One of the problems we can encounter in ourselves or in other people is the consequences of unfulfilled oaths and promises. A big problem also resides in the fact that some of those oaths and promises were made long ago so that we are no longer able to remember them. What counts is that our oaths are still valid. I believe that after we examine the passages dealing with oaths and promises you probably stop making any oaths at all.
We can find many examples in the Bible of unconditional promises and oaths as well as oaths and promises linked to fulfilment of certain condidtions. Perhaps the most important thing, however, is to know that God is the God of covenants, who takes our as well as His word very seriously. Not being forgetful as we are, he remembers all our oaths and promises. Let's look at the story of Jacob, which begins in Chapter 28 of Genesis:
Genesis 28, 10-22: And Jacob went out from Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. And he came to a certain place and stayed there all night, because the sun had set. And he took one of the stones of that place and put it at his head, and he lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to the heavens; and behold the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold, Jehovah stood above it and said: I am Jehovah the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you are lying I give to you and your seed. And your seed shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south; and in you and in your Seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I am not forsaking you until I have done what I have spoken to you. And Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, Surely Jehovah is in this place, and I did not realize it. And he was afraid and said, How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of Heaven! And Jacob arose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put at his head, set it up as a pillar, and poured oil on top of it. And he called the name of that place Bethel; but the name of that city had formerly been Luz. And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, so that I return to my father's house in peace, then Jehovah shall be my God. And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God's house, and of all that You give me I will tithe to give a tithe to You.
In this story, we can see God make an unconditional promise to the dreaming Jacob. In return, Jacob makes a promise to God. Jacob's promise, however, has four conditions. After twenty years God speaks again to Jacob in a dream, reminding him of his promise:
Genesis 31, 13: I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed the pillar and where you vowed a vow to Me. Now arise, get out of this land, and return to the land of your kindred.
We have seen a story in which the conditions were fulfilled after twenty years. Does it seem long to you? Of course, there is no match to God's oaths, which are often unconditional and valid "till the end of time". For example, let’s look at the promise that God gave to Abraham (Abram):
Genesis 13, 14-15: And after Lot had separated from him, Jehovah said to Abram: Lift up your eyes now and look from the place where you are, northward, southward, eastward, and westward; for all the land which you see I give to you and your seed in perpetuity.
Genesis 17, 1-8: And when Abram was ninety-nine years old, Jehovah appeared to Abram and said to him, I am the Almighty God! Walk before Me and be perfect; and I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly abundantly. And Abram fell on his face, and God spoke with him, saying: As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you abundantly exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come forth from you. And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your seed after you in their generations, for a perpetual covenant, to be God unto you and unto your seed after you. Also I have given unto you and your seed after you the land in which you sojourn, all the land of Canaan, as an enduring possession; and I will be their God.
Let's look at what God says about promises and oaths:
Leviticus 5, 4-13: Or if a soul swears, speaking thoughtlessly with his lips to do evil or to do good, whatever it is that a man may speak rashly with an oath, and it is concealed from him; when he has found out about it, then he shall be guilty in any of these matters. And it shall be, when he is guilty in any of these matters, that he shall confess that he has sinned; and he shall bring his trespass offering unto Jehovah for his sin which he has sinned, a female from the flock, a lamb or a kid of the goats as a sin offering. Thus the priest shall make atonement for him concerning his sin. If he cannot afford a lamb, then he shall bring unto Jehovah, for his guilt which he has sinned, two turtledoves or two young pigeons: one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering. And he shall bring them to the priest, who shall offer that which is for the sin offering first, and nip off its head from its neck, but shall not divide it completely. And he shall sprinkle some of the blood of the sin offering on the side of the altar, and the rest of the blood shall be drained out at the base of the altar. It is a sin offering. And he shall offer the second as a burnt offering according to the ordinance. Thus the priest shall make atonement for his sin which he has sinned, and it shall be forgiven him. And if he cannot afford two turtledoves or two young pigeons, then he who sinned shall bring for his offering one-tenth of an ephah of fine flour as a sin offering. He shall put no oil on it, nor shall he put frankincense on it, for it is a sin offering. And he shall bring it to the priest, and the priest shall take his full handful of it as a memorial portion, and burn it on the altar with smoke according to the offerings by fire unto Jehovah. It is a sin offering. The priest shall make atonement for him, for his sin that he has sinned in any of these matters; and it shall be forgiven him. The rest is for the priest as a grain offering.
Leviticus 19, 12: And you shall not swear by My name for falsehood, nor shall you profane the name of your God: I am Jehovah.
Numbers 30, 2: If a man vows a vow unto Jehovah, or swears an oath to bind his soul to a bond, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.
Numbers 30, 3-15: If a woman vows a vow unto Jehovah, and has bound her soul to a bond while in her father's house in her youth, and her father has heard her vow and the bond by which she has bound her soul, and her father has remained silent, then all her vows shall stand, and every bond to which she has bound her soul shall stand. But if her father has disallowed her on the day that he hears, then none of her vows nor her bonds by which she has bound her soul shall stand; and Jehovah will forgive her, because her father has disallowed her. And if she belongs to a husband, when she has bound her soul with a vow or rash utterance of her lips, and her husband has heard, and has kept silent to her on the day that he hears, then her vows have been confirmed, and her bonds by which she bound her soul shall stand. But if her husband disallows her on the day that he hears it, he has made void her vow which she uttered with her lips, with which she bound her soul; and Jehovah will forgive her. But any vow of a widow or a divorced woman, by which she has bound her soul, shall be confirmed against her. If she has vowed in her husband's house, or bound her soul by a bond with an oath, and her husband has heard it, and kept silent to her and has not disallowed her, then all her vows shall stand, and every bond by which she has bound her soul has been confirmed. But if her husband disallows, to void them on the day he hears them, then whatever proceeded from her lips concerning her vows or concerning the bond of her soul shall not stand; her husband has made them void; and Jehovah will forgive her. Every vow and every binding oath to humble her soul, her husband may confirm it, or her husband may make it void. But if her husband is silent and says nothing to her from day to day, then he has confirmed all her vows or all the bonds that are upon her; he has confirmed them, because he has remained silent to her on the day that he heard them. And if he does disallow, to make them void after he has heard them, then he has taken on her guilt.
Deuteronomy 23, 21-23: When you vow a vow unto Jehovah your God, you shall not delay to pay it; for Jehovah your God will seek to require it of you, and it would be sin in you. But if you abstain from vowing, it shall not be sin in you. That which has gone forth from your lips you shall keep and do; that which you have voluntarily vowed unto Jehovah your God, what you have promised with your mouth.
Prowerbs 20, 25: It is a snare for a man to rashly devote something as holy, and afterward to reconsider his vows.
I believe that people of old times took their promises and oaths seriously - much more seriously than people of today. Knowing God's commands as regards oaths and promises, the nation of Israel knew that God would not let go unpunished anybody who made false oaths. Let's look up an example in the Bible. It is the situation when the Israelites sent spies to Jericho to find details about the city and its inhabitants. Their lives were at stake when a prostitute, Rahab, hid them at her place, asking them to swear that they would leave her (and all in her house) alive after they had conquered the city.
Joshua 2, 12-21: Now therefore, I beg you, swear to me by Jehovah, since I have shown you kindness, that you also will show kindness to my father's house, and give me a true token, and save alive my father, my mother, my brothers, my sisters, and all that they have, and deliver our souls from death. And the men answered her, Our lives for yours, if you tell none of this business of ours. And it shall be, when Jehovah gives us the land, that we will deal kindly and truly with you. Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was on the side of the wall; she dwelt in the wall. And she said to them, Go to the mountain, lest the pursuers meet you. Hide there three days, until the pursuers return; and afterward you may go your way. And the men said to her: We will be exempt from this oath of yours which you have made us swear, unless, when we come into the land, you bind this cord of scarlet thread in the window through which you have let us down; and you shall bring your father, your mother, your brothers, and all your father's household into your house. And it shall be that whoever goes outside the doors of your house into the street, his blood shall be upon his own head, and we will be guiltless. And whoever is with you in the house, his blood shall be on our head if a hand is laid on him. And if you tell this business of ours, then we will be free from your oath which you have made us swear. And she said, According to your words, so be it. And she sent them away, and they departed. And she bound the scarlet cord in the window.
Having returned safely to Joshua, the spies told him everything including their oath to the prostitute Rahab. And Joshua, taking their oath quite seriously, personally saw to its fulfilment.
Joshua 6, 16-17: And the seventh time it happened, when the priests had blown the shofars, that Joshua said to the people: Shout! For Jehovah has given you the city! And the city shall be devoted unto Jehovah, it and all who are in it. Only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all who are with her in the house, because she hid the messengers that we had sent.
Joshua 6, 21-23: And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, ox and sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword. And Joshua had said to the two men who had spied out the land, Go into the harlot's house, and from there bring out the woman and all that she has, as you have sworn to her. And the young men who had been spies went in and brought out Rahab, her father, her mother, her brothers, and all that she had. And they brought out all her family and set them outside the camp of Israel.
The inhabitants of Gibeon devised a ploy not to be exterminated by Joshua like other nations settled in the promised land: they entered into an agreement with Joshua that they would serve him and he, in return, would not destroy them. Joshua made the mistake that he did not seek advice from God. Nevertheless, a promise is a promise, so look and see the response of the Israelites.
Joshua 9, 14-20: And the men of Israel took some of their provisions; but they did not ask at the mouth of Jehovah. And Joshua made peace with them, and made a treaty with them to let them live; and the leaders of the congregation swore to them. And it happened at the end of three days, after they had made the treaty with them, that they heard that they were their neighbors, dwelling among them. And the children of Israel journeyed and came to their cities on the third day. Now their cities were Gibeon, Chephirah, Beeroth, and Kirjath Jearim. But the sons of Israel did not strike them, because the leaders of the congregation had sworn to them by Jehovah the God of Israel. And all the congregation grumbled against the leaders. Then all the leaders said to all the congregation, We have sworn to them by Jehovah the God of Israel; now therefore, we cannot touch them. This we will do to them: We will let them live, that wrath not be upon us because of the oath which we have sworn to them.
The Israelites were very scared to break their promises. Let's look at where the risk is in making oaths and how painful their fulfilment can be:
Judges 11, 30-40: And Jephthah vowed a vow unto Jehovah, and said, If You will give over to deliver up the sons of Ammon into my hands, 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, shall surely be Jehovah's, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering. So Jephthah passed over toward the sons of Ammon to fight against them, and Jehovah delivered them into his hands. And he struck them from Aroer as far as Minnith; twenty cities; and to Abel Keramim, with a very great slaughter. Thus the sons of Ammon were subdued before the sons of Israel. And when Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, behold, his daughter was coming out to meet him with timbrels and dancing; and she was his only child. Besides her he had neither son nor daughter. And it came to pass when he saw her, that he tore his clothes and said, Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low! You are among those who trouble me! For I have given my word unto Jehovah, and I cannot go back on it. So she said to him, My father, if you have opened your mouth unto Jehovah, do unto me according to what has gone out of your mouth, because Jehovah has taken vengeance upon your enemies, the sons of Ammon. And she said to her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone for two months, that I may go and wander on the mountains and bewail my virginity, my friends and I. And he said, Go. And he sent her away for two months; and she went with her friends, and bewailed her virginity on the mountains. And it was so at the end of two months that she returned to her father, and he did to her according to the vow which he had vowed. She had known no man. And it became a custom in Israel, that the daughters of Israel went four days each year, year after year, to recount the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.
Let's look in the new covenant, especially to find certain words of Jesus:
Matthew 5, 33-37: Again, you have heard that it was said to those of old, You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord. But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by Heaven, for it is God's throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for 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.
James 5, 12: But above all things, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your Yes, be Yes, and your No, No, so that you do not fall under condemnation.
We have gone through some important passages concerning promises and oaths. I believe that this biblical analysis has made many of us shun not only precipitous promises and oaths but any oaths at all. God takes quite seriously all of His promises and He takes seriously all of our promises as well (and expects and wants them to be fulfilled). Nobody (including God) will be impressed by your oaths and promises; what matters is what you do. Thus, my advice is the same as the title of this article and similar to Jesus' warning: "Do not swear, do not promise, just do it!"
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