We discovered last week that even if God had not, in His Word, provided for us specific passages relating to the roles and duties of unmarried young women, we still would see, through observing the roles God has fashioned for women, that it is only proper that a young woman live at home with her parents until marriage. After all, she is a female, so why not prepare for (in the case of the roles of wife, helpmeet and mother) and live out now (in the case of being under the leadership, provision and protection of a man) the roles and responsibilities given to females? So, our main discovery last week regarding the Biblical case for stay-at-home daughterhood was that God provided for us a foundation for the doctrine of stay-at-home daughterhood when He issued forth to us His teachings regarding the roles of women. Our gracious God has, however, provided us with numerous passages on the topic of unmarried adult daughters as well-one of which we will be studying in detail today. Through the course of the following few weeks, we will continue to come into contact with other passages relating to the topic of unmarried daughters and the subject of what pursuits, and in what sphere, they are to spend their time.
The first passage of Scripture we will study is the beautiful one of Numbers 30. What a rich treasure of teaching on Biblical daughterhood (and Biblical family life, for that matter!) this chapter presents to us! Through the reading of this passage, we can't help but discover the reality of the special love and special place our great God has in His heart for women, the weaker sex. He has provided a gracious design of special protection and provision for them. This chapter of the Bible reveals that a female's protection and a father's and husband's authority and leadership are of paramount importance in the sight of God. I encourage you to read the entire chapter of Numbers 30; but for now, we are simply going to focus on verses 2-9 which proclaim:
"2 If a man vow a vow unto the LORD, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth. 3 If a woman also vow a vow unto the LORD, and bind herself by a bond, being in her father's house in her youth; 4 And her father hear her vow, and her bond wherewith she hath bound her soul, and her father shall hold his peace at her; then all her vows shall stand, and every bond wherewith she hath bound her soul shall stand. 5But if her father disallow her in the day that he heareth, not any of her vows, or of her bonds wherewith she hath bound her soul, shall stand; and the LORD shall forgive her, because her father disallowed her. 6And if she had at all an husband, when she vowed, or uttered ought out of her lips, wherewith she bound her soul; 7And her husband heard it, and held his peace at her in the day that he heard it: then her vows shall stand, and her bonds wherewith she bound her soul shall stand. 8But if her husband disallowed her on the day that he heard it; then he shall make her vow which she vowed, and that which she uttered with her lips, wherewith she bound her soul, of none effect: and the LORD shall forgive her. 9But every vow of a widow, and of her that is divorced, wherewith they have bound their souls, shall stand against her."
This passage of Scripture is one of the most eloquent and beautiful examples in God's Word of the fact that His design for the lives of unmarried daughters is that they live in their father's homes under their protection, provision and leadership until they are given in marriage. Some view this passage as one that simply proclaims that if an unmarried daugther in in her father's house, then he should exert authority over her, and that it is not expressly presenting a picture of stay-at-home daughterhood, or the precepts thereof. However, I think the truths of this passage are much richer and go far deeper than this notion allows. There are numerous points I would like to make regarding this chapter.
First, as you can see, a man is required by God to fulfill each and every vow and oath he has made, regardless of how unwise, detrimental, or rash it may have been. Our Savior in His abundant grace and mercy has provided a special blessing of protection and "a way out" for females, however. Women are, simply by nature, more gullible and rash (take the example of Eve, for instance), and so we sometimes find ourselves in uncomfortable and damaging situations due to our rash utterances, agreements, oaths and vows. The Lord is so gracious and forgiving, though! If a daughter or wife finds herself in an awkward or damaging situation due to some agreement or promise she has unwisely made, the Lord has so designed matters that her father or husband can reverse that vow-he is now responsible to the Lord for the oath or rash agreement, and the female involved is now mercifully released and forgiven, for her protector has overruled her-she is no longer required to fulfill that oath. The grace and mercy of the Lord shown forth in this beautiful passage amaze me! Women are more emotional beings, whereas men are more logical. This is how God has so designed us (these characteristics correspond perfectly with our roles!), and in so doing has provided women with a covering-a protection fashioned and ordained by the Almighty Himself! Why would any daughter want to be out from under the precious protection and authority that the Lord has lovingly placed over her and designed especially for her?
The Grave Importance of Vows
Lest we begin to think lightly of vows and fail to understand just how amazing our Lord's teachings in this passage are, let us study for a moment the dire importance of oaths made unto the Lord. The teachings and implications of Numbers 30 are simply astounding when one studies Ecclesiastes 5:4-5:
"4When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. 5Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay."
Clearly, the Lord places a huge importance on vows and the keeping of them. Vows and oaths are very serious utterances which are not viewed lightly by God. When a person makes a vow, he is not only binding himself to the person to whom he has vowed, but ultimately to God Himself, as well. This is precisely why vows are so important and are not to be taken lightly-they are promises one has made in the sight of Almighty God. We read that it is better not to make a vow at all than to vow and then not pay. In fact, our God views the vow-maker as a fool who is not pleasing to Him if he fails to carry through with his promise. Yet Numbers 30 teaches us an amazing truth-despite the huge importance in God's eyes of vows being kept, there are two things of even greater importance in the eyes of God: 1) the leadership and authority of a father and husband and 2) the protection, care, and security of a wife and daughter. In God's eyes, these roles are crucial and of more importance than the keeping of vows. Is that not amazing? Does this not provide us with a glimpse into the heart of God as it pertains to the lives of unmarried daughters? This eye-opening passage shows that it is of paramount importance in God's eyes that a female be under the protection and authority of a man. Numbers 30 shows the importance God places on this. Christians, we must strive to obey and live out this passage! However, it simply cannot be lived out and obeyed as it should be if an unmarried daughter is off on her own, independent from her father. If our Lord's teachings, as presented in Numbers 30, are to be fully embraced and lived out in day-to-day life, an unmarried daughter must be in her father's home until marriage-she simply cannot be on her own. This chapter leaves no room for "in between time" where a daughter is on her own, separated from and void of her father's full protection and authority between the time when she finishes her secondary education and when she finally gets married.
Some would attempt to point out that when Numbers 30 refers to the daughter in her father's house, it uses the words, "in her youth", striving to imply that this means that this passage before us is only referring to female children and married women-not grown daughters. There are a few points I would like to make in response to this argument, as well as to the argument outlined above which says that this passage is not teaching that unmarried daughters are to live at home until marriage, but simply that if they are at home, their father is to exert authority over them. I pray that this presentation would be a blessing to you.
Various Observations on the Text of Numbers 30
1. Notice the Context
Knowing the context of a verse, rather than trying to take a word or phrase from its context, is crucially important. Notice verses 5-7 of Numbers 30: "5But if her father disallow her in the day that he heareth, not any of her vows, or of her bonds wherewith she hath bound her soul, shall stand; and the LORD shall forgive her, because her father disallowed her. 6And if she had at all an husband, when she vowed, or uttered ought out of her lips, wherewith she bound her soul; 7And her husband heard it, and held his peace at her in the day that he heard it: then her vows shall stand, and her bonds wherewith she bound her soul shall stand." Notice the end of verse 5 and the beginning of verse 6. This woman goes directly from her father's authority and protection to that of her husband. There is simply no in-between time between verses 5 and 6. This daughter is never autonomous or separated from her family. She is, quite frankly, in her father's home until she lives in her husband's home. This is precisely what is seen in the context and the wording of these verses.
2. The word "woman"
When this passage refers to the daughter under her father's roof, it uses the word "woman". Numbers 30 is clearly not referring to a female child, but rather an unmarried adult daughter-a woman. Our Lord does not desire for His Word to be mysterious and unable to be understood. He has laid out His precepts in a clear fashion and they are to be taken literally. The Scriptures mean what they say and say what they mean. Thus, our Lord could have ordained that this passage said "little girl", "female child", or "maiden" (a word which usually refers to a young lady) if He were speaking of young girls. That is not the word presented in this passage, however. Instead, the word woman is presented, thereby showing that it is expressly referring to an adult daughter. In addition, little girls would not have been making vows, which further illustrates that our Lord is referring to adult daughters.
3. "In her youth"
Interestingly, the precise phrase that many attempt to pull out of its context in order to support their view, actually proves them to be wrong. Many take this phrase and say that it proves that only little girls are being addressed in the verses dealing with daughters. However, this kind of phrase is a common one in the Scriptures, and refers to the normative age of one who is getting married. In other places of God's Word, the terms "of his youth" or "in his youth" refer to the time of marriage or procreation. For example, consider Proverbs 5:18: "Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth" (see also Malachi 2:14-15). Likewise, Psalm 127:4 says, "As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are the children of the youth." Through study of these verses, we are presented with the true meaning of the phrase "in her youth" as presented in Numbers 30- an unmarried daughter who is of marriageable age is under the direct care and protection of her father until marriage. In speaking of the phrase "in her youth", in verse 3, Mr. Poole writes, "In her youth; and this clause is added not by way of restriction, as if virgins in their riper years were freed from their parents' jurisdiction, and at their own disposal, (which undoubtedly they are not,) but way of addition, or amplification..." (2)
4. "In her father's house"
Verses 3 and 16 speak of an unmarried daughter being in her father's house. Some, when addressing this passage, say that an unmarried daughter can be under the authority and protection of her father while living on her own somewhere. However, I beg to differ. This passage is not simply referring to a father's authority, provision and protection over his daughter. Even if it were, it would still imply that in order for a daughter to be fully under her father's care and leadership as outlined in this verse, she would need to be in her father's house-not somewhere separated from him and fending for herself. Rather, this passage shows unequivocally that, according to the law of God as presented in this chapter, an unmarried daughter is living in her father's house until marriage. Likewise, a father would not be able to hear his daughter's vows if she was separated from him in location, which further expresses that she is to be in her father's home. Speaking on the phrase "being in her father's house" in verse 3, Puritan Matthew Poole (1624-1679) writes, "Being in her father's house, i.e. under his care, power and government, which she is whilst she continues in her father's house, being a virgin, as appears by the opposition of a married woman, ver. 6, and of a widow, and divorced woman, ver.9, and by this phrase of being in her father's house, for when she marries, she is removed into her husband's house, Ruth i.9." (1)
5. The status of a divorced or widowed woman
Very noteworthy is the fact that the only women not under the authority of a husband or father is a divorced or widowed woman. A woman in this position is in charge of her own vows. Thus, the unmarried adult daughter is not to be on her own, for the only group of women that is to follow through with their own vows, no matter what, is the women who are divorced or widowed, as they are their own authority. The unmarried adult daughter, therefore, is not to be on her own fending for herself!
6. Adult daughters are addressed
If one holds to the notion that an unmarried adult daughter is free to be out on her own, autonomously fending for herself and being her own authority, separated from the direct authority, protection, and provision of her father, then why is this group of female not addressed in Numbers 30? If the verses pertaining to daughters are only referring to little girls, then why does God not address the group of women who are unmarried and have never been married? Did God forget about them? Here we have a passage addressing the roles of women who are in each stage of life. So, if one believes that the verses pertaining to daughters is addressing only little girls, then one comes face to face with a problem: God forgot to address unmarried adult daughters! However, I think it is rather clear that God did not fail to address this age group and status of women. Rather, He clearly addresses them in the verses speaking of daughters in their father's houses. According to Numbers 30, adult daughters who are unmarried are to be under their father's roof. This is what Numbers 30 is teaching.
"Yes, but that is Old Testament Law!"
I believe we have outlined and expressed the fact, from Numbers 30, that God's design for an adult, unmarried daughter is for her to live in her father's home until marriage. However, some, even if they do believe that this is what Numbers 30 is clearly setting forth, are unwilling to abide by this passage, as they view it as Old Testament law which no longer is to be obeyed, especially not by New Testament Christians. However, there are a few points I would like to quickly make regarding this argument, as well. First, the Old Testament laws pertaining to sacrifices are fulfilled in Christ, and no longer have to be obeyed by us, for Jesus Christ was the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of our sins. Likewise, the ceremonial laws, laws pertaining to feasts, special days and celebrations, etc. are no longer binding either. Paul writes in Colossians 2:16, "Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of a new moon, or of sabbath days." However, the Old Testament moral law is still binding to this day. Included in this is Numbers 30 and its teachings, for this passage refers to the roles of men and women and to Biblical family dynamics-topics which are unchanging in God's Word. Second, there are passages in the New Testament itself (which we will study in the coming weeks) which speak of unmarried women living at home until marriage. Clearly Numbers 30 is a portion of Old Testament law which is still binding on the followers of God today and thus is to be obeyed.
In closing, I pray that you have been blessed through this study of Numbers 30. This chapter is a wonderful, yet often overlooked, ignored, and misunderstood one. It is of just as much importance today as it was in the day it was first proclaimed. God has ordained by His wisdom, love and grace, that an unmarried, adult daughter remain in her father's home until he gives her in marriage. This design is not made in order to try to enslave her, treat her like a child, steal opportunities from her, or any such thing. Rather, it is made so as to strengthen the family (and as a result, the church and society as a whole, as well!) and to lovingly protect the women involved. Our God knows our weaknesses, knows our need for protection, care, and security, and so has fashioned our unmarried years and our roles so as to keep us in a sphere of great importance, safety, and productivity: the home! Blessed be the great name of the Lord!
1. Matthew Poole, Matthew Poole's Commentary on the Whole Bible Vol. 1: Genesis to Job, pg. 327 (Hendrickson Publishers, 2008)