What Happens When You Break a Vow?

Message: What happens when you make a vow to God that if he can do something for you, you would stay true to your vow and when he does it you don't keep your vow? You intended to, but circumstances didn't let you.

Response: Dear Believer,

I prayed for wisdom over this because I'd hate to sound either too dismissive or too permissive when it comes to making vows to God. Let me offer a few passages, then share what I make of them.

I can think of a couple situations in the Old Testament where vows were made to God. When Hannah wanted a son (I Samuel 1:10-11) she vowed that if God would give her one, the child would be committed to the Lord’s service.  When her baby Samuel was weaned (possibly age 3-4, some scholars suggest) he was brought to work with Eli as a fulfillment of the vow.

The other story is of Jepthah, one of Israel’s judges who made a vow that if God would deliver Israel during an upcoming battle, he’d sacrifice the first thing that came out of his house doors (Judges 11:30-31). He regretted making that vow as the first to greet him was his only daughter. His daughter agreed that the oath must be kept, and after a final road trip with her friends, she dedicated herself to God’s service and never married.

Making oaths to God is serious business, as we come to understand from these two stories where lives were incredibly altered in order to make good on a promise. Additionally, there is a whole section of Leviticus (Chapter 30) on oaths and whether or not they’re binding, and several new testament verses like James 5:12 that imply that we should avoid oaths or vows (similar concepts) so we do not "fall into judgment".

Unfortunately, I don’t know the circumstances surrounding your oath and whether or not you made every good effort. The bad news is that if you pursued it half-heartedly, you’ve likely damaged your relationship with God. Just as with making a promise to any friend—if you promised something and didn’t follow through, the trust suffers. The good news is, that even when hurt our relationship with God, he isn’t punitive. He’s not gonna “make you pay” or anything like that

Only you and God –and some would say only God-- knows where your heart is, and as 2 Cor. 8:12 says “For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not.” If you were willing and circumstances fell through, God sees that. If you tried with your whole heart and it didn’t work out, God knows that!

So, what next? If you think that you made an oath rashly and it was inappropriate, talk to a trusted adult. Tell them the details and ask them to give you some feedback. If they agree it was a quickly or rashly made oath, claim numbers 30:3-5 and talk to God about it.

If you KNOW in your heart that your oath was made thoughtfully and that you could have done more to fulfill your oath, consider doing what you can to fulfill your promise—either by fulfilling it partially or by doing something similar. Again, not because God is measuring your works, but because he wants to be treated as a friend and in trying to do what you’ve said you’ll do, you’ll be acting as a friend of God. Also, the opportunity to fulfill your oath may be in the future yet. An opportunity passed may come around again.

Above all, as you pray through this situation, please be reminded of God’s love for you and for his desire to give you good outcomes, without the need for making vows. We have open access to God’s wisdom and authority—what will he not give you just for asking? That’s all I’ve got for now. Blessings on you dear girl!



Erica Jones