God has Moses tell the tribes that any man who makes an oath to the Lord is bound, totally, to that oath. If a woman who is a minor or married makes an oath, she is bound by it so long as the father or husband, the very first time he hears it (no matter how long after it was made) doesn’t disallow it. If she is a widow living on her own she is bound by it, period.
If the husband or father hears the oath, doesn’t disallow it, then later changes his mind and voids it, the woman is free and forgiven of it but the husband will be held guilty for breaking the vow.
The next section tells of the Lord’s command to the people to revenge themselves against Midian for the trouble it caused at Ba’al-Peor, and there were 5 kings of Midian killed, along with Balaam. The Israelites still didn’t learn, as they took all the women and children as bounty instead of destroying them, as God commanded. Moses chewed out the commanders of the army, then ordered all the captive males and the females that were not virgins to be slain.
The final section tells of Gad, Reuben and half of the tribe of Manasseh asking for the land east of the Jordan because it was good for cattle, which was their livelihood. Moses gave them ‘what-for’, reminding them that the last time some of the people refused to go across the Jordan the entire nation had to wander in the desert for 40 years. These tribes then promised to fight with Israel on the west side until all the land for the people was conquered before settling down for good. They said they would build sheep pens and homes, and after their promise to fight with their brothers, Moses gave permission but he reversed their statements, and told them to build homes, then sheep pens. This showed that Moses knew where the priorities should be: God first (obey His commandment to conquer the land), family next, then job!
The lesson I would like to discuss with you today is about the taking and honoring of vows. Even though the vows discussed here are to the Lord, since it is always about God, any and every vow we take, whether to God or to another person, should be honored. Because the failure to honor our vows is a sin against the Lord (remember what David said after his adultery with the wife of Uriah and then having killed Uriah to cover it up: he said he sinned against God, and God alone) we should be very careful when we make a vow.
Since vows are so important, let’s make sure we are all on the same page; a vow is a promise, pledge, or personal commitment. In simple terms, when you say you will do something, you have made a vow. There is no such thing as a “maybe” or “if I remember” in the kingdom of God.
How would you like it if you came before the Lord and he said he didn’t remember telling you you were saved? Or maybe He says, “Oh, yeah, the “call on my name” thing. Well, uh, you see…that was said in haste. Things have changed so here’s the SPF 5000 and an umbrella- have a nice afterlife!”
We are commanded not to lie. Yeshua says we shouldn’t even make an oath, and there is nothing for us to swear by, anyway- the heavens, earth and everything else belong to God so we can’t swear by them, and we shouldn’t swear by God, either, unless we really, really, REALLY mean it. That’s because we will be held liable.
I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with making an oath, but I do think Yeshua warned us, just as God does in this Parashah, that because an oath or vow is so binding, we shouldn’t even make one (knowing how weak and prone to sin we are.)
A very valuable lesson I learned when in Sales is this:
People don’t mean what they say, they mean what they do.
There is a wisdom in that statement that goes all the way back to this parashah. That’s why we are to be people who obey God, who keep our word, no matter how important or even how unimportant it is. If I promise to help someone move, or if I tell my spouse I will take out the garbage- if I can’t be trusted with a simple vow, how can I be trusted with an important one? Think of the parable of the talents, where the men that did well with a little were given more, and the one who did nothing with the little he had had even that taken from him. A promise is a vow, is an oath, is no different than when we just say we will do something. It is better not to promise than to promise and renege.
No excuses. One of the saddest lessons I learned in Sales was that I could almost guarantee the one sale that will cancel before the paperwork hits the office was the one I made with a “Christian” family. They would listen, we would talk and they would sign. Before I got back to the office they had cancelled, always with the explanation that they “prayed on it” and God told them this wasn’t the right time. I would remind them that Yeshua said to let your ‘nay be nay and your yea be yea’; seems to me that if God tells us to honor our oaths then He would be the last one to tell us to cancel a deal. It is the law of the land that says they have three business days to cancel, not God! God says do what you say you will do.
I am just as guilty as anyone else in that I say I will do something, fully and honestly meaning to do it, then I forget. I don’t think God allows age-related memory issues to be a factor in promising to do something.
Let’s all try to make promises that we will keep, and if we aren’t sure then we should just say no instead of maybe. Make a stand for righteousness and honesty, with God and with each other. If you say you will do something, do it; and if you aren’t sure you will do it, or not sure you want to do it, then just say, “I’m sorry- I won’t do that.” The person may be upset with you, but it is better to be honest with God and people than to lie. And don’t make excuses for that- if you say you will do something and you don’t, whether or not you meant to, you lied. It is a matter of history, not of intention. Do, or don’t do, say you will, or say you won’t, but do not say you will and then not do so.
Yeshua says, in Matthew 25:40, that which we do the least of His brethren, we do to Him. When you make a promise, give a vow, or just say you will take care of something, you are talking directly to Yeshua, and He is the direct link to God.
Remember that the next time you are asked to do something.