Bible Studies/Oaths


QUESTION: Hi, I am very confused about oaths in the Bible. I read on a website an argument by someone saying that if we make sinful vows or vows against God's will, we should keep them. So he argued that if someone vowed to God to kill someone, they should keep it. Or if someone vowed to do harm to themselves, they should do it. It just doesn't make any sense to me because God wants us to do his will and NOT to sin so how could He hold us to a vow that we made to sin? The Bible verses that trip me up are Psalms 15:4 and Joshua 9. Can you please provide some insight to this? I'm really worried that I would be forced to sin or something. :(

ANSWER: Hi Kris,

You asked about oaths (vows).  This is a frequently asked question, often asked in the context of the "unpardonable sin."
God never commanded any vows (*but see below), however, some people, due to misdirected enthusiasm and ignorance, were making vows, therefore he gave instructions about making, keeping, redeeming and nullifying vows.
He considers vows in the same category as gifts and freewill offerings (Lev. 23:37-38, Num. 29:39).

People sometimes vowed their children, or themselves, their livestock, land or possessions.  These could be redeemed at a price set by the Priest (Lev. 27:1-34).
Christ, while he was on earth, mentioned vows only once, in a negative context (Mk. 7:11-13).
Christ, as Lord of the OT, instituted certain rules about Nazarite vows (Num. 6:8-21).

King Solomon, in Ecclesiastes, said it is better not to vow, than to vow and not fulfill it (Ecc. 5:4-6).
Failure to fulfill a vow is explained as being sin (Deu. 23:21, 23).

But every sin can be repented of, except one (Mat. 12:31), and that sin is to reject God's offer of salvation. It is called the "unpardonable sin".

Proverbs (the book of wisdom) says that vows can be a trap for those who make vows without knowledge or understanding. (Pro. 20:25).

Most of the questions we receive about vows fall into this category.

* Repentance and dedicating one's life to God through Christ could be considered a vow.  A vow to repent should be kept, however, as long as we are flesh and blood, we are subject to committing sins and we must repent daily to renew that vow.   We are commanded to repent and become converted, which is a process, not just a single act.

Marriage vows should be kept, but there are some exceptions, such as fraud, sin, and abuse.  God wants us to marry because it helps us to understand the relationship that he desires to have with us.  However, failing to enter into a human marriage is not a sin.  

See "The Prospective Marriage Between Man and God" at

Regarding your reference to a website that said a vow to murder someone must be kept, we wonder if he would feel the same way if he was the intended victim?

The penalty for sin is death (Eze. 18:4, 20).  The two choices are life and death (Deu. 30:15, 19).  To become trapped between a vow to sin, and sinning by breaking the vow would be a choice of death or death, a satanic doctrine and not one of God.  We can choose death by choosing to sin, but no one else, not even Satan, can put us in a position where eternal life is not available.  

You asked about Psa. 15:4.

Psa 15 asks, and answers the question of whom shall be in God's Kingdom ("tabernacle", "holy hill").  
Verse 3 includes those who do -- no -- evil to their neighbor.  Making an oath to murder someone would be evil, and only Satan would want a person to fulfill that oath.  Swearing to hurt oneself, is also evil and not good.  For example, vowing to commit suicide, which is self-murder and a sin, because repentant or not, we belong to God, not to ourselves, by virtue of his having created us, and because Christ purchased us with his death.  Our life is not ours and destroying it is both murder and stealing from God.

Psa 15 lists acts of righteousness.  How can one be righteous by "swearing to his own hurt and changing not"?  
Christ committed himself to death (killed by others) and fulfilled it "to his own hurt".  It was a righteous act as explained, "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (Jn. 15:13).   
Dying to save others is an act of love.  Murder and suicide are not.

On a lesser scale, if we promise to help someone in need and we have to sacrifice time, materials or money to fulfill it, then we should do it.  If we foolishly promise something that we cannot deliver, then we should repent to the individual and to God, repent of being foolish and avoid making that mistake again.  

If we are unable to fulfill a promise because of circumstances beyond our control, then we should apologize to the individual, consider alternative ways of helping, and ask God for more wisdom and foresight in the future.

You asked about Joshua 9.

This chapter relates the account of the people of Gibeon conspiring against, and successfully deceiving, Joshua and the princes of Israel, in order to save their own lives while remaining in the land they had forfeited because of their sins (Lev. 18:24-27).  
They had the choice of saving their lives by getting out of the land, or dying in trying to resist eviction (Lev. 23:27-30).  

In this incident, the Israelites made two mistakes.  

1. They failed to consult God before making promises to the pagans.  "And the men took of their victuals [had a meal together], and asked not counsel at the mouth of the Lord."

2. After discovering they had been deceived, they again failed to consult with God about what to do ("this we will do" v. 20).  

Even when the general population of the Israelites protested, the "princes" defended themselves by saying that they had made an oath that could not be broken.  This is vanity, in the same way that pagan kings who considered themselves so powerful, that they could issue decrees that even they could not overturn (Esther 8:8, Dan. 6:15).

Two wrongs don't make a right.  Being deceived was not a sin, but failure to ask God's advice was foolish, especially after all of the events of the past 40 years since leaving Egypt.  In addition, when they discovered that they had been deceived, they should have repented and ask for God's instruction, not grant immunity to the (now) illegal aliens.

God sometimes allowed individuals and Israel as a nation to make mistakes so that others, including us, could learn from them.  Because of Israel's double mistake, these Canaanites were allowed to live among them and contribute to the spiritual corruption of the nation.

The penalty for sin is not always immediate. It was about 26 years later, that the angel of the Lord reminded them of God's commandment to make no agreements with the Canaanites, nor to allow them to live in the land (Judges 1-2).  Now, God was telling them that the Canaanites [Palestinians] would be a perpetual problem for Israel forever, and this is still true today.

God has given us free will and a choice to make, between life and death. It would be contrary to his own purpose to put us in a position where the only choice is to sin.

We hope that this helps.  We are including additional discussion of vows below (from previous discussions), for your use.

If you have additional questions, feel free to ask anytime.

Mel and Guyna

Visit us at

(Someone)  asked about making vows and whether they can be nullified.

God created us in his image (Gen.1:26-27) because he wants us in his eternal family(1Pet. 1:9) as sons and daughters who demonstrate love toward him and toward one another (Deu. 10:12, 19, Mat. 22:37-39) as defined by the fruits of the Holy Spirit in our thoughts, words and actions (Gal. 5:22-23, Col. 3:12-23, Eph. 5:9).

Under the Levitical Priesthood, the Israelites sacrificed animals. It was a lesson to show them the seriousness of sin and that death is required for sin (Eze. 18:4, 20).  When a person raises an animal from birth, protects and feeds and works with that animal, the person usually develops a fondness or even love for that animal.  In an agrarian society, it also represents valuable time and money.  To kill it is a financial sacrifice but it is also a personal and emotional sacrifice.  The point was to understand how God feels about losing us if we do not repent and also to appreciate Christ’s personal sacrifice and God’s sacrifice of his son (Jn. 3:16).

The point was not that God wanted to smell burning flesh or see an animal die.
King David understood this long before Christ came to explain it in person.
”For you desire not sacrifice; else would I give it: you delight not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psa. 51:16-17).

God never commanded any vows, but since some people were making vows, he gave instructions about making, keeping, redeeming and nullifying vows.

He considers vows in the same category as gifts and freewill offerings (Lev. 23:37-38, Num. 29:39).

People sometimes vowed their children or themselves, their livestock, land or possessions.  These could be redeemed at a price set by the Priest (Lev. 27:1-34).

Christ, while he was on earth, mentioned vows only once, in a negative context (Mk. 7:11-13). [Some of the people, to avoid helping their elderly or impoverished parents, would declare their property or wealth to be “Corban” (or Korban), in other words “dedicated to the Temple”.  That meant that they could not use it to help their parents, and after their deaths, the item would belong to the Temple treasury, making it unavailable for sale or gifting to their parents, and contradicting the commandment to “honor your parents” in the sense of providing for those of your own house (1Tim. 5:8)]

Christ, as Lord of the OT, instituted certain rules about Nazarite vows (Num. 6:8-21).
More information on Jewish customs (sometimes contradictory and often non-scriptural) can be found at:

The vow that we take when we accept Christ’s sacrifice and we repent of our sins is to live in obedience to God (Acts 5:29, 32, Rom. 2:8, 6:16, Heb. 5:9, 1Pet. 4:17).
Any other vow would seem redundant or superfluous since we are already required to stop doing anything that is sin, and everything else is acceptable.
As long as we are human, we will continue to sin although we should be sinning less and less and not repeating the same sins over and over (“be[come] you perfect”, Mat. 5:48).  The sample prayer by Christ shows that we are to repent daily, which indicates a renewal of our vow to become Christ-like daily.

Not making any other vows (in the common sense of the word) is not sin (Deu. 23:22).

The most common vow in scripture was the Nazarite vow, which involved not cutting one’s hair, and avoiding wine, grapes, raisins, vinegar, or other alcoholic beverage.  This is imitative of the requirements for the High Priest and thus, a Nazarite was dedicating his life temporarily (30 or 60 days) in the same way as a priest. But this was all voluntary and not commanded by God.

A father (of an underage daughter), or the husband of a wife, could nullify any vow of the daughter or the wife, but only when they first hear of it.  If they accept it, they cannot nullify it later (Num. 30:1-16).
So, if you are married and your husband has no knowledge of your vow, then he can release you from it if he wants to do so.
King Solomon, in Ecclesiastes, said it is better not to vow, than to vow and not fulfill it (Ecc. 5:4-6).
Failure to fulfill a vow is explained as being sin (Deu. 23:21, 23).

But every sin can be repented of except one (Mat. 12:31), and this is not that sin.

Proverbs (the book of wisdom) says that vows can be a trap for those who make vows without knowledge or understanding. (Pro. 20:25).
Most of the questions we receive about vows fall into this category.

Acts 5:1-10 is sometimes quoted in the context of failure to fulfill a vow, but this example is about lying, not vows.  Ananias brought part of the money from the sale of some land and gave it to the apostles.  From the text, it is obvious that he claimed that it was the total amount received for the land.  Peter points out that he did not have to sell the land, and he did not have to donate any money from the sale, but when he claimed to be donating the total sale price, he had lied to God.  Later his widow told the same lie and also died.
The only connection with vows, would be that if one makes a vow that one has no intention of keeping, the sin is one of lying.  Liars will not be allowed into God’s Kingdom (Rev. 21:8).

There are other questions:
--What if it is, or becomes physically impossible to fulfill the vow?  Do we lose eternal life due to circumstances beyond our control?
No.  All sin can be repented of, except the “unpardonable sin” (the rejection of God’s offer of eternal life, Christ’s sacrifice, and the help of the Holy Spirit in overcoming sin).

--What if fulfilling the vow would require the commission of a sin?  Is it possible to be in a position where either choice will condemn us to eternal death?
No. The choice is life or death, not death or death (Deu. 30:15, 19).

--What if we promise to stop doing something we believe is a sin, and then we discover that it isn’t a sin?
To willingly do something we believe to be sin, is the same as committing a real sin, because of the effect it has on one’s character (Rom. 14:23). But if we learn that the act is not sin, then there is no repentance required of a non-sin (Jn. 8:32).

--What if the vow was offered as a bribe to God?  Is God so desperate that he accepts bribes, and promises made under duress?  Does God blackmail people into making vows?
Is a vow regarding a single aspect of our life enough to satisfy God?

Bartering with God?

In Nave’s Topical Bible, Jacob’s “deal” with God is listed as the first of “related scriptures” on this subject (Gen. 28:10).  Is Jacob’s deal, or negotiation, or barter with God a positive example for us?

Except for misrepresenting his wife as his sister (twice), and taking her advice about using the servant Hagar to obtain the son that God had promised, Abraham’s life appears to be blameless.  And God blessed Abraham and made some great promises to him regarding his descendants. (Gen. 12-25).

Except for misrepresenting his wife as his sister, Isaac’s life appears to be blameless. (Gen. 25-28) and God blessed him.

Jacob however, was far from blameless and God seems to have blessed him mainly because of God’s promises to Abraham.
Jacob, if he had loved his brother, would not have “sold” food to him for his birthright.  If he had loved his brother, he would not have stolen the blessing of the firstborn.  Because he did these things, he had to flee from his brother (Gen. 27:41-42) and leave his inheritance behind.  He arrived at his mother’s relatives, broke. He had to work seven years for his bride (unlike Abraham and Isaac) and then discovered he’d been cheated.  He had to work another seven years for the woman he wanted, then another six years to obtain enough livestock to support his family.  Because his father-in-law was dishonest, his wages were changed every time he began to prosper (Gen. 31:7). God blessed him anyway, but he had to sneak away with his wives, children, servants and livestock.  His father-in-law pursued him with intentions of hurting or killing him (vs. 20-55).
God prevented Laban from hurting Jacob.

Immediately after this, Jacob sent a peace offering to his brother, hoping to persuade Esau not to kill him (Gen. 32:1-23).  God gave him favor in Esau’s sight, but Jacob was still afraid and decided he would settle his family somewhere else (Gen. 33:16-17), where he had other problems.

Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, tricked an entire city into circumcising themselves so that the two could take revenge (for the rape of their sister) that included killing all the men, taking all the women and children as slaves, and seizing all the livestock.  This resulted in the whole family having to relocate (Gen. 32:30-31) back to where Esau lived.

His favorite wife, Rachel (who had aided in Jacob’s deception of Jacob and theft of the blessing) died in childbirth with Benjamin. (Gen. 35:19).

Another son, Reuben, had a sexual affair with one of Jacob’s concubines and Jacob found out about it (Gen. 35:22).

Later, ten of his sons wanted to kill his favorite son (Joseph) but settled for selling him into slavery, and deceived Jacob into believing that he had been killed by wild animals. (Gen. 37).

Years later, Joseph worked a scam on his brothers, but Jacob thought that he would also lose his youngest son, Benjamin, and Simeon (Gen. 42, 43).

Contrast the lives of Abraham and Isaac with that of Jacob.  The first two were blessed and had few trials.  
Jacob spent most of his lifetime either perpetrating deceits or suffering from the deceits of others.  And it was all unnecessary because God keeps his promises and had already promised to make a nation out of Abraham’s family and to bless them greatly.

In this context, consider Jacob’s deal with God.

While fleeing from Esau’s threat to kill him, God gives Jacob a dream in which he promises to fulfill his promises to Abraham through Jacob and promises him great blessings and protection.  Jacob wakes up, apparently scared spit-less, anoints the rock he’d used for a pillow and vows a vow. (Gen. 28:10-19).
1. “If God will be with me and
2. (If) he will keep (protect) me in this way that I go, and
3. (If) he will give me bread to eat, and
4. (If) he will give me raiment to put on
5. “so that” (If)  I come again to my father’s house in peace
A. “then” shall the Lord be my God:
B. and of all that you (God) give me I will surely give the tenth to you.

Which was the better “deal”, Abraham’s or Jacob’s?
Which one showed faith and conversion?  
Abraham did not demand to receive blessings before offering obedience and faith.  Abraham gave a tenth to Melchizedek to show thanksgiving to God for the success of rescuing Lot, not as a reward to God for increasing Abraham’s wealth (Abraham returned everything, except the tenth, to the King of Sodom. It was a non-profit trip for Abraham that actually cost him in food for half the trip and thousands of lost man-hours of labor and time. Gen. 14).

It appears that Jacob’s approach is where some people get the idea that God is open to bargaining for righteousness or will trade blessings, or deliverance from trials, in exchange for our refraining from a particular sin, or for our giving up something we enjoy.

Making any vow (except repentance and conversion and marriage vows) is unwise.
“Boast not yourself of to morrow; for you know not what a day may bring forth.” (Pro. 27:1).

Christ said “swear not at all” (Mat. 5:34-37).  A vow is a type of oath.
James repeated this command (Jas. 5:12).

Christ said that he came so that we could have live more abundantly, not less, (Jn. 10:10) and not to make our lives a game show where we trade one thing for whatever is behind door number 3.

“For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.” (Psa. 84:11).

If we allow any object, or activity or concept to come between us and God, or become more important to us than God, then we have replaced the true God with an “idol”.  If God is first, then anything that does not amount to sin, is legal and acceptable for us to enjoy in balance.

Whether you keep the vow or not is up to you.  It is a matter between you and God. But to live with guilt is not productive.  Once we repent of sins, they are forgiven.  God can forget, but as humans, we tend not to forget.  To remember the guilt as a lesson is called experience.  To cultivate and maintain the guilt of sins already forgiven is to deny that God has forgiven them and would appear to be a lack of faith that God forgives sin. To become preoccupied with a single sin can distract us from God’s purpose for us.  As Christ told the adulteress, “go and sin no more” (Jn. 8:11).

It would appear to us that thinking that God would accept the sacrifice of something enjoyable (and sinless) in exchange for deliverance out of a problem is simply a matter of a lack of knowledge and understanding.  In such situations, we ask God to forgive us our ignorance of his law and his ways, and to teach us a better understanding, and to forgive us for whatever sins we have committed.

Since no one comes into an understanding of all their sins at once, when we pray for forgiveness, it should be not only for those of which we are aware, but also with the intent that He will also forgive us for the sins that we do not yet understand.
The book of Proverbs repeatedly says to seek knowledge (facts), understanding (knowing the difference between right and wrong) and wisdom (making the choice to do what is right).
Finding sin in our lives and getting it out is a life-long activity.  Christ compared sin to leavening and the Passover/Feast of Unleavened Bread festival symbolized the removal of sin, by removing all leavening from one’s house (Ex. 12:15, 13:7, Mk. 14:12, Lk. 22:1, Acts 20:6, 1Cor. 5:7-8).

We are told to study God’s word (2Tim. 2:15) and to seek understanding through God’s Holy Spirit (Jn. 16:13) and through prayer (Mat. 7:11).

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Hi, Thank you so much for the detailed response, it was very helpful. I guess my only question now in relation to the vow Joshua made is why did God punish the king (I think it was Saul or Solomon) when he actually did kill the Canaanites? The Bible seems to point in the direction that the punishment was for breaking the vow. I know things were a little different back then because God communicated directly with the people in talking, etc. Any explanation as to why the king was punished for carrying through with actually doing what God originally told them to do would be helpful. Thank you so much again for such a detailed response.

ANSWER: Hi Kris,

You asked about a king being punished in relation to an oath.  We assume that your question concerns 2 Sam. 21, in which Israel, under King David, suffered three years of famine because of something Saul had previously done against the Gibeonites (Canaanites).

God allowed the Philistines to kill King Saul because he had previously disqualified himself to be king (1Sam. 15, esp. v. 23-26).  
After Saul was dead, and David was King, and after the famine had been ongoing for three years, then David asked God, why?  The Lord answered that it was because of Saul's slaughter of the Gibeonites.

There is no specific identification of that slaughter, but some think that it was a result of his orders to kill the priests who assisted David in escaping him (1Sam. 22:1-21).  When Saul's (Israelite) guard refused to kill the priests, then Doeg, an Edomite whom Saul had put in charge of his servants, personally killed 85 priests.  Beyond this, he wiped out all the men, women, children and livestock in their village of Nob.  The Gibeonites may have been killed in that slaughter.

If not, then it may have been a separate vain attempt by Saul to curry favor with the nation of Israel, and with God, by killing the descendants of those who had tricked Joshua.

It could have been a combination of both in the same event.

In any case, Joshua, as leader of Israel, and as representative of the Lord God, had confirmed a promise to the deceptive Gibeonites.  Saul, as leader of Israel, (who once tried to act as high priest, 1Sam. 13:1-14), broke the (rash) oath that Joshua and others had made, and which the Lord had honored.  

This involves divine commandments, a failure to ask direction from God, God's reputation, the reputation of Israel as representative of the Lord, and a foolish king.

The Lord commanded that all the Canaanites (who had all defiled the land with their pagan practices) be driven out or killed.  He did not say to watch out for deceivers, but their history from Egypt to the Jordan River should have been enough for them to understand not to rely on their own "wisdom".  
The Israelites were tricked.  Then, instead of asking the Lord for direction, they again used their own "wisdom" and said they would honor their promise in spite of the deception. The presence of the Canaanites was always a curse because of their pagan practices.  In effect, Israel was punished for their foolishness, even though they did not deliberately sin by disobedience.  If we do not stay close to God, we can bring curses upon ourselves simply out of poor judgment or bad decisions.

Israel had been chosen, as a nation, to serve as a priesthood for the whole world.  Repeated failures caused the Lord to scale that back to one tribe (Levi), then back to one man (Aaron) and then back to only some of his descendants.  Still, the entire nation was to avoid adapting any Canaanite practices, not even their hair or beard styles.  The Lord wanted them to be physically identifiable as Israelites because they all still represented him to the rest of the world.

When the promise to the Gibeonites was broken, it reflected negatively on the God of Israel, in the sense that God could be accused of not keeping his promises.

Saul consulted with a witch, among other foolish sins, but his determination to kill David meant that he had to die in order for David to become the new King.  Saul died because of multiple, unrepented sins, and a failure to ever stop sinning.   When David asked the reason for the national famine, the Lord mentioned only one of Saul's sins, the one that had national, and divine, implications and had been overlooked, and unresolved.  In doing this, he showed that he never forgets his promises, even if it is made by others on his behalf and in error, but made by a bona fide representative.

We hope this helps.


Mel and Guyna

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thanks again for your response.

So I guess just to clarify my understanding...

God honored the vow to teach Israel a lesson. That is what you meant when you talked about divine intervention, because God directly communicated with people back then, well, in words and more directly.

But nowaday let's say someone makes a vow against God's will or sinful. They aren't required to keep that vow right?

It's just that the Bible times were so different than they are now because God was much more "physically present" in people's lives and decisions, right?

Hi Kris,

1.   God simply allowed the vow of the Israelites to stand, rather than instruct them to nullify or break it.  When Saul broke the vow, it brought dishonor to God because all the others nations judged God by Israel's actions.   

Saul, using human reasoning, thought it would right the previous wrong that had been accomplished by deceit.  In addition,1 Sam. 22:7 could be understood to mean that Saul also wanted a reason to seize the properties of the Gibeonites and share them among his supporters.

Saul's actions were in violation of a solemn oath and a national treaty.  You are correct in saying the purpose was to teach Israel a lesson.   Three years of famine is a harsh lesson.  The result was that the nations around Israel (and all who read the account since then) cannot say that God does not honor oaths or treaties, even those made by others on his behalf.  They all have to acknowledge that God's word is sure.  

It is also a lesson for us, according to another Saul (Paul the apostle) who wrote, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." (2Tim. 3:16-17).

You wrote, " because God directly communicated with people back then, well, in words and more directly."

Do you think that God does not communicate with people today, because he does not speak to most who call themselves Christians, or to the leaders of the world's biggest churches?  He did not communicate with every person listed in the Bible.  He did not communicate directly with the majority of the religious leaders who are mentioned.   The Bible list of those spoken to, is actually quite short, except for the times when he spoke to all Israel during the Exodus.  Plus, there are ways of communicating other than through direct speech.

"But if from thence [turning away from your sins] you shall seek the Lord your God, you shall find him, if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul." Deu. 4:29

"And you shall seek me, and find me, when you shall search for me with all your heart." Jer. 29:13

See also, Isa. 28:8-9. KJV

2.  You wrote: "But nowaday let's say someone makes a vow against God's will or sinful. They aren't required to keep that vow right?"

The Israelites' vow to the Gibeonites was in direct conflict with God's commandment to drive them out or kill the resistors.   Their failure to ask God for guidance before making that vow was not a sin in itself, but it put them in a position to sin by not obeying God's commandment.  
Perhaps they believed themselves to be in a catch-22 situation.  If they did not drive them out, they sinned.  If they broke the treaty, they sinned.  There is no indication that they asked God what to do after their first mistake.  
Contracts made by fraud are void.  [For example, falsely claiming to be a virgin, nullified a marriage contract, Deu. 22:13-21.]

The Gibeonite vow was made due to fraud.  If they had asked God, he would have most likely told them to kill the Gibeonites for lying (indirectly) to God.  We have that example in Acts 5:1-11.

Why didn't they ask God?  Probably because they felt foolish for falling for the deceit, and were trying to find some way to save face.  Rather than admit their mistake (Josh. 9:14), and humbly seek God's direction after the fact, they emphasized the part about swearing "by the Lord" and "therefore, we may not touch them".   They also seem to have fallen into the trap of categorizing sin.

Sin is the transgression of God's laws (1Jn. 3:4).  The only penalty for sin -- for all sin, or any sin -- is death  (Eze. 18:4, 20).  But humans want to rate sins as big or little,  important or insignificant, with some churches assessing various penalties for various sins, such as chanting ritual prayers over and over, or making "donations" to the church.

 The Princes of Israel appear to be thinking that breaking a vow would be a greater sin than disobeying God's commandment to drive all the Canaanites out.  Like King Saul, they also saw an opportunity to profit, by making the Gibeonites and their descendants, servants forever.

 Their concern was not about God's will, or offending God, but about not reneging on their own vow.  To admit their mistake would have brought their leadership into question, plus, anyone dealing with them afterwards would have had doubts about whether their "word" meant anything.  
So they took the emphasis off themselves and their mistake and emphasize the deceit and the punishment of making the Gibeonites servants.  They emphasized that the vow is not broken, and we get all this free labor.  This sounds much like our politicians today, justifying one foolish act by making another one.

Eventually most of the Gibeonites' descendants were killed anyway (2Sam. 21:5).  Sometimes God uses the unrighteous to accomplish his will.  Doeg, who led the slaughter, was a Canaanite who worked for the unrighteous King Saul.  Another lesson here is that the unrighteous will not escape God's will forever, even through deceit.

To repeat: God never commanded any vows, but since some people were making vows, he gave instructions about making, keeping, redeeming and nullifying vows.  Sometimes he allows us to do things that are not commanded, or forbidden, so that we can learn from our mistakes.

Most of the examples in scripture, of the swearing of oaths, or vows, are negative or involve sin.

When Christ came, he said, "Again, you have heard that it has been said by them of old time, You shall not forswear yourself (Lev. 19:12), but shall perform unto the Lord your oaths:" (Mat. 5:33).  In other words, you have already been told, do not swear oaths or make vows!  Don't swear, just perform (assuming it is not a sin).  Don't make a vow to do a good work, just do the work. 
"But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne:  Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.  Neither shall you swear by your head, because you can not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yes, yes; No, No: for whatsoever is more than these comes of evil." 

In other words, "Do Not Swear, Ever, At Anytime, For Anything!"

Despite this clear instruction from Jesus, people still make vows today.  This is a frequently asked question, usually after someone has made a foolish, rash, evil, or else, an impossible-to-keep vow. 

Anytime we disobey the Lord, we are expected to repent and to stop making the same mistakes.   Making a foolish or sinful vow, and then trying to keep it out of fear of God's wrath for breaking it, is trying to use two wrongs to make a right.   As Christ told the woman accused of adultery, "Go and sin no more."

If you are asking because you or someone you know has made a vow, not knowing that Christ said don't do it, and you wish to discuss it more specifically, then you may want to submit a new request and mark it "private".   We frequently get these questions and the situations are never exactly the same, or we could just publish a general answer for everyone. 

3.  You wrote: "It's just that the Bible times were so different than they are now because God was much more "physically present" in people's lives and decisions, right?"

Perhaps you did not mean it this way, but this sounds like an attempt to justify ignoring God's laws, which isn't necessary.  Attempts to justify ourselves only tend to make a bad situation worse.

Some things are different today.  Man has more scientific and technical knowledge and God said this would happen (Dan 12:4).  A large portion of the world is industrialized versus agrarian (based on agriculture), and God said, we would be "running to and fro", an accurate description of life in industrialized nations.

However some things never change.  God is the same (Mal. 3:6).  Human nature is the same (Gen. 8:21, 6:5)  The world is predominately "evil" (Gal. 1:4).  God's holy spirit was available then (Gen. 41:38, Ex. 31:3, Nu. 11:25).  It is available now (Jn. 16:13).  There was a change in the symbolism of the law, but the law of God is still in effect (Lk. 22:15-20, Mat. 5:18).
There are many other examples but that would take us off topic.

There are very few people named in scripture as being "righteous" and they did not all live at the same time, or in the same place.   Based on the Bible's standards of righteousness (Gal. 5:22-23, Col. 3:12-23, Eph. 5:9-11, 6:1-10, 1Tim. 3:2-4, 1Ths 5:14-15, Jas. 3:17-18), there are very few today, which agrees with Christ's prophecy (Mat. 22:14).

"The thing that has been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it has been already of old time, which was before us." (Ecc. 1:9, 10).
The names of people and places may change, the details may change, but among the things that count, nothing really changes.  God's definitions of what is good and what is evil do not change.

No one person knows to what extent God is physically present in the lives and decisions of individuals.  We have heard first person accounts, besides our personal experiences, that shows that he is present in the lives and decisions of some people today.

4. To summarize:

We are told to not make vows.  Good things that can be accomplished, which could be the subject of a vow, should be done without making the vow.  "Just do it."

If we made a vow in ignorance, then we should repent and avoid making that mistake again.

If a vow does not involve sin, then there probably is no sin in fulfilling it. (We say probably, because it is very easy to sin, even when trying to do good.)

If a vow involves sin, then fulfilling it would be adding one sin to another.

We hope this helps you in some way.

If you have other questions or desire further clarification, feel free to ask.

Mel and Guyna

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Mel and Guyna Horne


Anyone can read the Bible but sometimes it helps to have someone assist with the understanding (Acts 8:26-40). Truth comes from God through his holy spirit of truth (Jn. 16:13, 1Cor. 2:12), which is available to anyone who believes, repents and seeks God fervently and wholeheartedly, with humility, faith and persistence (Mat. 7:7, Deu. 4:29, Isa. 66:2, Jas. 4:1-10, Phil. 2:12). Truth is not limited to, or by, man’s religious organizations, church traditions, popular beliefs or personal opinions (Jn. 8:32, 14:6). We will try to help anyone who is trying to understand scripture or Christian living. [Please do not submit homework questions as they will be rejected.]


Over 50 years of personal study of the entire Bible (Deu. 8:3, Mat. 4:4, 2Tim. 3:16, Deu. 4:12, Rev. 22:18). B.A. in Theology with continuing studies in religious history and education (2Tim 2:15, 1Ths. 5:21). Years of informal counseling of young adults, teens, couples, and prisoners, based on scripture and on actual life experience in the world outside of classrooms and church buildings and including a long and happy marriage. After years of experience with organized religion, we are non-denominational. Publications:; on God's Holy Days, Lying, the Sacred Names Doctrine; articles on Terrorism and Islam, the Gospel of Christ, Preparing Yourself for Life in the Kingdom of Christ; What Happens After Death

Organizations are of men, not God. While God may use some of them to facilitate his plan, organizations train their people to follow, not to lead. God was able to create the whole Creation, as we see it, in only six days, because he did not use a committee. Ten years after 9/11, the only thing approved for construction at the New York site was a mosque.

"If a man would teach others, he must first teach himself." - Source Unknown. B.A. in Theology, over 50 years of personal study, the last sixteen of which have been full time study and research resulting in publication of several books and many articles.

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