voluntary promises which, when once made, were to be kept if the thing vowed was right. They were made under a great variety of circumstances (Ge 28:1; 18-22; Le 7:16; Nu 30:2-13; De 23:18; Jg 11:30,39; 1Sa 1:11; Jon 1:16; Ac 18:18; 21:23).
In common with most peoples of the ancient world, the making of vows was of frequent occurrence among the Israelites. The underlying idea in making a vow was to propitiate the Deity; this was done either by promising to do something for Him, or to please Him by the exercise of self-denial. Vows were made from a variety of motives: Jacob vows a vow according to which he will please Jahweh by becoming His worshipper, on condition that Jahweh will keep him safe during his journey and give him food and raiment (Ge 28:20-22). Jephthah vows to offer to Jahweh the first person he sees coming out of his house on his return from battle, provided he is victorious (Jg 11:30-31). Hannah vows that if Jahweh gives her a son, she will dedicate him to the service of God (1Sa 1:11). These cases are typical: in each something is promised to God, on condition that God will do something for him who makes the vow. But there was another class of vows which were of a more disinterested character; the most striking here would be the Nazirite vow, according to which a man undertook to lead a strenuously austere life, which was supposed to approximate to the simple life of the patriarchs; that was done out of protest against the current mode of life, which had been largely adopted from the Canaanites; indeed, the Nazirite vow implied, and was intended to be, a life of greater loyalty to Jahweh.
There are two words in Hebrew for a vow
The Israelites were not told to make vows, but if they voluntarily made them, God said they must conscientiously perform them. Man is ever ready to boast of his strength, not being conscious of his own weakness. Israel, on hearing the law, did not hesitate to say, "all that the Lord hath said we will do;" but they alas, miserably failed. The law made vows binding, and gave directions as to exceptional cases where it was impossible to perform them. Nu 30:2-14; De 23:21-23; Ps. 1:14; Ec 5:4-5; Na 1:15; etc.
The only instances of vows in the N.T. are those of Paul (or Aquila, as some judge) at Cenchrea, which is shrouded in mystery, and the four men at Jerusalem. Ac 18:18; 21:23. These were probably the vows of Nazariteship, by the head being shaven. According to the law the final shaving must be at the tabernacle or temple. Nu 6:18.
A vow is a solemn promise made to God to perform or to abstain from performing a certain thing. The earliest mention of a vow is that of Jacob.
Vows in general are also mentioned in the book of Job,
The law therefore did not introduce, but regulated the practice of, vows. Three sorts are mentioned: 1, vows of devotion; 2, vows of abstinence; 3, vows of destruction.
1. As to vows of devotion, the following rules are laid down: A man might devote to sacred uses possessions or persons, but not the first-born of either man or beast, which was devoted already.
(a) If he vowed land, he might either redeem it or not Levi 25,27. (b) Animals fit for sacrifice if devoted, were not to be redeemed or changed,
persons devoted stood thus: devote either himself, his child (not the first-born) or his slave. If no redemption took place, the devoted person became a slave of the sanctuary: see the case of Absalom.
Otherwise he might be redeemed at a valuation according to age and sex, on the scale given in
Among general regulations affecting vows the following may be mentioned: (1) Vows were entirely voluntary but once made were regarded as compulsory.
(2) If persons In a dependent condition made vows as (a) an unmarried daughter living in her father's house, or (b) a wife, even if she afterward became a widow the vow, if (a) in the first case her father, or (b) in the second her husband, heard and disallowed it, was void; but,if they heard without disallowance, it was to remain good.
(3) Votive offerings arising from the produce of any impure traffic were wholly forbidden.
2. For vows of abstinence, see CORBAN.
3. For vows of extermination ANATHEMA and
It seems that the practice of shaving the head at the expiration of a votive period was not limited to the Nazaritic vow.