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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary
Numbers 30

 

 

Verses 1-16

CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES

In this chapter we have regulations as to the force and obligatoriness of vows, with certain cases specified in which they ceased to be binding. Rules for the estimation of things vowed to the Lord had already been laid down in Leviticus 27. The present chapter appropriately follows the laws regulating the sacrifices, inasmuch as vows frequently related to the offering of sacrifices.

Num . Unto the heads of the tribes, because the questions which are here dealt with would be brought before them for settlement.

Num . A vow. Heb., neder, "a positive vow, or promise to give any part of one's property to the Lord."—Keil and Del.

A bond. Heb., issar, "the negative vow, or vow of abstinence."—Ibid.

"A vow involved an obligation to do: a bond, an obligation to forbear doing."—Speaker's Comm.

He shall not break his word. Margin: "profane," i.e., by not fulfilling, or by violating it.

Four cases are specially prescribed for:

(1) that of a youthful maiden in her father's house (Num );

(2) that of a woman betrothed, but not married (Num );

(3) that of a widow, or divorced woman (Num );

(4) that of a married woman in her husband's house (Num ).

Num . And if she had at all an husband, &c. "Rather, ‘And if she shall at all be an husband's, and her vows shall be upon her, or a rash utterance of her lips, wherewith she hath bound her soul.' The ‘at all' intimates that the case of a girl betrothed, but not yet actually married, is here contemplated."—Speaker's Comm.

Uttered ought, &c. "Lit., ‘the rash utterance of her lips.'"—Ibid. "Gossip of her lips, that which is uttered thoughtlessly or without reflection."—Keil and Del.

Num . He shall bear her iniquity; i.e., "the sin which the wife would have had to bear if she had broken the vow of her own accord."—Ibid.

THE SOLEMN OBLIGATION OF RELIGIOUS VOWE

(Num )

Notice—

I. The case supposed.

"If a man vow a vow unto the Lord, Or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond."

1. The vow is made unto God. He is the only true and proper object of religious vows. There is not a trace in the Bible of vows being made to saints or angels.

2. The vow binds the soul. "Swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond." "A promise to man is a bond upon the estate, but a promise to God is a bond upon the soul."

3. The vow is voluntarily made. "Vows were not of Divine appointment, but originated with men themselves." Spontaneity was of the essence of a vow. The obligations were always voluntarily self-imposed. This is clearly expressed in regard to the offering of Ananias (Act ). (a)

4. The thing vowed must be lawful. No one can rightly bind himself to do an unrighteous thing. Generally vows were solemn promises to consecrate something to God, or to do something in His service and to His honour. But "votive offerings arising from the produce of any impure traffic, were wholly forbidden" (Deu ). The offering must be pure; the service must be righteous and good.

II. The danger implied.

"He shall not break His word," &c. This implies temptation to break the word, or peril of failure in fulfilling the vow. There is in human nature a deep-rooted and deplorable tendency to forget in health the vows which were made in sickness, and to ignore in our security and peace the vows we made in our danger and alarm. (b)

III. The command given.

1. That he shall perform his vow. "He shall not break his word."

2. That he shall fully perform his vow. "He shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth." (c)

Conclusion.

Appeal to those who have unfulfilled vows resting upon them.

1. Baptismal vows, in the case of some of you, are unfulfilled. (d)

2. Vows made in affliction or danger by some of you have not been paid.

"When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it," &c. (Ecc ). Humbly and earnestly resolve, "I will pay my vows unto the Lord now." Resolve and do.

ILLUSTRATIONS

(a) A vow is a promise made to God, in the things of God. The obligation of it is, by casuists, deemed to be as great as that of an oath. It is a sacred and solemn bond, wherever a soul binds itself to God in lawful things; and being once bound by it, it is a most heinous evil to violate it. "It is a high piece of dishonesty to fail in what we have promised to men," saith Dr. Hall; "but to disappoint God in our vows is no less than sacrilege. The act is free and voluntary; but if once a just and lawful vow or promise hath passed your lips, you may not be false to God in keeping it." It is with us as to our vows, as it was with Ananias and Sapphira as to their substance: "Whilst it remained," saith Peter, "was it not thine own?" He needed not to sell and give it; but if he will give, he may not reserve: it is death to save only a part; he lies to the Holy Ghost that defalcates from that which he engaged himself to bestow. If thou hast vowed to the mighty God of Jacob, look to it that thou be faithful in thy performance, for He is a great and jealous God, and will not be mocked.—J. Flavel.

This topic is illustrated on pp. 92, 93.

(b) In English we say, "The river past, and God forgotten," to express with how mournful a frequency He whose assistance was invoked, it may have been earnestly, in the moment of peril, is remembered no more as soon as by His help the danger has been surmounted. The Spaniards have the proverb too, but it is with them: "The river past, the saint forgotten," the saints being in Spain more prominent objects of invocation than God. And the Italian form of it sounds a still sadder depth of ingratitude: "The peril passed, the saint mocked."—R. C. Trench, D. D.

Praise should always follow answered prayer. It was thus with one man. He was very ill; a great strong man in his day: yet disease touched him, shrivelled him up, laid him upon a lowly bed, made him pray to the humblest creature in his house for favours hour after hour. As he lay there in his lowliness and weakness, he said, "If God would raise me up I would be a new man, I would be a devout worshipper in the sanctuary, I would live to His glory." And God gathered him up again; did not break the bruised reed, did not quench the smoking flax, but permitted the man to regain his faculties. And he was not well one month till he became as worldly as he was before his affliction. He prayed as if his heart loved God; and when he got his health back again he was a practical atheist—he was virtually the basest of blasphemers.—Joseph Parker. D.D.

For another illustration on this point, see p. 186 (b).

(c) I know of two men who started business with this vow: "We shall give to God one tenth of all our profits." The first year the profits were considerable. The next year there was increase in the profits, and of course increase in the tithe; in a few years the profits became very large indeed, so that the partners said to one another, "Is not a tenth of this rather too much to give away? suppose we say now we shall give a twentieth?" And they gave a twentieth,—and the next year the profits had fallen down; the year after that they fell down again, and the men said to one another, as Christians should say in such a case, "Have not we broken our vow? Have not we robbed God?" And in no spirit of selfish calculation, but with humility of soul, self-reproach, and bitter contrition, they went back to God and told Him how the matter stood, prayed His forgiveness, renewed their vow, and God opened the windows of heaven and came back to them and all the old prosperity.—Ibid.

(d) The children of pious parents, who in their infancy were dedicated to God in holy baptism, lie under the solemn vows which were assumed in their behalf. Though your parents had authority to promise for you, it is you that must perform it, for it is you that they obliged. If you think they did you wrong, you may be out of the covenant when you will, if you will renounce the kingdom of heaven. But it is much wiser to be thankful to God, that your parents were the means of so great a blessing to you; and to do that again more expressly by yourselves, which they did for you; and openly with thankfulness, to own the covenant in which you are engaged, and live in the performance and in the comforts of it all your days.—Richard Baxter.

THE VOWS OF WOMEN,—THEIR RATIFICATION AND ABROGATION:

(Num )

These verses suggest the following observations—

I. That religious vows are sometimes rashly made.

They are sometimes "the rash utterance of the lips" (Num ). Considering their solemn nature and binding force, they ought never to be made without serious consideration.

II. That religious vows made by females under the authority of a father or a husband, and disallowed by them, cease to be binding.

Three examples are given of the abrogation of the vows of women.

(1) A father may annul a vow made by his youthful daughter dwelling with him (Num ).

(2) A man betrothed to a maiden, but not married to her, may annul a vow made by her after her betrothal to him (Num ).

(3) A married man may annul a vow made by his wife (Num ). But in order to annul these vows the father or the husband, as the case may be, must forbid their fulfilment, and that at once. If he kept silence concerning the vow, by so doing he ratified it (Num 30:4; Num 30:7; Num 30:11). And the prohibition of the vow, if it was to be of any force, must be promptly uttered. "If her father disallow her in the day that he heareth," &c. (Num 30:5, and Num 30:7-8; Num 30:12). These regulations were wise and equitable; for the daughter or wife might make a vow which would be "prejudicial to the affairs of the family, perplex the provision made for the table if the vow related to meats, or lessen the provision made for his children if the vow would be more expensive than his estate would bear," or otherwise seriously interfere with the measures of the father and husband.

III. That vows made by females under such authority and not disallowed, and vows made by females not under such authority, are binding.

If the father did not without delay protest against his young daughter's vow (Num ), or the intending husband against the vow of his betrothed (Num 30:6-7), or the husband against the vow of his wife (Num 30:10-11), such vow remained in full force. And the vows made by widows or divorced wives were as binding as those made by a man (Num 30:9). Not being dependent upon a husband or father, such a woman was at liberty to make vows, and having made a vow was bound to fulfil it.

IV. That if a husband improperly annul a vow made by his wife, the guilt of its non-fulfilment will rest upon him.

"But if her husband altogether hold his peace at her from day to day," &c. (Num ). In this case the guilt of the unpaid vow would rest upon the husband; and he must either present a trespass offering for the expiation of his sin (Lev 5:4-13), or he must bear the punishment due to the sin.

The regulations we have been considering authorise the following inferences—

i. The solemnity of religious vows. They relate to the soul and to God. They ought not to be lightly made; and when made, they should be performed with scrupulous fidelity.

ii. The importance and sacredness of parental authority. Even a vow made by a maiden to God must be set aside if her father object to it. The Scriptures clearly and repeatedly affirm the authority of parents (Exo ; Eph 6:1-3). And it is confirmed by the example of our Lord (Luk 2:51). This authority involves a double obligation—

1. Parental obligation—to consider and to promote the welfare of their children, &c. (Gen ; Deu 6:7; Pro 22:6; Eph 6:4). (a)

2. Filial obligation.

(1) To revere their parents (Exo ; Mal 1:6; Eph 6:2-3). (b)

(2) To obey their parents. We see from this chapter that "obedience to a father stood higher than a self-imposed religious service." "Children, obey your parents in the Lord; for this is right." (c)

(3) To be grateful to their parents. The ceaseless solicitude and tender care and quenchless love of parents for their children should evoke from them deep and thankful affection (Joh ; 1Ti 5:4). (d)

iii. The importance and sacredness of marital authority. The authority of the husband over the wife, as laid down in this chapter, and in other portions of the scriptures, is very great (1Co ; 1Co 11:7-9; Eph 5:22-24; 1Ti 2:12-14; 1Pe 3:1-6).

Let the husband "love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband." (e)

ILLUSTRATIONS

(a) When children are born to you, the most solemn book is opened, so far as you are concerned, that ever is opened, except that which relates to your own soul's fate. The account that begins to be incurred when parents rejoice because a child is born to them, is the most solemn account that ever is incurred aside from one's own individual duty towards God. I do not mean that all the misconduct and evil doings of the child are to come back upon the parent, and that there is to be in the child no free will, so that no individual account can belong to him. For if a parent has cleansed his skirts of his children, the guilt of their sins will rest on their heads, and not on his. But unless the parent can show that the child's misconduct and wreck of eternity are not attributable to any fault of his, the weight of the child's condemnation will be divided—no, it will not be divided, it will rest undivided on the child's head, and undivided on the parent's head. It is a responsibility assumed by every parent, to look after the welfare, temporal and eternal, of his child. If God had sent to him an angel, with a scroll of heavenly writ, saying, "I send to school to you my well-beloved child; take it, teach it, and bring it back to heaven; and let its education be the test of your fidelity"—if God had sent to the parent such a missive, his responsibility would not be greater or more real than that which is laid upon us when we undertake to bring up children, They are not simply playthings, although they do make playthings. They are not mere little pleasure-bells, although no bells ever ring so sweetly. They are not instruments of music, and pictures, and flowers of dear delight in our household, that we may enjoy them, and that they may enjoy themselves. They are not frolicsome kittens and singing birds for our pleasure and their own. They are God's immortals. They are sent forth to make an earthly pilgrimage, and you are their schoolmasters and pilots. It is a solemn thing to have such a charge put into your hands.—H. W. Beecher.

For additional illustrations on Parental duties and responsibilities, see pp. 33, 46, 47.

(b) There are some children who are almost ashamed to own their parents because they are poor or in a low station of life. We will therefore give an example of the contrary, as displayed by the Dean of Canterbury, afterwards Archbishop Tillotson. His father, who was a plain Yorkshireman, perhaps something like those we now call "Friends," approached the house where his son resided, and enquired whether "John Tillotson was at home." The servant, indignant at what he thought his insolence, drove him from the door; but the Dean, who was within, hearing the voice of his father, instead of embracing the opportunity afforded him of going out and bringing in his father in a more private manner, came running out, exclaiming in the presence of his astonished servants, "It is my beloved father!" and falling down on his knees, asked for his blessing.—Dict. of Illust.

(c) During Havelock's stay in England, a gentleman went one evening to the house of the colonel, in compliance with an invitation. In the course of conversation, Mrs. Havelock turned suddenly round to her husband, and said, "My dear, where is Harry?" referring to her son, whom she had not seen during the whole afternoon. The colonel started to his fert. "Well, poor fellow! he's standing on London Bridge, and in this cold too! I told him to wait for me there at twelve o'clock to day; and, in the pressure of business, I quite forgot the appointment." It was now about seven o'clock in the evening. The colonel ordered a cab to be called; and, as he went forth to deliver his son from his watch on London Bridge, he turned to excuse himself from his visitor, saying, "You see, sir, that is the discipline of a soldier's family." In the course of an hour, he returned with poor Harry, who seemed to have passed through the afternoon's experience with the greatest good humour.—Ibid.

(d) An old schoolmaster said one day to a clergyman who came to examine his school, "I believe the children know the catechism word for word." "But do they understand it? that is the question," said the clergyman. The schoolmaster only bowed respectfully, and the examination began. A little boy had repeated the fifth commandment, "Honour thy father and thy mother;" and he was desired to explain it. Instead of trying to do so, the little fellow with his face covered with blushes, said, almost in a whisper, "Yesterday, sir, I showed some strange gentlemen over the mountain. The sharp stones cut my feet; and the gentlemen saw them bleeding, and they gave me some money to buy me shoes. I gave it to my mother, for she had no shoes either; and I thought I could go barefoot better than she." The clergyman then looked very much pleased; and the old schoolmaster only quietly remarked, "God gives us His grace and His blessing."—Christian Treasury.

(e) Sometimes we have seen a model marriage, founded in pure love and cemented in mutual esteem. Therein the husband acts as a tender head, and the wife, as a true spouse, realises the model marriage relation. She delights in her husband, in his person, his character, his affection: to her he is not only the chief and foremost of mankind, but in her eyes he is all in all, her heart's love belongs to him and to him only. She finds sweetest content and solace in his company, his fellowship, his fondness; he is her little world, her paradise, her choice treasure. To please him she would gladly lay aside her own pleasure to find it doubled in gratifying him. She is glad to sink her individuality in his. She seeks no name for herself, his honour is reflected upon her, and she rejoices in it. She would defend his name with her dying breath; safe enough is he where she can speak for him. The domestic circle is her kingdom; that she may there create happiness and comfort is her life-work, and his smiling gratitude is all the reward she seeks. Even in her dress she thinks of him, without constraint she consults his taste, and thinks nothing beautiful that is obnoxious to his eye. A tear from his eye because of any unkindness on her part, would grievously torment her. She asks not how her behaviour may please a stranger, or how another's judgment may be satisfied with her behaviour; let her beloved be content and she is glad. He has many objects in life, some of which she does not quite understand, but she believes in them all, and anything that she can do to promote them she delights to perform. He lavishes love on her, and she on him. Their object in life is common. There are points where their affections so intimately unite that none could tell which is first and which is second. To see their children growing up in health and strength, to see them holding posts of usefulness and honour, is their mutual concern; in this and other matters they are fully one. Their wishes blend, their hearts are indivisible. By degrees they come very much to think the same thoughts. Intimate association creates uniformity; we have known this to become so complete that at the same moment the same utterance has leaped to both their lips. Happy woman and happy man! If heaven be found on earth, they have it! At last the two are so welded, so engrafted on one stem, that their old age presents a lovely attachment, a common sympathy, by which its infirmities are greatly alleviated, and its burdens are transformed into fresh bonds of love. So happy a union of will, sentiment, thought, and heart exists between them, that the two streams of their life have washed away the dividing bank, and run on as one broad current of united existence till their common joy falls into the main ocean of felicity.—C. H. Spurgeon.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Numbers 30:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/phc/numbers-30.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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