No Promises


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 108; 150, 1 Samuel 14:36-45, Romans 5:1-11, Matthew 22:1-14

“I meant what I said and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful one-hundred percent!”
– Dr. Seuss,
Horton Hatches the Egg

Several Biblical characters suffer the consequences of an unwise – and unsolicited – oath to God. Saul dedicated his troops by offering an oath that cursed any of them who ate before evening fell and their enemy was vanquished. Saul’s son Jonathan didn’t know about the oath and ate a bite of honey from the ground. As a result, God withdrew from Saul for a time. Unaware of the all the facts, Saul said he would kill whoever had sinned – even if it was his own son.

Once the truth came out, Saul and Jonathan were willing to accept the consequences, but the people spoke up on Jonathan’s behalf and said his victories were proof God was with him. They ransomed Jonathan (possibly by substituting some sort of animal sacrifice) and “he did not die.”

In the heat of battle – military, political, or personal – leaders can make rash promises, often in the absence of facts, to attain victory. We’re not just talking government, but also business, church, and even family. When that happens, clean-up duty falls to the rest of us. Like the Israelites, we have to decide whether to be hardliners who insist the promise be kept or to allow for alternatives. If we supported the promise, we may be tempted to take the hard line out of pride or spite. Frequently our decision is swayed when we hear the story of someone we care for who will be personally affected, like the Jonathan to our Israel.

We don’t have to be leaders to make rash promises. When we do, we are cornered into choosing between keeping our word and doing the right thing, and it feels wrong to sacrifice either. Jesus and James advise us to avoid swearing oaths in the first place. Why create unnecessary potential for letting down others, ourselves, or God?

God knows our hearts and our weaknesses. It’s enough to lay them down at the cross and humbly commit to doing our best.

Additional Reading:
For more about today’s passage from Romans, see Endurance Training.
For thoughts on today’s parable from Matthew, see Come to the Banquet.

Comfort: Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no.

Challenge: Pay attention to the promises people make you. Ask yourself if they seem realistic – or necessary.

Prayer: Let everything that breathes praise The LORD. Praise The LORD! (Psalm 150:6)

Discussion: Have you ever suffered the consequences of a poorly made promise?

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