August 10, 2011

Hard Sayings VIII: No Swearing! Why Not? God Does.

"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. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. ~Matthew 5:34-37

This isn't that hard of a saying. It nearly explains itself. Perjury was in the Law of Moses

“You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name." Exodus 20:7

To swear an oath falsely against God's name was not just a sin against His name it was a sin against God's very being or person. Many versions of this passage including the KJV say swearing "in vain". It is a conditional commandment. You can swear an oath...just not in vain. In the end the Jews thought it so dangerous to misuse God's name they stopped using it all together and referred to Him as Yahweh or the Tetragrammatons’ YHWH. The Ineffable Name, to pronounce it became forbidden and now its true pronunciation is most likely lost to history. That being said, I believe perjury was in view when man was issued this commandment. We see similar admonitions to the same ends in Deuteronomy, they are just stated differently:

If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse someone of a crime, the two people involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the LORD before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time. The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against a fellow Israelite, then do to the false witness as that witness intended to do to the other party. You must purge the evil from among you. The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you. Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. Deuteronomy 19:16-21

To lessen the severity of the punishment in the event someone swearing was not sure of the truth people would avoid swearing directly to God. In the event that it was dark and truth was hard to discern when a crime had been committed or they purposely lying, swearing to God changed to swearing to heaven or other things. This lessened the possiblity of severe punishment. This way and accidental mistruth or slight deviation from the actual events would be pardonable without a flogging or even possible death.

In some siutations it was better to do away with the vow completely than to make it and not fulfill it. The safest bet is no bet.

"When you make a vow to God, do not delay to fulfill it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it." ~Ecclesiastes 5:4-5

But as we will see in many of Jesus' "You have heard it said...but I say" statements/commands, He raises the bar to the upmost level where it was originally intended. The highest moral regard for God's true intent not some watered-down version created by crooked men.

Jesus said, "Don't swear at all"

I hear it all the time from Christians on jury duty and I want to hammer my head against a wall everytime I hear it, "I can't swear on the Bible, it’s against my religion! It would be considered a sin!"

Ehhh...not exactly.

In fact the Bible says quite the contrary when it comes to certain types of oath taking and it has something to say about the heart condition behind oaths. As a matter of fact God Himself made solemn oaths. The most prominent I can think of is in Hebrews:

"And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, 21 but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: ‘You are a priest forever.’” Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant. ~Hebrews 7:20-22

In Exodus it is actually command to be done by God:

"If a man delivers to his neighbor a donkey, an ox, a sheep, or any animal to keep, and it dies, is hurt, or driven away, no one seeing it, then an oath of the LORD shall be between them both, that he has not put his hand into his neighbor's goods; and the owner of it shall accept that, and he shall not make it good." ~Exodus 22:10-11

The proper way to apply and oath in accordance with the Bible is actually outlined in the Westminster Confession of Faith as follows:
Chapter 22: Of Lawful Oaths and Vows

SECTION I: A lawful oath is a part of religious worship,[1] wherein, upon just occasion, the person swearing solemnly calleth God to witness what he asserteth, or promiseth, and to judge him according to the truth or falsehood of what he sweareth.[2]

Scripture References:
1. Deut. 10:20; Isa. 45:23; Rom. 14:11; Phil. 2:10-11
2. Exod. 20:7; Lev. 19:12; Rom. 1:9; II Cor. 1:23; 11:31; Gal. 1:20; II Chr. 6:22-23

SECTION II: The name of God only is that by which men ought to swear, and therein it is to be used with all holy fear and reverence.[3] Therefore, to swear vainly, or rashly, by that glorious and dreadful Name; or, to swear at all by any other thing, is sinful, and to be abhorred.[4] Yet, as in matters of weight and moment, an oath is warranted by the Word of God, under the new testament as well as under the old;[5] so a lawful oath, being imposed by lawful authority, in such matters, ought to be taken.[6]

Scripture References:

3. Deut. 6:12; Josh. 23:7
4. Exod. 20:7; Jer. 5:7; Matt. 5:33-37; James 5:12
5. Heb. 6:16; II Cor. 1:23; Isa. 65:16
6. I Kings 8:31; Neh. 13:25; Ezra 10:5

The rest can be read here: Chapter 22 Of Lawful Oaths and Vows

Here's the rub. Jesus was saying that His disciples, people of the Kingdom...Christians absolutely needed to be people of their word. In a word, they need to have: integrity. Their character need to be based in honesty and forthrightness. We are to have a thorough and conscientious regard for truth. We are to have so much credibility and standing with believers and non-believers alike than people would not even think to question our statements with or without and oath. As we all know, this sadly has become anything but the truth in our society today and this is exactly what Jesus' statement hoped to avoid. Many high-profile and not-so-high-profile Christians have been some of the most deceptive, back-biting and duplicitous people that one will ever meet (this alone makes me question their Christian standing).

Jesus then follows-up with: "anything beyond this comes from the evil one." What's He mean? It’s simple really. If a person can only be trusted to tell a truth under oath...means that (1) the person being asked to swear either has not reputation or is of ill-repute (2) this means the one asking the person to take the oath is already of a mistrusting and suspicious nature. Both sides of this unstable situation is a unbalanced equation heading towards disaster. We have a potential liar and a cynic/skeptic. As we can expect from something Jesus says, His statements are often multi-layered and address more than one issue. In this case Jesus is addressing the individual's relationship with God and trying to assure a proper reverence for Him, not some passé attitude or an attitude that takes God too lightly. We also see something else. Since swearing is something that is done between two or more people we see a social or societal element. He is addressing relationships not just between people but also between Christians. There is no room for cynicism, distrust and a need for swearing between the individuals of the Body of Christ. That would be like asking one eye to move in conjunction with the other eye to be able to see correctly. It just doesn't work that way. If there is an inherent distrust between brethren there is a dysfunctional body. A weakening of the mutual relationship ensures and confidence is weakened then subsequently the entire body where this distrust and hostility is present. People begin to take sides and then....division.

No one would ever demand an oath from another that he trusts and that is what Jesus is getting at here. It’s not the oath itself that is the sin, it is the dysfunctional relationship or broken mind that an oath implies. If you absolutely need to make an oath to get the truth out of you, then there is clearly something more severe going on than a simple case of lying. You can say whatever you want...your behaviors and actions will reveal you every time. You will either produce good fruit or rotten fruit. No amount of swearing will change that.

We've concluded that swearing is the product of a relationship between two or more. We also know we have a God that is immutable and unquestionably trustworthy as He is truth itself. So why does God make oaths? The truth is God swears not because He has to or needs to be trusted but because of who God is making His oath to. Man.

Think about that one for a second...if God is ultimately trust worthy and perfect and He is one side of the relationship, what does that say about the other side? What does it say about you and your true nature as human?

Figure it out yet?

Here's the good news though. God keeps all of His promises, all of His vows and loves unconditionally. So much so that He sent His only Son to stand in the place of your sin.

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