There is little doubt the vow Paul had taken was Nazirite. The completion of the vow involved expensive sacrifices, a long ritual involving priests, a series of offerings, special preparations, and a symbolic cleansing of the previous life signified by shaving the head.
This is the law for the Nazirites when the time of their consecration has been completed: they shall be brought to the entrance of the tent of meeting, and they shall offer their gift to the Lord…
Then the Nazirites shall shave the consecrated head at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and shall take the hair from the consecrated head and put it on the fire under the sacrifice of well-being…
This is the law for the Nazirites who take a vow. Their offering to the Lord must be in accordance with the Nazirite vow, apart from what else they can afford. In accordance with whatever vow they take, so they shall do, following the law for their consecration.Numbers 6:13, 18, 21 (NRSV)
Both men and women could make this vow to the Lord, though the most famous Nazirite was a man, one of the judges of Israel, named Samson.
The completion of his vow required that Paul pray daily in the temple for seven days. At the end of this period, he would pay the fees for himself, and his four fellow Jewish Christians, fulfilling both his obligation to God, and to the requirements James and the Jerusalem council had asked of him, to prove his innocence. Every morning, Paul faithfully kept his vow and his promise, passing through the splendid white marble colonnade and glimmering gold walls of Solomon’s portico, and entering the massive bronze doors into the temple itself.
And then, in one of those horrible, slow-motion moments, all Paul’s efforts at reconciliation and humble generosity began to unravel.
When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, who had seen him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd.
They seized him, shouting, “Fellow Israelites, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against our people, our law, and this place; more than that, he has actually brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.”
For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple.Acts 21:27-29 (NRSV
It isn’t certain who these Asian Jews were who recognized Paul, but remember there was a group of Jews who detested what Paul taught and they followed him from town to town, stirring up trouble wherever he went.
Possibly these were from that same group of people, determined to shut Paul down. It’s possible they also recognized one or another of the Gentile Christians who had accompanied Paul and wrongly assumed he was taking them with him into the temple for the purification rites.
They were right about accusing Paul of teaching the Gentiles they could receive God’s forgiveness through Jesus apart from keeping the Law. They were wrong to think Paul was was teaching against God’s people and word, or bringing Gentiles into the Jews-only section of the temple, which was an act punishable by death.
Paul was caught on the temple steps, all around there were angry people, but no loose stones, so they only had dust and their own cloaks to throw.
They were wild and infuriated but Paul didn’t think to condemn them or plead with them, instead he saw a wonderful chance to talk about the gospel to this huge crowd gathering around him. He wasn’t thinking about himself, but rather them, and what they needed, the love, grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.
Paul gave them his credentials as a Pharisee, having studied under the renowned and well-respected Gamaliel. Paul expressed his empathy with how they felt about him, even calling on the high priest to testify on his behalf, that he used to be the same way, zealous to protect Judaism and to destroy Christianity. Then he talked about this glorious person, Jesus, Who had appeared to him, and impressed on him that He was the Lord, and had appointed Paul to preach the gospel.
Paul appealed to them, they could hardly blame him for obeying God. But they were enraged at the idea that he would preach God’s blessing and forgiveness to the despised Gentiles.
There is no record of the Christians in Jerusalem trying to help Paul.
Paul may have been tempted to think “If only I hadn’t gone along with James’ idea I wouldn’t be in this mess. I was trying to please God, but here I am, everybody hates me and wants to beat me up. I’m all alone, even God isn’t rescuing me.” You know how that is when something terrible happens.
- You wish you could roll back the clock,
- if only you hadn’t said those words,
- or done that thing,
- or made that decision,
this crisis wouldn’t be on your hands. It’s tempting to think that you weren’t in God’s will after all, because He seems distant, and this trouble is so bad.
But the person who has put their faith in Jesus, who knows they are in God’s will, who prayed ahead of time and was satisfied they had received God’s clear direction, through the inward testimony of His Spirit, and through the outward confirmation of God’s written word and circumstances, doesn’t need to question whether they are really in God’s will when everything goes wrong.
God is at work.
He has a purpose in it.
At every place people had tried to dissuade Paul from going to the cross, from being in God’s will. But Paul didn’t let even the people who loved him most keep him from doing what God had called him to do.
Listen, if God has called you, and you are sure of it because of His confirming word and outward confirming circumstances such as those who have authority in your life giving you the go-ahead, then sticking with God’s plan shows character, especially when the going gets tough.
Circumstances do not limit God
Circumstances are not independent of God. God creates circumstances. God is the master of circumstances.
What is rattling your commitment right now?
When you find yourself in a similar situation, where you did what you knew God had in mind for you to do, and disaster appeared to be the result, do not look at the second causes: what someone said or did, or didn’t say or do. Keep your eyes on the First Cause, and say, Lord, You have allowed this to happen to me, and now show me how I am going to glorify You in it.
[Reconstruction of Herod’s Temple–“IL09 0857 Herod’s Temple at Israel Museum, Jerusalem” | Benjamin, Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]