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and negative—the one as implying some offering made to God, the other some restraint laid on the natural desires, or the use of certain things in themselves lawful.
There was no limit to the objects which a vow might embrace. Persons, lands, cattle, houses, and property of any sort, are either expressly or by implication included in the possible category of votive offerings. The only exceptions were the first-born of man or beast, and the property of priests. But these were excepted only as being already devoted to God. They were His by a special covenant, the first-born as the representatives of the race which He had redeemed, the sacerdotal possessions as consecrated to His service. These exceptions, therefore, only the more strikingly proved, that the subjectmatter of vows was coextensive with every human personality or possession.
The Nazarite vow was of all others the most important, on account both of its own special provisions and their symbolic significance. It is generally believed that the custom prevailed before the Mosaic period. Only its peculiar regulations were provided for in the Law. The external obligations incurred by this vow were, to let the hair grow, to abstain from wine, vinegar, or any produce of the grape, even from grapes themselves, and to avoid all approach to a dead body, even that of the nearest relation.
It has been observed, and the point is of deep interest, as strikingly exhibiting the inner meaning of this remarkable self-consecration, that there is a close resemblance, as to their outward provisions, between the obligations of the Nazarite and those of the High-Priest. The rule of avoiding all contact with the dead, and that of abstinence from wine, applied to both. There is even ground for supposing that the Nazarite was permitted to enter the sanctuary, as bearing something of the priestly character, at least of the sanctity specially belonging to the sacred office. Moreover, Jewish writers generally were of opinion that some deep spiritual import was involved in the Nazarite rule, though they differ as to its interpretation. Philo viewed it as expressive of spotless inward purity and entire devotion of the person and his possessions. Some even regarded it as symbolizing the operation of the Divine Nature in man. That it embraced the whole life, and implied an entire consecration, was thought to be denoted by the provision, that at the completion of the vow, or renewal in case of being broken, the three chief sacrifices of the Law, the burnt-offering, the sin-offering, and the peace-offering, which together consecrated the whole man, were required. A Nazarite was understood to identify himself with each of these several acts of oblation. The shorn hair laid and burnt in the fire of the altar, was also, according to this deeper view, supposed to indicate that person was offered to God,—the Divine Law not permitting the offering of human blood, and the hair, as a portion of the person, being understood to represent the whole. That the idea implied is that of the setting apart of the life, a self-sacrifice to God, is in accordance with the Scriptural terms denoting the state : “ The Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel and say unto them, When either man or woman shall separate themselves to vow the vow of a Nazarite, to separate themselves unto the Lord," etc. It was apparently the typical anticipation of the regenerate soul offering the “living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto the Lord.”
Some writers of note have even supposed that the Nazarite rule was ordained as a quasi-sacramental representation of man before the fall; nor is it improbable that God would preserve on earth some visible signs of man's original creation, a state which knew not death, and which implied the restraint of the appetites in subjection to the will, in harmony with the Divine law, when, as a priest, man lived before God, consecrating himself and all his possessions as the highest offering of nature to its Creator.
The Nazarite rule embraced women as well as men. Įt was, moreover, applicable equally to limited periods of days or years, or to the whole life. The former case constituted the “Nazarite of days.” Most commonly the vow was limited to a definite period,—thirty, sixty, or a hundred days being the ordinary terms. Of Nazarites for life, the notable instances mentioned in Scripture, are Samson, Samuel, and St. John the Baptist, and in each case with the additional element of obedience to a superior will in the choice of a rule, the devotee accepting his consecration as an act of his parents, who were, we can not question, moved by God to make this dedication of their child. That there was a tendency in the Jewish mind to such acts of self-devotion, in order to win the favor of God, or deprecate His wrath, or for the cultivation of greater strictness of life, is evident from many tokens in their history. Beside the Nazarite rule, which had the highest possible sanction in the Revelations of God, other forms of self-consecration had grown up of themselves. The Institutes of Rechabites and Essenes arose out of this tendency. Josephus records, that in his day there
were many, particularly persons oppressed by sickness, or adverse fortune, who vowed to abstain from wine, and go with the head shaven—their rule thus being distinguished from that of the Nazarite-and to spend a prolonged time in prayer during thirty days previously to their offering up the promised sacrifice.
Such vows, especially if undertaken only for short periods, would ordinarily pass almost unnoticed. “But the Nazarite for life must have been, with his flowing hair and persistent refusal of strong drink, a marked man. He may have had some privileges (as we have seen) which gave him something of a priestly character, and (as it has been conjectured) he may have given much of his time to sacred studies. Though not necessarily cut off from social life, yet when the turn of his mind was devotional, consciousness of his peculiar dedication must have influenced his habits and manner, and in some cases probably led him to retire from the world.”
Voluntariness was always considered to be an essential characteristic of a vow ; and its subjectmatter some devotion left free to the conscience. It was the willing adoption of a rule of life not enjoined by the Law, but revealed as pleasing to God, and expressive of some high truth by which