This post-modern generation of the industrialized West has lost sight of the power of the Oath. That is why there is so little understanding of the covenant terminology which establishes the context of humanity’s relationship with our Creator. An oath sworn in good faith is something far more powerful than a legal procedure. It is a spiritual transaction which makes an indelible mark on the parties who take part in it. That is why one’s conscience is troubled when even the least significant promises are broken. Something as simple as committing to be at a certain place at a specified time is a type of oath or covenant. Failing to keep that promise fosters disappointment, anger, and bitterness in the heart of the one who is expecting the appointment to be kept. Hopefully the one who broke the promise will make amends and resolve to keep such commitments in the future. However, if the promise-breaker develops a habit of showing up late, or not showing up at all, then eventually his or her conscience will no longer serve as a reminder about the transgression. And then the promise-breaker becomes something worse: an untrustworthy person.
If this is the case with something as simple as a promise to be on time, what can we say about more serious promises? There is an illustration which may help. J.R.R. Tolkien delved deeply into the subject of oaths and covenants in his epic works about Middle Earth. Perhaps his most memorable account is the oath made by the Men of the Mountains to fight against Sauron, an oath they did not keep. In The Return of the King, Aragorn explains the circumstances of this broken oath:
But the oath that they broke was to fight against Sauron, and they must fight therefore, if they are to fulfill it. For at Erech there stands yet a black stone that was brought, it was said, from Nümenor by Isildur; and it was set upon a hill, and upon it the King of the Mountains swore allegiance to him in the beginning of the realm of Gondor. But when Sauron returned and grew in might again, Isildur summoned the Men of the Mountains to fulfil their oath, and they would not: for they had worshipped Sauron in the Dark Years.
Then Isildur said to their king, “Thou shalt be the last king. And if the West prove mightier than thy Black Master, this curse I lay upon thee and thy folk: to rest never until your oath is fulfilled. For this war will last through years uncounted, and you shall be summoned once again ere the end.”
In Tolkien’s novel, Aragorn leads his companions to the realm of these dead oathbreakers, and as Isildur’s heir calls them to fulfil their oath by following him into battle against Sauron’s armies. They answer the call, and upon winning the victory are released at last to depart in the peaceful sleep of death.
In Tolkien’s story the oathbreakers are redeemed by the descendant of the king whom they had betrayed. Their answer to his call brings an end to the curse and the blessed peace they have sought through the ages. As is so often the case with Tolkien, he illustrates a profound principle first explained in the Scripture. Yet what we learn from Moses differs from Tolkien in one critical point: redemption from the curse of broken oaths, or vows, results not the peace of death, but in the promise of life.
The Strange Career of Saul of Tarsus
Would it be a great surprise to learn that people started lying about the Apostle Paul almost as soon as he became a believer in Messiah Yeshua (Christ Jesus)? The story of his dramatic change on the road to Damascus is in Acts 9. It is a tale that should be familiar to all Christians. This man, Saul of Tarsus, star pupil of the sage Gamaliel, had made a name for himself by persecuting believers in Yeshua even to the point of death. His mission in Damascus was to continue the work of hunting down these people and eliminating the threat they posed to the established religious and political order.
One of the things we Christians have missed in our spiritual education is the meanings of the various sacrifices God prescribed in the Temple service. Each type of sacrifice teaches us about an attribute of God and about our relationship with Him. Unfortunately, in most Christian teaching, the sacrifices are lumped together and dismissed under the assumption that the sacrifice of Yeshua on the cross did away with them all. And yet that is not entirely true. Yeshua was the Lamb of God, the one sacrifice that God Himself provided to take away the sin of the world according to the promise given through Abraham (Genesis 22:6-8) and announced by John the Baptist (John 1:29). All the other sacrifices were those brought by man as acts of worship and other transactions with the Most High God. According to what the Lord explained to the prophets, those sacrifices will be in operation during the Messianic age, and our King Yeshua Himself will be presiding over them (see Ezekiel 40-46, especially 45:18-46:18. See also Isaiah 19:19-22, 56:4-8, Jeremiah 33:14-18; Zechariah 14:16-21).
Two people who make my job at the Alamo more challenging are John Wayne and Walt Disney. Their popular movie versions of the battle of the Alamo have influenced three generations, but they are full of myth, legend, and factual error. That is why Alamo visitors are often disappointed to learn that what they had believed as truth is not truth at all.
This is especially the case concerning that famous Tennessee frontiersman, hunter, and politician, David Crockett. During his life he made great effort to lift himself above his humble beginnings as a poor backwoods man and break into cultured society. That is why he preferred to call himself David. Yet he never could get away from the stereotype of “Davy Crockett” the great hunter. Today people remember the frontier character who died at the Alamo, not the Congressman from Tennessee who was a champion of the poor. This was illustrated by a conversation I had recently with a visitor at the Alamo. After seeing our Crockett exhibits on display, she asked me, “Why do you call him David Crockett?” I answered, “Because that’s what he called himself.” Then she asked, “Why do we call him ‘Davy Crockett’?” I answered, “Because Walt Disney told us to.” Please click here to continue reading