’s command. But I have spoken to you again and again, yet you have not obeyed me.” (verse 14)

We can imagine what a stir this group of nomads caused in and around the Temple. A lot of people probably came, rubber-necking, trying to get glimpse of these strange looking people. Jeremiah had a captive audience and he seized the opportunity to drive home God’s message to the people of Jerusalem.

The Recabites had remained steadfastly faithful to a dead ancestor yet the people of Judah couldn’t seem to remain faithful to God, who had been sending them His prophets for centuries! This paragraph gives us the startling contrasts:

  • The Recabites obeyed a fallible, dead leader. Judah’s leader was the eternal God.
  • Jonadab gave his commands to the Recabites only one time. God repeatedly sent His messages to His people.
  • The Recabites’ beliefs dealt with worldly issues, not eternal ones. God’s messages to His people dealt with both eternal and temporal issues.
  • The Recabites obeyed Jonadab’s commands for some 300 years. God’s people had been disobedient since the days of the Exodus.
  • The loyalty of the Recabites would be rewarded. For their disloyalty, the people of Judah would be punished.

What a powerful message this should have been. But, as happened so often, the message fell on deaf ears:

“Therefore, this is what the Lord God Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘Listen! I am going to bring on Judah and on everyone living in Jerusalem every disaster I pronounced against them. I spoke to them, but they did not listen; I called to them, but they did not answer.’” (verse 17)

4. The Recabite’s Reward, verses 18, 19

Then Jeremiah said to the family of the Recabites, “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘You have obeyed the command of your forefather Jonadab and have followed all his instructions and have done everything he ordered.’ Therefore, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘Jonadab son of Recab will never fail to have a man to serve me.’”

Judah’s future looked pretty bleak. But not so for the Recabites. God promised to reward these desert nomads, not because of their odd lifestyle, but because they remained faithful to the wishes of their forefather. Their reward was, in reality, a striking rebuke against the rebellious, double dealing people of Judah. Both groups of people would reap what they had sowed! Judah would reap judgment and the Recabites would reap their reward. Yes, the faithfulness of the Recabites would forever stand as a living example of the kind of devotion and commitment wants from His people.

Conclusion

The Bible clearly teaches that obedience to one’s parents will be rewarded with a long life in this world.  The Bible also teaches us about our heavenly Father, and that our obedience to Him will bring about eternal rewards.


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