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25 January 2022
A life of dedication

Prepare

Where are you most challenged as a disciple of Jesus? Bring this to God in prayer. 

Bible passage

Numbers 6:1–21

The Nazirite

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 and must not drink vinegar made from wine or other fermented drink. They must not drink grape juice or eat grapes or raisins. As long as they remain under their Nazirite vow, they must not eat anything that comes from the grapevine, not even the seeds or skins.

‘“During the entire period of their Nazirite vow, no razor may be used on their head. They must be holy until the period of their dedication to the Lord is over; they must let their hair grow long.

‘“Throughout the period of their dedication to the Lord, the Nazirite must not go near a dead body. Even if their own father or mother or brother or sister dies, they must not make themselves ceremonially unclean on account of them, because the symbol of their dedication to God is on their head. Throughout the period of their dedication, they are consecrated to the Lord.

‘“If someone dies suddenly in the Nazirite’s presence, thus defiling the hair that symbolises their dedication, they must shave their head on the seventh day – the day of their cleansing. 10 Then on the eighth day they must bring two doves or two young pigeons to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 11 The priest is to offer one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering to make atonement for the Nazirite because they sinned by being in the presence of the dead body. That same day they are to consecrate their head again. 12 They must rededicate themselves to the Lord for the same period of dedication and must bring a year-old male lamb as a guilt offering. The previous days do not count, because they became defiled during their period of dedication.

13 ‘“Now this is the law of the Nazirite when the period of their dedication is over. They are to be brought to the entrance to the tent of meeting. 14 There they are to present their offerings to the Lord: a year-old male lamb without defect for a burnt offering, a year-old ewe lamb without defect for a sin offering, a ram without defect for a fellowship offering, 15 together with their grain offerings and drink offerings, and a basket of bread made with the finest flour and without yeast – thick loaves with olive oil mixed in, and thin loaves brushed with olive oil.

16 ‘“The priest is to present all these before the Lord and make the sin offering and the burnt offering. 17 He is to present the basket of unleavened bread and is to sacrifice the ram as a fellowship offering to the Lord, together with its grain offering and drink offering.

18 ‘“Then at the entrance to the tent of meeting, the Nazirite must shave off the hair that symbolises their dedication. They are to take the hair and put it in the fire that is under the sacrifice of the fellowship offering.

19 ‘“After the Nazirite has shaved off the hair that symbolises their dedication, the priest is to place in their hands a boiled shoulder of the ram, and one thick loaf and one thin loaf from the basket, both made without yeast. 20 The priest shall then wave these before the Lord as a wave offering; they are holy and belong to the priest, together with the breast that was waved and the thigh that was presented. After that, the Nazirite may drink wine.

21 ‘“This is the law of the Nazirite who vows offerings to the Lord in accordance with their dedication, in addition to whatever else they can afford. They must fulfil the vows they have made, according to the law of the Nazirite.”’

New International Version - UK (NIVUK) Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Explore

The public making of a vow is a solemn but joyful occasion. A bride and groom exchanging wedding rings. An elected official swearing allegiance on the Bible. New arrivals at a citizenship ceremony. Each occasion is a time of hope, with fresh responsibilities given and made. 

For God’s people, the Nazirite vow was an opportunity for any Israelite to express their dedication to the Lord and offer special service and commitment (v 2). Unlike priests and Levites, who were called by God to serve him, Nazirites were those who voluntarily set themselves aside for the Lord.* This was a personal choice. An outward response to an inner conviction. Note the visible signs. No more alcohol (v 3). Hair not to be cut (v 5). Contact with the dead avoided (v 6). If the latter occurred, provision was made for rededication (vs 9–20). This was no light and easy commitment. 

Like the Nazirites, some Christians may choose special times of dedication to God, such as prayer and fasting. Jesus commends this but challenges us to be aware of human pride (Matthew 6:5–18). What ultimately counts is the day-to-day living out of our faith, offering our whole lives to God ‘as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God’ (Romans 12:1). 

*The Hebrew word nazir means set apart. 

Author: Richard Trist

Respond

Has God recently convicted you of something in your life of discipleship? How can you put this into practice? 

Deeper Bible study

Reflect upon Jesus, who was a Nazarene and not a Nazirite.

We learn little in Scripture about the personal spiritual life of the average Israelite, but here we have the rules set out for someone who wants to consecrate his or her life to the Lord in a special way for a short time. Nothing is said about their positive engagement with God, but only about things that they must not do. They should not drink wine or consume any product of the vine; they must not cut their hair nor have any contact with dead bodies. They are voluntarily taking upon themselves some conditions of the priesthood. The motivation is good, but there are dangers in doing it. 

Jewish rabbis debated why the regulations for the Nazirite vow follow on from the three things that pollute the camp and why a sin offering was necessary at the end of it.1 Their answers included: consideration of the psychological and spiritual pressure that might be caused by the heightened spirituality of taking a Nazirite vow that sets one apart from the rest of the community; the individual was thinking about his own relationship with God and not of his life as part of the people of God; and overemphasising personal spirituality may lead to sin rather than righteousness. 

In Judges we meet Samson, who is a life-long Nazirite. His zeal we can respect, but his morality we should not emulate. John the Baptist also seems to have some of the Nazirite characteristics. Jesus, in contrast, seems almost to be the opposite of everything a Nazirite was. He drank and made wine.2 He touched dead bodies and gave them life. He was not polluted by anything and had no need of a sin offering. It is the Nazarene and not the Nazarite who saves and whose example we follow.

Think about your spiritual disciplines and ask yourself whether there are aspects of which you need to repent.

1 See Jonathan Sacks, Covenant and Conversation, Maggid Books, 2017, p87,88  2 John 2:1–11

Author: Ray Porter

Bible in a year

Read the Bible in a year: Exodus 1,2; Psalms 11,12

Pray for Scripture Union

Gives thanks for Angela Feather, worker with Local Mission Partner Farne Churches Youth and Family Outreach, who has moved on to a new role. Pray for the appointment of a successor and for volunteers as they develop the work in schools and churches.

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