Last week, in Parasha Pinchas, God instructed Moses regarding dividing the Land by lottery among the tribes of Israel. The five daughters of Tzelafchad also successfully petitioned Moses for the portion of the land belonging to their father, who had died without male heirs.
In this Parasha (Torah portion), Moses speaks to the heads of the tribes (matot) about the issue of vows. In Hebrew, the word is neder (נדר), and the English language really has no equivalent word. This Hebrew word denotes a solemn promise to consecrate something to God or to do something in His service or honor.
Jacob (Yaacov) made such a vow to God when he promised to give back to God a tenth (tithe) of anything God gives to him in exchange for God’s provision and protection on his journey.
“Then Jacob made a vow [neder], saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.’” (Genesis 28:20–22)
This Torah portion reminds us that we must be careful about making promises because God expects us to keep our word. (Numbers 30:2)
The Bible insists that we keep our word even when it hurts (when it is no longer convenient or pleasant). The person who does so is the one who may abide in God’s tabernacle and dwell in His holy hill!
“Lord, who may abide in your tabernacle? Who may dwell in Your holy hill? He who walks uprightly, and works righteousness… He who swears [vows, promises] to his own hurt and does not change.” (Psalm 15:4)
Because of the weight and sanctity of a vow, and the serious consequences for not keeping one, observant Jews can be heard saying bli neder (without a vow) to qualify a commitment, in the event that the speaker finds him or herself unable to fulfill it.
In Judaism, words are considered extremely important. After all, the whole world was created through words.
As Believers, we should have an impeccable reputation as people of integrity—as people who can be trusted to keep our word. Yeshua said, “Let your yes be yes and your no be no.” (Matthew 5:37)
Of course, Yeshua was not disallowing vows. Yeshua’s disciples and the apostles continued making various vows, even after He had ascended to Heaven; for instance, in Acts 18:18, Paul shaved his head in connection with a Nazirite vow he had taken.
Rather, Yeshua’s statement is meant to be a guide to holy speech. We shouldn’t be led into making unnecessary vows for the sake of bringing a sense of importance or power to our words, or to reassure someone that we mean what we say.
His statement is entirely in keeping with Judaism’s view that vows are not to be entered into lightly, and that it is better not to make one than make one and not fulfill it.
“When you make a vow to God, do not delay to fulfill it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it.” (Ecclesiastes 5:4–5)
Waging War With Wise Counsel
“Plans are established by seeking advice; so if you wage war, obtain guidance.” (Proverbs 20:18)
While the vow emphasizes the power and importance of the words that we speak, chapter 31 of Numbers perhaps emphasizes the power of the words we listen to.
In this chapter, God commands Moses to execute His vengeance against the Midianites for conspiring to destroy Israel through enticing them to sin.
“‘Avenge the people of Israel on the Midianites. Afterwards you shall be gathered to your people.’ So Moses spoke to the people, saying, ‘Arm men from among you for the war, that they may go against Midian to execute the LORD’s vengeance on Midian. You shall send a thousand from each of the tribes of Israel to the war.’” (Numbers 31:1–4)
In the end, the Lord took vengeance, and the Israelites slew Balaam with a sword in this war with Midian.
“They killed the kings of Midian with the rest of their slain, Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba, the five kings of Midian. And they also killed Balaam the son of Beor with the sword.” (Numbers 31:8)
From this we can understand that God is mindful of who we are listening to!
All kinds of voices are clamoring to give us advice on what we should do next and how we should do it; however, when making plans, seeking guidance, or in the midst of any kind of battle, we so desperately need wise counsel.
“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” (Proverbs 15:22)
Because of the advice of Balaam the sorcerer, who helped Balak plot Israel’s moral downfall, Israel fell into sin with Midianite women and a plague swept through the camp killing many thousands.
“Behold, these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the LORD in the incident of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the LORD.” (Numbers 31:16)