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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Matt's Messages - The Law of the Nazirite

“The Law of the Nazirite”
Life in the Wilderness
February 11, 2007
Numbers 6:1-21

We are continuing our Life in the Wilderness series of messages on the book of Numbers.

The people of Israel are camped at the base of Mount Sinai. They have been numbered, organized, and structured.

The men have been mustered into a massive army that is getting ready to march in and conquer the Promised Land.

The Levites have been counted and assigned their duties to care for the Tent of Meeting and all of the holy things that come with it.

Last week, we read about how the camp was to be purified. The Holy One of Israel was present in the center of the camp, so the camp needed to be holy.

Today, we look at yet another set of laws–these ones are about some holy people.

People who had chosen a special vow for a special period time.

People had chosen to take the vow of the Nazirite.

Numbers chapter 6 is about “The Law of the Nazirite.”

This law continues the theme of purification and takes it one step further: consecration.

The Hebrew word for “Nazarite” comes from a root word that means “to vow.”

These were people who had taken a vow and consecrated themselves in a special way to the LORD.

And Numbers 6:1-21 gives us the law of the Nazirites, the divine laws which regulated these special vows of consecration.

This section can be divided up into three parts:

The Vow’s Consecration (verses 1 through 8).
The Vow’s Corruption (verses 9 through 12).
And the Vow’s Completion (verses 13 through 21).

Let’s pray together, and then we’ll look at each one in turn and try to apply this to our lives.

[prayer]

#1. THE CONSECRATION OF THE NAZIRITE VOW. V.1

“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 separation to the LORD as a Nazirite, he must abstain from wine and other fermented drink and must not drink vinegar made from wine or from other fermented drink. He must not drink grape juice or eat grapes or raisins. As long as he is a Nazirite, he must not eat anything that comes from the grapevine, not even the seeds or skins. During the entire period of his vow of separation no razor may be used on his head. He must be holy until the period of his separation to the LORD is over; he must let the hair of his head grow long. Throughout the period of his separation to the LORD he must not go near a dead body. Even if his own father or mother or brother or sister dies, he must not make himself ceremonially unclean on account of them, because the symbol of his separation to God is on his head. Throughout the period of his separation he is consecrated to the LORD.’’”

Okay, now this is strange!

These people were different (to say the least).

We aren’t used to this sort of thing, so we need to slow down and consider it carefully.

Look again at verse 2.

“If a man or woman [notice that this vow is not gender specific, it’s open to both sexes] wants to make a special vow, a vow of separation to the LORD as a Nazirite...[follow these laws.]”

Okay, let me ask a question. Was this vow just for Levites and priests?

No. This was open to any Israelite who wanted to make a special vow of special devotion for a specific period of time.

Why would they want to do that? Well, the book of Numbers doesn’t say.

Most of the time, when special vows are being made they are in thanksgiving and gratefulness for something good God has done.

They are often thanksgiving vows praising God for His blessing in someone’s life.

So these may be especially thankful people. We’re not sure.

There are other reasons to take vows, there could be multiple reasons for these people to separate themselves to the LORD as Nazirites. They might have felt called to a special ministry of dedication.

All we know for certain is that these people wanted to make this vow (it was not mandatory) and that it had certain rules that went with it.

Rule #1: No Grapes! V.3

“If a man or woman wants to make a special vow, a vow of separation to the LORD as a Nazirite, he [or she] must abstain from wine and other fermented drink and must not drink vinegar made from wine or from other fermented drink. He must not drink grape juice or eat grapes or raisins. As long as he is a Nazirite, he must not eat anything that comes from the grapevine, not even the seeds or skins.”

I had never noticed before that the Nazirites weren’t even allowed to eat grapes, raisins, or grape seeds, or skins!

It’s not just that they weren’t allowed to drink alcohol, they weren’t allowed to get anywhere near the vineyard!

Why? Because grapes are bad?

No, because grapes are good!

This is a fast. These men and women were deliberating saying No to something good for a time period to say Yes to something even better. That’s what fasting is.

No to something good for a time to say Yes to something even better.

The fruit of the vine was a symbol of joy and abundance.

So, perhaps, the Nazirites with their fasting from grapes and grape juice were symbolizing, grieving, sadness, mourning, and repentance. I’m not sure.

Perhaps they were just saying “the LORD is my joy!” I don’t need the fruit of the vine to be happy!

Rule #2: No Haircuts.

No grapes, no haircuts. Verse 5.

“During the entire period of his vow of separation no razor may be used on his head. He must be holy until the period of his separation to the LORD is over; he must let the hair of his head grow long.”

This would have made these people stand out.

I don’t know if the women would still keep their hair up or if they would have let it dangle to the ground to show that they were Nazirites.

But it would have really stood out among the men.

No haircuts for the entire period of the vow. [Insert bald jokes here.]

No grapes, no haircuts.

Rule #3. No Dead People. V.6

“Throughout the period of his separation to the LORD he must not go near a dead body. Even if his own father or mother or brother or sister dies, he must not make himself ceremonially unclean on account of them, because the symbol of his separation to God is on his head.”

Last week, we learned that if anyone had contact with a dead body, they had to go outside of the camp for a time of purification.

This says that the Nazirite was never to have that contact during the period of their vow–even if it is their closest relatives! This was a serious vow.

If they did, they would be unclean and their hair would be unclean.

You see, this long hair was the visible symbol of their separation to God.

V.7 “The symbol of his separation to God is on his head.”

I almost titled this message: “Holy Hair, Batman!”

This long hair said to the Nazirite and to the people around them and to God that they were set apart in a special way to God right now. V.8

“Throughout the period of his separation he is consecrated to the LORD.”

We often miss this part of the Law of the Nazirite.

We focus on what they weren’t allowed to do (No Grapes, No Haircuts, No Dead People), and we miss the point: these people (for a time) were fully consecrated.

“Throughout the period of his separation he is consecrated to the LORD.”

Now, why is that important?

Well, was Israel supposed to be consecrated?

Was Israel supposed to be set apart for the LORD?

Was Israel supposed to be holy and to love nothing more than the LORD?

Was Israel supposed to be different from the other nations?

Was Israel supposed to be clean and separated from every other nation on Earth?

Absolutely.

And they never were...perfectly.

So whenever “an Israelite saw a Nazirite, they would have been reminded of their own calling to serve the Lord” (Iain Duguid, pg 78).

These people were walking illustrations of consecration.

They were weird! They would have stood out.

Remember “Cousin It” from the Adam’s Family?

These people were the “Jesus Freaks” of the nation of Israel.

They stood out. Did you notice how many times the word “separation” appeared in the first 8 verses?

Question for you: Do you want to be consecrated?

Praise the Lord, He doesn’t ask us to be consecrated in the same way in the New Covenant!

But He desires total consecration of us today, doesn’t He?

Romans 12:1-2, “I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

God wants us to offer ourselves–all of us to Him and to His service. 100%

V.8 “Throughout the period of his separation he is consecrated to the LORD.”

Now, of course, sometimes these Nazirites couldn’t keep their vows because of some unforseen circumstance.

And so, thankfully, there are laws to cover failures. Defilements. Corruptions.

#2. THE CORRUPTION OF THE NAZIRITE VOW. V.9

“If someone dies suddenly in his presence, thus defiling the hair he has dedicated, he must shave his head on the day of his cleansing–the seventh day. [If someone just up and you had no choice but to be there, you took the normal time out period of seven days for purification. And on the seventh day, you shave you head. V.10] Then on the eighth day he must bring two doves or two young pigeons to the priest at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. [Small blood sacrifices.] The priest is to offer one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering to make atonement for him because he sinned by being in the presence of the dead body [sinned against his vow, there is a category of unintentional sins]. That same day he is to consecrate his head. [Starting over.] He must dedicate himself to the LORD for the period of his separation and must bring a year-old male lamb as a guilt offering. [Really, this is a rededication.] The previous days do not count, because he became defiled during his separation.”

So, even if he has 99 days in on a 100 day vow, he has to start the clock again right here because of the corruption of his vow.

This is serious stuff!

Now, what does this show?

Well, for one thing, it shows that God knows that we live in an imperfect world and that we are imperfect people.

And He has graciously provided for our imperfections.

Do you see the grace here?

Yes, this is serious! Unintentional sin is serious!

But what does God have here? Provision. Sacrifice. Substitution. Atonement.

What does that remind you of?

Jesus.

God knows that we cannot keep our vows on our own. No matter how serious the vow and how serious the punishment if we do not keep it!

And, in His grace, He has provided a sacrifice of substitutionary atonement for our sins.

In the last section, we’ll see that even those who successfully completed their vows needed to offer a sin offering!

Because even our best efforts are still tainted with the stain of sin.

Our good works need saving, too!

Praise God for Jesus!

“[Jesus] Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” (1 Peter 3:18).

That’s why Jesus died.

“[Jesus] died for sins once for all, the righteous [Him] for the unrighteous [you and me], to bring you to God.” (1 Peter 3:18).

Have you come to God through Jesus Christ?

I urge you to be sure that you have.

Only those who come to God through Jesus Christ and Him alone have eternal life.

And only those who come to God through Jesus Christ and Him alone can be fully consecrated.

Now, the last bit of law here is what the Nazirite was to do to complete his or her vow.

#3. THE COMPLETION OF THE NAZIRITE VOW. V.13

“Now this is the law for the Nazirite when the period of his separation is over. He is to be brought to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. There he is to present his offerings to the LORD [catch this, there are at least 8 of them!]: (1) a year-old male lamb without defect for a burnt offering, (2) a year-old ewe lamb without defect for a sin offering, (3) a ram without defect for a fellowship offering, together with their (4) grain offerings and (5) drink offerings, and a (6) basket of bread made without yeast–(7) cakes made of fine flour mixed with oil, and (8) wafers spread with oil. [One commentator [Ronald Allen, pg 752] says that these offerings were “extensive, expensive, and expressive.” That’s right! V.16] The priest is to present them before the LORD and make the sin offering and the burnt offering. 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. Then at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, the Nazirite must shave off the hair that he dedicated. [Time for a haircut!] He is to take the hair [which has been the symbol of his vow] and put it in the fire that is under the sacrifice of the fellowship offering. [Their hair becomes a sacrifice!] After the Nazirite has shaved off the hair of his dedication, the priest is to place in his hands a boiled shoulder of the ram, and a cake and a wafer from the basket, both made without yeast. [He’s identifying with the sacrifice.] The priest shall then wave them 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. [Feasting time! Joy and abundance again. V.21] This is the law of the Nazirite who vows his offering to the LORD in accordance with his separation, in addition to whatever else he can afford. He must fulfill the vow he has made, according to the law of the Nazirite.”

I have never in my life slowed down to think about this before.

If you had asked me a few weeks ago to explain the Law of the Nazirite, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you more than the 3 Rules: No Grapes (and I would have said just No Wine), No Haircuts, and No Dead Bodies.

I’ve never thought or studied about this lavish ceremony at the completion of their vow. They give almost every offering in the book of Leviticus at one time[!] for this ceremony!

And did you notice in verse 21 that it says they are to give not just all of these offerings, but also in addition “whatever else he can afford.”

“Extensive, expensive, and expressive” is right!

And here’s what I got out of that this week: the Lord is worth it!

The Lord is worth the extensive, expensive and expressive!

The Lord was worth the strangeness of being one of these Nazirite weirdos, giving up good things and normal things for His sake.

The Lord was worth getting the strange looks and putting up with the inconveniences of Nazirite life.

And the Lord was worth the elaborate ceremony at the end.

Extensive, expensive and expressive!

Eight sacrifices and “whatever else he can afford!”

The Lord is worth it!

It’s worth it to be consecrated wholly to Him.

So, let me ask you again: Do you want to be consecrated?

Not like a Nazirite but like a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ.

Do you want to be consecrated?

What stands in your way?

Something you enjoy? Maybe something you enjoy too much?

Is there something you should fast from?

Giving up something good for a time, for the sake of something better?

Maybe you don’t want to be “different.”

You don’t want to stand out. You don’t want to be known as a “Jesus Freak.”

I understand that. You’re afraid.

But know this, the Lord is worth it!

He’s worth standing out for. He’s worth sticking out like a sore thumb!

When we understand both how much we’ve been given and how much He is worth, we can know that the Lord is worth it!

Do you want to be consecrated?

What can you do today to move in that direction?

Some of you need to start with salvation.

God has provided Jesus as a sacrifice for your sins. You need to trust in Him alone to get to God.

He is the way, the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father except through Him.

Consecration starts with repentance and faith, in your heart, turning and trusting in Jesus and His Cross alone.

But it doesn’t stop there.

Consecration involves putting everything in His hands. Every detail of our lives, every relationship, every dollar, every possession, every job, every decision, every attitude, every necessary change.

What do you need to do today to be fully consecrated?

You probably know better than I do.

What’s holding you back?

Who was the biggest Nazirite in the whole Bible?

It wasn’t Samuel was probably a life-long Nazirite.
It wasn’t Paul who seems have done a Nazirite vow in the book of Acts.

Who was it? Who was the biggest Nazirite in the whole Bible?

Samson was.

Do you think that Samson wanted to be consecrated?

He sure didn’t act like it.

He hung around a lot of dead bodies–even old carcasses!
He partied a lot–even with the enemies of Israel.
He never seemed to shy away from the fruit of the vine.

And He let himself get a fatal haircut.

He didn’t want to be consecrated. He didn’t even realize when the Spirit of the Lord had left him.

But at the end of his life, after the Philistines had gouged out his eyes, Samson could see like he never had before that the Lord was worth it.

And he sacrificed himself with a prayer to the Lord and pushed down the pillars that held the Philistine temple together.

What Samson’s story could have been like if he had not waited to be fully consecrated!

If he had been thankful for what God had given Him and hopeful of what God had in store, and fully entrusted Himself to God and kept his Nazirite vows.

What Samson’s story could have been!

What will your story be?

Will be “I Surrender Some?”

Or “I Surrender All?”

He’s worth it.

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