Book of Numbers Chapter Thirty Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
Verses 1-2: "Then Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes of the sons of Israel, saying, 'This is the word which the Lord has commanded. 2 If a man makes a vow to the Lord, or takes an oath to bind himself with a binding obligation, he shall not violate his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth." Moses, who soon would leave this earth and knew it, continued to remind Israel's leaders of the rules that bound them, including those related to the keeping of vows. In the Lord, in Christ, we are to become what we were really meant to be, honest, without pretense of any kind. Our actions will be true and our words will be, too. As James, the belated convert to the Lord and subsequent leader of the church at Jerusalem put it: "Let your 'yes' be (a simple) yes and your 'no' be (an honest) no..." (James 5:12). The Holy Spirit qualified that statement through the words of Paul in Ephesians 4:15—we are to be "speaking the truth IN LOVE," in order to "grow up in every way into Him..." Every one of us would like to be more than we are. Even the most despicable one in humanity, at some deep level, wishes to be someone lovable, someone good, but is also probably not trying, thinking, "It's too late for me." But it's not. Ephesians 4:15 continues, we are to "grow up... into Christ." By ourselves, we cannot become what we were meant to be, as seen in the New Year's resolutions we did not keep. But the Lord IS honest in every way, and when we allow Him into our hearts and lives, we become something better, something more. Our vows begin to be kept, truth becomes our watchword, and love is the foundation of our intentions, as we "grow up," not on our own, but "into Christ," who will do in and through us what is otherwise impossible for all.
The balance of this chapter is about the vows of women: What lasting, legal effect did her vows have in the time and place of these Scriptures? And the answer here is surprising. The world of that time allowed the typical woman no rights whatsoever. She essentially was the property of her father and then the property of her husband, if there was to be one. But here she is allowed to have opinions sufficient to make a vow and then keep those words, a limited right from the perspective of that nation as also seen in some cultures even today. Verses 3-5: "Also if a woman makes a vow to the Lord, and binds herself by an obligation in her father’s house in her youth, 4 and her father hears her vow and her obligation by which she has bound herself, and her father says nothing to her, then all her vows shall stand and every obligation by which she has bound herself shall stand. 5 But if her father should forbid her on the day he hears of it, none of her vows or her obligations by which she has bound herself shall stand; and the Lord will forgive her because her father had forbidden her." A girl became a woman in that culture after puberty, a teenager subject to the leadership of her father as long as she lived in his house. The contemporaries of Moses had observed the behavior of teenagers for centuries and concluded that they weren't particularly good at making decisions without adult supervision. There's truth in that observation. Modern science has discovered that our brains don't become fully mature until about age 25. Even after that, we obviously need all the guidance and direction we can get. True maturity is elusive to non-existent in humanity. God created the family as a place to guide, protect and provide for all—it's humanity's fault, not His, that things often don't work out as they should.
Cultures, like individuals, observe the events around us and make conclusions about them, which are sometimes right but often wrong. Society observed women, compared them to men, noted that women are smaller, typically have a less developed musculature, are incapacitated by the advent of the children that kept arriving year-after-year, and wrongly concluded that women were less effective than men intellectually. Such conclusions should show us how wrong we can be, for in many situations the opposite conclusion can be the better one. Verses 6-8: "However, if she should marry while under her vows or the rash statement of her lips by which she has bound herself, 7 and her husband hears of it and says nothing to her on the day he hears it, then her vows shall stand and her obligations by which she has bound herself shall stand. 8 But if on the day her husband hears of it, he forbids her, then he shall annul her vow which she is under and the rash statement of her lips by which she has bound herself; and the Lord will forgive her." The intelligent husband will come to realize that his wife is herself strong, intelligent and capable, a person who makes better decisions than he does in many ways. But she, like her husband, is an emotional being, and they both think, say and do rash things all too often. And the words "rash statement" are correct as a translation here from the ancient Hebrew. Both of the partners in a marriage make mistakes, and each has the obligation to listen to and guide the other where appropriate. We should, in Christ, become able to disagree with one another in love.
Verses 9-12: "But the vow of a widow or of a divorced woman, everything by which she has bound herself, shall stand against her. 10 However, if she vowed in her husband’s house, or bound herself by an obligation with an oath, 11 and her husband heard it, but said nothing to her and did not forbid her, then all her vows shall stand and every obligation by which she bound herself shall stand. 12 But if her husband indeed annuls them on the day he hears them, then whatever proceeds out of her lips concerning her vows or concerning the obligation of herself shall not stand; her husband has annulled them, and the Lord will forgive her." Another expression of the subject matter of these verses is seen in Leviticus Chapter 27, relating to vows, especially religious ones, focusing on the person making the vow who was unable to keep it. I promise to give myself or something I have to the Lord, but don't. Solutions in that chapter included the cultural ability of an indebted person to sell themselves into indentured servitude, or give up precious land to pay the debt. All would be released and returned in the "year of jubilee," glimpsed in Leviticus 27:18 & its context. The Lord Himself is our Year of Jubilee, when we place our faith in Him. All that we have and are becomes His, and God Himself comes into ordinary people like you and me, changing us for the good. We have made rash statements and have done rash things, but our loss is temporary and our gain is everlasting. We, the undeserving, are forgiven and rescued by the Lord through the wonder of faith, now and forever.
Those who trust in the Lord acquire rights in the sight of God. He, our Savior, becomes the equivalent of a husband in ancient Israel, which is the parable being presented here. He owns the land; He, our Creator, owns the people who occupy that land, which we call "humanity." We have all vowed to do something or other, failed to do what is right, and on the cross, the Lord paid the price for all our failures. Verses 13-16: "Every vow and every binding oath to humble herself, her husband may confirm it or her husband may annul it. 14 But if her husband indeed says nothing to her from day to day, then he confirms all her vows or all her obligations which are on her; he has confirmed them, because he said nothing to her on the day he heard them. 15 But if he indeed annuls them after he has heard them, then he shall bear her guilt.' 16 These are the statutes which the Lord commanded Moses, as between a man and his wife, and as between a father and his daughter, while she is in her youth in her father’s house." You are the child of humanity, and your home, your origin is insufficient, as you are insufficient in the sight of God. He solves your insufficiency by something akin to marriage. God's Son becomes yours and you become His. Through faith in the Lord, you belong to Him and your guilt is annulled.
You are also essentially like a child within your Father's household. The bad decisions that most of us have made, such as the erroneous idea that we can do "whatever we want to do, whenever we want to do it," end in destruction. "Jesus said" to His disciples in Matthew 19:14, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them, for of such is the kingdom of heaven." When we look back on our own lives, and consider the lives of everyone else in humanity that we know something about, we begin to discover that none of us are "grown-ups," nobody is mature, and all of us are the "little children" who were climbing onto the lap of Jesus at that moment. He's telling us to admit who we really are: bratty little kids who incredibly start wars, cause divorces, gossip, steal, lie and in general, ruin the playpen we call "earth." As a human race, we are presently attempting to take our destructiveness off this earth and go out to infect the rest of the universe as well. But our Husband is the Lord, who died to pay the price of our vows that cause destruction. "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way, and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6). Come to the One who has paid for your vows, trust in Him, and live in His forgiveness, joy, freedom and peace—forever.
Father, I have made vows I should not have made and I have done that which is wrong. You have given me Your Son who paid the price for all my vows, all my sins. I do not deserve what He has done, but I trust in Him, understanding at last that Your forgiveness in Christ is infinite, covering the sins of all who are willing to believe. I am Yours, Lord Jesus, I am Yours. I place my faith, my life, into Your Hands, now and forever. In Jesus Name. Amen.