The Hidden Spiritual Meaning of the Nazarite Vow and How Samson Might Have Avoided His Untimely Death

The bible encourages us to meditate on God’s word day and night (Psalm 1:2), and I think it is not without reason that we are instructed to do this. For one, I think (and this is also based on m own personal experience) that as we meditate on God’s word, we uncover hidden, spritual truths, that are not apparent on a cursory reading.

I find it painful to read about the story of Samson (Judges 13) and have often wondered if he could have avoided his untimely death.

Indeed, I do not think it was God’s plan for Samson to have died the way he did. Rather, I speculate that his fate is the outcome of the bad choices that he had made over a lifetime.

Samson’s birth was an extaordinary one. An angel of the Lord appeared before his mother to instruct her that her would-be born son was to be a Nazirite for life, “dedicated to God from the womb” (Judges 13).

Therein lies the secret of how Samson might have avoided his untimely death.

You see, nazarites were prohibited from three things (Numbers 6:1–21):

  • Wine and other fermented drink
  • Shaving their hair
  • Proximity to a dead body

Whey were nazarites prohibited from things? Ah, this is precisely the question that Samson should have asked, and if necessary, to have spent an entire lifetime meditating on these things, rather than on chasing after women and other wordly pursuits.

Beneath the religious practice of the Nazarite vow lies, I believe, a hidden and deeper spiritual meaning of each of these three things.

Let’s start with avoiding wine and other fermented drink. Why? I believe it was to prevent the Nazarite from being involved in drunkedness or rowdy behaviour and unnecessary trouble. Proverbs 20:1 (International Standard Version translation, with emphais mine) says: “Wine causes mocking, and beer causes fights; everyone led astray by them lacks wisdom.

Now, in the bible, it is never explictly mentioned that Samson had drunk any wine, but in Judges 14, we read that “Samson threw a party. (This is what young men used to do.)” (Judges 14:10; God’s Word translation), and I think it wouldn’t be too unreasonable to imagine that alcohol was served. Later, we read that Samson challenged his guest with a high-stakes riddle, and if you read further, this challenge lead to a host of trouble, and even the eventual death of Samson’s prospective wife and father in law (Judges 15).  Perhaps Samson was inebriated by alcohol when he made that challenge and could have avoided “loose lips” had he been more sober.

Next, we move on to the Nazarite’s prohibition from shaving their hair.

In the bible, hair, is an emblem for “covering” or “protection“. We see this principle in 1 Corinthians 11:14-15 (NIV):

14 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering.

That said, I believe that for the nazarites, their long hair was the emblem of God’s “covering” or “protection” over their lives.

Indeed, in Judges 16, we see that shortly after his hair had been shaved (verse 19), “the Lord had left him” (verse 20) (implying that the Lord was no longer “covering” over Samson’s life). At the same time, Samson’s amazing strength left him (verse 19).

Herein, it should be apparent that Samson’s strength was not physical, but supernatural (from the Holy Spirit).

Finally, we discuss the Nazarite prohibition from getting close to dead bodies.

Why the prohibition? Well, the New Testament tells us that the Lord Jesus had a disciple who promised Him that he (the disciple) would follow Him but needed to bury his father first (Matthew 8). Instead of commending this disciple for his filial piety, the Lord Jesus seemed rather harsh when he replied: “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” (Matthew 8:22; NIV)

What did the Lord Jesus mean by “let the dead bury their own dead“? How can a dead person bury another dead person? Have you ever seen such a thing?

Well, the NLT version enlightens us by translating Matthew 8:22 this way: “But Jesus told him, “Follow me now. Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead.”” (emphasis mine).

In other words, it seems like the Lord Jesus Christ was instructing this disciple that he (this disciple), being spritually alive, had more important things to attend to (namely, “to preach about the Kingdom of God“; see Luke 9:60), and that he should leave non-spiritual matters into the hands of the spiritually dead.

Coming back to the Nazarite prohibition from getting close to dead bodies, I believe that the deeper spiritual meaning behind this prohibition was for the Nazarite’s to separate themselves from the spiritually dead.

The tragic irony in Samson’s life is that he seemed to have spent most of his time associating with the spiritually dead and so little with God’s children (the children of Israel). Lest we forget, Samson was judge over Israel for twenty years (Judges 15:20 ), but how much of his leadership do we learn about in the bible?

Eventually, Samson died with the Philistines. Note that this was something he had prayed and requested God for (see Judges 16:30, NLT translation, which reads: “he prayed, “Let me die with the Philistines.”“)

Why did Samson have to die this way? I mean, had Samson requested God to allow him to die elsewhere, couldn’t have God granted his requested and delivered him from the Philistines’ captivity? I would think so, but wish to bring you back to my point that God had answered Samson’s very request. It seems to me that even at death, Samson could not dissociate himself emotionally from the spiritually-dead Philistines.

Perhaps had Samson trained his mind since young (by meditating on the Word of God) to stay away from the spiritually dead, his life could have taken a very different turn, and could have avoided all the tragedies in his life, and lived a ripe old age, instead of dying in such an untimely manner.

Is there any relevance of this to modern-day believers? There is; like the Nazarites, we are not to establish close relationships with the spiritually dead: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14; NIV)

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The Secret of Samson’s Strength; It is About the Hair, But It’s Also Not All About the Hair

What is the secret of Samson’s strength?

In my view, it is about the hair, but it’s also not all about the hair.

Sounds confusing? Ok, let’s start with the basics.

Samson was a nazarite (Judges 13). The word ‘nazarite’ comes from the Hebrew word nazir meaning “consecrated” or “separated”; consequently, the nazarites were the “consecrated ones” or “separated ones”. The condition for being a nazarite is described in Numbers 6:1–21, and in particular, nazarites were prohibited from these three things:

  • Wine and other fermented drink
  • Shaving their hair (therefore, they were required to let their hair grow long)
  • Proximity to a dead body

Now, I believe each of these three things had a deeper spiritual significance behind them (just as when Moses gave the children of Israel prohibitions over certain food, the prohibited food were meant to convey a deeper spiritual truth; for details, please view my earlier blog).

In particular, hair, is an emblem for “covering” or “protection”. We see this principle in 1 Corinthians 11:14-15 (NIV):

14 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering.

That said, I believe that for the nazarites, their long hair was the emblem of God’s “covering” or “protection” over their lives.

Indeed, in Judges 16, we see that shortly after his hair had been shaved (verse 19), “the Lord had left him” (verse 20) (implying that the Lord was no longer “covering” over Samson’s life). At the same time, Samson’s amazing strength left him (verse 19). Herein, it should be apparent that Samson’s strength was not physical, but supernatural (from the Holy Spirit).

So, if you have been wondering “what’s the big deal about Samson’s hair”, it wasn’t really wasn’t about the hair per se (which is why males typically do not lose significant hair on shaving their hair), but about the spiritual emblem that it represented in Samson’s life. We know that God does deal with emblems seriously — even in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 11), we find that believers who partook of the Holy Communion in an unworthy manner came under God’s judgment (verse 29), leading to sickness or even death (verse 30).