I Swear

Message:  Today I noticed an interesting parallel between the story and Judges 11 and the directive in James 5. In Judges 11 we read about a man named Jephthah who had been driven out of his homeland by his brothers because his mother was a prostitute. When they were in trouble, they sent for him and asked him to lead them into victory over their enemies. Obviously he had some questions, but ultimately he accepted and then he swore an oath to God that the first thing that came out the door of his home when her returned would be sacrificed to God. An oath is and was a very serious thing so when he returned home and his daughter came out the door to greet him he was devastated but honored the oath. I feel like if this story happened with any of us we might try to justify our way out of it because it was so harsh. The point of this story was that God never asked for that sacrifice. Jephthah had been living in another land where human sacrifices were made to their gods in exchange for their favor, but because he swore the oath he was obligated to it. People (especially in these times) did not go back on an oath. An oath was absolute. Even if it was wrong. We see lots of oaths made by kings and leaders throughout the bible. In James 5 verse 12 James is warning that using an oath to promise something that we don’t intend to fulfill is wrong. He says that instead “let your yes be yes and your no be no so you don’t fall under judgment.” We don’t see a lot of oaths in our culture but we do make legal oaths for things like marriage or debt. Unfortunately, the culture we live in does not honor oaths well at all. People choose whether to honor them based upon how it will play out for them. “We fell out of love” or “the housing market crashed and we were upside down in our mortgage so we let it go” are common in our culture. To be clear, I’m not judging anyone here. Everyone has circumstances, but my point is that we are in a culture that allows the circumstance to dictate whether we will fulfill our oath or not. Usually in our culture we say things like “I promise” or “I swear I will” or “I swear I won’t”. When we don’t fulfill the promise our word we trump our promise with an excuse or circumstance and if we do this often our credibility becomes useless. We need to be people who are faithful to our word, and we also need to be selective about what we promise. There are some things we are unable to promise because they are beyond our own control. In the case of Jephthah, there are some things that don’t require an oath. God would have delivered Israel without the oath but since he spoke it he was bound by it. How many things have we spoken and broken unnecessarily? This challenges me to pay attention to the things I commit to doing. Not just the things I expressly say “I promise” to, but everything that I say I am going to do should be treated like a promise. This means I have to be quiet in other situations so that I’m not acting like a people pleaser by putting myself under obligation for things I don’t have the time to complete, or have no business being involved in. For me this has been a work in progress. I have had a long history of obligations because I promised to do things I should not have committed to.

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