Vows are voluntary and conditional (usually) proposals made to God (most of the time). In one of its most basic forms, a person promises God that they will do something if He does a certain action. The first mention of such an agreement in Scripture is a perfect example of this type of "if . . . then" proposed agreement.
|20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, "IF God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on . . . THEN the Lord shall be my God . . . and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You" (Genesis 28:20 - 22, NKJV)|
Another well-known vow of this type was that of Hannah, a woman who was barren. She prayed that if the Eternal healed her and gave her a son that she would dedicate him, from birth, to serve him.
|"O, Lord of hosts, IF You will indeed look upon the affliction of Your handmaid and remember me, and not forget Your handmaid, but will give to Your handmaid a manchild, THEN I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life . . . " (1Samuel 1:11, HBFV)|
Vows in the Bible could also be one-way, such as those made by people to dedicate themselves (or children) to serving the Eternal as a Nazarite (Numbers 6).
How serious are they?
How serious and binding are vows? Does God require they be kept no matter what, even if they BREAK one or more of his commandments or laws? The Bible clearly commands that such promises, rightly made, are to be kept.
23. That which has gone out of your lips you shall keep and perform, even a freewill offering, according as you have vowed to the LORD your God, which you have promised with your mouth (Deuteronomy 23:23, HBFV, see also Ecclesiastes 5:4, Proverbs 20:25, etc.).
The Eternal, however, does not expect that such vows be kept IF they would require the committing of one or more SINS in order for them to be fulfilled. For example, in the New Testament, we find a rather violent one-way promise made against the Apostle Paul.
12 And when it was day, some of the Jews banded together and bound themselves under an oath, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed (Apostle) Paul (Acts 23:12, NKJV)
The Greek word translated as "oath" in the above verse is anathematizo, Strong's Concordance #H332. It means to declare or vow something under penalty of execration or a curse. The Jews in question were so serious that they solicited the aid of religious leaders (chief priests, elders and the Sanhedrin) in order to fulfill it (Acts 23:14 - 15). The Apostle Paul was ultimately able to avoid murder by this group. Was God displeased because they did not fulfill their promise of sin to KILL, in cold blood, one of the men he personally choose to preach the gospel? Did he require they continue to FAST until they were successful? Of course not!
This principle helps explain what REALLY happened to Jephthah's daughter, who many believe was slaughtered by her father in order to fulfill a promise made to God. Read the in-depth explanation of this often-misinterpreted Biblical story (Judges 11) in our article "Did Jephthah sacrifice his ONLY child to God?"
A way out
The Eternal Himself offers a way out of keeping many kinds of vows! Land (Leviticus 27:16 - 25), a person's home (verses 14 - 15) and even people (verses 2 - 8) involved in such promises could be redeemed (bought out of) the commitment for a certain fee.
For example, men ages twenty to sixty who were to be consecrated, through vows, to serve the Eternal could be bought out of their commitment for fifty shekels of silver (roughly $400 U.S. for silver at $20 per ounce) or possibly less. Females in the same age group could be redeemed for thirty shekels. Other amounts are provided to redeem those below or above this age range. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown's Commentary explains this redemption principle in Leviticus 27 as follows.
"Persons may consecrate themselves or their children to the divine service . . . In the event of any change, the persons so devoted had the privilege in their power of redeeming themselves; and this chapter specifies the amount of the redemption money, which the priest had the discretionary power of reducing as circumstances may seem to require" (JFB Commentary on Leviticus 27:2 - 8)
Vows to God should not be made lightly. He expects those he has called to fulfill their promises with simplicity and integrity (Matthew 5:33 - 37). Christ understands, however, our weaknesses and temptations to sometimes act foolishly (Hebrews 4:15 - 16). Those who wish to get out of such promises should seek the Eternal in prayer to find out what is the redemption price for their situation.