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In Numbers 6, God gives the rules for being a Nazarite. This person is set apart for service to God. There are rules they must follow and actions they must take or refrain from.

  1. They must not eat or drink anything that comes from grapes. This includes wine, vinegar, raisins, or even grapes themselves.
  2. Avoid ritual impurity associated with corpses and graves. They may not even defile themselves for close family members.
  3. Avoid cutting their hair. They must let it grow as long as the vow lasts.

How was the Nazarite viewed in Israelite society and how did this status change over time (if at all)?

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The Nazirite vow was a means of extending the guarding role of the priesthood to an Israelite - either male or female - for the purpose of holy war. It was a sort of "priestly knighthood."

The vow is a miniature of Israel's sojourn in the wilderness - an emptying and a humbling followed by a filling and a glorification. The "Covenant head" is empty and comes back with "bridal hair." The grapes of Canaan are refused until the vow is complete and the Land is taken.* The idea goes back to the two trees in the Garden: the second tree temporarily forbidden for the sake of the humbling of Adam and the glorification of the Bride. Phil 2:5-11 also follows this pattern of emptying and filling.

The closest thing under the New Covenant is believer's baptism (which is also for both men and women). Believers abstain from "kingdom privileges" (food, alcohol, sex) temporarily for the sake of priestly war (1 Corinthians 7:5).

*Also, notice that no wine is drunk before God between Melchizedek's blessing of Abraham and the Last Supper (the Greater Melchizedek). The entire period of the Abrahamic Covenant was a priestly humbling, a temporary abstinence from kingly food for the maturation and qualification of humanity for Adamic rule.

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Hi Mike and welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics. I hope you enjoy the site. That's an interesting observation of wine after Malki-Tzedek; I'd never noticed the absence of sacred wine in the rest of tanakh. I guess I always assumed it showed up in Kings et al somewhere. :-) –  Gone Quiet Feb 14 '13 at 21:06
    
Thanks, Mike. Do you have any information on how the Nazarites were viewed over time? Such as in the ITP and Talmudic periods? –  Frank Luke Feb 18 '13 at 22:06
    
Good question. I'd only be googling it. I think the most important analysis is the three "Nazirites-from-birth," Samson and Samuel (who ministered at the same time, which we can see if we take note of the chronology, one in the north and one in the south), and then John the Baptist. The other window is the liturgical structure of Numbers 6, which I have outlined here: bullartistry.com.au/wp/2013/02/18/rise-a-knight –  Mike Bull Feb 19 '13 at 2:04

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