Some people try to control God. They promise to give a generous gift to him if he helps them. Really, they are offering to pay for his help. They are behaving in the same way as people behave towards a false god.
Other people promise gifts to God for right and proper reasons. For them, their gifts are an expression of their thanks and love to God.
In Israel, people gave their gifts to God at his house, called the temple, in Jerusalem. Most people lived a long way from the temple; they could not go there often. So when they wanted to give a gift, they made a promise. And when they next went to Jerusalem, they handed over their gifts to the priests there.
Promises matter to God. And that is especially true when people promise to make gifts to God. As soon as a person promises to give something, God accepts that gift. So the gift already belongs to God, and the giver has a duty to hand it over (Leviticus 27:9-10).
Jesus was probably thinking about Ecclesiastes 5:5 when he spoke the words in Matthew 5:33-34. He too warned people about their promises to God. It is better not to make a promise than to make a promise that you do not carry out.
The problem is that people do not think properly about their duties to God. We owe our whole lives to God, and not just our gifts. People try to satisfy God with a promise when they will not allow him to rule their lives.
God does not just want our gifts. He wants us to obey him completely.
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© 2014, Keith Simons.