Lent – Day 17 – A Study of Matthew 5
“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your “Yes’ be “Yes,’ and your “No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.” Matthew 5:33-37
Under the old law it was permitted to swear an oath with the understanding that it was a blood binding agreement which if broken or unperformed could result in extreme loss or even death. But Jesus establishes a new law that prohibits such oaths altogether. To swear under the old law meant that you struck hands together and agreed that on penalty of death you would perform the oath or suffer death for not doing so. It was not a frivolous or capricious thing to swear an oath. It implied that you had authority over or were under the authority of whatever you placed in trust to keep the oath. One would swear by someone or something, whatever was held as his own possession or by whatever was held in his trust or from which he benefited.
Men would often swear by God or by the Lord to do or not do this or that thing. [Gen 21:23; Genesis 24:3; 1 Samuel 24:21; Josh 2:12] There were those also who swore by the name of God with no intention of keeping their oaths and this displeased God, [Leviticus 19:12] because it brought reproach to His name by binding His power and authority to something He did not endorse.
Imagine if someone said I swear by my friend (your name) that I’m telling you the truth. But in fact you know nothing about what this person is swearing to. They had no authority to invoke your name in their oath. And you have no obligation to support their claim. So whoever acts on it because of your good reputation, when it fails to be fulfilled looks to you as culpable in their loss, even though you had nothing to do with it.
The whole system had become so entirely corrupt by the time Jesus is teaching on the earth He abolishes it altogether on the basis that all swearing of such oaths was empty and only lead to false expectations and false hope that rarely if ever came to fruition and could never be binding to God since we do not control God or have authority to use His name in such vanity.
The only thing we have authority over is our wills and the intents of our hearts. So we say simply yes or no and leave it at that. All swearing and pontification is from the devil, not from God. Swearing is indeed a binding oath, with a severe penalty. Yet, as great still is our word of commitment. When we say yes or no God takes that as seriously as He would an oath. It needs no other object than itself. It doesn’t need “I say yes by the life of my dearest friend,” or “by Heaven” or “by earth” or by “the Altar” of God or the things on it. Yes and No, carry with them all the weight and measure of binding contracts. Keeping them is as important as any oaths we can make.
What Jesus is emphasizing here is that oaths are righteous before God and held inviolate by Him, and even your yes and your no have the same effect in the hearts of those to whom they are given.
Does this leave no room for change? No. Circumstances bring the possibility of changes in our plans. Unanticipated things can and often do come to effect the promises we have made. On those legitimately rare occasions when we have to change our promises, the grace of God is available to us to allow for that.
But when our yes or our no carries little or no responsibility for fulfilling them and we disregard them with a cavalier attitude we set ourselves up for a fall and for many failures and disappointments in our lives. We lose the trust of others and our names become associated with disfavor and our word with dishonor.
But, if we say yes or no and follow on to do it, this is pleasing to God and it sets us up for even greater and greater blessings in the kingdom of God.