The cookies on the plate looked exceptionally good. Frankly, my bar for good-looking cookies is rarely all that high, but on one Thursday night, as I attended an evening meeting, there were chocolate-chip wonders calling out my name. “Eat us, Mark!”
I reached down and grabbed two. Popping one in my mouth and chewing, I discovered that it tasted every bit as good as its appearance suggested it might. I savored it for a moment before swallowing. Before the second one went to my mouth, a realization hit me.
“You’re fasting, you idiot!” my mind shouted out.
Indeed, I had determined that for one day each week, as my pastor had suggested, I would abstain from all solid food. Thursday was the day, and my day-long fast helped to explain why I had cookies talking to me.
I’d made a vow of sorts to God and then, with one movement of my hand, I broke it. I’m reminded of that as I continue into Ecclesiastes 5:
Do not let your mouth bring guilt on you, and do not say in the presence of the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry with your words and destroy the work of your hands? For many dreams bring futility, so do many words. Therefore, fear God.Ecclesiastes 5:6-7
A Vow Before God
In Numbers 6, we can read about the Nazirite vows that zealous Jews were encouraged to take for particular periods or, in the case of people like Samson or Samuel, for their entire lives. If you’re not familiar with it, the Nazirite vow required three things as markers of a period of increased holiness.
- You couldn’t cut your hair for the duration.
- You couldn’t consume any alcohol or even grapes.
- You couldn’t make yourself unclean by touching dead things.
That seems pretty simple, but the most famous Nazirite of all, Samson, had a terrible time with it.
We all know that Samson fouled up the hair part of his oath when he told Delilah about his obligation. It wasn’t that Samson’s hair was magical, but his obedience to the vow did carry power. That Samson was stupid enough to blab his secret after all Delilah had already done is stunning.
But what about the other two vows? Samson famously killed a thousand Philistines with a “fresh jawbone of a donkey” (Judges 15:15). If your animal physiology isn’t strong, a fresh jawbone would be dead thing. Also, when Samson eats from the honey in the carcass of the lion he’d killed, he’s again breaking the “dead things” vow.
Finally, Samson isn’t said to drink any alcohol, but he did go to a seven-day Philistine feast and partake the entire time. The idea that Philistine partiers would go at it for a solid week without alcohol is a stretch, and Samson showed himself willing to get in the swing of their culture. I’m fairly sure he was drinking.
God created Samson with power and a great calling. As it turned out, he squandered a great deal of that power and only achieved a portion of his calling by bringing on his own death.
Getting in Tune
We don’t make a lot of formal vows these days. But we do make promises to God, even if we don’t phrase them in those terms. Any meaningful repentance carries the implication that we will do our best not to commit the sin again. But of course we fail. We start out well, and then, before long, we stick that cookie in our mouth.
To take our vows seriously, we probably need to make fewer of them and to reflect heavily before they are made. Before glibly promising that I’ll never speak rudely to my wife for the rest of my life, maybe I should consider the causes and effects of that action. Maybe I should see it for what it really is, something hurtful to her and an insult to God.
In short, we need to consider the cookies that tempt us more deeply before we allow our hand to begin moving.