You have most likely heard people saying things like … “I swear on my mother’s grave” or “as true as God I promise you” … or variants of these. The idea is to tell someone that you are telling the truth about something and call upon your mother or God to validate your statement. In speaking this way you hope the person you are speaking to accepts what you are saying as truth because you validate it by your mother or God or someone else.
1) The history of oath taking. Oaths go back to Moses time for the people of God and further back for pagan people. The Roman Empire used oath taking very often. The Oath taking Ceremony took shape in the 18th Century and has continued in various shapes up to the present day.
2) In the Old Testament, God’s people were encouraged to take oaths in God’s name so that they did not take them in some idol’s name.
Dt 6:13 Fear the LORD your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. 14 Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; 15 for the LORD your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land.
Verse 13 is the encouragement to take your oath in God’s name with verse 14 implying a prohibition of taking it in some idol’s name.
3) The Law prohibited taking false oaths.
Ex 20:7 “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”
The Third Commandment is extremely strict! The misuse of God’s name is a serious matter because God is Truth and will not and does not tolerate any falsehood, lies or deception. So, taking an oath in God’s name when the oath is false (untrue, a lie, deceptive), you misuse God’s name. How can I, being God’s child, knowing He is Truth and abuse the relationship by using evil (devilish) strategies to accomplish my sin, resulting in me getting away with it? God is omniscient. He sees and knows everything all the time.
Ps 139:1 O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.
Psalm 139 prevents us from thinking we can escape God, hide where we are or prevent Him from knowing our thoughts or hear our words. So when He says the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name rest assured that whether it was Israel or us today … no one escapes misusing His name.
4) Jesus again refers to the Law of Moses.
Mt 5:33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’”
Here our Lord is referring to:
Lev 19:12 “‘Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the LORD.'”
Once again He uses the Old Testament as His starting point to introduce a new teaching … or at least … a new way of interpreting God’s Word. So He again equates His Word equal to the Old Testament by saying:
Mt 5:34 “But I tell you.”
This is where the transition takes place from the “Old” to the “New”. See … “do not” in verse 34 and 36 and “simply” in verse 37 with “anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”
5) Skirting around God’s Word. A good friend was explaining the difficulties of doing certain things and added that to get them done you need to work around the system. This is exactly what the people of Jesus’ day were doing. To avoid being guilty before God of misusing His name, for they knew their oaths would be false, they resorted to taking oaths in other “names”.
Mt 5:34 “But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 and do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black.”
In place of taking an oath in “God’s name”, they concocted names such as “heaven, earth, Jerusalem, head (from the text) and “altar and temple” (Matthew 23:16-22), to avoid for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name Jesus is saying they used “word games” to achieve their avoidance of punishment when it came to taking oaths … yet, however they flowered their language, even when avoiding using God’s name, Jesus implies they were bound by the oath because they were God’s people. This means that any promise taken by God’s people is associated with God and is binding.
6) Jesus’ revolutionary, yet better teaching
Mt 5:37 “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”
Our Lord pulls the rug from under our feet by saying it is not required as His followers to take an oath! We, as the children of the Living God are people of the Truth and are required to be people of Truth. This is the reason Jesus says it is not necessary to take an oath in God’s name or any other name for that matter. As people living by the Truth because we are united to the Truth, a simple “yes” or “no” is sufficient. Are we as the people of God able to avoid telling lies? Even little lies and white lies? Is it possible not to be deceptive? Yes, we are because by His Holy Spirit, God empowers us to live by the Truth.
1 Jn 3:18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 19 This then is how we know that we belong to the truth.
7) So, do Christians misuse God’s name and if they do, how do Christians misuse God’s name? The stark reality is that God the Holy Spirit lives within every believer. So … each time we sin we take God’s name in vain! Some examples are:
Words … using His name LORD, Jesus, Christ … O my God … Jeez … almost as an adjectives. By our morals and ethics. Consider the hot topics of our time that the world insists upon us conforming to their way. Each time we do, we misuse the Lord’s name because we misrepresent our Holy Lord and His precious Commandments in His Holy Word.
Then follows our actions and attitudes. We are our Lord’s representatives on earth. Our behavior in all of life, whether in public or private is gazed upon by the Lord Jesus.
Amongst all the other things we could raise, allow me to mention friends. Remember being “unequally yoked”? (2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1). This is classified as misrepresenting the God of all Truth.
Our Father, we live within a world and culture that places many demands upon us. Too often we lack wisdom, discernment and sufficient understanding of Your Word. Grant us grace Lord to honor You and Your name for Jesus’ sake. Amen.