Posts Tagged ‘vows’

NaziriteI ever realized that women could become Nazirites until this reading of Numbers. All this time, I had assumed that this vow was made only by men. And clearly, the rules for the Nazirite have the feel of being for men what with the growing of hair and abstinence from drink. Nonetheless, women could do take such a vow as well.

The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man or woman wants to make a special vow, a vow of dedication to the Lord as a Nazirite, they must abstain from . . .'” [Numbers 6:1-3a, NIV]

In a nutshell, the Nazirite abstained abstained from alcohol, fermented drinks of any kind, grapes, or raisins; refrain from cutting one’s hair; and finally, avoid defilement by a dead body (or place that a dead body has been).

When I looked up additional information about the Nazirite vow, I was surprised to find that it evolved over time into three types of vows, depending on their length. In general, such a vow was made for a minimum of 30 days and for the common person, my guess is that this was the norm. However, there was a permanent vow (in which the Nazirite would cut his/her hair once a year for convenience) and there was a “Samson” Nazirite who was permanent, but did not have to abide by the dead body rule.

I believe, over time, these permanent Nazirites became known as monks. But isn’t it interesting that the Christian monks (and nuns) in later centuries were known for shorn hair and not long hair at all. Another reason why the Nazirite tradition ended was the loss of the Temple where the many sacrifices had to be made at the end of the vow. No temple : no end.

It’s a fascinating topic really and even includes some references to Jesus entering into a type of Nazirite vow at the Last Supper. But, of course, that is speculation as are many ideas about this tradition.

In any event, this ritual had to do with setting apart and holiness (see Holy Objects & Holiness post). The person perceived a need to separate himself or herself from the norm, even to the point of stepping away from family obligations (as might be the case in the event of a relative passing away). These vows were quite serious and if one was broken, the person had to “start over” again.

Jesus made some references to vows or promises in Matthew 5:37 in which he told the people to allow their “yes” to be yes and their “no” to be no. I believe he was alluding to people who made promises they did not mean or were unwilling to keep.

wedding ringsBut I would add, if we do make a vow, then we should treat them with more respect. Marriage vows have become the most abused of all. It is not enough to say, “well, I meant it at the time,” for that changes nothing except to imply that one did not know one’s own mind at the time or the implication of the promise. I would recommend people stop using the marriage vow at all if the intent is not binding. Or, perhaps like the Nazirites, the couple, if the vow is broken, starts over again.

Of all the many things that women were excluded from in Old Testament times, this is not one of them. Both men and women can experience holiness and set themselves apart for God. And secondly, their vows are still binding.


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What is a promise? I know what it should be. I know that it should be binding and carries with it an expectation. If I promise to do something, the person expects me to follow through. A covenant is the next step up and just below law. Our culture has never mastered covenant.

II Chronicles 15:12
They [Asa and the people of Judah] entered into a covenant to seek the LORD, the God of their ancestors, with all their heart and soul.

Covenant is harder. Despite the promises and the expectations and outward signs of agreeing to a covenant, it can be broken with no apparent ill effects. At least that’s what people seem to think. The most controversial covenant is the marriage. Couples stand before witnesses and make vows, they agree, they promise, they share ritual, and yet, divorce statistics range near 50% for first time marriages and higher for second and third marriages.

I am one of those statistics. I married for the first time at eighteen. And although I was “in love,” I also had this reasoning in the back of my mind: if it doesn’t work out, I’ll just get a divorce. It’s not a good start to a promise.

As a parent, I have tried to avoid the “I promise” phrase because I know how easy it is for things to go awry, for circumstances to change, for promises to be broken.

But today, as I traverse then Lenten time, I feel compelled to make and hold to some promises. I have committed time to God in prayer, meditation, and writing. I have promised to seek God throughout this journey. And I feel the weightiness of this agreement in a way I never have before.

When I was twelve, my mother had tried to find a new spouse by answering personal ads in the Latvian newspaper. One of those men invited us to visit him in Niagara Falls, Canada. I didn’t like this man at all and one night, when the two of them had gone out on a date and stayed out very late, I prayed fervently and made many deals with God if would break up this couple. I believe this was a girl’s version of a foxhole conversion. My mother never remarried, but I didn’t follow through either. Or did I? Was my rediscovered faith at 28, a consequence after all? Did my promise bear fruit?

Sometimes, I think it does work out that way.

The things we say, the words we speak, have power, particularly if they are heartfelt. In that other world, inhabited by spirits and angels and so forth, what happens to the promises we make?

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Nowadays, swearing and oath-making are not very common. Of course, I’m not talking about profanity, there’s plenty of that. Funny, the same word, swear, has such opposing uses: one as a debasement while the other is a promise that is binding because of the witness of someone “higher” in power, class, or position.

Hebrews 6:16-17
Men swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath.

There are only a few places where the full intent of swearing is still recognized: a wedding where vows are made between two people; a swearing in to public office; and a swearing to tell the truth in a court of law. In all three of these cases, people are asked to “swear” over a Bible with the implication that they are “swearing by” God. Supposedly, they are saying the words that can be and should be witnessed by God who will/can affirm their truth. Hmmmm.

Sorry, but I don’t think people take these oaths very seriously anymore. Marriage oaths are broken every day. In fact, there are great numbers of people who consider divorce their first option if “things aren’t working out.” I know this attitude well, I had it myself when I married the first time. I had all kinds of provisos: If he does this or if he does that, or doesn’t do this or doesn’t do that, I’ll just get a divorce. Big deal, in other words. I’ll do what I want to do.

I certainly don’t feel so cavalier today. In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if there aren’t some serious repercussions for swearing or making an oath with little intent to keep it. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus discouraged his followers from making oaths, “. . . I tell you, do not bind yourselves by an 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. And do not swear by your head, for you are not able to make a single hair white or black.Let your Yes be simply Yes, and your No be simply No; anything more than that comes from the evil one.” [Matthew 5:34-37, Amplified]

Throughout this morning, a partner verse keeps coming to my mind about the sowing and reaping principle: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” [Galatians 6:7, NIV 2010] A vow or oath is a type of sowing, it’s a promise, and it’s the beginning of a process; when that promise is broken, the process is aborted and something else will happen instead. There has to be a reaping.

For this reason, I think, Jesus advises us to avoid these situations.

And, as an afterthought, perhaps the profane kind of swearing also bears some unpleasant fruit (or reaping) for the speaker. Wikipedia states that the original meaning of “profane” was “outside or in front of the church.” It is something that does not belong to the church. Interesting tidbit.

Before my Christ-centered days, I could swear up a blue streak and probably “out-swear” a truck driver if need be (not that truck drivers necessarily swear). I could also drink just about anyone under the table. I was proud of my ability to appear really “bad.” Inside, I don’t think I was much different than anyone else. I just covered up a great deal of my insecurities with behavior.

So, my take away for today is two-fold: I should be much more circumspect about the promises I make as well as more prudent in my words. I don’t profanely swear on a regular basis but I do find myself lapsing into some old bad habits. It’s unproductive, or worse, when directed at someone else, it’s “outside the Spirit.”

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In love, in Christ, in trouble, in the weeds, in style, and so on; the preposition “in” has many meanings, but the first one is about inclusion, whether in concrete or abstract terms. And the crux of Paul’s message is about our inclusion in Christ and what that means, in life as well as in death.

I Thessalonians 4:13, 16b-17
We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. . . . the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.

It’s really the whole point, isn’t it? Some people still think that following one’s belief is merely an attitude or determination to live a better life, to manifest love, kindness, honesty, sincerity along with a number of other behavioral metamorphoses.

I am not discounting this interpretation since transformation is part of the process. But I am also interested in the idea of being included in the Spirit world by my relationship with the Christ. Of late, I have been intrigued by the import of the Holy Spirit “in” me, but today, I am captivated by my presence “in” Christ. It is some kind of mutual inclusion. The biggest difference is that the presence in me is holy and pure and working toward cleansing that which is impure within me while Christ takes my “me” into Self as is and acts as a covering for me, like a mama kangaroo who carries her young in a pouch until the little joey is ready.

Being in Christ is a permanent arrangement, not unlike the traditional marriage vow: “. . . to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.” But the difference is that death does not “do us part.” We remain “in” each other even then; that’s the promise. It’s a spirit thing, not corporal.

Being of, for, and in Christ, is not just following some teachings, writings, or interpretations by people throughout the ages. It’s an interior experience above all. And that is where it all counts the most.

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If love is a type of submission, as I believe it is, then that is the best place to start with this controversial passage about wifely submission. You see, if ALL are to submit to one another, why must the “wife to husband” submission be “greater” or more submissive as some people imply?

Ephesians 5:22, 24
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. . . . Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

I’m still taking baby steps when it comes to loving as Christ loved others. Here’s my theory: if I can love/submit to my husband a fraction of what Christ models for me to love/submit to everyone, we’ll have a transformed marriage.

The same habitual sins I experience with others in my daily life are magnified at home. For instance, if I judge others, even people I don’t know in the grocery line or sitting in a restaurant, is there any surprise that I judge those closest to me?

Probably, the love/submission relationship was supposed to be easier with our mates, after all, we’ve made a promise to love them, to cherish them, to stand beside them through joys and sorrows, to create families, to build a microcosm of the Church (i.e. Body of Christ). Instead, we build mini-cultures that reflect the culture in which we live. In some families, that means an environment of greed, ambition, violence, mistrust, disease, and manipulation.

I missed something along the way and forgot that my own husband is “sacred other.” He is Holy Spirit illuminated too. And that is the One to whom I am to submit within him. It is not the veiled man, but the core that is holy. And it is the core of man that is more than worthy of love and yes, even submission.

Some of his veil I caused. When two people hurt each other or become estranged in any way, the darkness covers the light within on both sides. I have been looking through two layers of sin: my own and his.

It’s a uncertain business to begin peeling the layers of “outer self” in a relationship while the other is fully clothed and protected. But I am pretty sure that “outer me” cannot love/submit to anyone in the way of Jesus.

Today, I have intention and mindfulness with love and submission for the Holy Spirit.

(FD 9)

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Acts 18:18b
…before he [Paul] sailed, he had his hair cut off at Cenchrea because of a vow he had taken.

There is a small difference between taking a vow and making one. I believe taking a vow is accepting an existing agreement such as taking a vow of celibacy (how that is done is already established). While making a vow is something you create yourself, like making a vow to stop or change a particular behavior.

In modern times, more and more couples are “making vows” (that is, they are creating their own marriage vows) as opposed to taking on a traditional vow. In an age of casual divorce, many couples remove the “til death do us part” bit. It’s easier that way.

In ancient times, vows were serious business. There was often an outward sign that a vow had been taken to alert the community (like the cutting of hair). These practices may have served as another form of accountability for the person making the vow. Historically, the wedding ceremony was similar: a public voicing of the vow and then a symbolic exchange of rings to signify the vows were made and accepted.

But the seriousness of vows has been lost in our age. We have softened vows into “promises.” And somehow, promises hold less power and are often broken. How often do we say, “I promise … I will …” and then don’t. There is no apparent result. There is no cost.

I maintain there is a cost however. The cost is within. Broken promises break the heart of the one to whom the promise was made and hardens the heart of the one who made the promise and broke it. The effects of broken vows is even worse.

If a vow is made before God, then the breaking is not only between the people, it’s a triad vow and includes God in the mix. Broken vows give pain to God as well.

Keep me mindful this day of my words and thoughts. Oh God, keep me in the circle of your covenant with me.

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