God's Word On Vows
When we hear someone speaking about vows, we tend to think of marriage vows exchanged during the wedding ceremony, but it is good to remember that a vow is simply "a solemn promise, pledge, or personal commitment." [Random House Dictionary] While vows may certainly be made before God, it is no less a vow if it is not; it is a solemn promise, and that may include promises to one another, [children to parents, parents to children, or one spouse to another, or one brother in Christ to another], contracts, credit agreements, and court testimony. If we consider all the different ways we may make vows, there are some important points we should note about how God sees the matter of vows — before we make them. Let us consider the text of Ecclesiastes 5:1-7.
Do Not Make Vows Hastily. (Eccl. 5:2) The first warns, “Do not be rash with your mouth, and let not your heart utter anything hastily before God. For God is in heaven, and you on earth; therefore let your words be few.” There is some wise advice here!
The context points to one who is approaching God (Eccl. 5:1, “when you go to the house of God”) and who is considering making a vow before God (Eccl. 5:2, “before God”), but the principle would apply to any and all vows. The first thing one must do before making the vow is to stop and think about the solemn promise you are about to make, and to whom you are making it. Some important questions must be asked: Will I be able to keep this promise? Is there any possibility of something that arises that may prevent me from keeping this promise? Do I intend to keep my word, no matter what the cost? Do I understand what this promise will require of me?
Before I make the vow, I need to think about the possibility that something could arise — something that is beyond my control — that may prevent me from keeping my word; if there is anything that might hinder me from keeping my word, then I must make the promise accordingly. If I do not intend to keep the promise, it is better not to make it at all [more on that later]; and if it becomes difficult to keep the promise, I must still follow through and do everything I have promised.
All these things point to the need for us to not rush into making promises willy-nilly. Far too many times, parents promise their kids they will buy them something or take them somewhere or allow them to do something without thinking
about the numerous possibilities that the parent will not be able to do what they promised, and the only thing the kids learn from that is that the parent makes promises he or she doesn't keep. That is not the kind of example we want to set for our children!
Far too many times, adults enter into contracts and agreements [i.e., work contracts, loans, and mortgages, etc.] without considering the possibility they might not be able to fulfill their agreement. When you sign a one-year job contract, can you hold to your word, even when the job becomes unbearable? When you sign a six-year loan on that new car, can you be sure you can make the payments every month for 72 months? When you sign that 30-year loan, are you willing to make those monthly payments, even if the value of the house drops below what your loan totaled?
Please be careful and thoughtful before you make a promise; that is why the wise writer said we should “draw near to hear” (Eccl. 5:1) rather than to hastily speak something foolish, and to “let your words be few” (Eccl. 5:2). It is always wise to stop and think before we make a vow!
Don't Delay to Pay It. (Eccl. 5:4) The wise writer then adds, “When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it; for He has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you have vowed.” Some people rush into vows and, when they get in a difficult situation or sense some severe struggles might come if they try to fulfill their vow, they delay keeping their vow. They may tell others, "I still intend on keeping my word," or, "I'm working on it," when all they are really doing is finding ways to delay fulfilling their word and hoping everyone else will eventually forget about the promise. God says, “do not delay to pay it.” Those words are not hard to understand!
Far too often, men enter into formal agreements or contracts and something comes up that draws their attention away from the already-made promise and they delay fulfillment so they can pursue the distraction. What is purposeful delaying of contracted payments but delay in paying a vow? Again, this is a reason why we must not enter into contracts and legally-binding agreements hastily. Do not delay paying!
Better Not To Vow Than To Vow and Not Pay. (Eccl. 5:5) The wise writer admonishes us, “Better not to vow than to vow and not pay.” A vow is a voluntary commitment, contract, promise, or agreement, and as such, the freedom to make the vow or not is in our hands before it is made. That being the case, and since we don't do this by coercion, we would do better by not making the vow at all if we are unable or unwilling to fulfill the vow and to keep the promises we make.
In fact, the Old Law specified, “When you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not delay to pay it; for the Lord your God will surely require it of you, and it would be sin to you” (Deut. 23:21); God calls delaying the fulfillment of a vow sin — no light matter!
No Excuses. (Eccl. 5:6) The wise writer concludes his remarks on vows by saying, “Do not let your mouth cause your flesh to sin, nor say before the messenger of God that it was an error. Why should God be angry at your excuse and destroy the work of your hands?” The basic point he is making here is that one should not make a vow and, when it becomes difficult to fulfill the promise, look for an excuse to get out of it. In other words: No excuses once the vow is made.
Every so often, we hear people make promises to God in difficult situations, whether it be a recommitment to serving God, attending worship assemblies or Bible studies, or being a better husband/wife, child, or parent. When the difficulties pass, and someone calls them on the promise, they laugh it off, saying, "I was just kidding and God knows it." Well, yes, God does know it, but He also said if you make a vow, you keep it. Saying "I really didn't mean it" when it comes time to fulfill the promise is a cowardly way out of keeping a promise made in a difficult situation, and God will not overlook such.
The psalmist once asked who would be able to approach God acceptably, and answered his own question in the psalm, and one of the characteristics of such a man was that he “swears to his own hurt and does not change” (Psa. 15:4); in other words, he doesn't try to get out of his vows just because it means great difficulty for him just to be able to fulfill it. He keeps his word, even when it is not easy or pleasant to do so.
So, how did you do? Do you heed God's word on the matter of vows? Are you someone who puts serious thought into making a vow before the vow is made? Do you do what you promise to do, when it was promised? Do you keep your word, even when it becomes unpleasant or difficult to do so?
Be a man of your word! — Steven Harper