Have you ever made a vow or an oath?
The world is full of unkept promises. Nations sign important treaties and then break them at will. And many couples show little regard for their wedding vows. In this kind of society, we who are God's people should be known for keeping our promises.
The brilliant Christian scholar and writer C. S. Lewis took that truth seriously. He was determined to pay what he had vowed. His biography tells of the suffering he endured because he kept a promise that he had made to a buddy during World War I. This friend was worried about the care of his wife and small daughter if he should be killed in battle, so Lewis assured him that if that were to happen, he would look after them. As the war dragged on, the man was killed. True to his word, Lewis took care of his friend's family. Yet no matter how helpful he tried to be, the woman was ungrateful, rude, arrogant, and domineering. Through it all, Lewis kept forgiving her. He refused to let her actions become an excuse to renege on his promise. -H.V.L.
Our Daily Bread, June 15
Lewis' promise was made to a friend. What about making promises to God? Is it a good practice?
This text gives some stark warnings related to how me make commitments before God. It comes right on the heals of vanities described in chapter four that might lead someone to make a desperate vow before God.
Even more so, this text is contrasting the fool and the wise in how they come before God.
The fool is casual, irreverent, and disobedient, but tries to compensate this by offering meaningless, hollow sacrifices before God.
The wise fears God enough to worship Him in awe and obedience. The wise does not use ritualistic sacrifices as a means to make up for his foolishness.
Quite the contrast between the two.
The main point of this text is to fear and obey God. The primary application is to properly conduct and commit ourselves before God in worship, in light of our proper fear of Him.
There are wise and foolish ways to conduct and commit ourselves before God. This text shares warnings of offering the "sacrifice of fools" in our worship before God.
Let's look further into the cautions that are given.
Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they consider not that they do evil.
Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few.
For a dream cometh through the multitude of business; and a fool's voice is known by multitude of words.
When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed.
Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.
Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it wasan error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands?
For in the multitude of dreams and many words there are also divers vanities: but fear thou God.
Vs. 1—Be reverent and focused on obedience in our worship of God.
1 Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they consider not that they do evil.
Be reverent and respectful before God.
Seems similar to Moses and Joshua before the Lord.
5 And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.
15 And the captain of the Lord's host said unto Joshua, Loose thy shoe from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest is holy. And Joshua did so.
Be more ready to listen with obedience to God than to tell Him to listen to us and receive our sacrifices.
° Consider our sin and disobedience.
° Know God desires obedience more than sacrifice.
Note—Obedience to rituals does not replace obedience to morals. Some people practice religious rituals in hopes that will compensate their immoral living. Some church doctrines even encourage this.
Consider the example of Saul, who disobeyed God by sparing livestock of their enemies after battle to bring a sacrifice to God. God didn't want a sacrifice; He wanted obedience.
1 Samuel 15:22
22 And Samuel said, Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, As in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to hearken than the fat of rams.
Be reverent and ready to obey, and on top of that, don't be rash.
Vs. 2-3—Don't be rash with our mouths or hearts before God.
2 Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few.
3 For a dream cometh through the multitude of business; and a fool's voice is known by multitude of words.
° Don't be rash with mouth or heart before God.
° Remember our place and the place of God. God is holy.
° Speak fewer, more thought-out words before God.
° As sure as it takes much work to accomplish a dream, a fool is known by uncontrolled talking.
Jephthah's Foolish Vow
In Judges 11:30-40, we read of a tragic, foolish vow made in rash, desperation by a man named Jephthah. Asking God to deliver an enemy into his hands during a battle, he vows to sacrifice as a burnt offering whatever first comes from the doors of his house to meet him at his return.
This was foolish on many fronts. For one, the consequences were not thought out. Secondly, human sacrifice was an abomination in the Levitical Law, and there was plausibility that it would be a human that first comes to meet him.
Of all things, it was his one and only daughter who came out to meet him. She encourages him to fulfill his vow. It is possible he offered her to the Lord as a living sacrifice to serve in the temple the rest of her life and never marry, but it seems he may have done yet another foolish thing by following through with the abominable act of sacrificing his daughter.
This is a disturbing illustration of why we should not get make rash vows in our worship with God.
19 In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: But he that refraineth his lips is wise.
28 Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: And he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.
Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.
- Abraham Lincoln or Mark Twain or someone else
Bringing it back down to our world, I have heard it said by a number of preachers that you can't out give God, and while that might be true, I never see anywhere in the Bible where we are instructed to try. We are told to give him our mind, soul, body, treasure, and time, but we are not to try to out-give Him.
May we be careful in our commitments to God that they are not rash—especially to the point that they contradict His laws and instruction on stewarding the life He has given us on Earth.
So, in our worship to God, we should be reverent, obedient, not rash, and now we see we need to pay what we promise.
Vs. 4-5—Be sure to pay a vow if we make one to God.
4 When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed.
5 Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.
° God has no pleasure in fools who only talk and don't do.
° Pay what we vow.
° It is better to make no vow to God than to vow and not pay it.
Lucy asks Charlie Brown to help with her homework. "I'll be eternally grateful," she promises.
"Fair enough. I've never had anyone be eternally grateful before," replied Charlie. "Just subtract four from ten to get how many apples the farmer had left."
Lucy says, "That's it! That's it! I have to be eternally grateful for that? I was robbed! I can't be eternally grateful for this, it was too easy!"
With his blank stare, Charlie replies, "Well, whatever you think is fair."
"How about if I just say 'thanks, Bro?'" replied Lucy.
As Charlie leaves to go outside, he meets Linus. "Where've you been, Charlie Brown?"
"Helping Lucy with her homework."
Linus asks, "Did she appreciate it?"
Charlie answers, "At greatly reduced prices."
Consider what God says in Deuteronomy about keeping vows:
21 When thou shalt vow a vow unto the Lord thy God, thou shalt not slack to pay it: for the Lord thy God will surely require it of thee; and it would be sin in thee.
22 But if thou shalt forbear to vow, it shall be no sin in thee.
23 That which is gone out of thy lips thou shalt keep and perform; even a freewill offering, according as thou hast vowed unto the Lord thy God, which thou hast promised with thy mouth.
It was a common practice for Jewish worshipers to make and pay vows to God.
11 Vow, and pay unto the Lord your God: Let all that be round about him bring presents unto him that ought to be feared.
14 Offer unto God thanksgiving; And pay thy vows unto the most High:
Vows are different than oaths in the sense that they are contingent upon the other person fulfilling their end of the vow.
A vow to God would be a promise to do a particular thing after God comes through on one's request to Him.
An oath would be the act of swearing something to be true or accomplished at the price of a curse if the thing not be true or accomplished.
Notice when Jacob made a vow to God after God gave him the vision we call "Jacob's Ladder" in Genesis 28:
20 And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on,
21 So that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God:
22 And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.
We see the practice of making vows and oaths fade away in the New Testament. Jesus actually taught not to swear by oaths, but rather, to simply say yes or no to things:
33 Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths:
34 But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne:
35 Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.
36 Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.
37 But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.
We have only three references to making vows in the New Testament:
° Acts 18:18 Paul had made a vow.
° Acts 21:23 Some members of the church had made a vow.
° James 5:15 "And the prayer (e???) of faith shall save the sick," is the same word used for vow in the previous two verses, though the meaning is prayer.
Therefore, we conclude that making vows and oaths to God is not to be taken lightly.
Vs. 6—Control our mouths to avoid sin, and especially don't lie about vows made to God.
6 Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it wasan error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands?
° "Angel"—messenger. Likely referring to the priest at a temple to whom a vow was shared.
° Especially don't lie about vows made to God.
° We earn God's anger and judgement when we try to excuse away or cover our vows with lies.
Ananias and Sapphira
We have a blatant example of this in Scripture with Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. They actually lied to God and the apostles about the value of a possession they sold. They said they gave the full price to the Lord for the ministry of the church. In reality, they had only given part of the value.
Why would they do this? It seems they did it to keep up with or out-do what other members in the church were giving to the Lord and work of the ministry. They did not fear God enough to be truthful regarding their offering.
God severely punished them with death for their blatant lies, and a revival of fear in God broke forth. The demonstrative demonstration of God's holiness was consistent with how God introduced his presence in the past, i.e., the Law, the Tabernacle, the Arc of the Covenant, the Promise Land, etc. This time, the recent introduction was the Holy Spirit in the believer and the church, and God let the church know not to take His presence lightly.
This leads to the final command—fear thou God.
Vs. 7—Fear God enough to be reverent, thoughtful, truthful, and obedient before Him.
7 For in the multitude of dreams and many words there are also divers vanities: but fear thou God.
° It is foolish and vain to live without fear of God.
° Fools abound in vain dreams and words without fear of God.
° The end of the fool is vanity.
The fool offers ritualistic sacrifices and offerings to God with the following sort of behavior that summarizes what we have observed:
1. Casual Irreverence
2. Ignorant Desperation
3. Undisciplined Talk
4. Sly Hypocrisy
These are foolish forms of religion, without true faith and obedience.
They are hypocritical practices.
Ultimately, this behavior stems from a lack of proper fear of God.
In chapter three, we are instructed to fear God because of His sovereignty. The focus of these verses in chapter five is to wisely fear God because of His holiness. (God is in Heaven, and we are on Earth.)
Here, we are told to be careful in our worship and prayer before God. It is during this time that some too casually make commitments to God they do not truly intend or work to keep. They have not counted the cost. They just figure it to be a light thing.
Some fear man more than God, so they make public decisions and commitments without considering the consequence. Foolishness.
Church leaders can also be found to influence and manipulate people into making these sort of foolish actions. We have to be careful not to do this in our counseling, preaching, and invitations. Preach God's Word, invite people to respond, and leave it between them and God to carefully think through and decide.
While we ought to be careful with our commitments to God, know we do make commitments. We committed to follow God upon responding in faith to the Gospel. May we fear God enough to keep our commitments and live for Him.
Some of us have even made vows to God on the condition He fulfill something for us in a tough time of life. May we keep our vows.
Under the sun thinking takes God lightly and prefers to speak foolish thoughts and offer empty religion over listening to God's revealed truth.
God has no delight in fools who do not truly fear Him. They impetuously make promises to God either out of desperation or to look good before other people, not considering the repercussions between them and God.
Apart from fear of God, dreams and words of people under the sun lead only to vanity. This foolish behavior also seeks to impress others (and sometimes even God). We cannot impress God; that is why God came to us and bore our sins—Jesus.
Dear friend, stop offering vain attempts of religion to appease God's wrath of your sin. God is not impressed. Obey the Gospel by turning to and trusting in Christ. Vows of works, church, and religion will not save. Repentance and faith in God's provision of salvation through Christ alone saves.
Fearing God leads to consistent, obedient worship that pleases God. That's what God wants. God is not looking for spectacular decisions and promises. He desires from us simple daily obedience as we walk in His Spirit and Word.
Be wise enough to fear and obey God. Be wise enough to receive God's righteousness through Jesus Christ.
May we be careful with our worship, commitments, and vows to God that we not offer the sacrifice of fools.