What does it mean to be made ritually unclean? Let’s continue reading in Numbers 6:9-12 to discover what this means and what the Nazirites and Queen Helena had to do to be ritually clean and how she failed twice before achieving this goal.
‘And if anyone dies very suddenly beside him, and he defiles his consecrated head, then he shall shave his head on the day of his cleansing; on the seventh day he shall shave it. Then on the eighth day he shall bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons to the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting; and the priest shall offer one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering, and make atonement for him, because he sinned in regard to the corpse; and he shall sanctify his head that same day. He shall consecrate to the Lord the days of his separation, and bring a male lamb in its first year as a trespass offering; but the former days shall be lost, because his separation was defiled.
Verses 9-12 talk at length about the Nazirite, male or female, being made ritually unclean by coming near a corpse. Being in contact with the body of a dead person was not necessary to violate a Nazarite vow, simply being in the same room with a dead person was sufficient to contaminate.
Therefore terminating the period of the Nazarite’s vow meant that after a seven-day period of purification (like what those four men and Paul went through in Acts 21), the time frame of the Nazarite’s vow started all over again. So you can imagine how fastidiously a Nazarite avoided the dead. But, over the years, the Rabbis came up with several new defilements that a person could contract, causing them to have to repeat the period of their vow.
To give you an example of this, sometime just after Christ had died there was a person named Queen Helena, who was the wife of a King, who ruled over a city-state up in Mesopotamia; she was a Gentile, who had converted to Judaism.
Her son (the prince of her Kingdom) was about to go off to war, so Queen Helena made a vow that if her son returned safely, Queen Helena would become a Nazarite for seven years (an unusually extended period in that era). He came back safe and sound, so she followed through and took the vow of a Nazarite.
After completing the seven-year period, she went to Jerusalem for the typical rituals to mark the successful ending of the vow, and some Rabbis instructed her that she had not properly observed the Nazarite requirements and told her she had to start all over again (which she did).
But near the end of the 2nd seven-year period she became impure (there is no record of the cause of the impurity), and so she had to do yet another seven years. So all told she was a Nazarite for 21 years, but 14 of those years was due to her fouling up at least that was according to the Rabbis.
There is a phrase at the end of verse 12 that is interesting: almost all Bibles will say as does our CJB, “previous days will not be counted because his consecration became defiled.” According to Hebrew, this is NOT correct as it means that the previous days of the Nazarite vow will not be counted because his NEZER became defiled. His nezer, recall, is referring to the hair of the Nazarite because the sign of the consecration of a Nazarite is his HAIR, just as the sign of the High Priest’s consecration is his unique headdress, his special hat.
Among the Hebrews and other Middle Eastern cultures, the Liver and Kidneys are thought of in the same way as we, today, think of the Heart and Brain. In other words, love was not of the Heart it was of the Kidneys. Thought processes took place not in the Brain but the Heart. The Liver had a lot to do with where the deepest passions were spawned, such as anger and jealousy.
The hair was another part of human anatomy that was imperative to the ancient Middle Eastern cultures. Hair was considered to be the seat of man’s vitality and life force. Hair, in the pagan world, was often given as a burnt sacrifice to the gods and goddesses.
Therefore as the hair was thought to be the seat of life, then it was the HAIR that carried the defilement that a Nazarite might incur. In the same way, the hair brought the PURITY of a person’s life force; when the Nazarite correctly completed his vow period his or her HAIR was shaved off of the head and burned as an offering because it was a pure and clean and holy thing to offer to God.
The defiled Nazirite did not give his hair as an offering to God. Depending on the era the hair was either burned up in an ordinary fire or the hair was buried in the ground. We get the full ritual of the Nazirite, who has completed his vows from verse 13 – 20.
In a nutshell, he brings the four main kinds of sacrifices:
- The burnt offering,
- The grain offering,
- The peace and
- The sin offerings.
It costs the Nazarite 3 lambs, in total, to end his vow. A reminder of just how costly it is when you make a decision to set yourself apart for the Lord.
And after shaving his hair off, the ritual is ended with the words “after that the Nazarite may drink wine, again”. The Nazirite vow now completed and is no longer ritually unclean.