A vow is a serious promise or pledge made to YAHVEH. The making of vows to YAHVEH is a religious practice frequently mentioned in Scripture. Most references to vows are found in the Old Testament, especially in the Psalms, but there are a few in the New Testament.
Tithing, sacrifices and offerings, Shabbat keeping and circumcision were commanded by the Mosaic law. Vow making was not. For example, Psalm 50:14 says: “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving and pay your vows to the Most High” (RSV). The command is to “pay,” that is, to keep or fulfil a pledge that has already been made. No order is given to make such promises in the first place. The practice is accepted but not demanded. The purpose of a vow is to win a desired favour from our Adonai. Vows can also be used to express gratitude to Him for some deliverance or benefit. Some have proved their absolute devotion to Him by abstaining from specific things. Dedication of oneself and separation to Adonai were the primary features of the Nazirite vow. Samson, Samuel and John the Baptist are the most familiar examples of those who took this type of vow.
Numbers 6:1-8 sets forth the conditions of this commitment. Numbers 6:13-21 tells how release from the vow may be obtained. Women as well as men, might take this vow of separation (Numbers 6:2), which could be for a limited time. The Recabite clan pledged themselves to a nomadic life of self-denial. They are an inviting illustration of loyalty to YAHVEH of Israel (Jeremiah 35). Frequently however, vows were taken as a type of bargain with YAHVEH. At Bethel, Jacob promised YAHVEH worship and the tithe if He would protect him and supply his needs (Genesis 28:20-22). Hannah pledged that if YAHVEH would give her a son, she would return him to Him (1 Samuel 1:11, 27-28). In the Psalms, payment of vows is often associated with thanksgiving for deliverance from danger or trouble (see Psalm 22:24-25; 56:12-13). Most important is that once a vow is made, the obligation is serious. To refrain from making any vow is no sin (Deuteronomy 23:22).
Once declared however, the vow must be kept (Deuteronomy 23:21-23; see also Numbers 30:2; Ecclesiastes 5:4-6). The term “vow” occurs just twice in the New Testament, both times in association with the apostle Paul (Acts 18:18; Acts 21:23-24). But the same principle is involved in the case of the word “Corban” (Mark 7:11-13; compare Matthew 15:5-6). In these two passages Yeshua severely rebuked those who made a vow that served as a clever escape from meeting obligations to care for aged parents. A monetary figure was involved in such a “gift” or “offering.” But Yeshua declared that YAHVEH did not want a gift designed to deprive someone. Paul may have entered into his vows to prevent objections that either antagonistic Jews or Jewish-Christian believers had to his removing the yoke of Mosaic regulations from the shoulders of gentile believers. Paul was in Jerusalem under the sharp surveillance of Jewish authorities. He made it a point to join with four other Jewish believers in the payment of vows in the temple. This action however, was wrongly understood by his enemies, who charged that he was bringing Gentiles into the holy temple.
WHAT DOES YAHVEH SAY ABOUT OUR PROMISES?
YAHVEH EXPECTS US TO TAKE OUR PROMISES VERY SERIOUSLY.
“If they make a rash vow of any kind, whether its purpose is for good or bad, they will be considered guilty even if they were not fully aware of what they were doing at the time.” (Leviticus 5:4) Have you ever sworn to do or not do something and then realized how foolish your promise was? YAHVEH’s people are called to keep their word, even if they make promises that are tough to keep. Yeshua was warning against swearing (in the sense of making vows or oaths) when He said, “Just say a simple ’Yes, I will’ or ’No, I won’t’ ” (Matthew 5:37). Our word should be enough. If we feel we have to strengthen it with an oath, something is wrong. The only promises we ought not to keep are promises that lead to sin. A wise and self-controlled person avoids making rash promises.
YAHVEH TAKES OUR PROMISES SERIOUSLY AND WILL HOLD US TO THEM.
“It is dangerous to make a rash promise to God before counting the cost.” (Proverbs 20:25)
This proverb points out the evil of making a vow rashly and then reconsidering it. YAHVEH takes vows seriously and requires that they be carried out (Deuteronomy 23:21-23). We often have good intentions when making a vow; we want to show YAHVEH that we are determined to please Him. Yeshua however, says it is better not to make promises to YAHVEH because He knows how difficult they are to keep (Matthew 5:33-37). If you still feel it is important to make a vow, make sure that you weigh the consequences of breaking that vow. (In Judges 11, Jephthah made a rash promise to sacrifice the first thing he saw on his return home. As it happened, he saw his daughter first.) It is better not to make promises than to make them and then later want to change them. It is better still to count the cost beforehand and then to fulfil them.
YESHUA EMPHASIZED THE IMPORTANCE OF KEEPING OUR WORD.
“Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Your word is enough. To strengthen your promise with a vow shows that something is wrong.” (Matthew 5:37) People were breaking promises and using sacred language casually and carelessly. Keeping oaths and promises is important; it builds trust and makes committed human relationships possible. The Bible condemns making vows or taking oaths casually, giving your word while knowing that you won’t keep it or swearing falsely in YAHVEH’s Name (Exodus 20:7; Leviticus 19:12; Numbers 30:1-2; Deuteronomy 19:16-20). Oaths are needed in certain situations only because we live in a sinful society that breeds distrust.
YAHVEH EXPECTS US TO BE KNOWN AS PEOPLE WHO KEEP OUR WORD.
Oaths or vows, were common, but Yeshua told His followers not to use them; their word alone should be enough (see James 5:12). Are you known as a person of your word? Truthfulness seems so rare that we feel we must end our statements with “I promise.” If we tell the truth all the time, we will have less pressure to back up our words with an oath or promise.