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“Oh, the unspeakable greatness of that exchange,—the Sinless One is condemned, and he who is guilty goes free; the Blessing bears the curse, and the cursed is brought into blessing; the Life dies, and the dead live; the Glory is whelmed in darkness, and he who knew nothing but confusion of face is clothed with glory.” Trailady

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Friday, April 08, 2011

Jesus, the great Nazarite

“And He came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.” (Matt. 2:23).

Was Jesus a Nazarite? This verse seems to give that thrust, “that it might be fulfilled”. What is a Nazarene, if it isn’t the Hellenized form of the Hebrew word Nazarite? And why is it bad to think of Jesus as a Nazarite, as the SDA Bible Commentary presents?

What was the Nazarite vow? The law of the Nazarite is contained in the 6th chapter of the book, Numbers. Nazarite means “separate” or “consecrated.” It concerned a period of time when a young man or woman would strictly keep a life of holiness to God, going beyond the basic laws God gave the Israelite society. This is so much like a young person today getting baptized or going beyond the normal church experience and committing to a year missionary trip to a difficult area or to colporteuring for a summer. The Nazarite vow was a message to a nation, beaten into rebellion by Egyptian slavery, that the laws which God gave them was only the most elementary life of holiness; really He desired much more spirituality and love from them, and over time would require it. To everyone, who desired more than the minimum blessing that comes from living around God, He gave access to Himself through this Nazarite law.

The Nazarites were seeking to the same walk with God that the office of High Priest represented. “And thou shalt make a plate of pure gold, and grave upon it, like the engravings of a signet, HOLINESS TO THE LORD.
And thou shalt put it on a blue lace, that it may be upon the mitre; upon the forefront of the mitre it shall be.
And it shall be upon Aaron’s forehead, that Aaron may bear the iniquity of the holy things, which the children of Israel shall hallow in all their holy gifts; and it shall be always upon his forehead, that they may be accepted before the LORD.” (Ex. 28: 36-38).

The Nazarite fasted from anything remotely that would disturb an unbroken communion with God. He refrained from vanity by leaving the hair uncut, and was forbidden to touch anything dead, even his own parents. If a parent or family member were to die during his oath, and he was disposed to break his oath in order to embrace his dead one last time, then he must end his oath and restart it after the funeral.

Why would unbroken communion not describe the whole life of Christ? Why would consecration not perfectly describe “Mashiyach,” [Messiah] the Anointed One? (Dan. 9:25). Why would perfect attention to the law fail to foretell of Him who was “made under the law,” (Gal. 4:4) when the fulness of the time would come for God to send Him?

I think the cause of protecting Christ from a possible stigma of Judaistic Nazaritism comes from what men have done to this beautiful ordinance in the beautiful, holy law given to Israel, all of which was supposed to point to Christ as shadows of good things to come. Nazareth was named after the Nazarites, and the citizens gave an inglorious infamy to the rite, the Jews had fallen so very far away from God through Judaism, a man-made concoction of divine laws mixed with human taboos which resulted in their pride, arrogance, and exclusivism.

And what does this say about the Christian church today? Are the Jews alone in the failures of God’s people to serve Him? Doesn’t human history repeat itself?

After the return from Babylon, much attention was given to religious instruction. All over the country, synagogues were erected, where the law was expounded by the priests and scribes. And schools were established, which, together with the arts and sciences, professed to teach the principles of righteousness. But these agencies became corrupted. During the captivity, many of the people had received heathen ideas and customs, and these were brought into their religious service. In many things they conformed to the practices of idolaters.
As they departed from God, the Jews in a great degree lost sight of the teaching of the ritual service. That service had been instituted by Christ Himself. In every part it was a symbol of Him; and it had been full of vitality and spiritual beauty. But the Jews lost the spiritual life from their ceremonies, and clung to the dead forms. They trusted to the sacrifices and ordinances themselves, instead of resting upon Him to whom they pointed. In order to supply the place of that which they had lost, the priests and rabbis multiplied requirements of their own; and the more rigid they grew, the less of the love of God was manifested. They measured their holiness by the multitude of their ceremonies, while their hearts were filled with pride and hypocrisy.
With all their minute and burdensome injunctions, it was an impossibility to keep the law. Those who desired to serve God, and who tried to observe the rabbinical precepts, toiled under a heavy burden. They could find no rest from the accusings of a troubled conscience. Thus Satan worked to discourage the people, to lower their conception of the character of God, and to bring the faith of Israel into contempt.
Desire of Ages, p. 29.

The Law of God no longer abode in the conscience of the Jews, and their obedience turned to be their own destroyer. “Verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity. Selah.” (Ps. 39:5). They were completing their promised 490 years of probation when God foresaw that He would have to cut them off as His privileged nation because of their continuous backsliding. Now, as God is true, they were fulfilling His fearful threats toward their disobedience.

“The generation to come of your children that shall rise up after you, and the stranger that shall come from a far land, shall say, when they see the plagues of that land, and the sicknesses which the LORD hath laid upon it;
And that the whole land thereof is brimstone, and salt, and burning, that it is not sown, nor beareth, nor any grass groweth therein, like the overthrow of Sodom, and Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboim, which the LORD overthrew in His anger, and in His wrath:
Even all nations shall say, Wherefore hath the LORD done thus unto this land? what meaneth the heat of this great anger?
Then men shall say, Because they have forsaken the covenant of the LORD God of their fathers, which He made with them when He brought them forth out of the land of Egypt:
For they went and served other gods, and worshipped them, gods whom they knew not, and whom He had not given unto them:
And the anger of the LORD was kindled against this land, to bring upon it all the curses that are written in this book:
And the LORD rooted them out of their land in anger, and in wrath, and in great indignation, and cast them into another land, as it is this day.” (Deut. 29: 21-28).

At the loss of connection with their God of passionate, fatherly love, their hearts were as desolate and bleak as a war zone, like the Dead Sea around which had thrived “Sodom, and Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboim, which the LORD overthrew in His anger.” The wonderful ceremonies full of meaning and redeeming power were empty and mere formalities. Unmindful of their heavenly Father, the priests went through their ritual motions like zombies.

Likewise, the Nazarite vow had been declared the intent of everyone who lived in Nazareth. But the true intent of the Mosaic vow—communion and dedication of the full heart’s service to God—was lost to them. They were Nazarites in name only. Theirs was pagan asceticism and could not lead to communion or redemption. They hadn’t comprehended the full blessing from obedience, nor learned from their own scriptures.

“For what hath man of all his labour, and of the vexation of his heart, wherein he hath laboured under the sun?
For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, his heart taketh not rest in the night. This is also vanity.
There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God.” (Ecc. 2: 21-24). “Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire: this is also vanity and vexation of spirit.” (Ecc. 6:9).

All the vexation came from their Jewish form of asceticism, which was of Egyptian origin and took its votives away from God and into Satan’s strong hold. Satan’s image marred the original character of God in man. It left the whole city of Nazareth ravaged by a kind of sanctified “idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions,” locked into being “lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,
Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof,” “filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity;
whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful.” (Gal. 5:20;2Tim. 3:2-5;Rom. 1:29-31).

And likewise did asceticism do to Christianity later, when paganism moved into the church after centuries of apostasy.

But the original Nazarite vow was innocent of the effects of its pagan counterfeit. It symbolized Christ’s holy and liberated life, and the life in Christ by His followers whom He had made free. Samson, Samuel, John the Baptist, Paul, Peter and the other apostles and disciples of the apostolic church, all revealed the true glory of consecration that the Nazarite prefigured.

Christ best exemplified true obedience; He, the Law-Giver, gave an example of true heart service to His Father and righteousness perfectly balanced by a heart “justified in the Spirit.” (1Tim. 3:16). Jesus, to whom God gave the Spirit without measure, had consecration so complete that He could join with publicans and harlots, and eat and drink with them without violating His consecration, because He always transformed their gatherings into joyous holy meetings of hearts.

“They joy before Thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.” (Isa. 9:3). “The LORD of hosts shall defend them; and they shall devour, and subdue with sling stones; and they shall drink, and make a noise as through wine; and they shall be filled like bowls, and as the corners of the altar.
And the LORD their God shall save them in that day as the flock of His people: for they shall be as the stones of a crown, lifted up as an ensign upon His land.
For how great is His goodness, and how great is His beauty! corn shall make the young men cheerful, and new wine the maids.” (Zech. 9:15-17).

Paul promulgated the same uncompromising gospel of righteousness, and the mercy-filled New Testament paradigm of Nazarite law which Jesus taught.

“All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.
Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth.
Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake:
For the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof.
If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake.
But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof:
Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another man’s conscience?
For if I by grace be a partaker, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks?
Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.
Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God:
Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.” (1Cor. 10: 23-33).

“Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;
Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;
Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.
For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving:
For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.” (1Tim. 4:1-5).

Paul zealously guarded this new, glorious form of the Nazarite vow which had come through Christ.

“But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.
For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision.
And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation.
But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?
We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles.” (Gal. 2: 11-15).

This is not to say that Paul disregarded the old paths of right and wrong, “the old paths, where is the good way,” through which we “find rest for [our] souls.” (Jer. 6:16). He was unequivocal on this. “(As we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say,) Let us do evil, that good may come? whose damnation is just.” (Rom. 3:8). The Old Testament standard of the prophets was the baseline from which to extend grace as the need and situation required. The Lord didn’t give the law to Israel so that they would hypocritically keep the pagan nations hopelessly entrenched in violence and hedonism, “to fill up their sins alway: for,” said Paul, “the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.” (1Thess. 2:16). But, for the Jews to completely disregard those laws in the spirit of them and yet demand their complete obedience by the unprepared hearts of the Romans and Greeks, was doing the total will of Satan to bring down divine retribution on both Jew and Gentile.

The law is a law to liberate us from Satan’s hateful and selfish spirit. It frees us to serve the righteous God with all our heart and to mercifully and considerately reconcile our brothers and neighbors to that beautiful law and to lead them to obey its holy principles, too. But Satan is ever on the prowl to uproot us from the perfect balance God’s love gives us, and to drive God’s people to the extremes of either self-pitiful legalism or self-indulgent lawlessness. The prince of darkness moves sinners to strain at a gnat and to swallow a camel, stringently adhering to a man-made requirement in order to hide the commission of the grossest crimes against God and man, or to throw out the whole system of righteousness altogether.

The Law of the Lord is perfect in its mercy and truth, converting the soul. The Old Testament was to discipline and train a nation in perfect righteousness and justice, as “under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the Father.” (Gal. 4: 2). Once trained, the Master Teacher comes to give the new dimension of maturity and love. “Wherefore the Law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.
For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3: 24-26).

This new dimension wasn’t completely new. “And now I beseech thee, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment unto thee, but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one another.
And this is love, that we walk after His commandments. This is the commandment, That, as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it.” (2Jn. 5,6).

We saw this principle of truth mingled with grace in all the prophets in its nascent form toward a rebellious Israel, so naturally inclined to self-indulgence, and always looking for an excuse to presume upon God’s goodness and to run straight into lawlessness. That Law of liberty, balanced in truth and grace, had always been present from the beginning. But after four centuries of separation from heaven and its resultant vexation and vanity to the soul during the three remaining idolatrous pagan empires following their Babylonian captivity, the Jews, who repented and were finally cured of their rebellion, diligently sought their Messiah with all their heart when He finally appeared, and they received power from Him to become children of God. They happily obeyed the laws of God in spirit and in truth, in mercy and in justice. They became the true new Nazarites, all that the old Nazarite vow prefigured.

And before Jesus returns, and after His church is finally cured of its dark history of rebellion as the remnant of Israel did, He will have 144,000 Nazarites looking to the Nazarene Himself, listening to His voice, completely consecrated, perfectly obedient to Him, and taking His gospel to the world. They will have His perfect Nazarite character, His mercy and justice, entirely reproduced in theirs, His mind in their foreheads, His name sealed in their thoughts and conscience forever.

1 Comments:

Blogger Nsubuga Daniel said...

Thanks David for the time you put in writing and editing this devotional passages. I had never taken time to closely examine in details the term Nazirite, God bless you as you continue to do this work

4/09/2011 10:32 AM  

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