Lawful Oaths and Vows
“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain” (Ex. 20:7).
- Exodus 20:1–17
The New Testament does not forbid oath-swearing on all occasions. It does, however, forbid oaths made in the name of anything other than God and oaths made without the intent to keep them. We have also seen that oaths are not to be made for everyday occasions but are to be reserved for solemn purposes such as marriage, legal testimony, or ordination to the ministry.
The main reason why oaths are not to be made for “ordinary” occasions has to do with the fact that our oaths must be sworn in God’s name. In many places, including today’s passage, the Bible commands us to hallow God’s name. One way we do this is by invoking His name when we make our vows. If we make vows every time we make a promise to another person, we might become too flippant in our use of God’s name, and thus we might be guilty of taking it in vain. Furthermore, we run the risk of bringing more judgment on our heads because the more vows we make, the greater the chance is that we will break them. And the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who profanes His name by breaking an oath (see Deut. 5:11).
In addition to taking God’s name into account, there are many other things that we must do when we swear oaths and make vows. In the first place, we must always remember that we are never permitted to make an oath to sin. If God forbids us to sin altogether, then He also forbids us from vowing to sin. Not only can we break a vow to go against God’s law, we must break such a vow.
Not every vow that we make is necessarily a lawful vow. That is why we must consider our circumstances very carefully before we make one. If we do not, we run the risk of making a rash and unlawful vow that compounds our sin. During the time of the Judges, Jephthah rashly made a vow to sacrifice whatever came out of His house if God would give him a victory. Instead of breaking his vow like he should have when his daughter came out of the house, he kept it and sacrificed her (Judges 11:29–40). In Jephthah’s haste, he rashly made an unlawful vow and then sinned again by keeping it.
Do you flippantly use the Lord’s name in conversation without even thinking about His majesty or holiness? What about the process you go through before you commit yourself with a vow? Do you consider the situation carefully or do you rush in without much thought beforehand? Spend some time meditating on God’s holiness so that you will not be guilty of profaning His name by using it flippantly or by making a rash vow.
Passages for Further Study
- Lev. 5
- Matt. 14:1–12; 26:1–16; 27:3–10
- Luke 14:25–33
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