Oath - Meaningless Without Holy Fear

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Thursday, March 14, 2013 0 comments

Did you ever get in trouble when you were younger for saying the words “I swear to God” when emphasizing the truth of a previous statement? I know I did and I can remember when those words were seemingly worse than the common curse words that most of my friends used regularly. Many people, especially within the Church, taught and believed that uttering those words was like defiling something sacred. We were taught that we are not supposed to swear at all and to do so toward God is even worse. Like with many rules, people simply found a way to get around the “actual” words by using different ones to mean the exact same thing. This way, we could prevent ourselves from breaking the “rule” without actually having to change our hearts.

Maybe some of you who have children even still teach them this “rule” today. I’m not going to say that you shouldn’t, but I encourage you to look beyond the rule, especially when your children become old enough to understand what is important about keeping one’s word. If you think about it, swearing “to” God makes no sense and is futile. God already knows whether or not you are being honest when you say or do something, so emphasizing the truth of your statement to Him has no effect whatsoever on whether He believes you. Speaking purely from a literal and logical standpoint, the correct way of saying it would be to swear “by” God or “on” God’s power. What the speaker is saying in that case is that the honesty of his words would be approved by God or that God’s power would destroy him if he wasn’t being honest. The problem is that, while that sort of oath used to be taken seriously, very few people nowadays even fear what God could do to them. I know many people, and I would say just as many Christians as non-Christians, who have a hard time keeping their word. We have gotten way too comfortable in the grace that we have received.

In order to see how seriously people took their oaths made before God in the Old Testament, we need only to look at the very first patriarch of God’s people, Abraham (formerly called “Abram”). God had called Abram to leave his home and everything that was familiar and go to a land that he hadn’t even been shown yet, and promised to make Abram into a great nation (Genesis 12:1-3). Abram initially hesitated, settling in a land that was not where God called him (Haran) and then going to Egypt (a place God DEFINITELY didn’t tell him to go) before finally learning to trust in God every step of the way. In Genesis 14, Abram’s nephew Lot gets seized and carried off by the natives. Abram rounds up his army, attacks the natives, and defeats them in order to bring back his nephew and the goods that had been stolen from his people. The king of Sodom (one of the local cities) comes out to meet Abram and tempts him with worldly wealth. “The king of Sodom said to Abram, ‘Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself’” (v. 21). Trust me friends, you don’t want to know what the king of Sodom had in mind for those people. Abram’s response clearly shows that he fears God above any earthly king. “I have raised my hand to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and have taken an oath that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the thong of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich’” (14:22-23).

I took an oath earlier today in juvenile court, where I had to testify concerning a child that was an alleged victim in one of the cases I was investigating. But the more I think about it, how serious was that oath? They don’t ask you to place your hand on the Bible anymore, at least not in juvenile court. They don’t ask you to swear with the added “so help me God” that is attached to the president’s inaugural oath. At worst, failure to follow that oath I took to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” would land me in jail temporarily. And that’s only if my breaking of the oath could actually be proven. While our earthly laws are enough to scare some people into obedience, they can’t possibly compare to raising a hand to the “Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth” and taking an oath. Abram was able to resist the temptation of material wealth offered by a pagan king because he feared God and his potential destruction if he did not keep his oath to his Creator.

In the very next chapter, God actually subjects himself to a worldly tradition. This is just one of the many examples of how God lavishes His love on us. God has no reason to take an oath. The Bible says that “no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:20a). Yet, God sees that Abram has faith and trust in Him, while still asking for a sign that God’s promise to give him possession of the land will come true (Genesis 15:8), and chooses to enter into a binding agreement with Abram. God, who always has both the will and ability to keep His promises, takes an oath for Abram’s benefit. He instructs Abram to bring a variety of animals, which all specifically point to Christ and his sacrifice in some way. As was customary in this type of oath, Abram went ahead and cut the animals in two and arranged the halves across from each other (15:11). In this oath, the two parties making the agreement would join hands and walk between the halves of animals. The implication, which was sometimes even verbalized, was that if either party breaks the oath, they are saying “let me be as dead as these animals”.

Imagine entering into that type of agreement with God. No one can adhere to God’s standards completely except God Himself. So, the mere thought of having to hold to that oath or be split in two would be enough to make us tremble. Fortunately for Abram, God spared him from having to carry a burden he would never have been able to carry. He caused Abram to fall into a deep sleep, and then told him all that would happen both to him and his countrymen up to the point when they would enter the Promised Land (vv. 12-16). After making His promises, with Abram completely asleep and unable to “sign” his end of the binding agreement, a “smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed through the pieces” (15:17). We know from Exodus 14:24 that these items would later appear again and signify the presence of the Lord. So, in essence, God “signed” both sides of this deal. He was saying that if He broke His end of the agreement, let Him be as dead as the animals. And if Abram broke his end of the agreement, let God still be the One who is as dead as the animals!

If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you know that many centuries later, God did allow Himself to “be as dead as the animals” on the cross, in order to hold up His promise, oath, and covenant that He first made with Abram. And because of that, we are told to no longer swear – “not by heaven or by earth or by anything else” – and to simply let our “Yes” be yes and our “No” be no, or else we will be condemned (James 5:12). In other words, don’t worry about swearing an oath or making it formal. Just honor your own word! The fact that oaths are no longer needed in the formal sense doesn’t mean God does not require us to strive to keep our promises. Simply put, our very word has replaced the idea of the oath, so that one cannot say, “Well, I didn’t swear to it so I guess I can break it”.

Above all, the biggest motivation for us to honor our word should be, as it was for Abram, the reality of who God is and who we are not. Yes, it’s true that we don’t have to fear death or hell because Christ has saved us. But that doesn’t change who God is. He still has the power to make us pay for the breaking of our word, and consequences are still part of the equation. Are you aware that God has the power to demand your very life? Stop assuming he won’t, and learn to be a man or woman of your word. That, my friends, is the motivational power of the holy fear of God!