As seen only a few weeks ago with Bil’am in Parashah Balak, the beginning of this week’s dual-Parashiot reminds again of the importance of the words we speak and the promises we make. Within Parashah Matot-Masei (Numbers 30:2-36:13) our Sidra begins in communicating the laws and commandments of annulling of vows by stating, “When a man makes a vow to Adonai or formally obligates himself by swearing an oath, he is not to break his word but is to do everything he said he would do.”
Today, we live in a world where people are more prone to misuse their words and hold a greater prepotency to breaking our promises over keeping them. This is a problem often seen in our culture, where we often forget that our words and commitments are not just potential-promises which we have the option of keeping or breaking, but instead, are covenants which God requires us to keep to him and toward one another.
Sadly, these truths have been desensitized today, where through moral decline we often rationalize, it’s really no big deal, and come on, it’s just a little white lie. Instead of feeling the sting that comes with breaking covenant before God or with our neighbor, we too readily make excuses for our selfishness or overall lack of concern. Historically, this is not just a modern problem but instead a human one where if left to our own devises, too many would first seek the good of self rather than the needs of our neighbor. Of the importance of this topic, elsewhere in the Torah, Adonai further instructs, “Do not hate your brother in your heart, but rebuke your neighbor frankly, so that you won’t carry sin because of him. Don’t take vengeance on or bear a grudge against any of your people, rather, love you neighbor as yourself; I am Adonai.” (Lev. 19:17-18)
The lesson here is that with both our words and our actions, we must always seek the good of the other, and in relation to Numbers 30, we must always seek to keep our promises to one another in Covenantal Faithfulness. Knowing that centrality of our covenantal responsibilities our Messiah therefore instructs, “Again, you have heard that our fathers were told, ‘Don’t break your oath,’ and ‘Keep your vows to Adonai.’ But I tell you not to swear at all - not ‘by heaven,’ because it is God’s throne; not ‘by the earth,’ because it is his footstool; and not ‘by Yerushalayim,’ because it is the city of the Great King. And don’t swear by your head, because you can’t make a single hair white or black. Just let you ‘Yes,’ be a simple ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ a simple ‘No’; anything more than this has its origins in evil.” (Matthew 5:33-37, CJB)
Both the Tanakh and B’rit Chadashah stresses in the essential nature of our relationships with our neighbor as a barometer of our relationship to the Almighty, and here Yeshua provides us a blueprint for covenantal faithfulness by challenging us not to make vows at all! By doing this, it is not that he is contradicting Torah, but instead Yeshua is actually reinforcing by reminding that what is more important than an oath made or a promise kept is our responsibility to honor God and one another! To this end, we as Messianic-believers must actively guard our words and commitments - knowing that a broken promise holds the potential of creating a broken heart! In the end, our commandment is clear - that in all our verbal communication, we seek to honor God and one another in letting our yes be yes, and our no be no! This is the very heart of the Torah!
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