The trouble with making promises, even promises to God, is that I tend to forget what I said. While I live by the grace of God and not my own performance, obedience is still important.
A man called Shimei cursed King David. David could have killed him but didn’t. Instead, he told his son Solomon to deal with this man. After David died, Solomon summoned Shimei and told him to “Build yourself a house in Jerusalem and dwell there, and do not go out from there to any place whatever. For on the day you go out and cross the brook Kidron, know for certain that you shall die. Your blood shall be on your own head.” (1 Kings 2:36–37)
Shimei made this promise to Solomon, now the king, “What you say is good; as my lord the king has said, so will your servant do.”
Shimei lived in Jerusalem many days. But it happened at the end of three years that two of Shimei’s servants ran away… and when it was told Shimei… he arose and saddled a donkey and went to Gath to Achish to seek his servants… and he brought his servants home. (1 Kings 2:38–40)
Only three years later, he forgot his promise and that by breaking it he would die. How could anyone forget such a thing? This was a serious lapse of memory. Verses 43 tell how Solomon summoned him, challenged him, then had him put to death.
How often have I said to God, “I’ll never do that again” only to do that again? How often have I promised God that I would be a faithful witness or do some other act of obedience only to drop the ball when it was thrown to me? The story of Shimei reminds me the seriousness of making promises. No wonder Jesus said…
Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. (Matthew 5:33–37)
James repeats the same command…
But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation. (James 5:12)
The problem with promises is that by making them I assume that I have the power to keep them. Not only that, I also assume I have control over any circumstances that might interfere with my actions. This is folly. I am supposed to say yes or no when asked about anything, but it is sinful arrogance to assume that I can know and do which only God can know or do.
Besides arrogance in my assumptions, there is that problem with forgetfulness. This reveals that I do not take my promises as seriously as God does with His promises. The best I can say about myself is that I am a forgiven sinner, but not one thing God says is rash or assumption. He knows He can keep His promises, but furthermore that He will keep them. He is perfectly faithful, without sin or forgetfulness and His promises are certain because He is God.