The Word Made Fresh
1Moses told the tribal leaders of Israel, “This is from the LORD: 2When a man makes a promise to the LORD or binds himself with a pledge, he must do what he says he will do.
3“If a young woman who still lives in her father’s house makes such a promise or pledge 4and her father is aware of it but says nothing to her about it, then she is obligated to do what she says she will do. 5However, if her father disapproves of her promise when he is made aware of it, it will not stand and she will not be obligated; the LORD will release her from it.
6“If she marries while obligated to such promise or pledge, even if it is silly 7and her husband is informed about it but says nothing, then she is bound by it. 8However, if her husband hears of her pledge and disapproves of it, then she is no longer bound by it and the LORD will release her from it 9(if a widow or divorced woman makes a vow, she is bound to it). 10If a married woman makes a promise or pledge 11and her husband hears of it and says nothing, she will be bound by the pledge or promise she has made. 12If her husband cancels her promise or pledge when he hears of them, they are cancelled and the LORD will not hold her to it. 13If she makes a promise or pledge to enter a time of fasting, her husband may approve or disapprove, 14but if he says nothing to her during the time of her pledge or promise is in effect, that means she has his approval. 15If he changes his mind later, though, he will be guilty of breaking the promise, not her.”
16These are the rules the LORD gave Moses concerning a husband and wife, and a father and young daughter while she is still under his roof.
1-16: You ladies are not going to like this chapter very much. At least it’s only 16 verses! The two operative words here are “promise” and “pledge.” A promise means doing something for God in exchange for divine assistance of some kind. A pledge means to perform some act of self-denial. The first 2 verses insist that any promise or pledge made by a man is absolutely binding. The rest of the chapter has to do with promises and pledges made by married and single women. The specific rules cited here seem quaint: there are intricate provisions for determining if a promise or pledge is binding or not binding, usually depending on the agreement of the woman’s father or husband. Unfortunately, no specific examples are given of the kinds of promises or pledges people would have made in those days and in those circumstances.
Nowadays, of course, people are seldom held responsible for promises or pledges made, since most of them are made privately, or shared only with a small group of friends or family. Think New Year’s resolutions.