(This blog post is a week early as Vered and I are traveling to Zimbabwe – July 14th – 24th – to join a JVMI Outreach to the Lemba tribe. During this time we will be out of phone and internet contact.)
Parashat Matot-Massei, Numbers 30.2 – 36.13 (29.40-36.13 Eng.),[i] begins with ADONAI’s commands to Bnei-Yisrael concerning oaths made by individuals. First, “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” (30.3 [30.2 Eng.]). This command is not new to Bnei-Yisrael as HaShem both reminded and commanded Ya’acov (Jacob) to fulfill the vow he made as he fled from his brother Esau (Genesis 35.1-7). The rest of chapter deals with HaShem’s provisions for oaths/vows made by persons who were not eligible to make binding oaths for themselves. In my opinion, however, the beginning exhortation is the most important for all individuals, regardless of their status. Yeshua once taught,
“But I tell you that on the Day of Judgment, men will give account for every careless word they speak. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12.36-37)
“Men” in this verse carries the connotation of generic personhood, all people “will give account for every careless word they speak.” While on one hand, this covers oaths or vows, on the other I believe Yeshua was telling the crowds that “every word they speak” is subject of judgment. As Ya’acov (James) 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. … So also, the tongue is a small member—yet it boasts of great things. See how so small a fire sets a blaze so great a forest! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is a world of evil placed among our body parts. It pollutes the whole body and sets on fire the course of life—and is set on fire by Gehenna. (James 3.2 & 5-6).
The words we speak have the power to bring life, or to bring death – not only to ourselves but to others. Rav Shaul while encouraging the believes in Ephesus to live holy, righteous lives, stated the following,
But sexual immorality and any impurity or greed—don’t even let these be mentioned among you, as is proper for kedoshim. Obscene, coarse, and stupid talk are also out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.” (Ephesus 5.3-4)
It is imperative that we guard the words of our mouth, as they reflect the thoughts of our hearts. With this in mind, listen to the words of the palmist as he seeks help from the LORD.
Also keep Your servant from willful sins. May they not have dominion over me. Then I will be blameless, free from great transgression. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable before You, Adonai, my Rock and my Redeemer. (Psalm 19.14-15)
One final thought, at least for now, on our words is derived from Mishnah Pirkei Avot. “A wise man does not speak in front of someone who is greater than him in wisdom or in number (age); and he does not interrupt the words of his fellow; and is not impulsive in answering…” (5.7).[ii] What I find important in this passage is the need for what is called “deep listening” instead of much or shallow speaking. The wise man (or woman) “does not interrupt the words of his fellow; and is not impulsive in answering.” The wise one listens intently before speaking, not only to the words spoken but to the heart and attitude behind the words. Then he or she is able to respond with words that potentially bring life and hope to the other person. Thus the words from Mishlei ring true, “The tongue has power over life and death; those who indulge it must eat its fruit” (Mishlei [Proverbs] 18.21, CJB).[iii]
Besorat Matthew records some pretty harsh words that Yeshua spoke to the crowds who followed Him.
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, and drive out demons in Your name, and perform many miracles in Your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Get away from Me, you workers of lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7.21-23)
For as dreadful as these words sounded, hear the words of the LORD in this week’s Haftarah recorded in Jeremiah 2.4-28 and 4.1-2; “Thus says Adonai: ‘What fault did your fathers find in Me that they strayed so far from Me? They walked after worthless things, becoming worthless themselves?’” (Jeremiah 2.5). They did not slip or slide into worthlessness. They did not trip or stumble into worthlessness. They walked, (יֲּלְכוּ) went under their own power, purposefully so. They, for whatever reason, chose to abandon the ways of HaShem. Later in the Haftarah, the LORD proclaims two grievous errors that the “house of Jacob and all the families of the house of Israel” (2.4) committed, “My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me — the spring of living water — and they dug their own cisterns — cracked cisterns that hold no water.”
By forsaking HaShem, they turned away from the “living water.” Jeremiah repeats this back to the LORD, “Adonai, You are the hope of Israel! All who forsake You will be ashamed. Those who depart from You will be written in the dirt, for they have forsaken Adonai, the fountain of living waters” (Jeremiah 17.13). In Jewish tradition, “living water not only cleanses and purifies defilement, it is a symbol for the Torah itself. When Bnei Yisrael (Judah and Israel) turned their backs on the Torah and then dug “cracked cisterns that hold no water” they effectively became dry and “worthless.” The remainder of the Haftarah speaks of HaShem’s actions on Israel’s behalf, and of Israel’s folly in going after her own ways. But the passage does not end negatively. Those who set the readings, knowing Israel’s shortcoming and judgement, left a ray of hope within the decree of judgement and discipline. Returning to the words of Jeremiah 17.14, we read, “Heal me, Adonai, and I will be healed. Save me, and I will be saved. For You are my praise.” In this statement Israel recognized that her salvation is only from HaShem. Then in the closing words of this week’s readings, we read
‘If you will return, O Israel, return to Me,’ declares Adonai. ‘If you will put your detestable things out of My sight. Then you will not waver.’ You will swear, ‘As Adonai lives!’ in truth, in justice and in righteousness. The nations will bless themselves in Him and in Him they will glory. (Jeremiah 4.1-2)
Thus, the truth of Rav Shaul’s words to the believers at Rome ring true
For I do not want you, brothers and sisters, (in context, Gentile believers) to be ignorant of this mystery — lest you be wise in your own eyes — that a partial hardening has come upon Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, ‘The Deliverer shall come out of Zion. He shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob. And this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins’ (Romans 11.25-27)
The salvation and redemption of the world is linked together in Israel and the Nations, like strands of DNA, each unique and distinct, but united in the Kingdom of God, under Messiah Yeshua.
[i] Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.
[iii] Complete Jewish Bible, Copyright © 1998 by David H. Stern. All rights reserved.