The Expository Files

 
Do Not Forget Your Vow!

Genesis 35:1-7

Jacob, then a young man, found himself fleeing in fear for his life from his brother Esau, after having tricked his father Isaac into giving Esau's blessing as the firstborn to himself. There was already bad blood between the two, so Jacob was warned by his mother to flee for his life. Jacob arrived at Bethel as he journeyed toward his mother's old home to stay with relatives. He had a dream there, and so built an altar, and made a solemn promise, or vow, unto God .

Many years later (about 30) we find Jacob had a large family and decided to return to his home. God told Jacob to return to Bethel and build an altar there. Why did God command this? Evidently, because nearly thirty years earlier, Jacob had made a vow. But he seemed to have forgotten about it, or at least was not paying as much attention to it as he ought. God is now calling him to fulfill it. (Genesis 35:1-7)

There are several items of importance that can be noted in this account which can find their application to our own relationships with God today. We'll look at some of these, but first, a little more historical background might be helpful.

The Historical Background
As Jacob was fleeing his brother, he stopped at what is now called Bethel (Genesis 28:10-15). There he had a dream in which he saw what we commonly call "Jacob's Ladder" (angels ascending and descending on a ladder between heaven and earth). In this dream, God promised to be with him and to safely return him to his home one day. The dream prompted Jacob to make his vow - (Genesis 28:16-22).

The vow included three promises: First, Jehovah would be his only God if He carried out His promise, just like He had been Isaac's only God and his grandfather, Abraham's, only God.

Second, he promised to sanctify the stone upon which his head had rested and which he had set up as a pillar.

Third, he promised to give God a tenth of all that God would give him.

For the next twenty years Jacob Lived in Haran. As God had promised, He was with Jacob and Jacob prospered both in family, and in gaining wealth - (Genesis 29-30). Upon Jacob's return, God kept him safe as well; safe from Laban, his uncle, who was pursuing him as well as from Esau, who was coming to meet him with uncertain motives. By the time of our text, Jacob had been living back in Canaan for ten years, just as God had promised thirty years before. He had settled near the city of Shechem (Genesis 33:18).

But Jacob had not bothered to go back to Bethel, where the Lord had appeared to him and where he had made his vow. So it appears that Jacob had forgotten his vow, and for this reason God commanded him to return to Bethel (Genesis 35:1). Jacob then demanded that all the idols that remain in the large group including not only his immediate family, but also the servants, be cast away, and obeyed the Lord's command.

God Expects Us To Keep Our Promises to Him
The Lord does not take vows lightly, and neither should we (Ecclesiastes 5:2-5). In recent years, I have begun to emphasize this more in weddings I perform where we call upon God to witness the vows made. (Numbers 30:2; Exodus 20:7). So let's be sure to keep any covenant or vow that we make with God. This would include:

When we became Christians we made a vow unto God (Romans 6:4; 20-23). We promised to turn from sin, and to follow Christ with all our heart. We promised to accept His Lordship because we believe He is the Son of God, has died, and arose to God's right hand. We promise to honor and give Him glory as such for the rest of our lives. In truth, we rise from baptism to walk in “newness of life”. Are we faithful to our vow to God?

We are sometimes forgetful of our vows. We saw where God fulfilled His side of the promise to Jacob, but Jacob had been too casual about his side. This "forgetfulness" seems to occur most often when vows are made in times of trouble, like one might make in an airplane during extreme air turbulence or mechanical problems. While such vows might be hastily made, they are just as binding as those made upon careful reflection!

God promised to redeem us. He has done so. We respond by dedicating ourselves to serve Him (Isaiah 59:20,21; Titus 2:13,14). Let us do a better job at remembering and keeping our promises to God than Jacob did.

One of the reasons people forget their vows, especially ones made during times of trouble and turmoil, is because when things go well we forget how forlorn and almost hopeless we once felt. In the case of Jacob. He had been blessed with a family, prosperity, and a home. Many Christians today are blessed with the same things. Let us not forget the goodness of God when things are good. And let us not take the blessings for granted, nor forget the promises we have made to God.

Another reason people sometimes forget their vows is because we have permitted the world to influence us. Jacob, though not engaging in idolatry himself, had permitted it to be practiced in the group (Genesis 35:2). In similar fashion, many people do not live up to the vow they made when they became Christians. The world tells us that our promises unto God are not as sacred as they really are. It tells us that such spiritual concerns are obsolete. But again, this is no excuse for "forgotten vows". Do not allow the idols of the world to become your gods! One cannot serve the true and living God and mammon.

Remembering
Sometimes, it is good to reflect and remember. It helps us to stay on the right track to remember what is truly important and our blessings and victories of the past. God told Jacob to return to Bethel, perhaps knowing that old scene would rekindle his memories and help him consider that God had fulfilled His promises to Jacob. This reminds us of how Jesus told the church at Ephesus to remember what they had left… their “first love” (Revelation 2:4-5). They needed to return to that! They were told to "remember...from where you have fallen"… and to "repent and do the first works.”

When Jacob fulfilled his vow, God appeared to him and renewed the promises that had been made to Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 35:9-15). So it can be with us! It may be that we have forgotten the original commitment we made when we first obeyed the gospel of Christ. But if we will just return to Christ. Make Him as an important part of our lives as He ought to be, then we will be blessed by God. All the spiritual blessings that He has to offer can be ours again! - including the joy and confidence and hope… and that will be refreshing (Revelation 3:19-21)!

By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 19.12; December 2012

 

 

 

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