Hey guys, so throughout the Book of Mormon you might notice the incredible weight and emphasis placed on the oaths or promises made by different people. For example, in 1 Nephi 4, Zoram discovers that his master Laban is actually a disguised Nephi. Zoram tries to make a break for it, but Nephi “held him, that he should not flee. And it came to pass that I spake with him, that if he would hearken unto my words, as the Lord liveth, and as I live … we would spare his life. And I spake unto him, even with an oath, that he need not fear; that he should be a free man like unto us if he would go down in the wilderness with us.”
And then Zoram “promised that he would go down into the wilderness unto our father. Yea, and he also made an oath unto us that he would tarry with us from that time forth…And it came to pass that when Zoram had made an oath unto us, our fears did cease concerning him.” And notice he says “our” fears. Even Laman and Lemuel hear Zoram make this oath and say, “yeah, ok he’s cool.” In our culture, unfortunately, someone’s word doesn’t always mean a whole lot, but let’s take a closer look at how oaths were viewed in ancient Israel.
According to MyJewishLearning, “Vows and Oaths are both considered weighty matters in Jewish thought. Breaking either is explicitly forbidden by the Bible in Numbers 30:3: “If a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath imposing an obligation on himself, he shall not break his pledge; he must carry out all that has crossed his lips.”
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia adds, “In ordinary intercourse it was customary to swear by the life of the person addressed; by the life of the king; by one’s own head; by the earth; by the heaven; by the angels…” etc.
According to McClintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia, “…that oath has always been held most binding which appealed to the highest authority … Thus believers in Jehovah appealed to him…with such phrases as ‘The God of Abraham judge;’ ‘As the Lord liveth;’ ‘God do so to me and more also;’ ‘God knoweth,’ and the like.”
Nephi’s oath, “As the Lord liveth, and as I live,” is exactly what we’d expect to see here. And we see that kind of phraseology in the Old Testament and throughout the Book of Mormon. For Nephi to break that oath would have been unthinkable, and Zoram knew that. But Nephi’s oath here could also serve another purpose because making an oath in the name of God also reveals to the other person which God you serve. Zoram had no idea who Nephi was. Nephi’s just this guy leading him away from Jerusalem, possibly to captivity in some Gentile nation. But then Nephi says, “Hey, relax, we both believe in the God of Israel, we’re both on the same team here, you’re going to be a free man.”
This was part of ancient Jewish culture and therefore part of the culture of the family of Lehi. Even when the Nephites separate from the Lamanites, both groups continue to put a huge amount of weight on oaths.
In Alma, we read about a huge group of Lamanites who were converted to the gospel by the Sons of Mosiah. They separate themselves from the Lamanites and re-name themselves the Anti-Nephi-Lehis. They recognize their sins and “the many murders which [they had] committed.” So, they decide to bury their weapons of war, “for it was all we could do to repent sufficiently….” “…they had taken an oath that they never would shed blood more…” But after they make this oath, another war starts up and their nation needs soldiers.
“But behold, as they were about to take their weapons of war, they were overpowered by the persuasion of Helaman and his brethren, for they were about to break the oath which they had made. And Helaman feared lest by doing so they should lose their souls…” Helaman was a military leader, he could have used their help, but to protect them spiritually, he was willing to risk destruction physically. And then the most beautiful thing happens.
“But behold, it came to pass they had many sons, who had not entered into a covenant that they would not take their weapons of war to defend themselves against their enemies; therefore they did assemble themselves together at this time…And they entered into a covenant to fight for the liberty of the Nephites, yea, to protect the land unto the laying down of their lives; yea, even they covenanted that they never would give up their liberty, but they would fight in all cases to protect the Nephites and themselves from bondage.”
So we get this beautiful dichotomy where the parents, who have done horrible things and are trying to repent, make an oath saying, “We will die before we shed blood again.” And then their children make an oath saying, “we will die before we let them shed your blood.” And as you know, not a single one of those 2,000 warriors died.
Oaths, vows, covenants—whatever you want to call them—are extremely important in the scriptures. We’ve looked at a couple of examples but there are so many more. So many times the Lamanites or Gadianton robbers lose a battle and the Nephites just say, “Ok, make an oath that you won’t do this again,” and then they let them go free. To us, that’s totally insane. But to them, it was a big deal, and hopefully, now you understand a little bit more about why that is.
If you’re interested in seeing more examples of oath-taking in the Book of Mormon and the Bible for your own personal study, or if you just want more information on this subject, check out the links in the description. I’ve also thrown in a couple of notes in the description that I thought were really cool. We’ll see you guys next time. Have a great day!
- Many more scriptures that talk about oaths: http://bit.ly/2S5jRjw
- Several more Book of Mormon examples here: http://bit.ly/2S7vMNX
- McClintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia entry: http://bit.ly/2SroGmh
- International Standard Bible Encyclopedia entry: http://bit.ly/378sG0m
- From the Encyclopedia of Mormonism: http://bit.ly/39jAnlE
- Comparing Vows and Oaths in Judaism (MyJewishLearning): http://bit.ly/2uu2XlB
- More on this from JewishEncyclopedia: http://bit.ly/3bf0b4t