Have you ever looked back on some of your prayers and then immediately went into ecstatic praise because Hashem chose not to answer them? Do you remember Moshe’s prayer during one of the numerous episodes of Bnei Yisrael’s grumbling over their perceived lot in life?
“…I am not able to carry all these people by myself! The load is too heavy for me!If this is how You are treating me, kill me now! If I have found favor in Your eyes, kill me please—don’t let me see my own misery!”Numbers 11:14-15
In this week’s haftarah, it appears that Elijah took a page out of Moshe’s prayer book after he fled from Jezebel’s ranting against him.
But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom bush. He prayed that he might die. “It’s too much!” he said. “Now, ADONAI, take my life! For I’m no better than my fathers.”1 Kings 19:4
Interesting enough, to this day Moshe Rabbeinu, is still considered by many, the greatest prophet and teacher, second only to Yeshua. What’s more, Elijah is prophesized to be the forerunner of the Messiah and the Messianic Age to come. Had the prayers of these two men been answered according to their words, the story today would be quite different.
There are other prayers or vows before Hashem that were made in haste and had unexpected and unwanted repercussions by the one who spoke them. Two immediately come to mind. First is Yiftach’s (Jephthah’s) vow to ADONAI before he went out to battle the Ammonites.
“If You will indeed give the children of Ammon into my hand,then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return safely from the children of Ammon, it will be ADONAI’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.”Judges 11:30-31
In and of itself this vow, at least in Yiftach’s mind, was a safe vow, seeking protection and deliverance from Hashem over his enemies. Unfortunately, the first thing out of Yiftach’s dwelling was not a lamb, goat, or even a chicken but his only child, his unwed daughter. Human sacrifice was an anathema in ancient Israel (cf. Deuteronomy 12:31), but Yiftach was in a dilemma due to the words of his mouth. One can imagine that Yiftach felt even more convicted by his rash vow due to his daughter’s response,
“My father, you have opened your mouth toAdonai,” she said to him. “Do to me what proceeded from your mouth… .”Judges 11:36
Did Yiftach sacrifice his daughter? In reality, we do not know as she disappears from the story. However, it is safe to assume that Yiftach’s family was never the same again.
There was another man whose family was almost destroyed by a rash vow. During his reign, King Saul had many border disputes with the Philistines. At one point, the situation wasn’t going well for Israel’s first king and it appears that some of his people, possibly even his army, switched sides and joined the Philistines. In response, King Saul called for a daytime fast with repercussions for disobedience.
Now the men of Israel were hard-pressed that day, for Saul put the people under oath saying, “Cursed be the man that eats any food before evening, until I have avenged myself on my enemies!” So none of the people tasted food.1 Samuel 14:24
Jonathan, King Saul’s son did not hear of his father’s decree and on the way to battle ate some honey and even denounced his father’s words claiming that Israel, energized by the honey, would be assured of victory (cf. 1 Samuel 14:29-30). Israel won the battle and Jonathan was brought before his father for judgment. King Saul declared that his son would have to die. Unlike Yiftach’s daughter, the people rose up against the king’s decision because Jonathan was the hero of the day. King Saul relented and Jonathan lived, but one has to wonder if the relationship was ever the same again.
The rashness of both men caused irreparable damage to their families. It would have been good had they heard and internalized the words the writer of Kohelet penned years later,
Don’t let your mouth lead your flesh to sin,and don’t say before the messenger,“It was a mistake!”Why should God be angry at your voiceand destroy the work of your hands?Ecclesiastes 5:5
In the Apostolic Writings we read another prayer that teaches us about the use of the words we speak as well as the motivation behind those words, which can cause harm, specifically to ourselves. Once, while Yeshua was teaching on various aspects of prayer, he focused on trusting in one’s own righteousness.
The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: “O God, I thank You that I am not like other people—thieving, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.I fast twice a week and tithe on all that I get.”Luke 18:11-12
Rav Shaul, after outlining his religious pedigree, made the following affirmation,
But whatever things were gain to me, these I have considered as loss for the sake of the Messiah. More than that, I consider all things to be loss in comparison to the surpassing value of the knowledge of Messiah Yeshua my Lord.Philippians 3:7-8
The Pharisee in Yeshua’s parable trusted in his own righteousness, his obedience to the Torah, Rav Shaul did not discount what he had done but instead focused upon his faith in Yeshua his Messiah. This is not an either/or situation, obedience and good works or faith in Yeshua, rather it is a gam v’gam, this and also this, situation. Remember Yeshua’s words
“Woe to you, Torah scholars and Pharisees, hypocrites! You tithe mint and dill and cumin, yet you have neglected the weightier matters of Torah—justice and mercy and faithfulness. It is necessary to do these things without neglecting the others.Matthew 23:23
In closing, I believe what we, myself most of all, need to take from this week’s thoughts is that we need to watch tenaciously over the words of our mouths and also the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts. Let’s remember the words from Kohelet, “Don’t let your mouth lead your flesh to sin….” Abba, may our thoughts and our words this week be pleasing to You and uplifting to all those around us.
The readings for this week are
Parashat Pinchas ~ Numbers 25:10 – 30:1
Haftarah ~ I Kings 18:46 – 19:21
Apostolic Writings ~ John 17:1–26