Questions From Readers
Are vows made to God always binding?
Scripturally, a vow is a solemn promise made to God to perform an act, make an offering, enter a service or condition, or abstain from certain things not unlawful in themselves. The Bible contains accounts of vows that were conditional in that they involved a pledge to follow a stated course if God first did something. For example, Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel, “went on to make a vow and say: ‘O Jehovah of armies, if . . . you will not forget your slave girl and actually give to your slave girl a male offspring, I will give him to Jehovah all the days of his life, and no razor will come upon his head.’” (1 Samuel 1:11) The Bible also describes vows as being voluntary. How binding are Scriptural vows?
“Whenever you vow a vow to God,” says King Solomon of ancient Israel, “do not hesitate to pay it.” He adds: “What you vow, pay. Better is it that you vow not than that you vow and do not pay.” (Ecclesiastes 5:4, 5) The Law given to Israel through Moses states: “In case you vow a vow to Jehovah your God, you must not be slow about paying it, because Jehovah your God will without fail require it of you, and it would indeed become a sin on your part.” (Deuteronomy 23:21) Clearly, making a vow to God is a serious matter. It should be done for a good reason, and the one making it should have no doubt as to his ability to pay whatever he promises in the vow. Otherwise, it is better that he does not make the vow. Once made, though, are all vows binding?
What if a vow called on one to do something that was later learned to be out of harmony with God’s will? Suppose it was a vow that would in some way link immorality with true worship? (Deuteronomy 23:18) Obviously, such a vow is not binding. Moreover, under the Mosaic Law, a vow made by a woman could be annulled by her father or her husband.—Numbers 30:3-15.
Consider also the case of an individual who has made a vow to God to remain single but now finds himself in a dilemma. His vow has placed him in a position where he feels that carrying it out is bringing him near the point of violating divine standards regarding morality. Should he still strive to pay his vow? Would it not be better for him to protect himself from becoming guilty of immorality by not paying his vow and instead throwing himself upon God’s mercy and begging for forgiveness? Only he himself can decide on the matter. No other human can make the decision for him.
What if one makes a vow that he later realizes was made rashly? Should he still seek to fulfill the vow? It was not easy for Jephthah to carry out the vow that he made to God, but he conscientiously did so. (Judges 11:30-40) A person’s failure to pay a vow could lead to God’s becoming “indignant” and tearing down what the individual had accomplished. (Ecclesiastes 5:6) Treating lightly the matter of fulfilling a vow could result in a withdrawing of God’s favor.
Jesus Christ said: “Just let your word Yes mean Yes, your No, No; for what is in excess of these is from the wicked one.” (Matthew 5:37) A Christian must be concerned not merely about paying vows to God but also about proving trustworthy in all his words—to God and to humans. What if he finds himself in the predicament of having made an agreement with another person that seemed good at first but upon closer scrutiny appears foolish? He should not view such matters lightly. But because of earnest discussion, the other individual may decide to relieve him of the obligation.—Psalm 15:4; Proverbs 6:2, 3.
With regard to vows and all other things, what should be our main concern? Let us always seek to maintain a good relationship with Jehovah God.
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Hannah did not hesitate to pay her vow
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Although doing so was difficult, Jephthah paid his vow