Why Does God Swear by Himself in the Bible?


We all know why co-signing a loan is required. The bank assumes that the person who is being loaned the money may not be able to repay it. Their commitment or ability is in question. In the Bible, God typically swears by his own character when entering a covenant since there is no one above him who needs to co-sign the agreement (Heb 6:13). There is a fascinating exception to this in the book of Psalms.

The witness in the clouds

Psalm 89:35–37 repeats the covenant between God and David from 2 Samuel 7 with an addendum at the end that is not found in 2 Samuel 7. I’ve italicized the key phrases and arranged the verses to show their parallelism, labeling them by letters:

A I have sworn by my Holy One;

B I will not lie to David.

C His descendants shall be forever

C His throne [his dynastic descendants] shall be as the sun before me.

B It [David’s throne] shall be established forever like the moon,

A And a witness in the clouds will be faithful.

God swears a covenant oath to David and promises that David’s descendants will forever have the right to sit on Jerusalem’s throne. This promise is guaranteed by an unidentified witness in the clouds (God’s “Holy One”). Why would God need someone to witness an agreement he initiated? Who in heaven (“the clouds”) has that authority?

It was common in polytheistic religions of the ancient world to have gods witness the covenant agreements made by other gods. But there are no other gods in Israel’s faith equal to or above the God of Israel. Yet Psalm 89 requires an equal to Yahweh who will uphold the covenant. Who is this witness in the heavens who will be faithful to the covenant of David’s eternal dynasty? Who will make sure God’s promise comes to pass and never fails?

The New Testament answers these questions in Revelation 1:4–5:

John says to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.

Jesus, as the son of David, has fulfilled the Davidic covenant of Psalm 89. Since the New Testament presents Jesus as true deity incarnate (true God in flesh), and equal in nature with the God of the Old Testament, Jesus fulfills the role of witness-guarantor eternally.

why is the bible hard to understandDr. Michael S. Heiser is a scholar-in-residence for Faithlife, the makers of Logos Bible Software. He is the author of The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible and has taught many Mobile Ed courses, including Problems in Biblical Interpretation: Difficult Passages I.

This article is excerpted from Dr. Heiser’s book I Dare You Not to Bore Me with the Bible.

Discover more fascinating facets of the Bible with Dr. Heiser

Keep exploring the strange, perplexing, and mysterious aspects of the Bible with these excerpts from Dr. Michael S. Heiser’s The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible. Or dive deeper into the supernatural world of the Bible and pick up a copy of The Unseen Realm today.

Written by
Michael S. Heiser

Michael S. Heiser (1963–2023) was a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania (M.A., Ancient History) and the University of Wisconsin- Madison (M.A., Ph.D., Hebrew Bible and Semitic Studies). He had a dozen years of classroom teaching experience on the college level and another ten in distance education. He was a former scholar-in-residence at Logos Bible Software.

View all articles

Your email address has been added

Written by Michael S. Heiser