What can we learn from the “Day of the Vow”

The Day of the Vow (The Day of the Covenant) was instituted on 16th December 1838 at the Battle of Blood River. For a more detailed summery on the history, follow this link.

Unfortunately, we can sometimes get so caught up with the details of each historical event, by either over-stressing the positive or the negative. Our goal here is to focus on God’s grace. Therefore, we need to briefly look at some history of the vow, the vow, and the application to God’s faithfulness.

The History:

The day of the Vow traces its origin as an annual religious holiday to The Battle of Blood River on 16 December 1838. The besieged Voortrekkers made a public vow together before the battle, led by Sarel Cilliers. They vowed that they and their descendants would keep the day as a holy Sabbath.

The context was; “Sunday morning before service began, the Commander in Chief (Pretorius) asked those who would lead the service to come together and requested them to speak with the congregation so that they should be zealous in spirit, and in truth, pray to God for His help and assistance in the coming strike against the enemy, and tell them that Pretorius wanted to make a Vow towards the Almighty (if all agreed to this) that “if the Lord might give us victory, we hereby promise to found a house as a memorial of his Great Name at a place where it shall please Him.”

They further prayed that God would help and assist them in accomplishing this vow and that the Day of Victory will forever be celebrated in the honour of God. This bound future descendants to commemorate the day as a religious holiday (sabbath). So again, not to get caught up in the details, their prayer was for God’s favour (grace) and enablement to uphold their commitment to Him, especially after the battle.

The Covenant:

As the Tugela River was in flood, the Wencommando crossed near Spioenkop. At Waschbank, on Sunday 9 December, Sarel Cilliers stood on a gun carriage before the men had who assembled for worship and he proposed a solemn vow: “My brethren and fellow countrymen, at this moment we stand before the Holy God of Heaven and earth to make a promise. If He will be with us and protect us and deliver the enemy into our hands so that we may triumph over him, that we may observe the day and the date as an anniversary in each year and a day of Thanksgiving like the Sabbath, in His honour; and that we shall enjoin our children that they must take part with us in this, for remembrance even for our posterity; and if anyone sees a difficulty in this, let them return from this place. For the honour of His Name shall be joyfully exalted, and to Him the fame and the honour of the victory must be given.”

Even all the English volunteers joined with the Afrikaans Voortrekkers in taking this Vow. This was not a one agenda movement, this was a promise to serve the Lord. So from the 9th of December, the Vow was repeated every evening, up until the night of the 15th, during evening services when Psalms were sung and prayers were offered.

The Application to God’s Faithfulness:

After the battle, one would expect an ongoing, back and forth rivalry. But that was not the case. See, despite the treacherous actions Boers had endured at the hands of the Zulu, and the massacres of so many unsuspecting women and children on the banks of the Blaauwkrans River, no atrocities were committed by the Boers in retaliation.

Instead, the Biblical injunction to love their enemies was fulfilled by the vigorous missionary work which was established by the Reformed Church in Zululand, establishing schools, hospitals, churches and orphanages, even within sight of where Piet Retief and his followers were so brutally murdered. 50 years since that original Day of the Covenant, many Zulus came to Christ and Zululand was blessed by revival. And it started with the vow, and it led to reconciliation!

See, the Zulus and the Afrikaners and English, who were once locked in deadly battle, are now united in Christ. The power of the witchdoctors was broken and the Spiritual liberation of the Zulu people began. People who were once plotting to take the lives of those who didn’t walk and speak like them, were united for one cause; to glorify the faithful God!

In Summary:

Whatever we seek to do for evil, God can use for good. Whenever we choose to commit ourselves to God’s favour, we can be assured of His grace & faithfulness.

Why should we therefore reflect on the ‘Day of the Vow’ or “the Day of Reconciliation’? Because if history has taught us anything, God is faithful – and His faithfulness endures forever. Wars cannot prevent Him, nor will COVID… Our God lives, and we get to enjoy His favour when we live in obedience before Him.