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Foolish Vows

As soon as the morning was light, the men were sent away, they and their asses.

A weatherman, certain that his prediction for fair weather would be fulfilled, said, "If it rains tomorrow, I'll eat my hat!" Such a lightly considered vow is an invitation to disaster, for it is entirely possible that factors unknown to the weatherman may cause a downpour. The Bible gives many similar examples of foolishly made oaths (cf. Judges 11).

During the worldwide seven years' famine in the days of Jacob, the sons of the patriarch found themselves trapped by such a foolish vow. They had sold their brother Joseph into slavery, and unknown to them he had risen to a position of great authority in the Egyptian government. With the supply of grain in Canaan exhausted, Jacob sent his sons to Egypt to buy grain. In Pharaoh's land the brothers purchased grain from Joseph, whom they did not recognize. After that grain was gone, they returned to Egypt to buy more.

When they came to Joseph the second time, he invited them to dine; and he commanded the steward to fill the men's sacks with food and put their purchase money back in each sack. Also Joseph specifically instructed that his silver cup be placed in the sack of the youngest brother, Benjamin. "As soon as the morning was light," the brothers embarked on the long trek back to Canaan (Genesis 44:3). Before they had gone very far, Joseph commanded the steward to overtake them and accuse the brothers of stealing his royal cup. This was not done to be vindictive but simply to test the loyalty and integrity of the brothers who had once sold Joseph into slavery.

As soon as the charge was leveled against the sons of Jacob, they indignantly denied it. To think that this steward would accuse them of dishonesty! Unaware that Joseph had planted the cup in Benjamin's sack, the brothers hastily vowed a vow in order to intensify their claim of innocence: "With whomsoever of thy servants it be found, both let him die, and we also will be my lord's servants." Suddenly they were trapped. They had made an irrevocable oath that would enslave them and bring death to their father's favorite son. When the search was made and the cup was found in Benjamin's sack, the brothers tore their clothes in anguish and returned to Joseph, the Egyptian governor.

It was no sin to vow this vow, for the making of such oaths was entirely voluntary. However, after a vow was made, it was sacredly binding (Deuteronomy 23:21). The Apostle Paul called upon God in making an oath (2 Corinthians 1:23; 11:31) and our Lord Himself did not refuse to answer when put under oath (Matthew 26:63-64). Yet the Lord Jesus refined the general thought of Scripture on vowing vows when He said, "Swear not at all; neither by heaven . . . Nor by the earth . . . Neither shalt thou swear by thy head. . . . But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil" (Matthew 5:34-37).

This does not mean that we cannot vow a vow to God. By the time of the New Testament the practice of making hasty and unmeaningful oaths was common. Oriental conversation was sprinkled with expressions like, "I swear that . . . ." This profaned the true meaning and sacred character of a vow, and our Lord condemned the practice. Much better, said He, that others are assured that what you say is true because of your personal integrity, rather than because of an unmeaningful oath.

It would be better to make no oath at all than to make one with no intention of keeping it (Ecclesiastes 5:5). Vows made with pure intentions and based on certain knowledge can bring great blessings. But those hastily made, like those of Jacob's sons, or those loosely used in ordinary conversation, are to be shunned by all who seek a life pleasing to God. Be careful what vows you make today! Be careful to keep those you have made!

MORNING HYMN So shall my walk be close with God, Calm and serene my frame; So purer light shall mark the road That leads me to the Lamb.

Devotional is used with permission from the author. It may be used solely for personal, noncommercial, and informational purposes. Republication or redistribution of this devotional is prohibited.

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