3 “If a woman vows a vow to the Lord and binds herself by a pledge, while within her father's house in her youth, 4 and her father hears of her vow and of her pledge by which she has bound herself and says nothing to her, then all her vows shall stand, and every pledge by which she has bound herself shall stand. 5 But if her father opposes her on the day that he hears of it, no vow of hers, no pledge by which she has bound herself shall stand. And the Lord will forgive her, because her father opposed her. (Numbers 30:3-5)
There’s something in Numbers 28-30 to offend just about everybody. Animal rights activists won’t like all the sacrifices. Workaholics won’t like all the talk about Sabbath rest. And egalitarians REALLY won’t like the implication that a woman’s vows could be overturned by her husband or father. But I think most of the discomfort comes from reading these chapters with our own cultural lenses on, and when we look at them through a different lens, there are actually some beautiful truths in these passages. Let’s break it down.
First, there’s all those sacrifices. So many sacrifices. If you were bothered before by the body count of daily sacrifices on the altar, then the Feast of Booths (Numbers 29:12-39) must have sent you over the edge. In all, seventy bulls are sacrificed during the eight feast days, as well as fifteen rams and 105 lambs.
Which, wow. I wonder just how physically exhausted the priests must have been at the end of the Feast of Booths. And as someone who gets queasy watching Gray’s Anatomy, I’m really, really glad I’m not a Levite.
Why seventy bulls? Well, remember a couple of weeks ago when we talked about how the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) was the only one of the Jewish feasts that the Gentiles were welcomed to? (See Day 051: A Feast for The Rest of Us ) Zechariah 14:16 says,
Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD Almighty, and to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles.
In Genesis 10:1-32, we read what is called the Table of Nations– a listing of all the nations of the earth after the flood. Wanna guess how many there are?
Seventy. How many bulls are sacrificed? Seventy.
We also see the Feast of Booths show up in the New Testament. John 7 tells us that Jesus went up to Jerusalem for this feast. And in verse 37, we read that,
37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
In other words, after the seventieth bull was sacrificed, and the sins of all seventy nations on earth were atoned for, Jesus stands up and cries out, “All who are thirsty, come to the water.” I love that centuries before my country was even discovered, God had already made provision for me.
But what about all this about women and their vows? I married a strong woman who has been blessed with more than the average amount of common sense. I can guarantee that between the two of us, I am much more likely to say something I will regret later. And yet, in this patriarchal culture, it is men who are bound to their oaths, while a woman’s vow can be overturned by her father if she’s unmarried, or by her husband if she is.
What’s up with this? After all, I can think of lots of examples in Scripture of men who made stupid vows. Jephthah in Judges 11, for example. Saul in 1 Samuel 14. The Jews who swore an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul (Acts 23:12).
Men say dumb things. In contrast, I can’t think of any story in Scripture of a woman who made a promise that wasn’t God honoring and prudent. Hannah promised to give her child Samuel to the service of the Lord (1 Samuel 1). Ruth promised she wouldn’t leave her mother-in-law Naomi (Ruth 1).
Thank God no one came along to overturn the vows these women made. Otherwise the story of Scripture would be far different.
So what are we to make of this? Does Scripture really trivialize the word of a woman?
It does not. When you look at the whole of Scripture, women are valued and elevated. There is no better picture of this than the fact that Mary Magdalene became the “apostle to the apostles” when she was chosen to deliver the news about Jesus’ resurrection to the disciples (see John 20).
Instead, I think Numbers 30 is the picture of the grace the Heavenly Father extends to all of us who say things we don’t mean, or make promises we don’t keep. The Heavenly Father forgives.
All of us, men and women who claim the name of Jesus, are collectively called the Bride of Christ. And I take great comfort from knowing that the Bridegroom will not hold me accountable for every dumb thing I’ve ever said. In Him, there is forgiveness. The bridegroom has paid the price for every careless word and every broken promise. In Him is full redemption. Hallelujah.