Broken Vows: Numbers 30:15

Numbers 30 came in a quiet whisper this morning. I read through all the chapters on my reading plan today in Numbers, Psalms, Isaiah, and 2 Peter, and then I waited for the Lord to speak. I had underlined Numbers 30:15, but I didn’t think that was the verse God wanted to talk to me about. So I waited still to see what he would point me to. Surely 2 Peter 3 will be the focus for today, I thought. God wants to speak to me about missions before I leave for Detroit tomorrow. But I kept coming back to Numbers.

“If she marries a husband, while under her vows or any thoughtless utterance of her lips by which she has bound herself, and her husband hears of it and says nothing to her on the day that he hears, then her vows shall stand, and her pledges by which she has bound herself shall stand. 

15 But if he makes them null and void after he has heard of them, then he shall bear her iniquity.”

Then he shall bear her iniquity. These are heavy words. When I asked the Lord to speak to me in my quiet time this morning, I had no idea he would say this.

In Chapter 30, the idea is that women’s vows were binding unless the father or husband explicitly said otherwise. But, the husband or father could render the vow null and void if he thought the vow unreasonable or if he disagreed with it. For example, if the wife says, “I will donate our house to the church,” and the husband doesn’t say anything, then this vow is now binding. They have to donate their house to the church. But, if he says, “Hang on wifey! You can’t do something like that!” then the vow is null and void. The husband protects the wife from making rash vows or even vows he doesn’t agree with. Because the daughter submits to her father and the wife to her husband, she is under their authority. Their word is the final word. (This isn’t popular in our culture, but we’re not called to live a politically correct life that makes sense to outsiders. What looks foolish to the world is salvation to us.)

The chapter also says that a widow or divorced woman is held to her vows regardless because there is no one to protect her from her own mouth. The woman submits directly to God; therefore, she is bound to him. I struggle with this verse (9), but I stop and think about what I know to be true: God is sovereign, loving, and perfect in understanding and compassion. I believe that God can void our vows himself if necessary. Would God have less power to do this than a father or husband? Absolutely not! The authority over a daughter or wife comes from God in the first place!

But the verse that made my heart stop for a moment was verse 15:

“But if he makes them [the vows] null and void after he has heard of them, then he shall bear her [the wife’s] iniquity.”

I made a vow to my ex-husband, and though it was a messy thing, in the end, I didn’t want to break this vow. I was not blameless. I was not perfect. I failed in many, many ways. But I wanted to keep this vow. God spoke to my heart this morning and reminded me that he will bear the iniquity. When he said, “I do,” he was given authority over me by God. With that authority comes much responsibility. He was responsible for making sure my vow was fulfilled. He will answer for the broken vow as though it were his own. This is not my idea; this is God’s Word.

This is not to say that there aren’t consequences for my own sin. And this passage doesn’t negate God’s grace and mercy over both of us. Thank God for the cross, for the covering of my sin (and his) by the blood of Jesus. This passage in Numbers doesn’t give me a self-righteous reason to stand blameless before God. It simply reminds me that God is my defense. The Lord has a plan of protection over me. The God of the Old Testament is the same God who sent his son to pay the price for my sins. God looks on me with love and compassion, not judgement, not condemnation, not disdain.

God is just. He requires fulfillment of vows. He has strict guidelines for living righteously because he is holy, and he can’t be anything less. But, I am also covered by grace. I am covered by mercy. I am covered with love.

And you know what? When the one who is supposed to bear my iniquity according to this verse can’t, the One Who Can, will. Jesus bore his iniquity too. Jesus bore it all on the Cross. We are both forgiven. Jesus died for both of us. Jesus paid the price that we can’t pay.

So today I let in a little more forgiveness into my heart. I breathe a little deeper. I surrender a little more. Just when I think I’ve forgiven completely, I realize that there’s more room. Today God reminded me of that. And I’m letting him work it all out in me, and I’m looking forward to good things to come.

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