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This chapter makes it clear that the home is basic to the nation, that there must be authority and subordination in the home, and that truth is what binds society together. There is a difference between “vows” and “oaths.” The vow was a promise to do a certain thing for the Lord, while the oath was a promise not to do a certain thing.
Moses reminded the people that their promise to God was a very serious matter and must be kept (vv. 1-2). In Old Testament times people did not sign written contracts. A person’s word was as binding as a signature and to make a vow was even more binding. No one was forced by law to make a vow; but once made they were to be fulfilled. To break a vow meant a broken trust and a broken relationship. Trust is still the basis of our relationships with God and other people. A broken promise today is just as harmful as it was in Moses day. When people forget that God hears what they say they are tempted to lie and this causes the fabric of society to come apart.
Any and all vows made by a man were unconditional, and he was fully responsible for them; but vows made by a woman were often conditional in nature. There were at least two types of vows that could be broken but only immediately after they were discovered. The first being the vow of an unmarried daughter living in her father’s house which could be invalidated, but only immediately after it was discovered (vv. 3-5). If the father hears the vow and says nothing, the vow must stand and the young lady must fulfill it. The second was that the vow of a married woman which could be invalidated by her husband (vv. 6-8; 10-16). If he disagrees with the vow and forbids it the vow is annulled but it must be done soon after it happens. A widow or divorcee must stand by her vow in the same way as a man (v. 9).
To make a promise is to obligate myself to the Lord, whether I realize this or not. The foundations of society today are eroding because of unkept promises, whether they involve official contracts, marriage vows, political pledges, or words spoken on the witness stand. We expect the Lord to keep His promises and He expects us to keep ours.
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