Summary: Today, Jesus deals with the issue of making promises. Let's see what we can take away from it.
THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT (part eleven)
A pilot and his navigator had been shot down and were adrift at sea in their tiny lifeboat. After several days without food, water and any hope of rescue, the pilot began to pray. "God, you know I haven't lived a very good life. I've been a miserable husband and a terrible father. I've cheated, lied and stolen. And I haven't had any use for the church. But God, if you'll save us from dying out here, I promise I'll never-"
"Hold it", the navigator interrupted, "don't say another word; I think I see land." This navigator no doubt saved this pilot from making a promise he probably wasn't going to keep; at least for very long. Today, Jesus deals with the issue of making promises. Let's see what we can take away from it.
1) Stop swearing.
Matt. 5:33-37, “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear 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. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one."
"You have heard it was said". We have Jesus starting out with this now familiar phrase. The words that follow have the third commandment in mind. Ex. 20:7, “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name."
Swearing by God or the things of God fit into the category of misusing the name of God. Obviously other things fit into that as well: profanity and the careless use of God or Jesus. This would also include Lev. 19:12, “ ‘Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the LORD."
Swearing falsely is perjury. "Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth?" When you lie in the courtroom you lie under oath. You might say, 'well, that's just lying'. In one sense, but it's taken more seriously because you have taken an oath and have sincerely promised to tell the truth. Most people would probably say that although telling a lie is bad, telling a lie under oath is worse. Lying is one thing but when you lie having said, 'I swear to God I'm not lying', that's worse.
"Profane the name". To profane means to disrespect. To swear by the name of the Lord or use God's name in an improper way is disrespectful. In regards to the seriousness of making an oath we read in Num. 30:2, "When a man makes a vow to the LORD or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said."
So in Matt. 5, is Jesus going against this verses in Numbers? Jesus isn't saying, 'pay no attention to your oaths'. On the contrary, he understood the seriousness of keeping an oath; which is why he's saying don't make one in the first place.
Ecc. 5:4-5, "When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it."
Solomon's point is Jesus' point-making a vow to God is serious and you will be held liable if you don't fulfill it. And since many people no doubt made insincere oaths and paid dearly later when they couldn't follow through, Jesus wanted people to avoid that trap in the first place.
Prov. 20:25, "It is a trap for a man to dedicate something rashly and only later to consider his vows."
Making an oath without thinking it through can be quite costly. In the book of Judges we read about a mighty warrior named Jephthah. He was asked to be Israel's commander when the Ammonites were coming to war against them. Jephthah agreed and made his advancement.
Judges 11:30-35, "And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the LORD'S, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering. ”
Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the LORD gave them into his hands. He devastated twenty towns from Aroer to the vicinity of Minnith, as far as Abel Keramim. Thus Israel subdued Ammon.