Thursday, June 19, 2008

Was Samuel Really a Nazirite?

Hannah vows that "a razor shall never come on [Samuel's] head" (1 Sam 1.11). Commentators typically take that to mean that, like Samson, Samuel would be a Nazirite from birth.

But I'm not so sure about that.

First, the only thing that the text says about Samuel is that a razor will never come on his head. But a Nazirite had two additional requirements -- abstinence from wine, beer, grape juice, grapes and raisins (Nm 6.4) and no immediate proximity to dead people (Nm 6.6ff).

Neither of these additional requirements are mentioned with respect to Samuel. Further, in Samson's case, God directly told Samson's mother that Samson would be a Nazirite from birth (Judges 13.4-5). Only the hair is mentioned in Samuel's case.

So there were three requirements for a Nazirite: no cutting of the hair, no grape or grape by-product, no proximity to dead people. Only the first is mentioned with respect to Samuel.

The second and third requirements seem obvious: priests were not allowed to have alcohol on their breath in God's presence (Lev 10.9) and they were not allowed to defile themselves on account of a dead person (Lev 21.1, 11) (although non-priests were also excluded from God's assembly if they came in contact with a dead person, Nm 19).

But what about the hair? And why is it offered to God? Perhaps it, too, is a priestly thing. After all, it seems possible that the high priest's turban (Lev 8.9) is supposed to suggest the flowing white hair of the ascended Jesus (Dan 7.9, Rev 1.14).

But that, also, doesn't seem quite right. The text in Numbers 6 dealing with Nazirites doesn't merely mention hair, it specifically mentions not cutting hair -- specifically, that "no razor" will come on the Nazirite's head. And the general rule seems to be that long hair dishonors a man (1 Co 11.14). (Although, interestingly, women, too, could become Nazirites, Nm 6.2, which would entail a woman dishonoring her head, 1 Co 11.15, at least temporarily, by cutting her hair at the completion of the vow.)

I wonder whether we can take a different approach, focusing on the razor rather than on the hair.

Specifically, I wonder whether whether we can think of the un-cut head of hair as somehow reflecting God's sabbath rest, or something like that.

First, God prohibited Israelites from shaving the corners of their head or beards (Lev 19.27). But God also prohibited reaping (or "shaving") the corners of the fields (Lev 19.9, 23.22). Perhaps also pertinent is that Israelites were to have untrimmed corners to their clothes (Nm 15.38, Dt 22.12).

In Sabbath years, however, fields were to be entirely uncut. The poor were allowed to gather whatever grew (Ex 23.10-11). So the whole field was to be a gleaning for the poor.

So I wonder: Ordinarily, the corners of the hair were to be left uncut. But, for a Nazirite, the whole head was to be left uncut. Perhaps like the fields. Ordinarily, only the corners of the fields were to be left uncut for gleanings. But during Sabbath years, the whole field was to be left uncut and available for gleaning.

So the person with uncut hair represented the person at God's entire disposal -- just like the uncut field did not serve its human owner's purposes, but was entirely at the disposal of others. While this set of individuals includes Nazirites, it would not be limited to Nazirites.

Finally, I wonder whether Ex 20.25 fits in here as well, "If you make an altar of stone for me, you shall not build it of cut stones, for it you wield your tool on it, you will profane it." Christians are "living stones" in God's temple (1 Peter 2.5). I wonder if the OT person with uncut hair illustrated the unprofaned, living stone, who qualifies to be built into God's true temple.

A lot of speculation, to be sure. I do rather doubt that Samuel was, in fact, a Nazirite. The rest of the stuff about hair, well, I'm just musing out loud.

6 Comments:

Blogger Barrett Turner said...

Perhaps Samuel is a priestly figure.
Who else did God mean when he told Eli that "I will raise up for myself a faithful priest [...] and he shall go in and out before my anointed forever." (2:35)
I propose that this refers to Samuel, who in the very next pericope (3:1-4:1) ministers where the ark is and receives God's word as a prophet (which is no reason to exclude priestly connotations). Eli then again hears of God's rejection from Samuel--perhaps a hint that this is Eli's replacement? And Samuel anoints Saul and David--who are the LORD's anointed, each in their own time.
Just throwing this out there as a pushback. What do you think?

June 27, 2008 1:01 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

Yeah, Samuel does a lot of quasi-priestly things. Still, he isn't of the House of Aaron (or a Levite even).

And don't forget that 1 Kings tells us expressly that Zadok replacing Abiathar is the fulfillment of the prophecy to Eli in 1 Sam 2.35. To wit:

"So Solomon dismissed Abiathar from being priest to the LORD, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD, which he had spoken concerning the house of Eli in Shiloh. . . .

"The king appointed Zadok the priest in the place of Abiathar" (1 Kings 2.27, 35b).

Also, priests cut their hair, don't they? (So Samuel not cutting his would not be a token of his priestliness.)

June 29, 2008 3:03 PM  
Blogger Barrett Turner said...

Alright. "Uncle." The Bible wins.
I didn't notice the verse in 1 Kings, so technically I couldn't have forgotten something I never learned...
Thanks for directing me to it.

June 29, 2008 6:53 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

You're entirely right, though, that Samuel shares a lot of priestly accouterments -- the ephod, sort of being "adopted" by Eli, serving in the tabneracle, etc.

Some commentators push Samuel's "priestly role" pretty far. So you have a lot of company.

Clearly Samuel plays a quasi-priestly role, but God seems pretty rigorous about non-priests who encroach on his presence. So I've just never been able to move from the "quasi-priestly" to the "priestly."

(But then there's David and the showbread, etc., where God seems to permit an exception.)

June 30, 2008 9:31 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

Oh, yeah: And please feel free to push back. I'm just spit-balling a lot of the stuff here (obviously), so I try not to get all huffy about someone taking a different tact.

June 30, 2008 9:34 AM  
Blogger Christian soldier said...

when it comes to 1 Cor 11, it had nothing to do with Numbers 6. and has a totally different meaning and purpose.
i feel samuel was a Nazarite, yes because of His mother vowing to never put a razor to his head as their is no other vow that involves this but when it comes to the dead bodies i feel long life nazarites were an exception because Samson was purposed by God to be a Nazarite but also raised to stir up the Palestines and wage war on them. so being around dead bodies was inevitable. God would not set up a long life Nazarite to constantly be in sin by these duties while in separation as Samson was a righteous man. but i feel for the temporary vowers all three areas of the vow were enforced but only two of the three were enforced on long life Nazarites. considering Samsons lifestyle and commands from God.

November 12, 2013 5:32 AM  

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