As Christians, we like to emphasize how many more privileges we get with God now than the ancient Jews had. The general feeling is that intimacy with God is way more possible on this side of the cross while He kept those in the Old Testament at arm’s length.
While we certainly want to celebrate our privileges under the New Covenant, we don’t want to miss the fact that God has always invited common people to come near to Him. Even in the midst of a sacrificial system with a constant emphasis on sin and uncleanliness, God encouraged everyone to pursue a personal bond with Him. One of the ways He did this was by setting up the Nazirite laws.
Israel has only been in the wilderness just over a year and God is getting them organized as a nation. After hearing God publicly exalting the Levites as His special tribe and assigning the three branches of Levites their duties for taking care of the Tabernacle, no doubt there were non-Levite Jews watching who felt left out. “I’m not a Levite. Does that mean I can’t ever be close to God?” would be a natural question to ask at this point. Everyone knew what a privilege it was to get to go near God’s holy things. If God was only going to favor certain bloodlines, then the rest of the tribes would feel like He’d just slammed a door in their faces.
This is not the impression God wanted to give, so His very next order of business was to lay out the Nazirite laws.
The Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites: ‘If men or women want to promise to belong to the Lord in a special way, they will be called Nazirites.’” (Num. 6:1-2)
Notice both men and women are welcome to participate—another reminder that God loves both genders equally. This is an open opportunity to draw near to God. The Nazirite ritual gave individuals a chance to pursue intimacy with God by publicly showing Him their desire to please Him and belong to Him. The ritual began with a shaving of one’s head—a dramatic sign that would announce to everyone in the community what you were up to. Those who felt a burning desire to please God would be delighted to honor Him in such a public way. To walk around with a bald head would be to say “Hey, everyone, I belong to God.”
The Nazirite ritual was voluntary and the individual could decide how long they wanted to do it for. At the end they would shave their heads again and offer their hair as part of their ending sacrifice. Special dietary laws, offerings and sacrifices were required from Nazirites which God spells out in this chapter. How thrilling it would have been for the non-Levite tribes to hear God giving them such an open invitation. And how exciting for women to hear God was inviting them to participate as well, especially when it was only men who got to handle the holy things.
God loves us all and He wants close communion with us all. This was as true in the Old Testament as it is today. While the cross brought wonderful changes to God’s covenant with us, it did not increase His desire for us. Even in the days of Moses, He made sure everyone knew that they were welcome to draw near.