“You must pay your vows to Jehovah.”—MATT. 5:33.
1. (a) What did Judge Jephthah and Hannah have in common? (See opening pictures.) (b) What questions will be answered in this article?
HE WAS a valiant leader; she was a submissive wife. He was a brave warrior; she was a humble homemaker. Besides worshipping the same God, what could Judge Jephthah and Elkanah’s wife Hannah possibly have in common? Each was under a vow to God, and they both faithfully paid their vow to him. They are excellent examples for men and women today who choose to make vows to Jehovah. However, some key questions arise: What is a vow? How serious is it to make a vow to God? What lessons can we learn from Jephthah and Hannah?
2, 3. (a) What is a vow? (b) What do the Scriptures say about making vows to God?
2 As used in the Bible, a vow is a solemn promise that is made to God. A person promises to perform some act, to offer some gift, to enter some type of service, or to abstain from certain things. Vows are made voluntarily, of one’s own free will. Nevertheless, they are sacred and binding in God’s eyes because they carry the force of an oath—a sworn statement—that promises that a person will or will not do a certain thing. (Gen. 14:22, 23; Heb. 6:16, 17) What do the Scriptures say about the seriousness of making vows to God?
3 The Mosaic Law stated: “If a man makes a vow to Jehovah or swears an oath to impose on himself a vow . . . , he must not violate his word. He should do everything he vowed he would do.” (Num. 30:2) Later, Solomon was inspired to write: “Whenever you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it, for he finds no pleasure in the stupid ones. What you vow, pay.” (Eccl. 5:4) Jesus confirmed the seriousness of making vows when he stated: “It was said to those of ancient times: ‘You must not swear without performing, but you must pay your vows to Jehovah.’”—Matt. 5:33.
4. (a) How serious is it to make a vow to God? (b) What do we want to learn about Jephthah and Hannah?
4 It is clear, then, that it is a very serious matter to make promises to God. The way we treat our vows affects our relationship with Jehovah. David wrote: “Who may ascend to the mountain of Jehovah, and who may stand up in his holy place? Anyone . . . who has not sworn a false oath by My [Jehovah’s] life, nor taken an oath deceitfully.” (Ps. 24:3, 4; ftn.) What did Jephthah and Hannah vow, and how easy was it for them to pay their vow?
THEY FAITHFULLY PAID THEIR VOW TO GOD
5. What did Jephthah vow, and what was the result?
5 Jephthah faithfully kept the promise that he had made to Jehovah when going out to war against the Ammonites, who had been terrorizing God’s people. (Judg. 10:7-9) Earnestly desiring a victory, Jephthah vowed: “If you give the Ammonites into my hand, then whoever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites will become Jehovah’s.” The result? The Ammonites were conquered, and it was Jephthah’s beloved daughter who came out to meet him upon his victorious return. She would be the one who would “become Jehovah’s.” (Judg. 11:30-34) What did that mean for her?
6 To pay her father’s vow, Jephthah’s daughter had to serve Jehovah full-time at his sanctuary. Was it a thoughtless vow that Jephthah had made? No, for he might well have known that his daughter could be the one who would come out of his house to meet him. Even so, it was an emotionally difficult situation for father and daughter—a real sacrifice for both of them. When he saw her, Jephthah “ripped his garments” and said that his heart was broken. His daughter ‘wept over her virginity.’ Why? Jephthah had no son, and his only daughter would never be able to marry and bear him grandchildren. There would be no way to pass on the family name and legacy. That was not the most important consideration, though. Jephthah said: “I have opened my mouth to Jehovah, and I am unable to turn back.” And his daughter replied: “Do to me as you have promised.” (Judg. 11:35-39) These were loyal individuals who would never have thought of breaking a vow that was made to the Most High God—no matter what it cost them personally.—Read Deuteronomy 23:21, 23; Psalm 15:4.
7. (a) What did Hannah vow, and why, and how did it turn out for her? (b) What did Hannah’s vow mean for Samuel? (See footnote.)
7 Hannah was another one who faithfully kept the vow that she had made to Jehovah. She made her promise when she was in great anguish and distress over her barrenness and the constant insults she was subjected to. (1 Sam. 1:4-7, 10, 16) Hannah poured out her soul to God and vowed: “O Jehovah of armies, if you look upon the affliction of your servant and remember me and you do not forget your servant and give to your servant a male child, I will give him to Jehovah all the days of his life, and no razor will touch his head.”* (1 Sam. 1:11) Hannah’s request was granted, and she gave birth to her firstborn—a son. What joy that brought her! Still, she did not forget the vow she had made to God. When she gave birth to her baby boy, she announced: “It is from Jehovah that I have asked him.”—1 Sam. 1:20.
8. (a) How easy was it for Hannah to pay her vow? (b) How do David’s expressions recorded in Psalm 61 remind you of Hannah’s exemplary attitude?
8 As soon as young Samuel was weaned, at about the age of three, Hannah did exactly as she had vowed to God. She did not even think of doing otherwise. She took Samuel to High Priest Eli at the tabernacle in Shiloh and said: “It was for this boy that I prayed, and Jehovah granted my petition that I asked of him. I, in turn, now lend him to Jehovah. For all his days, he is lent to Jehovah.” (1 Sam. 1:24-28) There, “the boy Samuel continued growing up before Jehovah.” (1 Sam. 2:21) But what did that mean for Hannah? She dearly loved her little boy, but now she would not be able to have everyday contact with him during his boyhood. Think of how she longed to cuddle him, to play with him, to nurture him—to share in all the endearing memories that a loving mother cherishes as she watches her little one grow up. Even so, Hannah had no regrets about keeping her vow to God. Her heart rejoiced in Jehovah.—1 Sam. 2:1, 2; read Psalm 61:1, 5, 8.
9. What questions remain to be answered?
9 Now that we understand how serious it is to make a vow to God, let us consider these questions: What sort of vows might we as Christians make? Also, how determined should we be to keep our vows?
YOUR DEDICATION VOW
10. What is the most important vow that a Christian can make, and what does it entail?
10 The most important vow that a Christian can make is the one with which he dedicates his life to Jehovah. Why so? Because, in private prayer, he solemnly promises Jehovah that he will use his life to serve God forever, no matter what. To use Jesus’ words, a person thus ‘disowns himself,’ gives up all rights to himself, and vows to put God’s will above everything else in his life. (Matt. 16:24) From that day forward, ‘he belongs to Jehovah.’ (Rom. 14:8) Anyone who makes a dedication vow should take it very seriously, just as did the psalmist who spoke of the vows he had made to God: “With what will I repay Jehovah for all the good he has done for me? I will pay my vows to Jehovah in the presence of all his people.”—Ps. 116:12, 14.
11. What happened on your baptism day?
11 Have you dedicated your life to Jehovah and symbolized your dedication by water baptism? If so, that is wonderful! Recall that on your baptism day, before eyewitnesses, you were asked whether you had dedicated yourself to Jehovah and understood that “your dedication and baptism identify you as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in association with God’s spirit-directed organization.” Your affirmative answers served as a public declaration of your unreserved dedication and showed that you were qualified for baptism as an ordained minister of Jehovah. You must have made Jehovah very happy!
12. (a) What questions do we do well to ask ourselves? (b) What qualities did Peter say we should look for in ourselves?
12 Baptism is just the beginning, though. Thereafter, we want to continue living up to our dedication in faithful service to God. Hence, we might ask ourselves: ‘How has my spiritual life progressed since my baptism? Am I continuing to serve Jehovah wholeheartedly? (Col. 3:23) Am I praying, reading God’s Word, attending congregation meetings, and sharing in the ministry as often as possible? Or has there been some lessening of these spiritual activities?’ The apostle Peter explained that we can avoid becoming inactive in our service if we keep supplying to our faith knowledge, endurance, and godly devotion.—Read 2 Peter 1:5-8.
13. What must a dedicated, baptized Christian realize?
13 There is no way to undo a dedication vow, taking back what we promised God. If a person tires of serving Jehovah or of living a Christian way of life, he cannot claim that he was never really dedicated and that his baptism was invalid.* To all intents and purposes, he presented himself as one who was wholly dedicated to God. He will be accountable before Jehovah and the congregation for any serious sins that he may commit. (Rom. 14:12) May it never be said of us that ‘we left the love we had at first.’ Instead, we want Jesus to be able to say of us: “I know your deeds, and your love and faith and ministry and endurance, and that your deeds of late are more than those you did at first.” (Rev. 2:4, 19) May we zealously continue to live up to our dedication vow—to Jehovah’s delight.
YOUR MARRIAGE VOW
14. What is the second most important vow that a person can make, and why?
14 The second most important vow that a person can make is the marriage vow. Why so? Because marriage is sacred. Before God and eyewitnesses, the bride and groom exchange their marriage vows. They usually promise that they will love, cherish, and respect each other and that they will do so “for as long as [they] both shall live together on earth according to God’s marital arrangement.” Others may not have said these exact words, but they still made a vow before God. They are then pronounced husband and wife, and their marriage is meant to be a lifelong bond. (Gen. 2:24; 1 Cor. 7:39) “Therefore,” to use Jesus’ words, “what God has yoked together, let no man put apart”—neither the husband nor the wife nor anyone else. Thus, couples entering marriage must have the view that divorce is not an option.—Mark 10:9.
15. Why must Christians not adopt the world’s casual attitude toward marriage?
15 Of course, there has never been a perfect marriage. Each marriage is made up of two imperfect people. That is why the Bible says that married people “will have tribulation” at times. (1 Cor. 7:28) Sad to say, many individuals in this world have a casual attitude toward marriage. When the relationship becomes strained, they just give up and walk out on their marriage mate. That, however, is not the Christian way. Breaking one’s marriage vow is equivalent to lying to God, and God hates liars! (Lev. 19:12; Prov. 6:16-19) The apostle Paul wrote: “Are you bound to a wife? Stop seeking a release.” (1 Cor. 7:27) Paul could say that because he knew that Jehovah also hates a treacherous divorce.—Mal. 2:13-16.
16. What does the Bible say about divorce and separation?
16 Jesus taught that the only Scriptural ground for dissolving a marriage vow is when an innocent mate chooses not to forgive an adulterous partner. (Matt. 19:9; Heb. 13:4) What, then, about separating from one’s marriage mate? The Bible is clear on this too. (Read 1 Corinthians 7:10, 11.) The Bible does not set out grounds for marital separation. However, some married Christians have viewed certain situations as a reason for separation, such as the extreme endangerment of one’s life or spirituality by an abusive or apostate spouse.*
17. How can a Christian couple make their marriage a lasting union?
17 When individuals approach congregation elders for advice about marital problems, the elders do well to ask whether the couple have recently watched the video What Is True Love? and studied together the brochure Your Family Can Be Happy. Why? Because these tools highlight the godly principles that have helped many to strengthen their marriage. One couple said: “Since we have been studying this brochure, our marriage has been happier than ever.” A wife said of her 22-year-long marriage that was at the point of a breakup: “We are both baptized, but we were on two different pages emotionally. The video came right on time! We are doing much better now as a couple.” Are you married? By all means, apply Jehovah’s principles in your marriage. Doing so will help you to live up to your marriage vow—happily!
THE VOW OF SPECIAL FULL-TIME SERVANTS
18, 19. (a) What have many Christian parents done? (b) What can be said about those who are in special full-time service?
18 Did you realize what else Jephthah and Hannah had in common? Their respective vows resulted in Jephthah’s daughter and Hannah’s son being devoted to special, sacred service at the tabernacle. That meant a most satisfying way of life. Today, many Christian parents have encouraged their children to take up the full-time ministry and to center their lives on their service to God. Those who have done so are worthy of sincere commendation.—Judg. 11:40; Ps. 110:3.
19 Currently, there are some 67,000 members of the Worldwide Order of Special Full-Time Servants of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Some perform Bethel service, others engage in construction or in circuit work, serve as field instructors or special pioneers or missionaries or as Assembly Hall or Bible school facility servants. They are all bound by a “Vow of Obedience and Poverty,” with which they agree to do whatever is assigned to them in the advancement of Kingdom interests, to live a simple lifestyle, and to abstain from secular employment without permission. It is not the people but their assignments that are viewed as special. They realize the seriousness of humbly living up to their solemn vow for as long as they remain in special full-time service.
20. What should we do “day after day,” and why?
20 How many of the vows that we have discussed have you made to God—one, two, or all three? You surely realize that your vows should not be treated lightly. (Prov. 20:25) The failure to keep one’s word to Jehovah and to pay a vow may have serious consequences. (Eccl. 5:6) So let us happily ‘sing praises to Jehovah’s name forever as we pay our vows day after day.’—Ps. 61:8.
Considering the steps that the elders take to be sure that a person is qualified for baptism, it would be extremely rare for anyone’s baptism to be invalid.
See the Appendix article “The Bible’s View on Divorce and Separation” in the book “Keep Yourselves in Godʼs Love.”