You have my word on it.
Does that mean anything today?
Hopefully, it does. Hopefully, it means that you meant what you said, that you can be trusted, that people can count on you. The sad truth though is that we live in a world where the truth isn’t always the truth. We live in a world of loopholes and fine print, where promises aren’t always honored and people are left to twist in the wind. We live in a culture where we’re told:
· The check is in the mail.
· Your call is very important to us.
· This won’t hurt a bit.
· I’ll be ready in a minute.
· You have just won a free . . .
· This is going to hurt me more than it’s going to hurt you.
· It was like that when I got here.
· Everything on my resume is true.
· I don’t remember.
· Till death do us part.
So how do we know when someone’s telling the truth?
Children say “I promise,” “I swear,” do pinky promises, and cross their hearts.
Adults give you their word, shake hands, make a deposit, or swear on their mother’s graves.
In the Old Testament, they took an oath. An oath involved involving God in some type of dispute or question so as to assure the truth was being told. Here’s an example from Exodus 22:10-11:
If a man gives a donkey, an ox, a sheep or any other animal to his neighbor for safekeeping and it dies or is injured or is taken away while no one is looking, the issue between them will be settled by the taking of an oath before the LORD that the neighbor did not lay hands on the other person’s property. The owner is to accept this, and no restitution is required.
Here an oath called God as a witness to a neighbor’s claim of innocence.
Obviously then, an oath was absolute. It was a guarantee. To renege on an oath or break a vow would be to blaspheme God. You can see in Numbers 30 and other places how serious it was to do that.
This was a real problem for equivocators and people who weren’t truth tellers. Asking them to take an oath meant they either had to involve God in their lie or refuse to take the oath. Since neither of these options would allow them to lie and prosper, they came up with a third option—swearing by something less than God. (This dovetailed with the practice that developed among the Jews of not saying the name of God). Their rationale was that if they swore by something other than God, they could lie or break their promise because they hadn’t directly involved God. By Jesus’ time, they had refined their evasiveness to a fine art. In Matthew 23:16-22, Jesus scathingly denounces the word games the Pharisees had taught people to play in regard to truth:
Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’
You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred?
You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath.’
You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred?
Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it.
And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it.
And he who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.
Jesus’ point in all of this is that God is involved in everything because everything belongs to Him. So whatever you may choose to swear by obligates involves God and obligates you to tell the truth. Then He points people away from oaths and promises and to communicating with such a character as to require no oaths. No games, no smoke and mirrors, just character based communication.
Wouldn’t that be refreshing?