Bible Studies/sinful vows


Hi, I am so worried about vows because of the stories of Jephthah and Joshua. They both made sinful vows and kept them seemingly...I just don't understand it. Goes God really want us to follow through with sinful vows? What if someone vows to God to kill someone, or to harm a child, or to harm themselves...or anything else that is sinful! I can't imagine that God would hold us to a vow that is sinful...or require us to fulfill it. Can you give me some Biblical perspective on this? I know we are not even supposed to vow, but I know a lot of humans do/have done it including myself.

Dear Kristen,

Thanks for your question about vows. Since vows are binding, is it a sin to make a vow that either cannot be kept, or that, in keeping of it, the one who vows will transgress a command of God?

What does the Bible say about vows? Notice the following texts:

The written law of Moses states it this way:

Num. 30:2 If a man makes a vow to the LORD, or swears an oath to bind himself by some agreement, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.

Solomon said:

Eccl. 5:5: Better not to vow than to vow and not pay.

In Psalm 15, David lists a number of people who are blessed by the LORD. Among them we find this:

Ps. 15:4 …He who swears to his own hurt and does not change.

What about Joshua’s and Jephthah’s vows?

Joshua’s vow went against the command of the LORD not to make alliances with other nations. His big mistake was that he did not ask counsel of the LORD. Joshua stood by his vow, even though he had been deceived. But he punished the Gibeonites for deceiving the Israelite nation: they became hewers of wood and carriers of water for the tabernacle which was pitched in the valley nearby.

Jephthah made a vow that he would offer the first thing that would come out to greet him when he arrived home after the battle. His was a rash vow! How could he know what or who that would be?
In return for the vow, however, he asked the LORD for victory over the Ammonites. God honored Jephthah’s vow, and gave him total victory over his enemy. It may be that Jephthah would have gained the victory without making a vow, or that God gave him victory in spite of the vow, whatever.

When Jephthah returned home, the first one out of his house was his beloved only daughter. He was grief-stricken. He told her about his vow, and she accepted her fate. She asked only to be able to spend 2 months up in the hills with her friends. The Bible reveals the end of the story:

Judg. 11:38-40 So, he said, "Go." And he sent her away for two months; and she went with her friends, and bewailed her virginity on the mountains. And it was so at the end of two months that she returned to her father, and he carried out his vow with her which he had vowed. She knew no man. And it became a custom in Israel that the daughters of Israel went four days each year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.

Scholars differ on the end of the story. While most see it that he offered his daughter as a sacrifice; some see it ending in a way that lets her live, but never marrying—thus Jephthah would be sacrificing the opportunity to have descendants—a terrible fate in the Israelite culture.

There are two things we must consider in the vow of Jephthah:

1. God strictly forbade Israelites from offering human sacrifices. In the Canaan area these were usually done by burning a child or an adult—sometimes alive—as a sacrifice to an idol. This was termed as “passing through the fire."

Deut. 18:10  There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer,

2. The 10 commandments forbade a person from killing another person—murder. The only killing allowed was in warfare, and in executions ordered by a judge—when the person had committed something in which the law required the death penalty.

Whether or not Jephthah followed these rules is a matter of history, and until we reach the heavenly Kingdom we’ll not know the answer. It is interesting to note that the writer of Hebrews, when listing the heroes of faith, included Jephthah:

Heb. 11:32 -34 And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.

Should we make a vow, or shouldn’t we? I’ve made a vow to God that I will be faithful to Him, to serve and obey Him, as long as He gives me breath. I trust in Him to give me the strength to carry out my vow. This strength can only come through the power of Jesus Who died for us on the cross.

We should remember that anytime we sign a contract or make an agreement that is binding, we are, in effect, making a vow. It may be a contract with the cable company, or an agreement to make payments on a car or house. These are all vows in the final sense, and we need to apply the Biblical criteria in relation to them.

One of the most important things we do in life is to read from God’s Word—the Bible. Reading the Bible is so important to the Christian. It would be very difficult to maintain a saving relationship with God without it. And learning about God and His requirements for us would be nearly impossible without some connection with God’s Holy Word.

Actually, if we watch for Him, we’ll find Jesus Christ in almost every passage of the Old and New Testaments. Sometimes He’s known as the Creator (cf. John 1:1-4, 10, 14); sometimes He’s known as “the Angel of the LORD” (Ex. 3:1-14; cf. John 8:56-58); sometimes He’s known as the “servant” (Isa. 52:13-53:12); and sometimes as the Messiah. Often He’s behind the scenes, working through those who live according to His will.

If you have difficulty understanding the Bible, there are many aids available to help you do this, (see list below). But above all, read your Bible for yourself, and pray that God will help you understand it.

Stay close to Jesus.

Thurman C. Petty, Jr. (43 Bible lessons; 20 Books; more)

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Thurman C. Petty, Jr.


I`ve been a Pastor and Bible teacher for 40 years.


I`m a writer--author of 18 Bible-based books and over 200 journal articles. Web site: where a lot of my books and writings are posted. I've been married to the same lovely lady for 55 years. We're more in love now than when we married. My wife and I were missionaries to Pitcairn Island, in the South Pacific, from 1982-1984.

I've been a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church since the age of 9.

Books: Pacific Press Publishing Association; PettyPress. Number of titles published: 16. Journal Articles: Adventist Review; Signs of the Times; Guide Magazine; Ministry: A Journal for Clergy; Sabbath School Leadership; The Youth's Instructor; Student Movement; Cord, and others. Total Journal articles: over 200. Web Site: Contents: 18 of my books; 41 Bible study guides; over 30 sermons; Stories; poems; links to other sites, etc. E-mail address:

I have a BA and a Master`s degree--both degrees are in Biblical studies.

Awards and Honors
I was awarded the "Golden Cord" from my Alma Mater, Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, for my foreign mission service.

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