Why does Yeshua (Jesus in Hebrew) say, “But now I tell you, do not make a vow when you make a promise” (Matthew 5:34). Yet G*d says in the Torah (Five books of Moses), “Have reverence for the Lord G*d and make your promises in His name alone” (Deuteronomy 10:20). Why does Yeshua contradict the Law of Moses?
At face value this looks like a problem, but the answer is provided in the context. The following passage includes all of Jesus’ recorded statement,
Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FALSE VOWS, BUT SHALL FULFILL YOUR VOWS TO THE LORD.’ “But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is THE CITY OF THE GREAT KING. “Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. “But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; and anything beyond these is of evil. (NASB) Matthew 5:33-37
Notice that Jesus is talking about false vows or false promises. He is talking about vows or promises made “by heaven,” “by the earth,” “by Jerusalem” and so forth. Jesus’ summary statement is that we should say what we mean. We should keep our promises. Our “yes” should mean “yes” and our “no” should mean “no.” Many people never follow through. For a fuller explanation of this passage see the Sermon on the Mount study in Matthew 5:33-37.
Promise To Your Hurt
Our Lord wants us to honor Him by keeping our promises even if it is to our own hurt.
. . . those who fear the LORD; He swears to his own hurt, and does not change. (NASB) Ps. 15:4
Jesus did not outlaw promises. Deuteronomy 6:13 and 10:20 tell us that if we make a vow, we should do it in the Lord,
You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name. (NASB) Deuteronomy 10:20
The New Testament example is given in James 4:15-16 where we are told that we should say,
“If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that.” But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. (NASB)
Our words should show that our plans and promises depend on God with the intent that we will fulfill our obligation to our own hurt. Our yes should mean yes and our no should mean no. D. Bonhoeffer comments, “The disciple is called to be light even in his word” (The Cost of Discipleship).