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The text of today’s sermon at MacAlpine Presbyterian Church in Buffalo, New York is below.  The audio with what I actually said in this sermon concerning the Nazirite vow is available from this link.  Next Sunday we will look at the remainder of Numbers 6 with the blessing that Aaron was to put on the people of Israel.  The text is Numbers 6:22-27.  Some relevant posts for background might be this one for the story of Samson and this one on the book of Samuel.

In Numbers 5 we saw three case studies that showed how Israel did not have new hearts. They were cases of sin as defilement, transgression, and unfaithfulness. They inherited uncleanness from Adam, they transgressed the law of God, and they were not faithful to God alone. Our passage today shows this from the flip-side. It is positive rather than negative. Numbers 5 was negative because it tells you what to do in certain cases of sin that would happen. Our passage today is positive because it tells you how to set yourself apart as holy—usually temporarily. This was called a Nazirite vow. But this positive example would also be a picture to show Israel that they were not holy. If Israel really was “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” as they were meant to be (Exodus 19:6), then there would not be any reason to have a Nazirite vow. But the reality was that they were not completely consecrated to the Lord as holy all of the time. The outward regulations regarding the Nazirite vow were important because the person taking the vow promised to keep them, but they are symbolic of conditions of the heart. The nation of Israel was meant to be different than the Gentiles. The outward symbols of the Nazirite vow were a reminder that Israel wasn’t different—they weren’t holy. The symbols were abstaining from grapes, letting your hair grow, and avoiding dead bodies. Thus the person taking a Nazirite vow would be different—they were holy—they were set apart to serve God. But, as we will see, it isn’t the keeping of these symbols that really make someone holy but new hearts make someone holy. These verses say a lot about how the people who take this kind of vow temporarily might have to offer sacrifices and start over and what they had to do to transition back to a normal lifestyle. These too are reminders that the nation of Israel was not completely consecrated to the Lord always. And if we hold these regulations up as a mirror for us today, then we must be willing to admit that as people living in the old age with bodies of death we too are not completely consecrated as holy to serve God either. But if we remember that we also have new hearts by faith in Jesus then we will see the advantage we have over Israel as we journey in our wilderness today.

Numbers 6:1-21 

  1. The Nazirite vow is a radical commitment to being different that points to the heart.
    1. The first commitment was not simply to abstain from alcohol but it was to abstain from anything to do with grapes as a symbol of how a new heart is willing to turn away from this life’s pleasures and joys because you find your enjoyment in God alone. Wine was symbolic of joy, which is the reason that this is the obvious symbol to make this point. But the fact that the person who took a Nazirite vow had to abstain not only from wine and strong drink but also from all grape products and the seeds of grapes and the skins of grapes and anything else from grapes is symbolic of how this was a radical commitment to being different. Thus a new heart would be radically committed to finding your enjoyment in God alone even if that meant you had to turn away from this life’s pleasures and joys to do God’s will.

    2. The second commitment was to let your hair grow out of your control as a symbol of how a new heart willingly gives God control over your life. Hair was a natural symbol for the life of a person because it grew out of your body. To let it grow without restraint symbolized giving God complete control of your life. The Nazirite vow included a commitment to let your hair grow without cutting it off. There is at least one cult that I know of where the women aren’t allowed to cut their hair. If they don’t want their bangs to grow out of control, these women get around the prohibition by singeing off their hair. But the Nazirite vow could be taken by a man who was forbidden to do anything to restrict the growth of his hair. Thus a new heart would be radically committed to let God have complete control of your life.

    3. The third commitment was to stay away from dead bodies. The Nazirite wasn’t to touch the corpse of an animal or even to be near the body of a close family member if they died. The prohibition of attending to or preparing for burial the dead body of your parents or children shows just how radical the level of commitment was to be for someone who took the Nazirite vow. As we saw in Numbers 5, this was symbolic of complete separation from the realm of death in order to serve God. As we also saw in Numbers 5, coming into contact with the realm of death might not be your fault. Indeed, someone could drop dead in your presence. Thus Numbers 6 explains what the person who took this vow would need to do if that happened. They would have to offer a sin offering, shave their head, and then start the time period of the vow over again. Remember that this was someone who didn’t transgress the law through wrong behavior, but they still had to offer a sin offering with the shedding of blood for atonement. This level of radical commitment shows us that to be in the presence of God requires perfection, which is impossible for those with bodies of death surrounded by others with bodies of death. Thus a new heart is one that is set apart from the realm of death to serve God. A new heart is the final resurrection for the heart. (But most Nazirite vows were only for a particular period of time. When it was over you didn’t just go from this radical commitment to holiness where you were completely devoted to God to ordinary life without a transition. The transition involved symbolically completing all of the covenant. They had to offer a whole burnt offering that represented complete consecration to the Lord and atonement for sin, plus a grain or tribute offering showing that you submit to the Lord as your king, plus a sin offering showing the forgiveness necessary for particular sins, plus offerings of unleavened bread because leaven was associated with sin and the drink offerings that went with it. This culminated in a fellowship offering where the Nazirite would have communion with God at the Lord’s Table not unlike what happens when we observe the Lord’s Supper. At this feast the Nazirite would shave off their hair and burn it on the altar representing how they were offering their life to God. The person would then be free of the vow and live normally again which as we have already said is symbolic of the way that the people of Israel were not completely consecrated to serve God all of the time. But maybe the example of a couple people who were meant to be life-long Nazirites would be helpful.)

  2. The failure to fulfill a Nazirite vow by someone meant to keep it for life would make an Israelite a foil for the coming Christ whereas the successful keeping of such a vow for life would make one a type for the coming Christ.

    1. Samson was a foil for the coming Christ. He was dedicated as a Nazirite before being born. His mother had to avoid grape products while pregnant with Samson and then once he was born he was supposed to show this radical commitment to serving the Lord by avoiding grapes and dead bodies and never cutting his hair. Remember that the Nazirite vow was meant to show that you were different than the Gentiles. But the first story of an adult Samson was Samson wanting to marry a Philistine woman. On his way to marry her, he turned aside to eat honey from the dead body of a lion. So much for avoiding dead bodies. When he arrived at her home, he celebrated a feast that most certainly would’ve included heavy drinking of alcohol. The text implies that Samson partook. And you probably remember when the third leg of this vow was broken once he told Delilah that the source of his strength was his hair not being cut and they shaved his head. Samson shows us what Israel really was like, instead of the nation being different from the nations. The foil comes to a climax with his death when Samson was forced to stand between the pillars of a building and they were mocking Samson and Samson prayed for strength to avenge himself against the Philistines for gouging out his eyes and when God gave him strength he brought down those pillars such that he killed more at his death than he had killed during his life. There are enough similarities to the cross of Jesus Christ that you can speak of Samson as a type for Christ with a number of differences, but it would be even more accurate to see Samson as a foil for the coming Christ. A foil in literature is a character who contrasts with another character but they have to have enough similarities that the contrasts stand out clearly. Samson certainly qualifies as a textbook example of a foil for the coming Christ. He was not devoted to serve the Lord in life and we have just seen what he did in death. To be sure, what he did in death was salvation for Israel, but Samson wanted to do it for all the wrong reasons.

    2. Samuel, on the other hand, was a type for the coming Christ. Samuel was dedicated by his mother at birth to be a life-long Nazirite. He was a living example for Israel of what the nation was supposed to be for Samuel kept this vow that was made for him. It is worth noting that this was because Samuel’s heart was different than Samson. Samson kept one of the things a Nazirite was supposed to do on the outside until he gave up the information Delilah needed to know, but he wasn’t set apart in his heart in the ways that the vow symbolized. Samuel, on the other hand, was set apart in his heart in the ways the vow symbolized. To be sure, Samuel wasn’t perfect. This is why Samuel is only a type for the coming Christ. He couldn’t be our Savior because he wasn’t without sin. But he was similar enough with the coming Christ that we can look at him as a type of the coming Christ. A type in literature is a character who is like a character to come. Samuel qualifies as a type of the coming Christ. He was devoted to serve the Lord in life and in death. (What Israel needed was definitely not Samson, but it wasn’t even Samuel, for what they needed was one who would come and permanently and perfectly fulfill the role of a Nazirite. They didn’t ultimately need someone who avoided grapes and dead people and never cut his hair. But they did need someone who would give up the joy that should have been his, who would give up control of his life to God even as he though sinless died at the hands of lawless men, and who overcame the realm of death, and ultimately someone who would offer His life so that they could enter the feast of communion with God. They needed Jesus.)

  3. Jesus is the true Nazirite

    1. Jesus wasn’t set apart with the outward symbols of the Nazirite vow, but He was set apart the way that Israel was meant to be set apart to God. He didn’t need to make a Nazirite vow at any point during His life for He was always completely consecrated to God. Thus Jesus could turn water into wine, touch corpses to bring them back to life, and He always let the Father have His way. Indeed, Jesus drank the cup of suffering rather than the wine of joy for He found His enjoyment in the Father even though it meant turning away from this life’s pleasures and joy to go to the cross for us. Jesus needed no sacrifices for His own sins for He was without sin but He became our sacrifice for sin so that we can feast with Him at His table in glory. (Now we could take this in a more moralistic direction and say that what you need to do is to examine yourself to see if you are willing to give up the pleasures and joys of this life if that is necessary to find your enjoyment or satisfaction in God and to examine yourself to see if you are willing to give up the control that you imagine that you have over your life and to examine yourself to see if you are willing to be separate from the realm of sin and death. But such reflection is really only helpful for us to do if we are looking to see the evidences of a new heart within us and not so much if we are looking for all of the ways that we continue to fall short of perfection for we still possess bodies of sin and death.)

    2. For the good news is that in Christ you have the Spirit and therefore you have new hearts—hearts resurrected from the dead with the final resurrection ahead of time. Those who are living-by-faith have wills that are changed. Apart from the gift of faith, we would not want to give up pleasure to find enjoyment in God and we would not want to give up our lives to God and let Him have His way in us and we would not want to be separate from the realm of sin and death. He has changed our wills to want these things. Of course, we are not perfect because we still possess bodies of sin and death in this old age. Worse still, we continue to transgress God’s law and to be unfaithful to God and need to confess our sins and make restitution or otherwise demonstrate repentance. But we have new hearts that love God. We have new hearts that have overcome the realm of sin and death for Jesus has overcome sin and death by dying on the cross and rising on the third day. We have new hearts that God directs our steps and gives us the words to share the gospel with the world. We have new hearts that are able to fulfill our purpose in life to glorify God and find our satisfaction in Him forever rather than continuing to be unsatisfied by the things of this world. This is the good news. Like Israel, we might benefit from something like a Nazirite vow – a period of time where we focus completely on serving God. But even better than Israel, we have new hearts that are completely consecrated to serve the Lord. It is easy to become discouraged by the ways that we get distracted from our purpose in life, by the ways that our bodies try to wrestle control away from God, and to just generally be discouraged by the presence of sin and death in us and around us. I can encourage you by challenging you to look into your hearts since Jesus has given you new hearts. But even better, I can encourage you by challenging you to look into the Scriptures to see God’s promises and how they are applied by faith to the hearer of those promises. For our consciences can only truly know ourselves if trained by His Word. I pray that you would be encouraged by your new hearts in Christ Jesus, encouraged by His word that tells you that you have them even if you have doubts about it, encouraged that your hearts are holy so that you will be different from the world not in superficial ways but in ways that help others see Jesus. Amen.

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