And Moses spake unto the heads of the tribes concerning the children of Israel, saying, This is the thing which the LORD hath commanded.
Verse 1. - And Moses spake unto the heads of the tribes. The regulations here laid down about vows follow with a certain propriety upon those concerning the ordinary routine of sacrifices (see verse 39 of last chapter), but we cannot conclude with any assurance that they were actually given at this particular period. It would appear upon the lace of it that we have in Leviticus 27, and in this chapter two fragments of Mosaic legislation dealing with the same subject, but, for some reason which it is useless to attempt to discover, widely separated in the inspired record. Nor does there seem to be any valid reason for explaining away the apparently fragmentary and dislocated character of these two sections (see the Introduction). The statement, peculiar to this passage, that these instructions were issued to the "heads of the tribes" itself serves to differentiate it from all the rest of the "statutes" given by Moses, and suggests that this chapter was inserted either by some other hand or from a different source. There is no reason whatever for supposing that the "heads of the tribes" were more interested in these particular regulations than in many others which concerned the social life of the people (such as that treated of in Numbers 5:5-31) which were declared in the ordinary way unto "the children of Israel" at large.
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 according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.
Verse 2. - If a man vow a vow. נֶדֶר, a vow, is commonly said to be distinctively a positive vow, a promise to render something unto the Lord. This, however, cannot be strictly maintained, because the Nazarite vow was neder, and that was essentially a vow of abstinence. To say that the vow of the Nazarite was of a positive character because he had to let his hair grow "unto the Lord" is a mere evasion. It is, however, probable that neder, when it occurs (as in this passage) in connection with issar, does take on the narrower signification of a positive vow. Swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond. Literally, "to bind a bond upon his soul." אִסָּר, a bond, which occurs only in this chapter, is considered to be a restrictive obligation, a vow of abstinence. It would appear that the issar was always undertaken upon oath, whereas the neder (as in the case of the Nazarite) did not of necessity require it. He shall not break his word. This was the general principle with respect to vows, and, as here ]aid down, it was in accordance with the universal religious feeling of mankind. Whatever crimes may have claimed the sanction of this sentiment, whatever exceptions and safeguards a clearer revelation and a better knowledge of God may have established, yet the principle remained that whatsoever a man had promised unto the Lord, that he must fulfill. Iphigenia in Aulis, Jephthah's daughter in Gilead, proclaim to what horrid extremities any one religious principle, unchecked by other coordinate principles, may lead; but they also proclaim how deep and true this religious principle must have been which could so over-ride the natural feelings of men not cruel nor depraved.
If a woman also vow a vow unto the LORD, and bind herself by a bond, being in her father's house in her youth;
Verse 3. - If a woman vow a vow. The fragmentary nature of this section appears from the fact that, after laying down the general principle of the sacredness of vows, it proceeds to qualify it in three special cases only of vows made by women under authority. That vows made by boys were irreversible is exceedingly unlikely; and indeed it is obvious that many cases must have occurred, neither mentioned here nor in Leviticus 27, in which the obligation could not stand absolute. In her father's house in her youth. Case first, of a girl in her father's house, who had no property of her own, and whose personal services were due to her father.
And 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.
But 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.
Verse 5. - If her father disallow her. It appears from the previous verse that the disallowance must be spoken, and not mental only. If the vow had been made before witnesses, no doubt the father's veto must be pronounced before witnesses also.
And if she had at all an husband, when she vowed, or uttered ought out of her lips, wherewith she bound her soul;
Verse 6. - If she had at all a husband. Literally, "if being she be to an husband." Septuagint, ἐὰν γενομένη γένηται ἀνδρί. Case second, of a married or betrothed woman. As far as the legal status of the woman was concerned, there was little difference under Jewish law whether she were married or only betrothed. In either case she was accounted as belonging to her husband, with all that she had (cf. Deuteronomy 22:23, 24; Matthew 1:19, 20). When she vowed. Rather, "and her vows be upon her." Septuagint, καὶ αἱ εὐχαὶ αὐτῆς ἐπ αὐτῇ. The vows might have been made before her betrothal, and not disallowed by her father; yet upon her coming under the power of her husband he had an absolute right to dissolve the obligation of them; otherwise it is evident that he might suffer loss through an act of which he had no notice. Or uttered ought out of her lips. Rather, "or the rash utterance of her lips." The word מִבְטָא, which is not found elsewhere (cf. Psalm 106:33), seems to have this meaning. Such a vow made by a young girl as would be disallowed by her husband when he knew of it would presumably be a "rash utterance."
And 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.
But 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.
But every vow of a widow, and of her that is divorced, wherewith they have bound their souls, shall stand against her.
Verse 9. - Every vow of a widow, and of her that is divorced. This is not one of the cases treated of in this section (see verse 16), but is only mentioned in order to point out that it falls under the general principle laid down in verse 2.
And if she vowed in her husband's house, or bound her soul by a bond with an oath;
Verse 10. - If she vowed in her husband's house. Case third, of a married woman living with her husband. The husband had naturally the same absolute authority to allow or disallow all such vows as the father had in the case of his unmarried daughter. The only difference is that the responsibility of the husband is expressed in stronger terms than that of the father, because in the nature of things the husband has a closer interest in and control over the proceedings of his wife than the father has over those of the daughter.
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 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.
Every vow, and every binding oath to afflict the soul, her husband may establish it, or her husband may make it void.
Verse 13. - Oath to afflict the soul. No doubt by fasting or by other kinds of abstinence. The expression is especially used in connection with the rigorous fast of the day of atonement (Leviticus 16:29; Numbers 29:7; and cf. Isaiah 58:5; 1 Corinthians 7:5).
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 confirmeth them, because he held his peace at her in the day that he heard them.
But if he shall any ways make them void after that he hath heard them; then he shall bear her iniquity.
Verse 15. - Then he shall bear her iniquity, i.e., if he tacitly allowed the vow in the first instance, and afterwards forbad its fulfillment, the guilt which such breach of promise involved should rest upon him. For the nature and expiation of such guilt see on Leviticus 5,
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 house.