247 – Numbers 30 – Whats a Vow

Numbers chapter 30 is given fully to the matter of vows. Given our modern-day perspective, one may be tempted to think the Old Testament vow is summed up in the modern-day saying, “be a man of your word”, or “do what you said you’re gonna do”. However, I don’t believe the modern-day sayings and the Old Testament practice have as much in common with one another as we may think. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s take a quick peek at the chapter’s introductory verse.

Numbers 30:1 (NKJV)

      30:1       Then Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes concerning the children of Israel, saying, “This is the thing which the LORD has commanded: 

Though this verse is pretty simple, I think there are a few observations worth our time. This verse is bookended by two implications. The implication at the beginning of the verse is that Yahweh communicated directly with Moses (“…this is the thing which Yahweh has commanded”). The verse tells us that Moses was communicating to the elders what Yahweh commanded which suggests (our ending implication) that the elders were then expected to communicate Yahweh’s instruction to the rest of the Israelites. 

The next thing I noticed is the phrase, “concerning the children of Israel”. Is this significant? I think so. The content of the chapter was not some sweeping broad idea thrown out there for consideration. Yahweh had something specific to communicate and it was about the Israelites specifically.

I think far too often we read something in the Bible and we automatically assume that everything in there was written to us, and even about us. This is not the case. A good way to think about it is,  “the Bible was not written TO us, but it was written FOR us”.  We first notice what was written to the original Biblical audience, then look for a timeless truth, and finally take note of how (or if) we should apply what we’ve learned to our own lives.

Am I then suggesting the law about vows does not apply to us? I am not. If we recognize the vow laws were written to Israel, we should then do the work to discover whether or not God intends to apply those to us today.

Let’s look at the next verse.

Numbers 30:2 (NKJV)

      2       If a man makes a vow to the LORD, or swears an oath to bind himself by some agreement, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.

This verse is specifically talking about men. How do we know this? Well based on the Hebrew word of course but beyond that, the context of the chapter clues us in. Later we will hear about women. 

Next, notice the phrase “…makes a vow to the LORD…”. This is not about what one person says to another. Nor is it about legal contracts. The whole chapter is about men and women making vows to Yahweh.

Let’s look at the first time a man made a vow to Yahweh.

Genesis 28:20-22 (NKJV)

           20       Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, 

           21       so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God. 

           22       And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.”

Vows are an If/then construct. If God does, then I will do. There’s much in these few verses but let me try to summarize.

Jacob made the vow.

He wants 5 things from God. He asks:

  1. Be with me
  2. Keep me in the way
  3. Give me bread to eat
  4. Give me clothing to put on
  5. Return to my father’s house in peace

If God gives Jacob those five things Jacob promises:

  1. Yahweh will be my God
  2. This stone shall be God’s house
  3. From all you give me, I will give a tenth to You

Consider this excerpt from the Lexham Bible Dictionary

VOWS, RELIGIOUS IN THE ANCIENT WORLD (נֶדֶר, neder, נָדַר, nadar). Binding promises made to God, often as part of a plea for safety, military victory, or a family.

Biblical Relevance

Vows generally appear in Old Testament narratives as conditional promises in the form of “If … then” clauses, indicating that the vow is only binding if God grants the desire stated in the plea (e.g., Gen 28:20–22; Num 21:1–3; 1 Sam 1:10–11).

Crocker, Lacy K. “Vows, Religious in the Ancient World.” Ed. John D. Barry et al. The Lexham Bible Dictionary 2016: n. pag. Print.

It’s interesting to me that Yahweh did not command them to stop making vows. He simply put some laws around them. We’ll take a peek at those next time.

God is very good and worthy of all praise and worship.

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