Sitting at the Feet of Yeshua
We continue our quest to explore what I have been calling the Eternal Torah. In the Torah, God revealed His standards for holy living. Yeshua said that He came to complete the Torah. That is, He came to bring us back to God’s original intent of His instructions to Israel. The Torah has always pointed the way to the Messiah. But Yeshua said that the true righteousness that pleases God must exceed that of the Torah-teachers and the P’rushim.
We’ve looked at Yeshua’s teaching on murder, adultery and divorce. In this post, will begin to take a closer look at what Yeshua himself says about the fourth of six important topics contained in the Torah ~ do not use the Lord’s name in vain.
My Word Is My Bond
“Again, you have heard that our fathers were told, ‘Do not break your oath,’ and ‘Keep your vows to Adonai.’ But I tell you not to swear at all – not ‘by heaven,’ because it is God’s throne; not ‘by the earth,’ because it is His footstool, and not ‘by Yerushalayim,’ because it is the city of the Great King. And don’t swear by your head, because you can’t make a single hair white or black. Just let your ‘Yes’ be a simple ‘Yes,’ and your “No’ a simple ‘No;’ anything more than this has its origin in evil.” (Matthew 5:33-37)
These verses can be wrapped up in one simple phrase: “My word is my bond.” Yeshua taught that our statements should be so honest and our character so true, that we would not need to take an oath to get people to believe us. Spoken words depend on the character of the speaker and oaths cannot compensate for a poor character. “When words are many, sin is not lacking; so he who controls his speech is wise” (Proverbs 10:19). The more words a man uses to convince us, the more suspicious we should be.
Again, Yeshua was recalling for the Jewish people what they already knew. The Jewish teachers had always insisted on the paramount obligation of telling the truth.
These verses do not describe the sin of cursing or using foul language, but the sin of using oaths to affirm that what is said is true. The P’rushim used all kinds of tricks to sidestep the truth, and oaths were among them. They would avoid using the holy name of God, but they would come close by swearing by the city of Yerushalayim, heaven, earth, or some part of the body.
The third commandment says, “You are not to use lightly the name of Adonai your God, because Adonai will not leave unpunished someone who uses his name lightly” (Sh’mot 20:7). That commandment condemns the man who swears that something is true or who makes some promise, in the name of God, and who has taken the oath falsely. Scripture also says: “When a man makes a vow to Adonai or formally obligates himself by swearing an oath, he is not to break his word but is to do everything he said he would do” (B’midbar 30:2). “When you make a vow to Adonai your God, you are not to delay in fulfilling it, for Adonai your God will certainly demand it of you, and your failure to do so will be your sin. If you choose not to make a vow at all, that will not be a sin for you.” (D’varim 23:21-22)
By Yeshua’s time, several practices had arisen about taking oaths. The first was making a frivolous oath where no oath was necessary or proper. It had become far too common a custom to introduce a statement by saying, “By your life,” or, “By my head,” or, “May I never see the comfort of Israel if …”. We should never, ever make light of Adonai’s name.
The second Jewish custom was in some ways even worse; it might be called evasive taking of an oath. The Jewish people divided oaths into two classes, those that were absolutely binding and those that were not. Any oath that contained the name of God was absolutely binding; any oath that succeeded in evading the name of God was held not to be binding. The result was that if a man swore by the name of God in any form, he would rigidly keep that oath; but if he swore by heaven, or by earth, or by Yerushalayim, or by his head, he felt quite free to break that oath. The result was that evasion of a promise had been brought to a fine art form.
The idea behind this was that, if God’s name was used, God became a partner in the transaction; whereas if God’s name was not used, God had nothing to do with the transaction. The principle that Yeshua lays down is quite clear. In effect, Yeshua is saying that no man can keep God out of any transaction. God is already there. Heaven is the throne of God; the earth is the footstool of God; Yerushalayim is the city of God; a man’s head does not belong to him.
Here is a great eternal truth. Life cannot be divided into neat little compartments wherein God is involved in some and not in others. God is involved in all of our thoughts and activity. There cannot be one kind of language in the Kehilah and another kind of language in the factory or the office.
The fact is that God does not need to be invited into certain compartments of life and kept out of others. He is everywhere, all through life and every activity. He not only hears our words; He knows our thoughts behind those words. We should regard all promises as sacred, if we remember that all promises are made in the presence of God.
This passage concludes with the commandment that when a man has to say yes, he should say ‘yes’, and nothing more; and when he has to say no, he should say ‘no’, and nothing more. The ideal is that a person should never need an oath to buttress or guarantee the truth of anything said. Our character should make an oath completely unnecessary. Unfortunately, we still don’t live in an ideal society.
Does Yeshua thereby forbid us from taking an oath anywhere? What about as a witness in court? In the ancient days, the Essenes would never take an oath and to this day the Quakers are the same. The fact that it is necessary to put people on oath arises from the fact that this is an evil world. In a perfect world, in a world that is the Kingdom of God, no taking of oaths would ever be necessary. It is necessary only because of the evil in the world.
What Yeshua is saying is this – the truly godly people will never need to take an oath; the truth of their sayings and the reality of their promises need no such guarantee. But the fact that oaths are still sometimes necessary is the proof that we are not all godly people and that this is not a perfect world.
So, then, this teaching of Yeshua leaves two obligations upon us. We have to develop and maintain a righteous character such that people will see our transparent righteousness and will never ask an oath from us. It also leaves upon us the obligation to seek to make this world a place where falsehood and infidelity will be so eliminated that the necessity for oaths will be abolished. Again, let our word by our bond!
In my next post, we will continue to unpack the sixth important topics contained in the Torah that Yeshua emphasized in Matthew 5 by looking at the issue of retaliation and giving.