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Bible Dictionaries

Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words

Vow

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A. Verb.

Nâdar (נָדַר, Strong's #5087), “to vow.” This verb occurs in Semitic languages (Ugaritic, Phoenician, and Aramaic). In Phoenician-Punic inscriptions the verb and also the noun derived from it frequently denote human sacrifices and in a more general sense signify a gift. In the Old Testament nâdar occurs 31 times.

The distribution of the verb is over the entire Old Testament (narrative, legal, poetic, but more rarely in the prophetic books). Beyond the Old Testament the verb occurs in the Dead Sea Scrolls, rabbinic Hebrew, medieval and modern Hebrew. However, its usage declined from post-Exilic times onward.

Both men and women could “vow” a vow. Numbers 30 deals with the law concerning vows; cf. Num. 30:2: “If a man vow a vow unto the Lord, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond …”; and Num. 30:3: “If a woman also vow a vow unto the Lord, and bind herself by a bond.…”

The Septuagint has euchomai (“to wish”).

B. Noun.

Neder (נֶדֶר, Strong's #5088), “vow; votive offering.” This noun occurs 60 times in biblical Hebrew and is often used in conjunction with the verb (19 times): “… Any of thy vows which thou vowest …” (Deut. 12:17). Modern versions compress the noun and verb into one idiom: “Or whatever you have vowed to give” (NIV), or give a technical usage to the noun: “Or any of your votive offerings which you vow” (RSV).

The vow has two basic forms, the unconditional and the conditional. The unconditional is an “oath” where someone binds himself without expecting anything in return: “I will pay my vows unto the Lord now in the presence of all his people” (Ps. 116:14). The obligation is binding upon the person who has made a “vow.” The word spoken has the force of an oath which generally could not be broken: “If a man vow a vow unto the Lord, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do [everything he said] " (Num. 30:2). The conditional “vow” generally had a preceding clause before the oath giving the conditions which had to come to pass before the “vow” became valid: “And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will [watch over me] … , so that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God … and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee” (Gen. 28:20-22).

“Vows” usually occurred in serious situations. Jacob needed the assurance of God’s presence before setting out for Padan-aram (Gen. 28:20-22); Jephthah made a rash “vow” before battle (Judg. 11:30; cf. Num. 21:1-3); Hannah greatly desired a child (1 Sam. 1:11), when she made a “vow.” Though conditional “vows” were often made out of desperation, there is no question of the binding force of the “vow.” Ecclesiastes amplifies the Old Testament teaching on “vowing”: “When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it.… Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.… Neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error” (5:4-6). First, “vow” is always made to God. Even non-lsraelites made “vows” to Him (Jonah 1:16). Second, a “vow” is made voluntarily. It is never associated with a life of piety or given the status of religious requirement in the Old Testament. Third, a “vow” once made must be kept. One cannot annul the “vow.” However, the Old Testament allows for “redeeming” the “vow”; by payment of an equal amount in silver, a person, a field, or a house dedicated by “vow” to the Lord could be redeemed (Lev. 27:1-25).

This practice, however, declined in Jesus’ time, and therefore the Talmud frowns upon the practice of “vowing” and refers to those who vow as “sinners.”

Neder signifies a kind of offering: “And thither ye shall bring your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, and your tithes, and [contributions] of your hand, and your vows, and your freewill offerings …” (Deut. 12:6). In particular the word represents a kind of peace or “votive offering” (Ezra 7:16). It also is a kind of thank offering: “Behold upon the mountains the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace! … Perform thy vows …” (Nah. 1:15). Here even Gentiles expressed their thanks to God presumably with a gift promised upon condition of deliverance (cf. Num. 21:1-3). Such offerings may also be expressions of zeal for God (Ps. 22:25). One can give to God anything not abominable to Him (Lev. 27:9ff.; Deut. 23:18), including one’s services (Lev. 27:2). Pagans were thought to feed and/or tend their gods, while God denied that “vows” paid to Him were to be so conceived (Ps. 50:9-13). In paganism the god rewarded the devotee because of and in proportion to his offering. It was a contractual relationship whereby the god was obligated to pay a debt thus incurred. In Israel no such contractual relationship was in view.

The Israelites’ unique and concrete demonstrations of love for God show that under Moses love (Deut. 6:4) was more than pure legalism; it was spiritual devotion. God’s Messiah was pledged to offer Himself as a sacrifice for sin (Ps. 22:25; cf. Lev. 27:2ff.). This was the only sacrifice absolutely and unconditionally acceptable to God. Every man is obliged to pay the “vow” before God: “Praise waiteth for thee, O God in Zion: and unto thee shall the vow be performed.… Unto thee shall all flesh come” (Ps. 65:1-2).

The Septuagint has euche (“prayer; oath; vow”).

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Bibliography Information
Vines, W. E., M. A. Entry for 'Vow'. Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/vot/v/vow.html. 1940.

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