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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 30

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


The diary conception will aid substantially in understanding the organization of the books of Moses. Apparently, the ancient lawgiver kept a careful record of all the things God commanded him to say to Israel, but it is noticeable that the legislation on vows, for example, which is given in this chapter also appears in several other places. It is supposed that the reason for these instructions being given right here lies simply in the fact that at this particular point in Moses’ continual record of what God had commanded, the questions came up which led to these regulations. Many very capable scholars have observed this. “It is very probable that this law, like that concerning the succession of daughters (Numbers 27), rose from the exigency of some particular case that had just occurred.”(F1) Cook also agreed with this:

“It is probable that this fresh legislation dealing specially with vows made by persons in a state of tutelage, was occasioned by some case of practical difficulty that had recently risen.”(F2)

Such views are more intelligent and far more helpful than the radical type of exegesis that merely complains that, “Both from the literary point of view and from the point of content, this passage (Numbers 30) stands… without any connection with what precedes or with what follows.”(F3) This is also a classical example of how a failure to discern the Mosaic authorship of these books makes it impossible to understand or explain some features found in them.

Verses 1-2

“And Moses spake unto the heads of the tribes of the children of Israel, saying, This is the thing which Jehovah hath commanded. When a man voweth a vow unto Jehovah, or sweareth an oath to bind his soul with a bond, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.”

This legislation applied to all men, the commandment being simply that a man shall keep his word or suffer the disfavor of God Himself. Particularly, anything that a man promises solemnly to do, that he must do. The pioneer conception in America that a man’s word was “as good as his bond” honored this law in the very manner that God intended. Despite the fact that it seems to be particularly religious vows that are in view here, the law extended to all solemn affirmations and promises.

The importance of this principle is so great that it is impossible to exaggerate it. “Indeed, a wholesome society can be maintained only by the integrity of the rank and file of its men and women.”(F4) The Biblical conception of a righteous man has always been that of “a man who sweareth to his own hurt and changes not” (Psalms 15:4).

The holy principle of a man’s keeping his word can be grossly abused, and doubtless has frequently suffered abuse. “No man can be bound by his own promise to do what he is already forbidden to do by Divine command.”(F5) People who commit crimes or do anything wrong merely because they “promised” to do so are doubly guilty. It is a great sin to make a promise to commit a sin, and even a greater sin to honor the sinful promise. People who have made a sinful promise to rear their children in a false religion are under no obligation whatever to honor such a promise.

Verses 3-5

“Also when a woman voweth a vow unto Jehovah, and bindeth herself by a bond, being: in her father’s house, in her youth, and her father heareth her vow, and her bond wherewith she hath bound her soul, and her father holdeth his peace at her; then all her vows shall stand, and every bond wherewith she hath bound her soul shall stand. But if her father disallow her in the day that he heareth, none of her vows, or of her bonds wherewith she hath bound her soul, shall stand: and Jehovah will forgive her, because her father disallowed her.”

“In her youth” (Numbers 30:3). This appears as a qualifier to indicate the period when a father’s jurisdiction prevailed. It is unclear if this applied to those daughters still in their father’s house but who were no longer young.

Note also that a father could “disallow” a daughter’s vows (or oaths) only if he did so on the very day he first heard of it. He could not play fast and loose in the exercise of this authority. If he once allowed it, either by tacit approval (holding his peace) or verbal permission, he could not later revoke his decision.

Verses 6-8

“And if she be married to a husband, while her vows are upon her, or the rash utterance of her lips, wherewith she hath bound her soul, and her husband hear it, and hold his peace at her in the day that he heareth it; then her vows shall stand, and her bonds wherewith she hath bound her soul shall stand. But if her husband disallow her in the day that he heareth it, then he shall make void her vow which is upon her, and the rash utterance of her lips, wherewith she hath bound her soul: and Jehovah will forgive her.”

The legislation here permitted a husband the same authority over his wife that a father had over a dependent daughter, enabling him to disallow any vows made by his wife; but it also applied to vows that a wife was “under” at the time he was married to her. In cases like that, he could disallow the vows as soon as he heard of them, provided only, that he do so at once “on the day” that he heard of them. Thus, there is a double application of the law here.

Basing his conclusions upon the two distinctive Hebrew words used for “vows” in this passage, Wade declared that there are two kinds of vows which are particularly under consideration in this chapter: “They are (a) promises to give or to dedicate something to Jehovah, and (b) pledges to practice some form of abstinence.”(F6) It is easy to see the wisdom of such legislation. A dependent minor daughter might make a foolish and irresponsible vow to give vast sums of money to some project, such a vow, for some reason not being disallowed, and then the bridegroom marrying her would be saddled with an immense obligation unjustly. Here there was certified to him the right of annulment. “The husband had an absolute right to disallow and dissolve such obligations.”(F7)

Verses 9-12

“But the vow of a widow, or of her that is divorced, even everything wherewith she hath bound her soul, shall stand against her. And if she vowed in her husband’s house, or bound her soul by a bond with an oath, and her husband heard it, and held his peace at her, and disallowed her not; then all her vows shall stand, and every bond wherewith she bound her soul shall stand. But if her husband made them null and void in the day that he heard them, then whatsoever proceeded out of her lips concerning her vows, or concerning the bond of her soul, shall not stand: her husband hath made them void; and Jehovah will forgive her.”

The teaching here is that widows and divorced women were in the same category as all mankind (as in Numbers 30:1-2) and were required to discharge their pledges, oaths, sworn promises, and vows. Even in those instances in which a woman had made binding vows (not disallowed) before she was widowed or divorced, the woman’s obligations stood.

It is dramatically clear from all this that a person’s spoken word is of the utmost importance, and that his eternal well-being can be vitally affected by what a person says. As our Lord Jesus Christ stated it:

“And I say unto you that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give an account thereof in the day of Judgment. For BY THY WORDS THOU SHALT BE JUSTIFIED AND BY THY WORDS THOU SHALT BE CONDEMNED.” (See Matthew 12:36-37).

Right here is the little end of that tap-root which feeds and nourishes all of the corruption and immorality threatening to engulf all mankind today. What is it? It is simply this, that men cannot be counted on to do what they say they will do. How casually men take their most solemn vows! Behold how countless thousands dishonor, deny, and repudiate their marriage vows! And in the matter of holy religion, how many millions are there today who have forsaken and abandoned even their baptismal vows! May all people cease and desist from the sin of broken vows. This vital sub-structure of all human truth and order is crumbling; and, unless there shall come about a change, the future of our modern world is indeed dismal and threatening.

Another condition prevalent in the times of Moses is that of the absolute inferiority of women, a condition that prevailed all over the world of that era and which continued down until the times of Jesus Christ. “Only the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ lifted women to a place of equality with men, equality in rights and in moral responsibility before God.”(F8)

Verses 13-16

“Every vow, and every binding oath to afflict the soul, her husband may establish it, or her husband may make it void. But if her husband altogether hold his peace at her from day to day, then he establisheth all her vows, or all her bonds, which are upon her: he hath established them, because he held his peace at her in the day that he heard them. But if he shall make them null and void after that he hath heard them, then he shall bear her iniquity. These are the statutes, which Jehovah commanded Moses, between a man and his wife, between a father and his daughter, being in her youth, in her father’s house.”

This paragraph is somewhat of a summary of the whole chapter, but it has one new thing. The father (or husband) also is under a divine caution. There is, under certain circumstances, a finality in what he says or does not say. If, for example, he should allow certain rash vows to stand by “holding his peace” his action is irrevocable and may not be changed at some later time. His power and authority are forbidden to be used capriciously.

We are indebted to Carson for this summary of the situations treated in the legislation of this chapter: (i) a young woman in her father’s house (Numbers 30:3-5); (ii) a married woman who vowed while she was still single (Numbers 30:6-8); (iii) a widow or divorced person (Numbers 30:9); and (iv) that of a wife in her husband’s house (Numbers 30:10-15).(F9) To us it also seems that a fifth regulation appears in Numbers 30:1 and Numbers 30:2, namely, that all people are commanded by Almighty God to keep their word.

Note the attestation in Numbers 30:16 that Jehovah himself is the author of the legislation given. Apparently, Moses attached this to each entry in “the book” which contained all of it.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Numbers 30". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/numbers-30.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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