Christian Ministry

Bible teaching
Vows to God

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July 1999
Vows are voluntary expressions of devotion usually fulfilled after some condition had been met. Vows in the Old Testament usually were confidential. A common formula for vows was the "if..then.." phrase.

The one making the religious vow proposed that if God did something (such as give protection or victory), then he or she in return would make some act of devotion. Not all vows, however, were conditional. Some, such as the Nazirite vow (Numbers 6) were made out of devotion to God with no request placed upon God. Whether conditional or not, the emphasis in the Bible is on keeping the vow.

The Bible says when you make a vow it is serious to God. We may forget about it, but God surely doesn't. A vow unfulfilled is worse than a vow never made. King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 5:4-5, "When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay."

"When thou shalt vow a vow unto the LORD thy God, thou shalt not slack to pay it: for the LORD thy God will surely require it of thee; and it would be sin in thee." (Deuteronomy 23:21). Therefore, we will be blessed if we keep our vows but cursed if we are not obedient to our oaths because disobedience is sin (Jeremiah 11; Deuteronomy 11; Ezekiel 17:19-20).

God warned the Israelites to honor their commitments both to Him as well as to others. "If a man vow a vow unto the LORD, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth" (Numbers 30:2). Thus whatever comes out of our mouths is binding in God's eyes, for He is a God who hates false oaths (Zechariah 8:17).

You see our omniscient Lord knows better than anyone how empty promises can be. After all, He probably hears more vows from desperate people than anyone else does: "If only You'll help me, God, then I'll do this or that." Have you ever prayed a prayer like that? Well, many people in the Bible did, including the ones listed below.

Biblical Examples of Vows

Person Vow Scripture
Jacob Vowed to make the Lord his God and to tithe his possessions if God would supply his needs. Genesis 28:20-22
Israel Vowed complete destruction of the Canaanite cities of Hormah if God would guarantee victory. Numbers 21:2
Jepthah Vowed to sacrifice as a burnt offering whatever came out of his house to meet him if God would grant him victory over the Ammonites. Judges 11:30-31
Hannah Vowed to dedicate her son to God's service if He would give her one. I Samuel 1:10-11
David Vowed not to sleep until he "found a dwelling place for the Lord." Psalm 132:1-5
Absalom Supposedly vowed that he would serve the Lord if He would return him to Jerusalem. II Samuel 15:7-8
Paul Vowed to shave his head. Acts 18:18

It's interesting to see some of the things that the biblical characters asked from God in exchange for their vows: victory in war, food and housing, the conception of a child. These seem like worthy requests. Likewise, the promises made - to fight valiantly and thoroughly, to tithe one's possessions, to dedicate a child to God - seem like reasonable commitments to make. But these examples show a recurring pattern: people have a tendency to make long-term promises in order to realize short-term benefits. Take Esau for example. He gave up long term blessing for short term gratification by offering his birthright to Jacob in exchange for a meal (Genesis 25:30-34). Perhaps that's why Scripture has some strong cautions about making promises and vows:

Watch what you say -- It is possible to swear an oath thoughtlessly, unaware of the commitment. But God says we are responsible for what we have said (Leviticus 5:4-5; Proverbs 20:25). James tells us not to swear by heaven, or by earth, or by any oath; but let our yea be yea; and our nay (no) be nay lest we fall into condemnation (James 5:12).
Deliver on your promise -- It is not a sin to abstain from making promises, but once made, a promise must be kept, and kept right away. To delay is to sin. It would be better to avoid making promises or vows at all (Deuteronomy 23:21-23).
Be careful of excessive devotion -- It is possible to feel so excited and happy before the Lord that we say foolish things that we cannot live up to. Rash talk, delayed fulfillments, and hasty promises are described as the "sacrifice of fools" according to Ecclesiastes 5:1-7. The mouth can be a cause of sin and a source of destruction in our lives, so it's worth heeding the warning: "Let your words be few" (Ecclesiastes 5:2).
Words are cheap; actions are what counts -- We don't have to be Old Testament believers paying vows of animals and lands to fall into the sin of broken promises. As Christians, we may "talk a good game" of faith, yet live in a way that contradicts our words. Instead, we should "put feet on our faith" by such actions as caring for the poor and disadvantaged and showing fair treatment to others (James 1:27-2:26). Even the unbelieving King Herod kept his word to Salome by fulfilling her one request. When urged by her mother to ask for the head of John the Baptist in a charger, the king regretably did as she asked, for he did it "for the oath's sake" (Matthew 14:7-9).

The Giving Vow

In Genesis 28:20-22, we read how Jacob vowed to give the Lord one tenth of what he possessed. In Leviticus 22:21-26, we see that God desires our best when paying vows. Therefore, when we give offerings unto the Lord, we need to give cheerfully otherwise it really doesn't profit us. Paul tells us in II Corinthians 9:7: "Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver."

God not only desires our best gift, but He desires our best attitude as well. The Bible tells us in II Chronicles 25:2 that King Amaziah "did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, but not with a perfect heart." This is a powerful scripture. You see we can have all the right moves in man's eyes, but while man looks on the outward appearance, God looks at our heart attitude. Is it our best offering? Just because someone may give a big offering, it doesn't necessarily mean it's his best. Jesus told a story to His disciples about a poor widow who threw in her last two mites. Jesus said, "Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living" (Mark 12:42-44).

The Marriage Vow

In these last days, people's commitment to keeping vows has seemed to fall by the wayside. This is in stark contrast to biblical times when people like Jepthah and Hannah stayed true to their word. One of the biggest vows a person can undertake and subsequently break is marriage. Marriage is an oath to one's spouse and to God. When a person gets married, they make a vow for life. But, there again, this union has seemed to be one of modern convenience and with plenty of escape clauses. If something doesn't go just right, people want to bail out by getting a divorce. The Bible tells us in I Corinthians 7:15 the only acceptable grounds for divorce: "But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace." Remember God hates divorce not the divorcee. We are under the new covenant of grace, but Paul writes in Romans 6:15: "What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid."

Marriage takes patience and practice; you have to work at it. Marriage is a gift from God according to Proverbs 18. When you open a gift you see a box showing ideally what the item will look like when completely assembled. However, many people today look at marriage that way; they see the forest, but overlook the trees. They believe that their marriage is completely assembled. On the contrary, once the marriage gift is opened, there is plenty of work to be done.

A Model Example

The Bible presents David as a leader who kept his promises. David had sworn that he would show kindness to Jonathan's descendants (I Samuel 20:11-16, 42). So once he was installed as king, David asked whether any of Saul's descendants (and therefore Jonathan's relatives) remained alive (II Samuel 9:1). Jonathan's son Mephibosheth was found, and David kept his promise (II Samuel 9:7-13).

This incident stands as a challenge to God's people today to follow through on their promises and covenants. Sometimes it's easy to rationalize a way out of keeping faith, especially when circumstances and relationships change. Yet David kept his committments, even though Jonathan was dead, and even though Jonathan's father Saul spent years trying to take David's life. David knew that God took covenant between him and Jonathan seriously. Therefore, David determined to go the extra mile to follow his promise through.


Are you going through a dry season? Well, take an inventory of vows. Perhaps, you deferred on one or two. Perhaps, you committed to partner up with a ministry to support them with prayers and financial offerings and you've stopped giving. Beloved, no longer waffle and make excuses, but be diligent to fulfill your promises. When parents and grandparents uphold commitments made by earlier generations, a marvelous legacy is passed on to their children. Their commitment reflects the truth that we serve a promise-keeping God.

Closing Prayer

"Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; Let them not have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, And I shall be innocent of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer."

Psalm 19:13-14

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This teaching was written by David Holt Boshart, Jr.
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