Tuesday, February 18, 2014

a little offensive bible reading for your day

I am getting through Numbers as best I can on these bleak mornings and am finally up to chapter 30. I always feel that a book should be over by chapter 30 and yet so many of them go on for another 30 after that.

Numbers chapter 30 is a long instruction about vows. If a man makes a vow, says The Lord, he shall keep the vow or the oath to which he binds himself. He shall do, says God, all that proceeds from his mouth. That is the substance of verse 2. Verses 3-15 cope with the eventuality of a woman making a vow. 

There are at least two interesting things to notice about a woman making a vow. First, it's terribly complicated and fraught. You can see a whole ancient household being thrown into turmoil upon discovering that their young teenage daughter has gone to the tent of meeting and promised something stupid. Or, I can see an old couple bickering vociferously because she vowed something and he didn't really want her to. Look out across every marriage everywhere and you can see how complicated something as "simple" as a vow can become. The text reflects the fraught trauma of familial life.

Second, how old the woman is and her status as a daughter or married woman are important. If she is young and unmarried and living with her father, her vow is handled a certain way. If she is married her vow is handled a certain way. If she is widowed or orphaned, that is a different matter. I say 'handled a certain way' but really it just means that if she is yet unmarried with a father, or married with a husband, that is, neither a widow nor an orphan, her vow can be nullified by either her husband or her father. The father or husband can "oppose" her and then her vow no longer exists.

Well, thought I this early morning, that's not very fair. I mean, I know women are stupider, certainly Matt, as everyone knows, is my intellectual superior, but I have a relationship with Jesus and if I want to make a vow, I should be allowed to make a vow, mumbled I to myself this morning.

But then I listened to the chapter again and heard the hint of something I thought I'd heard before. If the father or the husband "in the day that he hears of it" "says nothing" the vow stands. The text identifies particularly if she makes a "thoughtless utterance". So, let me get this straight. Young girls and married women sometimes make "thoughtless utterances" or promises they don't have the means or intention to carry out. If their husbands or fathers hear about it, those husbands and fathers have the opportunity to rescue their daughters and wives from the consequences of those words. But, and I bet this happened a bunch, sometimes fathers and husbands heard about it and couldn't be bothered, and then the woman was stuck with doing whatever she said she was going to do.

Hmmm. I wonder where we've see any thing like that in scripture before?
I'll go ahead and tell you in case you haven't read it before.
Much longer before this chapter in Numbers, in that primordial dust up in the garden, Eve had to stand around wrestling with Leviathan while Adam, Who Was With Her, kept silent. He didn't say anything. He didn't do anything. She sold herself away to the devil and he joined in. If ever a vow or an oath should have been "nullified" or "opposed" that was the moment. 

This happens so so often in marriage. The woman is wrestling her way along, trying to oppose evil and love God, and the man, who is supposed to be studying the law and protecting her and bringing her close to God, is standing around doing nothing and saying nothing. In the church, she signs the family up to do everything and he leaves as soon as the service is over to watch football, or he doesn't come at all. She exhausts herself, and usually out of love for Jesus, and he can't be bothered.

But here, in Numbers 30, is a glimpse, a foreshadowing, of the correcting saving grace of the second Adam who didn't stand around saying and doing nothing but finally went out to battle Leviathan himself. God offered  under the law, a picture of a good father and a good husband who would hear and stand with the woman, and protect her from Satan. And I bet some fathers and husbands did avail themselves of this chance to love and protect their women. Just like there are plenty of vigilant fathers and husbands who are with wives and daughters and who are more like Jesus and less like Adam.

Is it "fair"? Well, it wasn't fair of Adam to abandon Eve. And it's not fair of Jesus to rescue you and forgive you for the stupid vows you make, but he does. So I'll take Numbers 30 as a blessing and get on with my day.


Melanie Bettinelli said...

I really liked this. Thank you for the insights. I especially liked the bits at the end about Adam and Eve and the role of vows and nullification in their relationship. I'm going to ponder on this for a while. You make me want to read Numbers, which is not a task that's ever really appealed to me before.

Willa said...

The last two paragraphs seemed like a kind of hint of the Redemption. I really liked this post, too.

Anne Kennedy said...

Thanks so much Melanie and Willa!