(Nazʹi·rite) [Heb., na·zirʹ, meaning dedicated, separated, singled out].
There were two classes of Nazirites: those who volunteered, and those who were such by divine appointment. The regulations governing volunteer Nazirites are found in the book of Numbers, chapter six. Either men or women could take a special vow to Jehovah to live as Nazirites for period of time. However, if a daughter’s father or wife’s husband heard the vows of their respective females, they could cancel the vows if they did not approve.—Num. 30:1-8.
There were three principal restrictions resting on those taking the Nazirite vow: (1) they were to drink no intoxicating beverage; neither were they to eat any product of the grapevine, whether unripe, ripe or dried, nor drink any of its juice, whether in the fresh or fermented or vinegar state; (2) they were not to cut the hair of their heads; (3) they were not to touch a dead body, even that of the closest relative—father, mother, brother or sister.—Num. 6:1-7.
The person taking this special vow was “to live as a Nazirite [that is, dedicated, separated] to Jehovah,” and not for the plaudits of men due to a showy display of fanatical asceticism. Rather, “all the days of his Naziriteship he is holy to Jehovah.” (Num. 6:2, 8) The requirements laid on Nazirites therefore had special significance and meaning in the worship of Jehovah. Like the high priest who, because of his holy office, was to touch no dead body, even that of his closest relatives, so too the Nazirite. The high priest as well as the underpriests, due to the serious responsibility of their offices, was forbidden to drink wine or intoxicating liquor when performing their sacred duties before Jehovah.—Lev. 10:8-11; 21:10, 11.
Furthermore, the Nazirite “should prove holy by letting the locks of the hair of his head grow,” such serving as a crowning sign by which all could quickly recognize his holy Naziriteship. (Num. 6:5) The same Hebrew word na·zirʹ was used in regard to the “un-pruned” vines during the sacred sabbath and Jubilee years. (Lev. 25:5, 11) Interesting too is the fact that the gold plate on the front of the turban of the high priest, engraved with the words “Holiness belongs to Jehovah,” was called “the holy sign of dedication [Heb., neʹzer, from the same root as na·zirʹ].” (Ex. 39:30, 31) Likewise, the official headpiece or diadem worn by Israel’s anointed kings was also called a neʹzer. (2 Sam. 1:10; 2 Ki. 11:12; see DEDICATION.) In the Christian congregation the apostle says that a woman’s long hair is given to her instead of a headdress. It is a natural reminder to her that she is in a position different from the man; she should be mindful of her submissive position under God’s arrangement. So such requirements—uncut hair (unnatural for the man), together with total abstinence from wine and the need to be clean and undefiled—impressed on the dedicated Nazirite the importance of self-denial and complete submission to the will of Jehovah.—1 Cor. 11:2-16; see HAIR; HEAD COVERING; NATURE.
Requirements if Nazirite became defiled
In regard to the matter of not coming in contact with any dead soul, even if an accident occurred beyond the Nazirite’s control and he inadvertently touched someone that died alongside him, this made the Nazirite unclean for seven days. On the seventh day he was to shave the head and purify himself, and the next day he was to bring to the priest two turtledoves (or, two male pigeons), one serving as a sin offering, the other serving as a burnt sacrifice; he was also to present a young ram as a guilt offering. Furthermore, the one having taken the vow of Naziriteship must now begin all over again counting the days of the vow as stipulated at the start.—Num. 6:8-12.
Requirements at conclusion of vow
When the specified duration of the vow came to an end, the Nazirite presented himself to the priests before the tent of meeting, bringing along the prescribed sacrifices consisting of a young ram for a burnt offering, a female lamb for a sin offering, and a ram for a communion sacrifice. He also was to bring a basket of unfermented (unleavened) cakes and wafers that were well oiled, together with the proper grain and drink offerings. In addition to these necessary sacrifices, the Nazirite brought such other offerings to the sanctuary as he could afford. (Num. 6:13-17, 21) Next, the Nazirite had his long hair cut off and it was placed on the fire under the communion sacrifice, and then portions of the offerings were placed in his hands by the officiating priest and waved by the priest as a wave offering before Jehovah.—Num. 6:18-20.
It appears that in time the Jews made it possible for wealthy individuals to provide the necessary sacrifices, as an act of charity, for persons of little means who desired to take the Nazirite vow.
This seemed to be the recognized custom that the apostle Paul took advantage of upon arriving in Jerusalem at the end of his third tour. To allay the false rumors that Paul had been “teaching all the Jews among the nations . . . [not] to walk in the solemn customs” of the Jewish nation, Paul’s Christian brothers recommended the following plan. “We have four men with a vow upon themselves,” they told Paul. “Take these men along and cleanse yourself ceremonially with them and take care of their expenses, that they may have their heads shaved.”—Acts 21:20-26.
As to the length one might be a Nazirite, this was optional with the one making the vow. Jewish tradition (not the Bible) said it could not be less than thirty days, for it was thought that anything less than that degraded the solemnity of the vow, making it commonplace.
In the case of those appointed as Nazirites by Jehovah for life, being singled out by him for special service, they took no vows and were not bound by a limited period of time (the days of which were recalculated from the beginning if the vow was broken before being completed). For these reasons Jehovah’s commandments for them differed somewhat from his requirements for voluntary Nazirites. Samson was such a God-appointed lifetime Nazirite, having been divinely appointed to be such before his conception. Even with his mother it was not a discretionary matter; because her son would be a Nazirite, she was commanded by the angel to observe special regulations—not to drink wine or intoxicating liquor or to eat anything unclean during her pregnancy.—Judg. 13:2-14; 16:17.
Regarding Samson the regulation was that “no razor should come upon his head.” (Judg. 13:5) However, no prohibition was placed on his touching dead bodies. Hence, Samson’s killing a lion, or his slaying thirty Philistines and then stripping the corpses of their garments, did not profane his Naziriteship. On still another occasion, with God’s approval, he killed a thousand of the enemy “with the jawbone of a male ass—one heap, two heaps!”—Judg. 14:6, 19; 15:14-16.
In Samuel’s case it was his mother, Hannah, who made a Nazirite vow, setting apart her yet unconceived child for Jehovah’s service. To God she said in prayer: “If you will without fail . . . give to your slave girl a male offspring, I will give him to Jehovah all the days of his life [“and he shall drink no wine nor strong drink,” (1 Ki. 1:11, LXX)], and no razor will come upon his head.” (1 Sam. 1:9-11, 22, 28) John the Baptist was to “drink no wine and strong drink at all.” Few other details concerning his Naziriteship are given except that he too by divine appointment was to be such from the day of his birth.—Luke 1:11-15; compare Matthew 3:4; 11:18.
Samson, Samuel and John the Baptist were among those Nazirites whom Jehovah himself raised up, as he says by the mouth of his prophet Amos: “I kept raising up some of your sons as prophets and some of your young men as Nazirites.” However, they were not always accepted or respected, and wayward Israel even tried to break their integrity to Jehovah. (Amos 2:11, 12) When the full measure of Israel’s sins reached their limits and Jehovah removed typical Israel in 607 B.C.E. the unfaithful Nazirites within Jerusalem did not escape either. Jeremiah describes how the once healthy and strong Nazirites turned black as their skin shriveled up on their bones due to the terrible famine.—Lam. 4:7-9.