For You, God, have heard my vows; You have given me the heritage of those who fear Your name.
Then I will ever sing in praise of Your name and fulfil my vows day after day.
Psalm 61:5,8 NIVUK
David’s on the run again. He’s either running from Saul or he’s running from his son Absalom, but he’s definitely running. Apparently, according to verse 2, he’s at the ends of the earth. And he cries out to God to lead him back to his safe place, the rock of God.
But one word crops up twice in this Psalm – the word “vow”. Now this is not a word in general circulation these days. You don’t find it mentioned much, if at all, in Facebook posts, or in Twitter feeds. The problem with this word is that it is a word of commitment, something 21st Century people avoid. The word “vow” implies keeping a promise that has been made. The nearest we get to a vow is a New Year’s resolution, written down on January 1st and forgotten by January 3rd. Or perhaps in a court of law, where we vow to “tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”. Biblically, the word “vow” means to make a solemn promise to do something, especially for God. And David made vows. We don’t know specifically what they were but verse 8 suggests that they were fulfilled during a time of praise.
But vows should not be made lightly. They can have a good or bad outcome. In Matthew 14 we read about Herod’s birthday party, where the daughter of his wife Herodias performed a dance that especially pleased Herod’s guests. And Herod, stupidly as we find out, vowed to give the young woman anything she wanted. Prompted by her mother, she requested the head of John the Baptist on a plate because the prophet had taken a stand against Herod’s wish to marry his brother’s wife, something against Jewish law. Herod, to save face in front of his guests, had to keep his vow. And then we read about the Apostle Paul’s vow in Acts 21:26.
So should we be setting and keeping vows today? The most important of them (in my opinion) must be the marriage vow. The following extract is taken from the Book of Common Prayer and has been uttered by countless millions of people over the centuries. Sadly, over 40% of couples in the UK apparently fail to keep this vow.
‘I, (name), take you, (name)
to be my wife/husband,
to have and to hold
from this day forward;
for better, for worse,
for richer, for poorer,
in sickness and in health,
to love and to cherish,
till death us do part,
according to God’s holy law.
In the presence of God I make this vow.’
But should we be setting any other vows? Now that’s a challenging thought. Isn’t the setting of vows a bit legalistic? It needn’t be – perhaps a good vow to start with is the one to always thank and praise God, regardless of the circumstances – that’s not legalistic. As we respond to God’s amazing grace and love, this is surely not a hard vow to keep.