I have to tell you that when I was first asked to write about oaths and the part they played in both Old and New Testament times, I honestly didn’t know much. It isn’t something we do often, other than in court and at the altar.
“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, 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’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. Matthew 5:33-37
I hadn’t considered the fact that this wasn’t just a human thing, it was a God thing as well. God originally swore an oath to Abraham.
The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.”
“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you;
I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Genesis 12:1-3
As I considered it further, and took a quick trip through the Old Testament, I recalled the fact that God ALWAYS kept his promises, while His people, the Jews, hardly ever did. Consider this example.
This is what they said.
When Moses went and told the people all the LORD’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, “Everything the LORD has said we will do.” Moses then wrote down everything the LORD had said.
He got up early the next morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain and set up twelve stone pillars representing the twelve tribes of Israel. Then he sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings to the LORD. Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he splashed against the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.” Exodus 24:3-7
This is what they did.
When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” Exodus 32:1
The Pharisees and Saduccees of Jesus’ time tweaked their oaths to do their bidding. Their oaths meant nothing. They did what they wanted and gave their dealings authority by claiming they acted on God’s behalf. Again and again the Old Testament reminded Israel of the importance of keeping their vows. They hardly ever did.
We are God’s people, His Ambassadors. Our words must reflect truth as a result. And if we say what we will do, we must also keep our word. God always keeps His Word. So should we.
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By Bruce Hanson