It seems like anymore in today’s society in both or promise has lost all its meaning. Any more they are just words to get somebody off your back, so to speak. How many times do we ask somebody for the true side of a story and mixed into the answer, that you know is a lie, are the words “I swear”.
A promise is more like a casual agreement. Dictionary.com defines it as “a declaration that something will or will not be done, given, etc., by one:” Promises are usually made between two individuals do not imply any severe penalties for not following through on the promise.
An oath, on the other hand, is a whole different thing. It is made between a person and God or between two people in the eyes of God such as in marriage. The traditional marriage vow is usually something like “I, ___, take thee, ___, to be my wedded husband/wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I pledge thee my faith [or] pledge myself to you.” But unfortunately even that today has been so butchered and adulterated only to suit our own personal desires.
James 5:12 But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.
Ephesians 4:29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
James 3:10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.
Let’s look at most involved in an oath when they really meant something. In the Ancient Near East, it was common for two people to make a covenant by cutting animals in half, splitting the halves, and then walking in between the pieces to make an oath. By walking between the split animals, each person was swearing that if they broke their part of the agreement, they would meet the same end as the sacrificed animal. In Genesis 15, God enacts such a blood covenant with Abram—with one key difference. In this covenant, only One party walks through the pieces: God Himself, in the form of a “smoking oven and a flaming torch” (Genesis 15:17).
A vow is three things: a deliberate and free promise, an act of devotion, and one made for the sake of a greater good.
The violation of both vows and oaths is considered a serious infraction in Jewish thought. While there are examples in the Bible of individuals making vows, by the rabbinic period the practice was deeply frowned upon. The Talmud states that the punishment for breaking a vow is the death of one’s children.
I think it is time we get back to having our words mean something and having honesty and virtue mean something. Do we want to be remembered as a liar or somebody that always kept their word? The choice is ours.
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