It is still about a people that is about to enter the promised land. God prepares His people for this. With this in mind, in the previous chapters He spoke of the offerings He expects His people to bring, especially on the feasts. These are national compulsory offerings.
God expects another thing from His people: their dedication. This will be discussed in this chapter. We offer Him offerings and we offer Him ourselves. These are personal voluntary vows.
No one is obliged to make a vow. We must think carefully about whether we can keep the vow, otherwise we must not make the vow. In general, this rule applies: whoever vows to the Lord is bound to keep it (Ecc 5:3-4).
1 Moses Speaks to the Heads of the Tribes
1 Then Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes of the sons of Israel, saying, “This is the word which the LORD has commanded.
The heads of the tribes are addressed because it is a family matter. They must ensure that, where appropriate, the LORD’s commandment is complied where it concerns family or marriage questions.
2 Vow of a Man
2 If a man makes a vow to the LORD, or takes an oath to bind himself with a binding obligation, he shall not violate his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.
There is a difference between a man and a woman who offer to do or leave something for the LORD. A man is always obliged to keep the vow he makes. The vow may be to give something of his property to the LORD or to sanctify it for Him or to fast or to refrain from anything.
The man is a picture of Christ. He has done “according to all that proceeded out of his mouth”. The Lord Jesus said: “Behold, I have come to do Your will” (Heb 10:9; Psa 40:7-8). He has fully fulfilled the obligation which He has assumed therein. For Him there has been no way back, nor has there been a release from His vow. When He asks the Father to take away the cup, His perfect dedication is evident from the addition “yet not what I will, but what You will” (Mk 14:36).
3 - 5 Vow of a Woman in Her Youth
3 “Also if a woman makes a vow to the LORD, and binds herself by an obligation in her father’s house in her youth, 4 and her father hears her vow and her obligation by which she has bound herself, and her father says nothing to her, then all her vows shall stand and every obligation by which she has bound herself shall stand. 5 But if her father should forbid her on the day he hears [of it], none of her vows or her obligations by which she has bound herself shall stand; and the LORD will forgive her because her father had forbidden her.
These verses are about the vow of a young, unmarried woman who still lives with her father at home. If her father hears it and remains silent, he agrees by his silence and the vow is valid. However, if her father forbids her to comply with the vow, so refuses to agree, then the vow is not valid. She has promised something that she is unable to keep.
Then the grace of the LORD shines: The LORD will forgive her words spoken too quickly (verses 5,8,12). She has thought she would please God, but has not been aware of her incompetence and submissive position. She should have consulted her father first. If her vow contains anything disadvantageous for the family, her father will be able to release her from that promise. All that she can promise belongs to her father.
She shows her obedience to her father by refraining from keeping her vow. The obedience to her father is so highly appreciated by the LORD that He forgives her. She needs forgiveness because her good intentions were not according to the will of God. She thought she was doing a service to God, while she did not think about the bad consequences of her vow for the family.
In general, for a woman who makes a vow, its validity depends on what the man under whom she stands does with it. God gives each person a responsibility that is in accordance with their position. God expects the man who is the head of the woman (1Cor 11:3) to know his responsibility.
The relation of the woman to the man may be that of a daughter to her father (verses 3-5) and that of a wife to her husband (verses 6-8; 10-15). In the woman we see a picture of Israel. The LORD is in relation with Israel as a Father – “for I am to Israel a Father” (Jer 31:9) – and also as a Husband (Jer 31:32b).
Israel has also made vows to God. The people have said three times: “We will do everything the LORD has said” (Exo 19:8; 24:3,7). And God has kept silent. He has never overruled the promise, but on the contrary he has confirmed it by giving the people the law. Israel is still responsible for the vows with which it has committed itself to God. God has not overruled the vows in His government, that the people may learn what is in their hearts.
6 - 8 Vow of a Betrothed Woman
6 “However, if she should marry while under her vows or the rash statement of her lips by which she has bound herself, 7 and her husband hears of it and says nothing to her on the day he hears [it], then her vows shall stand and her obligations by which she has bound herself shall stand. 8 But if on the day her husband hears [of it], he forbids her, then he shall annul her vow which she is under and the rash statement of her lips by which she has bound herself; and the LORD will forgive her.
Verses 6-8 are probably about a betrothed woman who has vowed when she is not yet connected to a man and who now takes that vow with her into the marriage. Her husband has now to decide about her vow in the same way as first happened by the father. If he does not directly decide that the vow is invalid, she must keep it. He may not return to it later.
This situation also speaks of Israel and the relationship between the people and the LORD. Israel made vows of faithfulness before God in her betrothals (Jer 2:2).
9 Vow of a Widow or of a Divorced Woman
9 “But the vow of a widow or of a divorced woman, everything by which she has bound herself, shall stand against her.
Israel is also represented in the widow and in the divorced woman. They are pictures of women who are on their own account, stripped of the help of their husbands. These aspects are also recognizable in the people of Israel. God will not leave them in that state. He will have mercy on his people, because his vows are irrevocable (Rom 11:29). The Lord Jesus became Slave forever and came to do the will of God. He has fulfilled the vows. He has accomplished what the people could not accomplish.
10 - 15 The vow of a Married Woman
10 However, if she vowed in her husband’s house, or bound herself by an obligation with an oath, 11 and her husband heard [it], but said nothing to her [and] did not forbid her, then all her vows shall stand and every obligation by which she bound herself shall stand. 12 But if her husband indeed annuls them on the day he hears [them], then whatever proceeds out of her lips concerning her vows or concerning the obligation of herself shall not stand; her husband has annulled them, and the LORD will forgive her. 13 “Every vow and every binding oath to humble herself, her husband may confirm it or her husband may annul it. 14 But if her husband indeed says nothing to her from day to day, then he confirms all her vows or all her obligations which are on her; he has confirmed them, because he said nothing to her on the day he heard them. 15 But if he indeed annuls them after he has heard them, then he shall bear her guilt.”
The invalidation of the vow can only happen if its fulfillment is taken over by the man. That is what the Lord Jesus did. He bore the iniquity of His people, that is to say, the faithful remnant, to release His people from their vow: “Having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col 2:14).
We, New Testament believers, are now God’s people who may take possession of the spiritual blessings of the heavenly land. But then God also expects us to dedicate ourselves to Him. There is no question of vows. We are children of God and as a church we are the bride of the Lord Jesus. We can convince ourselves of what the will of the Father is through God’s Word and the Spirit Who dwells within us. We do not live by vows, but in knowing God’s will.
The word of the Lord Jesus applies to us: “Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FALSE VOWS, BUT SHALL FULFILL YOUR VOWS TO THE LORD.’ But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is THE CITY OF THE GREAT KING. Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ [or] ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil” (Mt 5:33-37).
16 These are the statutes which the LORD commanded Moses, [as] between a man and his wife, [and as] between a father and his daughter, [while she is] in her youth in her father’s house.
This final verse is an endorsement of the previous section. The whole of what is said about vows in this section is opened (verse 1) and concluded with the emphatic announcement that it is “commanded” by the LORD.