33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” (Matthew 5:33–37 ESV)
“In our day it is hard to find people who take their oaths and vows seriously. Perjury, a high divorce rate, and violations of contractual obligations all testify that when vows are made they are too easily broken,” explains one commentator. “All Scripture affirms the propriety of lawful oaths and vows.”
An oath (ὅρκος; horkos) means to affirm a truth by calling upon a greater being. An oath is also a solemn vow to fulfill a promise or a pledge. It is associated with the verb sworn (ἀποδίδωμι; apodidomi) meaning to fulfill. This is an active verb referring to paying back someone because of an obligation.
“An oath was taken to confirm an agreement or, in a political situation, to confirm a treaty. Both in Israel and among its neighbors, God (or the gods) would act as the guarantor(s) of the agreement and his name (or their names) was invoked for this purpose,” explains the Tyndale Bible Dictionary.
“When Jacob and Laban made an agreement, they erected a heap of stones as a witness (Gen. 31:53). If either party transgressed the terms, it was a heinous sin. For this reason one of the Ten Commandments dealt with empty affirmations: “Do not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name” (Ex 20:7, nlt).”
“The people of Israel were forbidden to swear their oaths by false gods (Jer. 12:16; Amos 8:14). To breach an international treaty, where the oath was taken in the Lord’s name, merited death (Ezek. 17:16–21). It was one of the complaints of Hosea that the people of his day swore falsely when they made a covenant (Hos. 10:4). Judgment would attend such wanton disregard of the solemnity of an oath. Certain civil situations in Israel called for an oath (Ex. 22:10–11; Lev. 5:1; 6:3; Nm 5:11–28). This practice provided a pattern for the Israelite covenantal oath of allegiance between God and his people.”
Jesus stressed the importance of not making a false oath. He cautioned His disciples that they should not make flippant oaths or pledges in common, every day conversation. God didn’t; they shouldn’t.
What Jesus meant was that people should be true to their word. Believers in Christ should mean what they say and say what they mean. They are to be good at their word. No more; no less.
Today’s text illustrates that God is in control. Even the color of our hair is under His divine prerogative. All promises and pledges we make should acknowledge the sovereign will of God.
Soli deo Gloria!