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LESSON 23.

SWEEPING CONCLUSIONS FROM SMALL PREMISES.

172. Here are three quotations from the late Dean of Canterbury, the Very Rev. Payne-Smith, which we would do well to ponder: (1) “A bad translation of this book” (he means the Bible; and we hold that it has been badly translated on “the woman question”), exercises a depressing influence upon a nation’s civilization: a good translation is one of the great levers in a nation’s rise.” (2) “Give men what proof you will, but seldom do they find more than what it suits them to find. If what is said agrees with their preconceived notions, well; if not, they reject it.” (3) “Men never do understand anything unless already in their minds they have some thought which they are required to master.”

173. In all these remarks Payne-Smith has special reference to the work of translating and interpreting the Word of God. Now add to these the words of Dr. Beard which we have already quoted (par. 154),[2] and with a realization of the contempt in which, in past ages, women have been held by men, there is no reason to marvel that, with the best motives of honor and honesty, men have often, even to the present time, been unable to see the truth of God regarding women, as revealed in the Word. My copy of Smith’s Bible Dictionary, under the topic, Law of Moses, subhead, Husband and Wife, makes this sweeping assertion as regards women: “The power of a husband (was) so great that a wife could never be sui juris (a law unto herself), or enter independently into any [!] engagement even before God.” The whole proof of this astounding assertion, as given by the writer of these words, as in Numbers 30:6-15. This is not a solitary instance by any means in theology of “tracing the ever-widening spiral ergo from the narrow aperture of a single text.”

174. Please open your Bibles to this passage. The first instance cited is that of a daughter, in the father’s house, vowing a vow. The two kinds of vows here mentioned seem to include vows of abstinence and vows of giving. The nature of some of these vows is described in Genesis 28:20, a vow to give; and 1 Samuel 14:24, Psalm 132:3-,5, vows to abstain. Here we have the provision: “If a woman voweth a vow . . . being in her father’s house in her youth; and her father heareth her vow . . . and holdeth his peace at her: then all her vows. . . shall stand. But if her father disallow her in the day that he heareth; none of her vows. . . shall stand: and the Lord shall forgive her, because her father disallowed her.” Numbers 30:3‑5

175. Now please observe: first, the express reading of this statute permits a daughter to make a vow on her own initiative: second, the father could only disallow that vow by action taken immediately upon the information reaching him; third, there is no provision requiring her to carry the information that she has made the vow to her father. Moses’ statute relating to this matter would not be broken, then, should a girl make a vow entirely independently of her father, without his knowledge or consent.

176. It is quite likely, as Gray asserts (The International Commentary) that in the use of the words “in her youth,” “childhood is scarcely contemplated, the child, whether male or female, probably being assumed to be incapable under any circumstances of making a vow. The class contemplated . . . would consist of young marriageable but unmarried women.” Now let us suppose a case. Without arguing that it would be right for a girl to conceal her vow, we can imagine that a young woman might, if her mother were ill, say, “Oh, Lord, heal her, and I will take to the Tabernacle for sacrifice this choice little lamb.” The mother gets well, and the grateful daughter, having an uneasy feeling that her father will not consent, goes quietly and makes her offering, not letting him know that she has made such a vow.

177. The father hears of the deed accidentally, and rushes after the daughter. But already the priest, who is covetous, has offered the lamb, and taken his share, without caring to know whether the father consents or not. The angry father then makes his way to the head of his tribe, and lays the case for the recovery of a lamb before him. Now judge of this Mosaic statute from precisely the same standpoint that we would judge a law of this country today, and what would the lawyer say to the father?

178. “I am very sorry for you, sir. You have lost a fine lamb. Your daughter has done wrong, and the priest has taken advantage of the situation. But I am bound to say, the law will not help you out, and I cannot advise you to bring the case into court. I think that statute sadly needs amending. You see, it makes no provision requiring consultation with the father before a vow is made by a daughter; and again, it does not oblige her to let her father know, when she makes a vow. He has to find out in the best manner he can; and if he does not find out in time, he has to take the consequences, and there is no redress, and will be none until we get this law amended.”

179. But that Mosaic statute never was amended; so when Dr. William Smith, in his Bible Dictionary, asserts that a woman “could never be sui juris, nor enter independently into any engagement even before God,” and quotes this law to prove it, he has quoted a Mosaic Law which proves nothing of the sort. For as we shall presently show, the case of the wife is very similar.

The provision made here is somewhat like a certain provision relating to the solemnization of marriage in the United States, where the publication of the bans in advance is not required. At the marriage ceremony, in the presence of the witnesses and assembled guests, the minister utters the following: “If anyone knows cause, or just impediment, why these two should not be joined together, let him declare it here and now, or forever after hold his peace.” Someone might know a real cause, a very just impediment, but if that certain person did not know when the wedding took place, or neglected to be on the spot to object, what could he do afterwards? Just so, the father of the girl who “vowed a vow” under this Mosaic statute, excepting that the Mosaic law did not even provide that the officiating priest call for objectors to the sacrifice. To claim all that Dr. Smith does under this statute for the subordination of the daughter to the father, or the wife to the husband, would be as great an exaggeration as to claim that a young man in the United States “could never be sui juris or enter independently into any engagement even to marry a young woman.”

180. This statute was never enacted with the object of strengthening a father’s rule over his daughter, but for quite a different reason, i.e., to protect the inexperienced, and to protect property from covetous priests, who might influence the inexperienced to make rash vows. The conclusion of the matter, in case the father disallows the vow is as follows: “The Lord will forgive her.” Why is she forgiven; because it was a rash vow? The Bible does not so state. Because she has repented that she did not inform her father of the vow she made? The Bible says nothing about such offenses here, as it certainly would have done, had the law been designed to strengthen the father’s power over the daughter. “The Lord shall forgive her because her father disallowed her,” the text says.

“If there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a person hath, and not according to that he hath not” (2 Corinthians 8:12). This is the teaching of this Mosaic statute.

(To be continued.)

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