Matthew 5:33-37: “Let Your Yes Be Yes”

Read: Matthew 5:33-37

Israel had the temple in Jerusalem, and they would make offerings there to God and make vows before God. There offerings were made here too. Leviticus 27 and Numbers 23:16-21 enumerate several conditions on how vows were to be fulfilled and covers an assortment of vows people could make before the Lord. A person could dedicate himself, an animal, his house, a field among many other things to the Lord. These items were deemed “holy” and became property of the priests for the purposes of the priests. The person would make a vow to dedicate such items then the priest would determine its value. These acts were not compulsory, rather they were completely voluntary. There was no law prescribing how much or how little the Israelites should give or if they should give at all.

The nature of vows had become by Jesus’ day and probably long before then a means of displaying one’s piety in public for all to see. The Pharisees took these laws and ran with them, and in typical fashion made laws upon laws so that they would be sure to fulfill the original law to the letter by having even more strict and grandiose schemes. With vows it was no different whereby they would swear upon the gold in the temple to affirm a vow more so than the vow taken upon the temple itself. Some were apparently swearing upon anything number of things from the temple to the footstool of God as if the level of whatever they were swearing undergirded the fecundity of the vow. (Matthew 23:16-21). Jesus says that one should not swear on anything at all, rather just in a manner of simplicity, one should fulfill his or her vow, rather than make grandiose promises among other things. James in his letter affirms this simple truth (James 5:12). Even the Preacher in Ecclesiastes saw the absurdity of this, and said it better not to make vows at all in many respects so one doesn’t become a liar, and if one does make a vow one should fulfill it quickly (Ecclesiastes 5:1-7).

This principle certainly still applies: don’t make hasty or elaborate vows before God. One should consider the cost of what he or she is doing. When one does make a vow, one should, as Jesus taught, let his “yes” be yes and “no” be no. Vows can be a rich act of worship, acting on one’s own initiative before the Lord in a voluntary manner rather than a compulsory manner as one would do in following commandments. The blessing of a vow is not the display of piety, rather the satisfaction of knowing that one has been faithful in an act of worship to God. In the end, God wants the faithfulness of his people rather than the grandeur of promises.

Lord, let my words be few and my “yes” be yes!