Summary: To often we take vows, pledges and promises way to lightly. We are assured that God doesn't.
A businessman was traveling on a plane for the first time. He had always been terrified of flying but his next appointment required him to do so. The flight was going well when suddenly the plane shuddered. The pilot came over the intercom and announced that the engines on the right side had stopped so they were making an emergency landing. Shortly there after, another shudder and the pilot announced the other engines had stopped. Everyone was informed to assume the crash position with their head between their knees.
For the first time the businessman felt vulnerable. He had never felt the need to cry out to God but at that moment, he did. “God,” he prayed. “If you will allow me to survive this crash I take a solemn vow to give to charity half of all my possessions.”
Suddenly all four engines began working again and the plane glided smoothly onto the runway. The businessman rushed to disembark.
As he made his way out of the runway area, the man who had been seated beside him spoke to him. “Excuse me sir. I am a pastor involved in several charities. I heard your vow to the Lord concerning your possessions. I can guide you in keeping that vow by recommending some outstanding charities that have needs.”
The businessman replied, “That won’t be necessary. You see I made a new vow with God. I vowed if I ever got on another plane, He could have it all.”
I think we have all been guilty of that. We find ourselves in a tough situation, usually of our own makings, and we begin to make deals with God. If He will do this than we will do that. We are sincere in the moment of our crisis but when that moment passes, we are reluctant and perhaps even unable to follow through on our vows. That was the problem facing the Jews at the time Jesus was teaching.
The Jews were living under the Law of Moses concerning the keeping of vows made to God. Leviticus 19:12 “Do not bring shame on the name of your God by using it to swear falsely. I am the Lord.” When God stated in the Ten Commandments “You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name” this is what He spoke of. It was a serious matter to swear in the name of God. It was binding. He states that in Numbers 30:2. “A man who makes a vow to the Lord or makes a pledge under oath must never break it. He must do exactly what he said he would do.” Under no circumstances was it acceptable to God for someone to vow to him or to pledge to someone else in God’s name to break it. It was sin as stated in Deuteronomy 23:21 “When you make a vow to the Lord your God, be prompt in fulfilling whatever you promised him. For the Lord your God demands that you promptly fulfill all your vows, or you will be guilty of sin.”
This was the Law that the Jews were very acquainted with. If you made a vow before God or used his name, He demanded that you fulfill that vow, pledge, or promise. It was stronger than a pinky swear.
How many of you have know what a pinky swear is? Have you even heard of it? I thought a pinky swear was relatively current but in the United States, the pinky swear has existed since at latest 1860, when Bartlett's Dictionary of Americanisms listed the following rhyme accompanying the promise:
Pinky, pinky bow-bell,
Whoever tells a lie
Will sink down to the bad place
And never rise up again.
You see pinky promises cannot be broken. You can swear on your mother’s grave or on the heads of your children but when someone asks “Do you pinky promise?” you are obligated to the truth. You are bound by it. You can break any vow on anything but a pinky promise. If you break that, you are to be never trusted again. To the Jews taking a vow to the Lord or by his name was a pinky promise. But they had discovered away around that Law. Jesus came along and upset their applecart.
Matthew 5:33-36 “You have also heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not break your vows; you must carry out the vows you make to the Lord.’ But I say, do not make any vows! Do not say, ‘By heaven!’ because heaven is God’s throne. And do not say, ‘By the earth!’ because the earth is his footstool. And do not say, ‘By Jerusalem!’ for Jerusalem is the city of the great King. Do not even say, ‘By my head!’ for you can’t turn one hair white or black.”