Ecclesiastes 5:4-7 (New International Version)
4 When you make a vow to God, do not delay to fulfill it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. 5 It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it. 6 Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the temple messenger, “My vow was a mistake.” Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands? 7 Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore fear God.
There are few things we, as human beings, possess as powerful as our tongues: our ability to talk and to communicate. With the words we speak, we can share the good news and that which is terrible. We are able to build each other up or tear one another down. The Word of God calls each one of us to watch our tongues and to learn how to control them, but not just for the reasons stated previously. It is imperative for us to realize there are few words as powerful as those we use to swear – and no, I’m not talking about curse words.
The Old Testament Promise
The books of the Old Testament lay the groundwork for the Biblical concept of a promise and the power it holds. They achieve this by showcasing examples of commands given to mankind and the vows kept by the Lord.
In Numbers 30:2 (NIV), the commandment is given to the nation of Israel that “When a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.” Simply put, it doesn’t matter if the terms are big or small, easy or hard, if you swear to do something for anyone, you must do it.
As far back as the Garden of Eden in early Genesis, the Lord has been making promises. He vowed to make a partner for Adam. He swore that whoever ate from the tree of knowledge would surely die. Though many of His greatest promises were yet to be honored, through His consistency, regardless of the effects, we see the merit of following God’s command regarding this matter.
The New Testament Promise
In the New Testament, as the breadth of the Lord’s promises are shown in detail to be honored, we can begin to truly understand the depth of His reputability. There is a power in the trust one naturally accumulates when they are known to keep their word, and a vulnerability in those whose past fallibility proceeds them. But there’s more.
During Christ’s ministry on Earth, a key truth is put forth – one that recontextualizes how and how often we should put our reputations on the line. In Matthew 5:34-37, He says “Do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is His footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.”
This is not to say we should never make a promise, but rather, it is essential to be succinct and candid. It is just as binding to respond ‘yes’ to another’s plead for help as any aureate oath. Moreover, we must know our place and capacity to deliver. We are simple, mortal beings. On our own, we have no power to change the universe. What right do we have to promise that which we cannot provide?
It is imperative to, in every instance, honor our oaths to God and to each other. Even the most trustworthy people can be ruined by a single broken vow. As such, we must watch our mouths and not swear to do anything in the name of a power we do not hold. Our word is one of our greatest privileges – so we must use our words wisely.
James 5:12 (New International Version)
12 Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear – not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. Otherwise you will be condemned.