More than likely, we all have lied or committed “false witness” in the recent past. What am I talking about? You know all those “terms of agreement” boxes you have checked and signed-off-on; those thousand-word, small print, legal “gobbly goop” things that no one ever reads yet you confirmed as read and understood by initialing. I have done it too! I am not making a case for reading all of that but to get you think about letting your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’
One of the Ten Commandments is about not “bearing false witness” which is basically “do not lie” but specifically, it is about confirming something as true or false.
In the culture of the Old Testament and in many cultures of the world, men would break other norms of their culture before they would break their word. There is a troubling story in the Old Testament where a man was going out to battle and he promised God that he would sacrifice the first thing coming out of his house if God helped him win the battle. He won the battle and upon returning home the first thing out of his door was his only child, his young daughter. He gave her a sixty-day reprieve and then he fulfilled his vow. (The story of Jephthah and his daughter is in Judges 11:29-40.)
The Bible only records this event in Israel’s history and makes no mention of God’s reaction to his vow or the fulfillment of it. Personally, I think the vow was all Jephthah and the victory was all God. Jephthah tried to bring God into his equation when God was merely bringing Jephthah into His plan of victory. God’s law prohibited human sacrifice (Deuteronomy 18:10). Personally, I believe he just needed to ask God for help rather than try to bargain with God. God would have given him the victory without the vow.
Our Western, moral perspective on Jephthah fulfilling his vow by killing his daughter is nothing short of outrage. I believe his daughter’s life was more important than keeping his vow (his word). I suppose the value of women during this time and a mighty warrior’s word determined how the scales of cultural value were swayed. This story has always troubled me.
Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount talked about oaths and swearing. This is what He said (I wished Jephthah had known this!),
Matthew 5:33-37 NKJV
(33) “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’
(34) But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne;
(35) nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.
(36) Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black.
(37) But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.
Jesus brings up the topic of oaths or vows, and teaches a different perspective about them. The Ten Commandments said to not bear false witness, so did men take this commandment and morph it into swearing and making vows? Jesus said that it is better not to make a vow in the first place. This is not some antiquated system of honesty; there are some of these things going on in our day as well. There are a lot of Jephthah-like deals trying to be made with God. We need to consider some things about oaths and swearing.
What motivates a man to swear with an oath?
You have heard it before when someone is trying to convince you he is telling the truth, “It’s the truth, I’ll swear on a stack of Bibles—it’s the truth!” Sounds awful, when you think about it. Maybe, he is trying to convince you he is really telling the truth—this time!! A truthful man doesn’t need a stack of Bibles under his hand because the Word of God is in His heart!
If a man is quick to swear, to convince you he is telling the truth, then we need to be very cautious of him. He may not trust himself. If he is emphasizing that he is telling the truth, then isn’t he implying he has lied at other times?
People project their own sins into other people. If a man is a liar, then he will not trust others to tell the truth or to believe the truth. He will add an oath to his “yes” to convince others.
Men make vows to God thinking they will get special favor from God. People often pray this way, “Lord, if you help me this time then I swear I will __________.” Don’t pray that way!! Just ask Him without your added oath.
Men make vows to God thinking they can bargain with God. In the same vein of getting special favor as stated above, some people think they can bargain with God by giving up something. “Lord, if you help me get this job, I’ll never do ___________ again!” Don’t bargain with God, you know He has everything, right?? If we have something we are holding back from God, why haven’t we surrendered it already?
We will not get any special deal with God by our spiritual horse-trading. The deal has already been made in Christ before we came along with our peddling wagon. We cannot make a deal with God, we must accept His deal for us.
Let’s look at a few other points about making vows.
A vow is no better than the person making it! A thief will also lie. An adulterer will also lie. A covet-er will also lie. In today’s world a signed and notarized contract can be torn to shreds by a cunning lawyer and a corrupt judge.
If we are confident in our truthfulness, then our confidence is in the truth not in our persuasiveness. We need to just let our yes be yes and our no be no. When we fluff up the truth it looks like we are trying to conceal a falsehood.
We have nothing on the table to bargain with God. Everything we have is a gift from God; from our very life to the trinkets in our catch-all drawer.
People who have been in legalistic churches or religions tend to think they have to convince or even beg God to save them or help them. “Come on God, let’s make a deal!” Belief, love, surrender, and obedience are our only inputs in the Kingdom of God.
Here is the bottom line; we can come to God with our needs based on His love, grace, and mercy. We do not need to bargain with or beg God—we simply ask God depending upon His love, grace, and mercy.
Jesus said for us to, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7 NKJV).
What is our take-away from this? We just need to be honest with ourselves, with others, and with God. If we build truthful relationships with others, they will believe our “yes” and “no” without any added swearing. Truth needs no persuasion. If you need anything from God, just ask Him without trying to make a deal with Him because He loves you and wants to help you. Let your yes be yes and your no be no!
Yours on the Journey,
Harry L. Whitt