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Sunday, June 10, 2018

Oaths Before God: Is it Better Not to Vow?

We make promises before God. Most common would be the foxhole promises in times of dire need. “Lord, if you get me out of this situation, I will do this for you.”

Jephthah made one of those. His half brothers asked him to go to war against Ammon. He agreed, with the condition of his being able to lead them. Jephthah tried to negotiate peace but to no avail. Even after winning one battle, he tried to talk peace to Ammon, and they wouldn’t listen. He asked God for victory, promising to offer a burnt offering of whatever would greet him after the victory. God gave Jephthah success in battle, and then his daughter came out of his home to greet him. I believe it’s one of those object lessons not to make vows to the Lord lightly. I’m sure that Jephthah didn’t offer his daughter as a burnt offering. The Lord would never have been pleased with human sacrifice. This verse seems to answer the mystery: She returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man. And it was a custom in Israel (Judges 11:39b). His sacrifice was that she would never marry. His ridiculous vow affected his daughter for life. I would imagine that Jephthah often thought back to that rash statement and its consequences.

The Bible says we need to take promises to God very seriously. When thou shalt vow a vow unto the LORD thy God, thou shalt not slack to pay it: for the LORD thy God will surely require it of thee; and it would be sin in thee (Deuteronomy 23:21). If a man vow a vow unto the LORD, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth (Numbers 30:2). After this verse, there’s a whole section of instructions about a single or married woman making a vow to the Lord. Her father or husband can approve or disallow the promise, and God will understand (Numbers 30:3-8).

In the Bible, we read of good and bad vows before God. Here are a couple of examples:
  • Bad—Saul said he would kill anyone who ate on the day of battle. Not hearing his father’s vow, Jonathan ate a little bit of honey. Jonathan’s victory was great, but the people were hungry and began to slaughter and eat sheep, calves, and goats with the blood (against Jewish law). Saul was furious! He commanded to slaughter the people. Lots were cast. The last lot fell on Jonathan. Saul was going to kill him for eating the honey, but the people protested. And the people said unto Saul, Shall Jonathan die, who hath wrought this great salvation in Israel? God forbid: as the LORD liveth, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground; for he hath wrought with God this day. So the people rescued Jonathan, that he died not. (1 Samuel 14:24-45)
  • Good—Hannah prayed for a child. And she vowed a vow, and said, O LORD of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the LORD all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head (1 Samuel 1:11). God blessed her with Samuel—whom she gave to God’s service—and with five other children. 

I’ve heard very emotional appeals to promise God something. It might be as simple as daily Bible reading or as life changing as service in missions. All of the vows would have been about good things, but what happens when you make a promise to God and can’t keep it? Or, it was ill advised or you were very young, and you realize it wasn’t God’s will for you at all?

The Bible says, When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay (Ecclesiastes 5:4-5).

It’s serious to make a vow before God. It’s better not to promise than to promise God and not follow through. It’s probably also wrong for leaders to pressure people into making vows before the Lord, especially children.

Let me share with you a few actual promises you might not have thought of:
  • Wedding vows—In a traditional service, the official asks both husband and wife to promise “before God and these witnesses … ‘til death do us part.” These are solemn vows of love and faithfulness. Usually, the official also admonishes the couple that marriage isn’t to be entered into lightly. Yet, how many couples, when they find themselves “poorer, in sickness” or in any other negative circumstances, do they bail out of their vows of faithfulness? How many couples divorce over “irreconcilable differences”? The vows that they made before God are broken. But, the foundation of a family is of utmost importance. Jesus said, Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder (Matthew 19:6).*
  • The promise of progeny—Abraham and Sarah hadn’t had children. They were old, and they believed God, but the promised child hadn’t come. God told Abraham to try to number the stars, that so would his seed be. Of course, the Lord honored His promise and gave them a miracle baby in their old age, Isaac. (Genesis 15:5-6)
  • Life sparing promises in times of battle—Rahab hid the Israelite spies. In return, they promised to spare her and her household when the battle came. Her red cord in the window would signal her home. It’s a foreshadowing of the Lord’s salvation—sparing believers from judgment, through Jesus’s blood. (Joshua 2:18)
  • Solemn vows between friends—David and Jonathan were best friends, and Jonathan and David enjoyed each other’s loyalty. When Saul threatened David’s life, Jonathan warned David to flee. The Bible tells us about two promises they made to each other. In context, the first one seems to be a promise of friendship, and the second protection. (1 Samuel 18:3-4; 1 Samuel 20)
  • God’s promises—If I were to list all of God’s promises in the Bible, this blog post would be long, indeed. Estimates for the number (that I found in a simple search) are: 3,000; 3,573; 5467; and even 7,000. I think we can safely say there are at least three thousand. The number isn’t as important as the promises themselves. Jesus said, For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled (Matthew 5:18). Paul wrote, For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us (2 Corinthians 1:20). Whatever God promises will happen. He will always be true to His Word. When a person puts his faith in God, he believes that God will do what He promises. What a blessing!

  1. Are you careful with the promises you make before God?
  2. Are you true to the vows you’ve made?
  3. Do you need to confess your faults to God? He promises forgiveness. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
  4. Are you trusting God to do what He promises? (Do you even know His promises? They can comfort your soul. The prophecies of the future will happen.)

* The only Bible reason for divorce is adultery. This doesn’t mean a couple must divorce because of adultery, though. God always desires reconciliation. I believe God permits separation, especially in the case of an abusive spouse.

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