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Posts Tagged ‘vow’

NaziriteI ever realized that women could become Nazirites until this reading of Numbers. All this time, I had assumed that this vow was made only by men. And clearly, the rules for the Nazirite have the feel of being for men what with the growing of hair and abstinence from drink. Nonetheless, women could do take such a vow as well.

The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man or woman wants to make a special vow, a vow of dedication to the Lord as a Nazirite, they must abstain from . . .'” [Numbers 6:1-3a, NIV]

In a nutshell, the Nazirite abstained abstained from alcohol, fermented drinks of any kind, grapes, or raisins; refrain from cutting one’s hair; and finally, avoid defilement by a dead body (or place that a dead body has been).

When I looked up additional information about the Nazirite vow, I was surprised to find that it evolved over time into three types of vows, depending on their length. In general, such a vow was made for a minimum of 30 days and for the common person, my guess is that this was the norm. However, there was a permanent vow (in which the Nazirite would cut his/her hair once a year for convenience) and there was a “Samson” Nazirite who was permanent, but did not have to abide by the dead body rule.

I believe, over time, these permanent Nazirites became known as monks. But isn’t it interesting that the Christian monks (and nuns) in later centuries were known for shorn hair and not long hair at all. Another reason why the Nazirite tradition ended was the loss of the Temple where the many sacrifices had to be made at the end of the vow. No temple : no end.

It’s a fascinating topic really and even includes some references to Jesus entering into a type of Nazirite vow at the Last Supper. But, of course, that is speculation as are many ideas about this tradition.

In any event, this ritual had to do with setting apart and holiness (see Holy Objects & Holiness post). The person perceived a need to separate himself or herself from the norm, even to the point of stepping away from family obligations (as might be the case in the event of a relative passing away). These vows were quite serious and if one was broken, the person had to “start over” again.

Jesus made some references to vows or promises in Matthew 5:37 in which he told the people to allow their “yes” to be yes and their “no” to be no. I believe he was alluding to people who made promises they did not mean or were unwilling to keep.

wedding ringsBut I would add, if we do make a vow, then we should treat them with more respect. Marriage vows have become the most abused of all. It is not enough to say, “well, I meant it at the time,” for that changes nothing except to imply that one did not know one’s own mind at the time or the implication of the promise. I would recommend people stop using the marriage vow at all if the intent is not binding. Or, perhaps like the Nazirites, the couple, if the vow is broken, starts over again.

Of all the many things that women were excluded from in Old Testament times, this is not one of them. Both men and women can experience holiness and set themselves apart for God. And secondly, their vows are still binding.

 

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promiseWhich is it? When we say we will do something, when we agree, when we say yes, is there power in it? Three months after their exodus from Egypt, they arrived at Mt. Sinai and before any commandments were given, before any rules were laid down, God said this:

Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”. . . . [and they answered] “We will do everything the Lord has said.” [Exodus 19:5-6a, 8b, NIV]

It’s a similar response that a bride and groom make to one another. Sometimes the answer is “I do” and sometimes the answer is “I will,” but in both cases, they are responses to a question that might be something like this, “will you have ‘so and so’ to be your wedded husband/wife, to live together after God’s ordinance in the holy estate of matrimony; will you love him/her, comfort him/her, honor and keep him/her, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others, keep yourself only for him/her so long as you both shall live?”

And God  basically asked the same of the Israelites. Will you obey me fully and they said we will.

But they did not. They thought they could. They thought they would. But they did not. And for this reason, for this “fail,” the history of these people was changed forever, yet again. And Jesus asked for no less, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” [Matthew 22:37-40, NIV]

And did we? We did not. We do not.

It’s not rocket science, this living within the parameters of God’s plan: love, obey, trust, believe. And why don’t we? I can say we are still like Eve and Adam. We want more than what God offers. We believe we know better. We believe we might miss something if we agree to this small world. I see myself kicking against the limitations I perceive God has made against me, not seeing that following with abandon, in trust, opens the world to me. I must let go to have. I must give to receive. The paradox continues.

Today, God is still asking me, will trust God to be God in my life?

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Once Johnson & Johnson took over the word Pledge, it’s lost some of its power. Despite the fact that children and adults “pledge” allegiance to our flag, sometimes as often as daily, its meaning has been lost. The word is actually in the “vow” family, but that too has lost much of its significance, in an age of quick no-contest divorces. Most folks think of a pledge (perhaps it’s all those non-profits and churches) as a good-natured “I will if I can” kind of thing. But honestly, the definition is much more binding, a legal relationship, a solemn promise. I’m thinking that when we break a pledge, it sets all kinds of sowing/reaping and karma into motion.

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. [Matthew 1:18, NIV]

pledged to marryThe word pledged in this passage is the NIV version of course, most standard translations render mnēsteuō  as “betrothed” and more reader friendly versions translate the Greek word to “engaged.” In our day and age, we treat this relationship equally lightly. Give back the ring, shed many tears, post it on Facebook, remove one’s relationship status, and we’re done.

But in the day of Mary and Joseph, the betrothal was virtually equal to the marriage vow itself. To break a pledge of this type required a formal divorce. And the only way a man could divorce a woman in those times was for the cause of infidelity (a one-sided benefit by the way, since a woman could not divorce a man). Joseph was within his rights to have Mary stoned.

It has been said that the church is the bride of Christ (see Revelation 19-7-9) and upon Christ’s return (whatever that might really mean), a great wedding will take place. So, if the wedding is yet to come, we, who have accepted Christ are actually betrothed or pledged to Christ. Will we take this role lightly then or consider it in its most serious form: a vow, a sacred promise to be faithful?

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