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)
Through the Bible: Numbers 28-30
In Part One of this post, we talked about how much the sacrificial system bothers modern readers because of the sheer number of rams, lambs, and bulls that are sacrificed. So now, let’s look at these verses in Chapter 30 about women and their vows.
In the patriarchal culture of ancient Israel, men 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? 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 it isn’t just me. 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). All through Scripture, men say dumb things they regret later.
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. In yesterday’s reading, we saw how the Lord ensured that the inheritance in the Promised Land applied to daughters as much as it did to sons.
There is no better picture of the elevation of women in Scripture 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).
Numbers 30 is not a picture of a woman’s word carrying less weight. 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 who claim the name of Jesus–both women and men–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.