Joshua 20-21 – How Binding is a Promise?

How binding is a promise? Some would say, it depends on things like:

  • Who made the promise?
  • What was the promise?
  • When was the promise made?
  • What has changed since the promise was made?

In our day and time, a promise is often considered to be something you can get out of, with the right justification. But God views promises as serious and binding, and He models this by being faithful to keep all His promises to us.

In Joshua chapters 20-21, God promises to protect the innocent with cities of refuge. He also promises to provide for His servants the Levites through establishing cities of inheritance. Chapter 21 concludes by reaffirming that all the good promises God had made to His children came true. (Josh 21:45.) We also read in 1 Kings 8:23 that God keeps His promises. He does not change His mind or go back on a promise. (1 Sam. 15:29.)

God not only keeps His promises, He expects us to keep our promises. This means we need to be careful about what we promise. Proverbs 20:25 and Ecclesiastes 5:1-5 tell us that it’s dangerous to make promises to God without really thinking through the promise and being committed to carrying it out. It would be better not to promise God anything than to make a hasty promise. Judges 11:29-40 gives us a very sad example of the results of a hasty promise.

Our promises to God are serious and binding, but so too are our promises to others. James 5:12 warns us not to make promises to others that we can’t be sure of fulfilling. So respond simply to others and only make promises that you’re committed to carrying out. From here on out, may we make every promise binding…or not make it at all.

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