Broken Oaths

Businessman taking oath.

“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.”

Deuteronomy 23:21

Have you ever made a promise you couldn’t keep? It’s an easy thing to do…we say things in our moment of passion and as the days pass by we forget that passion and with it our promises. There is always an excuse, maybe we were too tired or busy, something came up or we didn’t realize at the time the amount of commitment a particular promise required. For example, promising to help someone find a new car or watch their kids. In your mind, you agreed on the assumption that much wouldn’t be required of you. But sometimes it takes time to find a new car, and kids aren’t always angels. But a promise is a promise, right?

In our society words have overall lost their value. Our oaths are just as negotiable as our morals. Even our constitution has lost its power and rigidity, as well as reciting our National Anthem.  It’s as if people are afraid of anything definitive or binding, as well they should be! It is a serious thing to make oaths and sign our names in agreeance to something. Just look at how important oaths are to God. And yet, He has never broken an oath to us! As Deuteronomy 4:31 says:

“For the LORD your God is a compassionate God; He will not fail you nor destroy you nor forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them.”

Every oath we make is important. However, we tend to categorize our oaths based on what we believe to be important. For example, we tell ourselves that our promise we made to our kids isn’t as important as our promise to our boss. Let’s face it, promising your boss that you will get a project done will be first in your mind over your promise to take the kids to the zoo. You inwardly know that your kids will forgive you if you break a promise, your boss may not.

We have discussed in previous posts the power of words. There is life and death in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21). Our oaths are just as powerful and binding. God even warns us about making oaths we can’t keep in Matthew 5:33-37:

“Again, you have heard that it was said to the ancients, ‘Do not break your oath but fulfill your vows to the Lord. But I tell you not to 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. Nor should you swear by your head, for you cannot make a single hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ Anything more comes from the evil one.”

That is quite a warning! It’s better to simply say “yes” or “no” and promise nothing for the sake of avoiding sin. But what about the unavoidable oaths? When we marry, we make an oath to love and honor one another till death. And yet every day, 40 to 50 percent of married couples divorce roughly within 8 years…that’s hardly till death!

And what about our doctors? Remember the Hippocratic Oath? Granted, some of its attributes are outdated and debatable. But it does speak of the morality doctors once upheld. For instance this line:

“I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked, nor will I advise such a plan; and similarly I will not give a woman a pessary to cause an abortion.”

 How can someone vow to uphold life and then break it? This Oath is no longer required by doctors to recite, the new oath is simpler and less binding. It is very unspecific and basic, so as not to outwardly forbid immoral practices like abortion. Any graduating doctor today will not truly understand the weight of their title (unless they believe in the morality of God). Being a doctor is more than a profession, it is a lifestyle of compassion. The oath unifies this belief, that a doctor should be morally bound to the protection of life. Would you want to be under the care of a doctor who felt oppositely?
What can we do in a world where words, promises, and oaths are seemingly tossed to the wind? We can do all the more to make what we say matter. Maybe we shouldn’t make promises but should only confer our hopes and desires. And if we do decide to make them, we should carry them in our heart, and follow through with them just as our Lord does with His promises. And lastly we can pause…it is better to pause, giving yourself time to think, before speaking. Pausing when you are angry may just diffuse the situation, and your emotions so that you don’t say things you will later regret.
We can retract the words we think, but not the words we say…or the oaths we break.



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