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The Christ in the Book of Numbers—Part 1: The Nazirite
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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 wilderness.

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 Hamitzvot [1].

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 secular pleasures.

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 stated,

            “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 funerals.

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 Consecration

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 Meeting

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 human weakness.
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 service.

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 nation.

The Nazirites’ consecration to God demonstrates four principles of living:

·        consecration,

·        worship of the true God,

·        zealous service,

·        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”.

·         [1] (Literally "Book of Commandments". It is a work by the 12th century rabbi, philosopher and physician Maimonides that lists all the commandments of the Torah, with a brief description for each.)

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