We're studying Chapter 30 in which Moses, by command of the Lord, speaks of the making of vows and pledges. Under some circumstances vows and pledges can be nullified. Under some circumstances they cannot.
We learned yesterday that if an adult male makes a vow or pledge to the Lord he is bound by his oath to perform what he has promised.
The vow or pledge made by a young unmarried woman still living at home can be nullified by her father.
The vow or pledge of a newly married woman, who made the promise before she was married, can be nullified by her husband.
The vow or pledge made by a widow or divorced woman is as binding as a promise made by an adult male. The woman is the head of her household and she must stand by her oath.
Today we'll conclude Chapter 30 by taking a look at how it worked when a woman made a vow or pledge after she was already married.
"If a woman living with her husband makes a vow or obligates herself by a pledge under oath and her husband hears about it but says nothing to her and does not forbid her, then all her vows or the pledges by which she obligates herself will stand." (Numbers 30:10-11) Remember, vows and pledges often involved a financial expense. If the husband hears his wife pledging to donate a certain offering, for example, and if he does not speak up to object to it, then he must allow her to fulfill the promise. He can't hear about the promise today, say nothing, then object to it a few weeks later.
Since the women of the Bible days lived in a patriarchal society, their husbands were usually the sole or primary providers for the family. A husband could object to a pledge his wife made and nullify it. For example, perhaps his wife promises to donate so much money a month to the sanctuary treasury. A husband could say to his wife, "I appreciate your generous spirit of giving, but at this time we don't have enough money to fulfill your pledge and pay all the bills. We may be able to do something a little later on, but for now I'm going to have to nullify the pledge until we get caught up." Here's what Moses said to the Israelites about such cases: "But if her husband nullifies them when he hears about them, then none of the vows or pledges by which she obligated herself will stand. Her husband has nullified them, and the Lord will release her." (Numbers 30:12) The Lord doesn't hold the woman responsible for not keeping her promise.
Some vows and pledges didn't involve financial cost but instead took the form of fasting or abstaining from something. A person could vow to fast and pray for a period of time. A person could vow to abstain from certain foods and drinks for a time. A married person could abstain from sexual relations for a time in order to devote himself or herself to meditating on God's word or to prayer. (The Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 7:5 that this should only be done by mutual consent of the two marriage partners.) But suppose an Old Testament husband hears his wife promise to devote all her time to fasting and prayer and the study of God's word for the next three days, and he does not feel this is feasible due to there being no one to help with childcare or household duties or due to concerns for his wife's health (perhaps fasting will have a detrimental effect on her health at this time), then he can nullify her pledge of self-denial. He also can nullify her pledge if it was a pledge to abstain from marital relations with him for a period of time. The two of them must be in agreement about such a thing. Neither the husband nor the wife, according to the Apostle Paul, can make a pledge of sexual abstinence without their spouse's consent. So if a husband hears his wife make a pledge of self-denial, he can nullify it if he chooses. "Her husband may confirm or deny any vow she makes or any sworn pledge to deny herself." (Numbers 30:13)
Not objecting to her vow or pledge is the same as giving it his approval. If he knows about it and says nothing, he's obligated to let her fulfill it. The Lord will hold him accountable if he lets time go by without making any objection and then tries to deny his wife the opportunity to keep her promise. "But if her husband says nothing about it from day to day, then he confirms all her vows or the pledges binding on her. He confirms them by saying nothing to her when he hears about them. If, however, he nullifies them some time after he hears about them, then he must bear the consequences of her wrongdoing." (Numbers 30:14-15) Let's say his wife has pledged to put a specific amount of money as a freewill offering into the sanctuary treasury each month for a year. Several months go by and she puts the money in, with her husband's knowledge. Then, six months into her year-long vow, he forbids her to drop the money into the offering plate. The Lord says he is in the wrong. The husband has given his approval by not saying anything up to this point; he will bear the blame if he now forbids her from fulfilling her pledge. The wife will be held blameless. It's not her fault she can't keep her promise and I am sure the Lord blessed her for having a desire to make and keep a worthy promise.
"These are the regulations the Lord gave Moses concerning relationships between a man and his wife, and between a father and his young daughter still living at home." (Numbers 30:16)