Foolish Promises

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Tommy La Sorda tells the story of a covered wagon traveling west, a group got caught in a blizzard in the mountains. One man told his best friend, “I ain’t gonna make it, Joe.” “Sure you are, Al.” “No, Joe, I ain’t. So I want you to promise me something.” “Anything, Al.” “Promise me that when you and little Joe get there you’ll name a town after me.” “Sure, Al.” At this he turned to Little Joe and he said, “Little Joe, will you remind your pa to name a town after me?” And Little Joe replied, “I promise, Mr. Buquerque.”

Wife: “George, you promised you would be home at 4:00. It’s now 8:00.” George: “Honey, please listen to me. Poor ol’ Fred is dead. He just dropped over on the eighth green.” Wife: “Oh, that’s awful.” George: “It surely was. For the rest of the game it was hit the ball, drag Fred, hit the ball, drag Fred.

As we read the story of Jephthah we think of George. How foolish our promises and the things that we swear. There is no doubt that God had blessed Jephthah as a great general. He conquered 20 towns. Now Jephthah owes nothing except maybe a “thank you” to God. Jephthah is a man who has pulled himself up by the bootstraps. Born to a harlot. Never having a real home because of his illegitimacy. But he sees himself as a leader and gathered a group of “worthless fellows.” Here is an opportunity to redeem himself.

And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.” Human sacrifice was forbidden by Law. What did Jephthah think would come out of “his house?” When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of tambourines! She was an only child. When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, “Oh! My daughter! You have made me miserable and wretched, because I have made a vow to the Lord that I cannot break.”

Clearly the greater faith is found in the daughter more than Jephthah. “My father,” she replied, “you have given your word to the Lord. Do to me just as you promised….ISA 11:6 The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.

I want you to understand the background so you can understand the importance that God places on promises. Why doesn’t Jephthah just break his foolish promise? The people will understand. However, to the Hebrew, your word is your life.

Two shipwrecked sailors had been adrift on a raft for days. Desperate, one knelt and began to pray: “Oh Lord, I know I haven’t lived a good life. I’ve drunk too much booze. I’ve lied and cheated. I’ve done so many things I’m ashamed of, but Lord, if you’ll just save me, I promise…” “Hold it,” interrupted his shipmate, “don’t say another word! I think I just spotted land!”

Jesus said, “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.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your `Yes’ be `Yes,’ and your `No,’ `No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. (Matthew 5:33-37)

Sam Findley decided it was time to retire from the garment business. So he called in his son Mervyn and gave him the news and a bit of advice: “Son, it’s all yours. I’ve made a success of this business because of two principles reliability and wisdom. First, take reliability. If you promise goods by the 10th of the month, no matter what happens, you must deliver by the 10th. Even if it costs you overtime, double time, golden time. You deliver what you promise.” Mervyn thought about this for a few moments and then asked, “but what about wisdom?” His father shot back: “Wisdom is never making such a stupid promise.”

Our salvation is no better than the word of God. We know that we have salvation because God promised us salvation. God is as faithful as His word. JAM 5:12 Above all, my brothers, do not swear – not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No,” no, or you will be condemned.

The Bible is clear, do not make promises, oaths, pledges, etc. However, if we do, and there is no sin in making a promise. As a Christian we are obligated to keep the promise. It is a sin to make a promise and then not to keep the promise.

Vows made in storms are forgotten in calms. Manley Beasley tells the story of a friend who had a rescue mission. He prayed, “God, I need two hundred dollars. Oh, God, I need two hundred dollars.” So this fellow said to him, “Why don’t you get scriptural in your praying? Why don’t you ask God to open your eyes to the fact that you have already got it?” He replied, “Don’t you think I’ve got sense enough to know that if I already had it I would know I had it.” The man said, “Well, obviously, you don’t. One day he finally got down on his knees and prayed the different prayer, “Now, Lord, if I’ve got something and I don’t know I’ve got it, would you please open my eyes and let me see it?” He got up off his knees and walked to the window. Now, he had owned this piece of property he was on for six months. There were twenty men that he was feeding every meal. The men were just walking around out there on the grounds. He kept watching and noticing that they were reaching down, picking up, and cracking something. All at once he looked up and right there on the chapel side of that building were two of the largest pecan trees that you have ever seen. Those trees were just breaking down with pecans. Then it hit him that on the property there were not only two pecan trees, there were seven. He got those men and started shaking those trees. He did not weigh the pecans but took them down to the market and said, “How many do we have here?” The man said, “Two hundred dollars worth.”

A Peanuts cartoon pictured Lucy and Linus looking out the window at a steady downpour of rain. “Boy,” said Lucy, “look at it rain. What if it floods the whole world?” “It will never do that,” Linus replied confidently. “In the ninth chapter of Genesis, God promised Noah that would never happen again, and the sign of the promise is the rainbow.” “You’ve taken a great load off my mind,” said Lucy with a relieved smile. “Sound theology,” pontificated Linus, “has a way of doing that!”

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