Taking Oaths

Matthew 5: 33-37
2 Cor 5: 14-21 / Psa 103

I tell you, do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King.
(Matthew 5:34-35)

Grant me grace, Lord, my tongue restrain
When I am mad and prone to swear.
Let me only praise and commend,
Or give hope to those in despair.

Jesus said to His disciples, “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” (Matthew 5: 33-37)

Reflection

In the ancient times, people took oaths to bind themselves to an agreement or undertaking. Thus, an oath was taken to seal a covenant that one entered into with his neighbor, or even with his adversary. We see an example of this in the vows exchanged between Abraham and Abimelech at Beersheba, (Gen.21:22-34) which served to end a dispute between them, and to establish a covenant. Abimelech said to Abraham, ‘God is with you in all that you do; now therefore swear to me here by God that you will not deal falsely with me, or with my offspring, or with my posterity; but according to the kindness that I have shown to you, you shall show to me, and to the land in which you have sojourned.’ And Abraham said, ‘I swear it.’ In the same book, we also read about the covenant between Jacob and Laban, his father-in-law, who had pursued him into the highlands of Gilead. Laban said, “Come, then, we will make a pact, you and I; the Lord shall be a witness between us” (Gen.31:44).

We read in the Bible how the patriarchs in the Old Testament always kept their oaths. The history of Israel, however, is replete with God’s Chosen people constantly remiss in their covenants with Yahweh, their God, breaking their pledges of loyalty, turning to other gods, and indulging in debauchery and pagan rituals. Taking oaths had become meaningless, and because they were taken lightly, the people lost their integrity in the succession of so many broken promises. Worse than this, oath-taking deteriorated into swearing. This was the reason why our Lord forbade His disciples from taking oaths or swearing. A simple “yes” or “no” would suffice for an honest man.

We hear people who swear recklessly by their mother’s grave, or by their children or spouse, unaware that their swearing makes them vulnerable to the devil’s tricks. Then there are those who swear with expletives in every other sentence that they utter. These are the people Jesus referred to when He said, “It is not what enters one’s mouth that defiles that person; but what comes out of his mouth.” (Mt.15:11) In the Book of Proverbs, it says in chapter 10, verses 19 – 20: “He who restrains his lips does well. Like choice silver is the just man’s tongue.”

It is worth noting that our Lord Jesus included swearing as one of the sins He condemned, along with anger, adultery and divorce. Because it is usually a lying tongue that covers its deceit with an oath. And it is also taking the name of God in vain, because even if He is not mentioned, swearing by anything refers to Him Who is the Creator of everything.

“LORD, who may abide in Your tent? Who may dwell on Your holy mountain? He who walks with integrity, doing what is right, and speaks truth in his heart . . . Who keeps an oath despite the cost.” (Psalm 15: 1-2, 4) Lord, help us restrain our tongues when we are angry and prone to curse. Let our lips open only to give praise, commend others, or to spread Your Word. Amen.

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