TODAY’S READING: NUMBERS 30-32
Numbers 30 is all about vows.
The first part of the chapter is about a man who vows to the Lord. This section is very short, just three sentences in two verses.
The second part of the chapter is about a woman who vows to the Lord. This section is much longer, spanning 14 verses. The first three verses cover a woman who vows to the Lord while she still lives in her father’s house. These verses are followed by four verses that deal with the woman who vows to the Lord in her father’s house but later marries. Then there are six verses that deal with a woman who vows to the Lord in her husband’s house, after she is married.
The last verse of the chapter, Numbers 30:16 says, “These are the statutes that the Lord commanded Moses about a man and his wife and about a father and his daughter while she is in her youth within her father’s house.”
Why does Moses write so little about the vows of a man and so much about the vows of a woman? Is it because of the patriarchal society of the Jews? Is this about men controlling and having authority over their daughters and wives since a father or husband has authority over his daughter’s or wife’s vows but a woman has no authority over a man’s vows? Is this because the vows of a woman are more prone to be bad vows and, therefore, more likely to need to be voided by her husband?
TO UNDERSTAND VOWS, LET JESUS BE YOUR TRANSLATOR
Perhaps the culture at the time Moses wrote these words thought the answer to those questions was yes. Maybe not. I don’t really know. And, I don’t think it really matters.
I say it doesn’t matter because we are to read the Old Testament with our minds set on Jesus. We are to search the scriptures not for rules to follow, dead letters to be obeyed, but for their witness to Jesus.
In John 5:39-40, Jesus says the scriptures bear witness to him. We are to read the scriptures and let their witness send us to Jesus. By the witness of the scriptures we are to come to Jesus for he gives us life, not the scriptures.
In Luke 24, Jesus tells the disciples that he can be found in all the scriptures. He then translates all the scriptures for the disciples, showing just how he can be found in them. And, the hearts of the disciples burned within them. When we read the Old Testament as a set of dead letter rules to be followed and obeyed, our hearts faint and become hardened. But, when we see Jesus in them, our hearts come alive and burn with the fire of the Holy Spirit.
Dead letter readings of the scriptures kill. Dead letters translated by the Holy Spirit, our teacher, onto our hearts into the living and active Word, who is Jesus, bring life, refreshment, nourishment, and cleansing.
Hebrews 1:1-2 says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” Moses was a prophet. God spoke through this prophet in many ways – through his own voice, the law, tabernacle, and the vows to the Lord by a man and a woman. But, God does not speak that way any more. Today, God speaks to us by his Son.
“By his Son” doesn’t do the original Greek, or the writer of Hebrews, justice though, in my opinion. First, the Greek word for by can also be translated in. Second, the word his was inserted by English translators. There is no Greek word for his in this verse. Theoretically, this was done to help our understanding of what the writer was saying.
But, I believe it does exactly the opposite. Because, in the original Greek, the verse says, “in these last days he has spoken to us in Son.” To say God speaks “in Son” is like saying I’m writing to you “in English.” Today, the language God uses is Son. So, we need to read the scriptures in the language of Son if we want to understand what God is saying. And, to do that, we need Jesus to translate them for us like he did the disciples.
IN SON, WHO IS THE MAN AND THE WOMAN WHO VOWS?
In the beginning, God made a man and put him in the garden God had planted. When there was found no one for the man to share his life with, God put the man into a deep sleep and formed a woman from his side. The man and the woman knew each other. They were married and became one flesh.
Paul makes use of this story when he tells the Ephesians what the relationship between a husband and a wife should look like. But, when describing the relationship between a husband and a wife, Paul likens it to the relationship between Jesus Christ and the church. Paul says this mystery is profound. But, he is not speaking of the mystery of the man and the woman in garden becoming one flesh. No, he says the mystery refers to Christ and the church.
Right there in Ephesians 5 Paul establishes the idea that a man in scripture can be seen as a picture of Jesus and that a woman in scripture can be seen as the church. Therefore, when scripture speaks of a woman, it is often speaking of you and me, whether we are men or women.
Over and over, the scripture speaks of Jesus as the bridegroom, and the church, you and me, as his bride. Recall the last verse of Numbers 30, which says, “These are the statutes that the Lord commanded Moses about a man and his wife.” Read in the language of Son, we understand Numbers 30 to be about the vows of a man, Jesus, and the vows of woman, the church or you and me. Now the cultural context doesn’t matter. The important questions become:
- What does the man who vows to the Lord say about Jesus?
- What does the woman who vows to the Lord say about you and me?
A MAN WHO VOWS TO THE LORD
Numbers 30:2 says, “If a man vows a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.”
Jesus is “a man” in this verse. Jesus vows a vow to the Lord. Some Christians get uncomfortable about Jesus making vows to the Father, or there being an oath or a covenant between them. But, I think this verse helps us to see that Jesus did indeed make vows to the Father.
1 Peter 1:19-20 says, “But with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you.” We know Jesus as the lamb slain before the foundation of the world. But, that does not mean he was literally slain, or killed, before the creation of the world. No, Peter says that Jesus was foreknown as the lamb that would be slain. In other words, the Father and the Son had agreed that this would take place. There were vows made. The actual death of the lamb was not made manifest, made a visible reality, until the last times.
Jesus repeatedly said he was sent by the Father. You send someone for a purpose. By its very definition, the word send implies that the one sending had a reason, a cause, a purpose for sending the one that was sent. Jesus tells us this purpose in John 6:38-39, which says, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.”
Jesus was sent by the Father to do the will of the Father. But, Jesus had to agree to do this. Indeed, Jesus vowed to do this. He is “a man who vows a vow to the Lord.”
In John 5:30, Jesus says, “I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.”
In John 4:34, Jesus says, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.”
In John 5:19, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing.”
In John 8:28, Jesus says, “I do nothing on my authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.”
In John 12:49, Jesus says, “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment – what to say and what to speak.”
In John 15:10, Jesus says, “I have kept my Father’s commandments.”
The Father gave the Son commandments or orders. Jesus promised to do nothing but what the Father showed him to do. He promised to say nothing that the Father did not tell him to say. Jesus is “a man who vows a vow to the Lord.”
Not only is Jesus “a man who vows a vow to the Lord,” but Jesus “swears an oath to bind bind himself by a pledge.”
Abraham had lifted the knife to slaughter his son Isaac. But, the angel of the Lord called from heaven and told him not to do anything to Isaac. Then Abraham looked up and saw that God provided a ram for an offering instead of his son.
Genesis 2:15-18 says, “And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, ‘By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all of the nations of earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.'”
The angel of the Lord is the pre-incarnate Jesus. Jesus swore an oath binding himself by a pledge to bless Abraham.
The last half of Numbers 30:2 says, “He shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.”
Notice that for “a man who vows a vow to the Lord” there is nothing about what happens if he does not keep his vow or if he does not fulfill the oath that he bound himself to by swearing. If this passage of scripture was about a man like you and me, then surely the passage would have had to consider the possibility of the vows or oath being broken.
But, what a wonderful truth this reveals about Jesus. There is no consideration, there is not even the slightest possibility, that he will not fulfill his vows and the oath that he swears.
When Jesus was at last manifested as the slain lamb on the cross, “knowing that all was now finished,” Jesus said, “It is finished.” His vows had been completed.
In his second sermon, Peter closes by quoting from the oath of the angel of the Lord, Jesus. Peter says in Acts 3:25, “You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.'”
Jesus is the faithful and true witness. Jesus is love. And, love never fails. Paul says in Philippians 1:6, “And I am sure of this; that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” And, 1 Thessalonians 5:24 says, “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”
A WOMAN VOWS A VOW TO THE LORD
Israel is pictured both as God’s daughter as the daughter of Zion and as the daughter of Jerusalem (Zephaniah 3:14 and Zechariah 9:9 among many others). Israel is pictured as the woman who is under vows she has made but marries a husband. This is seen in the Jews who were under vows they made as God’s daughter but then were married to Jesus. Then, all people that become the church and marry Christ are pictured as the woman who vows a vow to the Lord in her husband’s house.
Psalm 2:1-2 says, “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed.” All nations, including Israel, plotted against God and against Jesus. It’s as if they had made vows and bound themselves together by pledging an oath. But, figuratively on the same day, verses 10 and 11 say, “Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.”
The nations have always planned, or made vows, against God and his purposes. But, Psalm 33:10 says, “The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing, he frustrates [opposes] the plans of the peoples.” While the nations, the peoples, are always making vows, as a woman making “thoughtless utterance of her lips by which she has bound herself,” God is always opposing those vows on the very same day.
Because God is in constant opposition to the vows we make, on the day that we make them, God as our father and Jesus as our husband is able to void them. When the husband voids the vows, “the Lord will forgive her.” This is why Jesus says from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
What a blessing to know that all of the thoughtless utterances, the vain vows that you and I have made, have been opposed by God so that we can be forgiven of them.
And, if we have made vows while married to Jesus and they were not opposed on the day they were made, then they are established, but Jesus bears the iniquity of them.
The picture of the woman who vows and how her husband can establish or void those vows could be filled out in much greater detail by those that choose to dig into the scripture.