You may or may not be a fan of the sitcom ‘Seinfeld’, I personally have never been a fan of the supposed ‘funniest show on television’ didn’t ever make me laugh but I heard about an episode where Jerry and his friends discovered a great soup restaurant that was owned by a really short-tempered man. People would line up down the block to dine at this man’s restaurant or buy it to take away but if for some reason the owner got annoyed at a customer, he would apparently yell….”No soup for you!” and would send them away empty-handed. Jerry’s friends nicknamed him the ‘Soup Nazi’. Not a PC name but his nickname none-the-less.
This particular Seinfeld episode was actually based on a real restaurant in New York City owned by an Iranian man who was apparently quite a grumpy individual in real life and was the inspiration for the character in this episode.
The interesting thing about the restaurant owner is that his attitude is very much a ‘Middle Eastern’ mannerism that dates all the way back to Bible times. When people get annoyed or cranky, they immediately forbid them from something. If he’s a soup cook, he might rashly burst out with a restriction of no soup for today…or for a year!
It was a common way of venting or expressing disgust in ancient time…people would explode and rashly respond with ‘Corban what I would eat with you!” or “Corban by my legs that would walk with you!”, or “Corban be my mouth that speaks with you!”
The word corban means ‘dedicated’ or something sacred offered to God and it implied that something would be committed, dedicated or offered as a gift or offering to God usually via the Temple service. Now it didn’t literally mean that the item would be given, just that it was prohibited for whatever purpose that was named. In other words, if something was declared to be ‘corban’ (an offering to God) it could no longer be used for its original purpose or it would be as though a person was reneging on their vow to God which was expressly forbidden under the Law.
So if someone said, ‘Corban what I would eat with you!” what they were in fact saying is that my food is now an offering to God so the meal I was going to eat with you I can no longer eat with you as it belongs to God. To violate this oath is considered to be a sin.
Are there examples of making rash vows in the Bible? There sure are.
Judges 11 tells the story of Jephthah a leader in Israel during the time of the Judges who went to war against the sons of Ammon. God used him mightily but Jephthah made a very rash vow.
Judges 11:30-31, ‘Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said, “If You will indeed give the sons of Ammon into my hand, then it shall be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the sons of Ammon, it shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.”
The Lord did give him victory and when he returned home his daughter walked out of his front door and with a sad heart he sacrificed his daughter to the Lord. Was this a legitimate vow, something the Lord was pleased with? Absolutely no, the Lord is against human/child sacrifice, He never required or sanctioned it and what’s more, the Lord had made provision for those who made rash vows to get out of them. Why didn’t Jephthah take that option? What on earth did Jephthah think was going to come out of his house upon his return? How could he have thought a member of his own household would not possibly come out of his house to greet him? Jephthah’s vow was in fact a vow that resulted in God’s Law being contravened. Detractors of the Bible use this account to try to accuse God of endorsing human sacrifice which is untrue.
Another example is from the life of Joshua leading the children of Israel into the Promised Land. In Joshua 9, the Gibeonites who lived in Canaan at that time. They’d heard what happened to the cities of Jericho and Ai, so they sent a delegation to meet with Joshua to seek an oath that they would be safe from harm. In a bid to deceive they pretended they were from a very far country even though they were one of the tribal peoples living in Canaan at the time. They tricked Joshua into making an oath, a vow, to never fight against them. Later in chapter 9, Joshua realised he’d been conned. Joshua didn’t seek the Lord before making his vow to the Gibeonites.
Joshua kept his vow because vows were sacred, even in spite of the fact that it was made through deception and the Israelites endured the consequences for centuries.
Making his rash vow/oath caused him to disobey God’s commands regarding the people who were living in that area…he should have sought the Lord about whether the oath he made was valid considering it was made through deceit.
Throughout the centuries there has been lengthy debate and discussion between rabbis about vows and what was considered binding or not.
Numbers 30:2, ‘If a man makes a vow to the Lord, or takes an oath to bind himself with a binding obligation, he shall not violate his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.’
The rabbis take the obligations of vows very, very seriously and discussed whether a person was always bound by it…what about when it’s obviously rash or will cause them to sin in some way?
Again, the extreme example we can refer back to is that of Jephthah offering his daughter as a burnt offering because of his rash vow to the Lord.
In the next program we’ll take a look at what Jesus thought about the subject of corban, something dedicated to God in a vow.
Based on the writing of Lois Tverberg