Bible Readings for May 21st

Numbers 30 | Psalm 74 | Isaiah 22 | 2 Peter 3

In Numbers 30, Yahweh insists that his people keep their vows. The basic principle is simple: if you make a promise, keep it. Or, as Yahweh himself puts it, anyone who makes a vow or swears an oath or binds himself with a pledge “shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth” (Num. 30:2).

Now, the rules for how men should keep vows had no loopholes whatsoever. Therefore, most of Numbers 30 focuses on the subject of the vows and promises that women made. So, a young woman’s father could invalidate a vow the woman made if she remained in her father’s house (Num. 30:3–4). Or, if the woman was married, her husband could invalidate the vow (Num. 30:8, 12, 13, 15)—but in both cases, the father or the husband had to void the vow immediately upon hearing that the woman had made the vow, or the vow would stand (Num. 30:4, 7, 11, 14). Alternately, if a woman was a widow or divorced, then every vow she made was binding upon herself (Num. 30:9).

Although it is the case that women were not here given complete authority over themselves, this was not a one-sided law. In Numbers 30:15, we read this: “But if he [the woman’s husband] makes them null and void after he has heard of them, then he shall bear her iniquity.” The phrase “after he has heard of them” probably suggests a longer period of time than on the same day that he hears about it, and in such cases, any guilt the woman would incur for failing to keep her vows would fall on the woman’s husband, and not on the woman herself.1 The husband was the covenantal head of his wife, and so he bore his wife’s iniquity for faithlessness if he did not properly intervene.

The reason that Yahweh insists that his people keep their vows to each other is simple: Yahweh has called Israel to reflect his own glory, and Yahweh’s glory is tied to his covenantal faithfulness. Yahweh is a faithful, covenant-keeping God, so his people must also be faithful to keep their vows.

But Yahweh reveals something else in these laws—namely, the principle that guilt for faithlessness may be transferred from a wife to her husband (Num. 30:15). It is on this principle that Yahweh sent his Son into this world—not only to bear his people’s iniquity for their unfaithfulness to him, but to do so as his people’s bridegroom.

To his bride, the church, Jesus announces forever that your iniquity is wiped away. Jesus, who knew no sin, was made sin for you, bearing your iniquity and covenantal faithlessness upon himself so that you might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21) and so that Jesus could take you as his wife forever.

1 Timothy R. Ashley, The Book of Numbers, NICOT (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993), 581–82.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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