I have an aversion to vows. Not that they are un-scriptural. Not at all. Vows are very scriptural. Yet, even in the Bible, we read of some pretty awful vows that were hastily made and regrettably fulfilled. They were honored, not because they were wise or were required by God, but simply because they had been made, and the maker felt duty bound to carry out his vow. While God expects us to keep our word, I cannot believe He delights in stupidity, or in promises that serve no purpose. Better no vow at all than a foolish vow.
Another thing that makes me reluctant to vow is that vows are so easy to make and so hard to keep. So I hesitate to bind myself. My conscience won't let me go on and on, vowing to pray more, vowing to give more, vowing to witness more ... only to fall back into the same old routine. Yet I need to snap out of my spiritual inertia.
I need something powerful that will give me the strength to conquer my shortcomings.
But my question is this: Is vowing the answer? Is my conscience that "powerful something" that will make me do what ought to be done? I think not. It will take more than a fear of lying to God to make me an over-comer. My "resource" has to be from outside myself.
I am convinced that what will do the job is a renewed personal encounter with God. It's not a vow I need. I need to hear God's voice. Renewed hearing, not renewed vows, is the answer to my spiritual lethargy. I don't need a megaphone. I need a hearing aid!
Vows become voluntary and lasting when inspired by the voice of God.
The voice makes all the difference, as a look at Jacob's experience will show. It was after he had heard the voice of God that Jacob vowed three things (Genesis 28:20-22):
1. The Lord shall be my God.
2. This stone shall be God's house.
3. Of all that Thou shalt give me, I will surely give a tenth.
Think of it! These are exactly the things believers struggle with and make vows about. Note our parallel problems:
1. Putting God first in our lives.
2. Making trouble a place of worship.
3. Being faithful to God with our resources.
So, let's learn from Jacob.
Isaac had twin sons ... Esau and Jacob. They were raised in a foreign land among strangers, but from the time they were toddlers, they had heard about how God spoke to their grandfather. Abraham died when the twins were fifteen, but by then they could recite his bedtime story by heart. He would tell how he had heard God's voice ... how he had left Ur of the Chaldees ... how God had promised that his seed would be as the sand on the seashore, and that the soil on which they were now strangers would one day belong to that seed. It was a promise of seed and of soil, and it was sealed with the voice of God out of heaven.
It was an encounter that stood by Abraham in the midst of heathen idolatry ... that inspired him to erect altars of worship under the most adverse circumstances ... that prompted him to pay tithes to Melchizedek. It was an encounter that kept his eyes on a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God (Hebrews 11:10).
Abraham's account of the voice of God affected the twins differently.
Esau took it lightly.
It meant little to him. He was far more concerned with the present than he was with either the past or the future. He possibly thought of his grandfather as an old senile fuddy-duddy. Esau's mind was on the "now"... on hunting ... on making a kill... on roasting meat over a fire.
Not so Jacob.
The story of the voice of God and the promise of the seed and the soil stuck. How wonderful that God himself had talked to his grandfather! Could it be that the day would come when he, too, would hear that same voice? At his grandfather's knee was born a desire ... an intense ambition to receive the blessing of God and to hear the voice of God. Jacob became more concerned with the future than he was with the present, and that was the basic difference between the two boys. Esau lived for the present... Jacob for the future.
When Jacob checked with Isaac, he found that his father, too, had heard the voice of God.
For years Isaac had been carried along by Abraham's experience, but the day came when Isaac heard the voice of God for himself, and the promise that God had made to his father was made to him also. "I am the God of Abraham thy father; fear not, for I am with thee, and will bless thee, and multiply thy seed for my servant Abraham's sake" (Genesis 26:24).
Imagine the intense longing in Jacob's heart!
God had spoken to his grandfather. God had spoken to his father. Oh, that God would speak to him, too!
The promised seed and soil became Jacob's greatest concern. He set about to get the family inheritance and his father's blessing.
We all know the story. In seeking the blessing, Jacob used cunning and deceit. But though he sought the blessing in the wrong way, the fact remains that he sought it... and that's what prompted the words in Romans 9:13, "Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated."
Esau's emphasis was different.
He was only concerned about what he could see and feel. He sold tomorrow's birthright for today's pottage. He lost the blessing to a brother who valued the future more than the present. Jacob did his seeking in the wrong way, true, but the redeeming factor was that he sought the right things.
Therefore God, who looks on the heart, saw Jacob's priorities and honored his values. What a comfort to some of us who mess up in our sincere search for God's blessings!
Because he used deceit in seeking the blessing, Jacob had to leave home. Esau saw to that.
Men who live for the future have little in common with those who live for the present.
Their paths are not compatible. Jacob left home a discouraged and downhearted man. He had gained the blessing, but he had paid a terrible price for it. He had brought down on himself the displeasure of his father and the wrath of his brother. He had tried so hard, but nothing had gone right. And, after all his seeking ... after all his conniving ... he still was without the thing he desired above all else. He still hadn't heard the voice of God.
As he trudged the lonely path that led him further and further from home, regret and remorse were mixed with intense longing. Oh, that God would break the silence and let him hear His voice!
Night came, and a weary Jacob, too tired to stay awake, found himself a rock for a pillow. How typical the rock was! Jacob had made his bed and was lying in it. His disappointing and bitter experiences were like the unyielding rock beneath his head. There was little about which to rejoice, and much to regret as his eyes, wet with tears, closed in sleep.
Then, the Scripture says, "He dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. And, behold, the Lord stood above it, and said, I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac, the land where on thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed... "(Genesis 28:13).
It had happened! The silence had been broken. The long-awaited encounter took place. Jacob heard for himself the voice of God. It confirmed all that his grandfather and father had told him. He would never be the same again.
The voice made the difference!
It is hard to do the work of God when you have never heard the voice of God. God's voice inspires vows! When Jacob woke out of his sleep, he was ready to commit himself to God in a way that would have been impossible the day before. He vowed three things (Genesis 28:20-22):
1. The Lord shall be my God.
2. This stone shall be God's house.
3. Of Of all that thou shalt give me, I will surely give the tenth.
Think of what these three pledges meant.
Jacob was only two generations removed from paganism. Abraham had left heathen relatives in the Chaldees and he was living among heathen Canaanites. His family was under constant pressure to revert to their past, and it was only his encounter with God that had kept them from doing so.
The voice that had kept his grandfather and father steadfast and faithful, now became the strength of Jacob. He would never turn back now.
From that day forward, the Lord would be his God!
Vows do not keep people from backsliding.
Promises are easily broken. It takes more than will power to live for God. There has to be something that will anchor faith, and that "something" is a personal encounter with God.
"This stone shall be God's house," vowed Jacob.
The night before, that stone had represented every difficulty and disappointment that Jacob had experienced. It was nothing but hard! There was little about it to inspire worship.
What had happened? What made it possible for Jacob to worship God in a hard place ... to praise God when isolated from his family and a social castaway?
The difference was the voice. Without it there would have been no vow. But after his personal encounter with God ... after he had heard for himself the promise of the seed and the soil... Jacob could accept his bitter experience and see God in it. He took the rock, turned it up, and made an altar of it.
What a lesson! No vow would have produced that kind of action. Some can "grin and bear" tragedy, but few can find cause in catastrophe for worship. Only God's voice will do that!
The third thing that Jacob vowed was to give God one tenth of all he received.
Giving is a real test of commitment. Much giving is from a sense of duty, and is done grudgingly. Some are faithful in tithing only because they fear the consequence of disobedience.
It takes more than the Bible ... more than church rules ... more than peer pressure ... to get a man to voluntarily pledge, "From this day I will give a tenth unto Thee." The week before he had connived to take what was his brother's. After he had heard the voice, he vowed to give a tenth to God!
What a difference the voice of God makes! What incentive and what strength comes with personal encounter!
So the next time things go wrong and you've got a rock for a pillow, don't try to get out of the mess you've made by vowing a vow.
Seek to hear God's voice from heaven, remembering that He is the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him! And, as you make Him the object of your seeking, your relationship with God will be like a ladder reaching from earth to heaven, with angels ascending and descending on it. And, as you listen to His voice above the ladder, you will receive the strength and assurance you need to fulfill your life's commitments. The voice must precede the vow!