According to Numbers 6, the Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man or woman wants to make a special vow, a vow of dedication to the Lord as a Nazirite, they must abstain from wine and other fermented drink; they must let their hair grow long; and they must not go near a dead body.”
Nazirite vows were taken voluntarily in order to set oneself apart for the Lord – either temporarily for a specific task, or permanently as a way of dedicating one’s entire life to the Lord.
The Apostle Paul might have taken one. Perhaps he took it just before setting out on his second missionary journey, or perhaps when he “devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah” (Acts 18:5). I don’t know when he first took the vow, but it looks like it ended at Acts 18:18 NIV: “Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. Then he left the brothers and sisters and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. Before he sailed, he had his hair cut off at Cenchreae because of a vow he had taken.”
I took my own little version of a Nazirite vow a few years ago. I don’t remember whether I set out to take it, or whether I realized I had done so after the fact.
I’ve never been much of a drinker – a glass of champagne at Thanksgiving and another at Christmas dinner, that’s about it. So giving up the grape didn’t take any effort. And since the point of letting one’s hair grow seems to have been an outward sign of an inward commitment, I didn’t worry so much about that one. No one in today’s culture would have made the connection anyway, so I still got my hair trimmed every 6 to 8 weeks. My vow had to do with staying away from dead bodies. And television is full of them. Literal dead bodies, violent crime show re-enactments of dead bodies, and the dead and decaying souls that populate reality tv. James admonished, “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he caused to dwell in us.” (James 4:4-5 NIV) I was definitely getting too friendly with the crap on tv. So I decided to stay away from the death and decay. I gave up television completely for 9 months.
Instead of unwinding in front of the tv in the evenings, I knelt on the floor of our spare room surrounded by Bibles, commentaries and an assortment of reference books. I studied, prayed and took dictation – sometimes into the wee hours. In the end, I gave birth to a Bible study.
Once the project was completed I went back to watching television, but now I watch mostly cooking shows and the history channel. Even though there are no dead bodies involved these days, I’m about to give up television again for a while. God has given me a new task and I’ll need those evening hours again. I’ll also need the focus and power that comes with setting myself apart for His purposes. It is going to be a tough, one-day-at-a-time thing but this project has been hanging over my head and I need to get it done.
How about you? Have you ever taken a Nazirite vow? When, why and what happened?
I began this post with the first few verses of Numbers 6, so I think I’ll end it by blessing you with the last few verses:
“The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.”