During our Sunday night service, we have a time where questions can be asked. The topics are usually limited to the morning sermon or the Sunday school classes, but sometimes we go further afield. I simply ask the church to be nice to me, and give me the question either in the morning or over email so I don't have to repeat the same mantra over and over- "Wow, that's a great question. I don't know. Maybe I could think about that this week and we'll talk next week?" I'm going to start posting the questions with my answers here. 

"Is it right or wrong to make promises to God based on Him answering our prayers like Hannah did in 1 Samuel 1:11?"

First, we need to think about what Hannah did here. She made a vow to God. This is fairly common practice in the Bible. You can read in Numbers 30:6-15 about the laws concerning a woman making vows. Basically they are binding on her, except when she makes one that her husband disagrees with. He can override that vow, which tells us that in 1 Samuel Elkanah approved of what Hannah did. Otherwise, he could have nullified it. She promised God that if he were to give her a child, she would give that child over to the service of God all his life. 

What we need to realize is how serious it is to make a vow to God. 

Some examples from Scripture: 

Jacob made a vow that he would worship God and give Him a tenth of what he owned if God would protect him. (Gen. 28:20-22).

Hannah's prayer in 1 Samuel 1:11. 

The sailors on the ship with Jonah made a vow when they were in the middle of the storm at sea. (Jonah 1:13-16) 

Paul speaks about four men who are with him, and are under a vow. He doesn't seem to discourage them, but in fact he seems to do the opposite. (Acts 21:23) 

In Psalm 76:11- we read: 
Make your vows to the Lord your God and perform them;
let all around him bring gifts
to him who is to be feared, 

We have to recognize, though, that making a vow is not a light thing. It should never be done casually. "Make your vows to the Lord your God, and perform them." We're casual about everything in life today, it seems. Going to church, taking the Lord's Supper, reading Scripture, praying, we are casual about keeping up with all these things. Making the simple vow of regularly worshiping with a local church would be the undoing of many so called Christians. A vivid and tragic example of the danger of a vow is from Judges 11:29-40. There we read about Jepthah, who was a great warrior. 

Then the Spirit of the Lord was upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh and passed on to Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he passed on to the Ammonites. And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” So Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites to fight against them, and the Lord gave them into his hand. And he struck them from Aroer to the neighborhood of Minnith, twenty cities, and as far as Abel-keramim, with a great blow. So the Ammonites were subdued before the people of Israel.

Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah. And behold, his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances. She was his only child; besides her he had neither son nor daughter. And as soon as he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the Lord, and I cannot take back my vow.” And she said to him, “My father, you have opened your mouth to the Lord; do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, now that the Lord has avenged you on your enemies, on the Ammonites.” So she said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me: leave me alone two months, that I may go up and down on the mountains and weep for my virginity, I and my companions.” So he said, “Go.” Then he sent her away for two months, and she departed, she and her companions, and wept for her virginity on the mountains. And at the end of two months, she returned to her father, who did with her according to his vow that he had made. She had never known a man, and it became a custom in Israel that the daughters of Israel went year by year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year." 

We might wonder why God didn't relax his demand when the life of a young girl was at risk, and go easy on Jephthah here. But the point is, he didn't. And that should tell us loud and clear how important a vow is to our God. God will hold you to your vow. If you break it, you're simply heaping judgment on yourself. So if you're going to make a vow, keep that in mind. You're not joking around. If you break you're vow to God, he will hold you accountable to it. 

In fact, you see that same mindset presented in the New Testament. Someone might say, didn't Jesus condemn swearing oaths  in Matthew 5:33-37? Yes, he did but let's look a little deeper. One, there seems to be a difference between a vow and an oath. Swearing an oath in this context is appealing to something greater than you to show your honesty (ie- Hebrews 6:13-17). Two, Jesus isn't giving a blanket condemnation either, although it may look like it at first. After all, we see a number of people, Paul included, swearing oaths throughout the New Testament. Jesus, and James in James 5:12, are condemning those who would use oaths to manipulate the truth ("I didn't swear by God, so it's not as strong," or "I didn't actually promise that time..") The reason that Jesus and James speak so strongly is because of how serious it is that we keep our word, and hold our vow.

Look around at the many people in our culture who may confess Christ, but they worship their own lives. They don't make their sacrifices to God, but to the idols that bring them satisfaction (money, health, sex, comfort, and on and on). I wouldn't want any one like that to make a vow to God! Why would you think they'd keep it? Learn how to be honest, disciplined, and sincere about your faith before you condemn yourself with a vow you have no intention of keeping. Repent of a casual, self-centered faith and run to God for the strength to keep your promises. 

When we looked at 1 Samuel, we mentioned that this probably wasn't the first time Hannah prayed for a child. But it may have been the first time she made this vow, and notice, she honored it. She kept it! So I would say it is okay, and sometimes even right, to make a vow to the Lord but you need to do it like Hannah did. Her desire was to give the child back to the Lord. It was a very God-centered prayer, and she gives him all the glory over and over again. And, don't discount this- she kept her vow.

Just understand that what you're doing is very serious and needs to be for the glory of God. It's not something to be casual about. A vow is not a formula that guarantees success. It's a responsibility, more than anything else. But it can be good. After all, we're called to live our lives for God. We're not supposed to just sit around and get, get, get. We're called to give, to sacrifice, to serve. We've made a vow already, to follow Christ. We cried out to God to bless us with forgiveness and a new heart, and we will then spend the rest of our lives living as His children. There are going to be many people who'd rather be Jephthah when they stand before God having broken the vow of faith. 

Matthew Henry said, "Note further, It is very proper, when we are in pursuit of any mercy, to bind our own souls with a bond, that, if God give it us, we will devote it to his honour and cheerfully use it in his service. Not that hereby we can pretend to merit the gift, but thus we are qualified for it and for the comfort of it. In hope of mercy, let us promise duty."

So go ahead and ask God for good things, and promise that you'll use them for His glory. Commit your life to God, every part of it! Be faithful with what God has given you. Just one thing: don't ever forget the story of Jephthah.