When you go out
Isaiah 54:1-10 (or finish at 52:13)
“Purging the Evil of Lying Lips”
by Mark Huey
This week’s Torah reading Ki-Teitzei, “When you go out,” offers instructions on a wide variety of topics. These range from how to handle foreign wives, rebellious children, the curse of being hanged on a tree, cross-dressing prohibitions, avoiding the mixing of seeds, unequal yoking, and even how to deal with a bird’s egg when found—to list just a few of the fine-tuning instructions for Ancient Israel. Needless to say, if the Holy One was concerned about a parapet being constructed on the second floor of a building, in order to keep people from falling (Deuteronomy 22:8)—He is surely also interested in the minute details of people’s lives, as they seek to love Him with all their hearts, minds, souls, and strength. Yeshua Himself was notably asked what the greatest commandments in the Torah were, and He appropriately responded,
“‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And He said to him, ‘“YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND” [Deuteronomy 6:5]. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF” [Leviticus 19:18]. On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:36-40).
Yeshua obviously knew that the primary purpose of the Torah was for instructing people on the proper way to conduct their lives, in order for them to be in proper communion with both their Creator and their fellow human beings. As is encountered multiple times in this week’s reading, there is a paternalistic desire on God’s behalf to protect the Israelites from evil by purging it from their midst.
There are many possible connections to be made between the instructions delivered through Moses in Ki-Teitzei, and the teachings of Yeshua. Neither the words in our Torah portion this week—and surely not the teachings of Yeshua—are merely flippant remarks on interesting philosophy. Such teachings are the Word of God uttered forth, designed to guide and assist followers of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob along in their individual and corporate life journeys. If some of the instructions seen in Ki-Teitzei seem a bit out of place for us as modern readers, then I would recommend also consulting Yeshua’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chs. 5-7), so you can perhaps get a better feel for the tenor of what is being communicated by the Lord, particularly on the subjects of murder, adultery, divorce, vows, revenge, and unconditional love.
One particular instruction encountered in Ki-Teitzei—which is as relevant today in the Twenty-First Century—as it was for ancient hearers of Moses in the Thirteenth Century B.C.E. or the disciples of Yeshua in the First Century C.E., concerns how what is spoken by people can have a tremendous impact on their lives and interactions with others. Yeshua the Messiah specifically warned His listeners about the challenges of making vows, as He was perhaps considering Moses’ instructions quoted here:
“When you make a vow to the LORD your God, you shall not delay to pay it, for it would be sin in you, and the LORD your God will surely require it of you. However, if you refrain from vowing, it would not be sin in you. You shall be careful to perform what goes out from your lips, just as you have voluntarily vowed to the LORD your God, what you have promised” (Deuteronomy 23:21-23).
Notice the connection made between the requirement to pay vows, and the expectation to perform what comes forth from a person’s lips. Yeshua focused most particularly on the aspect of keeping one’s word:
“Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FALSE VOWS, BUT SHALL FULFILL YOUR VOWS TO THE LORD’ [Leviticus 19:12; Numbers 30:3; Deuteronomy 23:22]. But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is THE CITY OF THE GREAT KING [Psalm 48:2]. Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil” (Matthew 5:33-37).
Yeshua obviously knew that among His contemporaries that there would be vows and oaths made, both in writing and verbally, widely because human interactions require people to engage commitments on many levels. Upon first glance, it may seem that Yeshua’s teaching in Matthew 5:33-37 may be seen to somehow annul what Moses communicated about making vows. Moses taught that people can surely make vows, provided that they have the ability to accomplish them. Yet what Yeshua communicated in His Sermon on the Mount is that people were not to make complicated oaths and vows—especially as they were likely to invoke some kind of Divine favor or blessing. Just consider all of the stupid things that religious people have been caught doing, invoking God’s approval—when He would be most unlikely to give it. If we did a little digging, how many examples from Second Temple Judaism could Yeshua have been referring to? Yeshua’s direction to His listeners was for them to instead focus on their words being direct, as simple and straightforward as “Yes” and “No.”
Similar to what Yeshua taught on making oaths and vows, James the Just later talked about the human pride associated with conducting business affairs, while not knowing what tomorrow will bring. The context of James’ admonition is interesting to consider, because it ultimately addresses the need for Messiah followers to maintain a spirit of humility, totally dependent on the Lord for His sovereign will to play out among the interactions between people—especially when it comes to speaking against one another:
“What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: ‘He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us’? But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, ‘GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE’ [Proverbs 3:34, LXX]. Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you. Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor? Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.’ But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin” (James 4:1-17).
Most critical to be considered per the issue of making oaths and vows, is how quite frequently what comes out of the mouth of a human being is not at all good:
“The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things” (Proverbs 15:28).
“The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart” (Luke 6:45).
The severity of watching what comes out of the mouth is intensified in view of the words of David, in that what comes out of the mouth is not intended to change:
“A Psalm of David. O LORD, who may abide in Your tent? Who may dwell on Your holy hill? He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart. He does not slander with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend; in whose eyes a reprobate is despised, but who honors those who fear the LORD; he swears to his own hurt and does not change; he does not put out his money at interest, nor does he take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things will never be shaken” (Psalm 15:1-5).
One can easily see why Yeshua’s direction is for people to simply speak “Yes” and “No,” because of the inevitability for limited human beings to not keep their word. Saying “Yes” and “No” to various matters, certainly forces people to think through what they say—not only preventing them from making rash commitments, but also wondering whether or not such commitments would be approved by God.
Keeping our word to others is critical and it builds trust. When it is broken, it tears up relationships and does serious damage to couples, families, friendships, business partnerships, various enterprises—and the list goes on and on. After all, if you know that a person’s word is not reliable, you are placed in a precarious position if such a man or woman tells you something—not truly knowing if what has been said will be honored.
Personally, the regularity of those who claim to be followers of the Messiah, not honoring their word or vows, is a pet peeve of mine, which has brought significant irritation over the years. Without going into all of the details, suffice it to say that while serving the Lord in a ministerial capacity over the past fourteen years (1998-2012), there have been any number of people who have voluntarily spoken words of encouragement to us, which have included their willingness to support our efforts financially. When those comments come forth from a person’s lips, it is duly noted in your mind, because as those looking to the Provider for sustenance, it is always interesting to notice just whose heart He moves upon to give of their resources—so that we can continue to labor, particularly in theological writing and research, for the emerging Messianic community of faith.
Some people have even offered to tithe to our ministry on a regular basis, which certainly can be quite humbling for us when we hear of such commitments people are willing to make. However, there have been a number of times that those making these statements have, for whatever reasons, been unable to honor their commitments. When this is noted, it has been my policy to call these people on the phone, and verbally release them from any vow they have made—noting that not keeping a vow is likely to bring commensurate penalties upon them. Naturally, my desire is that no one be in a position to be punished by the Lord for failing to follow through on a commitment, much less have the Adversary himself have legal right be hold their lack of compliance against them.
In Ki-Teitzei and in examining the words of Moses, it is fairly clear that the need to watch what comes forth from the lips is most imperative. James the Just is also most direct, in his steadfast instruction,
“[E]veryone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20).
Many of the commitments, vows, and oaths that are made—often invoking the approval of God—are done out of anger and bitterness toward others. Rather than simply damning others with foul language here or there, such words often take the form of, “I swear by God that such and such happens to you…”
The advice to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, is certainly something to keep in mind when we encounter the period of the Judges in the Tanakh. In the case of Jephthah, because of his vow to the Lord, he was compelled to sacrifice his one and only daughter:
“When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, behold, his daughter was coming out to meet him with tambourines and with dancing. Now she was his one and only child; besides her he had no son or daughter. When he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, ‘Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you are among those who trouble me; for I have given my word to the LORD, and I cannot take it back.’ So she said to him, ‘My father, you have given your word to the LORD; do to me as you have said, since the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the sons of Ammon.’ She said to her father, ‘Let this thing be done for me; let me alone two months, that I may go to the mountains and weep because of my virginity, I and my companions.’ Then he said, ‘Go.’ So he sent her away for two months; and she left with her companions, and wept on the mountains because of her virginity. At the end of two months she returned to her father, who did to her according to the vow which he had made; and she had no relations with a man. Thus it became a custom in Israel, that the daughters of Israel went yearly to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year” (Judges 11:34-40).
Jephthah actually vowed to the Lord that he would offer up as a sacrifice whatever came out of the door of his house, if the Lord delivered the Ammonites to him and his marauders:
“Now the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, so that he passed through Gilead and Manasseh; then he passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he went on to the sons of Ammon. Jephthah made a vow to the LORD and said, ‘If You will indeed give the sons of Ammon into my hand, then it shall be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the sons of Ammon, it shall be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering’” (Judges 11:29-31).
It is debated whether Jephthah’s daughter was actually sacrificed, or if her sacrifice was instead perpetual virginity. The intriguing thing about this incident is the fact that Jephthah was actually listed among the figures of faith in Hebrews ch. 11. Even though he spoke considerably rash words, his other actions of obedience to the Lord apparently reckoned him an important figure to many in Jewish history.
God’s ways and thoughts are so much higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9), that many of us must absolutely beg for more understanding when it comes to attempting to understand why there is such an emphasis seen in Scripture on the spoken word, vows, oaths, and ayes and nays. Perhaps much of it has to do with the fact that the Lord Himself spoke Creation into existence. “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3) seems like such an elementary declaration, and yet when it is fully considered, it is quite complicated…
If there is anything to be learned from this week’s Torah reading, let us each meditate upon what comes forth from our mouths. Better yet, let us work on what happens in our innermost thoughts and what is generated in our hearts! For after all, we will be held accountable for our thoughts as well. As Believers who are to be actively accomplishing the good works of His Kingdom—such good works are to be the physical manifestation of thoughts and ideas in the mind which are focused on the righteousness of God. As children of the Most High with the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, we have the ability to overcome the sins that take place within our thought life. The challenge is wanting to be whole and clean before a righteous and holy God. We have to choose to walk the path that He has set before us in His Word.
Watching what you think, in order to avoid saying things that will either be judgmental or reveal some residual evil in your heart, is a great exercise to consider. Let us each be sure that we are walking in the light of the Lord. Let us learn to wholeheartedly confess of our sins, by reflecting on some of the key instructions of the Apostle John:
“What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life—and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us—what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Yeshua the Messiah. These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete. This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Yeshua His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:1-10).
Lord, purge the plague of lying lips! Give each of us a heart to have confessing lips, which can speak forth blessings that reflect of the forgiveness you have provided us! Hallelujah!
 Deuteronomy 21:10-14.
 Deuteronomy 21:18-21.
 Deuteronomy 21:22-23.
 Deuteronomy 22:5.
 Deuteronomy 22:9.
 Deuteronomy 22:10.
 Deuteronomy 22:6-7.