Leadership Lessons Part IX: The Test of the Broken Vow

If you’re in leadership, chances are good that you have had someone lie to you and perhaps even break their promises to you. This is as aspect of Christian Business Ownership which many who get into business ownership don’t anticipate: a few employees will take purposeful actions that they know will hurt you and the business. In essence, an employee or partner will break their promises to you. Sometimes, these employees are in key positions which gives them significant opportunity to inflict real damage on your business. But in most cases, when someone close to you breaks their vow to you, it doesn’t also involve their attempts to kill you. In David’s life, the person who broke his vow to David was his Employer and King – King Saul. And yes, the broken vow meant that David’s life would be in real danger.

In 1 Samuel 19.1-18, we read:

Saul told his son Jonathan and all the attendants to kill David. But Jonathan had taken a great liking to David and warned him, “My father Saul is looking for a chance to kill you. Be on your guard tomorrow morning; go into hiding and stay there. I will go out and stand with my father in the field where you are. I’ll speak to him about you and will tell you what I find out.”

Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father and said to him, “Let not the king do wrong to his servant David; he has not wronged you, and what he has done has benefited you greatly. He took his life in his hands when he killed the Philistine. The Lord won a great victory for all Israel, and you saw it and were glad. Why then would you do wrong to an innocent man like David by killing him for no reason?”

Saul listened to Jonathan and took this oath: “As surely as the Lord lives, David will not be put to death.” So Jonathan called David and told him the whole conversation. He brought him to Saul, and David was with Saul as before. Once more war broke out, and David went out and fought the Philistines. He struck them with such force that they fled before him.

But an evil spirit from the Lord came on Saul as he was sitting in his house with his spear in his hand. While David was playing the lyre, 10 Saul tried to pin him to the wall with his spear, but David eluded him as Saul drove the spear into the wall. That night David made good his escape.

11 Saul sent men to David’s house to watch it and to kill him in the morning. But Michal, David’s wife, warned him, “If you don’t run for your life tonight, tomorrow you’ll be killed.” 12 So Michal let David down through a window, and he fled and escaped. 13 Then Michal took an idol and laid it on the bed, covering it with a garment and putting some goats’ hair at the head.

14 When Saul sent the men to capture David, Michal said, “He is ill.”15 Then Saul sent the men back to see David and told them, “Bring him up to me in his bed so that I may kill him.” 16 But when the men entered, there was the idol in the bed, and at the head was some goats’ hair. 17 Saul said to Michal, “Why did you deceive me like this and send my enemy away so that he escaped?” Michal told him, “He said to me, ‘Let me get away. Why should I kill you?’ “

18 When David had fled and made his escape, he went to Samuel at Ramah and told him all that Saul had done to him.

What is a Vow?

A vow is a more intense form of a promise and they are taken seriously in the Scriptures (Num 30.2, Deut 23.31, Eccl 5.4-5). In Matthew 5.37, we’re instructed that our speech should be as serious and abiding as an oath/vow: “let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no”.  A Christian Business Owner should be known for fulfilling his/her promises and commitments. We should not be known for saying one thing and then doing another. Unfortunately, Saul was known for not keeping his word.

Saul’s Vow

Saul made a vow to not kill David after Jonathan had reasoned with his father. In turn, Jonathan told David about Saul’s vow and how he would not attempt to kill David again. One can surmise what was going through David’s mind:

  • It is the King making the vow
  • It is made in the name of the Lord
  • I can trust it!

But as in previous scenarios, we found that Saul couldn’t stomach David’s success. Note the pattern that leads to Saul’s intense hatred of David and his deep desire to kill him:

  • War breaks out
  • David is successful
  • Saul become jealous and scared
  • Saul tries to kill David

It is no small thing for a leader to break his/her vow. When we don’t keep our word, we lose the respect of those around us and we don’t ensure that our organizations are run well. This was one of David’s core faults as a leader: he didn’t pay attention to his staff and correct them when needed. As a result, two of his sons attempted a coup on his throne – one drove him from Jerusalem.

Saul is unable to discipline himself. His heart is filled with such evil that an external vow spoken (perhaps rashly) cannot stop the inner drives which compel his actions. This is one illustration of why external disciplines do not change a man’s heart. Much like the demon-possessed man in Mark 5 whose evil could not be constrained by physical chains, we find Saul’s inability to keep his vows as revealing of the depth and breadth of the evil that was in his heart.

Incidentally, this is why Christian Business Owners need to persistently and consistently confess their sins to God. Before we attempt to run a business God’s way, we must first be people of righteousness. One outcome of living righteously before the Lord will be a heart that is transformed by God and that will enable us to keep our vows.

Results of Broken Vows

As a result of Saul breaking his vow to David and attempting to kill him, David is forced to flee for his life (with the help of his wife). A proximate result is that David was not able to fulfill his vow to Michal for a long period of time, so he turned to the Lord for support and help: 1 Sam 6.17-23. David also broke his vows and married other women. It didn’t turn out well for either of them to have broken their vows.

Test of Broken Vows

Leaders sometimes find that trusted partners or employees break that trust. It usually occurs within a context of conflict. Broken vows will test your personal maturity and reveal your character to you. Who we are in the conflict is more critical than what we do because what we do depends on who we are. I think this is the great principle of this entire site and the Christian Business Reference Architecture: who we are and what we believe dictates how we will run our business.

When someone breaks their vow to you, essentially you’ll have two choices: A) become bitter and let it destroy you or B) turn to God and let it be the best thing that has ever happened to you! You’ll need to forgive the other person for their sin against you. You’ll be entrusting them to God’s system of justice.

Nearly everyone will disappoint us at one time or another. As a Christian Business Owner, you need to remember that God will be with you and will provide a means and the grace to handle the pain and disappointment. When people do betray us, we’ll have a choice in how we react and it’s the reaction that is the larger issue for us. How we handle ourselves in the midst of the pain and conflict will be more important than the resolution itself.

Bill English
CEO, Mindsharp
Associate, The Platinum Group