But You Gave Your Word

Posted by on Aug 6, 2014 in Faith Words |

Words of Faith

Rev. Rita S. Platt

July 27, 2014

“But You Gave Your Word”


Genesis 29:15-30

A wealthy businessman lay on his deathbed. His preacher came to visit and talked about God’s healing power and prayed for his parishioner. When the preacher was done, the businessman said, “Preacher, if God heals me, I’ll give the church a million dollars.” Miraculously, the businessman got better and within a few short weeks was out of the hospital.

Several months later, the preacher bumped into this businessman on the sidewalk and said, “You know, when you were in the hospital dying, you promised to give the church a million dollars if you got well. We haven’t received it as of yet.” The businessman replied, “Did I say that? I guess that goes to show how sick I really was!”

We can hardly picture the horrified expression on Jacob’s face when he discovered a promise had been broken.  Imagine thinking you had married one person, and waking up in the morning, discovered that you had married someone else. It wasn’t a result of wild partying…and a quick trip to Vegas. It was because someone broke his word.  Imagine having already given up seven years of your life in labor, and now being tricked into spending another 7 years of your life in labor so that you can finally cash in on the promise that had been made to you. I wonder what Jacob thought about while he was working in the fields. Scripture isn’t clear what kind of work Jacob did, but we can imagine that he might have been herding animals, tending the land, hunting, or any number of other tasks typically performed by nomadic Bedouins. During those first seven years, we like to imagine that he thought about Rachel’s beauty. Scripture indicates that time passed quickly for him because he was so deeply in love with her, and so the work passed quickly with thoughts of beautiful Rachel. On the other hand, Scripture tells us little about what happened during the second set of seven years. We don’t know if time passed quickly or slowly. We don’t know what Jacob’s attitude was, and we don’t know what he thought about during the long hard days of work for his uncle. We can only draw conclusions based upon what we know of Jacob’s life so far. I think it’s fair to suggest that Jacob probably woke up every morning with the insistent reminder that he had been tricked. I doubt a day went by when he didn’t remember his uncle’s broken promise.

It’s an interesting contrast that Jacob faces. On the one hand, he remembers his supernatural experience at Bethel. He remembers how God built a ladder and spoke the promises.  On the other hand, Jacob is confronted daily with the very mundane experience in Haran, when he is reminded daily of the shattered dreams and broken promises around him.

We learn at a young age what Jacob learned there in Haran. We learn that people often let us down. Whether it was the special present that was promised , or a visit to the park, we learn that sometimes people break promises.  We find that there are times when we are disappointed because a promise didn’t come true. As we grow older, those promises become more important to us. When they’re broken we tend to become more bitter and cynical. I can’t possibly imagine the torment Jacob went through as he was confronted with the prospect of giving up another seven years of his life in service to his uncle–all because of a broken promise.  And it is still happening . . .

Approximately 20 years ago James Patterson and Peter Kim interviewed thousands of people, and they published their findings in a book called The Day America Told the Truth.  Of those surveyed:

91% said that they lie on a regular basis.   86% said they lie to their parents regularly,

75% said they lie to their friends,   69% said they lie to their spouses.  50% said they regularly called in to work sick when they weren’t (1)

I don’t think things have changed much in 20 years. How many of you are familiar with statements like: “Honest, I only need 5 minutes of your time” . . . “Your table will be ready in just a few minutes” . . .”The check is in the mail” . . . “If elected, I promise”…

The truth is we are surprised when they deliver because our culture has become so disillusioned that we don’t believe they will keep their word.

Some might say Jacob had it coming to him. Look how he treated Esau. “What goes around comes around.” Today rather than talking about Jacob (we did that last week), let’s focus on Laban.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught about this:

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath,    but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell  you, do not swear at all:  either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it  is his footstool;           or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear  by your     head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your  ‘Yes’ be             ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’…”( Matthew 5:33)

In The Message it reads:

“And don’t say anything you don’t mean. ..You don’t make your words true by       embellishing them with religious lace.” (2)

That’s what Laban did when Jacob questioned him on why Laban didn’t give Rachel to be his bride as he promised. Laban responded “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the first born. “  But the truth is he used custom to justify breaking his word. He valued the profit he had from Jacob’s service more than either his promise or the customs of the country.

That’s Laban, but what does that have to do with us? The way we keep our commitments  defines  who we are. When we don’t keep our promises it destroys trust and trust is what healthy relationships are built upon.  Every time a casual commitment is broken, an incremental amount of damage is done.

The brilliant Christian scholar and writer C. S. Lewis took that truth seriously. His biography tells of the suffering he endured because he kept a promise he had made to a buddy during World War I.  This friend was worried about the care of his wife and small daughter if he should be killed in battle, so Lewis assured him that if that were to happen he would look after them.  As the war dragged on, the man was killed. True to his word, Lewis took care of his friend’s family. Yet no matter how helpful he tried to be, the woman was ungrateful, rude, arrogant, and domineering. Through it all, Lewis kept forgiving her. He refused to let her actions become an excuse to renege on his promise. (3)

That is the way we are supposed to live, but most of us will admit we fall short.  Here are a few things that might help:

Monitor the commitments you make. Do not make them unless you are     absolutely 100% committed to follow through. If you are not sure say “I will         check my schedule” or “I will think about it and get back to you.”

This is a challenging one for me- I will be in a conversation and something will come up and I find myself saying “Sure I can do that” often it seems like such a little thing.  Later I realize that no matter how little it is, I DON’T WANT TO DO IT.

Create a promise keeping ratio.

Make it fun. Keep track of your promises and how you are fulfilling them. Especially important for ongoing commitments: we have the best intentions; we  are really good at the beginning, then we start to fall off.  If you are keeping track (This is what I promised; this is how I fulfilled it), it helps.

When you make a promise to do something see how quickly you can fulfill it

Norman Vincent Peale said, “Promises are like crying babies in a theater, they should be carried out immediately” (4)

If you agree to pray for someone, do it immediately.



The promises to ourselves are sometimes the hardest ones to keep.

I am going to exercise more…I am going to watch what I eat… I am going to make some time for relaxation…I am going to read…I am going to create a space for daily devotions…

Whatever is on your list, include them in your promises keeping ratio.

Dr. Seuss, in Horton Hatches an Egg, tells the story of an elephant named Horton, who promises to sit on an egg and hatch it for its mother, lazy Miss Mayzie. As the days and weeks go by, Horton just keeps sitting there on that nest up in a tree. All his friends encourage him to forget his promise and  play with them.   Do you remember his response? “I meant what I said, I said what I meant. An elephant is faithful, 100%.” (5)

Let’s encourage one another to be like Horton. Let’s make a goal of   meaning what we say. Let’s strive for 100% promise ratio. May we never hear another person say, “But you promised.”


1 The Day America Told the Truth: What people really believe about everything that really matters     Patterson, James  and Kim, Peter   Prentice Hall Press 1991

2 Scripture taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group

3 C.S. Lewis A Biography  by A.N. Wilson       W.W. Norton and Company 1990

4 Quotes by Norman Vincent Peale @ Quotationsbook.com

5 Horton Hatches an Egg written and illustrated by Dr Suess   Random House  published  1940