851. Vows - Nazarites

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1. The custom of making vows to God is very ancient. We read of it as far back as the days of Job. Eliphaz refers to it in Job 22:2727Thou shalt make thy prayer unto him, and he shall hear thee, and thou shalt pay thy vows. (Job 22:27). Jacob practiced it. Genesis 28:20-22; 31:1320And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, 21So that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God: 22And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee. (Genesis 28:20‑22)
13I am the God of Beth-el, where thou anointedst the pillar, and where thou vowedst a vow unto me: now arise, get thee out from this land, and return unto the land of thy kindred. (Genesis 31:13)
. We read in later times of the vows of Jephthah, (Judges 11:30-3130And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, 31Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord's, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering. (Judges 11:30‑31);) Hannah (1 Sam. 1:1111And she vowed a vow, and said, O Lord of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the Lord all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head. (1 Samuel 1:11)) and Absalom (2 Sam. 15:8-98For thy servant vowed a vow while I abode at Geshur in Syria, saying, If the Lord shall bring me again indeed to Jerusalem, then I will serve the Lord. 9And the king said unto him, Go in peace. So he arose, and went to Hebron. (2 Samuel 15:8‑9)) though the last-mentioned probably pretended to vow for the purpose of’ furthering his rebellion. Heathens vowed as well as Jews.
Vows usually involved free-will offerings to be given to God as a recognition of his goodness, either subsequent to the reception of blessings desired, or in anticipation of them. There was no law compelling any one to make vows, but, when once made, they came within the limit of the law, and their fulfillment became obligatory. See Numbers 30:22If a man vow a vow unto the Lord, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth. (Numbers 30:2); Deuteronomy 23:21-2221When thou shalt vow a vow unto the Lord thy God, thou shalt not slack to pay it: for the Lord thy God will surely require it of thee; and it would be sin in thee. 22But if thou shalt forbear to vow, it shall be no sin in thee. (Deuteronomy 23:21‑22); Judges 11:35,3935And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the Lord, and I cannot go back. (Judges 11:35)
39And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man. And it was a custom in Israel, (Judges 11:39)
; Proverbs 20:2525It is a snare to the man who devoureth that which is holy, and after vows to make inquiry. (Proverbs 20:25); Ecclesiastes 5:4-54When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. 5Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay. (Ecclesiastes 5:4‑5).
The offerings to be devoted to the service of God in the fulfillment of vows were houses or land; animals for sacrifice; or the person of the one making the vow, his child, or his slave. These personal offerings could be redeemed (see Lev. 25:1-71And the Lord spake unto Moses in mount Sinai, saying, 2Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye come into the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a sabbath unto the Lord. 3Six years thou shalt sow thy field, and six years thou shalt prune thy vineyard, and gather in the fruit thereof; 4But in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of rest unto the land, a sabbath for the Lord: thou shalt neither sow thy field, nor prune thy vineyard. 5That which groweth of its own accord of thy harvest thou shalt not reap, neither gather the grapes of thy vine undressed: for it is a year of rest unto the land. 6And the sabbath of the land shall be meat for you; for thee, and for thy servant, and for thy maid, and for thy hired servant, and for thy stranger that sojourneth with thee, 7And for thy cattle, and for the beast that are in thy land, shall all the increase thereof be meat. (Leviticus 25:1‑7)) so also could houses and land (Lev. 27:14-2514And when a man shall sanctify his house to be holy unto the Lord, then the priest shall estimate it, whether it be good or bad: as the priest shall estimate it, so shall it stand. 15And if he that sanctified it will redeem his house, then he shall add the fifth part of the money of thy estimation unto it, and it shall be his. 16And if a man shall sanctify unto the Lord some part of a field of his possession, then thy estimation shall be according to the seed thereof: an homer of barley seed shall be valued at fifty shekels of silver. 17If he sanctify his field from the year of jubilee, according to thy estimation it shall stand. 18But if he sanctify his field after the jubilee, then the priest shall reckon unto him the money according to the years that remain, even unto the year of the jubilee, and it shall be abated from thy estimation. 19And if he that sanctified the field will in any wise redeem it, then he shall add the fifth part of the money of thy estimation unto it, and it shall be assured to him. 20And if he will not redeem the field, or if he have sold the field to another man, it shall not be redeemed any more. 21But the field, when it goeth out in the jubilee, shall be holy unto the Lord, as a field devoted; the possession thereof shall be the priest's. 22And if a man sanctify unto the Lord a field which he hath bought, which is not of the fields of his possession; 23Then the priest shall reckon unto him the worth of thy estimation, even unto the year of the jubilee: and he shall give thine estimation in that day, as a holy thing unto the Lord. 24In the year of the jubilee the field shall return unto him of whom it was bought, even to him to whom the possession of the land did belong. 25And all thy estimations shall be according to the shekel of the sanctuary: twenty gerahs shall be the shekel. (Leviticus 27:14‑25)). Animals for sacrifice were not redeemable (Lev. 27:9-10,339And if it be a beast, whereof men bring an offering unto the Lord, all that any man giveth of such unto the Lord shall be holy. 10He shall not alter it, nor change it, a good for a bad, or a bad for a good: and if he shall at all change beast for beast, then it and the exchange thereof shall be holy. (Leviticus 27:9‑10)
33He shall not search whether it be good or bad, neither shall he change it: and if he change it at all, then both it and the change thereof shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed. (Leviticus 27:33)
2. The vow specially alluded to in the text is supposed by most commentators to be the vow of the Nazarite. The origin of this peculiar vow is unknown, and even the etymology of the word is disputed, though most authorities derive it from nazar, to “consecrate,” to “separate.” The law regulating it is found in the sixth chapter of the book of Numbers, where the subject is treated, not as a novelty, but as a well-established custom.
The Nazarites generally were, however, limited in the duration of the obligation imposed by their vow. These were called “Nazarites of days.” The ordinary time was thirty days, but sometimes it extended to sixty, or even to a hundred, days. During the time the obligation lasted the Nazarite was to be separate in three particulars: 1. He was not to partake of wine or strong drink in any form. 2. He was not to allow his hair to be cut. 3. He was not to come in contact with a dead body.
At the close of his term of separation the Nazarite was to perform certain ceremonies, which are detailed in Numbers 6:13-2113And this is the law of the Nazarite, when the days of his separation are fulfilled: he shall be brought unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation: 14And he shall offer his offering unto the Lord, one he lamb of the first year without blemish for a burnt offering, and one ewe lamb of the first year without blemish for a sin offering, and one ram without blemish for peace offerings, 15And a basket of unleavened bread, cakes of fine flour mingled with oil, and wafers of unleavened bread anointed with oil, and their meat offering, and their drink offerings. 16And the priest shall bring them before the Lord, and shall offer his sin offering, and his burnt offering: 17And he shall offer the ram for a sacrifice of peace offerings unto the Lord, with the basket of unleavened bread: the priest shall offer also his meat offering, and his drink offering. 18And the Nazarite shall shave the head of his separation at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and shall take the hair of the head of his separation, and put it in the fire which is under the sacrifice of the peace offerings. 19And the priest shall take the sodden shoulder of the ram, and one unleavened cake out of the basket, and one unleavened wafer, and shall put them upon the hands of the Nazarite, after the hair of his separation is shaven: 20And the priest shall wave them for a wave offering before the Lord: this is holy for the priest, with the wave breast and heave shoulder: and after that the Nazarite may drink wine. 21This is the law of the Nazarite who hath vowed, and of his offering unto the Lord for his separation, beside that that his hand shall get: according to the vow which he vowed, so he must do after the law of his separation. (Numbers 6:13‑21). Among other things, he was to cut off his hair and put it into the fire of the peace offering. After the wave offering was presented he might drink wine. In addition to the usual offerings required by the law, it was customary for those who were able to give something to help the poorer Nazarites procure their regular offerings. Paul is supposed to have complied with this custom, thus “being at charges with them,” and enabling them to finish the term of their vows by shaving their heads. This will explain, not only the text, but also verse 26. In this way the apostle was able to show to his sensitive Jewish brethren that he did not mean to “forsake Moses.” Paul’s vow, which is spoken of in Acts 18:1818And Paul after this tarried there yet a good while, and then took his leave of the brethren, and sailed thence into Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila; having shorn his head in Cenchrea: for he had a vow. (Acts 18:18), is also thought by many commentators to have been a Nazarite vow, though some dispute this view.
Various theories have been devised in explanation of this singular custom of the Nazarite. Perhaps none is more satisfactory than that which represents it to be the “typical representation of a holy life.” Fairbairn says: “It sets forth in a striking and beautiful manner the leading features of a life devoted to God. It originates in a solemn resolve of the free-will, and is in this respect an interesting emblem of a godly life, which is the spontaneous outgoing of a heart renewed by the Spirit of God” (Imperial Bible Dictionary, s. v. Nazarite. See also Fairbarin's Typology, vol. 2, p. 346).
A resemblance to at least one of the practices of the Nazarites may be found in the customs of other ancient nations besides the Jews. (The authorities are given in Winer, Biblisches Realwörterbuch, s. v. Nasiraer.) Among the Egyptians, Syrians, Greeks, Romans and Arabs, it was customary in times of impending peril to consecrate the hair and beard to the gods. Morier gives a singular illustration of a similar practice among the modern Persians. Speaking of customs concerning young children, he says: “It frequently happens after the birth of a son that if the parent be in distress, or the child be sick, or that there be any other cause of grief; the mother makes a vow that no razor shall come upon the child’s head for a certain period of time, and sometimes for all his life. If the child recovers and the cause of grief be removed, and if the vow be but for a time, so that the mother’s vow be fulfilled, then she shaves his head at the end of the time prescribed, makes a small entertainment, collects money and other things from her relations and friends, which are sent as Nezers (offerings) to the mosque at Kerbelah, and are there consecrated” (Second Journey, p. 108).