Profession and Practice
All who profess to own Christ as Lord are obliged to be separate from the world and its evil (2 Cor. 6: 17). Yet there is a great danger of taking a position of separation and not living up to it. The most notorious example of this in Scripture is Samson.
Samson was a Nazarite, a class of persons in Israel consecrated to Jehovah (the term itself means “separated”). He was an unusual case in that his Nazariteship was not a limited term but extended “from the womb to the day of his death” (Jud. 13: 7). This makes his failure all the more flagrant, and, at the same time, very sad.
For some, separation is an unpleasant doctrine––with still more unpleasant practical implications attached. They prefer to emphasise tolerance––a tolerance which, lamentably, often becomes a tolerance not of weakness, but of evil. Yet separation for the Christian is not only essential on account of the sinful and defiling world in which we live but imperative if we are to live up to our calling. We are called to be saints (see 1 Cor. 1: 2)––to be set apart. Whoever denies this has misunderstood the true nature of Christianity.
Remarkably, however, Nazariteship goes beyond dissociation from what is evil. Thus we read of separation from the fruit of the vine, separation from the dignity of manhood (by his long hair), and separation from the dead (Num. 6: 1-8). Nor is it to be any different for the Christian, the modern-day Nazarite. Account is to be taken of what is profitable and what is not, and there is to be separation from things which, though not absolutely sinful in themselves, would nevertheless interfere with that intense consecration of heart demanded of a lover of Christ.
For the OT Nazarite the first point of separation was from wine and strong drink––from all that would intoxicate, or, as it is said of wine, “take away the heart” (Hos. 4: 11). Wine is also spoken of as that “which gladdeneth the heart of man” (Ps. 104: 15), and is by no means necessarily evil, for we are told that it cheers not only man, but God as well (see Jud. 9: 13). Wine stands, therefore, for pleasure. On occasion it may be representative of spiritual pleasure, but in relation to the Nazarite it speaks of the pleasures of the world which take away the heart from God, and from the things of God. Strong drink has this character in an even more glaring sense.
Now the separation is carried very far indeed, for the Nazarite was to drink no vinegar of wine or of strong drink, nor liquor of grapes, nor eat grapes, fresh or dried. All the days of his separation (which in Samson’s case was all his life), he was to eat nothing made of the vine, from the seed-stones even to the skin (see Num. 6: 3, 4). Yet unlike wine, no intoxicating effects can be produced by any of these things. What then do they typify for the Christian?
The Christian’s one sufficing joy is to be Christ––Christ is to be everything to him (1 Pet. 1: 8). How much of the world’s pleasures would that exclude? Only the intoxicating ones? Is not the reader aware that there are numberless things that exert a distracting and weakening influence upon his spirit, and yet were these to be tried by the standard of ordinary morality, they might be allowed to pass as harmless. We must remember, however, that God’s Nazarites do not measure things by any such standard. Theirs is not an ordinary morality at all. They look at things from a divine and heavenly standpoint and hence they cannot allow anything to pass as harmless which would tend to interfere with that high tone of consecration to God which their heart desires. If this appears extreme, did not the separation of the Nazarite from the very skin of the vines appear extreme? Or can it be that God’s principles demand anything less than that to be carried out to an extreme? Can there by a too absorbing delight in Christ? Hardly!
In the light of all this, what business had Samson in the vineyards of Timnathah? (Jud. 14: 5). His feet had been led there by desire––desire for a Philistine woman who pleased him well (v3). Such a woman is a type of the seductions of the flesh. Nor are these even Israelitish vineyards, but Philistine ones––a clear reference, if ever these was one, to fleshly pleasures. True, we have no record of him actually partaking of the fruit of the vine, but the danger and temptation were there. He was in the wrong kind of place, and breathing the wrong kind of atmosphere. How could it be otherwise when he had gone down to Timnathah, a descent that was not only physical but spiritual? God in His grace does not, however, desert His servant, and so when he is roared at by the enemy, the Spirit of Jehovah comes upon him and he rends the lion as one rends a kid (v6). Samson’s weakness was not in dealing with the open attacks of Satan, but with the subtle snares that were put before him. He slays the open foe, but is deceived by the Philistine alliance. Likewise the greatest danger facing the Church today is not public opposition, but the insidious blurring of the boundary between it and the world. Smyrna was in a far better state spiritually than Pergamos who dwelt “where the throne of Satan [is]” (Rev. 2: 13).
It is not too long before we find Samson in the vineyards of Timnathah again, the lure of the Philistine woman being too much. The momentum of one downward step leads to another (Compare James 1: 14, 15), and thus we find God’s Nazarite with his hands in the dead body of the lion, seduced by the sweetness residing therein. “And he returned after a time to take her, and he turned aside to see the carcase of the lion; and behold, [there was] a swarm of bees in the carcase of the lion, and honey; and he took it out in his hands, and went on, and ate as he went …”(vs 8, 9). The law of the Nazarite was emphatic: “All the days that he hath consecrated himself to Jehovah, he shall come near no dead body” (Num. 6: 6). Even the general principles of Lev. 11: 27 should have spoken to his soul: “And whatever goeth on its paws, among all manner of beasts that go upon all four, those are unclean unto you: whoever toucheth their carcase shall be unclean until the even.”
The significance of a carcase is that it is merely the shell of the body without life. In this respect the Lord’s word to Sardis is significant: “thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead” (Rev. 3: 2). Many a company of Christians can point to a glittering past, yet are found wanting in the present. What profit is there in having the name and not the substance? What good is the body without the life? How futile to strenuously “Keep up appearances”, when the things that matter “are about to die” (Rev. 3: 2). In essence this is to be little better than the “whited sepulchres” of the Jews (Matt. 23: 27). How is it possible to be consecrated to the living God on the one hand, and on the other to be going on with dead formality?
Again and again we find a strange inconsistency in the life of Samson. As to position, he is “a Nazarite of God” (Jud. 16: 17); as to practical walk, he falls far short. The message of the angel to his parents was that “he shall begin to save Israel out of the hand of the Philistines” (Jud. 13: 5), yet one of his first acts is to attempt a union with those very people (Jud. 14: 2). He berates God for seeming, on one occasion, to allow him to fall into the hands of the uncircumcised (Jud. 15: 18), yet himself seeks to be joined to such on at least three occasions (Jud. 14: 2; 16: 1; 16: 4). Blind to his own inconsistency, he is like the man who would condemn certain aspects of the flesh, while indulging in others. The flesh is the flesh whatever the form it comes in. He thinks nothing of socialising with the Philistines (14: 10-18), has no qualms about having a relationship with a prostitute (16: 1), and sees nothing wrong with loving a woman like Delilah (16: 15), and yet at the same time can confidently assert his Nazariteship! (16: 17). He is conscious of his special place in the divine scheme, yet seems totally unaware of what is required practically in that position. He is like the believer who though conscious of his status as a saint of God, behaves as if he were a child of the world. Strange it is for one who claimed to be a Nazarite of God from his mother’s womb, to be found sleeping on the knees of the godless Delilah (Jud. 16: 19). Strange and solemn inconsistency!
There was another thing which marked the Nazarite, failure in which led to the ultimate downfall of Samson: he was not to have his head shaved. “All the days of the vow of his separation there shall no razor come upon his head; until the days be fulfilled, that he hath consecrated himself to Jehovah, he shall be holy; he shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow” (Num. 6: 5)
1 Cor. 11: 14 teaches that it is undignified for a man to have long hair: "Does not even nature itself teach you, that man, if he have long hair, it is a dishonour to him?" From this we learn that if we really desire to live a life of separation to God, we must be prepared to surrender our dignity in nature. Of course this is just the very thing which we so little like to do. We naturally stand up for our dignity and seek to maintain our rights. Yet the perfect Man never did so, and if we desire to be His disciples, we must not either. We must surrender the dignities of nature, and give up the joys of earth if we are to tread a path of thorough separation to God in this world.
Here again, it must be said, the question is not as to the right and wrong of the case. As a general rule, it was right for a man to shave his locks, but it was not right, indeed it was altogether wrong, for a Nazarite to do so. This made all the difference. It was quite right for an ordinary man to shave and to drink wine, but the Nazarite was not an ordinary man. He was one set apart from all that was ordinary. He trod a path peculiar to himself and his fellow Nazarites, and to use a razor or to taste wine would involve the entire surrender of that peculiar path. Thus to the frequent question ‘Is it not right to enjoy the pleasures of earth and maintain the dignities of nature?’, the answer must be, ‘Quite right if we are to walk as men, but absolutely fatal if we wish to walk as Nazarites’. This simplifies the matter considerably. It answers many a question and solves many a difficulty. It is of little use to split hairs about the harm of this or that particular thing. The question is ‘What is our real purpose and object?’ Do we merely want to get on as men, or do we long to live as Nazarites?
It was almost inevitable that Samson would lose his hair. For too long he had played with fire, and if the Devil could not beat him in the open, then he would destroy him by subtlety. Samson allowed himself a measure of deviation from the path of separation in going after Delilah, but the end result was that he finally lost touch with the separate path altogether. In gaining Delilah, he lost his hair and with it the last vestige of his Nazariteship and the power that went with it. God bore long with His servant, even when his conduct fell woefully short of his office. The minute he lost his hair, however––when the separate position was abandoned entirely––then God withdraws His power. Samson then, sadly, becomes “like all mankind” (Jud. 16: 17). How many Christians have trod the same path, sacrificing spiritual power for advancement in the world? No doubt Samson never intended to lose his hair, but by the time he was awake to the danger it was too late. Similarly, no Christian ever wished to give up spiritual power but many fail to see the link between it and a life consecrated to God.
Like so many who have wandered from the separate path, Samson ends up grinding in Satan’s prison house––furthering the aims of the god of this world. (Jud. 16: 21). It might be as well to ask the reader of this paper as to which god he is working for. You are either helping on the cause of the one or the other. Furthermore, a saint not walking in separation is a contradiction in terms––and the world knows it. Samson once enjoyed respect as the instrument of God’s power. (Jud. 15: 9, 10). With his head shaved (and the separate position gone) he becomes an object of derision and contempt (Jud. 16: 25). Let this be a warning to us!
As prophesied, (Jud. 13: 7) Samson dies as a Nazarite, but the lessons he ought to have learnt in life, he has to learn at death’s door. In God’s grace, these things are written for our instruction (Rom. 15: 4), in order that we might learn these lessons not at the end of our lives but now. Let us ensure our practice is in accord with our profession.