Separation and Dedication are seen to be the two requirements that God has laid down if we are to be a “people for His Name”. For the Israelite who wished to demonstrate his desire to voluntarily separate and dedicate himself to Yahweh in a way that was more than mere words, Yahweh made provision for such in the ritual of the Mosaic Law. This provision took the form of a vow and vow offering. Although it involved ceremonial ritual, it sprang from a heart full of thankfulness and praise. The greatest example of one who truly vowed his life to God was the Lord Jesus Christ. We do well to consider his vow and how this same principle can operate in our lives and affect our relationship with God and each other

As we gather each first day of the week to partake of the memorial emblems, our minds at some stage will invariably contemplate the Lord’s last hours as he hung on the cross. One of the most appropriate sections of Scripture for this contemplation is Psalm 22 and it is in this “Messianic” Psalm that we have the words of the Lord, “I will pay my vows before them that fear Him” (v25).

The Psalm is divided into two parts. The first part (vv 1-21) can be entitled “Thou hearest not” and depicts the Lord hanging upon the cross and surveying the scene before him as his enemies throw scorn upon him and part his garments among themselves. The second part (vv 22-31) provides a distinct contrast with the first part and can be entitled “Thou hast heard”. At this point, the Lord’s thoughts turned to the future and he was sustained in his last hours by the glorious vision of the “joy set before him” (Heb 12:1, 2). That joy was the joy of perfect unity with his brethren in the Kingdom of God and is described by the Psalmist: “I will declare Thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise Thee” (Psa 22:22; Heb 2:11, 12). It is in this context that the Psalmist depicts the Lord as saying: “I will pay my vows before them that fear Him” (v25).

I Will Pay My Vows

 What is meant by the words, “I will pay my vows before them that fear Him”? To answer the question, we need to firstly consider what we are told about “vows” in the Bible.

What is a vow? Why was it made? When was it made? How was it made? And after it was made, what were the obligations on the part of the one making the vow?

  1. What is a vow?

 A vow is something promised to God, but the promise involves more than merely a course of action. It generally implies a promised gift associated with sacrifice. It always relates to something between man and God – never between man and man. A vow was entirely voluntary and God never asked for one to be made, but once it was made, the vower was obliged to fulfil (or “pay”) the vow exactly in accordance with the promise made. “When thou shalt vow a vow unto Yahweh thy God, thou shalt not slack to pay it: for Yahweh thy God will surely require it of thee; and it would be sin in thee. But if thou shalt forbear to vow, it shall be no sin in thee. That which is gone out of thy lips thou shalt keep and perform; even a freewill offering, according as thou hast vowed unto Yahweh thy God, which thou hast promised with thy mouth” (Deut 23:21-23).

  1. Why was a vow made?

 It was essentially an expression of thanksgiving, but in the highest form it can take. It went further than merely expressing thanks in words – it sprang from a fervent desire to match the words with actions. “But I will sacrifice unto Thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of Yahweh” (Jonah 2:9).

  1. When was a vow made?

It could be made basically at any time and almost anything could be vowed to God unless it was already devoted or consecrated to Him (Lev 27:26). The following are some examples:- • A person vowing their service to God – Num 6:2. • A person vowing a child to God – 1 Samuel 1:11 • A person vowing property to God – Genesis 28:20-22

  1. How was it made?

 There are three particular expressions used in relation to undertaking a vow.

  1. “VOW a vow”. It was to be voluntary, but once it had been vowed it had to be performed (Num 30:2 etc).
  2. “REDEEM a vow”. Under certain circumstances it might be redeemed by paying a suitable compensation (Lev 27:1-8, 11-23).
  3. “PAY a vow” – The expression means to complete or fulfil a vow. When completed, a vow offering was made (Lev 7:16; Psa 50:14; 76:11). This had to be unblemished or else Yahweh considered it an insult (Mal 1:14).

A Vow Offering was a form of Peace Offering expressing thanksgiving and a sense of unity between Yahweh and the one completing the vow (Lev 7:16). The word “pay” (Heb “shalam”) is closely related to the word for Peace Offering (Heb “shelem”) and implies completeness and hence unity or fellowship.

One of the best known vows was the Nazarite Vow described in Numbers 6. If the vow was accidently broken through contact with a dead body, the vower was obliged to make certain offerings culminating in a Trespass Offering (acknowledging that he had robbed Yahweh of service) and then make up the lost time. When the vow was completed, a different series of offerings was made culminating in a Peace Offering indicating fellowship with God.

Do we view our service to Yahweh with the same seriousness as the Nazarite? Is our service performed with a willing and joyful heart? When we fail do we have an overwhelming desire to “make up the lost time”, for surely our failures rob God of service as much as the Nazarite who inadvertently broke his vow? Is our one aim in life to “pay our vow” and ultimately experience the purity of fellowship with Christ and his brethren in the Kingdom?

Christ’s Vow and Our Identification With It

 The greatest vow of all time was that made by the Lord Jesus Christ and Psalm 22 indicates that this vow will not be fulfilled (or paid) until he is united with his glorified brethren in the Kingdom. The spirit of the Nazarite was seen in the Lord’s words: “I will not drink henceforth of the fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom” (Matt 26:29). His vow embodied all the foregoing principles and was an expression of thanksgiving to his Heavenly Father in anticipation of its fulfilment in the Kingdom. He gave his whole life as a freewill offering and was sustained by “the joy set before him”, which enabled him to see beyond the present to the future.

Our baptism is, in effect, a vow of service to God, but when we fail to perform it perfectly and come short of the Glory of God, we effectively rob Him of the service we have promised. Yahweh has therefore made a merciful provision for us in the sacrifice of His Son, which, in this respect, is described as a Trespass Offering (Isaiah 53:9,10 Hebrew – “asham”).

Does this same joy of perfect fellowship sustain and motivate us in our present relationships? Do we also desire to express our gratitude to God by implementing in our lives those same principles seen in the vow offering under the Law of Moses.

A Warning

 God does not demand vows from us today any more than He did in the past, but He doubtless finds pleasure in the free-will offerings of all His children when they are spontaneously offered from hearts full of thanksgiving and praise. Our lives might well consist of a number of short and long term vows, but the important thing is to set a limited objective so that what we vow to do, we do well. In this regard we need to note the warning of Solomon. “When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for He hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed” (Ecclesiastes 5:4).

Our Incentive

Our vows will see their fulfilment in the Kingdom when we are joined with our Lord and his brethren in songs of great rejoicing to celebrate the day of Zion’s glory: “Praise waiteth for Thee, O God, in Zion: and unto Thee shall the vow be performed” (Psalm 65:1). “I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of Yahweh. I will pay my vows unto Yahweh now in the presence of all His people, in the courts of Yahweh’s house, in the midst of thee, O Jerusalem. Praise ye Yahweh” (Psalm 116:17-19).

 O God of Bethel, by whose hand Thy people still are fed, Who through this weary pilgrimage Hast all the fathers led:

 Our vows, our prayers, we now present Before Thy throne of grace; God of the fathers be the God Of their succeeding race.

 Through each perplexing path of life Our wandering footsteps guide; Give us each day our daily bread, And raiment fit provide.

 O spread Thy covering wings around, Till all our wanderings cease, And in the Father’s house of prayer, Redeemed, we rest in peace.

Hymn 73 Based on Genesis 28:20-22