Pay Your Vows

During a Wednesday night teen Bible class a few years ago, I asked around the room for examples of lessons to be learned from the account of Jephthah the judge (Judges 11). The answers were good and most centered on the judge’s rash vow concerning what (or who) he would offer to God if he was victorious in battle. “Think before you make a promise, don’t be hasty!” some said. I couldn’t help thinking of an insurance commercial on TV where the tag line is “I don’t want to pay too much!” Perhaps that’s the concept that was behind the answers and I’ll admit that it’s a good point. We ought to consider the cost of what we promise in the event that the price is considerably more than the request. In Jesus’ directive in Luke 14:27 for His disciples to carry their own cross, He stresses the important point of counting the cost and making a sound decision based on considering all the aspects of it.

 

However, when offering her view of one of the important lessons in Jephthah’s story, one of the students in the class said simply, “Keep your promises to God.” Not an earthshattering observation, yet it is deeply profound in its simplicity. Keep your promises; what a concept! Whatever the outcome of Jehpthah’s vow, whether it entailed actually offering his daughter as a real burnt sacrifice or keeping her unmarried and a virgin for the sake of fully being devoted to God, he kept his vow. The outcome was a serious and weighty one as the Scriptures remind us of the custom that arose among the Israelite women to commemorate Jephthah’s daughter for four days every year (Judges 11:40).

Probably all of us at some point in our lives has faced a difficult situation and prayed to God in our despondency imploring Him, “Dear God, if you’ll get me out of this mess I promise I’ll ______________” You can fill in the blank as I’m sure most folks have uttered a prayer like this sometime during their lives. Usually the vow contains a pledge to be more faithful to God, or dropping a bad and sinful habit, but what happened to the promise once the darkness lifted and the problem dissipated? Did you pay your vow to the Lord or did you conveniently “forget” about the promise to the One with a better memory than you?

The wise man said, “When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it; for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow!” (Eccl 5:4) A wiser Man reiterated the thought and expanded on the concept saying, “But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.” (Matt 5:37) That’s it. Just your word ought to be enough to convince anyone that you will follow through. James reminds us that we don’t need to make grand gestures or invectives regarding our credibility. “But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment.” (James 5:12)

The Bible tells us of the God who is ultimately trustworthy, reliable, full of integrity and Whose word can be counted on. What’s more, He desires His people to be of the same character. Moses said, “If a man makes a vow to the LORD, or takes an oath to bind himself with a binding obligation, he shall not violate his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.” (Num 30:2) In Deut 23:21, Moses says, “When you make a vow to the LORD your God, you shall not delay to pay it, for it would be sin in you, and the LORD your God will surely require it of you.”

Apparently that means ALL vows. Remember the Israelites’ agreement with the Gibeonites (Joshua 9)? Though they were deceived by the Gibeonites, still Israel honored their word and kept their part of the agreement. Modern thinking might have led Israel to say, “Those people tricked me therefore I don’t have to keep my part of the bargain.”  Or perhaps Jephthah might have said, “But Lord, I didn’t know my daughter would be the first one out of the house! Surely you don’t expect me to keep my promise now?” (Who else could Jephthah have been thinking of, his wife?) Of course, they said no such thing. They understood the significance of what they said and the importance of keeping the vow they’d made.

There are many things we can bring to God in our relationship with Him, but perhaps the greatest gift we can offer Him, or anyone else for that matter, is our fidelity. Simple and reliable trustworthiness. 2 Cor 4:2 tells us, “... we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.” (NIV)

We are stewards, not only of the word of God, but also of our own words and actions and “moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.” (1 Cor 4:2)

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