Perhaps nothing is more beautiful than a quartet of musical master performers playing soft chamber music on perfectly tuned and delicate strings. The dips and vibrations of the music are incredibly soothing to me. Conversely, nothing is more difficult to listen to than the dissonant sounds of an instrument utterly out of tune.
I am being brief because I want to get to the point, and I don’t want the point to be muddled by a cute opening story. Today we tackle a tough passage. It will not be boring, nor will it be complex. It will, however, be openly rejected by much of the church in our country at the beginning of this century. What we desire to study will be both TRUE and TERRIBLY UNPOPULAR – because the tones of this passage will sound as dissonant to the accepted morays of modernity. The Bible is not a book that flexes with man’s fickle sense of progress – it speaks as a foundational set of truths by the Creator. Those who do not believe that have already dismissed its message – and they control the “culture shaping” airwaves of our day. In Numbers 30 we are looking at a passage that was once in tune with our nation and her people, but no more. Yet, as our culture has walked away from Biblical truth, many have made God, our very Creator, the villain that works against our freedom and happiness. Even in the church, we find ourselves at odds with some key truths of Scripture.
Let me mention two, and then look carefully at one of them – because it is the heart of our passage for this lesson. We have been thoroughly taught that America was designed to be a “melting pot” of many people into one. At one time that was true. The corollary teaching that has been a subtext to many a politician’s speech has been this popular notion that PLURALITY is what makes America strong. I want deliberately to argue that is both an unwise premise and an untrue statement. Only a strong culture can accept many into its shores and resist giving up its long held tenets. As a nation keenly and deliberately built on certain Biblical premises expressed clearly in the Declaration of Independence, we were at one time able to accept masses into Ellis Island without diluting the essential nature of our understanding of national purpose and cosmic plan. Weakened from the inside, we no longer have such a resolve. Let me illustrate:
When a doctor that heads the department of surgery or a local government sponsored “health care review board” at our local hospital is Buddhist and believes in reincarnation, how do you suppose that will affect his view of the dignity of human life, and the amount of effort and cost that should be expended in the prolongation of life of a senior citizen?
Is plurality always a strength? Should not the dignity of man found in their ONE life on the earth be the deciding factor. No, if you are from a generation that equates pluralism with strength and the demand to stand on founding principle as a throw-back to some red neck form of ignorance. Pluralism is the sweet brand of polytheism that now reigns in the hallways of Kansas public schools that are challenged in court at the very mention Jesus, but enforce policies whereby students learn the five pillars of Islam. Pluralism in a culture that doesn’t know its own foundation is a tsunami pushing against a building that is unattached to a foundation. Yet, ask students across the country, and they will not only not know much of the Bible, they will overwhelmingly believe what they have been taught – pluralism is GOOD, and always the BEST WAY FORWARD.
If you find yourself troubled by the first illustration we just offered, you will find yourself enraged at the next one. We are going to tackle a treasured misbelief so dear, that many believers would fight with their last sinew of strength to defend a principle that just won’t hold up in the court of clear Biblical study. I don’t want to pick a fight, but the time to back up when the culture leans in to push the text around is long over. These clashes must be answered with LOVE, but that love does not imply a PUSH OVER DOCTRINE.
Key Principle: Our true purpose is determined by our Creator, not our culture. It is in that purpose we find peace.
Before we dive in, let’s set the passage in context. The “Civil Code” of Law in Exodus and Numbers finds its last chapter here. The subjects of Civil Code began with the Core Values of Exodus 20, along with some case studies on issues regarding Servants, Injuries, Property, Social Issues and Celebrations in Exodus 21-23. The Exodus account ends with an affirmation that the people of Israel would stand by that Law as a covenant with God (Exodus 24). The laws were to them, but the principles within those laws made clear the priorities of a changeless God that we serve today – and in that way the laws were also for us (in principle form). Numbers continued that Civil Code of Law in passages like:
• Numbers 5 that dealt with the purity in marriage and the faithfulness of a spouse.
• Numbers 6 we discussed the issues of purity again, and saw the Nazarite vow before the Lord.
• Numbers 15 we observed the “basics” of Jewish observance of religious rites that pleased God.
• As we end our view of the Civil Code, we have discussed offerings given to the Lord.
• In the end, we read of the very important statement concerning the subject of making VOWS before God.
Take a deep breath, because the lesson today isn’t about VOWS – it is about judicial responsibility before God. It is about the direct clash the Bible has with our modern assumption that God has made us all, in every way, absolutely EQUAL before Him. Let me be very clear to state something I believe to be overwhelmingly Biblical, but undeniably at odds with modern western culture… God did not make all men and women equal in responsibility before Him- though He made them all absolutely equal in value before Him.
I am not suggesting that our sex determines our VALUE before God – but it does determine our judicial equality and our culpability before God. The Bible nowhere tries to make the case that women have the same spiritual culpability and judicial responsibility before God as men. That doesn’t make them any LESS than it makes those of us without a WOMB less a parent. It makes us DIFFERENT, but modern western thinkers ABHOR DIFFERENCES – for they can only see one size for everyone. In modernity, there must be equal pay for one who cannot lift the jackhammer as for one who can – or somehow it is NOT FAIR.
Don’t write off what we are studying yet, for the Bible offers a very complete explanation that has been so thoroughly erased from our culture, that many young women would trade the Bible away for the promise of an equality that will leave them both empty and adrift.
First, let’s wrestle with the text before us, then we shall put it in a larger Biblical context. We will address it in a series of five principles:
Principle One: Tough Issues are supposed to be handled by leaders, and carefully explained to the people.
Look at the opening of Numbers 30:1 Moses said to the heads of the tribes of Israel: “This is what the Lord commands…16 These are the regulations the Lord gave Moses concerning relationships between a man and his wife, and between a father and his young daughter still living at home.
Moses spent no time explaining God’s right to prescribe truth. That would have been foolish! This was the generation who spent time in the desert. They knew God stood for them in front of the Amalekites that attempted to wipe them out. Their parents told them of the parting of the Sea when Pharaoh launched an attack on them. Stories of manna and water from rocks filled their childhood ears – so God’s power and their protection was nothing new to them. Yet, like the miracles God performed to get a few small wooden vessels across the Atlantic to the shores of the new world; like the powerful record of God’s abundant provisions of dried corn to prayerful and desperate settlers at Plymouth Rock – many stories had lost their power over time. Moses simply took the Word of the Lord and spoke it. That was the beginning of power, and still is.
When the pulpits of our land ring with a serious tone of the truth of God’s Word – there will be seriousness about our sin. When our schools again remember that a Personal and Loving God gave us a world to live in – there will be the bowing of the knees of our people rather than the arrogance of entitlement. When Washington stops trying to placate the insatiable perversions of men and turns its sights again to the Heavens – the family will take wings and rise from the desperate ashes we have enflamed. Judgment begins with the household of God. Truth begins with the knowledge of the Lord. Where there is neither truth, nor seriousness over sin – folly reigns – and with it increasing darkness, higher expense, and less safety to good citizens.
Look at the words of the last verse of Numbers 30. This is the regulation of God. These are truths about how the Creator views the responsibility of men (fathers and later husbands) of a woman. This is God’s expectation, and behind it is a simple principle – people are to pattern respect, understanding and rules by what God says is right.
Principle Two: Your word is your bond before God!!
Moses moved to the simple statement that has been deeply eroded in our own litigious society. Numbers 30:2 When a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.
Here is the standard of a vow. Keep your word. Don’t look for a thousand justifications in piles of paperwork to somehow recuse yourself from keeping a promise. When you say you will do something, let your word be your bond. When you carefully speak to the Lord concerning an issue in your life, and you outline your own willingness to make a change – keep what you have promised. When you sign it, stop looking for ways to say you shouldn’t have to do what you signed.
I know in the slippery world we live in this principle is getting harder to deal with. Recently, I had to take a child to the hospital and was handed a form and told I had to sign it. I replied, I need to know something about the cost. I cannot simply sign that “I will be responsible for payment” when the amount could be $1,000 or $1,000,000. The man at the desk looked at me as if I grew an extra head. “Just sign it, that’s what everyone does!” I found no comfort in those words, and I know that it isn’t always as simple as doing what you said, when you cannot even know what promise you are making.
What I can say is this: a great many people are trying to skirt the rules they knew very well when they made promises. Let me try it this way: When you agreed to do your job, you may have been given sick days as part of your contract. These SICK DAYS are not extra vacation days. They are exactly what they are called – SICK DAYS. I cannot tell you as an employer how many people used them up on silliness, and then posited that I wasn’t a nice guy because now they “were actually sick!” Let’s stick to honest use of our tongues. If you have to lie to sell it, leave the work. If you have to cheat to win, quit the contest. If your word is no longer important to you – know that it IS IMPORTANT to God.
Principle Three: Women do not share equal judicial culpability before God.
Here is where we really get into some trouble with modern culture. First, listen to what Moses said God told him in Numbers 30:3 “When a young woman still living in her father’s household makes a vow to the Lord or obligates herself by a pledge 4 and her father hears about her vow or pledge but says nothing to her, then all her vows and every pledge by which she obligated herself will stand. 5 But if her father forbids her when he hears about it, none of her vows or the pledges by which she obligated herself will stand; the Lord will release her because her father has forbidden her.
Look carefully at the conditions. This is a young woman that has not been married, and she is at her father’s home. She vows to the Lord something that she must do. When her father became aware of the vow, he had the power of a veto over her decision. At the same time, if she made the choice but her father rescinded her vow – God cleared her of responsibility for the vow.
Look at another case to underscore the point in the text. In Numbers 30:6 “If she marries after she makes a vow or after her lips utter a rash promise by which she obligates herself 7 and her husband hears about it but says nothing to her, then her vows or the pledges by which she obligated herself will stand. 8 But if her husband forbids her when he hears about it, he nullifies the vow that obligates her or the rash promise by which she obligates herself, and the Lord will release her.
In the second case the woman is outside her father’s home, and living with her husband. She is an adult, and she is capable to busy herself in commerce, as Proverbs 31 clearly says. If she makes a rash promise and her husband hears and rejects the terms – God releases her from the guilt involved in that promise. This is one reason why the Bible insisted on parental involvement in the wedding process – something our culture now assumes to be utterly unimportant.
While some of you are ready to fight back about this as if God was robbing this woman of some intrinsic dignity and value – don’t forget the premise. Our true purpose is determined by our Creator, not our culture. It is in that purpose we find peace. God protected women in a way that our society has desperately tried to define as bondage.
When our culture followed God’s law, I could open a door for a woman without her feeling as though I was somehow stating that she could not manage to turn a knob and pull it. I could exempt her from the awful conditions of combat to keep her as a protected and cherished part of our homes that would not be subjected to the forced situations that plague our military even as we speak. We think we made women free – but we didn’t. We demeaned them by making them do things they were not meant to do. The horrors of war are just the beginning. The world stands back and cannot fathom the harm done to women in India, when a group of empowered men assault a woman in broad daylight. I will speak from my own experience – war is worse. It is unquestionably, unfathomably worse. Amped up with testosterone and with the taste of blood in the mouths of warriors, there is no place for a woman in a combat zone. You can agree or not, but I have been there, and I will not change my mind after the horrors I have seen.
Enough of my opinion, the text is what is important. The text makes certain that a woman is protected from ultimate judicial responsibility. That much is clear and undeniable.
Principle Four: There are women without coverings.
God never wanted it to be this way, but one of the most difficult parts of becoming a widow or a divorcee as a woman was to have your covering removed. The protection that a woman had under the law did not extend to such cases, as found in Numbers 30:9 “Any vow or obligation taken by a widow or divorced woman will be binding on her.
Here I can offer only one comfort: the fair warning should make one more careful about making agreements when uncovered. Advise should be sought, as it will make things safer. Fortunately for believers, we have a family beyond the physical, and this is one place the covering can be, at least in part, restored. That was part of the purpose of Paul’s careful instructions concerning widows to Timothy.
Principle Five: A husband is judicially responsible for his wife.
When you read the last part of the passage, it appears a repeat – but it is not. The purpose is to emphasize the end. In Numbers 30:10 “If a woman living with her husband makes a vow or obligates herself by a pledge under oath 11 and her husband hears about it but says nothing to her and does not forbid her, then all her vows or the pledges by which she obligated herself will stand. 12 But if her husband nullifies them when he hears about them, then none of the vows or pledges that came from her lips will stand. Her husband has nullified them, and the Lord will release her. 13 Her husband may confirm or nullify any vow she makes or any sworn pledge to deny herself. 14 But if her husband says nothing to her about it from day to day, then he confirms all her vows or the pledges binding on her. He confirms them by saying nothing to her when he hears about them. 15 If, however, he nullifies them some time after he hears about them, then he must bear the consequences of her wrongdoing.”
The point of the passage is that the husband is held fully responsible for his wife’s vow if knows about it and does not swiftly nullify it. This is because of the judicial chain of responsibility of the Bible.
If you look elsewhere in the Bible, you will see how this truth plays out in life for a believer, even today. Let’s looks at three passages that will help us see it:
First, let’s recall when, how and why women were created in Genesis 2.
Genesis 2:18 Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” 19 Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought [them] to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. 21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. 22 The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. 23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.” 24 For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
• God had the intention of making woman to help man because he would be alone, and that was not good (2:18).
• God made her to be different (“nehged” is translated “suitable” but also “apart from” or “opposite” him – 2:18).
• God waited for man to recognize that there was no one “like” him, even though it was clear to God already (2:19-20). This is a common pattern, where God allowed man to learn what he needed to by experience.
• God fashioned woman FROM man – so that he would cherish her as part of himself. Self-preservation and its paired value of EGO were very much a part of man from the beginning (2:21-23).
Here is the part we often read past. The point of the passage wasn’t supposed to offer a science lesson on woman’s creation – it was much more. The whole POINT to the story was the end in 2:24. God formed the family based on the MAN HAVING THE JUDICIAL RESPONSIBILITY before God and making himself responsible for covering the woman. The woman was to be HIS RESPONSIBILITY to love and protect, to cherish and provide for. This wasn’t supposed to be about her taking responsibility for HIM. That is the projection of values that are foreign to the Biblical idea.
I simply argue that we MUST teach young men to care for women with a special protective cover. They should not mock, mimic or molest – but treat them with respect, care and courtesy. It MUST come from within the church – because the society is at odds with this under the guise of “equal rights”. I will say it again – because I do not have a womb does not make me less a parent. Value is not the same as function. She is to be prized, but she is to be protected. That is the clear pattern of the text.
Second, let’s examine the cataclysm of the Fall in Genesis 3 and observe what happened to women in the aftermath of the Fall.
Sin entered the garden with the Tempter taking the form of the serpent. In Genesis 3:16 God spoke to the woman about her rebellion and its consequences: “To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, In pain you will bring forth children; Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you.”
Even the most casual reading reveals three truths: First, God levied a measure of discipline on the woman directly. Second, the reproductive system and pain were part of the discipline. Third, she would have a desire that was part of the discipline – a passion for something regarding her husband that was followed by the phrase – “Your husband will rule over you!” The term for “desire” is seldom used in Scripture, but is used in cases where one stretched out to gain something they wanted – they reached for it. The term “rule” simply translates “have dominion”. A simple reading is this: You will reach for control, but I have given that to him. You aren’t in charge, but you will want to be.
“Chauvinist!” You may yell. Ok, I don’t believe if you knew me you would believe that, but I am willing to accept that in “modern culture terms” that is what it looks like. Rack that one up alongside the notion of “tolerance” that is now making it impossible to agree with the Bible on marriage and morality and still be considered a truly “loving” person. Rather than being a reactionary, let’s simply evaluate what the Bible actually says. For those who don’t like it, that is a different problem than those who don’t hear it clearly or understand it thoroughly.
Third, let’s observe the way Paul applied the truths about women to leadership issues in the church.
Paul’s argument about women leading in the church had nothing to do with their personal capability to do so. He didn’t stop women from Pastoral ministry because he thought they were less adequate in their mind or heart. He did so because the Scripture doesn’t allow us to overrule the judicial standards of God because we wanted God to do things more in keeping with our culture.
Paul told Timothy in 1 Timothy 2:11 A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. 12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. 13 For it was Adam who was first created, [and] then Eve. 14 And [it was] not Adam [who] was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. 15 But [women] will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.
Paul argued the reasons she was to quietly learn in the public worship meetings of the church were because of the order of creation, and the order of the deception involved in the Fall in the Garden. In another letter, this one to the Corinthian church he said this in 1 Corinthians 11:7 For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. 8 For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; 9 for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake. 10 Therefore the woman ought to have [a symbol of] authority on her head, because of the angels. 11 However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. … 16 But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.
Here Paul added to the order of creation and fall, and inserted PURPOSE of Creation, and because of some on-looking angels, that seem to still be open to rebellion. He finished the passage with a note that ALL THE CHURCHES were so instructed – resisting the notion that this was but a localized principle for the women in Corinth.
Finally, let’s see how Numbers 30 applies in principle to the background of these three other passages.
Let me say it gently, carefully, but ever so clearly. God made women from men and held them under a man’s judicial responsibility. They were designed to be cherished not abused, protected not objectified. Our culture stands opposed to this. They want EQUAL RIGHTS to mean that she serves in combat, and she is treated in all respects as though her body is identical to his. It offends common logic, and worse yet – is flat out un-Biblical.
Now the point of the lesson:
Our true purpose is determined by our Creator, not our culture. It is in that purpose we find peace.
We won’t find peace in our society by erasing the Bible – we will find confusion. We won’t free women by saddling them with weight they were not designed to carry – regardless of how many people in our society say we will. These are the voices that say “family” is a cultural term. These are the voices that say “gender” is in your “head” and not determined by your biology. Watch the social services budgets soar as we create more confused, more entitled, more broken people. They wanted easy divorce – they got it. They want now to erase the other lines. The Bible will not go with them – so they will fight to extinguish its message. We will, filled with love and compassion – look them in the eye and tell them they are wrong. The undoing of the foundation will be the undoing of the society it built. Of that, I have no doubt.
We will deal honestly with the clash of cultures, just as Christians have done for centuries. We will wash their dirty feet and hug filthy bodies. We will work hard and provide for ourselves to be an example to the ever growing community of the confused and needy. Their freedoms will enslave them, but we will show them where the key that unlocks the shackles can be found. The Savior still has the keys!