And above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath. But let your “Yes” be yes and your “No” be no, so that you may not fall into judgment.James 5:12 (New English Translation)
These scripture passages about swearing and oath-taking seem strange to the modern reader. But they are more relevant than we realize.
In Jewish culture, in order to guarantee that someone would keep their word–almost like signing a legal document today–a person would swear an oath. Usually this took the form, “May God do such-and-such to me if I do not fulfill this promise or perform this act.” As a safeguard against incurring the judgment of God, sometimes people would swear by the Temple, heaven, earth or Jerusalem. Even today, in cultish groups like the Freemasons, Shriners, etc, overt oaths like this are still taken (which is extremely dangerous and harmful to them and their descendants).
James follows the teaching of Jesus encouraging Christians to avoid making oaths altogether. Jesus taught:
“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.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath 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 5:33-37
Jesus and James both indicate the harm that can come from swearing an oath. The problem isn’t just the judgment that can come to a person and their ancestors if they don’t fulfill the oath, but also the way the evil one, Satan, can use an oath against a person. The enemy loves to make an unholy vow binding on a person’s life, locking that person into a state of imprisonment in that part of their life where the vow was made.
While this idea of swearing an oath or making a vow seems foreign to us today, many people do this without even realizing it. When a person gets hurt, the enemy often begins whispering lies to that person which result in that person making an unholy, inner vow. Satan then traps the person based on the inner vow that was made and shuts down that part of their life.
Common unbiblical, inner vows include:
- “I will never let myself be hurt this way again!”
- “I will never let anyone close to me again!”
- “I will never trust men again!”
- “I will prove to my dad that I have what it takes to succeed. I’ll show him I’m worth knowing.”
- “I’ll never treat my kids like that!”
- “I will not lose again. I will always find a way to win.”
- “I will not have a marriage like that one!”
- “I will never trust God again.”
When we make these kind of inner vows we are attempting to control something in our life that felt out of control. We are holding tightly to something that needs to be surrendered to the Lord. The vow is how we grasp at control, but then the evil one puts a spiritual handcuff around our wrist binding us to that unholy vow. If we don’t break the vow in Jesus’s name we’ll find that part of our life in bondage, unable to experience health.
If there is an area of your life that seems stuck, unable to grow or move forward, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal if you’ve unintentionally made a vow or an oath in that area of your life in the past. He may bring to mind a vow that you didn’t even remember or that you haven’t thought of in years.
If so, just pray, “Father, forgive me for making this unholy vow. I give You back control of this area of my life. I surrender it to You. And I break this vow in Jesus’ name! I render it powerless and void, and I cancel its effects in my life in Jesus’ name. And I invite Your blessing, Father, to flow into this part of my life. Thank you Lord for freedom!”