Matthew 23:16 “Woe to you, blind guides, saying, Whoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor.”
This is the fourth of the Eight Woes to the Pharisees. Before we start looking at this woe, someone asked what the meaning of woe is so I need to explain that word a bit. Woe is an exclamation of grief. It is the same as saying, "alas". Some Bible Translations say, "Alas for you", or "How terrible it will be for you", or "How horrible it will be for you." The Message Bible translation, which we will be using for this verse says, "You're hopeless! What arrogant stupidity!" The Pharisees were conducting life in a way that served their own purposes instead of living a humble life of serving God. The end result for them would not be a good one if they didn't change their ways.
The fourth woe has to do with making promises. It is found in Matthew 23:16-22. Since we don't swear by a temple or the gold of a temple, this text can be hard to relate to. The Message Bible translation puts the text in a way that is more understandable for our day and age. The meaning is still the same, it is just worded differently.
Matthew 23:16-22 "You're hopeless! What arrogant stupidity! You say, 'If someone makes a promise with his fingers crossed, that's nothing; but if he swears with his hand on the Bible, that's serious.' What ignorance! Does the leather on the Bible carry more weight than the skin on your hands? And what about this piece of trivia: 'If you shake hands on a promise, that's nothing; but if you raise your hand that God is your witness, that's serious'? What ridiculous hairsplitting! What difference does it make whether you shake hands or raise hands? A promise is a promise. What difference does it make if you make your promise inside or outside a house of worship? A promise is a promise. God is present, watching and holding you to account regardless. (The Message Translation)
God does not make promises He cannot or will not keep. He is a God who can be trusted to keep His word. He also expects His people to keep their word. No one should make a promise they cannot keep or have no intentions of keeping. There are no ways to get out of a promise. Crossing your fingers while making a promise in only another way of telling a lie. Placing your hand on the Bible or making the promise in church does not make the promise more serious or secure. It doesn't matter where or how you make a promise, in God's eyes a promise or a vow is something to be kept. God can see people outside of a church just as easily as He can in a church. He can hear our words wherever we are, and He expects us keep our word.
"People who promise things that they never give are like clouds and wind that bring no rain." Proverbs 25:14
If you've ever lived in an area suffering from drought, you know how much people watch the sky, hoping for a rain cloud to show up, especially the farmers. When a cloud does appear, hope is raised. But when the cloud comes and bring no rain with it, people end up feeling discouraged and cheated. It is the same when someone has had another person break a promise made to them. They feel cheated. They had trusted the person who made the promise and now their trust has been broken. Our word should always mean something. People should be able to trust us. If there's a chance you cannot do something, never promise to do it anyway. This is especially true when making vows to be married. Once you make those vows, God expects you to keep them. If a person has doubts about keeping those vows, they should never make them. Making those vows in a court house does not make them any less sacred or binding.
"God is present, watching and holding you to account regardless." (The Message Bible)