March 21, 2010
Sermon on the Mount, #13
Now we come to the fourth beatitude, 5:6 Blessed are they which hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they shall be filled.
We have pointed out that the Lord illustrates the beatitudes throughout His sermon on the mount. V. 6, hunger and thirst after righteousness is now illustrated by 5:33-37: RIGHTEOUSNESS in all our actions and words.
In 6:19-34, the Lord will deal with hunger and thirst after heavenly treasures. True hunger and thirst will be contrasted with hunger and thirst after worldly goods. 6:19-34 is the longest point because it deals with the god of this world, money.
The Lord did not waste time on trivial matters, and only discussed matters of importance to the Kingdom of God. He lists 6 things of vital importance to His kingdom, and this one is about giving and keeping one's word.
We do not think much of swearing, but here the Lord made a special point of mentioning swearing. In fact, he takes 5 verses for this issue, which is more than He gave to divorce above.
What our Lord said here in vv. 33-37, could include a reference to the third commandment, Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain... A proper understanding of the third commandment includes our personal lives: When our lives do not conform to what we professes to be, Christians, we take the Lord's name in vain.
However, the context of Matthew 5:33-37 speaks primarily of keeping our word.
The only common oath as dealt with here by the Lord is what used to be done in the court room, Truth, whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God.
This swearing by the name of the Lord is not in general use today. This passage then is applied today as when we say we will do something. IS OUR WORD GOOD??
The Lord here in 33-37 is making reference directly to the common false teachings of His day. He said, "ye have heard that it hath been said.." on each of the 6 areas. When He said ye have heard, He made it clear that He was giving a proper understanding to specific areas which were begin corrupted by the religious leaders of His day.
In this particular saying, vv. 33-37, the religious leaders were far more concerned about impressing the people than they were about impressing the Lord. They were making a great show of their "spirituality" by swearing to do this or that, and they felt that the bigger the object they swore by, the greater impression they would make on their hearers.
The Oriental were very profuse in their swearing, and could not say hardly anything without swearing. Dr Thomson gives an example in his book, "The Land and the Book,"
This people are fearfully profane. Every body curses and swears when in a passion. No people that I have ever known can compare with these Oriental for profaneness in the use of the names and attributes of God. The evil habit seems [incurable] and universal... The people now use the same sort of oaths that are mentioned and condemned by our Lord. They swear by the head, by their life, by heaven, and by the temple, or, what is in its place, the Church. The forms of cursing and swearing, however, are almost infinite, and fall on the pained ear all day long.
Remember, those in modern Israel are not Oriental. They are Caucasians who have adopted the Jewish ways. Our Lord describes the situation in Matthew 23:16-22
The religious leaders made a special point of not using the
Lord's holy name in their swearing. They would say something like
"By the law of the covenant, I am going to do this and such." Or
"By the Temple, I will do this." Or maybe
"May my hair turn white if I do not do as I have promised to do." Or
"May the Temple fall in if I do not accomplish my oath."
Or maybe the mode of swearing was something like
"By your or my life I will accomplish this and such..."
Today we would say, "May lighting strike me if I an not telling the truth," or "May I drop dead if I do not accomplish this task." "I swear on my mother's grave."
5:33, Word meanings
The context of forswear makes it clear that the Lord is referring to keeping one's oath. He is referring to keeping our word, so forswear refers to swearing falsely.
Oath, refers to that which has been pledged or promised with an oath. In Matthew 14, Herod made an oath to Herodias' daughter, and beheaded John for his oath's sake.
5:34, Swear, means to affirm, promise, threaten, or an oath, such as in swearing to call a person or thing as witness, to invoke a witness.
We in our Western Christian Culture are really unfamiliar with the value of the Oriental oath, and Israel was an Oriental nation, though it is not today.
5:33 tells us that there Pharisees taught there were two kinds of oaths. To violate one kind of oath was considered an innocent matter or only a slight offense, but the violation of the other was considered perjury. The difference between the two oaths was whether or not the name of God was used.
In the Pharisees' eyes, if the mane of God was used, the oath was binding, but if His name was avoided, the oath was not binding. So they used all kinds of things to swear by other than the Lord's name.
Leviticus 19:12 And ye shall not swear by my name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I [am] the LORD.
Numbers 30:20 If a man vow a vow unto the LORD, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.
These laws were taken very literally, and if the Lord's name was not used, the oath was considered non-binding.
Swearing then in Christ's day consisted of two things:
1) if the oath contained the name of God, it was binding.
2) on the other hand, if the oath did not contain the name of God, it was non-binding
In Matthew 5:33-37, the Lord Jesus objects to their distinction. He teaches that it is wrong not to keep one's word whether the name of God is used or not.
The double view of an oath is considered by the Lord as false swearing. He also condemned the use of the name of the Lord in swearing.
The double view of oaths and swearing did a couple of things:
First, it profaned the name of the Lord. Rather than the Lord's name remaining revered, holy and honored, His name became common just as it has today. His name was degraded to not much more than someone to confirm an oath, or express a feeling "Oh God!".
Second, the false swearing permitted one person to take advantage of another, much like our legal system today. In other words, if the one swearing did not use the name of the Lord in his oath, he felt free to violate his oath.
Zechariah 8:17 And let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbour; and love no false oath: for all these [are things] that I hate, saith the LORD.
Swearing falsely permitted one to cover his trespass against his neighbour:
Leviticus 6:2 If a soul sin, and commit a trespass against the LORD, and lie unto his neighbour in that which was delivered him to keep, or in fellowship, or in a thing taken away by violence, or hath deceived his neighbour;
Thus, the Pharisees would watch their words, and if they could get by without saying the name of God in their oath, they felt they were free to violate what they said they would or would not do. And if the person the Pharisee was swearing to did not catch that the Pharisee did not use the name of God, then he was fair game for the one making the oath to take advantage of.
Again, I am reminded of our legal system: they fight over the exact use of words, and the intent of the agreement (even the constitution) has been totally nullified, all because the exact right words were not used. The lawyers are making a killing just checking the wording of agreements.
Our Lord spoke against this kind of evil:
Malachi 3:5 And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in [his] wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger [from his right], and fear not me, saith the LORD of hosts.
Zechariah 5:3 Then said he unto me, This [is] the curse that goeth forth over the face of the whole earth: for every one that stealeth shall be cut off [as] on this side according to it; and every one that sweareth shall be cut off [as] on that side according to it.
The Lord tells us here in Matthew 5, that if our word is given, we are to fulfill our word. If we say we will do something, we are to do it.
Not long ago, one's word was his bond. There was no need to draw up contracts. However, as a young man, maybe a teenager, when I started working with my dad in the summers, I saw my dad try to build a business without contracts. He would take the word of someone, and none of those people kept their word. He lost many tens of thousands of dollars that way back in the 50s. It looked to me like he would have learned his lesson, but he was a very easy touch to believe about anyone.
He used to say, A lock keeps an honest man honest. The same with a contract, and today, few people can be trusted to keep their word.
Our word, even given in passing, must be our bond. I have a problem of making a rash oath without thinking, and it has cost me more than I care to think about. Though our word may be given rashly, it must be kept.
V. 36 imply that the one swearing an oath can control an event. The Lord assures us that we have no power to bring anything to pass.
Furthermore, He makes the implication that swearing tries to make God our servant, v. 36. In other words, "If I an not telling the truth, then, God, You take action." Neither God nor nature is our servant, and we indicate that both are subject when we swear that something will nor will not happen.
I should mention just a couple quick points in closing.
Leviticus 5:4 Either if any swear and pronounce with his lips to do evil, or to do good (whatsoever it be that a man shall pronounce with another) and it be hid from him, and after knoweth that he hath offended in one of these points, 5 When he hath sinned in any of these things, then he shall confess that he hath sinned therein. 6 Therefore shall he bring his trespass offering unto the Lord for his sin which he hath committed, even a female from ye flock, be it a lamb or a she goat for a sin offering, and the Priest shall make an atonement for him, concerning his sin.
If we give our word and we latter find that it would be sin to fulfill our word, we are to confess the original sin of saying that we would do something which we cannot do, and then not do it. It is never right to violate the word of God. God's word is far more important than our word.
But we are not allowed to break our word if we find that it will cost more to perform than what we planed. Psalms 15 identifies those who shall dwell in the Lord's holy hill. There are about 11 things mentioned, and v. 4 mentions those that sweareth to their own hurt, and changeth not.
Second, Numbers 30 says that a man must keep his vow and his wife must keep her vow unless her husband disallows her vow in the day he hears it. The unmarried daughter is under her father's authority until she is transferred to her husband. The husband and father of a family can determine if his wife and children must keep their vows, but he must make that determination on the day he hears the vow.
The Lord admonished the godly to let their yea be yea and nay be nay... In other words, keep our words to a minimum and then keep our word. Our word is binding whether or not our fingers were crossed when we gave it. Christ told his hearers in Matthew 5 that their word was binding whether or not they used the name of God; in fact, He not only condemned using the name of God to swear their oath by, He also condemned the use of anything in heaven or in earth to swear by.
He says that all we are to do is say whether or not we will do something, or whether or not something is true, then let that "yes" or "no" settle the matter.
The Book of James is probably the most practical book of the New Testament, as he covers this subject in James 4:13-17 and James 5:12.
I am constantly amazed at how little regard Christians have for their word. From what I have observed, many Christians feel that if they did not say something with the exact words, then they are exempt from having to fulfill their word.
Or they simply forget what they said they would do, or dismiss what they said as unimportant. Even good pastors can get caught in this trap of saying in passing they will do something, and not follow through.
And I have to admit, I find myself falling into the same trap. "Well, I didn't say when I would do it," or some other reason for not following through on our word.
We must be honest in our words as well as our actions.