The Christ in the Book of Numbers –
Part 1: The Nazirite
A Bible Study Series
based on The Christ in the Book of Numbers
by Chen Sheng Quan
The book of Numbers is generally
recognized as one of the five books of Moses. It is named “Numbers” because it
records two censuses of the Israelite males. However, the original Hebrew title
means “in the wilderness”. The first half of the book records laws and
statutes, while the second half recounts the life of the elect in the
Although the people of Israel had
seen God’s power when they crossed the Red Sea and were cared for by God, they
easily believed in the bad report provided by the 10 spies. As a result of
their disbelief and subsequent rebellion against God, none of those above 20 years
could enter Canaan and all Israel had to wander in the wilderness for 40 years.
Yet, God still cared for them and used different methods to preserve their
lives, so that they could continue to walk according to His salvation plan.
While the Israelites’ wandering in
the wilderness may seem to be a cruel torture from God, their experiences
mirror, that is prefigure, the failures and victories in the spiritual journey
of Christians today. As we study this part of Israel’s history (Ex 12:37-19:25;
Num 16:1-25:18), we will discover countless prefigurations of forgiveness and
salvation as well as proclamations of Christ’s salvation work.
In fact, the LORD had already
hidden the Messiah, Jesus Christ, in the Pentateuch (= the five books of the
law of Moses).
For this reason Jesus said, "… if you believed Moses, you would believe
Me; for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you
believe My words?” (Jn 5:46-47)
Although the whole Pentateuch
contains many prefigurations of Christ, Numbers is outstanding in this regard.
It contains a complete set of 10 prefigurations of Christ that can help
believers to understand God’s plan and His superior wisdom. These
prefigurations are comparable to pieces of a jigsaw puzzle which, when put
together, reveal the complete true image of Christ.
In the first part of this Bible
study series, we will look at the first prefiguration of Christ—The Nazirite.
PART 1: The
Nazirite Consecrated to the LORD
In the eyes of the world, the
Israelites are a unique race. Although closely surrounded by neighboring
nations, they are not accepted by other races. The primary difference between
them and their neighbors is their belief. Up to this day, religious wars in the
history of the Middle East originate from conflicts in religion. The Israelites
believe in serving the one true God and worshipping the LORD because God had
chosen them from amongst the nations and ordained His laws on Mount Sinai. God
had explicitly made known that serving the LORD God wholeheartedly was the
whole aim of the Law (cf. Lev 26:1-2). This is repeatedly expressed in the Sefer
Therefore, other than their
political system and social norms, religious institutions constitute a key
characteristic of this nation.
The laws instituted on Mount Sinai
3,000 years ago had created a nation which manifests, “in every act, every word
and deed, every drink and meal …” the laws and statutes of God. Religious
culture is a major asset of their culture.
In the beginning, the LORD
commanded His servant Moses to appoint the sons of Aaron and the tribe of Levi
to work in the tabernacle, attending to all matters pertaining to sacrifices of
congregational worship and religious rituals. Thousands of years later, Israel
emerged as a unique people who had built their nation upon a religious
foundation. However, if service towards this one true God were limited to the
priests and Levites, it would be far from the noble ideal that God intended to
establish – “a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (cf. Ex 19:6, Lev 11:43-45, 1
Pet 2:9). As the office of priests and Levites is passed from one generation to
the next, no other tribe can own this “ministerial right”. This did not match
the original principle of “ministry for all”, so the order of the “Nazirite” was
established. In other words, regardless of gender or tribe, anyone in Israel
could choose to become a Nazirite, and thus be temporarily separated from the
cares of this world. He could sanctify himself unto the LORD and serve the LORD
wholeheartedly. This met the objective of “ministry for all”, and was the most
important reason why God instituted the order of the Nazirite. In this way, the
order of the Nazirite was not only for one to be separated from secularity unto
the LORD, but also to encourage every Israelite to be “consecrated and be
presented to the LORD”, becoming the ideal holy nation.
Since the LORD’s ideal
incorruptible nation was “a ministering nation”, a people amongst the nations
who belong to the LORD, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (cf. Ex 19:5-6),
the order of the Nazirite was perfect as it was both feasible and meaningful.
Nazirites served God temporarily
on a full-time basis. During the time of their consecration, they were not
allowed to eat or drink anything produced from the grapevine, cut their hair or
go near a dead body, even if one of their family members died (Numbers 6:1-21).
Famous Nazirites include the
prophet Samuel in the ancient times, Samson during the time of Judges and John
the Baptist in the New Testament. They had all been consecrated to God since
birth. During the apostolic era, the Apostle Paul appeared to have taken a vow
to consecrate himself to serve for a short period (cf. Acts 18:18, 21:23-24).
However, our Lord Jesus Christ is the actual and everlasting Nazirite; He is
the true Nazirite; the LORD’s hidden truth. This hidden way shows the
unfathomable wisdom and plan of God. Thus the Nazirite is the first
manifestation of Christ in the Book of Numbers.
The Prefiguration of Christ
Taking the Nazirite vow to
consecrate oneself to the LORD is an act for the elect to serve God
wholeheartedly. We can thus understand how a Nazirite typifies Jesus Christ who,
for our sake, was willing to be born into this world, preach the gospel of the
heavenly kingdom and save humanity. Though He was in the world, He was, in
nature, above this secular world.
The laws of the Nazirite –
consecration, wholehearted service and separation from secularity - were
manifested through Christ. Through His birth, growth, preaching, teaching, His
miracles and finally His fragrant sacrifice on the cross, the veil between man
and God was torn in two, fulfilling the work of salvation (cf. Matt 27:51). He
entered this sinful world with the spirit of “[being] about My Father’s
business”, never pursuing the worldly pleasures of life and determined to be
rid of the power of sin. He is the only perfect Nazirite, the model of an
end-time Christian consecrated and separated to the LORD.
Consecrated to the LORD
As mentioned before, Nazirites
voluntarily consecrated themselves to the LORD - bringing their body to
subjection, controlling their desires and serving the LORD wholeheartedly.
Being consecrated to the LORD, they were to strictly abide by the following
ordinances during the period of consecration:
1. Abstaining from Wine
Abstinence from wine and similar
drinks signifies that those who are consecrated to the LORD should not enjoy
The Israelites viewed wine,
fermented drinks, vinegar, grape juice, fresh grapes, raisins and other fruit
products as delicacies and tonics. These delicacies were an integral part of
their daily life, with each having its specific use. Grape seeds, for example,
were made into tonic water that not only enhanced appetite but also aided the
digestion of meat. The fruits of the grapevine and liquors made from grapes
were essential for the various annual festivals (cf. Deut 12:17-18, Ps 104:15).
Having these listed as forbidden objects for Nazirites, would be deliberate
deprivation of the pleasures of life and the right to celebrate for those who
had taken the vow. During the period of their vow, Nazirites were to lead a
monotonous and simple life devoid of pleasure.
Jesus Christ, the true and
enduring Nazirite, lived His entire life separated from the pleasures and joys
of this world. From the day He was born, up to the day He was crucified and
breathed His last, He led a simple life. He was so poor that He was without
shelter, yet He did not succumb to temptation. He told His followers, “Foxes
have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to
lay His head” (Lk 9:58). The Scripture also says, “For we do not have a High
Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted
as we are, yet without sin”(Heb 4:15). When tempted three
times, He fought the good fight and was victorious (cf. Matt 4:1-11). He was
diligent and frugal, with neither form nor comeliness; He forsook His honor and
glory, dwelled amongst the poor and was despised. He did all these without any
murmuring for humanity’s sake.
In contrast, from time immemorial,
the people of the world have been pursuing wealth. They use unscrupulous means
with little care for morality, prepared even to turn friends and relatives into
enemies. If as Christians, our focus in life is on wealth and power too, we are
just like the people of the world. It is true that Christians will inevitably
be defiled by the world. However, by abstaining from the pleasures of the
world and leading a simple God-fearing life, we can maintain the status of a
Nazirite and secure our spiritual lives. Therefore, the secret to a growing
faith is to be pure in heart and free from desires. As such, Peter exhorted
the believers of his time:
“Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm
yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has
ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the
flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.” (1 Pet 4:1-2)
In these last days, we must be
alert and reflective. Only then will Christ’s suffering of poverty and
sacrifice have significance for us. What is the use of a Christian who is a
spiritual Nazirite but is unable to control his secular desires to the point of
being corrupted by them?
2. Letting the Hair of His Head Grow
The most distinctive sign of the
Nazirites’ separation unto the LORD is their hair. The Law specifically
“All the days of the vow of his separation no razor shall come
upon his head; until the days are fulfilled for which he separated himself to
the LORD, he shall be holy. Then he shall let the locks of the hair of his head
grow.” (Num 6:5)
Since ancient times, adornment and
colors in religious rites have frequently been used to differentiate denominations
or sects; this may also include designated insignia to display reverence. In
this respect, Nazirites were no exception, as can be seen from the ordinance
concerning their hair adornment.
Trimming and grooming one’s hair
is one of life’s enjoyments as it enhances external beauty, tidiness and
comfort. An unkempt person not only looks strange but can also be downright
ugly. So the LORD’s demand for a vow from the Nazirites to let their hair grow
seems to be counter-intuitive. In fact, this demand was not only to show that
the Nazirites are different from others, but also to reflect the fact that they
did not dress to please others through their external appearance. In this way,
Nazirites could be easily identified as consecrated to the LORD.
Christ came into the world without
beauty and He did not judge others by their outward appearance. As a result,
the people did not honor Him and even despised Him. Isaiah, the great prophet,
spoke about the appearance of the Messiah as early as 600 BC, prophesying:
“For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, And as a root
out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is
no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, A Man
of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from
Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.” (Is 53:2-3)
For our sakes, Jesus willingly
became poor and weak, bearing humiliation from the people of the world.
As we pursue for spiritual growth
today, should we not come before God with reverence and sincerity and pray for
things, which are pleasing to Him? As Christians we should not yearn for
secularity, ostentation and external appearances. We must not conform to the
trend of this world and seek after vain glory. Doing so is tantamount to
building a house upon the sand, immolating oneself and corrupting one’s
spirituality (cf. Rom 12:1-2, Phil 2:3).
In the past 2000 years, secular
church leaders have abandoned the poverty, humility and sincerity of Christ.
Instead, they have blindly pursued external decoration and accumulation of
power. Consequently, the truth was lost and the church was plunged into extreme
misery in the ensuing chaos. Today, the spirit of Christ is completely absent
and the way of truth and reverence has also become an unrealistic aspiration in
many secular churches. Therefore, the Nazirites’ long hair serves as a reminder
for today’s believers not to conform to the world but to follow Jesus’ example
of humility and sincerity.
3. Not Touching a Dead Body
Nazirites had to resolve to lead a
life of holiness, free from the concerns of this world. They needed to purify
themselves to avoid defilement, and could not go near a dead body, not even
that of their own family members (cf. Num 6:6-8).
Parents and siblings are part of
the immediate family and it is reasonable for us to be in sorrow when they pass
away. Therefore it was not considered defilement by Israelite laws to conduct
However, God’s expectations
towards the Nazirites seem to be almost unreasonable, as they surpassed those
towards the priest and even high priest. From the human perspective, such
regulations appear to be quite heartless, perhaps even inhumane. They are also
difficult to accept. However, God’s laws need to be viewed from a spiritual
perspective. To be consecrated to the LORD, which is what Nazirite means -
denoted voluntary and special separation. Since the Nazirites had vowed to
serve the LORD wholeheartedly, they were not to be troubled by matters of the
world. As they had been consecrated to the LORD, even when family members such
as parents or siblings passed away, they could not go near the corpse, lest
they be defiled. Moreover, the Nazirites vowed to be separated, offering
themselves to the Master. It was voluntary and done willingly so they needed to
abide by this strict prohibition. They could not break the covenant. If they
were to be defiled by the dead, all their earlier efforts would have been
wasted and they would have to restart. Starting again meant that they would
have to shave their head to consecrate themselves, sacrifice sin and burnt
offerings and dedicate themselves to the LORD anew for the period of their
separation; the previous days would not count (cf. Num 6:9-12). Although this was
a strict requirement, it holds great significance for Christians today – it
shows the spirit of remaining undefiled by worldly matters.
In his life of service, a believer
must reject the interference from worldly concerns even to the point of, when
necessary, avoiding burdens of family relations and emotions. This enables him
to serve God wholeheartedly, pursue absolute holiness in his life of faith and
avoid making unintentional mistakes. Jesus was a life-long Nazirite who served
God by leading a life of holiness. He is the perfect Nazirite in this world. As
He taught His disciples:
"Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house
or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My
sake and the gospel's, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time –
houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with
persecutions – and in the age to come, eternal life.” (Mk 10:29-30)
It is only logical that people are
unwilling to give up parents, children, brothers, sisters, houses, fields, etc.,
as kinship, human relationships and physical objects are what we hold dear.
However, as spiritual Nazirites, we must never allow our service to be defiled
or interfered with. Instead, we should strive to be perfect as our high priest
is perfect (cf. Matt 5:48). Do not be satisfied with just having faith; serve
wholeheartedly and proactively - seek to manifest the Nazirite spirit. If we
allow ourselves to be defiled, all our earlier efforts will be wasted. The prophet
warns, “…but he trusts in his own righteousness and commits iniquity, none of
his righteous works shall be remembered” (cf. Ezek 33:13).
Therefore, a lesson for all
Christians through the ages is to serve God wholeheartedly, lead a holy life
and avoid any blunders in our life of faith.
Ordinances Concerning the Completion of
Apart from the ordinances
concerning the separation unto the LORD when one took the Nazirite vow, there were
also ordinances on the completion of consecration.
The original spirit of the
Nazirite ordinance was to emphasize the manifestation of a “kingdom of priests”
and a “ministering nation”; the focus was not on the length of separation or
whether it was for life. When the period of consecration was over, Nazirites had
to resume their normal secular life, doing their best when interacting with
others, honoring parents and being loyal to their family. They were not
supposed to live in long-term seclusion.
When the days of separation were
fulfilled, Nazirites would first make three sacrifices, shave their head and
burn the hair that was shaved off, after which they could eat and drink, and
resume normal life (cf. Num 6:13-20).
Having said this, what do these
ordinances teach us?
1. Offering Up Three Sacrifices
The ritual of resuming secular
life began by making the sin offering, followed by the burnt offering, and ended
with a peace offering (cf. Num 6:14-18).
Although Nazirites chose to be
separated unto God and to serve Him whole-heartedly, their consecration was based
on the LORD’s forgiveness, acceptance and His blessing of peace. Thus, the
ability to be consecrated to God is not by our own effort. How can our service
be effective without God’s forgiveness, acceptance and blessing of peace?
Therefore the sin, burnt and peace offerings manifested the Nazirites’ humility
as well as their reverence and gratitude to the LORD.
These three established offerings
were made in order to remind latter generations that they are not separated
unto God due to their good deeds and cultivation. The elect are able to serve
because the precious blood of Jesus Christ grants us “remission of sin”,
“complete acceptance” and the “blessing of peace”. Without the salvation of
Christ, no one can be saved, regardless of how good he is, how excellent his
moral standards, how pure his speech and actions or how great his sacrifice. Humanity
is defiled and controlled by sin for which the final payment is death. Only
through Christ the eternal sin offering can we be consecrated and once again be
worthy of the grace to serve and be accepted by God. Therefore, there is
nothing to boast about when we serve our Lord Jesus.
2. Shaving His Head at the Entrance of the Tent of
Following the completion of his
consecration, the Nazirite had to shave his consecrated head at the door of the
tent of meeting, and put his hair on the fire of the peace offering, following
which he could drink wine (Num 6:18-20).
Since the Nazirite’s hair was a
sign of being separated unto the LORD, he may have naturally wanted to keep the
locks of hair to remember the days of his consecration to the LORD; he may have
even boasted of its glory. However, the LORD prohibits self-glorification and
pride. Therefore, on the day of fulfillment, the Nazirite had to come to the
door of the tabernacle of meeting and place his shorn hair on the fire of the
peace offering. This is equivalent to coming before God and man to completely
and unreservedly cleanse off any sign that signifies separation unto the LORD.
Firstly, this action prevented the Nazirite from boasting about his beautiful
work of consecration to God. He had to be grateful for the opportunity to serve
God. He could not boast. Secondly, this prevented the consecrated hair from
being defiled by the world and completely preserved the sign of consecration.
Actually, it is very likely that
the elect would have displayed pride and weakness in their service. They may have
perceived their service as a form of self-satisfying sacrifice, proud that they
had left their name in history, hoping to be honored and praised. This is a
We need to remember that we are merely useless servants. It is by God’s
mercy and acceptance that we are able to serve before Him; it is by grace, and
not sacrifice, that we are able to serve. As God’s workers, we should take heed
not to be self-righteous, boastful or constantly recalling past glories (cf. 1
Sam 15:12) – all honor and glory belong to God.
Therefore, when the period of
consecration was over, the Nazirite had to put the hair from his consecrated
head on the fire. In this way he allowed everything to revert to normal,
refrained from giving glory to himself and attributed all labor of sacrifice to
God who sees in secret (cf. Matt 6:4-6).
3. Offering All
The law of separation mentions the
phrase “whatever else his hand is able to provide”. What does this mean?
“This is the law of the Nazirite who vows to the LORD the
offering for his separation, and besides that, whatever else his hand is able
to provide; according to the vow which he takes, so he must do according to the
law of his separation.” (Num 6:21)
When the period of consecration was
completed, the Nazirite was free to make whatever sacrifice he could afford in
addition to the three required sacrifices. This additional sacrifice could also
be a specific sacrifice made for another vow; he had to do according to the vow
made and could not break the vow.
The service of a Nazirite portrays
a Christian’s life of service. A person who belongs to God no longer belongs to
himself but is of Christ; he has been redeemed and offered to God. As Paul
encourages the church in Rome, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the
mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy,
acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom 12:1).
Today, we, who have been baptized
into Christ, belong to Jesus Christ. We are called to be (original text:
offered up) apostles and, in turn, spiritual Nazirites; there is nothing that
belongs to us. We belong to God entirely and should thus offer a complete
sacrifice, instead of restricting ourselves to certain types of offerings.
God has allowed us to posses our
own riches and He has blessed us with abundant grace, so that we do not lack
anything in our lives. Thus, in the pursuit of holiness and service, we should
follow the Scriptures’ instruction to “… serve the LORD your God with all your
heart and with all your soul” and, to “… love the LORD your God” (cf. Deut
10:12-13, Matt 22:37-40). This is the true meaning behind “whatever else his
hand is able to provide” – we must not limit ourselves to only certain types of
4. Receiving Blessing
“And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, "Speak to Aaron and
his sons, saying, 'This is the way you shall bless the children of Israel. Say
to them, "The LORD bless you and keep you; The LORD make His face shine
upon you, And be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.” So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I
will bless them. (Num 6:22-27)
The passage above was the priestly
blessing for the Israelites. No matter whether this blessing was directly
related to the service of the Nazirite, whether it was for the realization of
the “ministering nation” or just following the usual offering of sacrifices, it
was always a wonderful grace to receive the blessing from the high priest.
After performing the sacrificial rituals, Aaron would lift his hands towards
the people and bless them. It is said that this then became a practice of
Israelite worship (cf. Lev 9:22). A ministering nation will be a blessed
The Nazirites’ consecration to God
demonstrates four principles of living:
worship of the true God,
and receipt of God’s blessings.
Hence, the Nazirite’s prefiguration
of Christ shows that every believer should seek to be “separated from
secularity and consecrated to God” as well as to have the Nazirite’s “noble
spirit of wholehearted servitude”.