This week’s Parasha, Matot, Numbers 30.2 – 32.43[i], deals with vows, specifically concerning father/daughter and husband/wife relationships (30.3-16). There is also the account of the divinely directed judgment on Midian and Balaam, as well as the dealing with the tithes and distribution of the spoils of war (31.1-54). Finally, there is the account of Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh settling on the east side of the Jordan River (32.1-42). The beginning of the Parasha sets the tone for dealing with oaths with the statement,
Whenever a man makes a vow to Adonai or swears an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he is not to violate his word but do everything coming out of his mouth. (32.2)
In the Besorah of Matthew, Yeshua took this warning even further as he taught both the crowds following him as well as his disciples,
Again, you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall carry out your oaths to Adonai’ (Leviticus 19.12). But I tell you, do not swear at all—not by heaven, for it is the throne of God; or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet (Isaiah 66.1); or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King (Psalm 48.3). And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make a single hair white or black. But let your word ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’—anything more than this is from the evil one. (Matthew 5.33-37)
The last phrase, “anything more than this is from the evil one,” may find its source in Mishlei (Proverbs); “When words abound, transgression is unavoidable, but whoever restrains his lips is wise” (10.19). The force of Numbers 30.2 is interestingly balanced by Matthew 5.37. One’s words should be yes or no, without any oath. Jephthah forlornly discovered this when he made an unneeded oath to the LORD hoping to make a deal with him to guarantee a victory (Judges 11.30-37). Ya’acov began his letter, “If anyone thinks he is religious and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is futile” (James 1.26). Then a bit later he wrote, “For we all stumble in many ways. If someone does not stumble in speech, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well” (James 3.2). We each should be very cautious of the words that leave our mouths, whether they be directed to the LORD or to one another.
This week’s Haftarah, Jeremiah 1.1 – 2.3, introduces the prophet and his “calling” from the womb as well as his historic setting (Jeremiah 1.1-5). While there does not seem to be a connection between the Haftarah and the Torah readings, this portion begins the three special Haftarot that precede Tisha b’Av. Michael Fishbane describes this period in his commentary on this week’s Haftarah.
This three-week period begins after the fast of the seventeenth of Tammuz, [Mike: observed this year on Sunday the 18th of Tammuz/ 24th of July, since we do not fast on Shabbat] which marks the first breach in the walls of Jerusalem by the ancient Babylonians (during the time of the First Temple). The interval between this fast day and the fast of Tisha b’Av is known in rabbinic literature as bein ha-metzarim, ‘Between the Breaches’ (after the phrase in Lam. 1:3, ‘All her pursuers overtook her in the narrow places’). This period is also designated as telata’ de-pumnuta\ or ‘The Three [Weeks] of Admonition),’ because of the warnings of divine punishment recited in the haftarot chosen for this time.[ii]
In this week’s reading, during Jeremiah’s commissioning, the prophetic warning of the coming invasion from the north is given,
The word of Adonai came to me a second time, saying, “What do you see?” I replied, “I see a boiling pot that is tilting away from the north.” Then Adonai said to me: “From the north, disaster will be poured out on all the inhabitants of the land.” (Jeremiah 1.13-14)
Sadly, not only does Jeremiah see and proclaim the judgment from Babylon, but he is also told by Adonai that his own leaders and people will not heed his word from the LORD (Jeremiah 1.18-19). But the Haftarah does not end on the negative. While not negating the coming judgment, the LORD reminded Jeremiah of His remembrance of Israel, her “love and devotion as a bride” (Jeremiah 2.2) and equally important that her enemies while in the wilderness “were held guilty” (1.3). As the LORD cared for and remembered Israel in the wandering, so He would remember them in the future when their discipline was complete. This care for His people is something that is necessary to hold onto as we walk into the time of remembrance of divine discipline. Later in the book, by the Ruach HaChodesh, Jeremiah affirms
“For I will forgive their iniquity, their sin I will remember no more.” Thus says Adonai, who gives the sun as a light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars as a light by night, who stirs up the sea so its waves roar, Adonai-Tzva’ot is His Name: “Only if this fixed order departs from before Me” — it is a declaration of Adonai — “then also might Israel’s offspring cease from being a nation before Me—for all time.” (Jeremiah 31.33b-35)
There are surely consequences for our sins and transgressions. But we have the assurance that just as the LORD brought Israel through the fires of discipline, so will He bring us, not just through but victoriously so.
[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.
[ii] Fishbane, Michael. The JPS Bible Commentary: Haftarot (English and Hebrew Edition). The Jewish Publication Society, 2002. p 190