THE NAZIRITE (Samson – Part 1)

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. [Romans 12:1-2 (ESV)]

great egretThe word Nazirite comes from the Hebrew words nazir, meaning to consecrate, and nazar, meaning to separate. By taking on the vows prescribed in Numbers 6:2-21, Nazirites separated themselves from the world and were consecrated to God. For the length of their vows, they abstained from wine or any fermented drink. They also were prohibited from eating, drinking, or touching anything coming from a grape vine such as grape juice, wine vinegar, raisins, grapes, and grape seeds, skins, and leaves. Their hair was not to be cut during the entire length of the vow and the Nazirite was prohibited from becoming ceremonially unclean by being anywhere near a dead body. Both men and women could take the Nazirite vow and, at its conclusion, their hair was shaved and special offerings were made to the Lord. Typically, the vow was taken voluntarily and had a specific time frame, usually thirty days. For three men in Scripture, however, becoming a life-long Nazirite was decided for them. Angels of the Lord determined that both Samson and John the Baptist were to be Nazirites and it was Samuel’s mother who dedicated him a Nazirite.

Perhaps it was because it wasn’t his choice to become a Nazirite that Samson seemed particularly flawed in his role. While his hair remained uncut until that unfortunate night with Delilah, he certainly didn’t remain set apart from society or consecrated to God. He deliberately defied both Jewish law and his parents by marrying a Philistine woman and, later in life, he continued to consort with Philistine women of questionable morality. Samson’s first wife finagled the answer to his riddle with a combination of feminine wiles and nagging. More than twenty years later, the enticing Delilah managed to do the same thing. But, because of his lust and braggadocio, the man who could kill a lion with his bare hands and slay thousands of Philistines, was putty in the hands of a sexy nagging woman.

As for being ceremonially unclean—after killing thirty men, Samson stripped them of their clothing to pay off a gambling debt and, after killing a lion, he later returned to its carcass. Finding a bee hive in the animal’s remains, he scooped out handfuls of honey. As a Nazirite, he never should have touched the dead men or returned to the dead animal or reached inside its decaying body. The lion had attacked him near the vineyards of Timnah but, as a Nazirite, he never should have been anywhere near a vineyard. Later, during his week-long nuptial celebration, in a move that that seems suspiciously like the sort of thing a young man would do after having too much to drink, Samson asked a riddle and bet thirty Philistine men that they couldn’t answer it. The prohibition about grapes and wine was supposed to show self-discipline and restraint but most of Samson’s behavior speaks of hotheadedness, pride, entitlement, lust, and self-indulgence rather than consecration to the Lord, ritual purity, or self-control.

Although Samson’s story is told in three chapters of Judges, his twenty years as a judge are dismissed with one short sentence. The mighty warrior—the man dedicated to God while still in the womb and selected by God to deliver His people—ended up blind and grinding grain in prison. He squandered his strength on foolish wagers, getting out of scrapes that were his own fault, and chasing after pagan women. He was a lustful braggart who was physically strong but morally weak. Granted, in his last act, he killed thousands of Philistines by destroying their temple but consider what this man could have accomplished if he truly had consecrated his life to God!

Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee. … Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for thee. [Francis R. Havergal]

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. [1 Peter 2:9 (ESV)]

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