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First, God Himself provided the rules by which a Nazarite vow should be fulfilled.

1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 2 Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When either man or woman shall separate themselves to vow a vow of a Nazarite, to separate themselves unto the LORD: 3 He shall separate himself from wine and strong drink, and shall drink no vinegar of wine, or vinegar of strong drink, neither shall he drink any liquor of grapes, nor eat moist grapes, or dried. 4 All the days of his separation shall he eat nothing that is made of the vine tree, from the kernels even to the husk. 5 All the days of the vow of his separation there shall no razor come upon his head: until the days be fulfilled, in the which he separateth himself unto the LORD, he shall be holy, and shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow. 6 All the days that he separateth himself unto the LORD he shall come at no dead body. 7 He shall not make himself unclean for his father, or for his mother, for his brother, or for his sister, when they die: because the consecration of his God is upon his head. 8 All the days of his separation he is holy unto the LORD. 9 And if any man die very suddenly by him, and he hath defiled the head of his consecration; then he shall shave his head in the day of his cleansing, on the seventh day shall he shave it. 10 And on the eighth day he shall bring two turtles, or two young pigeons, to the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation: 11 And the priest shall offer the one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering, and make an atonement for him, for that he sinned by the dead, and shall hallow his head that same day. 12 And he shall consecrate unto the LORD the days of his separation, and shall bring a lamb of the first year for a trespass offering: but the days that were before shall be lost, because his separation was defiled. . . . . 18 And the Nazarite shall shave the head of his separation at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and shall take the hair of the head of his separation, and put it in the fire which is under the sacrifice of the peace offerings. 19 And the priest shall take the sodden shoulder of the ram, and one unleavened cake out of the basket, and one unleavened wafer, and shall put them upon the hands of the Nazarite, after the hair of his separation is shaven: 20 And the priest shall wave them for a wave offering before the LORD: this is holy for the priest, with the wave breast and heave shoulder: and after that the Nazarite may drink wine. 21 This is the law of the Nazarite who hath vowed, and of his offering unto the LORD for his separation, beside that that his hand shall get: according to the vow which he vowed, so he must do after the law of his separation. (Numbers 6:1-21, KJV)

As those rules plainly state, a Nazarite was not to shave his or her head, but if someone died by him or her, then he or she must shave it (and no longer be counted a Nazarite while it was shaven).

Apparent contradiction #1

Ye are the children of the LORD your God: ye shall not cut yourselves, nor make any baldness between your eyes for the dead. (Deuteronomy 14:1, KJV)

God's people were not supposed to make themselves bald when someone died.

Apparent contradiction #2

Samson, a Nazarite, killed many people, without losing God's blessing and strength until he had his hair shaved--then lost both.

And Samson said, With the jawbone of an ass, heaps upon heaps, with the jaw of an ass have I slain a thousand men. (Judges 15:16, KJV)

After slaying all those men, he went into the city where they tried to lock him in at night. Yet, via superhuman strength, he easily escaped.

And Samson lay till midnight, and arose at midnight, and took the doors of the gate of the city, and the two posts, and went away with them, bar and all, and put them upon his shoulders, and carried them up to the top of an hill that is before Hebron. (Judges 16:3, KJV)

It was after this that Delilah famously enticed his secret from him...and cut his hair.

That he told her all his heart, and said unto her, There hath not come a razor upon mine head; for I have been a Nazarite unto God from my mother's womb: if I be shaven, then my strength will go from me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man. (Judges 16:17, KJV)

19 And she made him sleep upon her knees; and she called for a man, and she caused him to shave off the seven locks of his head; and she began to afflict him, and his strength went from him. 20 And she said, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And he awoke out of his sleep, and said, I will go out as at other times before, and shake myself. And he wist not that the LORD was departed from him. (Judges 16:19-20, KJV)

In brief, the two contradictions might be summed up in two questions:

  1. Why would God say that the Israelites were His people and should not make themselves bald when someone died, and then command that the Nazarite head be shaven for a death?

  2. If a Nazarite was supposed to cut his or her hair if someone died next to him or her, then why was Samson blessed when he did not do this, and cursed when he did?

Any Biblical insights that will help to erase these apparent contradictions are appreciated.

2 Answers 2

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Deuteronomy says you are not to cut yourself or your hair "for the dead". Deuteronomy is talking about acts indicating a state of mourning. It is the mourning that God doesn't like in his presence. When Nadab and Abihu are killed by God at the opening ceremony of the tabernacle, Moses instructs Aaron urgently not to show any sign of mourning for the fact; "Do not let the hair of your heads hang loose, and do not rend your clothes" (Leviticus ch110 v6, RSV). In fact it is a general rule for the priests that they are not to "defile themselves for the dead" (Leviticus ch21 v1) except for their very closest kin.

Consider what is happening after the Nazirite vow. The man is committed to keeping himself in a state of more than ususl holiness for a period, and during that period he is allowing his hair to grow. At the end of the period he cuts off his hair and offers it as a sacrifice, presumably symbolising the untainted life he has been living while he was growing it.

If a man dies close to a Nazirite, the Nazirite cuts his hair NOT out of mourning, but because his hair has been "tainted" by the nearness of something unholy, which the original oath commits him to avoid. This is explained in Numbers ch6 v12; "The former time shall be void, because his separation was defiled". Therefore he cuts his hair off and probably starts the time of commitment all over again, so that the hair he eventually sacrifices will be free from that taint.

The problem in Samson's case was that his time of commitment was not meant to come to an end. It was meant to be lifelong. His strength from the Lord was his reward for the commitment. By cutting his hair, Delilah has ended the period of commitment prematurely, and so the Lord also removes the gift of strength. The Philistines, not understanding the connection, did not take care to keep his head shaved but allowed the hair to start growing back. This implicitly renews the vow, starting a new time of commitment, and so his strength comes back.

The short answers are;

1 The Nazirite was not cutting his hair in the circumstances forbidden by Deuteronomy

2 Samson's hair was not being cut in the circumstances commanded by Numbers

P.S. Although this is not connected with the question, you might like to reflect on the thought that Samson ended up offering his own life and the life of the Philistine enemies as a sacrifice to the Lord. While holding his arms outstretched.

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  • Very good answer. +1.
    – Dottard
    Commented Feb 11, 2023 at 9:15
  • Thorough and excellent. Up-voted +1. Much appreciated.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Feb 11, 2023 at 11:30
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I prefer not to attempt to resolve the OP's contradiction but to accept that the Nazarite tradition evolved over time. In other words the Nazarite tradition in Samson's time was different from the codified Nazarite laws of Numbers and Deuteronomy. This idea is proposed, for example, in the Jewish Encyclopedia's article on the subject. In examining the modern critical view of the topic, it states:

Samson and Samuel... belonged to an early type of simple devotees to Yhwh who were distinguished by unshorn hair...The law of Num. vi. 1-21 was made for a new class of Nazarites; for in post-exilic times the life-long Nazarite is no longer found; instead there appears the Nazarite who has vowed himself to Yhwh for a longer or shorter period; any one may assume the Nazarite's vow. This law dates, possibly, from the sixth century B.C. It belongs to an intermediate stratum of the priestly law, neither the oldest nor the latest.

To put this in the context of the OP question, "Nazarites" such as Samson belong to an earlier historical period than Deuteronomy and the priestly code sections of Numbers, which, according to the Documentary Hypothesis, were both composed well after Samson's time. This approach makes it unnecessary to resolve Numbers and Judges. Samson simply lived prior to the later codification of Nazarite laws given in Numbers and Deuteronomy.

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  • "Samson simply lived prior to the later codification of Nazarite laws given in Numbers and Deuteronomy." Unfortunately, that is simply incorrect. Samson lived well after Moses, who wrote Numbers and Deuteronomy, had died.
    – Biblasia
    Commented Feb 12, 2023 at 1:53
  • I actually agree with the "evolution" theory, and suggest that Samson was living by a "warriors'" version of the tradition, asking for strength in battle, which explains the absence of the "avoid dead bodies" commitmen in his case, Commented Feb 12, 2023 at 4:29

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