Most of us view vows much less seriously than we should. The Bible has a lot to say about vows. They are neither good nor evil, but we should be very careful with them. In Ecclesiastes 5, Solomon examines the wisdom, or rather the foolishness, of making vows to the Lord. We have all witnessed people in crisis making vows to the Lord and to others. Many, if not most, are never kept. That is a grave error and it is likely that many unknowingly forfeit God’s blessing because of their failure to keep their vows. According to Ecclesiastes 5 and many other passages in the Bible, God views our vows in a very serious manner. He clearly expects us to keep our word, and especially our vows. By His very nature, He is faithful and true. He cannot be unfaithful. He must fulfill His vows. Our failure to faithfully fulfill our vows is an affront to His character.
Deuteronomy 23:21-23, which Christ quotes and affirms in Matthew 5:33, is very explicit concerning our vows to the Lord. We are told that we must be careful to fulfill our vows, and to do so without delay, or God will exact the payment from you anyway. If you need concrete examples to illustrate this command and warning, turn to Judges 11 and read about Jephthah’s tragic vow; 1 Samuel 14 and Saul’s foolish vow; Matthew 14 and Herod’s stupid vow.
Solomon, in Ecclesiastes 5:4-7, gives an enlightening commentary on the wisdom in being very careful with our vows. First he declares that anyone who is late in paying a vow to the Lord is a fool and God takes no delight in fools. In verse 5, Solomon declares that one would be far better off to not make the vow in the first place. In verse 6, Solomon echoes and affirms the truth of Deuteronomy 23:21, that delaying to pay a vow to the Lord is sin. Next, he points out that pleading one’s case before God’s representative (synagogue/church) will do no good. No excuse will be accepted. In fact, Solomon seems to take it a step further, he really calls God’s representative, God’s messenger, implying that it will not be a case of one going forward to plead, but rather God sending a messenger to collect on the vow. Many in our society today, live in fear of bill collectors who have great restrictions placed on them by the government, thus making it virtually impossible for them to collect. The bill collector God sends will have no trouble collecting, none whatsoever.
Solomon drives his point home by pointing out the folly of making God unhappy with you and angry at you, simply because you could not keep your mouth shut. That hurts! Solomon goes on to say that God is to be feared; that He will destroy the works of our hands if we do not fulfill our vows to him. A reading of the Old Testament prophets and the Gospels reveals that some people were using vows to be selfish. They would declare possessions to be dedicated to the Lord but delay in handing them over to the Lord’s work. Their purpose was to keep from using said possessions to care for needy relatives, then at some point to make an excuse and keep the possessions. Apart from that situation, even those with good intentions, ought to be careful about making vows. Ecclesiastes 5 declares that there will be no excuse and God will collect. Do not miss the fact that it clearly implies that more than the original vow will be collected. The example seems to indicate that not just the pledged item or amount will be liable for collection but rather any and all of one’s work will be liable.
It seems to me that if we have an idea in our heart to do something for the Lord that we ought to just do it, rather than making a vow first. The vow is a waste of time and breath. I can only think of a couple of possible reasons to make a vow. One would be to promise during a crisis to do something we do not have the power to do at the present time. That is vowing something that we may never have the ability to deliver. The only other reason would be to draw attention to ourselves. Neither of those is good. If it is in your heart to do good, then just do it. It’s much safer that way.