Wednesday Prayer Service
February 27, 2008
Amen. If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Numbers 30 as we draw close to the end of the book of Numbers.
You’ll remember the last time we were together in this passage we were looking at laws of sacrifice, commands especially about the sacrifices that were to be offered in the seventh month. And that chapter opened with the word of the Lord being given to Israel from Moses as to how they were to conduct themselves in relation to these sacrifices.
Well, the chapter that we’re going to be looking at tonight opens up in the same way. You’ll notice in the very first words, ‘this is the word which the Lord has commanded’. And so in both instances, it’s being stressed that Israel is to follow God’s word. They’re to follow the Lord’s command in the way they (on the one hand in chapter 29) worship thru the sacrifices and on the other hand, how they keep their vows.
Now, you may think it a little bit strange for a chapter on worship and sacrifices to be followed by a chapter on vows. But this is not the only time we see this in religious history. Take your hymnals in hand and turn to page 861. It struck me that this is precisely the order that is followed in the Westminster Confession of Faith which, in chapter 21 deals with the subject of “worship”.
And then, in chapter 22 deals with the subject of “vows”. So the confession has (at least in this instance) followed the order of the book of Numbers in treating of worship and then of religious vows.
This is a fascinating chapter and I think it may help you to see its outline before we read it. It has an introduction and a conclusion and in between the introduction and in the conclusion, it has six parts. Let me point them out to you:
In the introduction, we have the words of the Lord’s commandment. That’s verse 1.
In the first part of the chapter, we have directions from God about men, about males in Israel making vows. That’s verse 2.
In the second part of the chapter which runs from verse 3 to verse 5, we have commands about girls who are still in the home and under the care of their fathers making vows.
In the third part of the chapter, we have directions about young women who are brides to be making vows. You’ll see this in verses 6-8.
Then in verse 9 we have an aside. It’s the fourth part of the chapter and it has to do with widows and divorcees and their making of vows.
Then, in verses 10-12, we come to the fifth part of the chapter and it deals with wives making vows (women who are already married and part of the home) and the wives making vows.
And then in verses 13-16 we come to the sixth part of the passage and it has to with wives making vows which are then violated and the consequences of that violation.
And then the conclusion of the chapter comes in verse 16.
Now, we don’t have time to do justice to all that is in this chapter tonight so I want to begin by just bringing your attention to two or three things that I’m not going to have the opportunity to develop in the course of the sermon. I’m going to point you to three truths that I think this passage helps us with today. But since I’m not going to be able to touch on these three things, let me go ahead and mention them to you before I get to the three main points of the message.
First of all, this passage makes it clear that God takes the giving of our word seriously. The whole chapter is devoted to the subject of “vows” and the consequence of breaking them and the circumstances in which they must be taken and the obligations which attend us when we do. And so, the whole chapter emphasizes that God takes the giving of our word seriously.
Second, this passage makes it clear that rash promises, rash vows, rash pledges actually undermine our integrity and open us to judgment. We think, for instance, of the vow that Jephthah made.
You remember the judge, Jephthah, who, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, led Israel against the Ammonites in battle? But as he prayed to God to help him in the battle against the Ammonites, you remember what he vowed? “Lord, if you’ll give me victory over the Ammonites, I will sacrifice to you the first thing that comes out of my house when I return home from the victory that you will give me.” And you remember what happened? His daughter has heard of the great victory of Israel under her father. She is proud. She gets her tambourine just like Miriam did at the Red Sea and she leaves her house to meet her father, to greet him with words of rejoicing at God’s answer to prayer and his daughter, his only daughter walks out of the house and is the first one to meet him upon his arrival. And it dawns upon him what he has done. In the rashness of his vow, he has put the mark of death upon his daughter and in two months she is put to death.
And this passage deals with the problem of rash vows. In fact, it puts into place a number of checks and balances to make sure that rash vows aren’t made. But we’re not going to have time to develop that.
Third, this chapter provides a protection of women against oppressive behavior by either fathers or husbands. You’ll note with some curiosity that there is only one verse about the vows that men make, but the whole rest of the chapter from verse 3-15 is about the special circumstances and qualifications when women take vows. Now, you might be tempted at first to think, “There we go again. The men get off light – one verse and all of these extra regulations that are attended to the women of Israel.” But, if you look closely, the circumstances of verses 3-15 are designed to address all of the unique stages of a woman’s life and the unique situations that attend those unique stages and to protect them from fickle men who change their minds.
As we read this passage, you’ll find out that if a husband or a father objects immediately to a vow that a daughter or a wife or a fiancé is going to make, then that vow is not binding. But if that husband or father gives even tacit approval to that vow and then later on decides , ‘well, you know, I don’t like that vow very much’, he can’t change it.
So all of the extra regulation is not picking on the women of Israel; it’s protecting the women of Israel against an unscrupulous influence of even husbands and fathers. But we’re not going to have time to develop that tonight either.
Tonight, I want to look at two or three things with you very briefly. One is – in this passage we see that the taking of vows is an important part of spiritual life. It’s an important part of the Christian life as it was an important part of Israel’s religious life.
Secondly, we’re going to see in this passage that God cares about family harmony in the taking of vows.
And then third, as we look at this passage we’re going to be reminded of a vow that the Lord Jesus took for us.
So let’s look to God in prayer and then hear the reading of God’s Holy Word.
Let’s pray. Heavenly Father, we thank you for the truth of Your Word. We ask that you would open our eyes to behold wonderful things in it. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Hear the word of the living God in Numbers 30 beginning in verse 1.
“Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes of the people of Israel, saying, “This is what the Lord has commanded. If a man vows a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.
If a woman vows a vow to the Lord and binds herself by a pledge, while within her father’s house in her youth, and her father hears of her vow and of her pledge by which she has bound herself and says nothing to her, then all her vows shall stand, and every pledge by which she has bound herself shall stand. But if her father opposes her on the day that he hears of it, no vow of hers, no pledge by which she has bound herself shall stand. And the Lord will forgive her, because her father opposed her.
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. But if, on the day that her husband comes to hear of it, he opposes her, then he makes void her vow that was on her, and the thoughtless utterance of her lips by which she bound herself. And the Lord will forgive her. (But any vow of a widow or of a divorced woman, anything by which she has bound herself, shall stand against her.) And if she vowed in her husband’s house or bound herself by a pledge with an oath, and her husband heard of it and said nothing to her and did not oppose her, then all her vows shall stand, and every pledge by which she bound herself shall stand. But if her husband makes them null and void on the day that he hears them, then whatever proceeds out of her lips concerning her vows or concerning her pledge of herself shall not stand. Her husband has made them void, and the Lord will forgive her. Any vow and any binding oath to afflict herself, her husband may establish or her husband may make void. But if her husband says nothing to her from day to day, then he establishes all her vows or all her pledges that are upon her. He has established them, because he said nothing to her on the day that he heard of them. But if he makes them null and void after he has heard of them, then he shall bear her iniquity.”
These are the statutes that the Lord commanded Moses about a man and his wife and about a father and his daughter while she is in her youth within her father’s house.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s Holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May he write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
Three things I want to draw your attention to in this passage tonight.
I. Vows were important for Israel and for Christians today.
The first thing I want you to see is that vows are an important part of religious life in Israel and vows continue to be an important part of Christian life, even in the age of the New Covenant.
You may be scratching your head at all of this vow business in the first place. What is this all about?
Well, in Israel one of the ways that one showed the seriousness of the petitions which you pray to the Lord is to attach a vow to those petitions that you promised to fulfill upon the Lord’s answering of your prayer. The whole design is to make clear in your own heart the strength of your commitment to the petitions that you are lifting up to God and to give God proper credit for the answers to prayer that He brings to you by offering something in fulfillment of that vow that perhaps will cost you something.
So, for instance, you will find David in the Psalm talking about paying vows that he has pledged in the wake of answers to prayers.
And you’ll find important stories in the Old Testament where godly Old Testament saints joined vows to prayers.
Let me give you a couple of examples:
Turn in your Bible to Genesis 28. Jacob is at Bethel, the House of God. In Genesis 28:18 we read,
“So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it.”
You remember, he had seen that amazing vision the night before and now, he is constructing a crude altar and engaging in public worship with the pouring of oil on this stone. And he says in verse 19,
“He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first. Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in the way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.”
Now, it might look like Jacob is doing something that we hear some of our less spiritual friends do from time to time. “Lord, if you’ll give me what I want, I’ll give something to you that you want.” “Lord, if you’ll just let me bag that buck, I’ll go to church for the next six Sundays.” Some sort of a bargaining going on between the hunter and God. That’s not what’s going on with Jacob.
Jacob is making a vow, not because he’s bargaining with God, but because he believes God’s commandments. But he also knows what? His faith is weak so in order to bind his trust in God’s promises, he makes a vow. And in order to properly honor God for the fulfilling of those promises, he fulfills the vow. He makes the vow, “Lord, if You’re going to do all the things that You’ve promised to me in this vision and elsewhere, I’m going to be a very rich man, so let me just say right now, You journey with me here and there and bring me home again, I’m going to vow right now to give you a tenth of all that you give me.”
It’s not a bargain. “Lord, You scratch my back. I’ll scratch Yours.” It’s an expression of faith in God’s promises and proper credit to God for the fulfillment of those promises. But you see it’s a part of religious worship in this context. To his belief in God, he binds a vow.
Now, yes, you hear health and wealth preachers on television grossly warping this kind of thing out of context all the time. “Sow a seed of faith,” they say to you. “Send me a $1,000 and that will help your faith bring about a great abundance of riches. If you’ll sow that seed of faith and give me a vow of a $1000.” That’s what the hunter’s doing. That’s not what Jacob’s doing. And why would you send it to a stranger anyway?
So the health and wealth teachers greatly contort this, but vows were an important of religious life in Israel.
Let me show you another example. Turn way forward in the Old Testament to 1 Samuel, all the way from the first book of Genesis to 1 Samuel 1. You remember this story. There was a godly woman in Israel who didn’t have a child. She was humiliated by this. And she cried out to the Lord and she cried out to her husband. And on one occasion, she began to pray and weep bitterly. 1 Samuel 1:10, Hannah was her name. She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly and she vowed a vow and said,
“O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”
And she had a little boy named Samuel. And he served in the house of the Lord and was a prophet of the Lord. And she kept her vow.
But the point was not to make a vow that would manipulate the Lord into doing something that she wanted him to do. The point was to bind her faith to the gracious God to whom was praying and then when He answered that prayer to follow through on the vow to acknowledge to Him that He is the one who has answered that prayer and brought it about.
This is an important of religious life in Israel, but it continues to be an important part of religious life even in the New Testament. Not only does Jesus give attention to the whole issue of vows in the Sermon on the Mount, but the Apostle Paul, as we may remember from Derek’s exposition on the book of Acts, himself took vows.
Take a look at Acts 18. Acts 18:18 –
“After this, Paul stayed many days longer and then took leave of the brothers and set sail for Syria and with him Priscilla and Aquila and at Cenchreae, he had cut his hair for he was under a vow.”
And there’s even a later passage that has to do with vows in the book of Acts and the Apostle Paul in assisting four men who had taken vows in the book of Acts. But it’s interesting that vows are still operating in the book of Acts after Pentecost, after the resurrection of Christ.
Now, what are we to learn from this? Well, we participate in the taking of vows as a part of our religious life as well. Every one in this room who is a communing member of this or any evangelical church has taken in order to be a member of that church what? Vows. Every one here who has been baptized has either taken vows or had them taken for you. Every one here who is married has taken vows, most of you, in the context of religious worship. Every time we come to the Lord’s Table, we are engaging in a recommittal of ourselves to the Lord. Those of you who are church officers have taken vows.
Vows continue to be an important part of spiritual life. And it is vital that we understand that the honor of the Lord is at stake in our fidelity to the vows that we take, and that is the very point that the commandment, “You shall not take up the name of the Lord your God in vain.” The fundamental point that that great commandment is making is not so much as those of us who grew up in the south would have been wont to say “Thou shalt not cuss”. (That’s what I thought that’s the first meaning of that commandment, you shouldn’t cuss.)
Well, you shouldn’t cuss, but the first meaning of that commandment is not so much that you shouldn’t cuss, it’s that you should never, ever take on your lips the name of the Lord in a vow that you don’t keep.
Um? What does that say about our marriage vows and our church membership vows and the vows that we take at baptism?
When I first got here, I was rummaging through some letters that Jim Baird had written and one of the letters that he wrote regularly to the parents of children who were being baptized had this thought in it. The thought was, “You know, if parents just kept the third vow that we take in the baptism of a child, it would be the most important thing that they could ever do in the rearing of those children.” And the thought struck me so much, I’ve passed that wisdom on to every parent that I’ve had the privilege and opportunity of baptizing their child.
It’s the truth. We just kept the third vow that we take it would be the single most important thing that we could do in the life of those children. Because you remember that vow commits you to live the faith as an example before them, to pray with and for them, and to teach them the Bible and the truth of the gospel.
Well, what three more important things could you do for a child than to live out the gospel in front of them, than to pray for them, and to teach them the Bible and the truths of the gospel.
Now, vows are a very important part of religious life. They continue to be so for Christians.
II. God cares about the family as we take vows.
The second point that we learned from this passage is that God cares about family harmony in the taking of vows. And He does not want family harmony to be disrupted by rash vows. That’s why vows that are taken by a daughter in the home in her youth that are not agreed to by her father are rendered null. That’s why vows taken by a fiancé prior to her marriage can be nullified by her groom to be. That’s why vows taken by a wife immediately objected to by her husband are not binding. Why? Because God cares about family harmony.
It’s vital and so even in this matter of vows, God is deeply concerned about the solidarity of the family.
And it’s so interesting to me that this shows up in the counsel of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 7. You remember at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 7? You can allow your eyes to look at that passage. It’s a fascinating passage. Apparently, what was going on in Corinth is, there were some husbands or some wives or some husbands and wives who were saying to their spouses (How can I put this delicately?) “There’s going to be no conjugal intimacy in this relationship because I’ve taken a vow.” And the Apostle Paul says, “Don’t do that unless you’re both agreed. Don’t do that to one another. Don’t give Satan an opportunity unless you’re both agreed.”
Isn’t it interesting? Paul, who in this passage is willing for some people to say, “I’m going to be celibate for life.” He’s willing for them to say that if they’re ready to make that pledge to permanent singleness for the sake of the gospel, but for those who are married he says, “Don’t make a vow like that that might bring about not only an opportunity for Satan to tempt you in the weakness of your flesh, but would also bring about dissention in the relationship.”
It’s fascinating. I was doing some research on the Council of Chalcedon, which was held a long, long time ago (451 AD). And the Emperor who called the Council of Chalcedon was married to a young woman who was reputed to be extremely godly and devoted, but she had taken a vow as a young woman to live in perpetual chastity. Yeah, you got that right. He was married to this woman.
Now, I don’t know what the effects of that arrangement were, but it couldn’t have been good with regard to his morality. You can figure out what that probably meant in terms of his relationship to other women.
But that’s what precisely what Paul’s forbidding and that’s precisely what the commands which are being given in Numbers 30 are designed to prevent.
III. Jesus took vows for His people.
One last thing. Did you know that Jesus took a vow for you? He did. It was on the night of His betrayal. It was in the upper room. It was right before He began to institute the Lord’s Supper. You’ll find it in Matthew 26.
In Matthew 26:27-28 we read,
“And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you.”
It’s a vow on the part of the Lord Jesus Christ that He will not taste of the fruit of this vine until He tastes it afresh with us. It’s a pledge of his commitment to His people. And He takes it because He loves us. And He takes it because He saved us.
“Our Heavenly Father, we thank you for this great passage on vows and we ask that in the mercy of the Holy Spirit, by the Spirit’s power, that we would take our words seriously and honor you in our truthfulness, that we would refrain from rash promises and failing to keep vows so that our integrity is not undermined and so that we are not opened up to your judgment. We pray, O God, that family harmony would not be disrupted by rash vows or vows of any kind. And we pray, Heavenly Father, that you would cause our hearts to overflow in gratefulness for the grace which has been shown to us in Christ Jesus who himself made a vow that he will keep. These prayers we lift up in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Would you stand for God’s blessing?
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.