“You must pay your vows to Jehovah.”—MATTHEW 5:33.
1. (a) What did Jephthah and Hannah have in common? (See opening pictures.) (b) What questions will be answered in this article?
JEPHTHAH was a courageous leader and a brave warrior. Hannah was a humble woman who took care of her husband and home. They both worshipped Jehovah. But they also had something else in common. Both Jephthah and Hannah made a vow to Jehovah, and they each kept their vow faithfully. They are excellent examples for men and women today who choose to make vows to Jehovah. Let us now discuss the answers to three questions: 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 In the Bible, a vow is a serious promise made to God. For example, a person may promise Jehovah that he will perform some act, offer some gift, enter some type of service, or abstain from certain things. Vows are made by choice, using free will. Nobody is forced to make a vow. But when a person chooses to do so, Jehovah views his vow as a serious promise that must be respected and kept. In the Bible, a vow is as important as an oath. An oath is a statement in which a person swears either to do or not to do a certain thing. (Genesis 14:22, 23; Hebrews 6:16, 17) What does the Bible say about how seriously we should take our vows to God?
3 In the Mosaic Law, we read that if a man makes a vow to Jehovah, “he must not violate his word. He should do everything he vowed he would do.” (Numbers 30:2) Later, Solomon wrote: “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.” (Ecclesiastes 5:4) Jesus taught that making a vow to God is serious when he said: “It was said to those of ancient times: ‘You must not swear without performing, but you must pay your vows to Jehovah.’”—Matthew 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 that we must take very seriously any promises we make to Jehovah. The way we treat our vows affects our relationship with him. David made this clear when he asked: “Who may ascend to the mountain of Jehovah, and who may stand up in his holy place?” Then he answered by saying that Jehovah will accept anyone “who has not sworn a false oath.” (Psalm 24:3, 4) What did Jephthah and Hannah each vow? Was it easy for them to pay their vow?
THEY KEPT THEIR VOW TO GOD
5. What did Jephthah vow? What was the result?
5 Jephthah made a promise to Jehovah when he was about to fight the Ammonites. That nation was an enemy of God’s people. (Judges 10:7-9) Jephthah begged Jehovah for victory, and he 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.” God answered Jephthah’s prayer and helped him win the war. When Jephthah went home, his beloved daughter came out to meet him. She was the one who would “become Jehovah’s.” (Judges 11:30-34) What did that mean for her?
Jephthah and his daughter were loyal people who would never think of breaking a vow to God
6 To pay her father’s vow, Jephthah’s daughter had to go and serve Jehovah full-time at the tabernacle. Had Jephthah made his promise without thinking it through? No. In fact, Jephthah probably knew that his daughter could be the first person to come meet him. But whether he knew or not, keeping his vow to Jehovah was not easy for either Jephthah or his daughter. When Jephthah saw her, he said that his heart was broken. His daughter went away “to weep over her virginity.” Why? Jephthah had no son, and now his only daughter would never marry and have children. Jephthah’s family name would end. But both Jephthah and his daughter realized that something more important than their own feelings was involved. Jephthah said: “I have opened my mouth to Jehovah, and I am unable to turn back.” His daughter said: “Do to me as you have promised.” (Judges 11:35-39) Jephthah and his daughter were loyal people who would never think of breaking a vow to God, even if it was very difficult for them to keep it.—Read Deuteronomy 23:21, 23; Psalm 15:4.
7. (a) What did Hannah vow, and why? How did it turn out for her? (b) What did Hannah’s vow mean for Samuel? (See footnote.)
7 Hannah also made a vow to Jehovah during a stressful time in her life. She was miserable because she was not able to have children, and she was being bullied and taunted because of it. (1 Samuel 1:4-7, 10, 16) She told Jehovah how she felt, and she made this promise: “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.”* (See footnote.) (1 Samuel 1:11) Jehovah listened to Hannah’s prayer, and the next year she gave birth to a son, Samuel. Hannah was very happy! But she did not forget her vow to God. When her baby boy was born, she said: “It is from Jehovah that I have asked him.”—1 Samuel 1:20.
Hannah was willing to sacrifice things that were important to her in order to keep her promise to God
8. (a) Was it easy for Hannah to fulfill her vow? (b) How does Psalm 61 remind you of Hannah’s good example?
8 When Samuel was about three years old, Hannah did just as she had promised Jehovah. 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 Samuel 1:24-28) From then on, Samuel lived at the tabernacle. The Bible says that “the boy Samuel continued growing up before Jehovah.” (1 Samuel 2:21) Keeping her vow could not have been easy for Hannah. It meant that she would not be able to spend each day with her precious son whom she loved very much. She would miss out on watching him grow up. But Hannah took her vow to Jehovah seriously. She was willing to sacrifice things that were important to her in order to keep her promise to God.—1 Samuel 2:1, 2; read Psalm 61:1, 5, 8.
9. What will we discuss next?
9 Now that we understand how serious it is to make a vow to Jehovah, let us discuss these questions: What kind of vows might we make today? How determined should we be to keep those vows?
YOUR DEDICATION VOW
10. What is the most important vow that a Christian can make? What does it involve?
10 The most important vow that a Christian can make is the one in which he dedicates his life to Jehovah. In private prayer, a person promises to use his life to serve God forever, no matter what happens. Jesus said that we “disown” ourselves, that is, we promise to put Jehovah first, not ourselves. (Matthew 16:24) From that day on, “we belong to Jehovah.” (Romans 14:8) We take our dedication seriously. We feel like the psalmist who said: “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.”—Psalm 116:12, 14.
11. What happened on the day you were baptized?
11 Have you dedicated your life to Jehovah and symbolized your dedication by baptism in water? If you have, that is wonderful! Do you remember when the brother giving the baptism talk asked whether you had dedicated yourself to Jehovah and understood that “your dedication and baptism identify you as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses”? When you answered yes, everyone present knew that you had dedicated your life and were qualified to be baptized as an ordained minister of Jehovah. You must have made Jehovah very happy!
12. (a) What questions should we ask ourselves? (b) What qualities did Peter encourage us to develop?
12 When you got baptized, you promised Jehovah that you would use your life to serve him and do all you could to follow his standards. But baptism is just the beginning. As time passes, all of us need to continue to examine ourselves. We could ask: ‘How has my relationship with Jehovah grown since I was baptized? Am I still serving him with all my heart? (Colossians 3:23) Do I pray often? Do I read the Bible every day? Am I regular at congregation meetings? Do I share in the preaching work as often as possible? Or have I lost some of my enthusiasm for these activities?’ The apostle Peter warned us that there is a danger that we could become inactive in our service to Jehovah. We can avoid this if we work hard to grow in faith, knowledge, endurance, and godly devotion.—Read 2 Peter 1:5-8.
13. What does a dedicated and baptized Christian need to realize?
13 Once we have made a vow to serve Jehovah, it is not possible to take it back. A person who becomes tired of serving Jehovah or living as a Christian cannot later say that he was never really dedicated to God and that his baptism was not valid.* (See footnote.) If a person who is dedicated to Jehovah commits a serious sin, then he is accountable to Jehovah and the congregation. (Romans 14:12) We never want to be like those to whom Jesus said: “You have left the love you had at first.” Instead, we want him to be able to say about 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.” (Revelation 2:4, 19) We want to make Jehovah happy by zealously living up to our dedication.
YOUR MARRIAGE VOW
14. What is the second most important vow that a person can make? Why?
14 The second most important vow that a person can make is the marriage vow. Marriage is sacred. Jehovah views the marriage vow as a very serious matter. When a bride and groom make their vows, they are making a promise in front of Jehovah as well as all those who are present. They usually promise to love, cherish, and respect each other for as long as they both shall live together on earth according to God’s marital arrangement. Others may not use these exact words, but they still make a vow before God. When they make these vows, they become husband and wife. Marriage is meant to be a lifelong union. (Genesis 2:24; 1 Corinthians 7:39) Jesus said: “What God has yoked together, let no man put apart.” A couple who are getting married should not think that if their marriage does not work out, they can always get a divorce.—Mark 10:9.
15. Why must Christians not view marriage as the world does?
15 Of course, just as there are no perfect humans, there are no perfect marriages. That is why the Bible tells us that every married person “will have tribulation” at times. (1 Corinthians 7:28) In the world today, many have a casual attitude about marriage. They feel that if things do not work out, they can always end their marriage. But that is not how Christian men and women view marriage. They realize that they made their marriage vow in front of God. If they broke that vow, it would be as if they were lying to him, and God hates liars. (Leviticus 19:12; Proverbs 6:16-19) Married Christians should remember the apostle Paul’s words: “Are you bound to a wife? Stop seeking a release.” (1 Corinthians 7:27) Paul could say that because he knew that Jehovah also hates a treacherous divorce.—Malachi 2:13-16.
16. What does the Bible say about divorce and separation?
16 Jesus taught that the only Scriptural reason for divorce is if one mate commits adultery and the innocent mate chooses not to forgive him or her. (Matthew 19:9; Hebrews 13:4) What about separating from one’s marriage mate? The Bible is also clear about this. (Read 1 Corinthians 7:10, 11.) There is no Scriptural reason for marital separation. However, at times there may be a situation in which a Christian feels that it is absolutely necessary to separate from his or her mate. For example, some might be convinced that their life or relationship with Jehovah will be in extreme danger if they stay with a mate who is abusive or apostate.* (See footnote.)
17. What can a Christian couple do to make their marriage last?
17 If a couple goes to the congregation elders for advice on how to improve their marriage, the elders could ask the couple if they have watched the video What Is True Love? and studied the brochure Your Family Can Be Happy. These emphasize Bible principles that can help a marriage become stronger. One couple said: “Since we have been studying this brochure, our marriage has been happier than ever.” A sister who had been married for 22 years thought that her marriage was about to end. Then she watched the video. She said: “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.” Clearly, if a husband and wife apply Jehovah’s principles in their marriage, their relationship will become happier and stronger.
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 Earlier we discussed the vows made by Jephthah and Hannah. Because of these vows, both Jephthah’s daughter and Hannah’s son used their lives to serve Jehovah in special ways. Many Christian parents today have encouraged their children to enter the full-time ministry and to focus their lives on their service to God. And we can all have a part in encouraging these young ones to continue in their service.—Judges 11:40; Psalm 110:3.
19 Today, there are about 67,000 members of the Worldwide Order of Special Full-Time Servants of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Some serve at Bethel or in construction work or in circuit work. Others work hard as field instructors, special pioneers, missionaries, Assembly Hall servants, or Bible school facility servants. Each of them has made a “Vow of Obedience and Poverty.” In this vow, they promise to work hard at any assignment they are given in Jehovah’s service, to live a simple life, and not to do secular work unless they have permission. It is not the people but their assignments that are viewed as special. They are humble and determined to keep their vow for as long as they remain in special full-time service.
20. How should we view our vows to God? Why?
20 In this article, we have discussed three vows that we might make to God. Perhaps you have made some of these vows yourself. We know that our vows must be taken seriously and that we should do all we can to keep them. (Proverbs 20:25) If we do not keep our vows to Jehovah, there may be serious consequences. (Ecclesiastes 5:6) So let us be like the psalmist who said to Jehovah: “I will sing praises to your name forever as I pay my vows day after day.”—Psalm 61:8.
Since there are many things the elders must consider with a person before he or she qualifies for baptism, it would be very rare for someone’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.”