Having heard yet again that Numbers 30 teaches that every woman is under a “covenant head” who has absolute authority over every decision she makes, I decided to correct that and draw your attention to the text itself.
Before my meager comments, I would suggest that you read the passage for yourself. I’ll wait.
Now, you may have heard it taught that this means that a woman under her father’s headship until she is married and then that transfers to her husband. You may have heard it said that this teaches that a father can annul a marriage or a credit application or a rental agreement.
You may have heard that it teaches a thing called “covenantal headship”, even though the scripture only speaks of Adam and Christ as covenant heads.
But a simple reading of the passage shows that it teaches no such thing.
First, notice that it is said twice that it refers to young women still at home, or married women. God specifically, by name, excludes widows and divorced or otherwise single women, (verse 9-10; verse 16) assuming that they have enough wisdom and understanding to make their own vows. They are bound to their vows, which shows that God values the voice of a woman far more than most patriarchialists.
Second, this is a passage that has to do with vows. A vow had a specific religious meaning in scripture. To quote from Nelson’s dictionary (or any other bible dictionary you might have),
A vow is “a solemn promise or pledge that binds a person to perform a specified act or behave in a certain manner….All vows were made to God as a promise in expectation of his favor (Gen. 28:20) or in thanksgiving for his blessing (Psalm 119:12-14)…Vowing is joyful worship in faith and love (Psalm 61:4-5, 8)”
In other words, a vow is a specific act of worship. The whole point of Numbers 30 (and you can also look at Eccl. 5:4-6) is that when one makes a vow, one is bound to perform it, for God has no pleasure in fools. This is important to remember. Look again at Numbers 30 verse 2 for the context of what I am about to say.
Scripture gives several examples of these kinds of vows. Jacob took one. Jephthah took a foolish one. Even the Apostle Paul took a vow and traveled to Jerusalem to perform it (Acts 18:18). A vow is a specific act of worship and devotion.
But there is one example of a vow taken by a woman married to a husband that would be very helpful to analyze for this discussion. Hannah took a vow that if the Lord opened her womb, she would dedicate the child to the Lord to serve in the Temple every day of his life (1 Sam. 1). It was a vow of faith by a woman who was a prophet. In her mouth and in her heart, she longed for a redeemer to come out of Zion and she knew somehow that the child that the Lord would give her would lead to that end (See her song in 1 Sam. 2).
This was a vow of worship made by a woman of faith, who was also living with a husband, Elkanah. This would be a direct application of Numbers 30. So let’s look at it from that perspective.
A vow made in the temple before the Lord is a serious thing, and Hannah is bound to perform it. But the vow also involved Elkanah. After all, it was his child as well. Suppose he was furious, and absolutely refused to give his son to the Lord. That would be his right to do so. Vows, after all, were voluntary. If Elkanah was adamantly opposed to the vow, this could cause great trouble to Hannah.
What could she do? She could infuriate, disappoint, frustrate, anger her husband and live with the consequences, or she could go back on her vow and disobey God – which, as we have said, is an offense that God does not take lightly.
It would seem that she would be in a horrible mess.
And this is where Numbers 30 comes in. If the woman is still under her father’s roof, or has a husband, her vow does not just affect her. If the father or husband refuse, she is no longer bound to her vow. God accepts her and loves her and honors her and wants her to be at peace in her home.
It is interesting that God does not forbid women from making vows. He assumes that she has property and goods and strength and the ability to keep the vow. He doesn’t even teach that she should “check with her husband first”.
God cares for the wives and daughters, who are in his image and also called to have dominion. He honors their voice and their worship; he accepts their sacrifices of praise and he hears and honors their vows. They are called to take that very seriously.
But God also knows that a vow – since it usually involved money, goods, livestock or perhaps even children – also affected the husband or the father. If he was of the possessive sort or simply did not want to give up the goods, she was no longer bound, but free.
For God would have us be free, not in bondage.
On another note, since the Temple worship and the sacrifices and priesthood involved with it all are no longer part of the worship of God, having been abolished by Christ, the vow as practiced by Israel no longer applies. But we can still live in peace and freedom which is what God would have of us.
Never let anyone bring you back under the yoke of bondage, no matter how many letters they have on their name.
And one more thing, it is very beneficial to read the scripture for yourselves and see if it actually says what you have been told it says. Don’t be threatened by credentials. You also are led by the spirit. Search the scriptures, and see if these things be so (Acts 17:11).