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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Numbers 30

 

 

Introduction

F. FUTURE PROSPECTS IN THE LAND (chapters 26-36).

We now come to the final main section of the book. It will commence with the numbering of Israel, a sign that they were making ready for the final push, and is divided up into rededication and preparations for entering the land (chapters 26-32), and warning and encouragement with respect to it (chapters 33-36). The first section concentrates on the mobilisation and dedication of the people of Yahweh, and the punishment of those who by their behaviour hinder that mobilisation and dedication.

In terms of the overall pattern of the book the first section covers the mobilisation of Israel, the appointment of Joshua on whom was the Spirit and the death of Moses For Sin (chapters 26-27), which compares with the earlier murmuring of Israel, the appointment of elders on whom came the Spirit, and the plague on Miriam because of sin (chapters 11-12). This then followed by the dedication of Israel through Feasts, Offerings and Vows and the purifying of Transjordan through vengeance on the Midianites and settlement of the two and a half Tribes (chapters 28-32) which compares with the purification and dedication of Israel in chapters 5-10.

Analysis of the section.

(I). Preparation for Entering the Land (chapters 26-32).

This can be divided up into:

a Numbering of the tribes for possessing the land (Numbers 26:1-51).

b Instructions concerning division of the land (Numbers 26:52-62).

c Vengeance had been brought on those who had refused to enter the land (Numbers 26:63-65).

d Regulation in respect of land to be inherited by women and others (Numbers 27:1-11).

e Provision of a dedicated shepherd for the people of Israel (Numbers 27:12-23).

e Provision of a dedicated people and future worship in the land (Numbers 28-29).

d Regulation in respect of dedicatory vows made by women and others (Numbers 30)

c Vengeance to be obtained on Midian (Numbers 31:1-24).

b Instructions concerning division of the spoils of Midian (Numbers 31:25-54).

a Settlement of the Transjordanian tribes in possessing land (Numbers 32).

(II) Warning and Encouragement of The Younger Generation (chapters 33-36).

a Review of the journey from Egypt to the plains of Moab (Numbers 33:1-49).

b Instruction concerning the successful possession of and dividing up of the land in the future (Numbers 33:50 to Numbers 34:15).

c The Leaders who will divide the land for them are appointed (Numbers 34:16-29).

d Provision of cities for the Levites. (Numbers 35:1-5)

d Provision of cities of refuge and prevention of defilement of the land (Numbers 35:6-34).

c The Leaders of the tribe of Manasseh approach Moses about the possible loss of part of their division of the land as a result of the decision about the daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 36:1-4).

b Instruction concerning women who inherit land so as to maintain the dividing up of the land which they successfully possess (Numbers 36:5-12)

a Final summary of the book and colophon. The journey is over. They are in the plains of Moab opposite Jericho (Numbers 36:13).

In this section stress is laid on preparation for entering the land.

(I). Overall Preparation for Entering the Land (chapters 26-32).

The preparations include the mobilisation of Israel, instructions as to what to do on entering the land, appointment of a new commander-in-chief in whom is the Spirit, instructions concerning the worship to be offered to Yahweh, a description of the ‘atonement’ for the sin of Baal-peor and purification of the land by the slaughter of the Midianites, and the settling in of the tribes in their land on the east of Jordan, preparatory to their soldiers joining the offensive on Canaan.

2). Provision for Future Worship in the Land And The Continuing Dedication of All Israel (chapters 28-30).

There could have been no better place for these chapters on Israel’s response to Yahweh than here. It follows the sin at Baal Peor, the death of Zelophehad through sin, and the death of Moses through a failure in his dedication to Yahweh, and it follows them with a call to continually renew their dedication, and with a promise of continual forgiveness and purification.

This purifying and dedication of the new Israel parallels the call for the purification and dedication of the old Israel in chapters 5-10. There it was necessary if they were to consider entering into Yahweh’s land, here it is seen to be gloriously fulfilled in the new Israel.

But above all this call for such offerings is a proclamation of the prosperous future that would be theirs on possession of the land. It follows the capture of huge amounts of cattle from Gilead and Bashan (Deuteronomy 2:35; Deuteronomy 3:7), together with land which would be settled on, in which they would already have found vineyards, cereal crops and olive trees, so that firstfruits would be produced as never before. From now on these ceremonies were to be conducted in their full glory, because at least some tribes were already prospering. This would have begun to happen very rapidly. Having taken the land of Sihon and the Amorites Reuben and Gad had decided that they wanted it, an event which probably preceded the defeat of Bashan (note how Manasseh come in later). The process of at first temporary possession and settlement was no doubt initially quite complicated, but we can be sure that it happened quickly. Yahweh had indicated from the very beginning that this was land to be possessed (Deuteronomy 2:31). Then part of the overcoming of Bashan resulted from Machir’s recognition of the potential of the land (Numbers 32:40-42).

But it also underlines the certainty of the prosperity that would be theirs once all were in the land, for it reveals the offerings that they were to continually make once they were settled there. It is only the prosperous who could bring their offerings in such abundance as this. It was thus very much a message of hope and encouragement.

Note that the primary emphasis is on the whole burnt offering, the offering that ‘goes up’, in these cases offered on behalf of the whole people (contrast Leviticus 1-2), the offering indicating wholehearted dedication, and thanksgiving and tribute, while also being underlaid by a recognition of the need for atonement. And it is continually accompanied by the necessary offering for the purification of sin. While therefore sin would trouble even the best of them, even a Moses, it was pointing out that it could be dealt with for the nation as a whole and put behind their backs because of the gracious provision God had made for them, as they continually rededicated themselves to Him at all their feasts. That is the message of what now follows. As in the stories of the numbering of Israel, of the daughters of Zelophehad and of the appointment of Joshua, these chapters are filled with hope and expectancy as they look to the future.

Thus what is mentioned here concentrates on Israel’s dedication, tribute, worship and atonement as a people. In its quantities it magnifies all of these in readiness for the grand assault.

To us these feasts of Israel may appear a little boring, but they were not so to Israel. If we think so let us consider our own feast as we gather at the Lord’s Table. Do we find that boring? If we do little more needs to be said. To the people of Israel, to whom every one of their feasts had a meaning and a significance, they spoke with a loud voice (and they blew their trumpets at them - Numbers 10:10). And the depth of offerings now required spoke even louder of a renewed and deeper dedication and a glorious future of prosperity and blessing.

We should note that these offerings described here were not the personal offerings described elsewhere (e.g. Leviticus 1-7). They were very much a part of the continual activity of the priests on behalf of the people. They were the backbone of the nations offerings. Apart from in Numbers 30 dealing with oaths (where they are assumed rather than mentioned) there is no thought here of the myriad of personal offerings that would be offered to Yahweh. Those have been dealt with in detail in Numbers 15 and in Leviticus 1-7. Here concentration is on the nation as a whole making their regular offerings through their representatives. This permanent determination to be dedicated to Yahweh as expressed in these chapters was equally as important to their moving forward as the numbering on the mobilisation of the army and the Levites in chapter 26. Without it the invasion could not take place.

These offerings are now dealt with as follows:

a The regular offerings; continual daily offerings and sabbath and new moon offerings (Numbers 28:1-15).

b Passover and the Seven Day Feast of Unleavened bread (Numbers 28:16-25).

c The One Day Feast of the Firstfruits (Numbers 28:26-31).

d The One Day Feast of the blowing of trumpets (Numbers 29:1-6).

c The One Day Feast of the Day of Atonement (Numbers 29:7-11).

b The Seven Day Feast of the Harvest Moon - Tabernacles and the final Solemn Sabbath (Numbers 29:12-40).

a The continual making and confirmation of vows (with their accompanying peace/wellbeing offerings - see Numbers 29:39) (30).

That the making of vows is a part of this overall pattern is confirmed by Numbers 29:39. The continual making of oaths was as much a sign of Israel’s ongoing dedication as the continual daily offering (compare the Nazirite vows in Numbers 6:1-21). It is probable overall that we are to see Numbers 28:1-2 a and Numbers 29:39-40 as a kind of ‘envelope’ containing the individual chiasma or sequences that follow. Thus while the making of oaths is a part of this series of dedicatory activity, it lies outside the envelope as a distinctive feature.

We should note in this respect how Deuteronomy 12:10-11 closely links offerings with vows. They went closely together in the Israelite mind.


Verse 1-2

The Continual Making and Confirmation of Vows (with their peace/wellbeing offerings). But While Dedication Was Good and Was Required, It Also Had To Be Controlled (Numbers 30:1-16).

Vows were an essential part of ancient life. By them men demonstrated their dedication to their gods, and it was no different for Israel. So such vows were a further evidence of Israel’s dedication. That is one reason why the general question of vows was introduced here, when the total dedication of Israel into the future was in mind. Furthermore a large number of vows would be accompanied by votary peace offerings both at their commencement and at their end. A number of people would partake of that offering in recognition and celebration of the vow and its final accomplishment. Thus they were a sacred matter.

This chapter must not be read as though it was simply describing a way for women to get out of their vows. Its emphasis is positive. Both men and women could make vows in order to demonstrate that they were dedicated to Yahweh. The exceptions were introduced simply in order to prevent a group being bound by one member who was not the head without its consent.

The main principle was easily dealt with. Solemn vows made to Yahweh were to be seen as a serious matter. They were binding. Once made they had to be performed. Only in this way could Israel be pleasing to Yahweh and worthy to enter the land (Numbers 30:1-2). (Where they turned out to be too onerous a way was provided of redemption from some vows which were connected with property, but it was costly - see Leviticus 27).

But a problem then arose because of the popularity of vows among Yahweh’s people which were made either in order to demonstrate their love for Him, or in a time of crisis when special help was needed. The result was that people such as young women made vows who were not really in a position to do so, concerning matters over which they did not really have control, especially under the stress of war. In that case the vows could either be confirmed or rescinded by the head of the household at the time when he first heard of them.

In this chapter this situation was especially dealt with as regards women. The point was, however, not that all such vows would be rescinded, but that the final decision must rest with the head of the household which was affected by the vow. For he was responsible for both the wealth and behaviour of the household.

But why here the emphasis on women? If our analysis of chapters 26-32 given at the commencement of Numbers 26 is correct then it contained the sequence

d Regulation in respect of land to be inherited by women and others (Numbers 27:1-11).

e Provision of a dedicated shepherd for the people of Israel (Numbers 27:12-23).

e Provision of a dedicated people and for future worship in the land (Numbers 28-29).

d Regulation in respect of vows made by women and others (Numbers 30)

Comparison of the first with the last partly explains why women are specially in mind in this passage. We have here a contrast between on the one hand the loyalty and faith of the daughters of Zelophehad which were exalted and rewarded by Yahweh, with, and, on the other hand, the general situation of young women and married women who were not to usurp authority over their menfolk. Their vows therefore, which were also an expression of loyalty and faith, had to be subject to their menfolk. The decision with regard to the daughters of Zelophehad was not to be seen as a general declaration of independence. (Under the hard conditions under which they lived such a declaration would have been foolish in the extreme).

This passage may be seen as following the pattern earlier established whereby sequences can be introduced into an overall chiasmus (compare Numbers 22:15-38; Numbers 23:1 to Numbers 24:12; Numbers 28:1 to Numbers 29:40), although it can actually also be seen as a chiasmus. It may be analysed as follows:

a Moses speaks to the heads of the tribes of the children of Israel issuing Yahweh’s command concerning vows (Numbers 30:1)

b A man’s vow to be unbreakable and to be performed (Numbers 30:1-2).

c A young unmarried woman’s vow has to be ratified by her father, but if he says nothing when he hears of the vow it stands. If he disavows it the vow does not stand, and Yahweh will forgive her because her father disallowed it (Numbers 30:3-5).

d A woman’s vows made prior to marriage have to be ratified by her husband on marriage, but if he says nothing when he hears of the vow it stands. If he disavows it the vow does not stand, and Yahweh will forgive her because her husband disallowed it (Numbers 30:6-8).

or d The vow of a widow or a divorced woman stands (Numbers 30:9) (as with a man).

c A married woman’s vows after marriage have to be ratified by her husband on marriage, but if he says nothing when he hears of the vow it stands. If he disavows it the vow does not stand, and Yahweh will forgive her because her husband disallowed it (Numbers 30:10-12).

or b A husband may make any vow made by his wife void as longs as he does it immediately on hearing of it. But if he says nothing it stands. If he then disavows it he bears her iniquity. The mention of the penalty suggests that this means that the husband had delayed his disavowal (Numbers 30:13-15).

a These are the statutes which Yahweh commanded Moses (concerning disallowing or maintenance of vows) between a man and his wife, and a father and his unmarried daughter (Numbers 30:16).

A Man’s Vows Are Unbreakable (Numbers 30:1-2).

A man’s vows were an expression of dedication to Yahweh. To break them would therefore be to withdraw his dedication.

Numbers 30:1

‘And Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes of the children of Israel, saying, This is the thing which Yahweh has commanded.’

What is here spoken was to the heads of the tribes who would be responsible for the administration of the consequences of vows. It was necessary that they made clear to the people the seriousness of vows and the situation in which they could be rescinded. For in the end a vow was not just a personal matter. It reflected on the whole of the tribe. Note the emphasis on the fact that this was a command of Yahweh. Vows to God were not to be treated lightly.

Numbers 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.’

The general principle is clear. When a responsible adult male vows a vow or swears an oath they are to be seen as absolutely binding. Such a person must not break his word. He must do in accordance with the words that he has spoken (compare Deuteronomy 23:21-23; Ecclesiastes 5:4-5; Psalms 15:4; Psalms 66:13-14). It is an act of dedication that is irreversible, although in the case of some vows to do with property redemption was possible (Leviticus 27).

A vow could either be (1) with a view to general performance in the light of God’s favour (e.g. Genesis 28:20-22), (2) with a view to abstaining from something (e.g. Psalms 132:2-5; 1 Samuel 14:24), (3) with a view to performing an act in return for God’s favour (21:2-3; Judges 11:30-31; 1 Samuel 1:11), or (4) as an expression of zeal and devotion towards God (Psalms 22:22-25).

Two different words are used in connection with vows, neder and ’issar, the former generally, but not always having a positive vow to do something in mind, (it was used of the Nazirite vow which is both positive and negative), while the latter seems more to denote a vow of abstinence.

Vows Are Unbreakable If Confirmed By The Head of the Household But Can Be Rescinded by Him Immediately On Hearing Of Them, Although If He Does This Iniquitously He Must Bear The Consequences.

These are not to be seen as simply special exceptions enabling the avoidance of vows, but as a positive declaration that a vow must be confirmed by the head of the household in order to be finally binding. Thus a vow could not be finalised which bound or affected others unless agreed to by the head of the particular group, but the emphasis is on the probable confirmation of the vows. It should be noted that the whole tenor of the passage is positive. The expectation is that the vows would be confirmed if they were reasonable and acceptable to the head of the group.


Verses 3-5

(i) A young unmarried woman living in her father’s house (Numbers 30:3-5).

Numbers 30:3-4

‘Also when a woman vows a vow to Yahweh, and binds herself by a bond, being in her father’s house, in her youth, and her father hears her vow, and her bond with which she has bound herself, and her father holds his peace at her; then all her vows shall stand, and every bond with which she has bound herself shall stand.’

The first example was of a young woman still unmarried and living at home under her father’s jurisdiction. Note that she was ‘in her youth’. She was in expectancy of marriage. Normally such a young woman would be in her early teens, or younger. When she vowed a vow it was subject to the agreement of her father. If when he first heard of it he said nothing then he was seen as approving of the vow and the vow became firm and could not afterwards be rescinded. By his silence he was seen as having given his approval. The vow stood and any bond had to be fulfilled. Note that the positive aspect comes first. Making vows of dedication was still in mind as something positive and meaningful.

Numbers 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 herself, shall stand: and Yahweh will forgive her, because her father disallowed her.’

However, if her father immediately rescinded her vows on the day that he heard of them then none of her vows would officially stand. She would not be bound to them by God or man. And Yahweh would forgive her because it was her father’s decision. She could, of course, still act in accordance with them, but the point is that neither God nor man would hold her bound to them.

This must not be assumed to be an easy get out. The father would be seen as responsible to honour vows that were made which were positive and sensible. He would not be expected to hinder his daughter’s dedication to Yahweh. But the point is that the vows may have been the rash act of a young teenager, or may have affected things outside her own life. Thus the father was put in a position to decide whether they should have been made, and to confirm or deny them accordingly


Verses 6-8

(ii) A young unmarried woman who makes a vow and then marries a husband (Numbers 30:6-8)

Numbers 30:6-7

‘And if she be betrothed/married to a husband, while her vows are on her, or the rash utterance of her lips, with which she has bound herself, and her husband hear 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 herself shall stand.’

The second example is of a young woman who made a vow or vows and then either became betrothed or married. She had now come under the authority of her husband. Thus he had the right to decide whether to confirm her vows. She could not bring binding vows into the marriage without his agreement. Note the mention of ‘the rash utterance of her lips’. It was a recognition that a young teenage girl could make rather foolish vows. But the overall point was that if her husband came to know of her vows and by silence gave his consent to them, then they became firm and binding. Once again the positive aspect is in mind.

Numbers 30:8

‘But if her husband disallow 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 herself, and Yahweh will forgive her.’

However once again there was a means of withdrawal. If her husband disallowed her vows on the day that he learned of them then no one would be bound by them,, and Yahweh would forgive the woman because it was not a sign of her change in dedication. Once again the husband would be seen as having a responsibility before Yahweh.


Verse 9

(iii) A vow made by a widow or a divorced woman (Numbers 30:9).

Numbers 30:9

‘But the vow of a widow, or of her who is divorced, even everything with which she has bound her soul, shall stand against her.’

The vow made by a widow or a divorced woman was seen as being as binding as an adult male’s. She was not under the authority of father or husband and her vow was thus seen as irrevocable. Even a divorced woman who returned to her father’s household was thus still seen as having her own measure of independence. Even here, however, she could presumably only vow in a binding way concerning her own position and wealth.

This example is especially of interest in regard to the question of women’s ‘equality’. It was not that women were not seen as equal with men. That fact is confirmed here. It was that there had always to be a head of a group, and that that head was to be seen as having overall responsibility.


Verses 10-12

(iv) A vow made by a married woman without her husband’s knowledge (Numbers 30:10-12).

Numbers 30:10-11

‘And if she (a woman) 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 with which she bound herself shall stand.’

This case was of a married woman who made a vow without consulting her husband as the head of the household. Such a vow was always to be seen as subject to the husband’s agreement, for her fulfilling of the vow would necessarily affect the whole household. If he heard of it and allowed it by his silence then the vow continued as binding on all. She was bound by her dedicatory vow.

Numbers 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.’

But if her husband disallowed the vow or vows on the day that he heard of it/them, then they ceased to be binding. Whatever she had spoken was cancelled. Her husband had made them void and Yahweh would forgive her.


Verses 13-16

A Summary (Numbers 30:13-16).

Numbers 30:13-14

‘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 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.’

The whole position with regard to husband and wife was now summarised. On the day that he heard of his wife’s vow, whether it was to perform something positive, or abstain from doing something, or to afflict herself in some way, he could make it void. But if from day to day he said nothing once he had heard of it, then it became binding. All such vows would be established. All such bonds would be binding. By holding his peace and saying nothing on the day that he heard of them he has firmly established them.

Numbers 30:15

‘But if he shall make them null and void after that he has heard them, then he shall bear her iniquity.’

This principle has been seen in two ways. Some see this as representing a case where the husband having said nothing on the day that he heard of the vow, decided later to rescind it. Had he rescinded it immediately there would have been no iniquity. But because he has rescinded it late he must pay any penalty required for failure to fulfil the vow. This rested on him as the head of the household because he had originally confirmed the vow by his silence.

But it seems more probable that this is simply a reminder that the husband must not rescind any vows made by his wife lightly. While the woman would be forgiven because it was at her husband’s demand that the vow was rescinded, he himself was still to be held as accountable. He must bear the result of his decision. If his decision was wise and reasonable there would be no cost. If it was not then he was accountable to Yahweh. The responsibility had come on him.

Numbers 30:16

‘These are the statutes, which Yahweh commanded Moses, between a man and his wife, between a father and his daughter, being in her youth, in her father’s house.’

The chapter finishes with a summary of what the chapter was about. It may suggest that this chapter once stood alone as a written record with this as the colophon. But note that it does not mention vows (although it may have been filed under ‘vows’). The principle behind this chapter was of overall authority in a household and not just a matter of vows. It covers the situation between a man and his wife, and a father and his young unmarried daughters with regard to overall authority.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Numbers 30:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/numbers-30.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 14th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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