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. He shall not break his word: A vow before God is no small thing. God expressly commanded that Israel should be careful to keep its vows, and to fulfill every oath made.
i. In many circles today, the breaking of an oath is just standard business practice – but before God, it is simply sin.
ii. Some people today believe that vows or oaths are not permitted for a Christian today. They think this because of what Jesus said in Matthew 5:34-37: But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one (See also James 5:12).
iii. But, in context of the rest of Scripture, we see that Jesus was not forbidding oaths, as much as telling us that we should be so filled with integrity in our words that an oath is unnecessary.
iv. Jesus answered under oath in a court (Matthew 26:63-64), and God Himself swears oaths (Luke 1:73, Acts 2:30, Hebrews 3:18, 6:13, 17).
b. He shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth: Because God takes our vows so seriously, sometimes it is better not to make a vow.
i. When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it; for He has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you have vowed. It is better not to vow than to vow and not pay (Ecclesiastes 5:4-5).
ii. Many vows are just plain foolish. “I’ll never do that again” is a foolish vow, and it is foolish and unwise to demand such a vow from someone else.
iii. Of course, there is a 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 are not 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. And binds herself by some agreement while in her father’s house in her youth: An unmarried woman’s vow was not taken as binding, unless approved of in some way by her “head” – her father, who had the right to overrule her.
2. (6-8) A 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 her husband overrules her on the day that he hears it, he shall make void her vow which she took: A married woman’s vow was not taken as binding, unless ratified in some way by her husband, who had the right to overrule her.
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: A widow or divorced woman had no male “head” of her household (her “head” is God directly), so she is bound by her vows.
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: If the husband confirmed his wife’s vow (either specifically or by silence), then he was responsible to make sure the vow was fulfilled (he shall bear her guilt, Numbers 30:15).
i. “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 is 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.
i. God never grants authority without accountability. When this is understood, it makes submission much easier.