Vows & Covenants

Sometimes battered Christian women feel they must remain in a dangerous home environment because they are bound by vows they made to God at the time of their marriage.  They may believe they must stay at all costs to themselves and their children--even if it kills them. 

A study of vows and covenants in the Bible will show us that God does not intend to trap His people in situations that are harmful for them.  We have a merciful God of grace who is not legalistic, who promises to be with us always, and who loves us and desires our well-being.[1]  Though we are under the grace of God and not the Law (Old Testament rules; see Romans 6:14 ), the Law reveals much to us about God’s heart and how He cares for us.  Let us examine what God’s law says about vows and covenants.  

In the Bible, vows are promises made to God.  Vows to God were sometimes used to establish covenants between people.  A covenant is a voluntary, mutual agreement made between people. Malachi 2:14 refers to marriage as a covenant.  

After a vow was made, it was to be performed (Psalm 50:14).  Vows, therefore, were to be made only after careful consideration (Proverbs 20:25 ) and in keeping with what pleased God (Leviticus 27:9-27).  However Old Testament law allowed vows to be annulled through the process of redemption (Leviticus 27:13,15,19), which involved the payment of money.  The Law allowed redemption of property, animals, and individuals (slaves, prisoners, indentured relatives) who were legally obligated to God or in bondage for other reasons.  This law offered a merciful release from the bondage of a vow.  

Another way a woman's vows could be annulled is by her husband or father.  Not infrequently an abusive husband will try to hurt and demoralize his wife by repeatedly telling her that he never really wanted to marry her in the first place, or that she should leave.  He may not be aware that according to Numbers 30:13-15, he is nullifying her marriage vows:  

“Her husband may confirm or nullify any vow she makes…. If, however, he nullifies them some time after he hears about them, then he is responsible for her guilt.” (Numbers 30:13,15)  

Finally, Old Testament law allowed marriage vows to be annulled through the writing of a divorce certificate (Deuteronomy 24:1-4).  When asked about divorce, Jesus referred to this Old Testament law, and said there were two valid grounds for divorce--adultery and hardness of heart:

“Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard.  But it was not this way from the beginning.  I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”  (Matthew 19:8-9 NIV)  

Surely domestic violence is hardness of heart.  The divorce certificate is yet another example of God's merciful provision to protect women.

Women caught in domestic violence have a God whose Word declares His compassion and mercy for them.  He is our “kinsman redeemer” and our refuge, who does not use vows to entrap His people in destructive situations.

 Discussion Question:

  1. Old Testament covenants involved mutual oaths to perform certain obligations, similar to a contract.  If one party failed to perform the obligation, the covenant was broken (see Joshua 23:16). If an abuser continues to violate his wedding vows and covenant, can the victim by herself restore the covenant?

[1]   See 2 Corinthians 3:6; Matthew 12:7; Jeremiah 29:11; John 10:10; Romans 8:35-39; Jeremiah 9:24.

Copyright 2005   Judy Kennedy