Marriage Vows: Should Herod have kept his oath?
But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod, so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given. He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus.
Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns (Matthew 14:6-13 ESV)
Herod made an oath – a solemn promise – to give Salome whatever she might ask. When she asked for John the Baptist’s head on a platter, Herod was sorry: he did really not want to execute John. But because of his oath and his guests, he ordered the murder of a righteous man. Did he sin in executing John? Certainly. Should Herod have kept his oath? No; he should not have kept his oath. We should not keep an oath if it leads to sin. Herod could have broken his oath, repented of his foolishness and taken a sin offering to the temple where the priest could have made sacrifice on his behalf which would have cleansed him of his sin.
If anyone utters with his lips a rash oath to do evil or to do good, any sort of rash oath that people swear, and it is hidden from him, when he comes to know it, and he realizes his guilt in any of these; when he realizes his guilt in any of these and confesses the sin he has committed, he shall bring to the Lord as his compensation for the sin that he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a goat, for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin. (Lev. 5:4-6)
Jesus has been the sacrificial lamb on our behalf. For any rash oath we may have taken, to do evil or to do good, when we come to know that we should no longer keep it because it leads to sin, we have forgiveness in Christ if we renounce the oath.
[For those who’ve read my book, you may remember that I deal with marriage vows by saying that Numbers 30 implies that the husband bears the guilt when the wife breaks her marriage vows and is driven to leave him because of his abuse. I still believe that a victim of abuse bears no guilt at all for breaking her marriage vows if she divorces her abuser. The teaching I’ve made here is not meant to contradict what I wrote in my book, it simply complements it, and verifies freedom to divorce for those victims who can’t feel themselves fully freed by my application of Numbers 30. ]