The Day That God Swore an Oath

Posted by Alistair Chiu on

  • I solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God. [Oath in a US court of law]
  • I swear by Almighty God that the evidence I shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. [Oath in a UK court of law]

Oath-swearing in a court of law is a common practice that began sometime in the middle ages in England. Everyone agrees that oath-swearing is a solemn act, and there are severe penalties for breaking one’s oath. But the oath is not sworn for the benefit of the swearer. It is sworn for the benefit of those listening. The swearer binds himself to tell the truth, that those listening may have confidence in what is being said. 

In Hebrews 6:13-14 we read that God swears an oath to Abraham. ‘When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.”

The book of Hebrews teaches us that the promises of the Old Testament, such as God’s promise to bless Abraham, are only finally fulfilled in Jesus. God wants to bless a whole people who can experience his goodness and praise his name. So those promises are not just for Abraham and the Israelites. They are for us today, so that one day, together with the ancient saints we will all receive what has been promised.

But why did God swear this oath? ‘Because God wanted to show His unchangeable purpose even more clearly to the heirs of the promise, He guaranteed it with an oath.’ (Hebrews 6:17)

The oath was intended to prove how irrevocable was God’s resolve to bless us, expressed in the divine promise. God wanted to show to us, his people, even more clearly the unchangeable nature of his promise. God knows that we his people might easily doubt his word and his promise. So he went out of his way to swear this oath, binding himself (even though he didn’t need to as his promise is already binding), in order to reassure us that he solemnly vows to keep his promise.

If you’re like me, in difficult times its sometimes easy to doubt God’s goodness, or wonder if he really cares about us. And we might then feel extra guilty for doubting God’s goodness to us. ‘How could I doubt God – he must think I’m a terrible person for doubting him!’ This passage tells us that far from thinking that, God actually anticipated that we might doubt him, and pre-emptively gave this oath to Abraham, and to Abraham’s heirs (that’s us), so that we can be reassured of his love for us.

That teaches me that God is not just concerned to save us (which he is). He is also concerned that we would be sure that he will save us. God cares about our feelings of doubt, of fear and of despair. God cares about our reassurance. He wants to rescue us from our fears by giving us this oath of his intention to bless us. 

By swearing an oath, God wants to encourage us. ‘God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged.’ (Hebrews 6:18)

The two unchangeable things are the promise of God, and the oath of God. With this two unbreakable bonds, whereby it is impossible for God to lie, we should be greatly encouraged. So when we are tempted to doubt God’s goodness, or his promise to bless us, we should return to this oath. Hebrews says it is like an ‘anchor for our soul.’ Life holds many storms – storms of financial turbulence, political instability, uncertain health, that can seriously rock our faith or even cause us to sink. We could easily be swept away by the chaos of a storm, but having an anchor holds us secure in the middle of the storm.

This is kind of God we trust in, who wants to make his good intentions known to us, and swears an oath for our benefit, that we can be reassured of his love and good purposes towards us.

Help us, O God, to trust in your promise and your oath when times are good and when times are dark, so that in the fullness of time we will receive what has been promised. 


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