Topical Index of Scriptures

Vows, Pledges & Promises

"Were they ashamed...? No! They were not at all ashamed; nor did they know how to blush." Jer. 6:14-15


A church pledge is a written agreement, a promise made before God that a certain sum of money would be donated to the church community. Is such a pledge good in the context of Scriptures, or is it wrong? Do the illustrations of New Testament giving match the church pledge, or do they suggest our ways may be contrary to God will and ways?

The main answer came from the heart and mouth of Jesus, our Lord. He said,

"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.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one." Matthew 5:33-37

The apostle James gave us a similar message. In his letter, he encouraged the church to pray, exercise faith,   

The emphasis is rightly on trusting and waiting on God, following His guidelines from moment to moment, serving each other and meeting needs as they appear. In this context -- one trusting God and His sufficiency in the midst of struggles and uncertainties, certain promises or pledge concerning the future would be both foolish and presumptuous:

"Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain.You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another.... Indeed we count them blessed who endure....

      "But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your “Yes” be “Yes,” and your “No,” “No,” lest you fall into judgment.
     "Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much."  Jas 5:7-16

To clarify the meaning of oath

2319 L7~’ (shăba’) swear, adjure.

shăba’ occurs 184 times in the OT. ... It is apparent that shăba’ ‘swear” is identical in its consonantal root to the word (shăba’) ha’ seven.” It is identical, of course, to the feminine form of seven—the masculine adding a fourth letter, ‘he’ ‘—and it is in the feminine in which the Hebrew counts his cardinal numbers! [Another approach is to call shib’á the fern. form though it is used with masc. nouns, and sheba’ the masc.
form used with fern. nouns. R.L.H.] Not only is the Hebrew verb “to swear” identical in the ancient unpointed text to the number seven, but also a relationship is suggested by the 2000 B.C. incident of Gen 21:22—34. Here Abimelech desires Abraham to swear to deal uprightly, while Abraham in turn requires Abimelech to swear that the well of water belongs to him, Abraham. Abraham then seals the oath by giving exactly seven ewe lambs as a testimonial witness to Abimelech, and the well is called Beer-sheba, or Well-of-the-seven-oath!

Thus BDB has defined shăha’ by the pithy one-line paraphrase, “to... seven oneself, or bind oneself by seven things” (p. 989). Gesenius cites
Herodotus iii:8 and the Iliad, xix:243, to give evidence that in the ancient world it was not uncommon to seal an agreement by the septenary
To swear in the Old Testament was to give one’s sacred unbreakable word in testimony that the one swearing would faithfully perform some
promised deed, or that he would faithfully refrain from some evil act (Gen 21:23, “swear... that thou will not deal falsely with me”). Occasionally
one swore that he freely acknowledged a truth and would continue to acknowledge it in the future. This was the case when Abraham in Gen
21:30,31 caused Abimelech to swear to the truth that he, Abraham, had dug, and hence owned,
the well called Beer-sheba.
Often one would swear by (h~) another who was tacitly and mutually assumed to be greater or more precious than the one making the oath (e.g.
I Kgs 2:8, “I swear to him by the Lord”). Among
Jerusalem’s ancient sins was the fact that some
had “sworn by them that are not gods” (Jer 5:7).
In such cases God, or a false deity, would be
invoked to witness the truth and sincerity of that
which was sworn, and by implication, to judge
the one swearing if he should either be lying or
fail to live up to his pledge in the days and years
to come.
God himself, in such passages as Deut 6: 13 and
Isa 19:18, commanded and showed himself fa-
vorable to his name being the name by which his
people should swear. How is this to be reconciled
with Mt 5:33—37? The answer seems to be that
Christ was warning both against casual swearing
which led people into sin and the then prevalent
Pharisaic casuistry. Thus most Christians have
not interpreted this as an absolute prohibition
against swearing in a courtroom situation. In fact
the opposite is the case with the devout seeing
the more prevalent court “affirming” rather than
swearing “so help you God” upon the Bible, to
be a sign of evil days.
Great emphasis is placed upon God’s swearing
to Abraham to bless him and his seed, and to
bless all nations through his seed (Gen 22:16,18:
cf. Gal 3:8,16). Joseph had so great a confidence
that God would perform what he had sworn to
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—to give their chil-
dren the land forever—that he in turn “took an
oath of the children of Israel” (yashba’, Hiphil:
caused them to swear to him) to bring his bones
with them when they returned someday to that
land (Gen 50:24—25).
In fact, we see God swearing by himself (Gen
22:16), by his holiness (Ps 89:35 [H 36]), by his
right hand (Isa 62:8), and by his great name (Jer
44:26) in order that he might stress the absolute
certainty and immutability of his performing that
which he swore to Abraham, to Israel, and to
David. See Heb 6:13—19!
So holy and sacred was an oath sworn in
Jehovah’s name that the leaders of Israel, after
being intentionally deceived by the nearby con-
demned Gibeonites, declared, “We have sworn
(nishha’nii) unto them by the LORD God of Is-
rael: now therefore we may not touch them”
(Josh 9:19). Thus too the Bible pronounces woes
and judgments upon false swearers (Zech 5:3,4;
Mal 3:5). No wonder Jesus warned the casual or
crafty that it was better simply to say “Yea, yea:
Nay, nay” (Mt 5:37).

shebO~â, shebü~â. Oath. This noun appears
thirty times in the OT, with the KJV translating it as
“oath” twenty-nine times, and as “curse” once
(Isa 65:15).
An oath, sh~h1,’â, should be contrasted to a
covenant, h~rIt, in order to better understand
both. An oath in the OT is a solemn verbal state-
ment or pledge that is affirmed, while the coven-
ant is the substance of an agreement itself. In the
Hebrew idiom, one would swear (shăha’) an oath
(sh~ baa), e.g. Gen 26:3, “I [God] will perform
an oath which I swore unto Abraham.” A coven-
ant, however, would be either established (Hiphil
of quim, literally, “caused to stand”) as in Gen
17:19, or it would be cut (karat) as in Jer 31:31,
“I [God] will make (cut) a new covenant with the
House of Israel.”
Oaths were made by Jehovah to show the abso-
lute certainty of his performance of that which he
promised (e.g. to Abraham, Gen 26:3; and Isaac,
Ps 105:9). Since a verbal promise from God is
absolutely certain of fulfillment, we might prop-
erly inquire why God made oaths when he spoke
with the patriarchs and David? It cannot be that
the unchangeable one wished to prevent himself
from later changing his mind. No! The answer
must be that he made the oaths both for the bene-
fit of the patriarchs and those who would follow
them, including us who are alive today. They are
a teaching method of God, a gracious instrument
to help the weak faith of every generation to be-
lieve that God will someday absolutely accom-
plish his promises to his people, despite dis-
couraging external circumstances.
Oaths were made by men or women to attest to

The afterwards of the life of power

Whither I go, thou canst not follow Me now; but thou shalt follow Me afterwards. John 13:36.
“And when He had spoken this, He saith unto him, Follow Me.” Three years before, Jesus had said—“Follow Me,” and Peter had followed easily, the fascination of Jesus was upon him, he did not need the Holy Spirit to help him to do it. Then he came to the place where he denied Jesus, and his heart broke. Then he received the Holy Spirit, and now Jesus says again—“Follow Me.” There is no figure in front now saving the Lord Jesus Christ. The first “Follow Me” had nothing mystical in it, it was an external following; now it is a following in internal martyrdom (cf. John 21: 18).
Between these times Peter had denied Jesus with oaths and curses, he had come to the end of himself and all his self-sufficiency; there was not one strand of himself he would ever rely upon again, and in his destitution he was in a fit condition to receive an impartation from the risen Lord. “He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” No matter what changes God has wrought in you, never rely upon them, build only on a Person, the Lord Jesus Christ, and on the Spirit He gives.
All our vows and resolutions end in denial because we have no power to carry them out. When we have come to the end of ourselves, not in imagination but really, we are able to receive the Holy Spirit. “Receive ye the Holy Ghost”—the idea is that of invasion. There is only one lodestar in the life now, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Chambers, O. (1993, c1935). My utmost for his highest : Selections for the year (January 5

January 10th

The opened sight

To open their eyes, . . . . that they may receive . . . Acts 26:18.
This verse is the grandest condensation of the propaganda of a disciple of Jesus Christ in the whole of the New Testament.
The first sovereign work of grace is summed up in the words— “that they may receive remission of sins.” When a man fails in personal Christian experience, it is nearly always because he has never received anything. The only sign that a man is saved is that he has received something from Jesus Christ. Our part as workers for God is to open men’s eyes that they may turn themselves from darkness to light; but that is not salvation, that is conversion—the effort of a roused human being. I do not think it is too sweeping to say that the majority of nominal Christians are of this order; their eyes are opened, but they have received nothing. Conversion is not regeneration. This is one of the neglected factors in our preaching today. When a man is born again, he knows that it is because he has received something as a gift from Almighty God and not because of his own decision. People register their vows, and sign their pledges, and determine to go through, but none of this is salvation. Salvation means that we are brought to the place where we are able to receive something from God on the authority of Jesus Christ, viz., remission of sins.
Then there follows the second mighty work of grace—“and inheritance among them which are sanctified.” In sanctification the regenerated soul deliberately gives up his right to himself to Jesus Christ, and identifies himself entirely with God’s interest in other men.

Chambers, O. (1993, c1935). My utmost for his highest : Selections for the year (January 10

4008 מִבְטָא [mibta` /mib·taw/] n m. From 981; TWOT 232a; GK 4439; Two occurrences; AV translates as “uttered” twice. 1 rash utterance, hasty vow.

Strong, J. (1996). The exhaustive concordance of the Bible : Showing every word of the test of the common English version of the canonical books, and every occurence of each word in regular order. (electronic ed.) (H4008). Ontario: Woodside Bible Fellowship.

˒iççâr, is-sawr’; from 631; an obligation or vow (of abstinence):— binding, bond.
˒ĕçâr (Chald.), es-sawr’; corresp. to 632 in a legal sense; an interdict:— decree.
Strong, J. (1997, c1996). The new Strong's dictionary of Hebrew and Greek words (H631). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.




 Insights from Matthew Henry's commentary on the whole Bible

We have here an exposition of the third commandment, which we are the more concerned right to understand, because it is particularly said, that God will not hold him guiltless, however he may hold himself, who breaks this commandment, by taking the name of the Lord in vain. Now as to this command,

I. It is agreed on all hands that it forbids perjury, forswearing, and the violation of oaths and vows, v. 33. This was said to them of old time, and is the true intent and meaning of the third commandment. Thou shalt not use, or take up, the name of God (as we do by an oath) in vain, or unto vanity, or a lie. He hath not lift up his soul unto vanity, is expounded in the next words, nor sworn deceitfully, Ps. 24:4. Perjury is a sin condemned by the light of nature, as a complication of impiety toward God and injustice toward man, and as rendering a man highly obnoxious to the divine wrath, which was always judged to follow so infallibly upon that sin, that the forms of swearing were commonly turned into execrations or imprecations; as that, God do so to me, and more also; and with us, So help me God; wishing I may never have any help from God, if I swear falsely. Thus, by the consent of nations, have men cursed themselves, not doubting but that God would curse them, if they lied against the truth then, when they solemnly called God to witness to it.
It is added, from some other scriptures, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths (Num. 30:2); which may be meant, either, 1. Of those promises to which God is a party, vows made to God; these must be punctually paid (Eccl. 5:4, 5): or, 2. Of those promises made to our brethren, to which God was a Witness, he being appealed to concerning our sincerity; these must be performed to the Lord, with an eye to him, and for his sake: for to him, by ratifying the promises with an oath, we have made ourselves debtors; and if we break a promise so ratified, we have not lied unto men only, but unto God.
II. It is here added, that the commandment does not only forbid false swearing, but all rash, unnecessary swearing: Swear not at all, v. 34; Compare Jam. 5:12. Not that all swearing is sinful; so far from that, if rightly done, it is a part of religious worship, and we in it give unto God the glory due to his name. See Deu. 6:13; 10:20; Isa. 45:23; Jer. 4:2. We find Paul confirming what he said by such solemnities (2 Co. 1:23), when there was a necessity for it. In swearing, we pawn the truth of something known, to confirm the truth of something doubtful or unknown; we appeal to a greater knowledge, to a higher court, and imprecate the vengeance of a righteous Judge, if we swear deceitfully.
Now the mind of Christ in this matter is,
1. That we must not swear at all, but when we are duly called to it, and justice or charity to our brother, or respect to the commonwealth, make it necessary for the end of strife (Heb. 6:16), of which necessity the civil magistrate is ordinarily to be the judge. We may be sworn, but we must now swear; we may be adjured, and so obliged to it, but we must not thrust ourselves upon it for our own worldly advantage.
2. That we must not swear lightly and irreverently, in common discourse: it is a very great sin to make a ludicrous appeal to the glorious Majesty of heaven, which, being a sacred thing, ought always to be very serious: it is a gross profanation of God’s holy name, and of one of the holy things which the children of Israel sanctify to the Lord: it is a sin that has no cloak, no excuse for it, and therefore a sign of a graceless heart, in which enmity to God reigns: Thine enemies take thy name in vain.
3. That we must in a special manner avoid promissory oaths, of which Christ more particularly speaks here, for they are oaths that are to be performed. The influence of an affirmative oath immediately ceases, when we have faithfully discovered the truth, and the whole truth; but a promissory oath binds so long, and may be so many ways broken, by the surprise as well as strength of a temptation, that it is not to be used but upon great necessity: the frequent requiring and using of oaths, is a reflection upon Christians, who should be of such acknowledged fidelity, as that their sober words should be as sacred as their solemn oaths.
4. That we must not swear by any other creature. It should seem there were some, who, in civility (as they thought) to the name of God, would not make use of that in swearing, but would swear by heaven or earth, etc. This Christ forbids here (v. 34) and shows that there is nothing we can swear by, but it is some way or other related to God, who is the Fountain of all beings, and therefore that it is as dangerous to swear by them, as it is to swear by God himself: it is the verity of the creature that is laid at stake; now that cannot be an instrument of testimony, but as it has regard to God, who is the summum verum—the chief Truth. As for instance,
(1.) Swear not by the heaven; "As sure as there is a heaven, this is true;’’ for it is God’s throne, where he resides, and in a particular manner manifests his glory, as a Prince upon his throne: this being the inseparable dignity of the upper world, you cannot swear by heaven, but you swear by God himself.
(2.) Nor by the earth, for it is his footstool. He governs the motions of this lower world; as he rules in heaven, so he rules over the earth; and though under his feet, yet it is also under his eye and care, and stands in relation to him as his, Ps. 24:1. The earth is the Lord’s; so that in swearing by it, you swear by its Owner.
(3.) Neither by Jerusalem, a place for which the Jews had such a veneration, that they could not speak of any thing more sacred to swear by; but beside the common reference Jerusalem has to God, as part of the earth, it is in special relation to him, for it is the city of the great King (Ps. 48:2), the city of God (Ps. 46:4), he is therefore interested in it, and in every oath taken by it.
(4.) "Neither shalt thou swear by the head; though it be near thee, and an essential part of thee, yet it is more God’s than thine; for he made it, and formed all the springs and powers of it; whereas thou thyself canst not, from any natural intrinsic influence, change the colour of one hair, so as to make it white or black; so that thou canst not swear by thy head, but thou swearest by him who is the Life of thy head, and the Lifter up of it.’’ Ps. 3:3.
5. That therefore in all our communications we must content ourselves with, Yea, yea, and nay, nay, v. 37. In ordinary discourse, if we affirm a thing, let us only say, Yea, it is so; and, if need be, to evidence our assurance of a thing, we may double it, and say, Yea, yea, indeed it is so: Verily, verily, was our Saviour’s yea, yea. So if we deny a thing, let is suffice to say, No; or if it be requisite, to repeat the denial, and say, No, no; and if our fidelity be known, that will suffice to gain us credit; and if it be questioned, to back what we say with swearing and cursing, is but to render it more suspicious. They who can swallow a profane oath, will not strain at a lie. It is a pity that this, which Christ puts in the mouths of all his disciples, should be fastened, as a name of reproach, upon a sect faulty enough other ways, when (as Dr. Hammond says) we are not forbidden any more than yea and nay, but are in a manner directed to the use of that.
The reason is observable; For whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil, though it do not amount to the iniquity of an oath. It comes ek tou Diabolou; so an ancient copy has it: it comes from the Devil, the evil one; it comes from the corruption of men’s nature, from passion and vehemence; from a reigning vanity in the mind, and a contempt of sacred things: it comes from that deceitfulness which is in men, All men are liars; therefore men use these protestations, because they are distrustful one of another, and think they cannot be believed without them. Note, Christians should, for the credit of their religion, avoid not only that which is in itself evil, but that which cometh of evil, and has the appearance of it. That may be suspected as a bad thing, which comes from a bad cause. An oath is physic, which supposes a disease.
Henry, M. (1996, c1991). Matthew Henry's commentary on the whole Bible : Complete and unabridged in one volume (Mt 5:33). Peabody: Hendrickson.

"And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief." Heb 3:18

"But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your “Yes” be “Yes,” and your “No,” “No,” lest you fall into judgment." Jas 5:12

"Immediately she came in with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”
And the king was exceedingly sorry; yet, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he did not want to refuse her." Mk 6:25-26

"As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets,
Who have been since the world began,
That we should be saved from our enemies
And from the hand of all who hate us,
72 To perform the mercy promised to our fathers
And to remember His holy covenant,
The oath which He swore to our father Abraham." Lk 1:70-72

“Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, 9according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, 31 he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses." Ac 2:29-32

"Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, 18 that by two 8immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us." Heb 6:17-18

"For the law appoints as high priests men who have weakness, but the word of the oath, which came after the law, appoints the Son who has been perfected forever." Heb 7:28

"For the law appoints as high priests men who have weakness, but the word of the oath, which came after the law, appoints the Son who has been perfected forever." Heb 7:28

So she said, 'Will you give me a pledge till you send it?'
Then he said, What pledge shall I give you?”
So she said, Your signet and cord, and your staff that is in your hand. Then he gave them to her, and went in to her, and she conceived by him. So she arose and went away, and laid aside her veil and put on the garments of her widowhood." Ge 38:17-19

"Do not be one of those who shakes hands in a pledge,
One of those who is surety for debts;
27 If you have nothing with which to pay,
Why should he take away your bed from under you?" Pr 22:25-27

"If a man makes a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by some agreement, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth." Nu 30:2

“If indeed she takes a husband, while bound by her vows or by a rash utterance from her lips by which she bound herself, 7 and her husband hears it, and makes no response to her on the day that he hears, then her vows shall stand, and her agreements by which she bound herself shall stand." Nu 30:6-7

"Go immediately to King David and say to him, ‘Did you not, my lord, O king, swear to your maidservant, saying, 'Assuredly your son Solomon shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne”? Why then has Adonijah become king?’ 14 Then, while you are still talking there with the king, I also will come in after you and confirm your words.'” 1 Ki 1:13-14

"So Nathan spoke to Bathsheba the mother of Solomon, saying, “Have you not heard that Adonijah the son of Haggith has become king, and David our lord does not know it? 12 Come, please, let me now give you advice, that you may save your own life and the life of your son Solomon. 13 Go immediately to King David and say to him, ‘Did you not, my lord, O king, swear to your maidservant, saying, 'Assuredly your son Solomon shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne”? Why then has Adonijah become king?’ 14 Then, while you are still talking there with the king, I also will come in after you and confirm your words.”
15 So Bathsheba went into the chamber to the king. (Now the king was very old, and Abishag the Shunammite was serving the king.) 16 And Bathsheba bowed and did homage to the king. Then the king said, “What is your wish?”
17 Then she said to him, “My lord, you swore by the Lord your God to your maidservant, saying, ‘Assuredly Solomon your son shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne.’ 18 So now, look! Adonijah has become king; and now, my lord the king, you do not know about it."1 Ki 1:11

“And now, O Lord God, You are God, and Your words are true, and You have promised this goodness to Your servant. 29 Now therefore, let it please You to bless the house of Your servant, that it may continue before You forever; for You, O Lord God, have spoken it, and with Your blessing let the house of Your servant be blessed forever.” 2 Sa 7:28

"Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, 21 so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God. 22 And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give tenth to You.” Ge 28:20-22

See also The Armor of God and Our Shepherd