What’s the difference between a Nazarite and a Levite? 

Author: BibleAsk Team

The Bible gives a clear difference between a Nazarite and a Levite:

A Nazarite/Nazirite

The Hebrew root for the word Nazarite means “to separate,” “to consecrate,” and “to dedicate” in a religious sense. The expression, “Nazarite unto God” (Judges 13:5, 7), means one fully devoted to God. The Nazarite vow was voluntary. It was taken for personal reasons, such as gratitude for the birth of a child, a recovery from sickness…etc.

The vow of a Nazarite was done only for a specified period of time (Numbers 6:8, 13) and for both a man or a woman (Numbers 6:2). However, according to the law of Moses, the vow of a woman could be revoked by her father, and the married woman by her husband (Numbers 30). Numbers 6:13-20 gives the procedure to complete the vow. The external demonstration of the vow involved three duties:

  1. Abstain from wine and from all products of the grape, fresh or dried. “He shall separate himself from wine and similar drink; he shall drink neither vinegar made from wine nor vinegar made from similar drink; neither shall he drink any grape juice, nor eat fresh grapes or raisins. All the days of his separation he shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, from seed to skin” (Numbers 6:3, 4 also Judges 13:4, 7, 14).
  2. Allow the hair of the head to grow, without getting cut by a razor. “‘All the days of the vow of his separation no razor shall come upon his head; until the days are fulfilled for which he separated himself to the Lord, he shall be holy. Then he shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow” (Numbers 6:5).
  3. Abstain from approaching a dead body under any circumstances so that defilement be caused. “All the days that he separates himself to the Lord he shall not go near a dead body” (Numbers 6:6). But “‘if anyone dies very suddenly beside him, and he defiles his consecrated head, then he shall shave his head … on the seventh day … Then on the eighth day he shall bring … two young pigeons … and the priest shall … make atonement for him …” (Numbers 6:9-12).

And “When the days of his separation are fulfilled … he shall present his offering to the Lord: one male lamb in its first year without blemish as a burnt offering, one ewe lamb in its first year without blemish as a sin offering, one ram without blemish as a peace offering, a basket of unleavened bread … and their grain offering with their drink offerings” (Numbers 6:13-15).

The Nazarite vow was respected among the Hebrews (Amos 2:11; Lamentations 4:7). In the Old Testament, Samuel (1 Samuel 1:11) and Samson (Judges 13:1-5) were presented to God as Nazarites by their parents. And in the New Testament, John the Baptist was likewise presented to God by his parents (Luke 1:13-17). Some have thought that perhaps Joseph (Genesis 49:26) was also a Nazarite because the word translated “separate” in Genesis 49:26 is the same word used of Samson. Joseph is so called, because of his pure character (Deuteronomy 33:16).

Today, the Nazarite vow to the Christian is seen in the importance of separating from worldliness and sin in order to be consecrated to God to fulfill His good will and advance His kingdom (Romans 12:1-2; 2 Timothy 1:9; 1 Peter 1:15).

A Levite

The entire tribe of Levi belonged to God and was given to His sacred service in place of the first-born of the Children of Israel (Numbers 3:12). There were 12 tribes besides Levi, because Jacob had adopted Ephraim and Manasseh, the two sons of Joseph (Genesis 48:5, 6). All priests had to be Levites but not all Levites served as priests. 

The most sacred tasks, including offering sacrifices, were reserved for the priests, descendants of Aaron, brother of Moses. But the Kohathites, Gershonites, and Merarites had other certain roles within the Levite culture. They served under Aaron to assist him in his responsibilities and to guard the tabernacle. Their duties are stated in Numbers 3 and 4. They were not allowed to intrude upon the unique priestly sphere of Aaron and his sons.

A separate command from Jehovah was given in regard to them: “you shall appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of the Testimony, over all its furnishings, and over all things that belong to it; they shall carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings; they shall attend to it and camp around the tabernacle” (Numbers 1:48–50).

The Kohathites were in charge of the Ark of the Covenant, the Table of Showbread, and other holy items (Numbers 10:21; 1 Chronicles 9:32). These items were carried on staves on their shoulders when the sanctuary was moved (Numbers 7:9; 4:15; Exodus 25:26–28).

The Gershonites were in charge of the curtains, ropes, and coverings (Numbers 4:24–26). The Merarites were in charge of taking care of and carrying the pillars, bases, frames, pegs, and cords that formed the structure of the tent of meeting. The Gershonites and Merarites were given ox carts to carry the temple items. The Gershonites received two carts and four oxen, and the Merarites received four carts and eight oxen (Numbers 7:6–8).

A Levite, between the ages of 25 and 50 years, was to carry on the services of the tabernacle. At the age of 50 years he was freed from his responsibilities. He had the honor of taking care of minor services in the sanctuary on a voluntary ground (Numbers 8:25, 26). The Levites were exempt from military service; consequently, they were not counted with the tribal forces (1 Chronicles 9:33).

The Levites did not get a certain territory in the Promised Land. God commanded that they be given cities and pastureland from among the lands of the other tribes (Joshua 21:2). The distribution of the cities was decided by the drawing of lots (Joshua 21:1–8). The Gershonites received 13 cities; the Kohathites, more in number, received 23; the Merarites
were the smallest in number, so they received only 12 cities.

Among these cities were 6 cities of refuge to which a manslayer may flee (Numbers 35:6). Three cities in Canaan, and three on the east side of Jordan (Numbers 35:14; Deuteronomy 4:43; Joshua 20:7, 8). The cities of refuge were a type of Christ to whom the sinner may seek refuge.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team