People swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. Hebrews 6, verse 16.
Oaths. This idea of an oath, of swearing by someone, was brought up in verse 13. Let’s a few minutes discussing oaths.
Next week, on January 20, Donald Trump will take the same presidential oath as every other president before him did and he will officially be the President of the United States. That oath is spelled out explicitly in the Constitution; it’s the only oath in the USA that is. It will be the power of that Constitution that vests into Mr. Trump all responsibility and authority to be the one and only president. It is the will of the people as expressed through their votes. Folks in our country can disagree on that fact, but it’s still a fact even when the outcome of the election isn’t what some wanted. The oath is a symbol of the power vested in the person. It’s a recitation of a legal, binding contract between the individual and the group offering said oath and its associated benefit. In this case, that group is the constituents of the United States, the government we empower, and the benefit is the elected individual’s empowerment with the office to which he was elected. Mr. Trump can be held accountable by his constituents and by the Congress for any abuses he may undertake that violate that oath and the Constitution behind it. Yet when he takes the oath, he and only he will be the actual and only president. Not Mr. Obama; not Mrs. Clinton; not anyone named Bush; nobody in the Congress or the media or in the public peanut gallery.
Oaths mean something.
Consider wedding vows. They’re oaths. Like the oath of office, they’re a legal, binding commitment between two people, swearing to uphold the boundaries of their marriage so that they might, in fact, be married. We value marriage as the ultimate expression of devotion and commitment to each other. In the vows we exchange – the oaths through which we swear – we promise to love, honor, cherish and other things that reflect our belief in that binding contract of matrimony. The vows reflect the gravity that we believe exists in marriage, and state things we believe are important, qualities and actions we respect regarding the people we hold dearest.
As Rush Limbaugh often says, “words mean things.” They aren’t light, and we shouldn’t make light of them. Celebrity marriages are the butt of many jokes because it seems celebrities don’t take those oaths very seriously. Donald Trump continues to be the butt of many jokes even though he won his office in the same way every other elected president has. Both married people and presidents (as well as every other office-holder in the country) understand the gravity of the oaths they undertake. Candidates undergo the electoral process specifically for the opportunity to take that oath. Engaged couples plan, anticipate, and modify their lives specifically for the opportunity to take that oath and make those vows. It’s because words mean things.
Words mean things because that’s how God gave them to us. He gives us the ability to use words in unique ways that add significance and special meaning. If you swear you’ll do something, you’re making a blanket promise to do something. It becomes a matter of record that you’re affirming you’ll do that thing…so make sure you do it. If you ‘swear on your mother’s grave,’ you’re affirming your word against the actual or eventual death of the woman who gave birth to you. As one who has lost his mom, I’ll say that means something. If you “swear to God” that X is so, then you’re strongly affirming that X is actually so against the word and existence of the Great I AM. Better not mess that up.
In fact, we’d better not mess these things up at all. God takes our words seriously because He considers them to be expressions of what we think and feel. He gives Himself to us through His Word, which both shares and describes Him. To Abraham, God made and oath and, because He wanted Abraham to know it was important, He swore by Himself that the promise would be kept. And it was. God gives us language so that we can share Him in His world, and so that we can express ourselves with others. When we want to or need to ensure something is regarded with special gravity, we are given the gift of being able to affirm it with an oath. Yet we should regard all of our words as important. We shouldn’t use them unwisely, or lightly, or be flippant with them. Our guide should be Jesus’ advice in Matthew 5: “Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no.” Mean what you say when you say it. Stick with honesty, and wisdom, and a held tongue. Words mean things. Let’s remember that, especially in being ‘married to’ this new administration.
For further reading: Exodus 22:11, Matthew 4:37
Lord, thank You for oaths. Thank You for Your teaching on using them, and on how we should speak and act.