What is the Nazirite Vow?

“And the woman bore a son and called his name Samson. And the young man grew, and the LORD blessed him.” – Judges 13:24

The backdrop of Samson’s life is his interaction with women and begins with his mother being a strong woman married to a less-strong man. This theme of stronger women and weaker men working together is also on display in the story of Deborah and Barak. Gideon also struggles with courage as he begins with fear and timidity on the journey into his destiny. A Bible journal says, “The irony of the weakness of Manoah, Samson’s father, is enhanced by the fact that Samson himself was physically strong. His moral and spiritual condition, however, stood in marked contrast.” (1)

Finished with His meeting, Jesus then supernaturally disappeared, and “the LORD went up in the flame of the altar,” never to return. As we continue reading Judges we see that Samson grows up to be quite a dullard. Regarding his name, a Bible commentary says:

The naming of the child is curious – his mother calls him “Samson,” … “Sun-Like,” or “Solar,” or just plain “Sunny.” One wonders if this is a nod to the pagan ambience surrounding Israel at this time, as they coexisted with the Canaanites. In fact, the sun god was a popular Canaanite deity, and there was a city a few miles south of Zorah and Eshtaol, Samsons base of operations (13:25), called “Beth-Shemesh,” “House/Temple of the Sun.” So this was obviously not a name to be given to a child destined to be a Nazarite and a deliverer of Israel, especially after a heavenly annunciation, two theophanies, and the performance of wonders before a barren couple. Naming Samson after the sun, we have a dangerous dabbling in paganism. Not a good sign. (2)

Lastly, the Nazirite vow that Jesus tells Samson’s mother will be binding on Samson’s life is central to understanding his life story. The conditions of a Nazirite vow are found in Numbers 6:1-21. A Bible commentary says:

“Nazirite” comes from the verb נזר, nzr, “to abstain,” and describes a dedicatory separation to Yahweh, usually voluntary and for a limited time (Numbers 6:1-21). Such a separation included at least these elements: restriction of alcohol consumption, proscription of unclean foods, prohibition of hair trimming, and avoidance of contact with the “unclean,” particularly corpses. As in Samson’s case, it appears that in some circumstances it was permissible for others (parents) to take such a Nazirite vow on behalf of a child (and see 1 Samuel 1:11, 24-28). In any case, not only was Samson’s separation involuntary, it was also lifelong, from conception to demise (Judges 13:5,7). And in this case, even the mother had to follow dietary proscriptions, including the avoidance of “unclean” food (13:4,14)[.] … The careful structuring with multiple repeats of “all,” again emphasizes the importance of following directions carefully, yet only the consumption of alcohol and unclean things is noted – and that for the third time (13:4,7,14). In the rest of the Samson saga we find that every one of these Nazirite requirements are violated. Samson does not avoid alcohol (“vineyard” in 14:5; “feast” in 14:10; “Sorek” = “Choicest Vine” in 16:4); he consumes unclean food (14:9); he comes into contact with corpses (14:8-9,19; 15:8,13,15; 16:7-12,30); and he gets his hair cut (16:15–22). Besides, his close and intimate contacts with “the inhabitants of this land” (2:2) keep him from ever being clean. Samson’s calling is violated left and right in his story.

Samson’s dedication, special calling, and destiny, Yahweh, of course, knows. So do Samson’s parents, as well as the narrator and readers. But all along, Samson acts as if he were (blissfully) ignorant. However, he reveals his comprehension of his unique status in his actions (keeping his contact with a corpse secret, 14:9, for instance) and later in his confession to Delilah (16:17). That makes the negligence to his divine dedication deliberate and all the more reprehensible. (3)

Tomorrow, we will look at mysteries from the life of Samson and how sometimes we need something called a “mystery box” in our lives.

Read Numbers 6:1-21 to further understand Samson’s Nazirite vow.

1.    Ibid.

2.    Abraham Kuruvilla, Judges: A Theological Commentary for Preachers (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2017), 217.

3.    Ibid., 217–218.

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