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Does the Old Testament teach us to swear?

Columbia Biblical Studies: Thursday, May 8
Columbia Biblical Studies: Thursday, May 8
Darren Lewis

Today’s bible study is Deuteronomy 10:20: Fear the Lord your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name.

Fearing the Lord our God and serving him are concepts that we, as Christians, are very familiar with. They appear repeatedly in both the Old and New Testament and we speak them and practice them almost daily. The disturbing part of this verse is the second line which admonished us to take our oaths upon his name.

Since childhood, we have been taught never to take the name of the Lord in vain, or to swear or curse using the name of the Lord. Yet here, we are told to take our oaths upon his name. What is the difference? How can we best understand this?

This section of Deuteronomy deals with an admonition to fear and love the Lord and to obey His will, and asks what the Lord your God requires of you. This rhetorical question led into Moses’ statement of the five basic requirements that God expected of His people: to fear the Lord your God, to hold God in awe and submit to Him, to walk in His ways and to conduct one’s life in accordance with the will of God, to love Him and to choose to set one’s affections on the Lord and on Him alone, to serve the Lord your God and to worship the Lord as the central focus of your life and to keep the commandments of the Lord and to obey the requirements that the Lord has imposed.

We are told to hold fast to Him, to stick to Him, to cling to Him, or to hold on to Him. As a husband was to be united with his wife in Genesis, so Israel was to cling intimately to her God in Deuteronomy.

We practice this today, learning from the scriptures and holding fast to our God. We cannot hope to learn the original words, since we are not living in a faraway time and place. Yet, we are among the subsequent generations who will be taught from the word of the scriptures and admonished to hold fast to the Lord. If we learn the most we can, absorb truth and knowledge and put it into practice, never letting go of the Lord our God, we shall have done our best.

References: The People’s New Testament Commentary by M. Eugene Boring and Fred B. Craddock and The MacArthur Bible Commentary by John MacArthur.

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