The word “nazarite” (sometimes spelled ‘nazirite’) can be a little confusing to people who are reading the bible. The reason is that Jesus was occasionally said to be a Nazarene. The two words have different meanings. A Nazarene was simply someone who lived in the small town of Nazareth, which Jesus did according to the second chapter of Matthew. Notice especially Matthew 2:23 –
and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene. (NIV)
The “he” who is being referenced here was Jesus who was taken to Nazareth by Joseph, along with his mother, Mary. Thus Jesus was a Nazarene. There isn’t a huge thing about this, considering that at the time of Jesus, since Nazareth wasn’t a very large town at the time. There were probably only about 200 people living there and the town was sort of remote. This means that the title was simply to say where Jesus was from, not to define his beliefs.
A Nazarite, however, was someone who followed a specific set of Hebrew rules, to keep themselves holy for God. There were three extremely strict rules that they had to follow. Those rules are laid down in Numbers 6:1-21:
6: 1 The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man or woman wants to make a special vow, a vow of dedication to the Lord as a Nazarite, 3 they must abstain from wine and other fermented drink and must not drink vinegar made from wine or other fermented drink. They must not drink grape juice or eat grapes or raisins. 4 As long as they remain under their Nazarite vow, they must not eat anything that comes from the grapevine, not even the seeds or skins.
5 “‘During the entire period of their Nazarite vow, no razor may be used on their head. They must be holy until the period of their dedication to the Lord is over; they must let their hair grow long.
6 “‘Throughout the period of their dedication to the Lord, the Nazarite must not go near a dead body. 7 Even if their own father or mother or brother or sister dies, they must not make themselves ceremonially unclean on account of them, because the symbol of their dedication to God is on their head.8 Throughout the period of their dedication, they are consecrated to the Lord.
9 “‘If someone dies suddenly in the Nazirite’s presence, thus defiling the hair that symbolizes their dedication, they must shave their head on the seventh day—the day of their cleansing. 10 Then on the eighth day they must bring two doves or two young pigeons to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 11 The priest is to offer one as a sin offering[a] and the other as a burnt offering to make atonement for the Nazarite because they sinned by being in the presence of the dead body. That same day they are to consecrate their head again. 12 They must rededicate themselves to the Lord for the same period of dedication and must bring a year-old male lamb as a guilt offering. The previous days do not count, because they became defiled during their period of dedication.
13 “‘Now this is the law of the Nazarite when the period of their dedication is over. They are to be brought to the entrance to the tent of meeting. 14 There they are to present their offerings to the Lord: a year-old male lamb without defect for a burnt offering, a year-old ewe lamb without defect for a sin offering, a ram without defect for a fellowship offering, 15 together with their grain offerings and drink offerings, and a basket of bread made with the finest flour and without yeast—thick loaves with olive oil mixed in, and thin loaves brushed with olive oil.
16 “‘The priest is to present all these before the Lord and make the sin offering and the burnt offering. 17 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.
18 “‘Then at the entrance to the tent of meeting, the Nazarite must shave off the hair that symbolizes their dedication. They are to take the hair and put it in the fire that is under the sacrifice of the fellowship offering.
19 “‘After the Nazarite has shaved off the hair that symbolizes their dedication, the priest is to place in their hands a boiled shoulder of the ram, and one thick loaf and one thin loaf from the basket, both made without yeast. 20 The priest shall then wave these 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 Nazarite may drink wine.
21 “‘This is the law of the Nazirite who vows offerings to the Lord in accordance with their dedication, in addition to whatever else they can afford. They must fulfill the vows they have made, according to the law of the Nazarite.’”
The story of Samson was about a Nazarite. Samson’s tremendous strength was given to him because he was a Nazarite, and he was born to it. Judges 13:3-5 says 3 The angel of the Lord appeared to her and said, “You are barren and childless, but you are going to become pregnant and give birth to a son. 4 Now see to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean. 5 You will become pregnant and have a son whose head is never to be touched by a razor because the boy is to be a Nazarite, dedicated to God from the womb. He will take the lead in delivering Israel from the hands of the Philistines.”
Of course, in the story of Samson, he violated the vow of the Nazarite, by drinking, touching uncooked meat and finally by allowing his hair to be cut. His demise was rather horrid, and indeed Samson also violated a number of God’s commandments before he suffered for his actions. Still, the point is that a Nazarite was a person who vowed to never drink alcoholic beverages, to touch dead flesh and to never cut their hair. The last one was so people would know that the man was a Nazarite even from a distance.
This is also an important point for biblical understanding. Jesus is often depicted as having long hair. However, Hebrew law was to have short hair and to be clean-shaven. One can only guess that the people who tried to paint a likeness of Jesus had heard of what the Nazarite vow was and didn’t understand that ‘Nazarite’ and ‘Nazarene’ aren’t the same thing. In fact, since Jesus followed Hebrew laws when they didn’t conflict with the laws of God, it is almost certain that he had short hair and was shaven, per Hebrew law.
Still, this is an excellent example of what happens when people don’t understand a term that is used in the bible. If Nazarite and Nazarene were the same thing, then it would be safe to assume that Jesus had long hair. Since they are not the same, it is safe to assume that he didn’t. Of course what he looked like has little to do with the wonderful message of hope, love, deliverance and his sacrifice for all men and women. However, it is important to understand the meaning of the words in order to fully grasp the meaning and the truth of the bible.
Posted in Biblical meanings and tagged Gospel of Matthew, hebrew law, Jesus, nazarene, nazarite, nazereth, samson by rextrulove with 2 comments.
In the modern world, heart disease, heart attack and stroke easily account for the greatest number of deaths. More people die from each of these than from all the other illnesses combined. Most modern doctors tell their patients with high blood pressure and risk factors for each of these maladies to cut their intake of salt, because of the sodium. In light of this, it is safe to say that most Christians haven’t given much thought, if any at all, to the importance of salt in the bible and in biblical times and to the meaning of the biblical passages having to do with salt.
In the greatest sermon ever given, the sermon on the mount, Jesus said:
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. Matthew 5:13 NIV
Who was He talking about as being the salt of the earth? He was of course including the disciples, but the sermon was being given to the people, the Christians, so He was referring to Christian’s; the people who followed his words, teachings and examples. By extension, that means all Christians, even today. To really appreciate what He was saying, though, we need to understand the importance of salt.
The area around the Sea of Galilee, where the sermon was given, is hot even today. At the time of Jesus, the entire area, including Israel and Judea, was far hotter than it is today. Our world is substantially cooler now than it was back then. However, consider for a moment how important salt is to people in desert regions today. Since a lot of salt is lost through perspiration, the salt must be replenished or a person will die. Sodium is needed to control body temperature.
Further, without refrigeration, meat would spoil in the heat if it wasn’t preserved. Salt was and is a powerful preservative. It was even rubbed into hides to make them last longer. So salt both preserves and replenishes. It was so important in those times that it was used as money on occasion, so it had value, too.
Knowing all of this, we can begin to understand what Jesus was saying to all Christians, to this very day. Every one of us is important to Jesus and to the father. We are the salt of the earth. By spreading God’s word and showing in our actions what the teachings mean, we can help replenish and preserve the souls of everyone we meet. We can be of great value to God and to his kingdom.
At the same time, we are given a warning. The salt around Galilee has many impurities, just as we all do. When it is subjected to the elements of the world, the sodium chloride…salt…can be leached out, leaving behind only the impurities. It still looks like salt, but it has lost its saltiness. Salt that has lost its saltiness is worthless. It no longer preserves or replenishes and can be thrown away, to be trampled upon underfoot.
Likewise, if we let the world wash through us, our zest for Godly things can gradually be leached out until we no longer have worth to God. Our drive for Godly things begins to be replaced with a drive for worldly things. It is doubtful that any Christian wants to be worthless in the eyes of God, so we must all work to stay salty in the word of God. This is done through prayer and through reading God’s word. Jesus also explained this a number of times.
It should bring joy to know that Jesus called you the salt of the earth. It means that you are valuable to God as a preserver and restorer. However, we are each tasked with turning away from worldly things and fighting to retain our saltiness. When we do, by God’s grace, wonderful things happen. This is as true for me as it is for anyone else.
Posted in Biblical meanings and tagged importance, salt, Sea of Galilee, sermon on the mount, word of God by rextrulove with 2 comments.