"And she (Hannah) vowed a vow."
I Samuel 1: 11, King James Version
"Words That Honor"
"Vow" - Synonyms - promise, pledge, oath, word, solemn word, word of honor, troth, assurance.
"Vow" - Dictionary meaning - An earnest promise or pledge that commits one to perform a certain act or behave in a particular way, especially a solemn promise to live and to act according to certain religious precepts. A formal assertion or declaration.
"Vow" - Hebrew in I Samuel 1: 11 - "Neder" - a promise to God.
"We promise according to our hopes and perform according to our fears."
Francois VI, duc de La Rochefoucauld
Born in Paris, France in 1613 in the Rue des Petits Champs, Francois, duc de La Rochefoucauld, prince de Marcillac, grew to be a noted French author of maxims and memoirs as well as an example of a 17th century nobleman. If you are like me, maybe you weren't clear as to exactly what "maxims" are. However, with a little bit of study, I found that "maxims" are similar to Proverbs. Little gems that enlighten. They're short, easy-to-remember, expressions of general truth or rules of conduct, nuggets of wisdom that enlighten. As we study about the word that is repeated twice in our text today, "vow," I'm thankful for the "maxim" penned by Francois La Rochefoucauld because it is one of those tasty bits of wisdom that helps us better understand what it means to make a promise or vow in our lives.
Quite frankly, there are several words in the Bible that either perplex me or scare me, a little. I know I'm not alone in my feelings because I've had more than one friend or acquaintance admit that "vowing" or "promising" or the use of "vows" in the Bible made them feel very uncomfortable and all I could respond with was, "Me, too!"
However, during our studies from Genesis 1, until this day when we are in I Samuel 1, I begin my personal study every day by lifting my hands heavenward and asking God to fill me with His thoughts, not my own, for my own are not what I need or you need. What we all need is that heavenly insight, heavenly "maxims" so to speak. And as I studied, rather than being afraid or shaken or hesitant about the word "vow," I have come to embrace this wonderful Biblical practice and recognize that just as happens with so many things in this world, a "vow" or "promise" can be used for good or for ill.
I think my reason for feeling uncomfortable with the word "vow" stems from two specific stories in the Bible. The first incident is about Jepthah and the rash vow he made regarding his daughter. We spent four weeks studying this story and found some of the most beautiful lessons as we remembered Jepthah's daughter. However, looking back at the reckless and impulsive words that came from a man of violence, Jepthah, I agree with Sarah Scott who observed, "No vows are less sincere than those made in anger." How often, after some burst of anger, has someone promised something only to later back down when the fire of an out-of-control temper has been put out. This is why some "vowing" has made me ill-at-ease, for it seems to be a reactionary response. This can even happen when the situation is meant for good. I'll never forget going to a Bible Camp as a young teen where a "Hell-fire and brimstone" preacher had us shaking in our shoes and then in a thundering voice demanded we come forward for an altar-call and if we didn't, well, I'll leave those consequences to your imagination - but I'll give you a hint - it wasn't pretty! You should have heard the promises being made and the vows that were promised. "I'll never do such and such again!" But a few days later, when the threats and emotions of the moment had worn off, nearly everyone was back to their same old tricks.
However, "reactionary vows," as I call them, aren't the only thing that has made me uneasy about "promising" and "vowing." I've also felt afraid at the consequences the Bible shares regarding people who break "promises" or "vows." All you have to do is go to the New Testament and read in Acts 5 about Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, who broke their promise to God. It's enough to make you think twice about going back on a vow to God for they both ended up dead. (Now there's a lot more to this story than meets the eye and we'll be spending plenty of time on this case in the future!) For right now, the experience of pledging something to God and then going back on your word appears to be one of those situations where God doesn't take it lightly when we break a "promise" or "vow" to Him.
And this brings us to the text today in I Samuel 1: 11 where the word "vow" isn't used just once, but twice. "And Hannah vowed a vow and said." This wasn't an off-the-cuff remark. As we read the entire prayer, we find this was a well-thought-out promise to God, "O Lord of hosts, if Thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of Thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget Thine handmaid, but wilt give unto Thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the Lord all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head" (I Samuel 1: 11, K.J.V.).
Hannah had repeatedly asked God for a child. This wasn't a first-time request. However, as I read Hannah's prayer, my first impulse was this question, "Was Hannah playing tit-for-tat with God? Was this one of those times when someone tells God, ‘If you'll help me win the lottery I'll use all the money for good causes?'" I think you understand what I mean. We promise God something based on getting what we want.
As I have studied about Hannah, I have come to the conclusion she wasn't bargaining with God. There had to be more and so I dug deeper. And when I found the golden nugget it was in an unlikely place, a book of synonyms, no less. It came in the form of words used in place of vow. And here it is. A vow means "To honor with our words." Let me explain this phrase in a very personal and practical way. Nearly 32 years ago, as a young girl, I made a vow before a minister and 300 friends and family members that I would "love, honor, and cherish" Jim until "death do us part." This was my promise. A promise I never, ever planned on breaking and one I hoped Jim would never break, either.
Like nearly every couple I know, there have been times when that promise has been challenged - but the vow has never been broken. Why? Is it because we're perfect? Far from it. There are days when we have had to admit that planet earth isn't big enough to hold the two of us. But, and here's the critical point about the promises we make, keeping our promises is a reflection of the honor we place on the person to whom we make a vow. I keep my vow to Jim because of the esteem I hold him in my life. I value him. I can't imagine my life without him.
This is exactly what Hannah reflected in her prayer to her Father in heaven. Through thick and thin, through good times and bad, when God roared or when He was silent - it didn't matter to Hannah. God was still the honored and esteemed center of her life. Her prayer was not a representation of a bartering system where if God gives me what I want I'll give Him something in return. In fact, Hannah's prayer was just the opposite. It was the promise of Hannah, God's daughter, to her Father, that when the best was poured into her life she would honor Him just as she had during the worst days of her life. Hannah wouldn't break a promise in sorrow or in fulfillment.
And this truth brings us full circle back to a secular French nobleman who penned the maxim, "We promise according to our hopes and perform according to our fears." For most of us, this is absolutely true. But not in the case of Hannah. She promised (vowed) according to her hopes and she performed or lived her life in accord with whom she honored - her Father in heaven. What a lesson for you and me. No wonder Hannah had no problem vowing a vow. When you give a promise to the "One" you honor, it's a promise you'll never want to break!
"God is the God of promise. He keeps His word, even when that seems impossible; even when the circumstances seem to point to the opposite."
"O Lord, I do not know what to ask of You. You alone know what are my true needs. You love me more than I myself know how to love. Help me to see my real needs, which are concealed from me…I can only wait on You. My heart is open to You. Come to me and help me, for Your great mercy's sake. I put all my trust in You…Teach me how to pray; pray Yourself in me."
Theodore Philaret Of Moscow
Dorothy Valcàrcel, Author
When A Woman Meets Jesus
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