Not the Kind of Swearing You’re Thinking of
By Lee Jones
Talk of oaths seems a little archaic to our ears, but we’re actually pretty accustomed to them. We all know the “oath of office” the US President takes. Wedding vows are a kind of oath. But Jesus has some harsh words for a certain kind of oath: a hasty and God-dishonoring one.
We all know the saying “talk is cheap” and we all know people who promise things they have no intention to do or deliver. Sometimes those people swear, sometimes jokingly, to God or on their mother’s grave or even their own lives to show how much they mean what they’ve said.
Those who said they swear to God or “God so help me” actually call on God (whether honestly or not) tonever bring them aid if they are truly found to be lying. That is a dangerous thing to say in a vain oath.
Here Jesus is offering a kind of commentary on the third commandment, that you shall not take the LORD’s name in vain. This doesn’t mean the commonly understood prohibition of using God’s name in cursing, but the use of God’s name to speak flippantly. Those who said they swear to God or “God so help me” actually call on God (whether honestly or not) to never bring them aid if they are truly found to be lying. That is a dangerous thing to say in a vain oath.
A created being like a human has no right to use heaven, earth, or even a city as collateral in their oaths. Why? Jesus answers. It’s because Heaven is God’s seat, the earth is his footstool, and Jerusalem was his chosen city for the King (and also the earthly king)to dwell. Man is too low a creature to swear by any of these things. Further, as Psalm 24 says, the earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, and Jesus will address swearing about parts of that fullness in the next couple verses.
I want to focus on the only one who truly can swear by something: YHWH, himself. When YHWH choose to make an oath or institute a covenant, he swears by himself. Isaiah 45:23 tells ya these words of YHWH’s: “by myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return, ‘to me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.”
God is the only one who can swear by himself, and he need not swear by anything he created as he is the only eternal, unchanging one. He is perfectly capable of fulfilling his own promises.
This verse is helpful in clarifying one point from the passage in Matthew. By no means is Jesus putting a moratorium on all oaths. He would contradict our Isaiah passage of that were true, that every tongue will swear allegiance. I thank God that He caused me to repent of my sin and believe in Jesus Christ, thereby swearing allegiance to him before the judgement day. That swearing needed no object by which to swear, it only exercised the faith I was given and to speak the truth.
God is faithful to keep his word to his covenant children, and his swearing by himself upholds that word. This glorious fact leaves no room for blaspheming creatures to swear by anything with his name on it. Believers should be trusted to keep their word because we ourselves are held together by the word of God’s power.
Glory to God alone.