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“Fear the LORD your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name.” (Deuteronomy 6:13)

As I watched a favorite TV drama, the show began to concentrate on that historic period in our nation following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Many young men were being called to serve their country, and others who had not yet been called felt it was their patriotic duty to volunteer. The fictional story-line focused on the tension between a father and his youngest son. Because the son was under the age of 18, he would have needed parental consent in order to enlist. In this case, the father did not feel his son was mature enough to make this life-affirming decision. But the son was relentless in his pursuit to do so, and the father reluctantly gave his permission. On the day that the headstrong son prepares to leave for the recruiter’s office, the elder hopes his son might have a change of heart. So the father provides these parting words . . . “Remember it’s not final until you take that oath.” As it turned out, he did not.

The significance of making pledges, taking oaths, and reciting vows has significantly waned over time. Oath-taking has a long history among God’s people, with many references found in the Old Testament. There it is said: “When you make a vow to the LORD your God, be prompt in fulfilling whatever you promised him. For the LORD your God demands that you promptly fulfill all your vows, or you will be guilty of sin. However, it is not a sin to refrain from making a vow. But once you have voluntarily made a vow, be careful to fulfill your promise to the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 23:21-23). There were dire consequences for the Israelites who made and broke vows, especially vows to God. The story of Jephthah illustrates the foolishness of making vows without understanding the consequences. Before leading the Israelites into battle against the Ammonites, Jephthah—described as a mighty man of valor—made a rash vow that he would give to the Lord whoever first came out to meet him if he returned to his home in triumph. When the Lord granted him victory, the one who came out to meet him was his daughter, an only child. Jephthah remembered his vow and offered her to the Lord (Judges 11:29-40).

In Jesus time, many rabbis did not consider it a sin to break a vow if it was not made explicitly in the name of God. Jesus pointed out the hypocrisy of this teaching. You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’ You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it’” (Matthew 23:18-22). When it comes to taking oaths and making vows, Jesus said: “All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37). His teaching is not meant to discourage careful, thought-out promises, such as wedding vows or a legal contract. However, Jesus commands that in most cases our word be sufficient without making vows. When we say “yes” or “no,” that’s exactly what we should mean. Adding vows or oaths to our words opens us up to the influence of Satan whose desire is to trap us and compromise our Christian testimony.

God’s Word teaches that our honesty and integrity must be of the highest importance. When we say we  are going to do something, we must honor our word. Those who truly walk with Jesus should not find it necessary to make voluntary statements like “I would swear on a stack of Bibles” or “Honest to God” as a means of enhancing their trustworthiness. Instead, your trustworthiness should be inherent and displayed in everything you say and do, thereby negating the need for oath-taking. Jesus’ teaching leads us to conclude that it is better not to make a vow than to swear an oath that you have no intention of keeping. It also reinforces the point that oaths and vows should not be made on just any occasion, but they should be reserved only for instances of great import and lasting significance. Therefore as sojourners with Christ – we are challenged to be faithful in all circumstances, striving to understand His word and making it our own. Indeed, wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all did just that?

REFLECTION: How do you think others view your level of sincerity when you make a promise? Do you follow through on the commitments you make? When you make an unnecessary pledge, have you ever stopped to consider if it suggests that you are less than trustworthy under normal circumstances?


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