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Promises, Promises

"O Yahweh, who shall sojourn in your tent?  Who shall dwell on your holy hill?  He who... swears to his own hurt and does not change." (Psalm 15:1, 4)

That statement is huge!  It runs through my mind almost every single day.  The one whom God allows to sojourn with Him - to walk in His presence - and the one whom He allows to dwell with Him is the kind of person who keeps promises.  And this kind of person doesn't just keep the easy ones, but even swears to his own hurt and still does not change.  If he finds himself locked into a really unpleasant commitment, he doesn't try to weasel his way out of it, but instead meets the obligation head-on and fulfills his end of the bargain.

It probably doesn't even need to be said that such a person is in rare supply these days.  In our culture, even the well-worded, highly important, and sacred vows of marriage can be tossed out of the window as soon as the relationship becomes even a little bit difficult to one or both of the persons who made these promises to one another.  We have even invented prenuptial agreements that are in effect in the event that the initial vows are broken - though I always wonder why the prenuptial agreement can't be broken just as easily.  Is it signed with a more special kind of magical ink?

God is so adamant about the inviolable nature of a promise, though, that He holds people to some pretty stout vows in His Word.  Many Bible students would think immediately about the rash vow of Jephthah in the book of Judges: how he promised to sacrifice to Yahweh the first thing that came out of his front door when he got home if God would give him victory in the battle (Judges 11:30-31).  Of course, if you know the story, you know that his only daughter came to meet him when he got home, and was the first thing to come out of his door.  Jephthah, however, did not back down from his promise.  What he had sworn to do was definitely to his own hurt, but he did not change.

Another interesting story like this involves the Gibeonites.  They were those crafty folk who approached the people of Israel in Joshua chapter 9 with great deceit, wearing worn-out clothing and carrying stale bread, claiming to be from a land far away, come to see the people of Yahweh first hand and to learn more about their great God.  As a matter of fact, though, they were people who dwelt in the land of Canaan, and they were just afraid of being destroyed.  But rather than ask God what should be done with them, Joshua and the Israelites quickly made a promise to live peaceably with them: a promise that God would expect them to keep.

Many years later, after the conquest of the land, after the period of judges, and in the time of King David, God began to smite the land of Israel with a great famine and drought.  When Yahweh was consulted as to why such a thing was happening (does anyone consult God these days to find out why hard times come?), He told them that they had violated that old covenant with the Gibeonites (2 Samuel 21:1).  Apparently, at some point in King Saul's reign, he had gone about trying to kill off the Gibeonites in order to give more of the land to the actual people of Israel.  And even though none of the people then living - King Saul included - had been around when that promise was made, God still held them to it, and backed it up with a famine!

But the way that particular situation was resolved is almost mind-blowing.  God was not pleased to send blessing on His people again until David had given the Gibeonites seven men descended from Saul for them to hang "before Yahweh" (v. 9)!  The children of the man who had broken a promise that he wasn't even alive to take part in making had to die because of that broken promise!  That immediately makes me think of the line in the Ten Commandments where God says that He will, "visit the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me" (Exodus 20:5).

God takes promises very seriously, and we should be glad that He does, because He makes quite a few of them Himself.  In fact, all of the wondrous Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ is built upon promises that God made that He would accomplish it.  He never promises anything lightly and does not change His mind.  And He expects us to be like Him in this regard, going so far as to even say, "Who shall sojourn in my tent, and who shall dwell on my holy hill?  The one who swears to his own hurt and does not change."  And make no mistake: He will hold us accountable to every single word that we speak.  Let us be the kind of people who can walk with Him and dwell in His presence.  Brethren, keep your promises.