Normally I wouldn't skip over any chapters, but Chapter 28 and Chapter 29 are a recap of the various offerings and holy days the Israelites are to observe. We have studied these in a great deal of detail previously and will move on to Chapter 30 which has to do with the serious subject of making vows and pledges.
"Moses said to the heads of the tribes of Israel: 'This is what the Lord commands: When a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.'" (Numbers 30:1-2) The men of Israel are to be men of their word. It is understood that these vows or pledges are of an honorable nature. If a person utters a promise to do something, then later realizes that the thing he's promised to do is sinful and not within the will of God for his life, he can of course refuse to go down a wrong path. The vows and pledges discussed in our chapter are generally understood to be of a religious nature and would usually involve offerings, sacrifices, donations of time or money, the dedicating of a period of time to fasting and prayer, and so on.
Next we take a look at what happens when a young unmarried woman, living in her father's house and living under the authority of her father, makes a vow or pledge. "When a young woman still living in her father's house makes a vow to the Lord or obligates herself by a pledge and her father hears about her vow or pledge but says nothing to her, then all her vows and every pledge by which she obligated herself will stand. But if her father forbids her when he hears about it, none of her vows or the pledges by which she obligated herself will stand; the Lord will release her because her father has forbidden her." (Numbers 30:3-5) To put this into modern perspective, let's say you overhear your sixteen-year-old daughter promising to volunteer a large chunk of time each week to help with a local charity. As the parent of a minor child you have the right to deny permission for her to do this thing if you feel it's not a good idea for her. Let's say, for example, you know she won't have enough time to keep her grades up at school if she participates in this particular thing. As her parent you can make the decision on her behalf to negate her pledge. The same was true of parents in the Bible days; the young lady's father could negate her pledge if he felt it wasn't in her best interests.
If a young unmarried woman makes a vow to be carried out at a future date, and if her father does not forbid her to keep the vow, but if she marries after making the vow but before she fulfills it, her husband can forbid the vow from being carried out. Many vows and pledges in the Bible would have involved an expense, such as an offering or sacrifice or pledging to devote a certain amount of money to the treasury. Once the young lady comes into her husband's household, he can refuse to honor a pledge she made while she lived in her father's house. It may not be financially feasible or advisable for a young married couple to keep the pledge. Just because her father was fine with it doesn't mean her new husband is. Her father may not have negated her vow because he knew by the time she fulfilled her pledge she would no longer be living in his household and the expense wouldn't be coming out of his pocket. "If she marries after she makes a vow or after her lips utter a rash promise by which she obligates herself and her husband hears about it but says nothing to her, then her vows or pledges by which she obligated herself will stand. But if her husband forbids her after he hears about it, he nullifies the vow that obligates her or the rash promise by which she obligates herself, and the Lord will release her." (Numbers 30:6-8)
A husband can nullify a promise his wife made before marrying him if the fulfillment of the promise would be taking place after the marriage. For example, perhaps the new bride or her father tells the groom that she has pledged a certain number of freewill offerings in the coming year. If he objects to her vow he can say something like, "We can't afford that right now. I admire her generosity of spirit but we are newlyweds trying to set up housekeeping in our own place. Financially speaking, now is not a good time to keep such a pledge." His bride is then released from her promise. The Lord won't consider her accountable for not keeping it. But if the groom doesn't speak up and voice his objections when he hears about the promise his bride made while she still lived with her father, then he is obligated to allow her to keep her promise.
The women of the Bible days were living in a patriarchal society. There are women in some cultures of the world who are still living in patriarchal societies where a father has the final say in what his unmarried daughter can do or where a husband has the final say in what his wife can do. But a grown woman of the Bible days who was not living with a husband could make decisions for herself. If she made a vow or pledge, no one could negate it for her and she was obligated to fulfill it. A woman used to making her own living and managing her own finances should be capable of considering whether or not she can afford to keep her promise. She should think carefully about her budget and her lifestyle before pledging to do anything that will cost her money or time. If she makes a vow or pledge and then later realizes it was unwise, she's as responsible for keeping her word as a grown man is. "Any vow or obligation taken by a widow or divorced woman will be binding on her." (Numbers 30:9)
We will stop here because this chapter is long enough to take us two days to study it. But we can see that the Lord expects all of us to think carefully before making a promise because it's important to be people of our word. Before giving our word we must think about whether the thing we're promising to do is godly or ungodly. If there's nothing sinful about our intentions, we should then consult the Lord to make sure this is His will for our lives. This is a step we must not skip because it's possible to get carried away emotionally and make a promise that it will be difficult to fulfill later on. If we want to donate a large sum of money to the church, for example, the Lord admires our spirit of generosity but He also knows what's in our financial future. If He knows we're going to be laid off from our job a month from now, He may direct us to save this freewill offering or to reduce the amount of it. If our pledge is to volunteer a certain number of hours each week performing charity work, but the Lord knows something is coming up that will prevent us from having as much free time as we think we'll have, He can let us know not to make that commitment right now or not to commit as many hours a week as we'd originally planned.
If we find ourselves wanting to make a vow or pledge, and if we've determined there's nothing spiritually or morally wrong with it, and if we've determined it's within the Lord's will for us to make this promise or pledge, then we have to be men and women of our word. We have to follow through. Our God has made many beautiful promises and He intends to keep every one of them. God doesn't lie or change His mind. If we are His children, we should look like our Father, and that means being promise keepers.