Learning to Pray: Vows

The word Vow is a biblical word for prayer that at first glance seems of little import; after all, it is used only once in the New Testament meaning “prayer” and even there scholarship offers little reason why it should replace the more general term for the same thing.

A vow is more than words promised but words spoken seriously and with a heart to please the one to whom the vow is given…  to God.  “It is a trap to dedicate something rashly and only later to consider one’s vows,”⁠1 Solomon warned. As another translation⁠2 reads, “Don’t trap yourself by making a rash promise to God and only later counting the cost.

I am reminded of Esther before her king. Though the word “vow” is not here, it is somehow understood in her words, “If it please the king”.  She is careful not to speak out of turn, to preface her request with “if you love me” or to seek only what pleases her and not him.  Her heart was in the right place. Esther appears as one who was committed to the king’s service as his wife.

When he saw Queen Esther standing in the court, he was pleased with her and held out to her the gold scepter that was in his hand. So Esther approached and touched the tip of the scepter. Then the king asked, “What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be given you.”

If it pleases the king,” replied Esther, “let the king, together with Haman, come today to a banquet I have prepared for him.”⁠3

Talking to the Lord means we are in the presence of our Sovereign.  We have approached the Throne. We are inside the holy of holies and in the presence of His Holiness.  Commitments we make to Him are never to be made lightly.

What we say, and even how we say it, should honor Him.  Our thoughts in biblical parlance become acts of obeisance, a bowing low, humbly committing ourselves to His will and wisdom along with our requests.

In one Psalm,⁠4 perhaps written by Solomon, the Psalmist offers one of the few insights into this word for prayer.

LORD, remember David and all his self-denial. He swore an oath to the LORD, he made a vow to the Mighty One of Jacob:

The Greek translation reads, “Lord, remember David and all his meekness how he sware [swore] to the Lord and vowed to the God of Jacob.” The word “meekness” is in other translations “affliction” but it is a “self-imposed trouble” which David endured because he promised God a Temple:. “in order to procure a worthy abode for the sanctuary of Jahve [Jehovah]”⁠5  Although “meekness” may not be the favored translation,⁠6 an affliction endured with the desire to serve and please God is just that.

James, Jesus’ brother, spoke of a vow (in our sole New Testament reference) as a “prayer offered in faith.”⁠7  Most scholars gloss over this as just another word for prayer but, perhaps, it is better to understand our faith as a commitment to be faithful to God, thus seeing prayer time as a time of rededicating our lives to His service, avowing our desire to please Him in all things.  We bring to Him our needs and it would be presumptuous and an affront to His mercy to assume we should ask anything of Him without the accompanying desire to please Him in the asking.

Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.⁠8

1 Proverbs 20:25.
2 NLT New Living Translation.
3 Esther 5:2-4.
4 Psalms 132:1-2.
5 Keil-Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament (Errdmann Publishing: Grand Rapids, MI. 1980) vol V. p 310.
6 The Greek term has no exact Hebrew equivalent but the PUAL form used here represents self-imposed troubles.  The LXX translators have cause to use the word “meekness” here.
7 James 5:15.
8 Psalms 37:4.

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