These chapters form a new division in the book of Judges. From Judges 3 to Judges 12 we have seen a series of deliverances wrought by instruments raised up of God. It was a period of revivals. The part with which we are about to be occupied has a special character.
Again did Israel fall: "And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of Jehovah; and Jehovah delivered them into the hand of the Philistines forty years" (Judges 13: 1). God does not give us any particulars of this fresh declension, but we discern His estimate of it, by the weight of the rod He laid upon His people; and the Philistines were the chastisement. Nothing more clearly indicates the state of Israel than this fact. Hitherto the subjection had been to outside enemies; or to Jabin, chief of the former possessors of the land; or to the nations which had sprung from Israel after the flesh and who attacked them on their borders. Here we find the enemy established within the confines of Israel and committing ravages. The Philistines ruled over the people and reduced them to a state of servitude. There is hardly any difference, morally, between those times and the present. The unfaithfulness of the church has long since brought about this last form of evil. That which was once outside the house of God now rules within; those described in the first chapter of Romans have taken up their abode there, and impart their own characteristics to the people of God (cf. Rom. 1; 2 Tim. 3: 1‑5). This mixture is what is called Christendom.
Now what is the resource of the Lord's people at such a time? One word answers the question, namely, Nazariteship. We should be characterized at the present time by complete separation, and by a true and whole‑hearted consecration to God.
Before entering upon the history of Samson, let us look a little at this important subject. Under the law, when all was outwardly in order, Nazariteship was of temporary duration (Num. 6); in a time of ruin it became perpetual, as we see in the example before us. Samson was a Nazarite from his mother's womb. This permanent character of Nazariteship reappeared in Samuel, judge and prophet (1 Sam. 1, 2), but ceased with David, type of the royal grace, and Solomon, type of the royal glory of Christ. Then came the ruin of the people under human responsible royalty, as had been the case in the time of the judges under the more direct government of God. After this ruin of the people and of the royalty was complete, Israel was delivered into the hands of the Gentiles, and a remnant of Judah was restored to await the Messiah.
The house was doubtless swept, but thepeople were lifeless. John the Baptist was raised up with a permanent Nazariteship (Luke 1: 15), when the ruin was fully manifested, though not yet headed up by the rejection of Christ, and when judgment (but a Saviour also) was at the door. Announced by John the Baptist, Jesus appeared, the true Joseph - a Nazarite among His brethren - but without the signs of earthly Nazariteship, because He was Himself the reality of this type. This of itself strikingly proclaimed the ruin of the people. At the end of His course the Lord entered upon a second and heavenly phase of His Nazariteship. He sanctified Himself in heaven for His disciples, the true Nazarite, separated from sinners and seated at the right hand of God, leaving His own here below to represent His Nazariteship. The world having been by the cross convicted of sin, ruined and judged, the disciples, then the church, became heavenly Nazarites in perpetuity in the midst of the world. We shall see, as we go through the history of Samson, how the church itself has answered to this calling. There is another important thing to notice. That which under the law was the provision for a few, is, under grace, the portion of all. Priesthood, which belonged to only one family out of the Levites, has become the universal privilege of all the children of God (1 Peter 2: 5, 9).
There was a still less numerous class in Israel, that of the Nazarites, composed of a few isolated men and women (not to speak of the Rechabites - Jer. 35 - in the days of the prophets), which gives the characteristics belonging now to all the saints. We have indicated the reason, it is that separation to God is necessarily the mark of witnesses that have to do with man in his ruined condition, with the world on the eve of judgment. This truth of Nazariteship in its universal and permanent character fills the New Testament and shines out on every page of the Holy Book for those who have eyes to see. It is of immense practical importance.
Under the law, a Nazarite, whether man or woman, was separated to the service of God, during a fixed period of time. This separation consisted in three things (Num. 6: 1‑9), which touched figuratively the most necessary and most important elements of human life. Sociability belongs to the nature and the very existence of man. Now the Nazarite had to abstain from wine and strong drink. It is said of wine (Judges 9: 13), that it "cheereth God and Man." This joy of sociable men they could have shared together with God, but sin had entered by man, and God could no longer rejoice with him. He who devoted himself to the service of God could no longer find his joy in the society of his fellows, for God has nothing in common with the joy of sinners. The servant of the Lord may not seek friends in the world, sit down at their banquets, nor share their pleasures, for God is not there; and the more distinctly the ruin is seen, the more is this fact brought home to us. Christians fail much as to this. They have "worldly friends" and cultivate their society, not for the purpose of putting the Gospel before them, but for self‑gratification. Alas! how little do we resemble Paul, when he said: "Henceforth know we no man after the flesh" (2 Cor. 5: 16). From this point of view, as from every other, the Lord was a perfect Nazarite, a stranger to all the joys of sociable man. He even said to His disciples, at that meeting which He had ardently desired, when, with death before Him, He might have tasted with them for a moment earthly joy: "Verily I say unto you, I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine, until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God" (Mark 14: 25). The day is coming when the wine which cheereth God and man will be drunk anew in a scene purified from sin, in which the true servant will be able to take part without restriction. The word of God insists upon the importance of this separation: "He 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; ....he shall eat nothing that is made of the vine tree, from the kernels even to the husk" (Num. 6: 3, 4). Do we take heed to this, my brethren? Do we deny ourselves what may minister, even remotely, to the joy of the heart of the natural man? How are we carrying out our Nazariteship?
But perhaps you will say, how is it possible to do so in such an absolute way? This we find in being heavenly in character. Ours is a heavenly Nazariteship. Separation under Judaism was a material one; under Christianity it becomes spiritual and heavenly. The Lord to whom we belong, is separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens. He has two means of separating us with Himself and like Himself. The first, the word of God, puts us in connection with the Father in heaven; the second, His own person - Himself - a Christ set apart for us in heaven, in order to indicate and establish the fact that our relationships, our ties and our affections are henceforthheavenly, in the midst of a judged world which has rejected Christ.
A second thing characterized the Nazarite: "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 Jehovah, he shall be holy, and let the locks of the hair of his head grow" (Num. 6: 5). Besides sociability, there is a second characteristic which touches man to the very core. He is a selfish being, with an independent will, and for whom there is nothing of more importance than self, his dignity, and all that attaches thereto. Now long hair separated the Nazarite, in figure, from all that, being at the same time the token of dependence end dishonour (1 Cor. 11). The long hair of the Nazarite proclaimed openly, that he had abandoned his dignity and personal rights as a man, in order to devote himself to the service of God. That whichwas glory for the woman was shame for him. He relinquished his personality under this veil. He who was born to this dignity neglected it, he who was appointed to rule submitted himself to the Lord as a wife to her husband. Without this dependence there can be neither service for God nor power for it. That which was a sign of weakness for the Nazarite, became the source of his strength. Moreover, his devotedness to the Lord found expression in forgetfulness of self leading him to neglect himself in order that he might fulfil his service more perfectly.
Yet a third thing characterized him: "All the days that he separateth himself unto Jehovah he shall come at no dead body. 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" (Num. 6: 6, 7). The third characteristic belongs to man since the fall, and is inherent in his being, that is sin, proved by its consequence-death. This was what it was the duty of the Nazarite to avoid at all cost. The strongest ties, those of the family, must not be taken into consideration, when setting himself apart for the service of God was in question. How little do we understand this! There are many Christians who say: "Suffer me first to go and bury my father." Others say: "I cannot, my relations would not allow it." Such are not Nazarites. But it was not only family ties which the Nazarite should set aside when it was a question of service, and which he should disclaim after the example of the perfect Nazarite: "Woman, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come." "Who is my mother and who are my brethren?" (John 2: 4; Matt. 12: 48).
The Nazarite should keep himself from all sin, from all defilement. The law made no provision for wilful sin, whilst it is to such that grace more particularly addresses itself. One wilful sin alone, the renouncing of Christianity, is beyond the resources of grace (Heb. 10: 26). The law had its resources except for wilful sin. First: In the daily life of the Israelite, for sin through ignorance, and for trespass (Lev. 4, 5). Second: In his walk, for sin through lack of vigilance or through inadvertence (Num. 19). Third: In his service, for sin arising from negligence, and for sin unforeseen and which it would appear impossible for a man to avoid. "And if any man die very suddenly by him, and he hath defiled the head of his consecration . . ." (Num. 6: 9). This was an involuntary case and impossible to have foreseen, yet it was sin, and the more so because it was a question of a particularly important and honoured service. How this speaks to our consciences! Our Nazariteship involves the most absolute separation from the defilements of this world. Nowhere in this chapter does God suppose that the Nazarite would deliberately drink wine, cut his hair, or touch a dead body. It is the same for us - God does not suppose that we must sin, and He acts towards us on this principle.
The three marks of Nazariteship, of which we have spoken, were only the external characteristics of this calling, however important they may have been as such, an importance easily forgotten. They were the result of a vow, of consecration to the service of Jehovah, of inward separation of heart to Him. "When either man or woman shall separate themselves to vow a vow of a Nazarite, to separate themselves unto Jehovah ...." (Num. 6: 2). I press this point, as of the utmost importance. A vow was a decision to serve God unreservedly in a certain manner, thus devoting oneself to the service of Jehovah. This devotedness to Christ is the foundation of Christian Nazariteship. If it is not there we expose ourselves to a serious fall. One may be a Nazarite in an outward sort of way, may possess even, as Samson, the great power that accompanies Nazariteship, and not be separated in heart. Doubtless, this side which was wholly external under the law is no longer so in Christianity; for one may be now a member of a temperance society without being a Nazarite. For the Christian, a testimony borne before the world answers to these outward signs; a testimony which separates us from its defilements as well as from its joys, and causes us to walk openly in a path of dependence, taking the word of God for guidance. Now, we may make a profession of these things, may walk outwardly in the path of Nazariteship, and, all the while, have divided and unsanctified hearts. Such a course would end, as with Samson, in a defeat; and if it did not come to that, we should at any rate lose the blessing which flows from whole‑hearted consecration in the Lord's service. In Lev. 7 the feast of the peace offering lasted two days for him who had made a vow, and only one day when it was thanksgiving for blessings received. The effect of renouncing all that the world could offer is seen in the worship of Abraham in Gen. 12 and Gen. 13. He built there three altars: that at Sichem, the altar of obedience, to Jehovah who had appeared unto him; that at Bethel, the altar of the pilgrim, to the name of Jehovah; that at Hebron, the altar of renunciation, unto Jehovah Himself, and it was there that the patriarch realized the divine blessings in all their extent.
But to return to the Nazarite. It is interesting to note what he had to do, when he had "defiled the head of his consecration" (Num. 6: 9‑11). One of these acts corresponded to the loss of his external Nazariteship, the other to the violation of his vow, his inward consecration. He had to shave his head. This was the public acknowledgement that he had failed, and also the avowal that the power of his Nazariteship had left him. The repentant Nazarite was not like Samson who "wist not that Jehovah was departed from him."
He acknowledged it, proclaiming, so to speak, that he was no longer qualified for service. Then he had to offer "two turtle doves or two young pigeons," the sacrifice of one who "was not able to bring a lamb." This was an acknowledgement of his incapacity, of his worthlessness as a servant, and at the same time of the value of the blood offered for his purification. We should note these things carefully and not assume an appearance of spiritualpower when we have lost communion with the Lord, but confess with humiliation our sin before God, when we have failed in the responsibility of our service.
Let us persevere in this service without growing weary, and not allow anything to interfere with it. The time came for the Nazarite when the days of his separation were fulfilled, then he offered all the sacrifices. This day will dawn for us also, when the Lord will come and His sacrifice will have borne its full results, sin abolished, death destroyed, and Satan bruised for ever under our feet. Then we shall shave the head of our Nazariteship (Num. 6: 18); then the power of the Holy Spirit will no longer be employed in strengthening us for separation from all evil in our service, then we shall "take the hair of the head of our separation, and put it in the fire which is under the sacrifice of the peace offerings," for our whole energy will be taken up with the joy of uninterrupted communion, and the scene of the new world will be, like ourselves, perfectly conformed to the mind and heart of God.