Acts Part 16

Notes on Acts

Part Sixteen




18 After this, Paul stayed many days longer and then took leave of the brothers and set sail for Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila. At Cenchreae he had cut his hair, for he was under a vow.[1]



The vow to which Luke refers is the vow of the Nazirite. It was a temporary consecration to the Lord. Once the term of the vow expired, a person would return to more normal living.


The vow of the Nazirite is found in the book of Numbers. Read Numbers 6:1-12.


The Lord had appointed and ordained only the house of Aaron, of the tribe of Levi, to be the priests. The rest of the Levites who served in the tabernacle were not the priests. But suppose the house of Aaron would not be faithful to the Lord and would even forsake Him. Such a thought may be strange to us, but not to the Bible. The ones designated to help and lead God’s people are not always faithful. This has been true throughout the history of Israel and it is equally true in the church in its own history.


Sometimes the leaders were good, like David, Solomon (except towards the end of his life), Hezekiah, and Josiah, to name a few. But, more often than not, the leaders strayed away from the Lord. Now they were kings, not priests, but the fact that the kings failed the Lord reflects the heart of man and shows that, likewise, the priests failed him as well. The most obvious example was the High Priest in the days of Jesus. His calling was to serve God, instead he resisted and fought God when God appeared in the flesh. Even by the time of the first chapter of I Samuel, the priesthood was corrupted.


But God in His wisdom made a provision. This provision was the vow of the Nazirite. The proper spelling of “Nazirite,” incidentally, is with an “i” in the second place , not an “a.” It has nothing to do with the town of Nazareth where Jesus was raised. The word “Nazirite” means “consecrated one.”


The Lord opened a side door as an emergency provision. When the front door is damaged, there is the need for a side door.

A few years ago, a Malaysian Airlines flight that vanished in the Far East with 239 people on board and this reminds us that there is still a danger in flying.  The first few times I flew in an airplane I always paid close attention to all the safety instructions that they give to you in the plane when you are ready to depart. There are emergency doors on aircraft and I always tried to sit in those rows that had the emergency exits “just in case.” The front door may not get you out. It is this way with the Nazirite, except it is not an exit door, but an entrance. Sometimes the front door may not get you in to the will of God. You need the side door, the emergency door. The vows of the Nazarite are that side door.

To serve in the tabernacle you had to be of the tribe of Levi. To be a priest you had to be of the lineage of Aaron. But to be a Nazirite you could be from any tribe. It was not limited. The door was open for everyone, man or woman.

We see that in times of degradation God raised up a Nazirite to deliver his people. Samson was a Nazirite. He delivered the Israelites from the oppression of the Philistines when Israel was wayward.

Samuel was a Nazirite. He was not of the tribe of Levi, yet he became both priest and prophet at a time when the priesthood was corrupted.

What is the principle of the Nazirite? There are two. The first is voluntary consecration. It is not a matter of being appointed or ordained. It is voluntarily choosing to consecrate yourself to the Lord. John the Baptist was born into the priesthood since he was a Levite, but he did not function as a traditional priest. Instead, even as a priest, he voluntarily took the vow of a Nazirite.

The second is that living as a Nazirite was a temporary matter. Numbers chapter 6 makes clear that the consecration was for a limited time. Samson appeared to be a lifelong Nazirite, but this was unusual. Usually, it was only for a designated time period.

What is the priesthood today? [Ans] There is no separate priesthood. Two large Christian groups have set up a priesthood in their respective denominations, but no separate office of priest is sanctioned in the New Covenant. God’s design is that every true believer is to be a priest. If you have made a profession of faith and belong to Christ then you are a priest.

The priesthood today is every believer. Let me ask you: Do you think that the priesthood today is in a normal condition? Without a doubt, the priesthood is in an abnormal state; consequently, we must realize that the priesthood by appointment or by birth is not adequate. Since the main gate is not adequate, the side door is needed. Do not argue by saying that we are priests and kings by birth. Although this is true, the situation today is abnormal. Since the main entrance has been damaged, we need the principle of the Nazirite as a side door. All real Christians are born priests and kings, but unfortunately they do not function as priests and kings. We must apply the principle of the Nazirite. The principle of the Nazirite still holds true and is still available.

There is a threefold consecration in the vows of the Nazirite. There are three items of separation. First, a Nazarite should not drink or eat anything of the grape, from its seeds to its skin. In typology, wine or anything of the grape signifies earthly pleasure or worldly enjoyment.

To be separated from worldly enjoyment is very difficult because this is a nation of worldly enjoyment. Christians in this country find it hard to realize the genuine priesthood because of the many temptations, earthly pleasures, and worldly amusements. If we allow ourselves to be captured by entertainment and media, we are ruined for the priesthood. By regeneration all Christians have become priests and kings, but nearly all of them have been spoiled by the wine of earthly enjoyment.

Oh how we need to be priests to one another! We need others to help us, to guide us, to point us in the right direction. We need someone to listen to us and tell us, “Hey, you might not be looking at this situation in the right way. Let’s explore God’s word and see if we can get a divine perspective.” If we do not get that, even if you’re smart, even if you are usually successful, you will go down the wrong path now and then. That happened to Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress and it will happen to you. We need one another. We don’t need government social workers. We don’t need worldly psychologists. We need friends who know Christ well.

And, do you know what else? We need to be that person for someone else, too!! But, if we are captured or distracted by worldy pleasure and entertainment we can neither be that person for someone else and we are too busy to have that person in our lives.

[CR’s experience] After Josie and I were married for about three years we started noticing that we went from watching a half hour or an hour of tv per night to three hours per night. I remember we watched the Tonight show almost every night, meaning we didn’t get to bed until almost midnight. We decided to get rid of the tv altogether and did not have it for 5 or 6 years. That was like a separation from wine. It was like a Nazirite vow. We discovered that we read our Bibles more, we talked more, and we enjoyed Kai more. He was only a toddler then. (We did that a second time, too.)

Separating from worldy pleasure is a good thing.

The second item of the Nazirite’s consecration is that his hair should not be cut. Those in the priesthood must be a peculiar people. We must be a little strange and uncommon. If I were to say that you are peculiar, you might not be so happy. But if you were to say that to me [CR], I would be very happy. To be peculiar in this sense is proper for a Christian.

What does it mean to forbid the Nazirite to cut his hair? First Corinthians 11:14 says that long hair is a shame to a man. It is not a glory, but a shame. Long hair is a glory to a woman, but a shame to a man. A Nazirite is one who is willing to bear shame for the Lord. To have long hair means to be separated from self-glory. The self has been put to death; hence, there is no self-righteousness or self-glory. As long as we have something of self-glory, we can never be a Nazirite. We must bear the shame for the Lord’s testimony and for His purpose.

 I [CR] grew up in the 70’s. Back then long hair was cool and it could be a glory. But that is just a sub-culture. We do not judge the norm by the exception. Even in the time of David, his son, Absalom, had long hair and he was so handsome that it may have just added to his self-glory. But, again, Absalom was an exception. We must remember that the vows of the Nazirite are all symbolic. They are meant to represent spiritual conditions that should be real in the life of the Nazirite.

Not cutting one’s hair means being separated from self-glory.

Denial of self-glory is a powerful and strangely unique attribute, for it leaves glory behind in the present only to grant strength and then glory later.

[CR’s experience] I used to take our children to Grant’s Farm. We’ve been there four times. The first time we went we didn’t even know that it was owned by Ulysses S Grant. Grant was born in Ohio, went to seminary for one year, was in the army for 11 years, but settled in the St Louis area after his discharge before embarking on his second distinguished military career and winning the civil war on behalf of the union. As you probably know, the three generals that Lincoln had in charge of the union army before Grant were not very successful. A case can be made that the South was winning the war until Grant became general. He lived in the St Louis area for the seven years just prior to re-enlisting in the army: from 1854 to 1861.

   The more I learn about him, the more impressed I am with him. He was a gifted man but always maintained great and genuine humility.  Has anyone read his memoirs? I have not but the reviews I have read are all favorable mainly, the reviewers say, because of the humility they display. He was even humble as a child. In fact, this is one of the qualities that endeared him to so many and probably the second factor that has earned him fame, after his military achievements.

     On his way to a reception held in his honor, Ulysses S. Grant got caught in a shower and offered to share his umbrella with a stranger walking in the same direction. The man said he was going to Grant's reception out of curiosity; he had never seen the general. 'I have always thought that Grant was a much overrated man,"" he said.

'That's my view also,"" Grant replied.

Repeating: denial of self-glory is a powerful and strangely unique attribute, for it leaves glory behind in the present only to grant strength and then glory later. That was true of Grant for he is famous for his humility.

Sundar Singh, a successful Indian speaker and evangelist that lived a voluntary destitute life as he travelled preaching the gospel in the early 1900’s, eventually became famous. He completed a tour around the world. People asked him, “Doesn't it do you harm, your getting so much honor?" The Sadhu's answer was: "No. The donkey went into Jerusalem, and they put garments on the ground before him. He was not proud. He knew it was not done to honor him, but for Jesus, who was sitting on his back. When people honor me, I know it is not me, but the Lord, who speaks through me.” Singh’s denial of self-glory gave him spiritual strength. It is the Lord’s strength.

We see, then, that Samson’s physical strength is a representation of the spiritual strength that denial of self-glory brings.

The third item of the Nazarite’s consecration is that he must not be defiled by anything dead, especially by the death of his nearest relatives. Our nearest relatives, representing our natural affections, can be a means to deaden us. We must be separated from our natural affections, which so easily deaden. We can easily be deadened by other people’s deadness.

Verses 6 and 7 in Numbers chapter 6 read: All the days that he separates himself to the Lord he shall not go near a dead body. 7 Not even for his father or for his mother, for brother or sister, if they die, shall he make himself unclean, because his separation to God is on his head. 8 All the days of his separation he is holy to the Lord.

Natural affections are not a bad thing. It is good to bury your father, mother, brother, sister if they die.  Remember, these vows deal with physical matters in the OT, but these physical things picture spiritual realities. Our loved ones may not, often not, do not have the life that they should have. During the Nazirite’s period of consecration they must separate themselves from anything dead. This is a picture that, for the one consecrated to God, their living relationship with the Living God should not be drawn down by the spiritual deadness of their relatives. This part of the vow symbolizes keeping our spiritual fervor as we seek God over and above our natural relations. We must set aside a time for seeking Him even when natural affections call us away.

Earthly enjoyment, self-glory, and natural affections must all be overcome; otherwise, the priesthood will be ruined. We all must realize that the situation today is not normal. If it were, it would be unnecessary to apply the principle of the Nazirite. We must volunteer to be a Nazirite, such as Samuel, who turned the age of degradation into the age of the kingdom. It was a Nazirite, John the Baptist, who turned the Old Testament dispensation into the New Testament dispensation and ushered in the Lord Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul, too, took the vow.

God is asking some to separate themselves in a greater way. Will you do it? Remember the two principles: it is a voluntary separation and it is temporary. Will you do it for 30 days?

Do you know who else was a Nazirite in principle under the New Covenant? St Patrick!

Patrick was one who did not care for worldly enjoyment. His life was one that was so focused on Christ and the lost that he ignored the trappings that accompany success. He wrote, “But I see myself exalted even in the present world beyond measure by the Lord, and I was not worthy nor such that he should grant me this. I know perfectly well, though not by my own judgment, that poverty and adversity suit me better than riches and pleasures. For Christ the Lord, too, was poor for our sakes; and I myself am but a wretched failure and have no wealth even if I wished for it. Daily I expect murder, fraud, or captivity, or whatever it may be, but I fear none of these things because of the promises of heaven. I have cast myself into the hands of God Almighty, who rules everywhere. As the prophet says, Cast thy thoughts upon God and he shall sustain thee.” (verse 55 in The Confession of St. Patrick.)

He writes that he is a wretched failure, but he was not referring to his service to the Lord because he was used by the Lord to bring thousands of people to salvation. He was referring to his station in life. He had little because he did not seek worldly things. With respect to worldly enjoyment he lived like a Nazirite.

St Patrick denied self-glory. He starts out his short book, the Confession, with this line: “I am Patrick, a sinner, most unlearned, the least of all the faithful, and utterly despised by many.” Throughout his book he speaks often of his rusticity and his unworthiness. He was truly a humble man, one who lived like a Nazirite in this respect.

Patrick was one to set aside his earthly affections in his utter devotion to Christ. He wrote, “Wherefore, even if I wished to leave them (the disciples in Ireland) and go to Britain – and how I would have loved to go to my country and my parents, and also to Gaul in order to visit the brethren and to see the face of the saints of my Lord! God knows how much I longed for that, but I am bound by the Spirit…” (verse 43)

God is asking some to separate themselves in a greater way: to be separated from worldly enjoyment, to deny self-glory, and to place your natural affections subordinate to the seeking of God’s will. Will you do it? Remember the two principles: it is a voluntary separation and it is temporary.

Maybe 30 days is too long for weak Christians today. How about two weeks? Take the vow! Be like Paul!



[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 18:18). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.