Vows for the New Year

As the new year dawns, many will chart plans and refocus on life goals. Many will have parties and fun. Some will make new vows to God.


A google search of “rash vow” or “vow” shows that use of these terms are primarily connected to marriage or to the Old Testament Judge, Jephthah.


Students of the Bible usually think of Jephthah’s vow in Judges 11:30 when mention is made of making a rash vow. Many have assumed that Jephthah was hasty and wrong to make a vow “that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.”


I am convinced that had Jephthah not made the vow and kept it by dedicating his daughter to “surely be the Lord’s” by serving night and day in the tabernacle, he would have missed God’s best for his life and for his daughter. He would never have been listed in the Faith Chapter (Hebrews 11:32), and would not have been among the great Judges listed by Samuel in his sermon to Israel (I Samuel 12:11). In fact, the Holy Spirit might not have inspired Samuel to dedicate more than an entire chapter (Judges 11) to his biography. Samuel certainly knew the story better than any modern commentator, and he evidently considered Jephthah to be one of the “greats” of the period.


In my book A Name Forgotten (Heritage Builders Publishing, Clovis, CA, 2015), I go into the details explaining why I reject the idea that Jephthah’s vow was rash and why making the vow was essential to his fulfilling God’s Purpose for his life. The book also makes the application: it is as wrong to fail to make a vow that God prompts us to make as it is to make a foolish, rash vow. [www.heritagebuilderspublishing.com or http://hourglassministries.com/store/]


Many have taken passages like Ecclesiastes 5:4-5 and assumed that it is always better to avoid making vows: “When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.” 

Very little emphasis is usually laid upon verse 4, which assumes that indeed there will be timeswhen thou vowest…” Vows in the Psalms are viewed as vital and significant, and the Apostle Paul made and kept vows.


One might suppose that most churches in our day have adopted this view, since church services usually end without an urgent call to repentance. Public invitations are often perfunctory, as if they are merely a part of the liturgy rather than an expectant appeal to God’s people, a summons to appear and answer in God’s Court. The average sermon is not preached to a verdict, as the revivalist Charles Finney taught preachers to do. When was the last time you fell on your face at the church altar, crying out to God and making holy, binding vows? (I Corinthians 14:24-25) Why are so few of our young people making vows for a lifetime of Christian service, to become a missionary or evangelist, or to dedicate time every week to develop skill as a soul-winner? Have we taught them that making a vow is never appropriate?


King Saul did make a rash vow, “Cursed be the man that eateth any food until evening, that I may be avenged on mine enemies.” (I Samuel 14:24) Analyzing his few words, it is apparent that his heart was focused upon selfish goals, rather than upon doing the Will of God. Notice his reason for giving this order, which became a great hindrance to his famished soldiers: “that I may be avenged…” He was not concerned about damage to the Lord’s Name, but to his own. His desire for vengeance was not that the Lord’s enemies experience defeat, but he says, “mine enemies…”


Perhaps this is why the only significant vow expected of most Christians is the marriage vow? We have arrived at the place where young people only consider making a vow to God if they think there is some advantage in it for themselves. Unfortunately, many vows have been watered down, virtually ignoring God and His role in the marriage. The selflessness required in a godly marriage receives little emphasis in pre-marital planning. God in Heaven may take note that our marriages are in fact based upon rash, foolish, selfish vows.


George Matheson, a preacher, was engaged to be married when he learned that he would soon become blind. When he revealed this devastating news to his fiance, she broke the engagement. We might commend her for not making a vow which she might not have courage and endurance to fulfill. He never married. Later, he wrote the beautiful hymn, O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go. He might have quit the ministry, or blamed God for his plight. But instead, he devoted himself more fervently to his vows of service to Christ, and lived to an old age, still preaching the gospel.



Memories in Oak

Oak, Nebraska in 1976 was a village serviced by no paved roads in any direction. I was a fledgling evangelist, living in Colorado. One of the worst blizzards hit on Saturday, nearly blocking Interstate 76, and I drove my 1956 Chevy to the meeting, leaving our better car for my wife. Snowplows had opened a path the width of one car through some drifts, so traffic would gather, waiting for oncoming vehicles to clear the way. I could not get through until Sunday, and due to delays and crossing into the earlier time zone, I found myself behind schedule to arrive in time for the Sunday evening service, but I raced on and came into the meeting while the congregation was singing. The pastor introduced me with some relief, and I preached the opening service without our usual musical segment.

It would have been acceptable to delay arrival, and nobody would have been surprised if I had postponed the meeting. Like many places I frequented, it was off the beaten path, and often overlooked by other evangelists.

An elderly couple came from Nelson, Nebraska to attend one night of the meeting. When I gave the altar call, they made their way down the aisle together as I stood in front of the communion table, pleading with the audience to come, to trust Christ. They were in their late 70’s. They said they had never made any profession of faith before, although both had entertained the idea since their youth, when they had attended revivals, some 50 years before. The pastor and I met with them in a side room, where they prayed one by one, sweetly receiving the Savior. What if I had refused to go to Oak, hoping for a bigger venue elsewhere?

I spoke to students at the elementary school, which still had a tunnel-type fire escape from a second floor window. Even in those days, opportunities for a preacher to speak in a public school were being discouraged by the public educational establishment. As I stood before them, I could only recall one time during my elementary days at Springer School District #7 in Scottsbluff County, Nebraska, when a children’s evangelist did a magic show and explained God’s plan of salvation.

Who were those students listening to my ditties, amused by the antics and spontaneity of the young evangelist? Perhaps a boy, who would lose his life in the first Gulf War? A girl who would die in an auto accident before graduating from high school? A child already imbibing the evolutionary philosophy that has since led so many into the paths of agnosticism, narcissism, addiction, and humanism? Maybe one became a missionary whose life has influenced thousands in some foreign land? Only Eternity will tell. Meanwhile, it is our duty to be faithful, through dangers, toils, and snares.