181.     Leviticus 27:1-25 tells us a great deal about the nature of vows. These might consist of the offering to the service at the Tabernacle of (1) persons; (2) cattle; (3) houses; (4) and fields. There was also the more unusual vow of abstinence, probably referred to in Numbers 30:13, in the words, "binding oath to afflict the soul." this word for "bond," verses 3, 4, 5, etc., in Numbers 30, is found nowhere else in Hebrew, though the corresponding verb "to bind," is not uncommon. It goes with the womanly nature to practice these forms of abstinence and self-affliction in all religions; and in this chapter, at this point, we may find a merciful provision to put a restraint upon excesses in such vows, needed in the case of women, but not so much in the case of men.

182.     Vows, though entirely voluntary in the making, could not be left unperformed, (Deuteronomy 23:22-23), no matter how rash (Leviticus 5:4), without incurring guilt. The Speaker's Commentary tells us: "A large proportion of vows would always relate to the presentation of . . . offerings."  Such offerings, together with other offerings, went to the support of the Tabernacle service, and to the maintenance of the priesthood, so that covetous priests would have an interest in their kind and richness. We have an extreme case of this covetousness recorded in the sons of Eli, 1 Samuel 2:17.

183.     Says the same writer quoted above: "It is probable that this fresh legislation [relating to woman's vows] was occasioned by some case of practical difficulty that had recently arisen, and it is addressed by Moses to the heads of the tribes; who would in their judicial capacity have to determine questions on these subjects: and would also represent the class specially interested in obtaining relief . . . from vows made by persons in their families who had no independent means." We could have said all this ourselves, but then we might be accused of going beyond the legitimate inferences to be drawn, to conform them to our conclusions.

184.     There is real significance in the fact that widows and divorced women were held, like men, to full responsibility for their vows.  Hence we know that it was no mere teaching of the subordination of woman to man which led to this piece of legislation. The word translated "widow" means in the Hebrew femme sole, that is, "the solitary woman," and would doubtless have applied also to any mature unmarried woman of those times who owned property. These were supposed to have absolute control over their own property, to vow it away (Numbers 30:9).

185.     In those days as in these, the young daughter and the wife would not have much property under their own control, and hence the father and husband would stand in such relation to them as to be able, to a large extent, to control their vows. But as we said in our former Lesson, this statute in no wise obliges the woman to consult her father or husband before determining to make a vow, or determining the form or value of her offering. Nor does the statute compel or direct her to convey the intelligence to her male relative as to the vow she has made. In fact, the precise form of words used would seem to imply as much. According to Grey, verse 4 should read " and her father comes to hear her vow," and the Speaker's Commentary says, further, "It would almost necessarily be brought to his knowledge when the time for performance of it arrived, if not sooner." The real object, then, of these statutes, is to provide a proper time when the one who controlled the family property might show reason why he objected to relinquishing that control to the extent that daughter or wife might make a suitable offering; and doubtless his refusal to relinquish that control could be justified only by his showing that the offering was in some sense not suitable, to the satisfaction of the "heads of the tribes," to whom the enforcement of the statute had been committed by Moses.

186.     The objection must be made "on the day that he heareth," in the case of either father or husband (verses 5, 12). This expression is defined further in verses 14, "from day to day," an expression which means “within a few days.” In the case of the husband, who was dealing with a woman of sufficient maturity to be his wife, it is significant that if he "broke her vow," (for that is the precise meaning of the word "made void"), after he had been silent for awhile, "then he shall bear her iniquity," verse 15.

187.     But someone will say: "Why did not Moses give the mother and the wife an equal control over the son's and the husband's vows? Then the case would be equal, and equality of the sexes maintained." Moses did not create this matter of control by the husbands and fathers; and he could not have created an equality of this sort, between women and men, had he wished it. Here is where the mistake is made, in quoting Moses as the author of these things. Law is made to control lawlessness; its object is negative; law cannot by enactments, create a non-existent good. It inheres in the nature of things that women who marry and devote themselves to domestic pursuits must be more or less dependent upon the business activity of their husbands, just as men are dependent upon the domestic activity of their respective wives. And so must the young daughter be dependent on the father’s business activity.

188.     These vows extend to the right even to vow away children to the Tabernacle service. The case of Hannah who vowed away her son Samuel, compared with the case of Jephthah, who dedicated his daughter to perpetual service as a virgin at the Tabernacle,[3] is most instructive. Jephthah, all men would say, vowed without consulting the mother of his daughter, Judges 11:30; and likewise Hannah's husband does not seem to have been consulted, when she vowed, any more than Jephthah's wife, 1 Samuel 1:9-11. If the mother of Jephthah's daughter seems to have had no part in this dedication of his daughter, so the father of little Samuel seems to have had no part in Samuel's dedication. This account of the dedication of a son to a life-long pursuit, without the father being described as taking any part in the same, is strikingly unlike the theological description of those times, which declares that the wife "could not be sui juris, or enter independently into any engagement even before God;" and we believe that if the Bible had wished to teach any such thing concerning those ancient days, the story of Hannah would have been written after this fashion: "Having fully gained her husband's consent, Hannah 'vowed a vow and said,' . . . 'If thou wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then, with my husband's permission, we will together give him unto the Lord;’" and verse 22 would have read, "I will not go up until the child be weaned, and then, since you are willing, we will bring him, that he may . . . abide there forever." And she and the father, Elkanah, would later have stood before Eli, while the father said: "My wife prayed for this child . . . therefore, at her earnest desire I have consented to dedicate the child to the Lord." But nothing of this sort is recorded, and therefore we have asserted that Dr. Smith teaches Bible students to draw sweeping conclusions from small premises, in the conclusions he draws from Numbers 30. Read over again our Lesson on "Unsubjugated Wives" (pars. 146-154), and realize afresh how misleading such teachings are, as to the Bible.


[3] We accept Dr. Adam Clarke's refutation of the popular idea that Jephthah's daughter was sacrificed as a burnt offering; she was merely dedicated to the Tabernacle service with a burnt offering, and this is all Jephthah's vow implied.

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