NUMBERS 28, 29 and 30
Let’s look first at a fascinating chapter in today’s reading – Numbers 30. In my bible it is entitled ‘Vows’, but the real meaning should be ‘Authority’, since that is what it is all about. And the implications are huge, for those people and for us. It begins with a simple statement that whoever binds himself or herself to God with vow or oath must certainly ‘follow through’ and fulfil that vow. So far, so straightforward. And if this chapter had really been about vows, then it would have remained one of the shortest chapters in the whole bible!
But a daughter, under the authority of her father and living in his household, can have her vow – made between her and almighty God – revoked by her father if he so chooses! Similarly, a husband can revoke a vow made by his wife, whether the vow was made before or during their marriage. The teaching of this chapter underscores the fact that God is so protective of the authority structures that he has instituted in the home that he is even prepared to defer to them himself! In effect, the Lord is saying to a young woman: “We had an agreement, but your husband has taken a decision to overturn that agreement, so I respect his authority in the home and will defer to him in this regard”. Wow! And, as a result, God comes ‘into line’ and releases the woman from her original vow.
Of course, the man may choose not to nullify the vow (maybe it related to the wife providing him with breakfast in bed every morning of his life!), in which case God will hold the woman to her original promise. The importance of a husband’s authority in the marriage and the father’s authority in his household is not an old-fashioned dinosaur of a tradition that became superseded in the New Covenant or in today’s Christian life. Ephesians 5 and 6 tells wives to submit to their husbands and for children to obey their parents (and, incidentally, for grown-up children to continue to honour their parents – but that is a respect issue, rather than an authority one). This is a fundamental concept rooted in creation and is not subject to the fluctuations of social fashion and religious debate.
The purpose of the permissions of the chapter is to prevent these God-given authority lines to be undermined. Suppose a daughter said to he father: “I refuse to obey you (in a certain matter) because I have just made a vow to the Lord to do the opposite”; this would completely undermine the relationship and make a father’s role very difficult indeed. So God cuts through such potential excuses and tells the daughter to get on with things and obey.
Single men, widows and divorced women are always held to their own vows, since they are not under a father’s or husband’s direct authority. It is an interesting speculation as to whether, in today’s church, the leaders or elders are given a similar privilege of authority regarding vows, over their ‘flock’. Good to debate that one!
The previous two chapters – 28 and 29 – restate the various offerings made by Israel during its agricultural year. The heaviest toll on livestock was the Feast of Tabernacles which may have been known locally as ‘Thirteen Bull Countdown’! This feast marked the end of the harvest period entirely and was a time for generous thanks to God for his gracious provision over the course of the year. The Festival of Weeks was the grain harvest and was exactly 50 days after the Passover; hence its other title: ‘Pentecost’. The need for God to restate all these offerings requirements was firstly to show their importance to the nation, and secondly to tell them for the first time to this new generation of Israelites.
Passing on the teachings of God to our children and training them to read and understand his Word (the Bible) as a daily discipline is a vital part of godly parenting that we should take very seriously. Sadly, and too often, our young children are more quickly allowed to become more familiar with the smartphone, the X-Box, and the internet than with the living word of God.
Returning to my first theme today: with authority comes responsibility before the Lord, and fathers (and mothers) will be held accountable to him for how they have raised their precious children for him. In many respects we are all foster parents for the next generation of God’s children, and we need to take these duties very seriously indeed!