Numbers xxx.

Notes & Commentary:

Ver. 3. Oath, to do something commendable, shall observe his promise, whether any body has heard him or not. The Rabbins pretend, that if the vow be not expressed in words, it is not obligatory. But this is only true before men, who cannot subject their fellow creatures to punishment for internal faults. (Haydock) — The obligation of a vow or oath is founded upon common honesty, which requires that we should comply with our lawful promises; and, though all properly belong to God, yet, as he does not strictly require us to do every good work, which may be in our power, we may, by vow, testify our desire to please and honour him the more. Some of the Rabbins have very loose sentiments with respect to vows, which they look upon as no better than building an altar, or immolating a victim upon the high places. It is sufficient, they say, to observe the law, apud Fagium. (Calmet) — Luther was desirous of introducing the same loose morality among Christians. But we need not ask, what the Rabbins said, or Luther, &c. But what does God and his Church assert? The Scripture repeatedly commends prudent vows; and those who can persuade themselves, that they can infringe such solemn promises without offence, will be little solicitous about keeping their word to a fellow creature, unless when interest, or fear of shame, force them to do it. (Haydock) — He who makes a vow to abstain from any thing lawful, would be guilty of sin if he should observe it afterwards. (St. Augustine, q. 56.) (Worthington)

Ver. 4. Girl in age, not 12; or, if more, at least not married, nor out of her father’s house, ver. 17. For either of these conditions rendered a girl incapable of binding herself irrevocably. The father, or all who had the care of her, might rescind her vow, provided they did it as soon as it came to their knowledge, or on the same day, ver. 15. Boys under 13, were under similar restrictions. (Grotius) — Wives, and, in general, all who are under subjection, could not dispose of themselves without the consent of their superiors, as their want of prudence, &c., might have otherwise injured what belonged, in some measure, to another. (Haydock) — The law, therefore, submits their case to the decision of their immediate judges. (Calmet) — But if the thing, which a person vowed, was already of strict obligation, as to fast on the day of expiation, (Leviticus xxiii. 29,) no one could presume to hinder his wife from complying with this double duty. (Worthington)

Ver. 7. Husband, whether she live with him, or with her father; whether she be only espoused, or the marriage be consummated. Women often staid for some time at their father’s house after they were married; and, in this case, some people say that either her father or her husband might disannul her vow. But others allow this right only to her husband. (Bonfrere) See ver. 11. (Calmet)

Ver. 14. It. The Rabbins restrain this law to fasting and abstinence. But the Hebrew seems more general, (ver. 13,) “every vow, and every binding oath to afflict the soul, her husband may ratify or annul.” The vows of abstinence are most common, and generally more disagreeable to husbands. (Calmet) — St. Augustine (q. 59,) thinks it unreasonable that the husband should have a control over the vows of continency in his wife, any more than she could have over him, in this particular, as their rights are equal: he seems inclined to allow him to annul the vows of abstinence only. Indeed this seems to be the meaning of afflicting the soul, which is done by submitting to various restraints, required on days of fasting. See Leviticus xxiii. 27. (Haydock) — In things which could nowise hurt the parent or husband, many believe, that the person who had made a vow, was bound to perform it secretly, even though the superior had declared his dissent. But with respect to fasting, pilgrimages, &c., which could not be performed, without his knowledge, it does not seem that they were under any farther obligation, even though the superior should retract what he had connived at for a whole day. In doubtful cases, inferiors must not refuse to obey. The sin lies at the door of him who exercises his authority in an improper manner. (Lyranus) (Tirinus) (ver. 16.)

Ver. 15. Day. Hebrew, “from day to day.” If he has not given his decision on the first day when the vow came to his knowledge, unless he asked for a delay, as some allow, the person was bound to perform what she had promised. (Calmet) — Immediately. Hebrew, “in the day,” which seems to restrict the power of annulling the vow to a single day, ver. 4. It would be unreasonable for the person to be kept long in suspense; and the law of God requires that we should not defer to perform our vows, Ecclesiastes v. 3, 4. (Haydock)

Ver. 16. That. Septuagint, “the day.” If he retract his consent, he shall incur all the guilt. (St. Augustine, q. 59.) The woman need not be under any disquietude, as the fault is not in her. (Calmet) — If a person had made a rash vow, he might obtain a dispensation from the tribunal of three judges, or from a doctor of the law, who would enjoin him to offer the sacrifice for ignorance, to punish his levity. See Selden, Jur. vii. 2. Those who break their vow are to be scourged among the Jews, which shews that they do not, in general, approve the sentiments of those Rabbins whom Fagius, a Protestant, alleges, ver. 3. They make a distinction between vows and promises confirmed by an oath, ver. 11. The former change the nature of a thing, according to them; so that, if a person should vow not to wear the phylacteries ordained by Moses, he must comply, though not if he had only promised on oath to refrain. But this distinction is absurd. No vow or oath can bind any person to transgress the law of God. (Haydock)

Bible Text & Cross-references:

Of vows and oaths: and their obligation.

1 And Moses told the children of Israel all that the Lord had commanded him:

2 And he said to the princes of the tribes of the children of Israel: This is the word that the Lord hath commanded:

3 If any man make a vow to the Lord, or bind himself by an oath: he shall not make his word void, but shall fulfil all that he promised.

4 If a woman vow any thing, and bind herself with an oath, being in her father’s house, and but yet a girl in age: if her father knew the vow that she hath promised, and the oath wherewith she hath bound her soul, and held his peace, she shall be bound by the vow:

5 Whatsoever she promised, and swore, she shall fulfil in deed.

6 But if her father, immediately as soon as he heard it, gain-said it, both her vows and her oaths shall be void, neither shall she be bound to what she promised, because her father hath gain-said it.

7 If she have a husband, and shall vow any thing, and the word once going out of her mouth, shall bind her soul by an oath:

8 The day that her husband shall hear it, and not gain-say it, she shall be bound to the vow, and shall give whatsoever she promised.

9 But if as soon as he heareth, he gain-say it, and make her promises, and the words wherewith she had bound her soul of no effect; the Lord will forgive her.

10 The widow, and she that is divorced, shall fulfil whatsoever they vow.

11 If the wife, in the house of her husband, hath bound herself by vow and by oath:

12 If her husband hear, and hold his peace, and doth not disallow the promise, she shall accomplish whatsoever she had promised.

13 But if forthwith he gain-say it, she shall not be bound by the promise: because her husband gain-said it, and the Lord will be merciful to her.

14 If she vow, and bind herself by oath, to afflict her soul by fasting, or abstinence, from other things, it shall depend on the will of her husband, whether she shall do it, or not do it.

15 But if the husband hearing it, hold his peace, and defer the declaring his mind till another day: whatsoever she had vowed and promised, she shall fulfil: because immediately as he heard it, he held his peace.

16 But if he gain-say it after that he knew it, he shall bear her iniquity.

17 These are the laws which the Lord appointed to Moses, between the husband and the wife, between the father and the daughter, that is as yet but a girl in age, or that abideth in her father’s house.