You have also heard that people were told in the past, ‘Do not break your promise, but do what you have vowed to the Lord to do.’ But now I tell you: do not use any vow when you make a promise. Do not swear by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by earth, for it is the resting place for his feet; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Do not even swear by your head, because you cannot make a single hair white or black. Just say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’—anything else you say comes from the Evil One.
[With these words Jesus continues to teach about the Law of Moses as the Sermon on the Mount continues. He takes some of the most important topics and explains to his disciples, in specific terms, what it means to be “more faithful than the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees in doing what God requires” (See Day 23).]
In the history of the Jewish people there is a long tradition of making elaborate vows. For example, before the time of either Moses or Jesus, Abram makes this promise to the King of Sodom saying, “I solemnly swear before the Lord, the Most High God, Maker of heaven and earth, that I will not keep anything of yours, not even a thread or a sandal strap” (Genesis 14:22-23).
Although it seems that Abram kept his promise, others were in the habit of making these expansive vows but failing to follow through with their promises. When God handed down the Law of Moses, he made it against the law to make a promise in his name without the intention of keeping it (Leviticus 9:12).
Jesus says the only sure way to avoid violating this law is not to make those kinds of silly vows in the first place. He says that these vows imply that you have control over all of your circumstances, and of course this is not the case. Only God knows what tomorrow will bring. We don’t even know if we will be alive to take another breath let alone keep all of the vows we have made. The future does not belong to us.
The bottom line: Don’t make any promises unless you can guarantee that you can keep them. And you can’t guarantee anything. Just ask George Bush who promised “no new taxes”. He was a good, honest man who made a promise in good faith to the American public. Unfortunately he had neither perfect knowledge of nor perfect control over the situation; he ultimately had to agree to increase Americans’ tax bills. He was not a liar or a flip-flopper; he was just naïve and uninformed. There were circumstances beyond his control.
My mom was pampered as a child and her father doted on her. Later her dad became an alcoholic and her parents eventually divorced. I asked her what she remembered most about her dad, and she said that he was always making promises he couldn’t keep. He would promise to take her out and never show up. He would promise to bring her gifts that never arrived. She said it would have been better if he hadn’t made all those promises.
This picture of them of says it all. I see a girl who doesn’t like her dad and a man who doesn’t like himself.
I’ve know many wise and elderly Christians who append their promises with, “God willing” as in, “Yes, I’ll be at the meeting, God willing.” I think this is the kind of vow that would be OK with Jesus.
What does this scripture say to you?