Question: In Numbers 30 Moses says that fathers of unmarried women who make vows can cancel them, as can husbands of women who make vows. Why can males still living with parents and men make vows without anyone canceling them but women can’t?
Answer: Women were considered under the authority of fathers and husbands and it would be disrespectful to that father or husband if his daughter or wife made a vow that did not fit with his vision for his family. He would be considered someone who did not rule his home well. The woman might make a vow that brought great inconvenience on her family, even endangered the family financially, taking from the family the protection it needed. The given authority of the home needed to have the right to cancel such a vow.
Vows always involved sacrifice of an animal. One of the most well-known vows was the Nazirite vow. This vow was a voluntary show of devotion to God marked by not cutting one’s hair, not touching a dead body, and not eating anything from the vine. At it’s completion a sacrifice would be offered. One might vow to give up something or begin doing something in response to God’s answering a prayer. Then, when the prayer was answered a sacrifice would be made and friends invited to eat the meat and hear testimony of God’s faithfulness.
Women could make such vows but the men in their lives had the right to counter them. If a woman was widowed or divorced her vow stood. I am assuming that if a minor male made a vow his father would have the right to rescind it, as well.
What if a man made a foolish vow? As long as it did not violate the Law of Moses his vow could not be canceled. Jephthah, a judge in Israel (Judges 11), made a foolish vow, promising that if God gave him victory he would offer as sacrifice the first thing that came out of his house on his return home. His daughter came out. It was against the law to sacrifice a human, so he had to keep her a virgin for the rest of her life.
Is it fair that a man’s vow must stand? Perhaps not, but the Law of Moses wasn’t going to strip the leader of the home of his autonomy. The wise leader doesn’t put his family in such situations, nor does he put others in places of suffering without good reason.
The principle here is that our actions affect others. We need to show sensitivity to those whose lives we may touch by our acts of devotion or vows and choices we make. Should I take that class, agree to volunteer for that service, make a purchase, start a project, without considering how it will affect those around me? Who will we let “nullify” our choices? Who has veto rights, if anyone? We need accountability in our lives.