This chapter opens by discussing the case of a man who made a vow unto the Lord – making God a party to the promise, and intending His honor and glory in it. Of course, it was assumed that the subject of the vow was something lawful; for no man can be bound by his own promise to do something which God’s Word already prohibits him from doing. The kinds of vows mentioned in this chapter concerned things which were not required duties before the vow was made. For example, a person might vow to bring such-and-such sacrifices at certain times, or to give such-and-such a sum in charity, or to forbear partaking of certain foods which the law allowed. And many similar vows might be made in an extraordinary heat of holy zeal, under a sense of humiliation for some sin that had been committed, for the prevention of sin, in the pursuit of some mercy that was desired, or in gratitude for some mercy that had already been received. The Lord’s command was that these vows were to be conscientiously performed. The person who made a vow could not break his word, even though he might change his mind afterwards; he must do according to what he had said he would do. Vowing is an ordinance of God; if we vow in hypocrisy, we profane that ordinance. We are plainly taught that it is better to not vow at all, than to vow and not fulfill it (Ecc. 5:5).
If the person making the vow was under the headship and leadership of another, the case was different. Two cases that are very similar were here described. First, there was the case of a daughter in her father’s house (verses 3-5). When her vow came to his knowledge, it was in his power to either confirm it or nullify it. Even his silence in the matter was enough to ratify it, and then his daughter was bound by the vow she had made. However, if her father disallowed her vow, she was discharged from the obligation of fulfilling it; and the Lord would forgive her – that is, she would not be charged with the guilt of violating her vow. She showed her goodwill in making the vow; and if her intentions therein were sincere, her obedience to her parents would be accounted better than sacrifice. This shows how great a deference children owe to their parents, and how much they ought to honor them and be obedient to them. The precept of the Apostle, in Ephesians 6:1-3, is founded upon this ground. It is for the good of society that parental authority is supported; for when children are allowed to be disobedient to their parents, they soon become disobedient to the Lord in other things.
The second case that was referred to here was that of a wife (verses 6-8). Although a widow or divorced woman was bound by whatever vows she might make, a married woman’s vows were subject to the approval of her husband, just as a daughter’s vows were subject to the approval of her father. If a woman’s husband allowed her vow to stand – even it was by silence alone – it would stand. But if he disallowed her vow, her obligation to her husband took the place of it; for to him, she was to be in submission, as unto the Lord. The law was the same in the case of a wife that became a widow or was divorced soon after she made a vow. Even if she returned to her father’s house – yet if the vow had been made while she was in the house of her husband, and her husband disallowed it, it was made void and of no effect forever; and she did not return under the law of her vow when she was loosed from the law of her husband. This seems to be the distinct meaning of verses 10-12, which otherwise would be only a repetition of verses 6-8. It was added (verse 15) that if a husband made void the vows of his wife, he would “bear her iniquity.” If the thing which she had vowed was truly good, for the honor of God, and for the prosperity of her own soul; and the husband disallowed it out of covetousness or merely to show his authority – even though she was discharged from the obligation of her vow, yet he would have a great deal to answer for.
Here we see how God’s law maintains the good order of families, and preserves the power of superior relations, and the duty and reverence of inferiors. It is good that every man should bear loving and gentle rule in his own house, and have his wife and children in submission; and rather than having this great rule broken, or any encouragement being given to inferior relations to break those bonds asunder, God released the obligation even of a solemn vow! How greatly does Christianity secure the well-being of society! In it, the families of the earth find great blessedness.
Jesus is the everlasting Father of His people, and He is also their spiritual Husband. Let us pray to Him to confirm and strengthen our souls by His grace, so that we may be empowered to perform all that we vow in His strength. Lord, enable us to dedicate ourselves to Your service! Cause us to be able to say with the Psalmist, “I will pay my vows unto the Lord, in the presence of all his people; even in the courts of the Lord’s house.”
Blessed Jesus! In all our earnest desires and strongest resolutions, enable us to love and serve the God of our salvation; for otherwise we are well assured that all our strength will prove to be perfect weakness. We can do nothing in ourselves, dearest Lord, except sin; but we can do all things if You are our strength and confidence! Amen.
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