Do Not Forget Your Vow!
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
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
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.
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