Deuteronomy 23:23 (CSB)
23 Be careful to do whatever comes from your lips, because you have freely vowed what you promised to the Lord your God.
Where the previous pericope was concerned with the relationship between Israelites, this pericope is concerned with an aspect of the relationship between an Israelite and God. Specifically, it is concerned with making a voluntary vow and following through with it.
We might expect to read something like, “Make many promises to the Lord,” in scripture, but that is not the case. Instead we read a warning to think hard about making such promises, for if we do, God fully expects us to follow through and keep it. And why wouldn’t we expect God to hold us up to our end of the promise… he perfectly executes his promises and fulfills them always, so should his people do the same, especially those vows made with God! Further, it is not a sin to avoid entering into voluntary promises, we are no less “righteous” by not constantly making hasty, poorly thought about, promises to God. It is a better representation of God to make promises that we intend to follow through with rather than go back on our word.
God expects us to follow through with our promises, especially those to Him, and it is “counted against [us] as sin” when we do not follow through. Another wrinkle here may be the timing of our vows to God. Notice that Deut. 23:21 adds, “do not be slow to keep it,” in reference to following through with our vows. I’m not sure that this is saying, “You have two days to follow through,” or something like that, some sort of hard time limit. Instead, I think this is more likely suggesting do not enter into a vow that you are not prepared to begin fulfilling and will do so without hesitation. In other words, if our promises remain unkept because of our voluntary choice to refrain from fulfilling them, even though we might intend to at some time in the future, it seems maybe that is a sign of our misplaced trust and/or authority in ourselves, or our “things”, rather than God.
Finally, we should not under-emphasize the importance of prudence, of wisdom and non-hasty decision making. Deut. 23:22 doesn’t say to just avoid making “sinful vows”. Obviously we should avoid those. But that’s not what it says, it says that it will not be a sin to choose not to make a vow. It is not a sin to avoid making a commitment to do something we are not able to do… and it does not even qualify the reason for abstaining! Certainly we should not look at this as some sort pass to avoid good works and serving, that is not the spirit of this passage. Instead, it is a call to recognize what our gifts are that God has endowed us with, and utilize them in such a way that our vows to God are able to be satisfied by us. It is a call to make vows to God that we fully intend to keep, and avoid making vows we don’t intend to keep.
Lord, thank you for always being true to your word. I am sorry, I have made vows to you and not kept them. Seems I do it way too often, and I want to change. I pray for the wisdom and control to avoid these false promises, and instead be mindful, and led by you in making such promises, as well as in keeping them. Amen.