Matthew 23:16-22 (NIV) “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.”
It was this twisting and dodging in the matter of oaths that moved Jesus to condemn oath-taking among His followers (Matthew 5:33-37). The Pharisees and teachers of the law had developed an intricate system of oaths that was incomprehensible to the common man, and allowed them to dupe and manipulate the uninitiated.
The examples Jesus gave were only two of the many that were in common use. If a Pharisee was entering into an agreement with someone, they could swear “by the temple,” and thus seem to improve their credibility with a divine vow. But later, when they reneged on the vow and were called on it, they could smile and simply claim an exemption: swearing by the temple wasn’t really binding. Of course, if they had sworn by the GOLD of the temple, that would have bound them. Thus they felt that they could be false without compunction, simply because of the words that they carefully chose.
But, as Jesus clearly explained, their man-made rules about oaths didn’t influence God’s judgment on the matter at all. As God is honest, upright, and just in all of His dealings with people, so God’s people area to be equally honest, upright, and just in all of our dealings with others. Intentionally twisting words to give a false impression, even if we call it “nuance,” is a lie in God’s book; to use a sacred oath in that lie doubly so. If God’s people make a promise, even if we swear by our own big toe, or don’t use an oath at all, God considers us iron-bound by that promise, because, as people who bear His name, failure in honesty on our part besmirches His name and reputation.
Jesus was correct that it is better for God’s people to not have to resort to oaths, even honest ones, to bolster our credibility. Instead, we should have such sterling reputations earned by being absolutely honest in all of our dealings, that our simple word can be trusted to be our bond.
Father, this really is a character issue, and these leaders failed the test of character with their weasel words and their sly dealings that don’t resemble Your character in the least. Help me as Your man to always have honesty above reproach, so that my dealings with others and my character bring only glory to Your name. Amen.