These next passages from the Sermon on the Mount may seem a little puzzling on the surface because today we are often required to take oaths as a solemn duty (the oath of service for someone entering the military, an oath to tell the truth in a court of law, the Hippocratic oath doctors make, politicians take oaths of office, new citizens take an oath…..and on and on and on.). So, why would Jesus say “I tell you, do not swear an oath at all”?
Matthew 5:33-37 (TNIV)
33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 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 swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.[or from evil]
First, Jesus is quoting the Old Testament Scriptures….kind of. Jesus says here ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ (Matthew 5:33). While this is not a wholly inaccurate quote, it is also not an fully accurate quotation of any of the laws of Moses. However, this is a very good summary of quite a few things we find in the Old Testament. Jesus comes to set this straight!
Let’s take a look at these things:
Exodus 20:7 (TNIV) the third commandment:
“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God…” [We often remember the King James Version: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain’]
Leviticus 19:12 (TNIV)
‘Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the Lord. …
Numbers 30:2 (TNIV)
When a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.
Deuteronomy 23:21 (TNIV)
If you make a vow to the Lord your God, do not be slow to pay it, …
SO, Jesus is saying, “Let’s look at this whole oath thing and let me set things straight!” In Old and New Testament times, people used oaths to affirm that they would keep their promises or that what they said was true. Don’t we do that even now, “I swear to God”, “I swear on my momma’s grave……”, “Let God be my witness….”
In fact, what Jesus was addressing was the fact that the religious leaders of the time, the Pharisees, had gone to great lengths to address the “oaths”, rather than the underlying principal of telling the truth. They developed elaborate rules for taking vows. They developed complex formulas for taking vows. And those formulas that included “the divine name”, or a reasonable substitute, made the vow binding while those that did not were less binding. This was Jewish law.
Does this sound familiar; remember the Pharisees teachings on divorce? The Pharisees had gone to great lengths to address the “DIVORCE” part of the equation, rather than the underlying principal of a God honoring marriage: The joining of together of two as one.
The key point here is: don’t focus on what we can’t or shouldn’t do–focus instead on what we CAN and SHOULD do.
Let’s continue to look closer at the next part of this teaching from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus says in verses 34-36: “do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 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 swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black.”
In early Judaism, people, out of reverence, would not utter the name of God when making a vow. Instead, they would substitute something else when making the vow. However, God created this earth and everything in it–everything is of God: The earth, the sky, the temple, the people–us.
I saw it best said this way: “…… because people had made oaths into an elaborate system allowing for deceit, Jesus explained that his followers ought not make oaths at all. They ought to be so well known for their honesty and truthfulness that they would not need to make oaths. Jesus was not condemning the use of oaths in a court of law, nor vows made to God (such as Paul fulfilled, see Acts 18:18)…”
Now is the moment we’ve been waiting for: Jesus, what exactly do you mean?
Matthew 5:37 (TNIV)
All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.[or from evil]
The bottom line is, it should always be our practice to tell the truth. Jesus taught us to tell the truth under all circumstances and we will not have to make an appeal for credibility. Our word becomes a living testimony to the grace of God in our lives. Let your yes be yes and your no be no. There is no reason to swear to God if you are being honest.