Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures
And Moses spake unto the heads of the tribes concerning the children of Israel, saying, This is the thing which the LORD hath commanded.SEVENTH SECTION
The regulation of the Israelitish family in Canaan, represented in the law concerning female vows
1AND Moses spake unto the heads of the tribes concerning the children of Israel, saying, This is the thing which the LORD hath commanded. 2If a man vow a vow unto the LORD, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not 1break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth. 3If a woman also vow a vow unto the LORD, and bind herself by a bond, being in her father’s house in her youth; 4And her father hear her vow, and her bond wherewith she hath bound her soul, and her father shall hold his peace at her; then all her vows shall stand, and every bond wherewith she hath bound her soul shall stand. 5But if her father disallow her in the day that he heareth, not any of her vows, or of her bonds wherewith she hath bound her soul, shall stand; and the LORD shall forgive her, because her father disallowed her. 6And if she had at all a husband, when she 2vowed, or uttered aught out of her lips, wherewith she bound her soul; 7And her husband heard it, and held his peace at her in the day that he heard it: then her vows shall stand, and her bonds wherewith she bound her soul shall stand. 8But if her husband disallowed her on the day that he heard it, then he shall make her vow which she vowed, and that which she uttered with her lips, wherewith she bound her soul, of none effect: and the LORD shall forgive her. 9But every vow of a widow, and of her that is divorced, wherewith they have bound their souls, shall stand against her. 10And if she vowed in her husband’s house, or bound her soul by a bond with an oath; 11And 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. 12But if her husband hath utterly made them void on the day 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 the LORD shall forgive her. 13Every vow, and every binding oath to afflict the soul, her husband may establish it, or her husband may make it void. 14But 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 confirmeth them, because he held his peace at her in the day that he heard them. 15But if he shall any ways make them void after that he hath heard them; then he 16shall bear her iniquity. These are the statutes, which the LORD commanded Moses, between a man and his wife, between the father and his daughter, being yet in her youth in her father’s honse.
TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL
[Num 30:2. יַחֵל Hiph. from חָלָל, and seems to imply the desecration of the subject itself, not the mere treating it in a profane way. The broken word is desecrated.—A. G.].
[Num 30:3. נֶדֶר the positive vow; אִסּר the bond, the negative vow. The binding of the will through a vow or oath.—A. G.]
[Num 30:6. מִבְטָא from the root to babble—the rash, thoughtless, unadvisable utterance—like our word babbler—A.G.].
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
This section might be regarded merely as a completion of the regulations concerning vows (Lev. 27; Num. 6) if, aside from the repeated utterances as to the sacredness of vows, we had not here to deal solely with the vows of women, modified by their dependent condition, and if in the provisions for the regulation of their vows, we did not find the fundamental features of the Jewish household coming distinctly into view. KEIL [also BIB. COM. BAUMGARTEN traces it back to the regulations over female inheritance of the land.—A. G.] finds the connecting link between this chapter and the preceding in the offering, since the vows would mainly relate to offerings. We think, however, that we may assume that the prospect of the rich blessing, the abundance which should fall to the people of Israel in Canaan forms the connecting link. In the wilderness they could make no great offerings, at least the women could not; in Canaan, on the contrary, rich offerings could and should be brought, and how like woman’s nature it is, in the enjoyment of plenty, to make arbitrary and lavish offerings. The lineaments of the Israelitish domestic arrangements appear in the following distinctions.
1. The head of the household, the father or husband, decides upon the validity of the vows of the female members of the household, because they are dependent upon him. On account of this dependence they have no absolute or unconditioned right of vows, or surrender. They are particularly, with reference to religious obligations, consecrations and self-engagements dependent upon the head of the house. If he utters his veto, the woman is released from her vow, God counts her free. It is only an emasculated modern liberalism which would reverse this divinely appointed order of nature, and constitute woman the mistress, give her control of the household in things of religion.
2. But the master of the house has no unlimited right of veto. It is only in those cases in which, immediately after he had heard of the vow, he declared it invalid, that the obligation was removed. If for any time, either longer or shorter, he had kept silence, he could not invalidate the vow by a later interference. He thus indeed involves himself in the obligation, and must expiate for the non-fulfilment of the vow, as for his own trangression, with a sin-offering, or incur the judicial penalty. The reason is obvious; he has thus suffered her to cherish the assumption of her own independence, and her freedom to vow. The acquired practical right of the woman takes the place of his legal right.
3. The widows and divorced women are free in their vows, since they are not restricted by any male authority and household government. They form households in themselves, and in accordance with the deep inward parity or equality of the female sex with the male.
4. The different cases in which the right of veto can be exercised are, first, the vows of dependent maiden daughters; second, the bride who enters her husband’s house with her vows unfulfilled. [Bring it upon her עָלֶיהָ. The case is of one betrothed. BIB. COM.: Between betrothal and marriage the woman resided in her father’s house; but her property vested in her husband, and she was so far regarded as personally his, that an act of unfaithfulness to him was like adultery, punishable with death (Deut. 22:23, 24). Hence his right to control her vows even before he actually took her home as his wife. The vows might have been made either previously or subsequently to betrothal; but in either case her future husband, under whose control she passed with these vows upon her, might disallow them.”—A. G.] The third case was that of wife who made a vow in her married state.
Every vow was strictly to take an obligation upon the soul, to bind the soul; but the oath form (Num 30:2) occurs here probably intentionally. The expression: uttered out of her lips has an apologetic bearing with reference to the female hastiness and thoughtlessness of speech. [It is, however, an unfair inference which KEIL and BIB. COM. make from its use here, that such vows were not uncommon.—A. G.] KEIL remarks justly: Moses addressed these instructions to the heads of the tribes, because they extend into the sphere of civil life.
DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL
[The care and explicitness with which these instructions are given to those who would be called to apply them, shows the sacredness of vows generally, and with what caution they should be made, and how carefully they should be kept when made. It is one of the most intricate and interesting fields of casuistry which is presented here. Sensitive and morbid consciences are often perplexed and burdened by vows which ought never to have been made. The saying of the preacher has an appropriate place here: it is better not to vow than to vow and not pay. BISHOP SANDERSON treats the question largely and fully. See also BAXTER, Practical Works.—A. G.]
Womanly enthusiasm in religious matters should be especially restrained by the domestic authority of the man. This fundamental moral law is not suspended by the confessional. That is a fountain of Amazonian nature and life, ever extending and becoming more mischievous. See MICHELET, du pretre, de la femme, et de la famille. [No man can bind himself by a vow to do that which the law of God prohibits him from doing, or to refrain from that which it clearly requires. HENRY: “A promise to man is a bond upon his estate; but a promise to God is a bond upon his soul. God’s promises to us are yea and amen; let not ours to him be yea and nay. How carefully the divine law consults the good order of families, and preserves the power of superior relations and the duty and reverence of inferiors! Rather than break these bonds, God Himself would quit his right and release the obligation of a solemn vow.”—A. G.]
2Marg. her vows were upon her.