Numbers 30 – The Keeping of Vows
A. The requirement to keep vows.
1. (1) Moses speaks to the leaders of the tribes.
Then Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes concerning the children of Israel, saying, “This is the thing which the LORD has commanded:
a. Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes: This instruction was given to the leaders of the tribes of Israel, for them to communicate to all the others in Israel.
2. (2) The command of the LORD regarding vows.
If a man makes a vow to the LORD, or swears an oath to bind himself by some agreement, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.”
a. If a man makes a vow to the LORD: A vow made to God is no small thing. God commanded that His people should be careful to keep their vows, and to fulfill every oath they make. Psalm 15:4 describes the godly man as the one who swears to his own hurt and does not change.
i. “Vows either took the form of a promise to give something to God, usually a sacrifice, or a pledge to abstain from something.” (Wenham)
ii. Some people believe, usually based on Matthew 5:34-37, that vows or oaths are not permitted for a God’s people today. But what Jesus said in the sermon on the mount regarding oaths was an emphasis on truth-telling and honesty, not an absolute prohibition of every oath. The Bible shows us that oaths are permitted under certain circumstances, if they are not abused and used as a cover for deception.
· God Himself swears oaths: Hebrews 6:13 and Luke 1:73.
· Jesus spoke under oath in a court: Matthew 26:63-64.
· Paul made oaths: Romans 1:9, 2 Corinthians 1:23, Galatians 1:20, 1 Thessalonians 2:5.
iii. Wenham notes that vows are often made by people in the Bible (as in Genesis 28:20-22, Numbers 21:2, Judges 11:30ff., 1 Samuel 1:11 and 14:24, Jonah 1:16 and 2:9, Acts 18:18, and 21:23), sometimes in a plea for God’s help. Wenham also notes the common tendency: “But when the crisis passes and the prayer is answered, there is a temptation to forget the vow.”
iv. If a man makes a vow to the LORD: John Trapp observed that this shows that “God is the proper object of a vow,” not angels or saints. In Trapp’s words, to vow unto such “is sacrilege, yea, it is idolatry.”
b. He shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth: Because God holds us to account for the vows that we make, sometimes it is better not to make a vow (Ecclesiastes 5:4-5).
i. He shall not break his word: “Hebrew, not pollute or profane his word, as the same phrase is used, Psalm 55:20; 89:34, i. e. not render his word, and consequently himself, profane, or vile and contemptible in the eyes of others.” (Poole)
ii. A commonly overlooked and unappreciated sin among God’s people is the sin of broken vows – promising things to God and failing to live up to the vow. Under the old covenant, it was commanded to make an offering to atone for the breaking of vows (Leviticus 5:4). Therefore, those who honor God:
· Will not be quick to make vows to God, especially unwise vows.
· Will be serious about fulfilling vows they do make.
· Will regard broken vows as sins to be confessed and to be repented of.
iii. There is a regular vow we all can and should make – a vow to praise God:
· Vows made to You are binding upon me, O God; I will render praises unto You. (Psalm 56:12)
· So I will sing praise to Your name forever, that I may daily perform my vows. (Psalm 61:8)
B. Vows that may not be binding.
1. (3-5) A young woman under her father’s household.
“Or if a woman makes a vow to the LORD, and binds herself by some agreement while in her father’s house in her youth, and her father hears her vow and the agreement by which she has bound herself, and her father holds his peace, then all her vows shall stand, and every agreement with which she has bound herself shall stand. But if her father overrules her on the day that he hears, then none of her vows nor her agreements by which she has bound herself shall stand; and the LORD will release her, because her father overruled her.
a. If a woman makes a vow to the LORD: This command refers to a woman who is young and unmarried, still living with her parents (while in her father’s house in her youth).
b. Her father holds his peace, then all her vows shall stand: The vows of a young woman in such circumstances was subject to review or approval by her father. He could approve of her vow by silence, with silence being understood as agreement.
i. Significantly, women were able to make vows and have a direct dealing with God. Even young women (with the approval of their father) could make promises to God, vow offerings to Him, or pledge seasons of self-denial to the LORD. “The very fact that women were making vows in this antique age is a step of great significance.” (Allen)
c. If her father overrules her on the day that he hears, then none of her vows…shall stand: The father of a young woman in such circumstances also had the right to disapprove of his daughter’s vows, and to declare the vow invalid.
2. (6-8) A new wife’s vow overruled by her husband.
“If indeed she takes a husband, while bound by her vows or by a rash utterance from her lips by which she bound herself, and her husband hears it, and makes no response to her on the day that he hears, then her vows shall stand, and her agreements by which she bound herself shall stand. But if her husband overrules her on the day that he hears it, he shall make void her vow which she took and what she uttered with her lips, by which she bound herself, and the LORD will release her.
a. If indeed she takes a husband: The woman considered in verses 3-5 is now considered as if she had become married. In such cases, her new husband had the right to approve her vows and he could accept them by his silence (makes no response to her on the day that he hears).
i. If indeed she takes a husband “suggests that the woman might have made a vow and then subsequently have become married. That she might be released from such a vow is greatly liberating both to her and to her husband. He might not want to take on a obligation that she has entered into before they were married. This is a protective clause.” (Allen)
ii. “When she marries, she is removed into her husband’s house, Ruth 1:9.” (Poole)
b. If her husband overrules her on the day that he hears it, he shall make void her vow which she took: If a husband objected to vows made by his wife, he had the right to overrule her. God considered the wife released from such disapproved vows (the LORD will release her).
i. On the day that he hears it: “And it is hereby intimated, that the day or time he had for disallowing her vow was not to be reckoned from her vowing, but from his hearing or knowledge of her vow.” (Poole)
ii. “The husband, as the male authority figure in the relationship, may choose from several courses of action: (1) permit the vow or oath to remain in effect by default—no action, (2) negate the obligation, or (3) affirm the commitment by word or deed.” (Cole)
3. (9) A widow or a divorced woman is bound by her vows.
“Also any vow of a widow or a divorced woman, by which she has bound herself, shall stand against her.
a. Any vow of a widow or a divorced woman: Here the case of a woman who was neither in her father’s house (as in verses 3-5) nor married (as in verses 6-8) was considered.
i. That the widow and the divorced woman have the same status regarding the making of vows is significant. “Some people claim that divorce in biblical times was only a certain legal fiction, that the woman was always to be considered the wife of the husband who had dismissed her…. Yet this verse clearly indicates that a divorced woman…has the legal status of one who is a widow (almanah). She has become an independent agent. Like the widow, her former husband is in a sense ‘dead’ to her.” (Allen)
b. By which she has bound herself: Such vows made by a woman not living with her parents and not married to a husband were considered binding. Any vows she made shall stand against her.
i. “A woman who was no longer under the patriarchal authority of her father or her husband, whether by his death or by divorce, possessed the same status and responsibility of a man with regard to vows and obligations.” (Cole)
4. (10-16) A wife’s vow confirmed by her husband.
“If she vowed in her husband’s house, or bound herself by an agreement with an oath, and her husband heard it, and made no response to her and did not overrule her, then all her vows shall stand, and every agreement by which she bound herself shall stand. But if her husband truly made them void on the day he heard them, then whatever proceeded from her lips concerning her vows or concerning the agreement binding her, it shall not stand; her husband has made them void, and the LORD will release her. Every vow and every binding oath to afflict her soul, her husband may confirm it, or her husband may make it void. Now if her husband makes no response whatever to her from day to day, then he confirms all her vows or all the agreements that bind her; he confirms them, because he made no response to her on the day that he heard them. But if he does make them void after he has heard them, then he shall bear her guilt.”
These are the statutes which the LORD commanded Moses, between a man and his wife, and between a father and his daughter in her youth in her father’s house.
a. If she vowed in her husband’s house: Verses 6-8 have in mind the vows that a newly married woman carried into her new marriage. Verses 10-15 have in mind vows made by a woman in her married state. As before, if the husband confirmed his wife’s vow (either by silence or by specific approval), then he was responsible to make sure the vow was fulfilled (he shall bear her guilt).
i. “Hannah, Samuel’s mother, provides a classic example of a woman who took upon herself a Nazirite vow of dedication and self-denial, which Elkanah her husband allowed to come to fulfillment by taking no action. Her vow was completed when she presented her son to Eli the priest for service of the Lord and offered sacrifices of bull, flour, and wine (1 Samuel 1:3–28).” (Cole)
ii. “He shall bear her iniquity means he will suffer for the broken vow as though it were his.” (Wenham)
b. Every vow and every binding oath to afflict her soul, her husband may confirm it, or her husband may make it void: This was an outworking of the principle of headship. When God declares someone to be in a position of rightful authority and others are expected to submit to that authority, the head also is accountable before God for the result. When God grants authority, He also commands accountability.
i. “These regulations establish the headship of the father and the husband in regard to matters which belong to religion. And the significance of them lies in this, that no intrusion of the priest is permitted…. the father or husband was the family head and the judge. No countenance whatever is given to any official interference.” (Watson)
ii. “They are of the utmost importance, as they reveal the Divine conception of the necessity for the maintenance of the unity of the family. In no family must there be two supreme authorities; and here, as always in the Divine arrangement, the headship is vested in the husband and father. It can easily be seen how, were this otherwise, through religious vows and discord probably disruption in family life would ensue. The measure in which modern society has departed from this ideal, is the measure of its insecurity.” (Morgan)