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Vows Made by Women


Then Moses said to the heads of the tribes of the Israelites: This is what the L ord has commanded. 2When a man makes a vow to the L ord, 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.

3 When a woman makes a vow to the L ord, or binds herself by a pledge, while within her father’s house, in her youth, 4and her father hears of her vow or her pledge by which she has bound herself, and says nothing to her; then all her vows shall stand, and any pledge by which she has bound herself shall stand. 5But if her father expresses disapproval to her at the time that he hears of it, no vow of hers, and no pledge by which she has bound herself, shall stand; and the L ord will forgive her, because her father had expressed to her his disapproval.

6 If she marries, while obligated by her vows or any thoughtless utterance of her lips by which she has bound herself, 7and her husband hears of it and says nothing to her at the time that he hears, then her vows shall stand, and her pledges by which she has bound herself shall stand. 8But if, at the time that her husband hears of it, he expresses disapproval to her, then he shall nullify the vow by which she was obligated, or the thoughtless utterance of her lips, by which she bound herself; and the L ord will forgive her. 9(But every vow of a widow or of a divorced woman, by which she has bound herself, shall be binding upon her.) 10And if she made a vow in her husband’s house, or bound herself by a pledge with an oath, 11and her husband heard it and said nothing to her, and did not express disapproval to her, then all her vows shall stand, and any pledge by which she bound herself shall stand. 12But if her husband nullifies them at the time 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 nullified them, and the L ord will forgive her. 13Any vow or any binding oath to deny herself, her husband may allow to stand, or her husband may nullify. 14But if her husband says nothing to her from day to day, then he validates all her vows, or all her pledges, by which she is obligated; he has validated them, because he said nothing to her at the time that he heard of them. 15But if he nullifies them some time after he has heard of them, then he shall bear her guilt.

16 These are the statutes that the L ord commanded Moses concerning a husband and his wife, and a father and his daughter while she is still young and in her father’s house.

1 And Moses spake. Moses teaches in this chapter that the vows which were made by persons who were not free, were not held good before God; and although no mention is made of male children, still, as their condition was the same, it seems that by synecdoche they must be included with the daughters and wives, unless perhaps God chose to pay regard to the weaker sex. But since He permits females, who were not under their father’s power, to make vows in spite of their sex, nor does He make it to be an excuse for levity or thoughtlessness, it seems that the object proposed was, that the right of the father over his children as well as of the husband over the wife, should be maintained inviolate.

2. If a man vow a vow. Wishing to modify the general law, lest any one should think that there was any contradiction in this exception, he begins by repeating the law itself, that every one should faithfully pay whatever he had vowed; as much as to say, that this stands good, but that he only refers to such as are their own masters; and that women or girls who are under the power of another, were not free to make vows without the concurrence of their fathers’ or husbands’ consent. This preface, however, must be understood, as I have already pointed out, of lawful vows, whereby neither is religion corrupted nor the holiness of God’s name profaned. And assuredly, unless what we offer is acceptable to God, there can be no obligation on the conscience. Moreover, since there is here a distinction made between males and females, it may be probably conjectured that boys of ten years old, although still united with their family, are bound by their promises; and therefore I will not pertinaciously contend about this, because it is better to leave undecided whatever is doubtful, and disputable, as it is commonly called, on either side.

3. If a woman also vow. He now proceeds to the point of which he proposed to treat, i.e., that vows made by persons who are not their own masters do not hold good; and he mentions two cases. For, in the first place, he teaches that if a daughter, whilst living with her father, has vowed anything without his knowledge, it is of no force. He lays down the same rule, if the father, hearing the vow, has disallowed it; but if he has held his peace, it is declared that his silence is equivalent to consent. Hence we gather that all those who are possessed of power do not do their duty unless they frankly and discreetly express their opposition whenever anything displeases them; since their connivance is a kind of tacit approbation. In the second place, he treats of married women, whose vows, made in the absence or with the disapproval of their husbands, he commands to be of none effect; but if the husbands have known of them, and been silent, he obliges their performance. For many deceptions might have thus arisen; since it is usual with many when they wish to gratify their wives, to conceal their opinion for the time, but, when the period of actual performance arrives, to elude what may have been promised. But unless they use their privilege in proper time, God would have them bear the punishment of their servile indulgence and dissimulation; but because women are often urged to deceive by their levity and inconstancy, this danger is also anticipated. It may also happen 326326     The Lat. is, “Accidet ut mulier in vidaitate viro non subjecta, praecipiti zeli fervore voveat, eo mortuo retractet specioso praetextu, quia tunc libera non erat, nec sui juris.” The Fr., “Il adviendra qu’une femme estante en sujection de mari, vouera par une ardeur hastive de zele, le marl trespasse, elle prendra honneste couverture de se retracter, d’autant qu’elle n’estoit pas libre pour lors.” I have translated the latter, not being able to understand the original, nor to reconcile them. that a woman, when subject to her husband, may make a vow in the precipitate fervor of her zeal, and when he is dead, may retract it under the specious pretext that she was not then free and her own mistress; the same thing may occur when a divorced woman shall bind herself, and then when she has married, shall appear to herself to be released. Since instances of this wicked change of mind are too frequent, no wonder that this special precaution should be added, to prevent frauds. Wherefore God declares that the period when the vow was made is to be considered, so that they are no less liable than as if their condition had remained the same. He therefore condemns to the performance of their vow those women who have been emancipated from their fathers’ authority by marriage, and also who have been set free by death or divorce; yet it appears from the last verse of the chapter, that two exceptions, modifying the general law, are here peculiarly treated of.

5. But if her father disallow her. The expression is remarkable, “And the Lord shall forgive her,” whereby Moses gently reproves the foolish thoughtlessness of the girl; and soon afterwards the same thing is spoken of married women. And surely their rashness is worthy of reprehension, if unmindful of their condition, they, as it were, shake off the yoke and hastily commit themselves. God therefore hints that they are not without blame; but lest they should be tormented by secret remorse, He removes every scruple, declaring that He will forgive, if the performance of the vow shall have been prevented in any other quarter. When the dissent of the father or the husband is required on the same day, it is tantamount to saying that what they have once approved of cannot be disallowed. Further, to “hold his peace” to a wife or daughter, signifies that he does not oppose, but give by silence a token of consent.

9. But every vow of a widow. I have stated why widows are expressly named, viz., lest a woman should think that by a second marriage she would escape, as being no longer free, and again under the yoke; since by such subtle excuses people often extricate themselves. No other subject is referred to down to the end of the last verse but one; for they have made a very gross mistake, who interpret it as applying to a family and its master. 327327     Ver. 10, ואם-בית אישה. Literally, “And if the house of her husband.” C. and A.V. follow LXX. in assuming that the preposition in should be supplied before the house. S.M., on the other hand, translates the word בית, family, which is undeniably allowable; but says in a note, “By family, is to be understood the wife here, as the chief personage in it after its master.” To this treatment of the text C. here adverts, as strange on the part of one so skillful in the Hebrew tongue. — W The subject itself certainly does not admit of such an explanation; and the words of Moses forbid it: so that it is the more surprising that persons skilled in the Hebrew language have not seen the matter clearly.

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