16 For men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is for them an end of all dispute.
Verses 16–18 show how Abraham left behind a model for Christians to follow. The author turned again to God’s faithfulness to show believers how to trust Him.
God not only repeated the promise of the Abrahamic Covenant to Abraham after he offered up Isaac to be sacrificed, but He confirmed it with an oath.
The “for” here gives the grounds for verses 13–15. The importance of an oath was now set forth.
men indeed swear by the greater,
It is the nature of people to swear by something greater than themselves. This is an illustration from how men in general secure a promise. Men take an oath on something greater than themselves. In matters of dispute, they take an oath to settle the matter with legal guarantee.
and an oath for confirmation [guarantee]
It is a sad commentary on the situation in life that we cannot simply accept the word of another person at face value. When it comes to important matters, we ask people to take an oath. An oath is more binding than making a statement. The word of people is generally insufficient for a formal agreement, so an oath is necessary to validate a promise. An oath binds them to their promise; it is accepted as a “confirmation” of the matter.
An “oath” served a legal function; it acted to guarantee a contract. In the Greek there is a definite article before the word “oath”—“the oath.” This points to a particular oath, an oath viewed to confirm something. A “confirmation” is a legal guarantee. An “oath” is a confirmation of what was said. This is legal language; it is a legal guarantee to the truth of the statement.
“Confirmation” is a technical expression for a legal guarantee. It is a guarantee of good faith. God desired to show His promise in a convincing way; He was to give double assurance of the unchangeable character of His purpose.
God’s promise to Abraham was in Genesis 12, but His oath was found in Genesis 22. Both the promise and oath were immutable; that is, their fulfillment rests entirely upon God, not man.
is for them an end of all dispute.
The use of a vow or oath settles the dispute. It is considered binding. This puts an end to further argument. It is important for men to trust each other in business and other matters. They need a mechanism for doing this, so they sign a contract. In the case of court, they take an oath. They need something to reinforce the word of a claimant. God wants to be trusted as well; that is why He gave both a promise and an oath. He staked His reputation on both.
God binds His Word to His character.
God made many promises to Abraham in Genesis, but He gave him only one oath (Ge 22:15–18). God added an oath to His promise and made HIs promise certain. Genesis 22 was the occasion where Abraham was ready to offer his only son upon an altar. This patriarch did this when both he and his wife were very aged. Abraham’s question was about how God could fulfill His promise when there seemed to be little hope of them having a child again (Ro 4:20). Abraham did not doubt God but reckoned that God was able to raise Isaac from the dead (He 11:19).
God showed the trustworthiness of His Word by promises and even an oath. To give an oath in a courtroom is serious business. To lie in court may mean a jail sentence. An oath indicates that the promise to tell the truth is not enough for the court. God consented to this level of truth taking so that people would take Him at His Word. He demonstrated clearly that it was impossible for Him to tell a lie.
God’s promise to Abraham represented the content of His commitment to the patriarch. God’s oath represented the unconditional guarantee that it would be fulfilled. Those who make a promise support its veracity by an oath. An oath settles any question about a promise. The human practice of giving an oath justifies God’s giving a promise by an oath. God provided an oath because humans respect the value of an oath. His Word was good enough but, for the sake of people, He confirmed His promise with an oath. He accommodated Himself to the weakness of human understanding.
God adding an oath to His promise made the promise certain. Abraham could then believe that God would raise Isaac from the dead in order to fulfill His promise (He 11:19). God’s promises are infallibly sure because they rest on His oath. His promises are inviolable, so He did not need to make an oath in addition to the promise. He did it to ratify His Word. God wanted to make it patently clear about His fidelity to keep His promises.
We, as well, can fully rely on God’s Word. The value of God’s commitment to us is our guarantee of eternal life. There should be no doubt or argument about God fulfilling His promises because He bound His Word to His character. God could not make a greater promise than upon His own character.