When we bought our house, we took out a mortgage. Like many home owners up and down the country, we were making a promise, a commitment that over the next 25 years, we would pay back the money we had borrowed with interest.
How could our Building Society be sure that we would repay the debt and keep our promise? Well, we had not only made a verbal promise, we had signed contracts and more importantly still, the building society new that if we fell back on our payments then they could re-possess the home. Our promise to pay back was based on the existence of security in the form of the house itself.
We live in a world where when someone makes a promise we need guarantees that they will keep them. This is because of sin, it is because we are known to lie. That’s where oaths come in. An oath is about reaching beyond other people or security pledges to some form of higher authority to hold us to account. The belief was that if you took an oath, then the being or thing you swore by would exact vengeance on you if you failed to keep it.
Jesus says “Don’t waste your time with these oaths.” (Matthew 5:33 -36). Part of his objection is probably to do with the Jewish habit of avoiding using God’s name because it was holy. So, for example, you will see that Matthew refers to “The Kingdom of Heaven” rather than “The Kingdom of God” because he is writing for a Jewish audience. They would replace the name Yahweh with alternatives such as Lord but they would also use other things especially “heaven” in place of God’s name. So, Jesus is in effect saying “Come on, let’s not play games. You know full well that when you swear by heaven, earth or Jerusalem, it is really God that you are accountable to.”
We will be accountable to God for everything said and done, every promise kept or broken. So, people should be able to trust our word.