The Torah reading this week is from the last two Torah portions of the book of Numbers, Matot-Massei, Numbers 30:2-36:13. From the prophets the reading is Isaiah 66:1-25. From the New Testament we read from James 4:1-12. I am tempted to write this week on the Haftarah of Isaiah 66:1-25. But there are a few things from the two Parashot of the end of Numbers Matot/Massei that I feel that I must mention.
The Torah Reading starts with the issue of taking a vow, a bond. This is something that is of great importance in our days because Christians have forgotten the teaching of Yeshua in the Sermon on the mountain.
“This is the thing which the Lord has commanded: If a man makes a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by some agreement, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth. ‘Or if a woman makes a vow to the Lord, and binds herself by some agreement while in her father’s house in her youth, and her father hears her vow and the agreement by which she has bound herself, and her father holds his peace, then all her vows shall stand, and every agreement with which she has bound herself shall stand. But if her father overrules her on the day that he hears, then none of her vows nor her agreements by which she has bound herself shall stand; and the Lord will release her, because her father overruled her. If indeed she takes a husband, while bound by her vows or by a rash utterance from her lips by which she bound herself, and her husband hears it, and makes no response to her on the day that he hears, then her vows shall stand, and her agreements by which she bound herself shall stand. But if her husband overrules her on the day that he hears it, he shall make void her vow which she took and what she uttered with her lips, by which she bound herself, and the Lord will release her.’” – Numbers 30:1-9 [NKJV]
We are living in a season where words don’t seem to be worth much. Our culture is such that people speak and promise and make strong promises (vows) and even swear that they will keep their promises, but even don’t feel guilty or remorse if they don’t keep their promises and their vows. I find even so called “spiritual leaders,” “Messianic rabbis,” and pastors who act like the spoken word is not really binding.
For some even the written word or a legal contract is not necessarily respected because the court system in Israel is so very lenient. However, in this text and in the words of Yeshua we see how serious our words and promises are in the eyes of our Lord. Here is what our Lord says:
“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your “Yes’ be “Yes,’ and your “No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.” – Matthew 5:33-37 [NKJV]
It is obvious that these words of Yeshua are based on our Torah portion of this Shabbat. Yeshua like a typical Pharisee rabbi is building a fence around the Torah commandment. He says that you can make a vow and swear to keep it, but it would be safer and better for you if you don’t swear at all or take a vow at all. Let you “Yes” by “Yes” and your “No” be “No.” In other words Yeshua is teaching us that if you get to a place where you have to swear that you are going to keep your promises and respect your words and agreements you are already in trouble. If you are not trusted for your words Yeshua says you are already falling into the trap of the “evil one.”
Our reputation in town and in the body of the Messiah is and ought to be based on our credibility and the value of our words. If the merchants in downtown Jerusalem don’t trust you as a pastor or a rabbi or just as a plain disciple of Yeshua, your spiritual credibility is also not worth a dime. It is such a shame for leaders and pastors to have a bad reputation in the business community in their cities. Why would anyone trust these pastors or rabbis for what they say from the pulpit more than for what they say and promise to the shop owners in town?
I have to share with you a story about one of the most famous and respected pastors in the United States. He had visited our congregation in Jerusalem and we asked him to preach and share God’s word with us. He looked at the suit that I was wearing and said, “I want to invite you to come to my city and preach in my church, but the way you are dressed I can’t let you on my pulpit. I will have to take you and get you a proper suit and dress you up right if you are going to preach from my pulpit.” I said fine! This pastor didn’t know that my suits were all handmade by an old Arab tailor that lived on the Mount of Olives, and that the material was purchased in London and was some of the best that money can buy. I said nothing.
When I arrived to his city the next day with pomp and ceremony the pastor came in the morning and picked me up and took me down town and to the fanciest men’s shop in that town. I looked at about 15 suits and none were good for me. Each one of these suits was from Italy and the cheapest were even on sale 3000 US dollars and up. After near two and a half hours of trying on suits, I was tired and decided to get the cheapest suit that was in my size even if it was not what I really liked. It was one of the cheapest suits in the shop. So, the pastor added shirts and socks and shoes and underwear to the purchase.
When we came to the cashier it was clear that the owner of the shop was very familiar with this pastor. Immediately I noticed that the owner is an Arab. I started to speak to the owner in Arabic and found out that he is originally from Egypt. When it came time for the pastor to pay for what we were getting he took out a wad of hundred dollars bills in what is called a Mexican bankroll.
The Pastor started to peal off 100 dollars bills to make the payment. The Egyptian owner said to me in Arabic: “Joseph do you know who comes to my shop and buys expensive cloths and always pays in cash?” I said in Arabic no sir! The Arab said: only pastors and pimps. The book of Proverbs says: “A good name is more valuable than expensive oil. Joseph. Please guard your name!” The first person who said that to me was a stranger that I met on the streets of Jerusalem near the orthodox Jewish neighborhood. It was Gordon Lindsay, who founded Christ for the Nations in Dallas. I was a stranger to brother Lindsay and He was a stranger to me. But, just this one meeting with this man of God and his words kept me many times from falling.
The Torah makes it clear if you make a promise or take a vow. You must keep it at all cost. The Apostle Paul made a vow to go to Jerusalem and celebrate the feast of Shavuot (Pentecost) and he had to keep his vow even at the cost of his life.
The second thing in our Torah reading this Shabbat that I would like to share is the faithfulness of the Torah to God’s promises.
The land of Canaan was promised to Abraham and to His seed. More than 400 years had passed from the time that the Lord promised the Land to Abraham and His seed forever (See Genesis 13:15-16). Now the Lord is keeping his promises and shows Moses how the land will be divided among the tribes of Israel and the families of each tribe.
The Lord has not forgotten the amendment that He corrected and the changes in the law that allowed the daughters of Zelophehad to inherit the land of their father who had no sons. The Lord keeps his promises and does not forget them. So, before they enter the land of promise, God gives Moses and the leadership of Israel the following instruction:
“This is what the Lord commands concerning the daughters of Zelophehad, saying, ‘Let them marry whom they think best, but they may marry only within the family of their father’s tribe.’ So the inheritance of the children of Israel shall not change hands from tribe to tribe, for every one of the children of Israel shall keep the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers. And every daughter who possesses an inheritance in any tribe of the children of Israel shall be the wife of one of the family of her father’s tribe, so that the children of Israel each may possess the inheritance of his fathers. Thus no inheritance shall change hands from one tribe to another, but every tribe of the children of Israel shall keep its own inheritance.’” – Numbers 36:6-9 [NKJV]
This was a major change both legally and administratively, but also it was the first time that women were allowed to inherit the property of their father. Provision was made to keep the property as a part of the tribal inheritance.
These daughters of Zelophehad had to marry within their tribe so that the total property of the tribe does not diminish and move to the hands of another tribe. But, it was a major change of the laws and the customs of the people and it showed the flexibility of the Torah and of our God that understands the need to adjust the law sometimes when the circumstances justly demand it.
This is for me of great importance as we too as disciples of Yeshua must have that same attitude as Moses and the Lord had. We must take our issues before the Lord in prayer and consult the word of God from Genesis to Revelation to find solutions to some of the issues that come up from the use of modern technology and not be stuck in a legalistic and frozen understanding of God’s Word.
We must observe these examples in the Torah, and the way that Moses and the Lord Himself see that the Torah as being a Torah for life and for living and not simply a frozen word carved on stone. The Torah of the Lord is carved on our hearts according to Jeremiah 31:31-37 and we must allow for the guidance of the Holy Spirit to guide us to live, and not to die, with the word, that kills, but live with the Spirit that brings the Lord’s word to life as a life-giving fountain of fresh and living water!
This article originally appeared on Netivyah and reposted with permission.