Vows - What do They Mean?

 

This booklet is written with the idea of providing a means to get started in this study. It is by no means an effort to answer every question or give you all the proof you need. To truly understand, you need to do some research on your own. Most of the Scriptures quoted are from The Interlinear Bible, by Jay P. Green, Sr., as general editor and translator.

Introduction

Questions have arisen as to what vows are and what they mean. Today we rarely hear of them except in regards to weddings and to some religious orders. They are not as commonplace as they once were. In trying to find a good definition, other words kept coming into play and a question remains. What are the differences in the following words: vow, oath, swearing, covenant and promise? You will find that the English words are often used to define one another!

Definitions

From the Webster's Columbia Concise Dictionary -

  • Vow
    From page 812 - "a solemn promise; an engagement solemnly entered into; an oath made to God, or to some deity, to perform some act on the fulfillment of certain conditions; a promise to follow out some line of conduct, or to devote one's self to some act or service."
  • Oath
    From page 493 - "a solemn affirmation or declaration, made with an appeal to God for the truth of what is affirmed; a solemn swearing; a blasphemous use of the name of the Divine Being; an imprecation."
  • Swear
    From page 731 - "to utter a solemn declaration, with an appeal to God for the truth of what is affirmed; to declare or affirm in a solemn manner; to promise upon oath; to give evidence on oath."
  • Covenant
    From page 171 - "a mutual consent or agreement of two or more persons to do or to forbear some act or thing; a contract; a compact; a bargain, arrangement, or stipulation; to grant or promise; to bind oneself by contract."
  • Promise
    From page 574 - "a declaration, written or verbal, made by one person to another, which binds the person who makes it to do or forbear a certain act specified; a declaration that something will be done or given for the benefit of another; earnest; pledge."

Hebrew And Greek Definitions

  • Vow
    Hebrew #5087, nada (verb) – to promise (to do or give something to Yahweh).
    Hebrew #5088, nedher (noun)– a promise (to Yahweh); a thing promised
    Greek #2171, euche (noun)– a wish, expressed as a petition to Yahweh, or in votive obligation.
  • Oath
    Hebrew #423, ahlah (noun) – an imprecation.
    Hebrew #7621, shevuah (noun)– something sworn.
    Hebrew #7650, shava (verb)– to be complete; to seven oneself, i.e. swear (as if by repeating a declaration seven times).
    Greek #332, anathematizo (verb)– to declare or vow under penalty of execration.
    Greek #3727, horkos (noun)– a limit; i.e. (sacred) restraint (spec. an oath).
    Greek #3728, horkomosia (verb)– asseveration on oath.
  • Swear
    Hebrew #422, ahlah (verb)– to adjure, i.e. (usually in a bad sense) imprecate.
    Hebrew #5375, nasah (verb)– to lift.
    Also Hebrew #423 and #7650 – see above.
    Greek #3660, omnuo (verb)– to swear, i.e. take (or declare on) oath.
  • Promise
    Hebrew #1697, dabar (noun)– a word; by implication a matter (as spoken of) or thing; a cause.
    Greek #1860, epaggelia (noun)– an announcement (for information, assent or pledge; espec. A divine assurance of good).
  • Covenant
    Hebrew #1285, brit (noun)– a compact (because made by passing between pieces of flesh).
    Greek #1242, diatheke (noun)– a disposition, i.e. a contract (esp. a devisory will).

History

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, volume 4, page 3058, article "Vow"  –

"A vow could be positive (nedher) and included all promises to perform certain things for, or bring certain offerings to, God, in return for certain benefits which were hoped for at His hand; or negative (issar), and included promises by which a person bound himself or herself to abstain from certain things.  Nowhere in the Old Testament do we find the making of vows regarded as a religious duty (Dt 23:22), but the fulfilling of a vow was considered as a sacred and binding duty (Dt 23:21-23; Jgs 11:35; Eccl 5:4, etc)."
"Nothing which was by nature holy could be made the object of a vow, e.g. firstlings, tithes, etc; and, on the other hand, an abomination, e.g. the hire of a prostitute, could not be made the object of a vow."

Illustrated Dictionary of the Bible, Herbert Lockyer, Sr, editor –  From page 1088 –

"Vow – a solemn promise or pledge that binds a person to perform a specified act or to behave in a certain manner."

"All vows were made to God as a promise in expectation of His favor (Gen. 28:20) or in thanksgiving for His blessings (Ps. 116:12-14).  Vowing might be a part of everyday devotion (Ps. 61:8) or the annual festivals (I Sam. 1:21).  Vows must be paid to God in  the congregation at the tabernacle or Temple (Deut. 12:6,11; Ps. 22:25)."

 "Vowing is joyful worship in faith and love (Ps. 61:4-5, 8), often associated with the process of God’s salvation (Ps. 22:22-27; 66:13-20).  For this reason, deception in vowing is an affront to God and brings His curse (Mal. 1:14)."

From page 767 –
"Oath – a solemn statement or claim used to validate a promise.  In Bible times, oaths were sometimes accompanied by protective curses to make sure the oaths were kept (I Sam. 14:24; Gen. 24:41).  Such curses were also used to protect property rights from thieves Judg. 17:2) or from those who found a stolen object or knew of a theft (Lev. 5:1)."

"An oath was used to seal treaties, insuring that neither party broke their promise."

From Biblical Literacy, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin –

From page 178, referring to Judges 11 –
"Jephtah and his fellow Israelites should have realized that a vow to violate Torah law is invalid and should not be fulfilled.  It would be as if a person, in a moment of madness, declared:  ‘I swear I’m going to kill you,’ repented of his words, but then declared that he was nonetheless obligated to carry them out.  An illegitimate act is illegitimate; that one swore to carry it out is irrelevant."

From page 483 –
"The requirement that a person carry out his promises is a cornerstone of biblical morality:  ‘If a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath imposing an obligation on himself, he shall not breach his pledge, he must carry out all that has crossed his lips’ (Numbers 30:3).  By insisting on the binding nature of pledges, the Bible intends to influence people to be very cautious before undertaking a vow:  ‘Whereas you incur no guilt if you refrain from vowing, you must fulfill what has crossed your lips and perform what you have voluntarily vowed… having made the promise with your own mouth’ (Deuteronomy 23:23-24)."

"Today, people commonly utter oaths, even when they have no intention of carrying them out.  Think how often you hear someone say, ‘I swear to God that…’ followed by a promise of action (‘I’m never going to do that again!’) that he or she has no serious intention of fulfilling."

From page 564 –
"Because Jewish tradition regards a person’s word as his or her bond, many observant Jews, when announcing something that they plan to do, append the Hebrew words bli neder (‘without a vow’), to protect themselves in case they cannot fulfill their word."

From Smith’s Bible Dictionary

From page 321 –
"The law regulated the practice of vows.  A man might devote to sacred uses possessions or persons, but not the first-born either of man or beast."

From page 222 –
"Oath – an appeal to Divine authority to ratify the truth of an assertion (Heb. vi. 16)."

"There would seem to be no use for oaths among genuine Christians, living in the presence of God, but they are useful in dealing with those who do not live a Christian life.  When men everywhere, and at all times, prefer the truth to lies, then oaths may be dispensed with."

 "The crime of perjury was strongly condemned.  It was taking the Lord’s name in vain.  If a man gave false witness, he received the punishment that he tried to inflict on another by his perjury (Ex. xx. 7; Lev. xix. 12)."

From Jewish Literacy, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, page 569, regarding Kol Nidrei –

"In this prayer, one asks to be released in advance from any vows made and not kept.  In the nineteenth century, Samson Raphael Hirsch, the leading figure of German Orthodox Judaism, suspended recitation of the Kol Nidrei for several years, fearing that it would cause non-Jews to think that Jews do not feel obligated to fulfill their oaths.  In actuality, the release requested in the Kol Nidrei does not apply to vows made to other people."

From Gates of the Seasons, Peter S Knobel, editor, pages 149-150 –

"For many Jews, Yom Kippur evening is known as ‘Kol Nidrei Eve.’  It is the haunting melody and the cluster of associations around an ancient formula of words that draws so many to that Holy Day service.  Actually, the Hebrew-Aramaic text, which has its origins in the Talmud, passed through several battles and transformations.  Seeing in it the intention of annulling promises (vows) made ‘from this Day of Atonement till the next,’ many efforts to expunge the formula from the liturgy were made.  Most were unsuccessful.  ‘Kol Nidrei’ persists, perhaps, because it reveals us as the fallible creatures that we are and exposes our great need for forgiveness.  On Yom Kippur we realize that we are frail creatures, embodiments of clashing needs and ambitions, and that while we may piously promise to live out our highest values, we know that we may fail or be bent to compromise.  ‘Kol Nidrei’ appeals to us because it is a formula based on the belief in God, something that struggling human beings require from one Yom Kippur to the next."

From Jewish Days, Francine Klagsbrun, page 33 –

"The words are simple:  Kol Nidrei – ‘All vows’, it begins, and goes on to nullify the vows each person will make and not keep from this Yom Kippur to the next, and by implication those made and unkept during the past year.  The vows annulled are not those contracted with another person; in Jewish law, abrogating such oaths requires the consent of both parties.  These are the vows people make to themselves or to God, ethical obligations undertaken unwittingly or personal promises an individual may be unable to carry out."

From The Torah:  A Modern Commentary, W Gunther Plaut, page 730 –

"The Rabbis fully endorsed the Biblical demand for man uncompromisingly to honour his word, whether accompanied by a vow or not.  Their position on this matter is absolutely clear:  ‘Let thy yea be yea, and thy nay be nay.  He who changes his word commits as heavy a sin as he who worships idols; and he who utters an untruth, is excluded from the Divine Presence’."

"A vow to be valid must be uttered aloud; it must be made voluntarily, without any compulsion from without; and the person making it must be fully conscious of its scope and implications.  A man may impose a restriction upon himself by vow; he cannot so restrict others.  Vows whose fulfillment is rendered impossible by force majeure are void."

"In the time of the Mishnah, the habit of taking vows was considered a sign of bad breeding, and affected the honour of the vower’s parents, just as swearing would nowadays point to a man’s low origin.  The making of vows was tolerated, when it was done in order to rid oneself of bad habits, or in order to encourage oneself to do good:  but – says the Schulchan Aruch – even in such cases one should strive for the desired end without the aid of vows.  ‘Even vows for charitable purposes are not desirable.  If one has the money, let him give it straightaway without a vow; and if not, let him defer his vow until he have it’."

 "Kol Nidre – The formula for the annulment of vows that ushers in the Service on the Eve of the Day of Atonement refers to such vows which we had voluntarily promised to the Almighty, and had not kept, or the fulfillment of which might prove to be beyond our ability to carry out.  ‘But it does not in the least possible degree affect the promises or obligations entered into between man and man, as the latter can only be dissolved by the mutual consent of the parties, nor can it absolve any man from an official oath’ (Editor’s note, Sephardi Eve of Atonement Prayer Book)."

Is Yahweh’s law really that harsh and bad?  It just seems that for every law Yahweh gave, man devises some method to try to get around it.  How does Yahweh look at that attitude?

Scriptures

Let us look at some of the scriptures that concern this subject and see what we can glean from them ourselves.  Let’s also look at what some of the commentaries or dictionaries may say regarding them.  All of the verses quoted are from J P Green’s Interlinear Bible.

Exodus 20:7

You shall not take the name of Yahweh your Elohim in vain; for Yahweh will not leave unpunished the one who takes His name in vain.

This scripture does not specify a vow or an oath.  We are to be careful how we use His name.  And careful how we live our lives if we claim to be a part of His people.  Others will judge Yahweh (and His name) by what they see in us.

From The Torah, page 540, Exodus 20:7 –
"Swear falsely.  The third commandment.  The meaning of the Hebrew is in doubt; others render ‘take in vain’ or ‘abuse’ – forbidding magical, profane, or even casual use of the divine Name.  Proponents of this interpretation point out that the ninth commandment, which deals with false witness, implies the prohibition of swearing falsely."

From page 543 –
"Whether the commandment forbids false swearing by God’s name, or prohibits all wrong or vain usage, the basic intent remains:  to safeguard His name from erosion and to maintain the sense of His holiness among His children."

From Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, volume 1, page 284 – "We take God’s name in vain:

[1.] By hypocrisy, making a profession of God’s name, but not living up to that profession.
[2.] By covenant-breaking; if we make promises to God, binding our souls with those bonds to that which is good, and yet perform not to the Lord our vows, we take his name in vain.
[3.] By rash swearing, mentioning the name of God, or any of his attributes, in the form of an oath, without any just occasion for it, or due application of mind to it, but as a by-word, to no purpose at all, or to no good purpose.
[4.] By false swearing, which, some think, is chiefly intended in the letter of the commandment.
[5.] By using the name of God lightly and carelessly, and without any regard to its awful significancy.

Leviticus 5:1, 4

And when a person sins, and hears the voice of swearing, and he is witness or has seen, or has known, if he does not reveal it, then he shall bear his iniquity. 
Or if a person swears, speaking rashly with the lips, to do evil, or to do good, anything which the man speaks rashly with an oath, and it is hidden from him, and he knows, then he is guilty of one of these.

These verses are found where Yahweh is listing the different kinds of offerings and sacrifices and the reasons and specifications for each one.  This infraction required a trespass offering.

From The Torah, page 775 –
"When he has heard a public imprecation.  Namely, against one who withholds testimony.  Someone engaged in a lawsuit (or perhaps the court) publicly calls on those who have information about the case to appear and testify; and a curse is invoked on anyone who fails to respond.  A person who withholds evidence thereby becomes a sinner and is subject to the curse.  Later he has a change of heart and confesses.  He must then expiate the offense with a chatat.  ‘Because many decent people avoid giving testimony for fear of hurting others or of making enemies, the Torah must state plainly that failure to testify makes one liable to divine punishment.’ (Luzzatto)." 

From A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, Robert Jamieson, A R Fausett and David Brown, (hereafter known as JFB), volume 1, page 440 – 
"if a soul swear – a rash oath, without duly considering the nature and consequences of the oath, perhaps inconsiderately binding himself to do anything wrong, or neglecting to perform a vow to do something good."

Leviticus 27:2, 8-9

Speak to the sons of Israel, and you shall say to them, When a man makes a difficult vow by your evaluation, the persons shall be Yahweh’s. 
But if he is too poor for your evaluation, then he shall be made to stand before the priest, and the priest shall value him; the priest shall value him according to the reach of him who vowed.
And if it is an animal of which they bring an offering to Yahweh, all that one gives of it to Yahweh is holy.

These verses were in reference to a particular type value that was placed on the people and what they were to pay to Yahweh.  There was a certain amount for each individual, but another set amount for the first-born, which were always to be redeemed.

From The Pentateuch and Haftorahs, page 547 –
"clearly utter a vow.  By setting a valuation upon himself or any of his family, the money being paid into the treasury of the Sanctuary."

Numbers 6:2, 21

Speak to the sons of Israel and you shall say to them, When a man or woman shall vow the special vow of a Nazarite, to be separated to Yahweh. 
This is the law of the Nazarite who vows his offering to Yahweh for his separation, besides that which his hand may beg.  According to his vow which he vows, so shall he do by the law of his separation.

Between these two verses there are listed numerous other things this person must do and commitments he must fulfill.  The Scriptures also give the procedure for ending the vow and what must be done.  Remember that the Nazarite vow was not required of everyone – it was totally voluntary, except for a few specific people which Yahweh Himself set aside for that.

From Matthew Henry, volume 1, page 458 –
"They separated themselves by vowing a vow.  Every Israelite was bound by the divine law to love God with all his heart, but the Nazarites by their own act and deed bound themselves to some religious observances, as fruits and expressions of that love, which other Israelites were not bound to."

Numbers 30:1-3

And Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes of the sons of Israel, saying, This is the thing which Yahweh has commanded.
When a man vows a vow to Yahweh, or has sworn an oath to bind his soul with a bond, he shall not break his word; he shall do all that has gone out of his mouth.
And when a woman vows a vow to Yahweh, and has bound a bond in the house of her father in her youth.

From JFB, volume 3, page 602, regarding verse 1 –
"This is the thing which the Lord hath commanded.  The subject of this chapter relates to vowing, which seems to have been an ancient usage, allowed by the law to remain; and by which some people declared their intention of offering some gift on the altar, or abstaining from particular articles of meat or drink, or observing a private fast, of doing something to the honour or in the service of God, over and above what was authoritatively required."

Verse 2 –
"If a man vow a vow.  A mere secret purpose of the mind was not enough to constitute a vow:  it had to be actually expressed in words; and though a purely voluntary act, yet, when once the vow was made, the performance of it, like that of every other promise, became an indispensable duty – all the more that, referring to a sacred thing, it could not be neglected without the guilt of prevarication and unfaithfulness to God.  Shall not break – profane his word; render it vain and contemptible.  But as it would frequently happen that parties would vow to do things that were neither good in themselves nor in their power to perform, the law ordained that their natural superiors should have the right of judging as to the propriety of those vows, with discretionary power to sanction or interdict their fulfillment.  Parents were to determine in the case of their children, and husbands in that of their wives – being, however, allowed only a day for deliberation after the matter became known to them – and their judgment, if unfavourable, released the devotee from all obligation."

From The Pentateuch and Haftorahs, page 702, verse 3 –
"voweth a vow.  Hebrew neder; denotes a solemn promise to consecrate something to God, or do something in His service or His honour.  A vow was usually made in a time of distress, and its motive was the desire to secure Divine help.  Or it might be an expression of gratitude for Divine aid received."

"a bond.  Hebrew issar.  In contrast to neder, this may be called a negative vow:  a self-imposed pledge to abstain from doing or enjoying something that is perfectly allowable."

 "according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.  There is a tendency in human nature to forget in health and security the vows that were made in sickness and danger; but the rule remains, Whatever a man has promised unto God, that he must fulfil."

Deuteronomy 23:21-23

When you shall vow a vow to Yahweh your Elohim, you shall not delay to perform it; for Yahweh your Elohim will certainly require it of you, and it shall be sin to you. 
But if you shall forbear to vow, it shall be no sin to you. 
That which has gone out of your lips, you shall keep, and shall do it.  According as you have vowed as a free-will offering to Yahweh your Elohim, do even that which you have promised with your mouth.

Notice those words – "you shall not delay".  It means business and prompt attention, not simply "I’ll get around to it someday".

From Matthew Henry, volume 1, page 640 –
(1) We are here left at our liberty whether we will make vows or no. 
(2) We are here laid under the highest obligations, when we have made a vow, to perform it, and to perform it speedily."

Deuteronomy 29:12-15

So that you should enter into the covenant of Yahweh your Elohim, and into His oath, which Yahweh your Elohim is making with you today;
so that He may establish you today for a people to Himself, and He Himself be your Elohim, as He has spoken to you, and as He has sworn to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. 
And I am not making this covenant and this oath with you alone,
but with him who stands here with us today before Yahweh your Elohim; and also with him that is not here with us today.

Of course, Israel did not obey Yahweh.  But that is what He expects – for us to keep our vows as He keeps His.  Would we today do any better than ancient Israel?

From Matthew Henry, volume 1, page 661 –
"This requires us to be sincere and serious, humble and reverent, in our covenant-transactions with God, remembering how great a God he is with whom we are covenanting, who has a perfect knowledge of us and an absolute domination over us."

Judges 11:30-31, 34-35, part of 39

And Jephthah vowed a vow to Yahweh, and said, If you will indeed give the sons of Ammon into my hand,
then it shall be that anything which comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the sons of Ammon, it shall belong to Yahweh; and I will offer it instead of a burnt offering. 
And Jephthah came to Mizpeh to his house, and behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels, and with choruses.  And she only, she alone; there was no other son or daughter to him. 
And it happened when he saw her, he tore his garments, and said, Alas, my daughter!  You have brought me very low, and you are among those making me bow.  And surely I have opened my mouth to Yahweh, and I am not able to take it back. 
And he did to her his vow which he had vowed.

This really begs one question – just exactly what did Jephthah expect to come out of his house that he could use as an offering?  Did he keep his unblemished animals there?

From Matthew Henry, volume 2, page 153 –
"…we have great need to be very cautious and well advised in the making of such vows, lest, by indulging in a present emotion even of pious zeal, we entangle our own consciences, involve ourselves in perplexities, and are forced at last to say before the angel that it was an error, Eccl. 5:2-6. …what we have solemnly vowed to God we must conscientiously perform, if it be possible and lawful, though it be ever so difficult and grievous to us."

I Kings 8:31-32

If any man sins against his neighbor, and an oath be exacted of him to cause him to swear, and the oath has come before Your altar in this house,
then You shall hear in Heaven, and shall act, and shall judge Your servants, to declare the wicked wicked, to put his way on his head, and to declare the righteous righteous, to give him according to his righteousness.

Keep in mind that Yahweh is always listening, and hears from His throne.  If you are not honest and fair and a person who keeps your word, someday He will call you to account for that.

2 Chronicles 15:12-15

And they entered into the covenant to seek Yahweh the Elohim of their father with all their heart and with all their soul. 
And everyone who did not seek after Yahweh the Elohim of Israel was put to death, from the small to the great, from man and to woman. 
And they swore to Yahweh with a loud voice, and with shouting, and with trumpets, and with rams’ horns. 
And all Judah rejoiced on the oath, for they had sworn with all their heart; and they sought Him with all their desire. And He was found by them.  And Yahweh gave rest to them all around.

Many today claim to be seeking Yahweh and following Him.  But if He really looked at us and made a true determination today as He did then, how many would die?  How many of us today are deeply, constantly keeping a commitment to Him?

Nehemiah 10:28-29

And the rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, the temple-slaves, and all those who separated from the people of the lands to the Law of Elohim, their wives, their sons, and their daughters, all knowing and discerning ones,
were holding fast to their brothers, their honored ones; and were entering into a curse and into an oath, to walk in Elohim’s law which was given by Moses the servant of Elohim, and to keep and to do all the commandments of Yahweh our Elohim, and His judgments and His statutes.

Realize – they were asking Yahweh to curse them if they did not maintain His covenant!  Are we today so sure of our commitment to Him that we would be willing to ask the same thing?  We should be.

From Matthew Henry, volume 2, page 853 –
"They entered into a curse and an oath.  As the nobles confirmed the covenant with their hands and seals, so the people with a curse and an oath, solemnly appealing to God concerning their sincerity, and imprecating his just revenge if they dealt deceitfully.  Every oath has in it a conditional curse upon the soul, which makes it a strong bond upon the soul; for our own tongues, if false and lying tongues, will fall, and fall heavily, upon ourselves."

Ecclesiastes 5:2-6

Do not be hasty with your mouth, and do not let your heart hurry to bring forth a word before Elohim.  For Elohim is in Heaven, and you are on earth; therefore, let your words be few. 
For the dream comes through the greatness of the task; and the voice of the fool is known by the multitude of words. 
When you vow a vow to Elohim, do not wait to fulfill it.  For He has no pleasure in fools.  Fulfill that which you have vowed. 
It is better that you should not vow, than that you should vow and not fulfill it. 
Do not allow your mouth to cause your flesh to sin; do not say before the angel that it was an error.  Why should Elohim be angry over your voice, and destroy the works of your hands?

How often do we start speaking "before the mind is in gear"?  That’s how this often happens – people make a promise or vow before they really think it through.

From Matthew Henry, volume 3, page 829 –
"Defer not to pay it.  If it be in the power of thy hands to pay it to-day, leave it not till tomorrow; do not beg a day, nor put it off to a more convenient season.  By delay the sense of the obligation slackens and cools, and is in danger of wearing off; we thereby discover a loathness and backwardness to perform our vow.  …The longer it is put off the more difficult it will be to bring ourselves to it; death may not only prevent the payment, but fetch thee to judgment, under the guilt of a broken vow, Ps. 76:11. …We must take need that we never vow anything that is sinful, or that may be an occasion of sin, for such a vow is ill-made and must be broken."

Matthew 5:33-37

Again, you have heard that it was said to the ancients:  ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall give your oaths to the Master.’
But I say to you, Do not swear at all, neither by Heaven, because it is Yahweh’s throne;
nor by the earth, because it is the footstool of His feet; nor by Jerusalem, because it is the city of the great King. 
Nor shall you swear by your head, because you are not able to make one hair white or black. 
But let your word be Yes, yes; No, no.  For whatever is more than these is from evil.

A simple "yes" or "no" is all you need to give.  If you feel you need more, why? Have people been doubting your word; not taking your word for things?  Again – if so, why?

From JFB, volume 5, page 34, verse 37 –
"The untruthfulness of our corrupt nature shows itself not only in the tendency to deviate from the strict truth, but in the disposition to suspect others of doing the same; and as this is not diminished, but rather aggravated, by the habit of confirming what we say by an oath, we thus run the risk of having all reverence for God’s holy name, and even for strict truth, destroyed in our hearts, and so ‘fall into condemnation’.  The practice of going beyond Yes and No, in affirmations and denials – as if our word for it were not enough, and we expected others to question it – springs from that vicious root of untruthfulness which is only aggravated by the very effort to clear ourselves of the suspicion of it."

From Matthew Henry, volume 5, page 51 –
"In swearing, we pawn the truth of something known, to confirm the truth of something doubtful or unknown; we appeal to a greater knowledge, to a higher court, and imprecate the vengeance of a righteous Judge, if we swear deceitfully."

Matthew 23:16-22

Woe to you, blind guides, who say, Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is a debtor. 
Fools and blind!  For which is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifies the gold? 
And you say, Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift on it, he is a debtor. 
Fools and blind!  For which is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifies the gift? 
Then the one swearing by the altar swears by it, and all things on it,
And the one swearing by the temple swears by it, and by the One dwelling in it. 
And the one swearing by Heaven swears by the throne of Yahweh, and by the one sitting on it.

Simply sounds like a lot of one-up-man-ship, doesn’t it?

From Matthew Henry, volume 5, page 272 –
"They" (the Pharisees and scribes) "allowed swearing by creatures, provided they were consecrated to the service of God, and stood in any special relation to him.  They allowed swearing by the temple and the altar, though they were the work of men’s hands, intended to be the servants of God’s honour, not sharers in it.  An oath is an appeal to God, to his omniscience and justice; to make this appeal to any creature is to put that creature in the place of God."

Hebrews 6:16-18

For men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath to make things sure is to them the end of all gainsaying. 
In which way, desiring to more fully declare to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His counsel, Yahweh interposed by an oath,
that through two unchangeable things, in which it was not possible for Yahweh to lie, we might have a strong consolation, those having fled to lay hold on the hope set before us.

From Matthew Henry, volume 6, pate 737 –
"He swore by himself.  He staked down his own being and his own blessedness upon it; no greater security can be given or desired."

Hebrews 7: 20-21, 28

And by how much it was not apart from the swearing of an oath, for they have become priests without the swearing of an oath,
but He with the swearing through Him who says to Him, ‘Yahweh swore, and will not repent, You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.’ 
For the Law makes men high priests who have infirmity, but the word of the swearing of an oath, after the Law, appoints the Son forever, having been perfected.

From Matthew Henry, volume 6, page 740 –
"He has taken an oath to Christ, which he never did to any of the order of Aaron.  God never gave them any such assurance of their continuance, never engaged himself by oath or promise that theirs should be an everlasting priesthood, and therefore gave them no reason to expect the perpetuity of it, but rather to look upon it as a temporary law.  But Christ was made a priest with the oath of God."

James 5:12

But before all things, my brothers, do not swear, neither by the heaven, nor by the earth, nor by any other oath.  But let your yes be yes, and the no, no, that you may not fall under judgment.

From Matthew Henry, volume 6, page 804 –
"Let it suffice you to affirm or deny a thing as there is occasion, and be sure to stand to your word, and be true to it, so as to give no occasion for your being suspected of falsehood; and then you will be kept from the condemnation of backing what you say or promise by rash oaths, and from profaning the name of God to justify yourselves.  It is being suspected of falsehood that leads men to swearing.  Let it be known that you keep to truth, and are firm to your word, and by this means you will find there is not need to swear to what you say.  Thus shall you escape the condemnation which is expressly annexed to the third commandment:  The Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain."

Consider

Proverbs 10:19
"In the abundance of words, transgression does not cease; but one restraining his lips is prudent."

Proverbs 12:22
"Lying lips are hateful to Yahweh; but those who deal faithfulness are His delight."

Proverbs 13:13
"He who despises the word shall be destroyed; but he who fears the commandment shall be rewarded."

Proverbs 20:7
"The just one walks in his integrity; blessed are his sons after him!"

Proverbs 21:23
"Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps his soul from distresses."

After all these scriptures and comments, do we now understand the differences in the terms we’ve tried to define?  Probably not totally.  But that isn’t the point.  The point is coming to see where each of us stands.  Ask yourself some probing questions and be honest with yourself:

  • What is my word worth?
  • Can my friends count on me?
  • Can I keep secrets?
  • Can Yahweh count on me?
  • I claim to follow Yahweh – do I keep His Word?
  • Do I obey Yahweh’s law as He demands – or only as I think it applies?
  • Yahweh offers me fantastic promises – but He demands things from me in return.  How well am I keeping my part of the bargain?
  • If I don’t keep my commitment to Yahweh, will I still receive His promises?

In today’s society, "vows" are usually mentioned only in the context of marriage and addressing that entire issue is not the intent of this discussion.  In the Scriptures, there is no mention of a marriage vow, but whatever you do or whatever you call it,  you do make a commitment of some sort.  It is obvious that most people in today’s society do not take that seriously.  Just look at the divorce rate.  What about you? How seriously do you take that commitment?

How often in making plans with friends and family, do you use the words "I promise…"?  Those people, including small children, will soon catch on to whether or not that means anything.  I have known of little ones, after having repeated promises broken by Mom or Dad, state that they knew a promise from them was of no value.  What would it be like to have Yahweh say that of you?

You may ask what the purpose of this article is.  It is simply an effort to help us all understand how important our word is; how serious this whole subject is to Yahweh.  If He cannot trust us to do simple things we agree to, how can He trust us to allow us to rule in His Kingdom forever?  Or, will He? 


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