Both John the Baptist and Samson were Nazirites, one who voluntarily took a vow described in the sixth chapter of the Book of Numbers. "Nazarite" comes from the Hebrew word nazir meaning "consecrated" or "separated". This vow required the person during this time to:
- Abstain from all wine and anything else made from grapes.
- Refrain from cutting the hair on one's head; but to allow the locks of the head's hair to grow.
- Not to become ritually impure by contact with corpses or graves, even those of family members.
The nazirite is described as being "holy unto God", it was not necessary to remain a Nazirite for one’s entire life.
John the Baptist and Samson also seem to share another characteristic. Both of their mother’s had been deemed barren, unable to bear a child, a condition which was considered a sign of disfavor from God. However, God intervenes in the lives of both Elizabeth and the wife of Manoah and granted them a son. Both of them turned out to be rather important figures in God’s plan of salvation. Though one would not expect a woman past the age of child-bearing to become pregnant, God chooses the lowly and raises them up and bestows honor upon them in the eyes of their neighbors.
Zechariah hesitates in accepting the message of the angel. To be honest, I can readily understand his hesitation. Earlier in his life and relationship with Elizabeth, he would have had hope that he would become a father. Perhaps that hope had been dashed by events in their lives. So his reticence in placing hope in the message of the angel may have been a defense mechanism to keep himself from being disappointed once again.
At any rate, God fulfills the promises given to these faithful Israelites. They obviously believe in God’s promises and place their hope in God. They are also “holy onto God,” not because of a Nazirite vow but because of their cooperation with God’s plan. They stand as examples for all of us.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator