Numbers 30:2: If a man vows a vow to the LORD, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.
A vow is a commitment made to bind yourself to a course of action, either to God or to man. In either case, according to the focus verse, there is no allowance for changing your mind. It is irreversible, cast in stone.
But an overall view of the bible shows that a vow should be regarded as something we should count out of our options as Christians, because of superior spiritual principles existing in the New Testament.
As a definition, a scriptural vow is something initiated by a human being either to compel commitment from God (reciprocation), or like the case of the Nazarite, it is to commit himself to God by certain practices (dedication) e.g. not tasting alcohol and leaving the hair uncut (Numbers 6:1-6).
While the New Testament enjoins that we dedicate ourselves to righteousness, which is as far as it goes in when it comes to the issue of commitment (Romans 6:12-18). Even that does not get to the level of a vow because there is the realisation that the life of righteousness outflows from God working in us. It is not a vow, it is not a fruit of our labour, but a fruit of God working in us (Philippians 2:13).
Peter vowed that he would not deny Jesus, but he did (Matthew 26:33-35). He had too much belief in him. He was over-confident, in a bid to prove his commitment to Jesus, but we cannot prove anything to God. He knows us through and through. The lesson there is that we need to actively seek the help of God. But a vow gives the idea of self sufficiency. It is a celebration of human capacity and not the grace of God.
Jephthah vowed to sacrifice the first thing that comes out of the house to God (Judges 11), if He gives him victory against the enemy. And the first to come out was his only daughter. And his sweet victory was mixed with sorrow. That was a vow of reciprocation. It backfired. His experience stands as an eternal lesson for shying away from making a vow. It is a sign that we do not know the will of God in a situation, and as believers we are called understand what the will of God and pray it into reality. We are not supposed to try to get God to do whatever it is we want him to do because of a vow.
Jesus said we should not swear at all (Matthew 5:33-37), and a vow is made firm a commitment under Old Testament. That injunction of Jesus was one in which he starkly contradicted the tenets of the Old Testament. He said our yes should be yes and our no should be no, adding that anything extra is from the evil one. That is serious.
The first person who made a vow in the bible was Jacob (Genesis 28). When he was going to the house of Laban, he met God along the way, and he recognised that God is real. He wanted to draw a commitment from God, so he made a commitment: “If you do this, I will do that.” That was a vow of reciprocation.
Jacob by a vow did not in any way move God to do something. God had already promised him all the things he then made a vow to get God to do for him. So the vow in the case of Jacob was not significant making what he demanded to happen.
Hannah had no child after years of marriage and a time came when she was in Shiloh and in agony of heart she made a vow: if God gives me a male child, I will give him to God, and the high priest Eli declared a blessing on her that her prayer will be answered (1Samuel 1).
This is one of the most famous stories in the bible concerning making a vow. But what was actually responsible for the fact that Hannah had Samuel in answer to her prayer? Was it because she made a vow to God or because of the blessing coming from the mouth of Eli?
It was not stated that that was the first time that Hannah will make such a vow. So we cannot conclude unequivocally that the reason for Hannah having a son was the vow. But because it was implied that Eli does not know her personally, and that would be the first time they were meeting, it is conclusive that the blessing of a child that Hannah had was not because she made a vow but because she had a word of blessing from the high priest.
The law of the vow does not exist in the New Testament context. Jesus said: if you have committed yourself in any way and that commitment is not something that you are able to, you can beg the other party for a renegotiation of terms (Luke 12:58-59, Matthew 5:25-26).
Under the Old Testament, if you have made a vow (a commitment, a pledge), you have to repay and there is no option of changing you mind. But for the New Testament, changing your mind is the core of the message. John the Baptist said, “repent,” Jesus Christ said “repent”, and the apostles when they began to preach in the book of acts said Repent. You repent when you have a better light. That is the order of the day under the New Testament.
In the New Testament, there is no single incident of the vow of reciprocation. There is no “if you do this Lord, I will do this” thing.
Making financial pledges did not occur at all in the New Testament. Paul said that if there is first a willing heart, then God accepts what we have not what we don’t have (2Corinthians 8:12). You do not have to “give” that you don’t have in a form of a pledge.
- God in My Shoes, a poem and daily devotional (calvarytraining.org)
- To Every Generation: The Mandate of Intergenerational Worship Part II- New Signs (tableprepared.wordpress.com)
- Great Prayers of the Bible: Hannah’s Prayer (africanyoungpastors.wordpress.com)
- Saints and Feasts: Prophetess Hannah the mother of the Prophet Samuel (orthodoxlogos5.wordpress.com)
- Directions to Christ (alreadyanswered.org)
- Marriage Vows: The Sealing of Souls (drhozvicka.wordpress.com)
- Nameday (listenmyson.wordpress.com)
- Psalm 76:11 Make vows to the Lord your God and fulfill them; Let all who are around Him bring gifts to Him who is to be feared. (rickswickedness.wordpress.com)
- Forbidden Vows (harrypreaches.wordpress.com)