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What does the Bible say about keeping your vows / oaths?

Question: "What does the Bible say about keeping your vows / oaths?"

A vow made to another person is to be kept for the sake of honor, but does not bear the same weight as a vow made to God Himself, sometimes referred to as a "solemn vow." No vow should be made frivolously. Any time a vow is broken, there are consequences, as there are with any sin or breach of honor. A broken vow, while serious, is not an unforgivable matter if taken to the Lord in true confession. We definitely want to avoid getting into tough spots when it comes to promises we make to God.

"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. Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the temple messenger, "My vow was a mistake." Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands?" (Ecclesiastes 5:4-6).

There are about 30 biblical references to vows, most of which are from the Old Testament. When a vow is made to God, God expects that we will live up to it and has little use for those who talk about vows without intent to deliver on the promises. Unthinking people make vows without considering the commitment that they are making. When we consider that God is infinitely above men and earth, we must approach God in reverence and watch that our speech is honorable. We cannot dismiss a vow as a simple mistake without incurring God's anger, for this would mock Him.

Before leading the Israelites into battle against the Ammonites, Jephthah, described as a mighty man of valor, made a rash vow that he would give to the Lord whoever first came out of doors to meet him if he returned home as the victor. When the Lord granted him victory, the one who came out to meet him was his daughter. Jephthah remembered his vow and offered her to the Lord (Judges 11:29-40). Whether Jephthah should have kept this vow is dealt with in another article. What this account shows us is the foolishness of rash vows. Our vows to God should not be made as a purchase of a favor, but rather to express gratitude to God. We need to be sure in making vows to avoid entangling ourselves into a difficult position. Whatever we solemnly vow to God, we must do, as long as it is lawful and possible. That holds true, even if the promises prove to be difficult and require great sacrifice. Once we make a solemn and deliberate vow, it must not be retracted, but kept and performed fully (Deuteronomy 23:21-23).

Can a vow be broken under any circumstances? A man can not be bound by a promise to do what he has been forbidden to do. However, a vow requires him to keep his word, even if he would like to change his mind (Numbers 30:1-2). Therefore, we must be sure to make all promises with a full submission to the will of God, even if God does not otherwise direct our actions. If you have found that you have made a vow that is clearly outside of God's will, according to the Scriptures, yes, you may break the vow - but even such a situation does not absolve you of all consequences from breaking a vow.

Again, if a person breaks a vow of any kind, he must face the Lord with his sin and ask forgiveness. However, if the vow can possibly be kept, we must still do so even if it becomes very difficult for us to complete. Asking forgiveness merely as an easy means of getting off the hook will not do. On the other hand, failing to ask forgiveness honestly for our transgressions would be yet another sin. We should never be hesitant to seek our Father's forgiveness and to sincerely make every effort to avoid the mistake again.

"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" (Matthew 5:33-37).

Recommended Resource: Hard Sayings of the Bible by Kaiser, Davids, & Brauch.

Related Topics:

Do Christians have to obey the laws of the land?

What are the Ten Commandments?

Do Christians have to obey the Old Testament law?

What does the Bible say about paying taxes?

What does the Bible say about jealousy?

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What does the Bible say about keeping your vows / oaths?