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Deeper Commentary


Num 30:1 Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes of the children of Israel, saying, This is the thing which Yahweh has commanded-
The address to the tribal elders was perhaps because these issues of dedicating things were largely about dedicating property. The difficult area was when a person who was not the head of a family tried to dedicate property to the Lord. God had given each family a specific inheritance and wanted that to remain within the family name. So in practice, it was the elders of the tribes who were going to deal with these issues.

I have shown throughout Numbers that we have historical incidents followed by laws which were given in relation to those incidents. Num. 25:18 commands Israel to attack the Midianites for what they did to them in seducing them to idolatry. But we have to apparently wait until Num. 31 to read of Israel actually going to war with Midian. But the intervening chapters cover events which happened perhaps only within days after the point in Num. 25:18 where Yahweh tells Israel to attack Midian. In Num. 26 they are to take a military census in preparation for the battle. Then chapter 27 records the issue of Zelophehad's daughters, who present as faithful to Yahweh and unlike their unbeliving father who died in the desert for his sin of not believing he could enter the land.  Remember Israel are now 40 years after leaving Egypt, and about to enter Canaan despite their last minute apostacy and lack of faith. Those daughters are presented as examples of the faithful remnant within Israel. Numbers 28 commands that various daily sacrifices be offered once Israel are in the land. Numbers 29 then calls for a day of atonement to be held, followed by the feast of booths five days after the atonement feast finished. This would be an apparently needless repetition of previously given legislation- unless we understand that it was a specific call to keep the feast of atonement at that time.

Now in Numbers 30 we have some laws given specifically to "the heads of the tribes" explaining how young women's vows were to be treated, and the responsibility of their fathers for them if they were still in their father's household. This is relevant to the situation in Numbers 25- where Phinehas had saved Israel by spearing to death Zimri, the apostate son of one of "the heads of the tribes" as he had sex with Cosbi, the daughter of one of the "heads of the tribes" of Midian. Num. 25:14 speaks of "Zimri, the son of Salu, a prince of a father’s house among the Simeonites". Num. 30 has several references to the father's house. The idea seems to be that the father's house was responsible for vows made by those within it. Although it is women who are specifically mentioned, it seems the same principle would be true for male minors still in their father's house. The principle was that if the father "altogether hold his peace at her from day to day, then he establishes all her vows, or all her bonds which are on her. He has established them, because he held his peace at her in the day that he heard them". Silence from the head of the household meant consent. And this is all in the context of Numbers 25 speaking of the sins of the young people within their "father's house". This legislation may have been to protect Phinehas from blood vengeance from Zimri's family. It would therefore appear likely that he and Zimri had made some kind of vow loyalty to Baal Peor, and Zimri's family had from day to day ignored that. And so they were responsible for it.

Num 30:2 When a man vows a vow to Yahweh, or swears an oath to bind his soul with a bond, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth-
This was to guard against the temptation to make a vow which was publically impressive before men, but then not to pay it. Any attempt to garner kudos for our spiritual devotion is absolutely wrong; such spiritual pride is the worst. God would therefore "require it" and severely judge those who did this (Dt. 23:21). Not being slack to pay a vow (Dt. 23:21) fits in with a wider Biblical theme of being quick in responding to God. It comes to full term in the New Testament accounts of immediate baptisms straight after people had grasped the basic message of the Gospel. "Yes straight away" is what God really seeks from His children. Israel were not to delay in offering their firstfruits to God (Ex. 22:29), lest their intentions weren't translated into practice. The disciples immediately left the ship, simply put their nets down and followed (Mt. 4:20,22); Matthew left his opened books and queue of clients in the tax office and walked out never to return (Lk. 5:17,18 implies).  

Num 30:3 Also when a woman vows a vow to Yahweh and binds herself by a bond, being in her father’s house in her youth-
Girls married young in Semitic cultures of the time, usually in their teens. God here foresaw the possibility of a young girl wanting to do something extra special for Him. In contemporary religions, active participation in religion was typically something for older males. But such is God’s value of the human person that He eagerly anticipated young people, even children, making a special act of devotion to Him on their own initiative. Mary’s teenage ambition to become the mother of Messiah is the supreme example to today’s youngsters, growing up as they do in a world where selfish ambition is the order of the day as never before.

Num 30:4 and her father hears her vow and her bond with which she has bound her soul, and her father holds his peace at her; then all her vows shall stand, and every bond with which she has bound her soul shall stand-
The insistence that the male head of the family had to agree was because the vow was likely to give part of the family property to Yahweh. The land had specifically been given to families as inheritances, and it usually passed on through the male line, to keep the name of the family identified with the inheritance. So the woman had no right to promise to give it away, without first having the agreement of her husband or male head of family.

Num 30:5 But if her father disallow her in the day that he hears, none of her vows or of her bonds with which she has bound her soul shall stand; and Yahweh will forgive her, because her father disallowed her-
Women got married young. But here is envisaged a situation where a girl promises something to Yahweh, before she gets married. The idea is that children too were in relationship with God, and could make a voluntary dedication to Him. The idealism and ambition of youth were to be channeled towards God's service. And these regulations show that the law of Moses expected this kind of commitment from youth.

Num 30:6 If she has a husband while her vows are on her, or the rash utterance of her lips with which she has bound her soul-
The spirit of this legislation seems to assume that vows would be made rashly, and therefore these laws were required. The Lord Jesus therefore commanded that we should not swear at all, but rather just live integrity before God (Mt. 5:34-36). This was an indication of how well the Lord understood human nature, since He also had it. He knew that vows and oaths were likely to be broken; and so we should accept our humanity and simply not make such vows.

Num 30:7 and her husband hears it, and hold his peace at her in the day that he hears it; then her vows shall stand, and her bonds with which she has bound her soul shall stand-
The simple principle established here is that there are times when silence means consent. The Proverbs wisely advise us not to meddle in others’ business and to hold our tongue in some cases. But there are other times when not to speak up can have damaging consequences upon others, especially those less mature than ourselves.

Num 30:8 But if her husband forbids her in the day that he hears it, then he shall make void her vow which is on her, and the rash utterance of her lips with which she has bound her soul; and Yahweh will forgive her-
"Rash utterance" is the same word as used to describe how Moses "spoke rashly with his lips" (Ps. 106:33). He was denied entrance to the kingdom of God on earth because of that. That seems a rather heavy judgment for rash speaking. But here again, rash speaking in promising to give something and then not giving it- is presented as an unforgivable sin. People of the time were apparently used to making various exaggerated promises to God. And these were abhorrent to Him. He wishes those in relationship with Him to be serious and committed to Him, and to realize the extraordinary value He places upon human usage of words and language. This is reflected in the New Testament teaching about the power and eternal consequences of human words. See on :12.

Num 30:9 But the vow of a widow, or of her who is divorced, everything with which she has bound her soul, shall stand against her-
A divorced woman was counted as genuinely single; the sin of marriage breakup is in the factors leading to the breakup of the marriage, but afterwards the person is seen by God as single. Divorce under the Law of Moses was possible only for adultery, and adultery was punishable by death. Yet God foresaw that there would be women who had done this and yet remained alive by grace, or who had been falsely accused; and correctly imagined that such women would love to make a freewill dedication of themselves to Him.

Num 30:10 If she vowed in her husband’s house or bound her soul by a bond with an oath-
A vow appears to refer to a promise to give or dedicate something to God, whereas an oath tends to refer to an undertaking not to do something.

Num 30:11 and her husband heard it, and held his peace at her, and didn’t disallow her; then all her vows shall stand, and every bond with which she bound her soul shall stand-
Silence means consent (Num. 30:12,15). This is a huge principle which challenges us in so many areas.

Num 30:12 But if her husband made them null and void in the day that he heard them, then whatever proceeded out of her lips concerning her vows or concerning the bond of her soul, shall not stand. Her husband has made them void; and Yahweh will forgive her-
To make a vow and not perform it was a sin. The implication is that it was only forgivable if a woman had vowed property over which her husband had a say, and he had disallowed it. We note that it is a vow and not an oath which is in view; a vow was associated with giving property to Yahweh, whereas an oath was a promise not to do something. Given the very serious nature of vowing and not performing it, apparently an unforgivable sin, we wonder why people would vow when it was not obligatory? The reasons appear here to be in the area of "rash utterance", getting carried away with words; or possibly pride. Contrary to what is the habit in some parts of Christianity, giving is never to be done under duress of whatever kind, nor 'rashly'. God wants us to give to Him on the basis of sober, reasoned commitment rather than the emotion of a moment. See on :8.

Num 30:13 Every vow and every binding oath to afflict the soul, her husband may establish it or her husband may make it void-
"Afflict your souls" is the word used of how the Egyptians had afflicted the Hebrews (Ex. 1:11,12). The woman might vow to go through a period recalling how Israel had been in Egypt; but as this had huge domestic implications in an agrarian society, she could only do so if her husband agreed. Repeatedly, Israel were taught that they were to remember the state they had been in prior to their redemption from affliction; and redeem others from their affliction on that basis, and never to afflict people as Egypt had done to them. All this is an abiding principle for us. True redemption of others has to be rooted in an awareness of our own affliction. This is particularly necessary for those who were as it were schooled into Christ by reason of their upbringing.

Num 30:14 But if her husband altogether hold his peace at her from day to day, then he establishes all her vows, or all her bonds which are on her. He has established them, because he held his peace at her in the day that he heard them-
To vow and then not give to God was a major sin, and as her vow involved dedication of property under his control, he shared in that sin, or, in the blessing of dedication.

Num 30:15 But if he shall make them null and void after that he has heard them, then he shall bear her iniquity-
Here to bear iniquity seems to specifically mean to have responsibility for sin (as in Num. 18:1). "Bear iniquity" is therefore an idiom for being personally guilty. Yet the idiom is used about the Lord Jesus Christ in His bearing of our iniquity on the cross (Is. 53:11). The Lord Jesus was our sin bearer and yet personally guiltless. This is the paradox which even He struggled with, leading to His feeling of having been forsaken by God (Mt. 27:46). This means that although Christ never sinned, He knows the feelings of sinners, because His identity with us was so deep and complete.

Num 30:16 These are the statutes, which Yahweh commanded Moses, between a man and his wife and between a father and his daughter, being in her youth, in her father’s house-
This legislation may well have arisen in response to some specific cases which were not covered in the law given at Sinai. The Mosaic law was not designed as a deterministic legislation over every imaginable area of life. It was intended as a springboard towards personal relationship with God. And therefore it required interpretation and reverent engagement with God for help in understanding, and receipt of progressive revelation.